“The Seer’s Curse” – Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus)

ShadowWalkerCoverArt

Their mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary.  To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…

Project Prometheus

Trevor Watkins is the miracle of the hour; the survivor of an unassisted coma.  But he awakes in a strange place, with no memory but one – the smiling face of a woman with jade-green eyes he has a dreadful feeling he’s supposed to hate.  Trapped in a living nightmare from which he believes there is no escape, he finds himself face-to-face with a betrayal he can’t help but forgive, and a secret he can’t hide from.  Now, the jade-eyed beauty from his past can set him free, if he’s willing to let her step into a world that could take her away from him forever.

“The Seer’s Curse” -Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus, Book 3) —

Smoke curled up from the city below, and the distant sounds of death and battle filled Ausar’s ears.  His nostrils flared with the scent of burnt flesh and fresh blood, and rage coiled in his gut to know that Onuris’ minions were the genesis of this slaughter.  As the Crophines‘ Seer, his was the responsibility to guide Ali-Antos towards a bright future.  Why had he not foreseen this?  Why did he receive no warning, no way by which to prepare the people of Ali-Antos for battle?  It was as if the Great Gods mocked him, reminding him that, while he was immortal within the confines of Aermornosa, he was still fallibly human.  Now, the people he was sworn to guide and protect were helpless lambs at the altar of Onuris’ lust for blood and power.

A low, lupine growl rumbled through his chest, and his pupils drank in the light as the wildness within gripped him.  If not for his position, he would be down there, in the thick of battle.  The Gods gifted him with an ability that could turn the tide of the struggle in the city below.  But the weight of the Medicine pouch slung across his chest reminded him that he was bound by other covenants.  He must defend his charge, regardless of the cost.  Which meant he must leave this place.  When the Sodalitas Arachaena arrived at Aermornosa’s gates, they must find nothing of use.

“We must go.”

He turned toward the voice, to meet the dark gaze of the Musir to his left.   Sargon.  The Warrior among them.  Quickly, his gaze flashed over the rest.  Lugh, Mykalos, Csilla.  These were the only family he knew, and he would defend them with his life’s blood.

“It is time, Shadow Walker,” Sargon nodded toward the hidden tunnel that led to the docks only the Elder Musir knew existed.  There, boats would carry them to the far reaches of the Earth, to hide their charges.  They would never see each other again.  And the darkness that filled Ausar had only one bright spot of light.  He had seen the future, in his mirror.  One day, the Gods would bring the five sacred artifacts back to Aermornosa, and return the balance.  Peace settled over him.  That knowledge was comfort enough.

Get ready for the next Chapter of Project Prometheus

SHADOW WALKER

Available 12/21/2015

Discover Project Prometheus today!  Join the struggle between light and darkness with IN HER NAME

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“Aectetis”

image from werner22brigitte

image from werner22brigitte

This is a little something I’ve fooled around with, off and on, for a number of years… Just a little project to keep my muse engaged with the active, battlefield mentality I often need to write suspense.

I’ve always had a love for Greek mythology, for vastly personal reasons. I will note that this isn’t a researched novel. References are ones gleaned from decades of pure fascination and study of Greek mythology and history. If I ever decide to turn this into a novel, I’ll be doing lots of research… for now, it just remains a little exercise for my muse, that I thought I’d share a bit of, with you. Enjoy! 🙂

 

“Aectetis” —

They were sent from the gates, into the gaping maw of the desert cavern, but neither man went willingly.  No man who knew the tales, or believed in Hades’ wide dominion, would have been willing.  Aectetis blessed himself repeatedly and murmured prayers to Athene, while Taracles muttered curses against the darkness hovering around them.

“This is madness,” Taracles muttered as he thrust his torch savagely into the inky passageway, his sword clenched in one hard fist, his dark eyes steely.  “I tell you, Aectetis; Sikander’s run mad.”

Aectetis swallowed hard, but offered no answer.  He couldn’t have spoken, at the moment, had his life depended on it.  His scalp itched with sweat, beneath the cockle-crested helm, and his leather armor might as well have been Prometheus’ stone, about his neck. It suffocated him. Why was he here? He had neither Taracles’ Spartan toughness, nor the great Aristotle’s Athenian scepticism.  He was provincial, a farmer’s son, with little understanding of either war or philosophy. He believed in the power of the Gods, and mere mortals ought not to trifle with such things.

“I heard from the Emperor’s man that Sikander’s gripped with fevers that roll his eyes up in his head; that he hears voices.  Voices!” Taracles scoffed openly, his voice edged with dark humor.  “Can you believe that? The Furies come to claim his fool head, and yet none dares question his whims!”

