Which of the boys from Holbook Academy would you want to date?

Monday, July 15, 2013

In Memory of Spencer

I don't write about my personal life, often. Mostly because I don't have much of one. My dogs make up a good 90% of my day to day living, the rest is comprised of a combination of my general insanity, my family (and by extension my friends) and my work. I took myself out of the dating pool a few years ago and rarely look back. But with recent news about the (very likely drug related) death of Cory Monteith, it brought up some old wounds that I feel should be talked about.

On this blog in particular I come across as this care free guy, who laughs a lot and just charges ahead into life with out a single regret. And for the most part that's accurate. And while I like my life and don't feel like anything about it should be changed, there are more depths to me. There are pieces of my history that are not full of laughter.

When I first read about Cory Monteith's death, my first thought was “poor Lea Michelle.” And I had that thought because I knew in that moment exactly how she felt. Exactly. I don't talk about Spencer, I rarely mention his name any more and the few people who know the full story are always quick to keep other people from prying too hard. That's because there is a hole in my soul, left by the loss of someone I loved, who loved me, but was taken by drugs.

Spencer and I met in college. He was a Freshmen as I was a Junior. We met because I was sitting in my dorm room one night watching TV with Pepper crashing on my bed (we lived on the same floor.) I had my door open, as was the custom of that particular dorm, and I happened to notice a very tall, very slender man with a six inch mohawk and a Matrix style coat stride pass. I cocked my head to the side and rushed out of my seat.

I bounded into the hallway, and shouted at the departing figure. “Hey! I think we should know one another.”

He was walking with another punk-looking fellow who was several inches shorter, and heavier built then he was. But the mohawked man turned and looked back at me. It was the first time I ever saw Spencer's smile.

He came back down the hall to me holding out his hand. We shook.

“I'm Spencer.” He said.

“Dean.” I replied.

We must have looked strange standing there as we were. He was 6'4” built skinny with long limbs and equally long fingers. His grip was firm though, and his smile genuine and caused wrinkles to form in the corner of saphire blue eyes. His hair was an ash blonde that was threatening to get darker at the base. I was short (very short) and built with broad shoulders and a sturdy frame thanks to an abudance of Irish blood. I had dyed my red hair black. While he was pale enough to ensure he spent most of time indoors, I had a deep tan from a summer spent trying to get myself killed in the mountains and on the back of a horse.

“So you think we should get to know eachother?” He asked, raising a brow as he looked down at me.

“Yeah.” I replied. “It's the Mohawk. I like it.”

He grinned at me. And it was the start of a friendship that would come to define us both, but especially me, in ways that years later I still can not acurately describe.

I have memories of Spencer that are filled with so much laughter that it hurts my sides just to remember them. I have memories of Spencer filled with so much passion that it overwhelms me. And memories that are so full of pain it ruins me to still have them. He is, to this day, one of the few people in the world who have ever made me question my own intelligence, he was that smart. We were friends, we were sometimes lovers, we were two people who shared something that made sure no matter what else was going on in our lives, we at least knew we belonged to one another.

Our relationship waxed and waned, but neither of us seemed to mind that we would come together and temporarily drift apart. We had no verbal agreement to one another beyond the understanding that if I needed him, he'd be there, and vice versa. Most of our mutual friends believed that one day we would eventually get married, settle down, live a strange life of artists and geniuses. But all their bets and knowing looks when we sat together on the couch watching the same movies and tv shows over and over again would never come to see validation.

In late September of 2009 I made a phone call that would change everything. I called Spencer to confirm a date we had set up for the following evening and to clarify if he or I was going to drive. But the person who answered his cell wasn't Spencer. Instead it was his father, Dennis, a man I had only met briefly but had listened to long hours of rants from Spencer about his behavior. But it wasn't the arrogant drunk on the phone with me, he sounded tired and resigned. And as I listened to him explain what had happened I stopped moving.

I had been out running errands with my mum, helping her pick up a couch she had just bought, with my truck. And I stood in the middle of the store with a look on my face that made even the salesman take notice. I had tears in my eyes as Dennis explained that two days ago Spencer had been admitted to the ICU at St. Al's.

Spencer had been at a party with some of his friends, the friends he never let me meet, that he kept me away from. He had taken something and had lost conciousness. No one was certain how long he had been out, no one had noticed that he had stopped breathing. When someone did notice they had paniced and called Dennis first, instead of 911. When they paramedics did arrive, his heart wasn't beating. They managed to get it restarted, but it stopped twice more on the ride to the hospital. They had him stabilized but he was comatose.

I could barely get out a sound to acknowledge I had heard him. I hung up with Dennis after getting the information for his hospital room and turned to look at my mother. I don't cry often, I never have been that kind of guy, even as a little, little kid. I just wasn't prone to outward displays of vulnerability. But I had tears coming down my face when I looked my mother in the eye and said. “It's Spencer...”

He was in a coma for 10 days, during which he coded twice more. His body survived, but the man I had known and loved did not. What is left of Spencer now is a shell, medicated and brain damaged to the point he can't even hold a conversation. I remember coming to see him after he had woken up, his frame thrashing as full body muscle spasms racked him. I remember wanting to see him and know there was hope, to feel like his parents (who insisted he keep being revived) had no done the unthinkable to him and robbed him of who he was.

I walked into his hospital room and couldn't move when I saw him. He trashed around, his body contorting as it fought withdrawls and painful spasms. And when I came closer and I looked at him the man who looked back at me wasn't my friend. It wasn't the man who had dyed his hair pink because I told him it would be unexpected. It wasn't the man who had let a young kid poke his mohawk and warned him never to put his fingers in light sockets because that was the result. It wasn't the man who had quoted Firefly word-for-word while we watched it for the 100th time. It wasn't the man who had looked me in the eye and told me he didn't deserve me, that he loved me and had from the moment we had met.

