Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow Excerpt

Sunday Sample, one day late :)  This is the continuation of This Excerpt… Kieran and Galan get into it. Poor, poor Kieran.

*****

Kieran sought the best vantage point. He crept toward the building adjacent to the alley the girl had indicated, using the rotting awnings and crumbling windowsills to climb to the rooftop. This had to be the worst smelling street in the entire city. He adjusted his mask, thankful that it filtered out the brunt of the foul odor.

Before he reached the far end of the building, he could hear faint shuffling, a whisper here, a murmur there.

Sounds like they’re gettin’ impatient.

Kieran wouldn’t keep them waiting any longer.

He unclasped the lid of a hard case attached to his belt, pinching the end of a crossbow bolt with his thumb and index finger. He slid it out inch by inch, clenching it between his teeth, being extremely careful to keep the tip away from his skin. He pulled another bolt out, loading it into his hand crossbow, then shut and locked the case.

Kieran picked his way carefully across the flat rooftop, pressing his back up against the chimney that stuck up through the roof. He rolled slowly toward the front, studying the layout of the men down below with a few quick darts of his eyes, then dipped back behind the chimney.

A couple of the men seemed bored, one of them leaning against the wall and cleaning his nails with a knife. There was one man at each end of the alley with a crossbow.

Where was Galan? Kieran looked again, risking poking his head out a bit longer, but still saw no sign of him.

Kieran readied himself. First, the crossbowmen. I don’t want to get shot. He propped his shoulder against the chimney and rolled forward, aiming and loosing his shot in one swift motion. He heard the thunk of the bolt piercing flesh as he ducked back out of view. He took the bolt from between his teeth and reloaded.

A dull thump followed by a clatter exploded in the night. The men exclaimed out loud, and Kieran heard their tone go from confusion to caution. The ring of drawn steel reached his ears as they questioned aloud where the shot had come from. He had to be quick.

Kieran rolled forward again, only letting half his body emerge from behind the chimney. The unscathed crossbowman had changed position, but only slightly. Kieran aimed, loosed, and another thief went down with a gurgle when the bolt slammed into the side of his neck. He popped open the case and pulled out two more bolts.

A man’s voice called out. “On the roof! He’s on the bloody roof! Get to cover!”

That’s him. Crouching low, Kieran stealthed toward the sound of their retreating footsteps. They tried to stay under the awnings and against the walls, but Kieran tracked them easily. He propped his hand crossbow against the edge of the roof and pulled the trigger. The bolt flew toward its target with a twang, sinking into the flank of one of the retreating thieves. The man fell against a wall, sliding down to the ground. Then, all was silent.

Kieran reloaded, straining his ears to listen. Did they somehow get around the building?

Galan’s voice echoed against the buildings. “Kieran, that you up there? I recognize your bolts.”

Kieran said nothing. His ears picked up faint footfalls. They sounded like they were coming from the street below him to his left. He flexed his fingers around the crossbow and braced himself.

“Let’s bargain. Stop shooting, and we’ll talk.”

Kieran’s legs burned with the effort of staying low as he approached the side of the building.

“Come, hear me out. I’m a man of honor.”

About as honorable as a Zaraban merchant during trading season.

He heard a faint scrape travel up the side of the building. Was Galan climbing?

“I wanna make a deal with you. Work with me on one last job, and we’ll call our little feud even.”

The scraping noise sounded closer now. Kieran shut his eyes and focused on where the sound was coming from. Must be one of the other men; Galan wouldn’t give himself away like that.

A twang of metal rang out and Kieran’s head whipped around just in time to see a hand appear and grip the lip of the roof. The thief’s grimy hair bobbed into view, and Kieran lowered his crossbow until the bolt aimed between the man’s eyes.

The man’s jaw went slack, eyes opening as wide as they would go. “Don’t-”

Kieran pulled the trigger, feeling the bow vibrate in his hand as the bolt crunched into the dirty spot between the man’s eyebrows, his head jerking back with the impact. The thief let out his breath in a huff as his grip loosened and he crashed to the ground below.

He took the bolt from between his teeth, reloading. “No bargain.”

“Agreed.” Galan’s voice rumbled behind him, too close for his comfort.

Kieran spun on his heel, rearing back when the tip of a sword pricked against the front of his neck. He froze, crossbow lifted halfway.

Galan’s mouth twisted into a wicked grin, his gold tooth glinting in the moonlight. He took a step forward, forcing Kieran back. “Always a pebble in my boot, Kieran. Shoulda left the city while I was locked up.”

