Mini Prologues, a Cover Contest & a Favor

The winner has been chosen in the blog hop and notified. A huge thank you to everyone who stopped by. There was a great turn out.

Also, the second Amaranthine Special Edition is #14 in this month’s You Gotta Read contest and Donna Yate’s Always is #16. A vote for either one would be appreciated. Just follow the link and vote via the flash poll.

In other news, I flipped a coin, played eenie-meenie-minie-mo and finally decided to upload the Heart of the Raven: Mini Prologues to Amazon. I won’t say it hasn’t been a bit of a mess; for some reason they are determined to link it with the Heart of the Raven novel, though after some emails with customer service I think that is/will be straightened out.  BUT they are still charging $.99 for it. Here’s where the favor comes in.

If you would be so kind, could you stop in at http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Raven-Prologue-Collection-ebook/dp/B00EK7ZHW0, scroll down to the “Product details” and click on “Tell us about a lower price”. This will bring a pop up where you can click “Website” and then enter this url (you can copy and paste it) – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/302454 – and enter “0” in the price and shipping fields, and then click the yellow “Submit Feedback”.

Thanks so much, and hopefully amazon will get that price marked to $0 soon so all the kindle readers can download it for free, too.

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Jorick & Katelina: Chapter 1 of Heart of the Raven

jorickkatelina

An Excerpt of Chapter One from Heart of the Raven:

Katelina stared at the sandwich as though it were an enemy. The limp tomato stared back from between layers of stale bread and suspicious lunchmeat. It was a clash of wills, and sadly the wilted lettuce won.

She tossed the sandwich on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch with a groan. It had been three days since the vampires’ underground Citadel had been attacked and the sixth floor, home to the handful of humans who lived there, had been decimated. Though many repairs had been made, the human amenities were still in shambles. Jorick had done the best he could, but the only available food was several crates of premade sandwiches.

Jorick. Boyfriend. Significant other. No label really fit the vampire but, for better or worse, she was in love with him – and she was supposed to meet him outside the audience chamber in a few minutes.

With a resigned sigh, she ate the limp sandwich in three bites, gave her long blonde hair a final pat, and charged out of the apartment and into the black carpeted corridor of the exclusive Executioners’ block. Like a private building, one had to have a special keycard to get in and out of the living area.

Outside was a public corridor. Largely undamaged, the hallway was bordered by hotel-like doors that gave way to mall style entertainment: a spa, an arcade and a movie theater. Vampires, already bored with the events of two days ago, lounged, and chatted as if it was just another day. Most ignored Katelina as she walked past.

The hair stood up on the back of her neck and Katelina hurried past them. Despite their indifference, any one of them could kill her without a second thought. Or maybe not. After all, she’d killed her share of vampires.

The thought squared her shoulders and she climbed in the elevator with a group of them. In the close quarters her courage waned. Luckily, the trip to the third floor was short. She exited quickly and turned for the audience chamber, a sense of dread in her stomach. She knew Jorick would be there, but it was little comfort. She still remembered the trial that had left Jorick sentenced to work as an Executioner, a member of The Guild’s “police squad”.

That had been Malick’s idea. Just thinking of his name was enough to make Katelina shiver. The former head of The Guild, the last time she’d seen him, he’d marched with his faithful underlings over a carpet of corpses. Worse than the sound of popping bones had been Malick’s face. Serene and gentle, like a loving father, even as he killed those he was supposed to protect.

The huge polished doors of the audience chamber loomed ahead of her, fronted by a gray suited guard, but no Jorick. She was only two minutes late. Surely he hadn’t left?

The guard eyed her with the general disdain most vampires showed. “Can I help you?”

Her first instinct was to ignore him, but she needed information. “I was sent for by Jorick, the Executioner.” It was a twist of the truth, and the title was unnecessary, but she enjoyed the way the guard’s face paled.

“They’re, uh, they’re still in session. I suppose you had better go in.”

It was her turn to falter. The last thing she wanted to do was face the remaining Executioners en masse, but it was that or pull up a bench across the hall and wither under the guard’s annoyingly superior gaze.

With a nod, she motioned to the door.

The guard opened it easily, though it weighed more than she could have moved. She swallowed her nervousness in a lump that tasted like the dried out sandwich, and marched inside.