The man who stared back at me was a shell, was angry and hurt, and confused. And he looked at his mother with a look in his eyes that said only betrayal. And when I said his name he looked at me , he looked me right in the eye and I knew. He was slipping, whatever of him was still in there would eventually be destroyed by pain, that his parents had done the worst to him and robbed him of his mind while keeping his life. The nurse who was in charge of his primary care saw it, she noticed the way he looked at me and pulled me aside before I left. She questioned me about what might have happened, and I told her I didn't know.

He had been trying to get clean. He had been working at getting off drugs, quitting drinking and smoking. He had a thousand vices (most of which were the reason we never settle down, he refused to let me hitch my wagon to his sinking ship, as he put it.) But he had recently been trying to fight back against them, and had credited a desire to finally do right by me with his reasoning. But addiction is a tricky disease, and his parents had certainly set a wonderful example (his father a raging alcoholic, his mother spent most of his childhood checked out on valium and pain medication.)

“Do you think this could have been intentional?” The nursed asked me.

I must have looked at her harshly because she flinched a little when I stated: “No.”

She took a breath and asked again. “Are you sure? Because according to his records he has attempted it before...”

I knew about the previous attempts, during his turbulant teen years. I knew about his cutting. I knew about the cocaine. The downers. The uppers. The Alcohol. The cigerattes. We had no secrets, only promises.

“He wouldn't. He made a promise.” I told her.

“I know it can be hard, but ...” She tried.

“No. You don't understand. He promised me. He swore to me he wouldn't, that he wouldn't do that to me. He promised that if he felt like that he would call. He swore it. He never broke a promise to me, ever. He wouldn't have started with this one. He had problems, but he never broke a promise.”

The eventual ruling was officially listed as an accidental overdose. And I stood at his bed side through physical therapy, speech therapy, and every other kind of therapy you can imagine. All the while feeling like a traitor because I knew what he would have wanted. I knew that this was not how he would have wanted to live. When he was released he attempted to kill himself several times before they drugged him to the point he wouldn't. And I watched as he left me forever. I watched as he was numbed from the inside out and all that remains is a shell walking around, mumbling... and one who could look at me and show me nothing.
When you lose someone like that, it creates a hole inside of you. Spencer's body might still be alive, but the man I knew has been dead for several years now. And there is no one to blame, but him. I have a hole where my soul mate was ripped away from me. Because he made a choice, and it killed him. There is no peace with it, like can come after losing a loved one to a prolonged illness or old age. There is no drunk driver to be mad at. There is no higher power to blame for making a body that was faulty and riddled with a time bombing lying in wait. There is no one to direct your grief and anger at the loss of this person at, except the person themselves.

You go through the motions of moving on, you put camoflage over the hole and you find a way to live again. But there is always a hole there, inside of you there is always a piece missing. Any one you love after will be competing with a ghost, and you can't help it, no matter how hard you try. Their memory is alive inside of you, always. And you love them more then you did before because all you have is what you remember, and you remember all those good things like they are gilded and carved of precious stone. And most of the time you're okay, you're alive and well and you laugh and you have friends and you even find other people you could love. But then something happens and reveals the hole through the camoflage, and you remember how it used to feel to be whole. And you feel that hole there inside of you and you long to feel more complete.

So when I read about Cory Monteith passing, my first thought was about poor Lea Michelle, because I knew what road lay ahead of her. Because I know what she is feeling. I know the hole that was just made inside of her, will haunt her forever. And I know that any time she reads about someone else dying under similar circumstances she will be reminded of that hole. No matter how many years go by, it will always be there, an empty space inside that leaves an indescribable aching.

I don't know if I can do my memories of Spencer justice. I don't know that my memories of him aren't clouded and tainted by the rose color of missing someone. I don't know if I'll ever be able to explain what we shared to any one who didn't witness it. I know that someday I will have to try, maybe tell the story as if it were happening to someone else. And maybe this entry is the start of that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Some Days Are Good Days

DOMA was struck down today. It was ruled unconstitutional. When I called my mother to give her the news, she started to cry. My mother who has stood witness to the women’s liberation movement of the 70’s, who marched in Alabama. Who headed committees in high school to ban segregation. She cried because she got to bare witness to the Supreme Court “No, you can’t treat her gay son like that."
Last night I watched as Senator Wendy Davis and all those supporting her fought to protect their people from some objective form of morality. I watched live streaming through my computer as an entire court room audience made certain the world heard their voices. 
And today, today it feels good to be apart of a democracy. It feels like we’ve just taken a collective step forward. For women. For the LGBTQ Community. For everyone. And yes there are still battles to be fought, the war is far from over. But we won these battles. And we still have a lot to fix (the voting rights act SNAFU for one); but today, today I am celebrating the wins. Not because the loses are any less important, but because the victories, however small, are proof we can eventually win. And that is worth celebrating, that is worth remembering.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Stranger in a Stranger Land: Guest Blogger: Anne Barwell

So this was supposed to go up yesterday. But due to my actual life getting thoroughly in the way the last week, it didn't. I'm a horrible person. Anne is a wonderful, patient kind person who never says a bad thing about me or any body else even when she ought to. Please read further to make up for me being an asshat. - Real Life Dean


Thanks, Dean, for the opportunity to be here today J

One of the themes I enjoy reading and writing in fantasy and science fiction is that of a stranger in a strange land. I enjoy the 'fish out of water' scenario in which a character finds himself out his depth in either a land or situation in which he is totally unfamiliar. Half the fun of this scenario is him trying to work out what is going on, and the other half is him coming to the conclusion that what he thought was reality needs a healthy dose of adjustment.