Kieran took another step back, feeling with his toe to make sure he wasn’t about to plummet off the building. He could hear scrabbling behind him; the last remaining thief, climbing up to the top. He could hear the man’s heavy breathing, and a sharp poke against his back. A bow?

“Though,” Galan said. “I s’pose you would stick around. Right, Keean?”

He swallowed, wincing when the sword’s tip pricked his skin. Keean. That’s what his sister used to call him when she was young. Galan knew about Raili. Did he know where she was now? Kieran’s mind raced, his heart pounding in his chest. Hatred seethed in his gut.

Galan stepped back, using his sword to point. “Down.”

One chance. He took a long breath, trying to enjoy it in case it was his last one.

Kieran twisted around at the hip, reaching back to grab hold of the crossbow the thief held against his back. He yanked forward, and the bolt loosed. Galan recoiled, backpedaling a few steps, the bolt narrowly missing his face. Kieran elbowed the man behind him twice, trying to shove him off the side of the building. The man growled, his foul breath seeping through Kieran’s mask.

Galan recovered, advancing with a menacing sneer. The man with the crossbow was heavy, more of a brawler than a thief. Kieran threw all of his weight against him and he toppled, arms wheeling in the air. Turning, Kieran reached for the hilts of his knives – but the man behind him grabbed his arm as he pitched over the edge. He felt himself being pulled off the roof.

Kieran’s heart dropped into his stomach. He squeezed his eyes shut as he plummeted toward the ground below.

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Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow Excerpt

More “Sovereign of Shadow” goodness. This is a little further along in the story than my previous samples, and will end up in either chapter 2 or 3.

* * * * *

Kieran drew in a deep breath, feeling the cloth covering his face pull in against his lips for a moment before blowing it away. The hood over his head fluttered in the constant breeze that blew along the tops of the buildings. He prowled along the edges of the roof like a cat, keeping his eyes on the network of dirt roads and rotting alleys that marked the beginning of The Dregs.

Most of the access to the Outer Circle from the Dregs had been barricaded, but there were still a few openings that allowed people through. The barricades were temporary while they completed construction on wall that would section off each part of Midcity – a blatant reminder of the rigid class structure of the city.

Walls and barricades wouldn’t stop Kieran though. For the past few nights, he’d been seeking any activity that might lead him to Galan. Though he had to admit that he wasn’t sure what he would do once he found him. Someone had to get Galan’s group off the streets – they were violent and corrupt, and gave thieves everywhere a bad name.

Though the profession itself might have had something to do with that.

The roads were empty; guards didn’t bother much with this area of the city. Anyone walking alone in the middle of the night this close to The Dregs deserved to be robbed.

If all they did was steal, Kieran wouldn’t care. Instead, they beat and raped. They used desperate children with no home or family to lure in their targets.

Kieran neared the end of his third round of the city. Another eventless night. Either Galan was laying low, or he was being extremely careful about his activity.

Perhaps it was time to head back home for the evening. He didn’t have a real plan, anyway. He couldn’t take on Galan and the Theives’ Guild with hatred alone. He altered his course, heading in the direction of his ruined tower when something at the far end of the street below caught his eye.

A woman? Kieran hurried to catch up. Surely no one would be that stupid. No one who knew the inner workings of Midcity, anyway. She had to be a traveler, likely passing through the city. The poor woman seemed oblivious to her surroundings; the fact that she was out alone at night spoke volumes. Her slippers clacked on the cobblestone, and she didn’t seem to be in any hurry. She held her chin up high. Her clothing style and decorative hat suggested she had some money. What would a woman of her stature be doing out this far? He needed to catch up to her.

Or… Kieran stopped. He pursed his lips and watched her. A pretty, wealthy woman like that would catch Galan’s attention.
Though he didn’t want to see the young woman get hurt, he decided to leave her be. He kept her in his sight while scanning the streets.

He didn’t have to wait long. As the woman rounded a corner that put her even closer to The Dregs, something darted across the street and took cover in a patch of shadow.

Kieran crouched down, poking one eye over the edge. Nothing stirred for a long time. What had he seen? He stayed there motionless, eyes fixated on the dark patch near a door where he’d thought he’d seen the movement.

Maybe he was just tired. Though he didn’t really believe that. The one thing he trusted more than anything else was his instincts. He waited, watching.

There. Out of the blackened doorway darted a thin, lanky figure. Whoever it was, they were trying to stay hidden in the shadows, trailing the woman.

Looks like a kid. He narrowed his eyes and followed. Kieran waited until she was further down the road, then padded to the corner of the building. He leapt lightly onto an unlit lamppost, his boots rasping softly as he slid to the ground.