The room was large and round, ringed by pillars and alcoves with tapestries. A crack in the vaulted ceiling hinted at the three day old battle, but everything else looked as it had the last time she’d been there. A red rug cut up the center of the room, bordered on either side by a haphazard arrangement of tables. A small cluster of chairs had been arranged to form three jagged rows. Vampires in black and silver uniforms, members of the greater guard, sat in them and stared with hopeful interest at the raised dais at the far end of the room.

Five thrones sat on the platform, meant for the members of the High Council. Above them, where the golden eye used to hang, a symbol of Malick’s power, a silver dragon winked and caught the light. No doubt it symbolized the new leadership of The Guild.

Beneath the new artwork sat the master himself, Eileifr, with long, braided blond hair and a bristling beard. Though his Nordic features were composed, the air around him seemed to crackle. Without Malick’s overwhelming presence it was suddenly obvious how terrifying Eileifr really was.

Before the platform was a table, and the remaining nine Executioners sat around it, dressed in black with silver medallions hanging around their necks; the symbol of their office. Katelina recognized them all, but only one held her attention. Jorick read a piece of paper, boredom on his face. His long black hair fell around his shoulders in a cascade of silky darkness and his pale skin gleamed like perfect marble in the light from the chandeliers. As if he sensed her scrutiny, he looked up, surprise in his dark eyes. Katelina met them; blue sky clashing with night. He cocked an eyebrow and then, as if he’d seen the answer in her mind, motioned her to wait out of the way.

He wasn’t the only one to notice her. An Executioner with crayon colored red hair also caught her attention. He offered her a fanged smile and a cheery wave. She gave him a scowl, then purposefully looked away and moved to an empty chair on the other side of the room.

Verchiel. How could he expect her to return his greeting? She and Jorick had fought over her almost-friendship with the crazy redhead, only for her to find out that he wasn’t her friend at all. He was only watching her on Malick’s orders. Why hadn’t Jorick warned her?

He did, her thoughts whispered back. But you didn’t listen.

Surrounded by vampires with various mental abilities, Katelina wasn’t sure if the thought was her own or one of theirs. It didn’t matter. It was right either way.

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Prologue 9: Maeko

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

maeko

January 10th
Maeko’s apartment
Japan

Maeko hung up the phone and composed her features before she turned around. Hikaru leaned against the doorframe. His dark hair fell past his shoulders and his deep brown eyes watched her, as if trying to see into her mind. She purposefully shielded her thoughts and saw his lips twitch with concern.

She covered her mouth, but was too late to stop the giggle. “You look worried, Hikaru-chan! But there’s nothing to be worried about.  The arrangements are all made and our guests will be here soon.”

He nodded his head, a short, quick motion. “Hai.”

She rubbed her hands together as she looked around the spacious living room. “I believe this den will suffice. We should stock some extra blood, perhaps?”

He nodded again and left on the errand. They both knew it could wait, but it was an excuse to let her be alone with her thoughts.

A doll with pink hair sat in a nearby chair. She sported a black ruffled dress and painted vampire fangs.  Maeko picked her up and smiled into the tiny plastic face. “He’s coming,” she whispered. “Do you know how long it has been since I’ve seen him?”

The doll stared back blankly, but Maeko carried on as if it had spoken. “It was a long time ago. Hikaru-chan was still human then. It was a long trip but he served me well. That’s when I decided I’d turn him later. He was too young then, you see Aimi-chan. I had to wait for him to grow up a little bit more. There’s no point in two of us that look like children.”

That she looked no older than fourteen was a limitation she accepted. Each person in the world had some imperfection or some obstacle to overcome and that was hers. There were many worse ones, so she was lucky. Appearing like a child was inconvenient, but so long as she kept someone with her who could pass for an older brother, the social conventions were met and no one paid her any mind.

She giggled and sat the doll in the chair again. “You’ll like him, Aimi-chan. I’m sure you will. He’s quiet, like Hikaru-chan, but he’s older; much older.” She frowned suddenly. “The last time I saw him he was so angry! Not at me, but…” she trailed off and rubbed her chin. “You don’t think he is still that way, do you, Aimi-chan? He would be… better now?”

The doll didn’t answer and with a sigh Maeko turned to the full length windows. The lights of the city twinkled back at her, telling silent stories of those who sheltered in their beams from the ever pressing blackness of night. Each light illuminated a tiny stage where people acted out scenes of love, lust, betrayal, anger or loneliness. The lights in her own living room shone back, sharing her tale with the world. She couldn’t help but wonder just what kind of story they told.