The theme runs with the theory of suspension of disbelief, but with a twist. When viewing or reading science fiction/fantasy, the audience has to be prepared to ignore what they think is 'reality' and believe dragons, vampires or werewolves exist. That's why world building within the genre is so important, and why the 'science' or 'magic' within it needs to follow its own set of rules.

Continuity goes a long way in making something believable. For example if I make up a world in which dragons cannot fly, I can't have a dragon show up three chapters later that can fly. Not unless I have a very good reason as to why this particular dragon can break the rules. Readers tend to notice things like that, and if annoys me as a reader, I'm certainly not going to do it when I'm writing.

But, getting back to the idea of a stranger in a strange land... Suddenly our hero's conceptions of reality are pulled out from under him and it is a scary thing. Even someone who is very capable can flounder when faced with a situation in which none of the rules he's had instilled into him since he can remember still work. Or they might, but with a major adjustment. Arthur C. Clarke once said that 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'. But if thrown in the deep end and with no clue as to how that advanced technology might work, what happens then, especially if the inhabitants of that world refer to their 'technology' as magic?

In order to survive the hero needs to 'go with the flow' and pick it up as he goes along. Opening his mind to possibilities is a good start, and the growing realisation that perhaps his favourite quote about magic and science isn't as simple as he thought.

This is the very situation Tomas from my Hidden Places series finds himself in. He quotes Clarke in a couple of places in the story but the reality of it is somewhat different. In the first book Cat's Quill he meets Cathal, a mysterious man who is a mix of 'old fashioned and other worldly'. Cathal does not know of many things Tomas takes for granted and speaks of the past as though it was only a short time ago. The truth of Cathal's origins is very much outside Tomas's perception of reality. After following Cathal into another world, Tomas is forced to accept the truth, but it's another matter trying to persuade other people that he isn't losing his mind. Telling a friend that a cat isn't really a cat but―sorry, that's a spoiler ;)...

And really for Tomas, that's just the tip of the iceberg. But, after floundering and struggling to get his mind around the existence of magic, and that things work differently in Cathal's home world of Naearu, Tomas decides to trust the man he loves, and go with the flow, relying on his new friends to guide him through their strange land. Even amongst all the weirdness and him being completely out of his depth there's still one thing that holds true and is more important... He loves Cathal and losing him is not an option so he will do whatever it takes to make sure they both survive. Some things are universal no matter what world you're in, and although this world might be unlike anything he's used to, it's part of who Cathal is and where he comes from, so Tomas is not about to turn his back on it and run back to the way things were. It's the right decision, and the only way he's going to survive his new outlook on life, even if it's fraught with danger and plenty of 'you can't be serious' moments.

But that's half the fun of being a stranger in a strange land isn't it? 

Blurb: Cat's Quill (Book 1 in Hidden Places series)
Tomas Kemp has two successful novels to his name and the true belief that a successful sequel is only a matter of a little inspiration. When Tomas meets a mysterious stranger under the branches of an old oak tree, he feels compelled to tell him about a book he holds dear and the sequel he wants to read. But Cathal doesn’t share that deep belief that the sequel Tomas seeks ends happily. Cathal has seen enough of a world where stories are real to know that happy ever after is sometimes the dream that won’t come true.
But stories have never let Tomas down, and as he follows Cathal across the reality shift between their worlds, he learns that Cathal is right: Happy ever after is never just given—but sometimes, it can be fought for and won.
Cathal wiped his palms on his trousers and then turned the page of the journal back and forth, his eyes scanning the words again. “Maybe I could help?” he suggested. “Can you tell me what the story is about so I can get more of an idea of what this kiss should, er… involve?”
“Involve?” Tomas’s voice sounded strained to his own ears. He coughed, clearing his throat before speaking again. “Umm, it’s about a writer who meets someone he thinks might be a muse.”
“I see.” Cathal nodded slowly. “Why does he think that?” He edged closer to Tomas, the book still balanced carefully on his lap.
“He’s drawn to this person he’s not long met.” The explanation sounded somewhat weak now that Tomas had to actually explain it to someone else. “It’s like they have a connection….”
“Like Alan and Roger in your other book?” Cathal frowned. “That doesn’t explain why—” He checked the name. “—Deimos might be a muse though, but then I haven’t read enough.”
Tomas opened his mouth to explain more, how Deimos seemed to appear and disappear out of thin air, how he seemed otherworldly, how Mark kept thinking about him all the time. Cathal placed one hand on Tomas’s knee, his breath warm against Tomas’s face. “Cat? What are you doing?”
“I’m getting into character.” Cathal reached over and brushed Tomas’s hair from his face. “You’re a writer, so you need to be Mark. That leaves me the role of the muse.” His voice was barely a whisper. “This scene is too good for it to be abandoned like the other one.” His eyes dropped to the page and back again. He licked his lips, his fingers tightening on Tomas’s knee. Tomas’s breath hitched.
“Yes, it is.”He swallowed again, reaching out his own hand to caress Cathal’s cheek, echoing Mark’s actions in his book. “I don’t want you to leave,” he whispered, his words following the script, his heart speeding up.
Cathal closed his eyes as he followed Tomas’s cue, slipping into a role that could have been written for him. “I think I’m in love with you,” he murmured.
Their lips brushed together, tentatively, awkwardly. Tomas pulled away, unsure, his breathing growing ragged, Cathal’s skin warm under his fingers, soft but for the slight stubble across his lower cheek, blond facial hair almost invisible. Tomas leaned in again, his lips parting this time in invitation as he pressed their mouths together. Cathal moaned softly, opening his own lips, leaning into it, his fingers threading through Tomas’s hair.
Wet skin, soft and inviting, tasting of coffee and something else Tomas could only describe as uniquely Cathal. It felt right, better than anything Tomas could have imagined. He whimpered, pulling Cathal to him, convincing himself for that moment they weren’t play acting, that this was real, that the man in his arms was someone who loved him.
The need to breathe drove them apart. Cathal’s eyes opened with a start, searching Tomas’s. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Don’t be.” Tomas traced Cathal’s lips with his fingers, committing the scene to memory, allowing himself a photograph he realized he wanted frozen in his mind forever. “I’m not.”