It had to be Galan. They moved fast; it was like they knew the woman would be there. He remembered his own time with the Theives’ Guild, being sent out alone in the middle of the night as bait.

Kieran sped ahead of the girl, keeping one street between them. He poked his head out of an alleyway in front of the woman just as the child caught up to her. He could see now that it was a young girl, no older than Raili.

The girl’s steps switched from discrete to clumsy. She panted and widened her eyes. “Help me! Please Lady, help!”

The woman spun around with a gasp, pressing her fingertips to the top of her chest. “Kernu’s horn, child. You frightened the wits out of me.”

From Belamros, by the sound of ‘er voice. Maybe she’ll jus send the kid away.

“My br-brother,” the girl wailed. “He’s sick. P-please, help!”

Kieran ground his teeth together. The same bloody story I used. You’d think by now he’d come up with somethin’ better.

The woman planted her fists on her hips. “I certainly do not know what you expect me to do. I am no healer.”

“Please!” The girl shrieked, tears flowing effortlessly down her cheeks. She fell to her knees, sobbing. “He’s all I got. My b-brother. He’s gonna d-d-die.”

“Oh, dear.” The woman bent at the waist and patted the girl on the shoulder. “All right then. Take me to him. We will find someone along the way to assist. Perhaps a member of the law.”

That wasn’t likely. Galan picked his locations well. Kieran stepped out of the shadows. “Stop.”

They both jumped at the sudden noise, the girl drawing a tiny rusted dagger from her belt and crouching low.

The older woman eyed him suspiciously, her fists returning to her rounded hips. “And who are you? Her brother? You do not look ill.”

“Don’t follow her,” Kieran said. He addressed the woman, ignoring the kid trying to circle around him. “She’s gonna lure ya into a trap.”

“I highly doubt that. She’s just a child.” The older woman wagged a finger in the air. “You, on the other hand. I do not like the look of you. Don’t dare think to rob me, you hear? I’ve been trained in Fire.” A pitiful flame sputtered to life above her outstretched palm, it’s measly light flickering on the brick walls.

Kieran shook his head slowly, recognizing the imitation of magic for what it was. He took a step forward. “There’s a group of men waitin’ in a dark street for ya. Waitin’ ta rob and beat ya.”

The woman’s fire faltered and winked out. Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him. Her whisper barely reached his ears. “Are you with them?”

Kieran opened his mouth to answer, but a meager snarl interrupted him from behind. He twisted to the side and grabbed hold of the skeletal wrist that had thrust a rusty dagger at him.

The girl squealed, pushing at him with her free hand, kicking at his legs.

Kieran glared at the girl. “Tell ‘er.”

The girl’s face went white and she stopped struggling. Her eyes flicked to the woman and back. She only nodded.

The woman gasped, covering her mouth. “Disgusting child! Who do you think you are? How dare you try t-”

“Enough,” Kieran growled. He stepped forward to loom over the woman, pulling the girl along behind him. “Get. Off. The street.”
The woman looked shaken, but managed a small bob of her head. “T-thank you.” She glared at the girl before hiking up her skirt and running off toward the Outer Circle.

The little girl whimpered.

Kieran glared at her. “You wit Galan?”

She gave him a jerky nod. “I’m s-sorry. I didn’t know what else ta d-do, I don’t have-”

“Quiet.” Kieran took the dagger from her hand. “You got a family?”

She shook her head, and her bottom lip quivered. “J-jus me.”

He thought she might start bawling at any moment. “Show me where they’re hidin’. Then get outta Midcity. I’ll give ya five gold crowns. Find a better life than this.”

The girl’s dark eyes were wide as saucers, covered with a watery sheen of tears ready to spill over. “W-why?”

“Don’t ask questions. That’s the deal, take it or not.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded, sniffling and wiping at her nose.

Kieran let her lead him closer to Galan’s hiding spot, where he and the Thieves’ Guild would be waiting for the girl to bring them the older woman. She pointed to a shadowy area along the outer wall of the town. As Kieran had expected, they encountered no guards along the way.

Kieran opened one of his many hidden pouches and fished out five fat gold crowns. The girl’s eyes gleamed and she grinned. She’d probably never seen that much money in her life. He emptied the coins into her tiny hands. “Disappear.”

She immediately stashed them away in a pocket, then lunged at Kieran and squeezed him in a brief hug. “Thank you.” With that, she scurried off in the opposite direction.

Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow, Chapter 1

Working on my baby right now, Sovereign of Shadow. This is the second half of chapter 1. This one’s a little rough around the edges and still needs some polishing. If you haven’t read the first half yet, you can find it here:

Sovereign of Shadow – Chapter 1, Part 1

Enjoy!