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Prologue 8: Malick

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

malick

January 10th
Malick’s new headquarters

Malick motioned to the left and with a grunt Senya and Greneth heaved the fountain to its new position. The ancient master surveyed the effect, then nodded his approval.

Senya straightened and glared around the room. Lush green plants and stone statues looked back at her. The shabby building almost appeared habitable.

“More than habitable,” Malick commented to her thoughts. “For now this will be our new home, our palace! And a palace we will make it.” He clapped his hands and an assortment of guards, still wearing the old black and silver uniforms of the Guild, hurried inside.  As if commanded, they quickly arranged themselves before their master.

Malick surveyed them and smiled. “Ah, my faithful children! It saddens me that so few of you have come, but those that have warm my heart as you cannot imagine!” He motioned Senya and Greneth to the fore. “Before, we had a group of the elite; the best, my Executioners. So we shall do so again but you will not be my Executioners, rather you will be my avenging angels. All of you have chosen to follow me, and so all of you will be the foundation of our new world. Griselda!”

The blonde vampiress marched into the room bearing a large wooden chest. She sat it in the center of the floor and opened the lid. Inside was what looked like folded black cloth and small red boxes.

Malick motioned the group to the chest where Griselda handed them each a stack of cloth and a box. The cloth shook out to be long black coats, emblazoned with a golden eye on the back, and in the boxes were matching golden medallions. It was Malick’s former symbol, the one he’d used before he’d organized The Guild. It was the all-seeing eye, the same as he had tattooed on his back.

“Wear them with pride, my children!” At his command the guards peeled off their Guild issued coats and slid into their new ones. Malick sat back in his chair and watched them fasten the emblems around their throats. Things were progressing just as they should with one exception: his son. But, he would see him in a few days and then… then perhaps he could persuade him to join them. And if not, at least he would discover the hiding place.

Either way, things were shaping up to be quite interesting indeed.

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Prologue 7: Verchiel

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

verchiel

January 10th
The High Council Chambers
The Vampire Citadel
Iowa

Verchiel whistled to himself as he walked through the empty audience chamber. It was getting late; the sun would be up soon, and he’d had a long day already. There were still a lot of repairs to make and the Executioners and Greater Guards had been put in charge of overseeing them. Though he had to admire Oren’s style – the explosions had created a brilliant distraction and plenty of damage – he didn’t have to enjoy cleaning up after it.

At the back of the room was a secret door, hidden in the paneling. He knocked and it opened to reveal a long table ringed in chairs. Eileifr, the new leader of The Guild, sat at the head of the table. His long blond hair fell around his shoulders, intermingled with braids. He had the air of a weary Nordic king.

Verchiel bowed. “You sent for me, Master?”

Eileifr nodded. Though he didn’t have the power to read thoughts, Verchiel could feel him scrutinizing him. He wondered if the silent inquiry came away with anything.

“We’ve been in contact with the True Council in Munich. They’ve asked us to send a pair of Executioners to testify about what happened here.”

Verchiel suppressed a grin. “You’re sending me?”

“That was a consideration, yes. But, at this time, only a consideration. Jamie is another likely candidate, one that outranks you. However, you were in the atrium with us when Malick made his exit, so your testimony might be of more value.”

Verchiel clasped his hands behind his back respectfully, though his eyes danced. “Yes, of course.”

“However, I need to be convinced that you and Jorick can work together.” He held up his hand as if to silence the other. “I know about your… differences, and they concern me only so far as your work is concerned, do you understand? If you are sent, I expect you to conduct yourself with the decorum and professionalism of one who is representing The Guild.”

Verchiel bowed his head. “Yes, Master. Of course.”

“Good. The… network is still down, from what I understand, but as soon as it is operational again we will generate the necessary paperwork for a trip to Germany. Assuming we decide to send you, that is.”

“Of course, Master.”

Eileifr made an appraising noise that sounded like “hmmmm.” He looked on the point of speaking further when a knock sounded on the door and he instead called, “Enter.”

Ark strode through the doorway, his long black coat swooshing behind him and a stack of paperwork in his hand. He glanced at Verchiel and then directed his attention to Eileifr. “The Executioner applications, Master.”

Eileifr took the stack and dropped it on the table in front of him. “Very good. Thank you, Ark.” He turned to Verchiel.  “You may go. And might I suggest that, for the benefit of all, you stay away from both Jorick and his human for the time being?”