A skittering in the darkness brought Aectetis’ gaze quickly around, and he battled down a rising wave of pure panic.

“Do you suppose it’s true? What they say of this place?” Aectetis dared not breathe more than that, lest he anger the spirits here.

“That it leads straight to Tartarus; that the voices of the damned echo here?” Taracles shrugged nonchalantly.

“No.  That there’s a demon down here.  A demon unlike any other,” Aectetis whispered, clutching his heavy bronze shield closer.

Taracles laughed harshly. “Demons?  Aectetis, you’re too old for such children’s tales!”

“But what if it’s true?” Aectetis insisted, unable the still the growing panic in his chest. He swore he could hear the monster breathing – Aechidna’s own foul spawn.  “General Ptolomy says the Emperor’s had terrible visions, in his sleep; that he dreams of a demon come to suck the very breath from his lungs.  Do you suppose –?”
Taracles’ scowl effectively cowed Aectetis.  “Now, you listen to me, Aectetis, and listen well.  Sikander’s a raving madman, and any fool with eyes can see it. I can tell you exactly what we’ll find in these caverns.  Nothing.  There are no demons here, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“But the locals believe—“

“Ignorant peasants!” Taracles spat disgustedly, as if he’d tasted something foul.  “Their superstitions should not sway an Emperor, or a general, from conquest.”

The comment, spoken as only an aristocrat would dare, stung.  Aectetis forced the anger away, aware that it was a small enough matter, at the moment.  Survival was a more pressing concern than pride.

Silence hovered around them, and Aectetis’ heart beat in dread.  This wasn’t right.  There should be sounds – the echo if their sandaled feet on the cavern floor, the drip of underground water, the shift of rocks, even the sound of their breathing – yet no sound penetrated the oppressive stillness.  The closer they moved toward the wide cavern at the tunnel’s end, the heavier the silence grew, until Aectetis feared he’d gone deaf.

Moving cautiously, they entered the subterranean hall, and abruptly stopped.  No wind stirred here, no sound murmured in the stillness.  It was, Aectetis decided with a shiver of dread, a tomb.  The eeriness of it all crawled along his spine.

A form moved in the darkness of the torch’s jumping shadow.  Aectetis turned his head to better see, just as his torch sputtered and blew out.  A moment later, Taracles’ died as well, plunging the cavern into utter darkness.

“What was that?” Aectetis’ horrified whisper finally pierced the hovering silence.  “Taracles?”

“It was probably a draught from the tunnel.” Taracles sounded annoyed.  “Let me find my flint.”

A moment later, a soft glow sparked in the darkness, and Aectetis’ muscles slowly relaxed.  “Thank you, Taracles.  I –“

“Quiet, fool!”  Taracles hissed, brandishing his blade.  “That light isn’t mine.  There’s someone else down here!”

Aectetis’ voice died on a terrified gasp, his heart pounding harshly in his ears as he flattened himself against the wall behind him.  More than ever, he wanted to flee this place.  But Taracles would see that as cowardice, and as long as Taracles remained, Aectetis could do no less.  He would not dishonor his family, or his people.

MORPHEUS – A Short Story

image by hotblack

image by hotblack

I’m taking a departure into something a little bit more unusual.

Many people don’t know this, but along with fiction, I’ve been an avid poet over the years.  I’ve written close to 500 pieces of poetry, on a wide range of subjects.  And one of those poems (one near and dear to my own heart) eventually found its way into story form, of a sort.  So, now I offer you something very different, as I unveil the short story/poem that defined a major transition in my own life.

“Morpheus”

A Short Story by Esther Mitchell

            The old fountain pen clinks against the side of the inkpot, as if shaking loose what little ink it has managed to find in the dry glass jar.  Then, like the dry rasp of dying man’s last breath, it scrapes across the brittle, yellowed paper.  It is the only sound in the eerie stillness of the dark room.  A single dot of light blooms in the withered void of night, barely sufficient to see by.  Yet, pen trembling, a pale hand endeavors to write, spurred by the weary desperation of its mistress.  Only the night bears witness to her cloudy eyes, to the salty water which slips down her parched cheeks.  As the tears slowly fall from face to page, each drop punctuates the words her hand frantically scribbles:

‘Without earthly thought,’ plip

‘I, nightly, spend this tryst,’ plip

‘wrapped in dreams dearly bought,’ plip

‘which vanish, as dawn’s ethereal mist,’  plip

            The words fall from mind to lips to paper without so much as a whisper.  The matted grey hair that wreathes her face stirs as a breeze slips through the room, changing the dimensions of the darkness for an instant.  She is beyond feeling such winds, beyond seeing these changes in shadows.  Her eyes are fixed solely on her unfinished task.