A little about Anne....
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth. Livejournal Link


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dog Photography is a fun way to procrastinate err...pass the time....

"Black & White Study of a Black Dog"
Banshee, my black GSD
(c) Dog it May Concern LLC
Just a quick snapshot to remind people I'm still alive! And finally fully recovered! So back to writing and soon to the posting!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Romance is Like a Cheeseburger

Hello, Fearless Readers! I know I have been a very quiet around these parts. I apologize. If you've been keeping up with my twitter (@Dean_Ocean  and @Dogitmayconcern) you would know I've been recovering from surgery. And there were some complications. I am going to be fine and dandy soon enough, but the recovery is slow going. And because I'm too stoned on pain medication to be much good as a writer (or blogger) I have coerced people to write posts for me. Really it was more like "Hey Gus, wanna guest blog?" And it was on. So with out further interruption and mindless rambling from yours truely, Gus explains to us why Romance is like a Cheeseburger. While he does that, I am going to get something to eat because a cheeseburger sounds delicious...



Hello readers! I’m Augusta Li, or Gus, hoping to entertain you with a guest post. Thanks to Dean for letting me take over for a bit. Today I’m going to talk about expectations and tropes particular to different genres of literature, and how much authors should adhere to them. And food. Please feel free to comment and offer your opinion. I would love to know how readers feel.

Readers come to every genre with a set of expectations, usually developed from reading other books in the genre. For example, most readers who pick up a romance novel are looking for a love story, obviously. But they expect more than that. Usually, they are anticipating some tension between the protagonists, some obstacles along the way, internal and maybe a bit of external conflict, all culminating in a happily ever after in which two people forge a bond of love and trust and plan to journey through life supporting one another. This formula has worked well for a long time, and some (though not all) readers can be disappointed if an author strays too far from it. Romance is one of the few genres where the author must divulge their conclusion if it’s something other than what’s expected. After all, mysteries and crime novels aren’t required to come with a warning if the ending is less than a fairy tale.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. When you purchase something, you expect to receive the item you were told you’d get, within reason. Say you go into a diner and order a cheeseburger. You expect a meat patty, bun, and cheese at the minimum. Are you outraged if you get cheddar cheese instead of American? Probably not. A slightly different style of roll? It’s still a cheeseburger, still basically what you thought you’d get when you ordered. Now, if you order a cheeseburger and get spaghetti and meatballs, well… you have every right to be a bit cross.

There’s a lot you can do with the humble cheeseburger, though. Creative chefs have imagined infinite variations on the classic formula, and if you stay away from the fast-food chains, you’ll likely have a different burger at every establishment you visit. You’ll get your meat, cheese, and roll, but it’s what the chef chooses to add that can make that sandwich phenomenal, or… completely disgusting. Sometimes the smallest addition can take it from ordinary to extraordinary. As with most things, taking bigger risks will either succeed phenomenally or fail spectacularly. 
So, my metaphor is food-based. Go figure. I swear I didn’t plan it that way. But I truly see the romance genre like a cheeseburger. You start with those three basic components—meat, bread, and cheese—or, two protagonists attracted to each other, some conflict, and a happy ending—and build from there. Sure, you can stay pretty true to the original formula and end up with something pretty damned delicious. With some attention to detail—the right seasonings, fresh bread, a fat, juicy slice of tomato—it gets even better. What about some roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and an artisan mustard? The possibilities are endless and limited only by the creativity of the cook—or author.

How would you feel about a slice of avocado on that burger? Wasabi mayonnaise? Hummus? Kim-chee? What if the burger isn’t beef, but turkey or salmon? How about buffalo? Kangaroo? When does it stop being a cheeseburger and transform into something else? Just how far can one deviate from the meat/cheese/bread formula and still be justified in offering their creation as a cheeseburger? I think there are a few factors.

First, the chef (or author). If you bite into it and it’s so amazingly delicious it completely blows your mind, you’ll probably like it, right? Even if it’s a little, or maybe a lot, different than what you’re used to. Likewise, if you put down a book that’s so well-crafted you miss it instantly and the characters stay in your thoughts long after, you may not mind a small swerve off the established path. This is all in the hands of the creator. I’m sure somewhere in the world there’s a master chef who can make a cheeseburger with peanut butter on it and make it scrumptious (Thai-style, maybe?) Can most of us pull it off? Probably not. But does that mean we shouldn’t try? No guts, no glory, but on the other hand, we don’t need anyone throwing up. It’s a fine line.