Verchiel’s smile was tight and obviously fake. “As you say, Master.”

“Good. I will see you tomorrow. We will have to choose the replacements, and I want everyone’s input.”

Verchiel bowed again, mumbled, “Of course, Master,” and then let himself out. Despite the last minute edict, he was still delighted.  A trip to Munich would be just the thing.

Even with ol’ grumpy boots!

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Prologue 6: Neil

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

neil

January 10th,
The Guards’ Office
The Vampire Citadel
Iowa

Neil hurried down the corridor, fastening his gray coat as he went. He skidded around a corner and through the doorway of the guards’ office. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Again,” the vampire behind the desk snapped impatiently. “You shouldn’t have taken the extra shifts if it was too much for you.”

“It isn’t like I volunteered to take them forever,” Neil said. “It was just supposed to be while Gerard was on vacation.”

“Well he’s on a permanent vacation now – or a fifty year vacation at the very least.” He signed his name in the book and passed it to Neil. “If you don’t like it you could always put in to be a greater guard. There’s several slots open. Not that you’d get one.”

Neil ground his teeth and turned his attention to the sign in book. It was only when the other guard had left that he looked up. He wasn’t interested in being one of the greater guard and going out on missions with the Executioners. All he wanted to do was sign in for his regular shift, sit at his desk, sign out and collect his paycheck. He didn’t need excitement and adventure.  Gerard was an example of someone who had wanted excitement. He’d wanted promotions; he’d wanted to do something. Well good going, Gerard, because now he had fifty years imprisonment for conspiring to commit multiple murders. That was the sort of thing that happened when you looked for excitement – that is if you lived through it.

Neil dropped into the chair and propped his feet up on the desk. It was getting late. The sun would be up in a few hours and he’d have to sit there, board off his butt, while everyone else slept. Though since the attack the night before last there were others who were stuck awake all night. Heightened security, they called it. As if Malick was going to come back in the daylight to destroy them.

He unconsciously rubbed his head. Thank God he’d missed most of the battle. He’d started out on the front lines with the other lesser guards. He remembered an explosion and pieces of metal and stone flying through the air and then nothing until he woke up in the infirmary. They told him that a piece of shrapnel had gone clear through his forehead, but since it hadn’t pierced his heart he was fine. Others weren’t so lucky. The debacle had cost too many lives, many killed by Malick himself.

Neil still didn’t understand why Malick had turned against his own Guild. He was the one in charge, so technically didn’t that mean he’d revolted against himself? Why? He’d tried to discuss it with his fellows, but their answer was, “He’s a master. What do you expect? Thinking like one of them is above our pay grade.”

But wouldn’t they all be masters someday, too? Assuming they lived long enough.

The door opened and Neil stiffened as the head of the Executioners walked in. Ark was tall, slender and terrifying. His cool green eyes and the medallion around his neck both said he’d happily squash anyone who got in his way.

Neil jumped to his feet and saluted. “Can-can I h-help you?”

“I’m here to collect the Executioner applications.”

Executioner applications? Neil had no idea what he was talking about. “Um, yes, right. Of course. Um, just let me, um, look for them.” He scrambled through the contents of the desk, praying that the papers would materialize.

Ark tapped his foot. “Should I find them myself?”

“N-No,” Neil stuttered. If he could sweat, it would have been pouring down him. They had to be there somewhere – didn’t they? He turned and brushed against a stack of papers. They scattered to the floor in a snow colored avalanche. He collected them hurriedly, but paused when he noticed the word “Executioner” printed on one. It was the applications!

He stacked them as neatly as he could and stood, holding them out like an offering. “Here you are, um, sir.”

Ark snatched them from him and flipped through them. “Yes.” He turned on his heel and strode from the room without so much as a thank you – but there was no reprimand, either.

Neil sank into the chair and glanced to the desk where another stack of paper sat. He picked it up absently and rifled through it. It was – “More applications!” He jumped to his feet, and then he imagined Ark’s cold face and angry eyes. He’d already handed over a pretty big stack. How many applications did they need, anyway?

He looked around the office quickly, checking for observers, and then sidled sideways to the trashcan. The papers slipped from his fingers and he carefully dropped a few blank sheets on top. He mopped his brow from habit rather than need and moved quickly back to the chair. It would all be okay. It wasn’t as if they’d be forced to settle on the wrong candidate or anything. There were probably perfectly good choices among the papers he’d already given them. He was just helping narrow it down a bit.