*****

Galan’s outta prison…. 

Kieran tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

Just then, a loud crash shook the entire house. Shouts and rattling echoed from the ground floor, and he heard the telltale clank of armor against stone barreling up the stairs.

Shit. Kieran stashed the skull away and whirled to escape through the window. He tossed back the curtains, only momentarily surprised to find it already unlocked.

Galan had set him up. He’s probly waitin’ fer me outside, ready ta put a bolt in my heart.

Still, Kieran would rather take his chances at outrunning the man he’d put behind bars than tangle with the law.

He pushed open the glass panes and rolled over the windowsill onto the balcony just as a group of shouting guards streamed into the room, exclaiming over the woman’s body. A female voice barked orders, but Kieran didn’t stick around to hear them.

Using the wrought iron bars surrounding the narrow balcony, he sprang up to catch hold of the ledge above him. Below, a man poked his head out of the window. A gauntleted hand shot up and wrapped around Kieran’s ankle, leaving his legs dangling in the air. He aimed a kick at the man’s wrist. The guard growled, but didn’t let up. Kieran’s arms trembled as he fought to maintain his grip on the iron bars.

Kieran’s strength flagged. His arms weakened. His hands lost their hold for a moment and he slipped downward, barely able to regain his grip.

In a last effort, he hooked an elbow around the bars and let go with one hand. He reached into a pocket on his tunic and pulled out a tiny glass sphere, flicking his wrist to send it smashing into the floor below the window. The liquid within the sphere reacted to the air, and a billowing cloud of thick mist engulfed the guard.

The guard’s grip faltered and he looked down in alarm. A heartbeat later, his head sagged and he folded over the windowsill, arms dangling free.

Not wasting any time, Kieran heaved himself up and over the third floor balcony and scrambled for the roof.

As he pulled himself the rest of the way up, a sharp sting hit him in the upper arm. Intense pain flared through his shoulder.

Kieran grunted, but held onto his focus. He sprinted along the rooftops, glad for the decorative bridge-like arches that connected the buildings. For a short time, he could hear guards running along the street below, shouting at him to stop. It didn’t take long to outrun them, though; they had the twists and turns of the streets to contend with.

He glanced down at his burning arm to see the end of a crossbow bolt jutting out. He left it there, not wanting to leave a trail of blood leading straight to him. He hoped the bolt belonged to a guard. If it was one of Galan’s shots, the poison would kill him in moments.

By the time he worked his way through the Outer Circle and into The Dregs, fatigue shook his legs and his arms hung limp with weakness. Briefly, he considered hiding out overnight until he was sure no one was following him; he certainly didn’t want to lead anyone back to his hideout. And it seemed Galan had been watching him.

Ultimately, he decided it would be best to risk heading straight home. The wound in his arm needed his attention sooner rather than later to avoid permanent damage.

The stench in the back streets of The Dregs of Midcity assailed his nostrils and he gagged, fighting down the rising nausea. That could have been as much from the pain as the odor, though. Every movement, every twitch in his arm sent searing agony through his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and jumped from the last rooftop on the street to the stone wall surrounding the city. His awkward hop nearly sent him over the far edge.

Eyes wide, he righted himself and took a few deep breaths until he felt steady. He lowered himself down and hung off the wall with his good arm, letting go to drop down the rest of the way. His exhausted legs couldn’t hold up his weight and his knees gave out. He rested in the cool cushion of grass, trying to breathe through the pain, trying to calm his racing heart.

Galan’s outta prison. The thought ran through his mind a hundred times. He pulled the little skull out of his pocket, staring at it as if it were Galan himself.

How? He was supposed ta be in there fer the rest of his life.

Kieran balled up his fist and pounded the ground. A barrage of memories raged through his mind, memories of working for Galan as a child. The pain, the humiliation, the terror. Galan had freely exploited that fear in Kieran and other abandoned children, using them to do his dirty work.

He musta been watchin’ me. Fer how long? Long enough to plan a set-up. Did he know where Kieran was hiding out?

Though, if Galan really wanted me ta get caught, I wouldna gotten away. He’s got other plans fer me.

Kieran gritted his teeth, heaving himself back up to standing. Keeping as much to the shadows of trees as he could, he made his way to the abandoned watchtower just east of Midcity near the river. The sight of the crumbling structure filled him with some relief. He didn’t know what had originally destroyed it, or why no one had bothered to repair it, but as long as it remained forgotten he didn’t care. The ruined tower had become his home.