Secondly, of course, the reader and his or her preference. Some people just want McDonald’s, want to know exactly what they’re getting and that it will be relatively uniform each time. Nothing wrong with that. They read/eat for a familiar, comforting experience—one they can trust to give them exactly what they’re looking for. Then there are the foodies who go in search of the warthog burger. They want something completely different, and they’re willing to risk it being unrecognizable (and maybe awful). And there’s everything in between, the whole spectrum. I’m a reader who enjoys both. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something bizarre, and I take a chance. Ebooks are pretty inexpensive, so if I have to spit it out, I don’t feel like I’ve lost much. But then there are those days when I just want a Happy Meal: simple, maybe a little predictable, but it hits just the right spot sometimes. Most often, I land in the middle: a lean, juicy burger, hand-seasoned, a fresh roll, mushrooms, swiss, onions, pesto-mayonnaise. Made with love. That’s what I really look for.
What about you? What’s your favorite burger? How far are you willing to step outside the box? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried (food or book) and was it a rewarding experience? Are you a Burger King person or an alligator-burger person, and why? Or does it all depend on the talent of the person who made it?

Thanks for reading and sharing. I’ll leave you with the blurb and an excerpt from my most recent novel, Ice and Embers, the sequel to Ash and Echoes. If I have to guess, on the burger scale, it falls somewhere in the middle with a slight leaning toward foodie-weird. No peanut butter though.

go buy this! Support the poor and
starving artists of the world!

Despite their disparate natures, Yarrow, Duncan, and Sasha united against overwhelming odds to save Prince Garith’s life. Now Garith is king and the three friends may be facing their undoing.

Distraught over Yarrow’s departure to find the cure to his magical affliction, Duncan struggles with his new role as Bairn of Windwake, a realm left bankrupt by his predecessor. Many of Duncan’s vassals conspire against him, and Sasha’s unorthodox solutions to Duncan’s problem have earned them the contempt of Garith’s nobles.

When word reaches Duncan and Sasha that Yarrow is in danger, they want nothing more than to rush to his aid. But Duncan’s absence could tip Windwake into the hands of his enemies. In addition, a near-mythic order of assassins wants Sasha dead. Without Yarrow, Duncan and Sasha can’t take the fight to the assassins. They are stuck, entangled in a political world they don’t understand. But finding Yarrow may cause more problems, and with his court divided, King Garith must strike a balance between supporting his friends and assuaging the nobles who want Duncan punished—and Sasha executed.


THE bairn of Windwake cast off his golden ceremonial cloak emblazoned with the crag eagle livery and let it fall heavily to the stone floor of his chambers. Duncan collapsed into an upholstered chair by the inglenook and rubbed his forehead. The fire had long ago diminished to embers, leaving the expansive suite dark and chill on this early spring night. Ruling Windwake had turned out nothing like he’d imagined, and the stresses of yet another day of listening to the demands of squabbling nobles wore on him. When Duncan had been granted his lands and title, he’d anticipated protecting and providing for his people, much as he’d done when he’d been a knight. The reality clashed hard against his expectations. He’d rather face an entire field of soldiers than those nattering, duplicitous aristocrats any day. At least men with swords were honest about wanting to destroy him, and he knew how to counter them.

Duncan had no sooner let his eyes fall shut and his head rest against the padded velvet of the chair when he heard a sound, even softer than the flutter of a night bird’s wings, on the balcony opposite his hearth. He tensed, his exhaustion replaced by alertness. Many of his vassals couldn’t be trusted; he found them avaricious, their only loyalty to their own treasuries. Some of them still owed fealty to Taran Edercrest, the traitor whose mantle Duncan had assumed after the man’s death in a failed attempt to overthrow Selindria’s true king. Duncan knew at least a few of the backstabbing nobles might stoop to murder if they could profit from it. He crept as quietly as he could to the weapons stand and picked up his greatsword. He held it in both hands as he approached the balcony, ready to defend himself.

With the sole of his boot, Duncan nudged the wooden double doors, and they swung open with a rasp and a groan. The red-tinged crescent moon provided little light as he glanced from one end of the parapet to the other. Nothing moved except a few leaves tumbling across the stone in the light breeze. Duncan blinked hard as sweat dripped into his eyes. He knew he’d heard something, but now he wondered if the combination of his weariness and the ever-present threat of treachery toyed with his mind. He’d never been a paranoid man, but as he stood looking out from the western side of Windust Castle, over the deep, round Barrier Bay, sheltered on three sides by high cliffs, he heard nothing but the gentle lap of the waves against the strong, gray ironstone that made up so much of Windwake. On a clear day, Duncan could see almost to the southern shore of Lockhaven from this balcony, but the gloom of the night and the chill mist rising from the water restricted his vision to the dozens of ships huddled close to the shore, bobbing gently on the calm tide.

“You should be more careful.”

Duncan started and turned toward the low, velvety voice. He scanned the shadows but couldn’t locate the speaker. Then, at the opposite end of the terrace, a sliver of shade separated from the wall, and a lithe silhouette tiptoed along the thin, stone railing before leaping down in front of Duncan without even disturbing the leaves. His boots met the stone silently, and the leather armor he wore didn’t even creak or rustle.

Duncan blew out an extended breath and lowered his weapon. “Goddesses, Sasha. Why must you sneak around like that? I could have cut you in two before I recognized you.”

Sasha answered with a sensuous laugh devoid of any genuine amusement. “I don’t think you could have.”

“Perhaps not,” Duncan conceded, his happiness at his lover’s return trumping his slight annoyance. Besides, he knew Sasha spoke not out of arrogance but simply stated the truth. Sasha had been trained by a cult of assassins so legendary and feared most doubted they even existed. The Order of the Crimson Scythe held mythical status throughout Selindria and Gaeltheon, and Duncan had witnessed Sasha’s lethal skill on more than one occasion. If he’d been inclined, Sasha could have cut Duncan’s throat while Duncan stood watching the boats like a dull-witted child.