Right. Just narrowing it down.

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Prologue 5: Oren, Torina, Micah & Loren

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

oren

January 10th
An old farmhouse
Somewhere in Northern Missouri

The house was old, empty and abandoned. With no electricity and no water. Truthfully, it was no worse than some of the dens Oren and his war coven had stayed in, but he’d been busy then, planning, arranging. He’d been occupied. Now all he had to do was sit and wait.

Oren stiffened as the sound of a car drew closer. He searched for a weapon and, finding nothing in the empty room, dropped into a defensive stance. The note Jorick left at the old den had been too obvious. The Executioners were coming.

The motor cut off and car doors opened. Oren narrowed his eyes and reached out with his mind to find three of them. He pressed further against their mental walls and one of them gave way. It was Loren. Through the teen’s thoughts he could see his companions: the bald, tattooed Micah and his own redheaded sister, Torina.

Oren relaxed. So the note had worked the way Jorick planned. Of course. Everything always worked the way Jorick planned it to.

His irritation disappeared when the door opened and Micah came through it, stomping dirty snow from his boots. Loren followed, and Torina inched her way in behind them, frowning and shaking the muck from her expensive heeled shoes.

Micah’s eyes landed on Oren and he bellowed, “Well look what we found, skulking in the middle of bum fuck nowhere.”

Torina was instantly animated. She pushed past her companions and stormed towards him, her manicured hands in fists. “Where the hell have you been? We thought you were dead!”

“Perhaps it would be better if I was,” Oren muttered, more from habit than conviction. He could see the tears that gathered in the corners of his sister’s eyes and thought about what Jorick had said.

“… Jesslynn is dead, your children are dead, but your sister is alive. If you don’t want to live for yourself then live for her. The time has come for you to pick yourself up from the ashes and start over. You have wallowed enough! Mourn Jesslynn, miss her, long for her even, but do not waste both my time and Torina’s by following her to the grave. Remember what you have left and be grateful for it!”

She raised a hand as though to slap him. Her fingers trembled and then she dropped her hand and shouted, “Don’t you ever do that again or I’ll kill you myself!”

She straightened her shoulders and spun away from him. Her eyes moved around the dark, empty rooms and she shuddered, “I’ve put up with some lousy dens, but this is ridiculous! The war is over! You can’t expect me to keep living in these rat holes! I’m used to better!”

“Who’s a spoiled princess?” Micah asked and snorted. She glared at him and he laughed. “We could go stay at pipsqueak’s house.”

Loren shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

Oren debated on whether to include them in his plans or not. He’d planned to take Torina with him, but the other two… Why not? Who else was there? His previous coven, the one he’d managed for years with his wife, was disbanded and scattered. Those that weren’t dead had no intention of returning, and those who were couldn’t. Loren and Micah were idiots to be sure, but they were idiots who’d gleefully joined in the fight, even when those he relied on were less enthusiastic.

He cleared his throat loudly. “Actually, we have some where to go.”

loren-micah-torina

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Prologue 4: Sadihra

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

sadihra

January 10th
The basement detention center
The Vampire Stronghold
Munich, Germany

(Scharfrichter/Scharfrichterin = Executioners)

Sadihra signed the papers with a flourish and handed the clipboard over. The guard snapped a quick salute. “Thank you, Scharfrichterin.  I will see that the prisoners are assigned cells.”

She returned the salute. “Good. Will there be anything else?”

“No, Scharfrichterin.”

She nodded. “In that case see to your duties.”

He snapped a final salute, which she again returned, and then she strode from the guards’ room and through a series of chambers to a broad marble corridor. She needed to file her report, not that it would take long. It was another assignment that should have been given to someone with less seniority.

She passed the gated doorway that led down to the Kugsankal and tried to ignore the little tremor that ran through her. She could feel the power of the ancients throbbing like a heartbeat, and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Though she’d never gone through the door, or down the corridors that led to their chambers, she imagined that the sensation only got heavier and more unbearable the closer one got to them.

She slipped into the nearest elevator and quickly pressed the button. As it rose the sensation lessened, though it didn’t disappear. It never disappeared. The will of the ancient council permeated every stone of the stronghold and filtered into every mind.

She looked forward to getting out of there for a while.