Kieran ducked into a narrow hole between two fallen stones – a makeshift door, as the real entrance had collapsed upon itself. Cutting away his shirt, Kieran gripped the end of the crossbow bolt. He filled his lungs with air and pulled, snarling as he eased it out of his arm. When it came free, fresh blood trickled out of the hole. He inspected the tip, noting the lack of barbs. The fact that he was still alive told him it was a guard who had shot him. Either that, or Galan was toying with him.

He flung the bolt away, sending it careening off the far wall with a twang. He poured an entire flask of water into the wound, then wrapped a strip of his shirt around it as a bandage.

Gotta see Lilyana tomorrow. The alchemist would have something for his wound.

Kieran longed to jump in the nearby river to wash off the sweat and blood, but exhaustion tugged at his mind. He leaned his head back against the wall and shut his eyes.

Galan would pay. He’d pay for destroying Kieran’s innocence as a boy, and he’d pay for trying to frame him for murder.

Galan’s reign was over.

Sunday Sample – Randomness

I totally had my Sunday Sample prepared last night, then realized this morning I’d only saved it as a draft. >.<  So, here’s my Sunday Sample… on Monday!

I poke around my old writing quite a bit – sometimes to remind myself that I’m not as terrible as I think I am, and sometimes to look for inspiration or a new project to work on. While I was reading through some older stuff, I found this scene that made me smile. It is meant to be part of a young adult novel about a 17-year-old homeless boy who’d been booted from his home after he told his dad he was gay. 

Got another post I’m working on for this evening, but for now this will have to do! =)

*****

I leaned up against a wall across from a convenience store and pressed on my aching stomach. I’d been standing here so long, pretty soon someone would chase me away for loitering. Every time someone passed me, I wondered if they could read my thoughts, or see my life written on my face. But I never got a second glance. 

For the last half hour I’d been eyeballing the corner store and the Subway next to it. My stomach felt like it was trying to eat itself. Never thought I’d contemplate theft, but the option became very real when I ran out of money three days ago.

The pounding in my head made it hard to think straight. My stomach roared, and I pushed my fist into my gut. I shut my eyes against a flash of dizziness. When I opened them again, I watched in envy as two more customers went into Subway – a girl wearing a pink bikini top and shorts, and a kid who actually reminded me of myself, wearing a dark beanie and tucking a skateboard under his arm.

Maybe it was the hunger, but at that moment I had an odd sensation come over me. I witnessed all these people going about their daily lives – people with jobs, money, friends, homes – and I felt a sort of detachment. They had no idea how lucky they were. Too many people went through life without appreciation, always grasping for more, never satisfied. They didn’t even look twice at those of us who yearned for just the tiniest fraction of what they had.

A shout from across the street pulled my attention. The kid with the skateboard came flying across the street, Subway bag in hand. He brushed past me and skidded around the corner.

An employee in a green polo shirt ran outside and stopped on the sidewalking to search my side of the street. His face darkened and he ran straight toward me. Well, lumbered, really. He pointed and shouted, “Stop that kid!”

A shirtless guy who looked a lot like Thor in swim trunks and sandals dashed across the street to play the good citizen. It was then that I realized how I looked to them: Exactly like the kid that had just pilfered his sandwich.

“Shit,” I hissed. I spun and hauled ass around the corner.

I thought maybe the sandals would slow Thor down, but a glance back showed me he was closing the gap between us. Maybe they were some kind of crazy Odin-issued super sandals.

Or maybe I was delirious.

Either way, I booked it. I turned another corner and slipped between a Wings and a pizzeria, shouting apologies behind me whenever I bumped into someone.

This guy was serious. He pumped his arms in a tireless rhythm. It was just a sandwich. He didn’t even work there. Just some random do-gooder surfer guy.

Part of me wondered why I ran. Why the hell didn’t I just tell them it wasn’t me? But another part of me rooted for the kid to get away with his sandwich. His delicious, freshly-made Subway sandwich. My gut screamed at me.

I didn’t have much energy left – I started to feel dizzy again, and a surge of bile ran up my throat.

Please don’t barf, I pleaded with myself. Not that anything would come up. But it would slow me down.

In front of me, a hand shot out from behind a wall and grabbed a fistful of my jacket. I lurched into an alcove as I was yanked around the corner. The Subway thief shoved me up against the wall behind a decorative pillar. I grunted with the impact. My mouth opened to yell at him – or throw up all over his shoes, whichever – but he lifted his index finger to his lips.

For some reason, I obeyed. I could hear Thor’s sandals slapping on the asphalt as he ran past. The noise slowed to a stop. The kid pinning me to the wall risked a peek around the pillar. He stood motionless like that and I just concentrated on controlling my breathing.