Sasha’s training was also responsible for what Duncan saw when he stepped closer to his partner: a face that, while exotically beautiful, betrayed no hint of emotion. Shrewd, black eyes offered no clue of the intentions behind them. Though they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, Duncan looked into the cold face of a killer, not the warm smile of a lover. He tried, unsuccessfully, to staunch the hurt by reminding himself Sasha had been taught almost since birth not to feel love or attachment, let alone show evidence of what he’d been told was weakness.

Duncan reached up and stroked the soft, black hair that fell to Sasha’s slender shoulders. Sasha batted his long, thick lashes and smiled mischievously. He had the most amazing, full, dark lips Duncan had ever seen, and the sight of them curling up and parting slightly sent a tremor of desire down Duncan’s spine. He hoped Sasha showed sincere pleasure at his touch, as much pleasure as he experienced feeling the smooth skin of Sasha’s cheek again after what seemed like forever. Sasha had no reason to perform with Duncan, but Duncan knew old habits held on tenaciously sometimes, like a cough that lingered after the fever had passed.

“I missed you,” he said, pressing a kiss to Sasha’s forehead. “But you could try using the front gate like a normal man. Or are you trying to impress me?”

Sasha curled his body against Duncan and brushed their bellies together. He rubbed his face against Duncan’s whiskers and whispered close to his ear. “Did it work?”

Duncan glanced over the railing at the sheer, four-story drop to the sharp rocks surrounding the fortress. A wide gravel road wound out around those cliffs from the docks to the gate at the southern wall, on the opposite side of the fortress. Aside from that entrance, Windust was virtually impenetrable. “I suppose it did. Did your—” Duncan still felt uncomfortable discussing Sasha’s work. “Were you successful?”

Sasha snorted as if insulted and crossed his arms over his slim chest. His devastating smile widened. “Pym Goodsal and his associates will cause no more trouble for your friend Garith.”

“His Majesty will be pleased,” Duncan said, taking Sasha’s gloved hand, careful of the thin blades hidden at his wrists and the razor-like spikes over his knuckles, and leading him inside.

Sasha shrugged. “So long as he produces the agreed-upon gold.”

Duncan almost asked what Sasha would do if Garith, High King of Selindria and Gaeltheon, the largest and most powerful kingdom in the known world, withheld the payment. He thought better of it, though, and went instead to add logs to the fire and stir up the coals. By now, Duncan knew Sasha regarded a prince and a beggar alike only as men who bled and died for his Cast-Down god.

Sasha removed his gloves, loosening the buckles and then tugging them off one finger at a time, while Duncan poked at the ashes in the hearth. Sasha unbuckled the belts over his hips that held daggers and pouches likely full of poisons, and then he unfastened the strap crossing his chest, along with the weapons it held, and let it drop onto a wooden bench. Sasha effortlessly disarmed himself in absolute silence. Duncan admired Sasha’s grace and fluidity of movement from the corner of his eye as he tended the fire. The room soon glowed warm and bright as the flames flickered and grew. Orange light reflected off the snug, deep-red leather wrapping Sasha’s slender limbs and made shadows dance across his face. The fire couldn’t melt the icy mask the assassin wore, but Duncan knew what might. He replaced the iron poker and crossed the room to Sasha, who stood only a few feet from the balcony door, as if waiting to be invited inside, seemingly unsure of his welcome.

Duncan curled his big hands around Sasha’s waist, almost encircling it. He drew Sasha’s chest against his, rubbed his palm up Sasha’s back to his neck, and guided Sasha’s head to his shoulder. Burying his face in the top of Sasha’s hair, he inhaled the spicy fragrance that almost masked the scents of leather, steel, and blood. “Sasha, this is your home as much as mine. I wouldn’t have any of it if it hadn’t been for you. You don’t have to enter it in secret.”

Sasha laughed icily, but his lips and nose felt warm as he nuzzled against Duncan’s neck. The tickle of his breath against Duncan’s dampening skin when he spoke made Duncan shudder. “So, you’d parade me before your nobles and officials? Claim me as part of your household, as your friend?”

You can Reach August Li at the following Interslice locations:

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Have an excerpt!

This is from a much larger work (that's boardering on Epic in it's length). The title is A Darker Grey. But that may have to change because of all the 50 Shades nonsense. Even though ADG predates 50 Shades by several years (hell it even predates Twilight.) It even predates Werewolves of Portland. Though only in execution, the concept for WoP was developed over ten years ago. Anyway have some words:

(please note this is completely raw, unedited, unrefined...)