The doors swished open and she strode with a purpose to the Scharfrichter office.  The deep emerald carpet and upholstered chairs gave the room a heavy, old fashioned look, like some kind of library. They’d discussed redecorating more than once, but it never came to anything. It would be such a shame to change the “tradition”, or so everyone said.

Hethin leaned against a carved desk and read over a folded piece of paper. The long white hair that fell around his shoulders spoke of an age his face didn’t reflect. His skin was almost as pale, and his eyes were like the icy ponds at Christmas time.

He glanced up at her. “You’re back.”

“Yes, sir.” She saluted the second in command. “I apprehended two, who have been given cells. They’re both quite young.”

“Then it was an easy assignment,” Hethin’s smile looked fake. “The Americans will be arriving in a few days. You were assigned to escort them and then accompany them back to the United States?”

Suspicion blossomed in her eyes. “Yes.”

“There’s been a change of assignment.” Hethin tossed the paper to Sadihra. “You’re to remain here.”

She skimmed the hand written contents, signed by the High Council. Bitter words rose to her tongue, but she held them back. It would do no good to argue. “Thank you, sir.”

The look he gave her was half amusement and half pity. “You’re not missing much. Of course you can still accompany the Americans once they’re here if you wish. We haven’t received confirmation on their identities, except for The Hand of Death.” She didn’t even flinch and he rubbed his chin. “Perhaps he was before your time, yes?”

“I believe so, sir.”

“Then you certainly won’t miss anything.” He made a dismissive gesture. “That’s all. You may go.”

“Thank you, sir.” She gave a quick, half bow and then strode from the office, the note clutched in her fist. She knew why the orders had been changed, and she was going to make sure the one responsible was sorry for it!

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Prologue 3: Sorino & Kai

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

kai and sorino

January 10th
The sixth floor salon
The Vampire Citadel
 Iowa

Sorino leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. His gaze flicked over the dark skinned vampire before him. Dreadlocks flecked with beads gave him a bohemian look that his round sunglasses complimented. The agitation on his face seemed out of place.

“-so far no one has been able to locate Malick. I have them working on it, but…”

Sorino waved him to silence. “I’ve told you that you’re wasting your time, Lurid. The best lead on locating the relic is right here in the citadel working as an Executioner.”

“So you keep saying, but we’re no closer to it. The Hand of Death isn’t going to tell you where it is!”

“Of course not, but his pet may.” Unbidden, Sorino’s eyes moved to the teenage boy who sat in a nearby chair, hunched over his laptop. Though his long bangs hid his eyes, Sorino knew they were trained on the screen, absorbed in the video he was watching.

“May. In the meantime Malick might get it!”

Sorino’s attention shifted back to his associate. “I doubt that. If he knew where it was, he’d already have it.”

“Then what about Traven? What’s to stop him? I heard that he’s headed to France.”

“He’s only running home now that the last of his family is dead. I really didn’t see that coming.” His thoughts drifted to the stories he’d heard of the trial. If only he’d gotten to see Traven actually sacrifice his own wife…

Lurid interrupted his thoughts. “You’re too calm. Either you know more than you’re telling or you’re crazy.”

“Then call me crazy.” Sorino swept to his feet and motioned to the boy. “Kai, come.”

Lurid’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What are you not telling me?”

“I know only what you know. If you’ll excuse us?” He didn’t wait for a response as he led Kai out of the salon and down the corridor to their room. Though much of the sixth floor had been taken out during the fighting, this end was relatively unharmed. Their original room had been decimated, but the Guild was polite enough to give them a new one and had even offered a free upgrade. The television normally cost extra, and was something Sorino never bothered with on his stays. It wasn’t worth the cost considering the mindless entertainment it offered.

Kai moved silently to the room’s seating area and once again propped his laptop open. Sorino closed the door and leaned against it, mentally scanning the corridor. He could feel Lurid moving outside; pacing up and down. The vampire’s thoughts tumbled back and forth between belief and incredulity. He moved closer to the door, no doubt listening, and then with a final irritated thought he strode away.

When Lurid’s footsteps faded, Sorino pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. He skimmed the contents, nodded to himself, and moved to the phone. The buttons gave soft beeps as he dialed the number, followed by a series of clicks and then a set of staticky rings.

As-salāmu `alayka!

He cut in before the man could go on with his usual long spiel. “This is Sorino. I received your missive and yes, I’m very interested. Of course, I’d have to see it with my own eyes before we could discuss payment.” He glanced to the silent teenage boy. “Expect us in a few days.”