As my heartbeat calmed down, he flashed a triumphant grin at me. His eyes – the bluest eyes I’d ever seen in my life – gleamed with excitement.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said. He let me go and straightened my jacket. “Didn’t mean for them to go after you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” My vision blurred and I sagged, sliding to the ground on weakened legs. I rested my head on my knees, and vomiting became a probability.

“You okay?” The kid crouched down in front of me. God damn, his eyes were blue.

“Y-yeah,” I said. “Gimme a minute.” An angry growl filled our little alcove, and he looked down at my stomach.

“Here,” he said. He untucked the half-smashed Subway bag from under his arm, unwrapped it, and held out half of the sandwich.

I stared, first at him, then at the offering. I didn’t know if I should take it.

“Turkey,” the boy said. He waved the food in front of my face with a smile that said, “Come on, you know you want it.”

My hand trembled as I took it. I murmured my thanks and took a small bite, leaning back up against the wall.

“No prob,” he said. “You look like you ain’t eaten in a while.” He took a bite and leaned up next to me. “And you worked for that shit as much as I did.”

I had to laugh.

“I’m Liam,” he said.

I took his outstretched hand and shook it. “Eric.”

We ate in silence for a while. I tried to take my time to savor the sandwich, but before long I shoved the last bit into my mouth and stared at my empty hand. Who knew turkey, lettuce, and tomato on wheat bread could be so heavenly. I could only hope it would stay down in my stomach, where it belonged.

I glanced over at my companion and chuckled when he picked at the tiny bits of shredded lettuce stuck to the paper wrapper.

After a moment, he sighed and rolled his head to the side to look at me. “Wanna split the paper?”

My laughter echoed in the small space. It had been a while since I laughed like that.

“So, Eric,” he said. “How long you been on the street?”

I blinked. How did he know that?

“Seen you around lately,” he said in answer to my unspoken question. “You’re new at this, huh?”

Looking myself over, I wondered if it was that obvious to everyone that I was homeless. “Yeah,” I said. “Maybe two months.”

“First few weeks are easy,” he said. “Then you wake up one day under a bush in a parking lot and think, ‘Fuck. This is real.’”

That revelation had hit me this morning – my third day with no more than a few crackers I unearthed from the bottom of my backpack that must have slipped out of the package a while ago.

Curiosity got the better of me. “How long for you?”

Liam took a deep breath and crossed his legs on top of his skateboard like it was a footstool. “Two years?”

“Holy shit,” I said. Was I going to be out here for two years? Five? Forever?

“Yeah,” Liam said. “Thinkin’ about workin’ on my bum beard.” He stroked his face, and I laughed again.

“How old are you?” I asked. He couldn’t be much older than me.

“Nineteen,” he said. He jerked his chin in my direction, batting the question back to me.

“Seventeen.”

Liam nodded. He shrugged his backpack off and opened it, producing a plastic water bottle. He opened it and offered it to me.

I took it with thanks, trying not to drink too much of it. At least I’d never go thirsty; if I had to be homeless, I was glad it could be here, by the beach. Had a bathroom and a free shower with all the ice-cold water I could ever want.

A sense of camaraderie came over me. Having company might make my life a little less shitty, especially if it was someone who knew what I was going through. I sent a silent prayer up into the cosmos that Liam wouldn’t bail on me after our shared lunch. No one ever talked to me – their eyes just slid over me like I was furniture. It felt good to be treated as a normal person.

Even though I’d only known Liam for all of thirty minutes, a tiny tendril of fear crept up my spine at the thought of facing the world alone again.

Liam backhanded me on the shoulder, jolting me out of my thoughts. “Come on,” he said.

I staggered to my feet, legs feeling a little sore. “Where?”

He only shrugged. “Wherever,” he said.

I poked my head around the pillar. “Think Thor’s gone?”

“Thor…? Oh!” An amused light filled his eyes and he doubled over laughing with a hand on his stomach. He patted my shoulder as he stepped out of the alcove, still chuckling.

“Hey, thanks again for the sandwich.” I felt a million times better than I had an hour ago, though I thought I could have eaten about ten more sandwiches and still have been hungry.

“Welcome.”

We wandered toward the boardwalk closer to the beach, boards tucked under our arms. We made a wide circle around Subway and kept an eye out for Thor.

Sunday Sample – Darkened Soul

I’ve decided to do a weekly post that will get me used to the idea of putting my writing out in the open – a “Sunday Sample” of whatever it is I’m working on at the time. I need to get some regularity back into my writing and blogging. I hope you enjoy reading the excerpts as much as I enjoy writing them =)

This week, I had a stroke of inspiration and unearthed an old Nano novel. After reading through the rough draft (and I do mean rough… O.O), I saw the entire story with sudden clarity. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, and it excited me. So, in the spirit of writing what’s fun, here’s a small draft excerpt of my urban fantasy, Darkened Soul.