“Dear Luna, what have you done to my truck?” He asked emerging from the shadows. His close cropped blonde hair was still light enough to catch the yellowing over head light in the garage.
The air was flooded with the rawness of him, James felt it creeping down his spine and over taking his senses. The way he smelled, like the Earth after rain and the scent of fir trees rustled by a spring breeze. He was refreshing and grounding. He looked different now. When James looked at him, glancing at him to avoid the temptation to stare, he was so aware of the differences. There was more of him now, heavier muscle covering a formerly lean and lanky frame. He had filled out, filled into himself in some ways, lost something else in others. He had always been light, brightness in a dim world and his smile had been paralyzingly brilliant. When he smiled James always felt the earth move, even when they were children, when there was a scheme, a plan, something that he would suggest and then he would smile and James would agree to whatever cockamamie plan it was. He didn’t have that any more, in fact since he had first returned over a week ago James hadn’t seen him smile once. Not that James had much to smile about either.
“Dear Luna?” James snorted, turning his attention to the box of busy work he was sorting, screws and nails by size, shape and head. “You sound like one of them.” The traditional werewolves who had come seeking an alliance, a joint effort in a battle against an imposing Evil.
“I am one of them.” He said casually. He called himself Orion now, a name that in the circles of wolves had become synonymous with death and carnage to the foe they all shared.
To James he would always be Sundance, to look at him was to be reminded of that. So James didn’t look at him, didn’t seek out the familiar set of eyes he had always found to be comforting. Home was in Sundance’s eyes, so blue you could see the bottom of the ocean through them, so perfectly clear and so alive. They smiled, to James they had always smiled. James hadn’t seen Orion smile once.
“I told you to take care of my truck…” Sundance said, he was facing the old chevy, studying the patterns of mud splattered all along the frame.
“Yeah well, I haven’t had much chance to worry about your precious car.” James shoved a box of bolts aside roughly, rougher than necessary. “I did that looking for you, clearly a waste of my time.”
“Are you still angry about that?” Sundance did a fair job faking surprise at the reaction. He folded his arms across his larger chest, the broader muscles constricting under a tee shirt. A tee shirt, nothing like what he would have worn in days past, it was faded and cut poorly with the fabric thin enough you could almost see through in places. Sundance would have never stood for such treatment of his wardrobe. Orion apparently didn’t care.
“Are you kidding me?!” James slammed down a metal case, the recently sorted screws and nails bouncing out of place and scattering along the work bench. He turned and faced Sundance, not sure if he was more out raged or hurt by the implications. “Am I still angry about that?! Of course I’m still angry! You took off into the woods on some glory hunt! I spend weeks searching for you! Calling for you and you’re too fucking busy getting in cozy with your new friends to even bother to what? Bother to see if I even survived after your cockamamie plan?”
That night, that was the Sundance he remembered. The wild hair, the brilliant eyes, the quick and intelligent mind that never quite got used to it’s full potential. The man who would throw out a plan and just run with it, hoping and praying it worked. The man who always managed to come out of everything with barely a scratch on him.
There was a scratch now. The tee shirt stretched thin and ill fitting over Sundance’s shoulders and from the collar poked a scar, it rose up out of the shirt and crawled with jagged tears towards Sundance’s ear. It fanned out, spreading like the branches of a tree, the furthest limb crawling along the strongest point of Sundance’s jaw, ending as a small point on his chin. A man who hadn’t so much as a bicycle accident scar from his childhood, now had a horrific spiraling scar across a portion of what had previous been a handsome face.
The scar told a violent story. The extra muscle, the shortened hair, the lack of a smile told a worse one.
“I knew you were alive. I saw you.” Sundance admitted it with no apology in his tone. It was a simple statement of fact. He had always been an excellent poker player, but James had always known the tell. He couldn’t see if there was one now, he feared there wasn’t. No bluffing, Orion had only truth to offer whether James liked it or not.
“You bastard….” James tasted the disbelief like vinegar on his tongue. His stomach turned, he wanted to be sick all over the floor of the garage. He had come here for solitude, it was where he hid when he couldn’t take it any more. The one place in the world where he could sit in the cab of Sundance’s old truck – the same one he had when they were teens – and quietly mourn his loss. Even after Sundance had shown up, calling himself another name and turning a cold shoulder to James’s disbelief, James mourned the loss of his friend. His lover. His brother. His mate. “You were there? All those times I thought I was losing my mind and you watched from a distance?!”
And he had thought he was losing his mind, the smell of Sundance lingering. His mind playing tricks on him as he searched, as he called, as he begged the gods and the earth to just give him back. He had been so sure that his mind was fooling him, that his heart was reaching out to give him what he needed. So much so he hadn’t spent a night sober since Sundance had vanished, until the night Orion walked into the Moonshine and said ‘hello’.
“I had no choice.” Sundance, his voice still flat but his brows had stitched together, creasing in annoyance.
“You had every choice!” James paced across the garage. He crossed Sundance’s path but did so well out of reach. Well out of range.
“I owed someone my life and it was a debt I had no intention of going back on.” Sundance tracked him with his body, watching him from under those annoyed brows, with eyes that were brilliant, and still so crystal clear blue.
James rounded back to face Sundance, disbelief and anger clouding all the grief and confusion. “Oh now you’re honorable? Run from responsibility you entire fucking life but the first chance you get to leave and you take it in the name of HONOR?!” At the end James kicked a bench, sending it skidding along one set of legs to the wall. It clipped a leg on the work bench, spun out and flipped over leaving only a deafening silence in the wake of it’s angry screeches.
“I have run from duties I could not fulfill. Do not confuse my inability to lead with a lack of responsibility. I have protected you since we were children, James Morvidus.” Sundance was warning him, cautioning him in a way James felt was achingly familiar. But he did not know this Orion who wore the same face. “Always starting fights he couldn’t finish.”
A cheap shot from the blonde.
“You’re doing just fine leading your troops!” A cheaper one from James.
“A general is not an Alpha, you of all people should know that.”