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Prologue 2: Wolfe

With the release of Heart of the Raven looming, it’s time to meet the characters! But why just read a stale bio, when you can have a flash-fiction introduction? These take place the day before Heart of the Raven begins. Think of them as mini prologues. They will not appear in the book and this is the only place you can read them. Enjoy!

wolfe

January 10th
The Scharfrichter Office
The Vampire Stronghold
Munich, Germany

(Scharfrichter = Executioner)

Wolfe flicked through the screens of information with no enthusiasm. Photos flashed past, coupled with tidbits of information and old reports, most of which were scans of sloppy paperwork. He clucked his tongue and turned his attention to the caller on the other end of the phone. “The database shows that he’s on a watch list, but nothing else.” Wolfe’s fingers hovered over the touch screen as he skimmed the newest report, one that detailed an attempted rebellion. “I can send you the most recent reports on him, if you like.”

The reply came in a French accent, “No, no, that will not be necessary. At least not yet. He may only be passing through. So long as he is not a fugitive…”

“It doesn’t appear so.” Wolfe closed the reports and moved away from the display. “Is there anything else?”

“No, no, that should do. Merci.”

“You’re welcome. Good day.” Wolfe ended the call before the other could comment further. His mind wandered back to the old days, before he was even born, when each small country had had their own Sodalitas. There had been wars then, of course, and much unrest but they had all taken care of themselves. Surely that would be worth it?

He shook the thoughts off as Hethin walked through the door. The white haired vampire stopped, saluted and then moved to the desk. “I’m sorry I’m late, sir.”

Wolfe waved him to silence. “You’re not late, I’m just impatient. Office duty is always boring. I don’t know how you cope with it.”

Hethin winked. “I pass it off on others as often as possible. Anything new?”

“A call from the French branch wanting information on an American. Nothing exciting.” And then he remembered the envelope. “I stand corrected. The Höher Rat sent new orders for Sadihra. I left them on the desk.”

Hethin picked up the opened envelope and slid the paper out. “Ah. I see. Have you told her?”

“No, she’s still out on a call. It was only a minor disturbance, so she should be back soon. If you would be so kind?”

Hethin sighed. “Of course, sir.” He snapped a smart salute.

Wolfe returned it. “Thank you. Unless you require anything, I believe I’ll have some dinner and retire to my quarters for the night.”

Hethin nodded. Wolfe gave him something close to a friendly wave and then headed out of the plush Scharfrichter office and down the broad corridor. Silver sconces twinkled and heavy carved marble reminded everyone of the centuries that had passed. He could only imagine what a miraculous masterwork the stronghold had been when it was first built in the 1100s. Even now, with modern equipment and methods, shortcuts and power tools, it was still an impressive piece of architecture.

His own quarters were plush, though sparsely decorated. He took a bottle of blood from the miniature refrigerator and set about warming it in a pan of water on the small stove top. Many vampires had switched to using microwaves, including several of the restaurants in the stronghold. It might be faster, but it was harder to get just the right temperature. So often it was too hot, and that ruined the flavor. Who wanted boiled blood?

While the egg timer ticked away, he tidied his rooms. The cleaning staff did an admirable job when it came to dusting and vacuuming, but he liked things to be just so, and they could never manage it. They would always leave something out of place; a drawer not quite closed, shoes in the wrong order, an empty hanger in the closet.

He paused at his nightstand and opened the drawer. The picture inside was face down, but he didn’t need to turn it over to know who was in it and what it represented. It was a happier time, one before the doubts crept in. Before-

The timer chimed and he slammed the drawer closed with disgust. He didn’t have time for sentiments right now. There would be an American envoy in a few days, and it would be his responsibility to take them before the Kugsankal. That was what he should concentrate on, that and nothing else.

If only he could control his thoughts.

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  • Tales of the Executioners

    Short stories from the world of Amaranthine; a universe of blood and darkness where vampires don't sparkle and night is eternal. Each is about a member of the Executioners squad; the special vampire "police" force. Members both past and present share stories of assignments, origins, and more.

    Dark, light, love, laughter, death...you never know what you'll find in the shadows.

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  • Joleene Naylor

    Joleene Naylor

    An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at http://JoleeneNaylor.com or drop me a line at Joleene@JoleeneNaylor.com

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