*****

Danny gathered his papers from the copy machine, stifling a yawn. He tipped his head to one side, then the other; his neck still ached. He couldn’t complain though, as once again he’d gotten out of the hospital after only a brief stay. The docs suggested he take a few days off of work, but sitting around at home would make him crazy.

Crazy. Yep. He chuckled, getting the usual nervous glances from his co-workers.

He’d become something of a wonder, well known by the emergency room staff. Before he left, they’d made him appointment with some kind of specialist, though Danny had no clue what they thought they were going to find. He might even go to the appointment; it would be nice if they did find something, some explanation for his death-dodging ways.

He saluted his friend Gail in her cubicle on the way back to his office. When he walked in, he gasped and jumped, putting a hand on the door jamb to steady himself. He narrowed his eyes.

Nathan lounged in his chair with one leg dangling over the armrest. He spun back and forth, hands clasped in his lap.

Danny shook his head, standing in front of his desk to sort his papers. “You gotta stop doing that.”

Nathan’s lips twitched in amusement, his one eye fixed on Danny’s face.

The man had shown up several times during the days after Danny was discharged from the hospital, scaring the daylights out of him every time. The boss wasn’t too happy about Nathan’s presence – he made the workers antsy – but after “the detective” had flashed his badge, there was nothing to do but go along with it.

Danny didn’t know why Nathan hung around. The only information that he offered was that his job involved discovering and sorting out “oddities.” Whatever that meant. But he supposed he fit the bill well enough.

Danny felt his cheeks warm up. He tried to ignore the staring, shifting his weight several times before he finally huffed out a breath. He slammed the stapler down onto his desk and made frantic gestures. “Okay, get up. Go… sit over there or something.”

Nathan did as instructed, slithering from Danny’s chair to another in front of the desk. And he immediately resumed his shameless scrutiny.

“Do you really gotta stare like that?” Danny muttered under his breath. “You’re kinda freakin’ me out.”

Without a word, Nathan picked up the chair by the arms and turned it around, plopping it back down again to face the door.

Oh my God.” Danny shot out of his seat and shut the door. He stood in front of Nathan and gripped the armrests. “If you’re gonna stalk me like this, I gotta have some answers.”

“No questions,” Nathan said with an arched eyebrow. “Remember?”

“Fuck that,” Danny said. “Why are you watching me? You investigating me or something? I thought you were after Jose.”

Nathan sat forward, the tip of his nose an inch away from Danny’s. His soft voice filled the air with authority, and his breath warmed Danny’s lips. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that.”

Danny would never say it out loud, nor would he back down, but this man intimidated the hell out of him. Danny didn’t think Nathan would hurt him – his intuition would have kicked in by now, surely – but he had no doubt that there was something dangerous about him.

“You weren’t there for Jose, were you?” Danny squinted at him.

Nathan blinked his eye. “Not. At liberty. To discuss it.” To Danny’s utter annoyance, he curled one corner of his mouth into a taunting smile.

“Son of a bitch,” Danny muttered and paced the office, running his hands through his hair. He turned away to hide the flush in his cheeks. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to kiss the man or throw him out the window. “I’ll be back.”

Danny locked up his computer and grabbed his jacket. He opened the door and stalked through the maze of cubicles toward the elevator.

It wasn’t until he got to the elevator and poked the button for the lobby floor that he realized Nathan had slipped in behind him. Danny glared at him.

Nathan tilted his head as he looked down at Danny. “You’re angry,” he said.

“Ya fuckin’ think?” Danny scrubbed his face and groaned.

“Why?”

Danny barked a laugh. “Why am I pissed off? You’re stalking me. And you refuse to tell me why I’m under observation. That’s not fair.”

The elevator pinged, doors opening to reveal the ground floor lobby. Nathan spread his arm wide, allowing Danny to exit first. He was right on Danny’s heels though, falling back into step beside him on the sidewalk outside.

“Where are you going?” Nathan asked.

“I’m hungry,” Danny said. He cooled off a little now that the autumn air breezed across his skin. He watched Nathan out of the corner of his eye. Even just walking down the street, the man resembled a cat stalking its prey.

“You’re right,” Nathan said.

“About what? Being hungry?”

“No. It’s not fair of me to keep you in the dark.” Nathan’s expression never changed.