James felt the retort like a sucker punch to his gut. It twisted him inside. He had spent years longing for a position he could not have in their home town. He had come up with the plan to run, to flee and never look back. He hadn’t asked Sundance to go with him, but wasn’t surprised he had. Sundance always followed James, right into range of the monster that nearly killed them that night so many months ago…
James shook the thoughts of that night from his head. Forcing the last vision of Sundance, wounded, powerless against a greater foe, from his mind’s eye.
“That’s what this is about? You never came back because you didn’t want to be alpha?” James had been pushing for it. They were alphas now, this was their place. They could be, with the Firebrands, as they saw fit, no rules. They could rule as a mated pair. Sundance dismissed it, ignored it, or simply said ‘no’. James had always believed he would eventually win, because Sundance always followed him.
“I came back.”
“Six months later.”
“I had no choice, I wasn’t going to let the man who saved my life die because I had to tuck you in at night!” Sundance uncurled his arms, a hand back through roman styled hair that had no give as his longer hair would have in the past. It was an old habit, an old gesture James knew too well; Orion was starting to lose his composure.
“We were building a life here!” James reminded him. A life they could lead any which way they chose. A life where they didn’t have to spend their days hiding from others. Tucking away their affair, covering up their relationship…staying in the closet for eternity. Here they could have been free, been who they wanted to be. Who James had always wanted them to be.
“YOU were building a life here.” Sundance’s hand moved out. Smacking into a solid plank of corrigated wood attached to the wall. The tools balanced on hooks in the wall rattled, bounced with the force of the strike. To James’s eye the strike had not seemed that powerful, that overt, but the ding of the hammer against the wooden wall behind it said otherwise.
The statement tore at James. His insides felt as if they had been shredded, giving way to the acid in the pit of his stomach to eat it’s way through his soul. How could he have not known how little Sundance wanted this life? Hadn’t Sundance always been the one to insist on the closet, on the hiding of what they really were?
“You left…” It was the only thing James could think to say. The last dig he had, the last barb that was stuck in his heart. The notion that at the end of the day, Sundance had survived – more or less – the attack from the demon, but he hadn’t come home. He hadn’t come back to James to tell him as such, he had remained. Only to show up months later as the right hand to the alpha of the Greylock Pack, and not the least bit apologetic for his leaving.
“I didn’t leave, I told you to go. I told you to go so you could survive.” There was obvious anger in Sundance now. His voice was deep, graveled as if from years of smoking, but James suspected it had more to do with the scars that were close to encircling his throat. He moved forward, stalking towards James with a sense of purpose and determination James was unfamiliar with coming from the blond. James didn’t step back, though everything in his instinct told him to quit, to stop while he was still ahead. While he still had a head. But he held his ground as Sundance crowded him. James stepped back to avoid being run over, ceasing as his back collided with the solid metal frame of the truck. “And I went through a pain you can not imagine…like silver in my veins, my body rotting from the inside out it was unimaginable but I would do it again. I would stay in those woods away from you forever if it ensured you never got that close to dying again.” Sundance loomed over the top of James, so much taller than James remembered, though the extra weight did not help him feel any thing less.
“You choose strangers and a life in the wild over me. OVER ME!” He emphasized the words. Not out of desperation of a man with no place to go, trapped as he was against the truck with the even less forgiving figure of Orion looming over him. But as a man who needed Sundance to see, the betrayal was deeper than that of lovers who were separated by a war they didn’t quite understand yet. It wasn’t the act of a man who needed to cause pain to the one he cared for more to feel a sense of fairplay restored. It was far deeper, the betrayal more real and more important than anything else he could think of. James was not the jilted lover, but the forgotten friend. Their friendship, their brotherhood, predated everything else. His first memories were tied to Sundance, to the blue eyes staring back at him. They had been side by side since infancy, their birthdays a mere months apart.
Sundance slammed a violent fist into the side of the truck. A car he had pain painstakingly saved for, repaired, repainted, tended to since he was 16 years old. And he left a sizable dent in the door. “I have never chosen anything over you! My entire life I have always chosen you! I have followed you to the ends of the Earth, I have followed you here, to this place, to this fight and I will not be made to feel guilty for choosing your life over mine. Not now, not ever.”
They were so close now, their faces hovering near one another. James wanted to touch him, to reach out and hold onto Sundance and feel the power course under his finger tips as he had for so many years. To feel the security of knowing everything would some how find a way to work out so long as they remained side by side. But he didn’t have the chance to consider why it would or would not be a good idea. Sundance stepped away from him, shoving James’s shoulers back into the metal as he did so.
The blond grabbed the hem of his poorly cut shirt, and shoved it down over rippling muscles on a core that was solid as a 1,000 year old oak tree. James’s upper lip curled back and he leapt forward shoving Sundance’s broad shoulders forcefully in retaliation.
“Don’t touch me.” He barked.
“Don’t touch me.” Sundance snarled back and shoved James again. Sundance had always been strong, but the shove came with Power behind it and James stumbled back half a pace, caught off guard by the strength of it.
“Why not?” James recovered and shoved Sundance again, hands square on the center of his chest throwing him backwards several steps. “I out rank you, General. I am an Alpha, I can throw you around all I fucking want.”
Sundance recovered, faster than James had, his surprise not as great. He closed the gap between him with an upper lip curled back, white teeth showing edges scissors into one another as they spoke. His voice darkened, turning rougher and harsher as a low warning growl crawled up from the back of his throat. “You so sure about that , Jimmy?”
James had hated the nickname ‘Jimmy’ for as long as any one could recall. It was not his name, it sounded like it belonged to a frat boy with an alcohol or gambling problem. It did not belong to a man who wanted to be alpha of his own pack some day, who had ambition beyond his grasp in his home town where he would always be the first born son of the beta, and not the heir to the thrown. It was a point of contention and a name only used by Sundance in gentle mocking. But it wasn’t mocking or gentle here, it was thrown out into the midsummer night air with a sense of vengeance attached. It was said to cause harm.
James punched Sundance in the nose.