Danny heard the unspoken apology in his tone. He stopped in his tracks and turned. “So does that mean you’ll answer my questions?”

After a few heartbeats of silence, Danny threw up his hands and continued walking, leading them into a small cafe. The moment they entered the restaurant and got in line, there was a palpable pause in the conversation, the action in the room coming to a momentary halt. Every pair of eyes absorbed Nathan in their own way, some of them only glancing, others outright staring.

Nathan, however, seemed unconcerned. He looked straight ahead with his thumbs tucked behind his belt.

When they got to the counter, the girl – Tanya – greeted Danny familiarly, sparing a concerned glance for Nathan before returning her attention to Danny.

Danny ordered, then turned toward Nathan. “You hungry?”

“No,” Nathan said. He pulled out his wallet and paid Tanya before Danny could stop him.

Danny shrugged when Tanya gave him a questioning look. He thanked her and retrieved his sandwich. For comfort’s sake, he decided to sit outside; he was getting tired of the attention. “Thanks for lunch,” he said.

Nathan nodded.

“So,” Danny mumbled around his first bite. “Why are you watching me?”

“No questions.” Nathan leaned his arms up on the metal table, his leather jacket rustling with the movement.

“Thought you said I was right?”

“You are,” Nathan said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t reveal any information on why I’m here.”

“If I told you to go away, would you have to comply?” Danny chewed on his straw.

To Danny’s surprise, Nathan smiled. Not one of his barely-there half smiles, but an honest, amused smile.

Nathan shook his head. “You don’t want me to go away.”

“Oh? What makes you so sure?”

“You’re bored,” Nathan said. “My presence is new. It denotes something different in your life.” He tilted his head. “Not knowing what that is makes it more intriguing.”

Damn it. He’s right. “Fucker.” Danny crumpled up his straw wrapper and threw it at Nathan’s face. His mouth twisted in annoyance when Nathan snatched it out of the air and squished it between his fingers. “Can I ask about your eye?” He gestured to the man’s eyepatch.

“No.”

Danny sighed and took a few more bites of his sandwich. “You gotta stop showing up at my work,” he said. “Freakin’ out my co-workers.”

Nathan dipped his head. “I can do that, at least.”

Danny lifted his drink in a mock toast. He propped his feet up in an empty chair and watched the people on the other side of the street.

Then, something caught his attention. At first glance, it was just a young man making his way down the sidewalk with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He kept his head down, gaze on his feet as he walked. The man himself wasn’t special. It was what surrounded him that made Danny sit forward in his seat.

Hanging above the man was a… cloud? A red fog swirled and flashed around his head. Bolts of lightning struck through the cloud at regular intervals.

For some reason, Danny knew exactly what that cloud meant. He knew he should be afraid at what he was seeing, but somehow he couldn’t muster any fear. Instead, he worried for the shop the man ducked into.

“He’s gonna pull a gun…” Danny let his feet fall to the ground with a thud.

“What do you see, Daniel?” Nathan asked. His tone reminded Danny of the shrinks he was forced to talk to as a child, always asking him, “Now how does that make you feel, Daniel?”

Danny looked over at him. There was nothing telling in Nathan’s expression. He simply watched. Waited. Do I tell him? Maybe he can do something. He’s some kinda cop, right?

“That man,” Danny said. “In the blue collared shirt. He’s pissed. He’s gonna shoot up the place.”

“Are you sure?” Nathan gripped Danny’s wrist, pulling his attention back to him.

“Yeah,” Danny said. “I don’t know how, but… Yeah. I’m positive.” He stood, watching the door as it swung shut behind the angry man.

Nathan got to his feet. “Go back to work.”

“But, what are-”

“Do as I say.” Nathan loomed over him, using that authoritative tone of command that made Danny squirm. Nathan checked for oncoming traffic, then sprinted across the street toward the shop.

What the hell? Danny threw his trash away and grabbed his coffee. You’re just gonna let him order you around? He glanced back only once, but there was no sign of Nathan or the man.

Danny sighed. He would let Nathan order him around. Though he knew there was something dangerous about Nathan, there was also something… official. Something protective. He had to admit he felt completely safe when Nathan was around. He had no clue what could be done about that man, but Danny was sure that Nathan could take care of it. The fact that he simply took Danny’s word for it both troubled and comforted him.

What was that cloud? It was so clear. I knew exactly what he intended to do. Red with lightning. So violent.

Fuck, I hope I’m not hallucinating again. But Nathan had gone with it. Almost as if…

That’s what he was waiting for. Danny halted outside his office building. He was watching me. Did he know I would see something?

Danny went inside, straight back to his office, and shut the door.

What the hell is going on?