‘Within pages unwritten,

beyond lives never lived in,

rests forbidden fruit, as yet unbitten,

a knowledge offered but never given’

            Her head slips slowly down, her lined face sagging behind curtains of steel and snow.  It is so easy to slip into that other place, to leave this all behind.  Her mind lives in a younger age, a memory she’s never forgotten, and never will.  Lonely years have greyed her hair and wrinkled her skin, but her gaze holds the starlight of eternal youth.  Nearly a century of distrust and solitude have made her hands shake, and her breath a faint tremble through thin lips, but the bloom of youth still lingers in her heart.  She remembers clearly what the night hours have given her, and what they have taken from her, over the years.  As she remembers, the pen scratches out those memories in a fierce symphony of pain and joy.

‘Nightly here, I’ve reverently slipped,

to dance a dream’s darkness,

safe within Morpheus’ grip,

my heart a dark jewel in his starkness;’

 

‘Here in dreams I am safe from harm,

a fugitive child, held so tightly,

in love’s warmth, childhood’s charm,

here, I escape daylight woes, nightly’

            Age has worn her body down, these loveless years in which sleep has become her only solace, her personal haven.  In her dreams alone did she once meet love, and, over the years, it has been in dreams that she learned the lessons of life.  However, her waking hours have left her empty, longing for a sleep she will not awaken from, a dream that never ends.  Her waking life is as bare as her tiny room.

            The shuffle of steps moves past her door, and her eyes turn mournful.  No one stops here anymore, and her room has become a cell.  The walls close in more tightly with every day, it seems.  Only night holds reprieve from the endless suffocation.  Only sleep gives her wings beyond her tiny cage of glass and stone.  She slips into sleep as quickly as she can most nights.  As soon as the sun touches the horizon to the west, she escapes into blessed slumber.  But not this night.  No, this night she will not sleep.  But her hours of agitation are nearly at an end, her time of dreaming nearly come, as she labors to create, in these last hours before dawn, a memory of her only haven, her only friend.  In these dark hours between twilight and dawn, she drives away that welcome weariness as she strives to explain her passage from waking to sleeping, to grant a first and last glimpse of her fragile young heart to those who will come in the hours and days after.  The trembling in her hands seems greater now, her control more frayed, as she scrawls her heart onto that yellowed page.

‘Here I’ve found my only home,

a dream well bought and spent,

to dance before a silver throne,

where time’s veil remains unrent’

            Slowly, her head lifts, and her eyes touch the paleness of dawn beyond the horizon outside her small window.  Pain stabs her chest, briefly, and she feels at last the chill, touching every limb.  Shivering, she draws her shawl up about her quaking shoulders with a violently shaking hand.  Her words on the page before her seem blurred, beyond comprehension, and each stroke she makes slants a little more, wobbles about the page like a drunken oaf.  Her hands tremble with the shivering cold of the dawn, a dawn she will not look at, light she refuses to see.  Her watery, weary eyes fix stoically on the page and her lips compress as the last words jerk from pen to page with the squeal of a tortured animal.

‘Now, as dawn slays the night,

so do I leave the waking place,

and though dawn flees from my sight,

I’ll at last see pale Morpheus’ face.’

            A final squeak leaves a trail of inky blackness down the yellow face of the paper, but no hand moves to correct the error, no eyes scan the final line for its ending.  Only the quivering light of dawn, peeping solemnly through the tiny window, notices the frail figure slumped before her writing table, her eyes fixed beyond the waking world as the last spark of starlight gutters away.

copyright 1993 by Esther Mitchell

“Ghost of the Past” — Excerpt from TWIST OF FATE (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeSix years ago, Misty Jarrod’s husband disappeared on a routine inspection of the No Fly Zone. When he was declared dead, Misty surrendered her contract as a chemical specialist with the military to hide away and lick her wounded heart. But when Project Prometheus came knocking, it was with more than a simple contract. Matt Raleigh offered her the chance to find out what really happened to her husband, and find the closure she seeks. When her mission to protect a Pagan temple opens abilities she didn’t know she possesses, Misty will have to face more than her past doubts. She’s going to have to face a man she thought dead.

“Ghost of the Past” – excerpted from TWIST OF FATE (Project Prometheus, Book 22)

            Misty Jarrod hugged her arms close against her body and shivered against the cold desert air that bit through her shirt.  She doubted she’d ever get used to the desert, with its searing hot days and freezing nights.  She missed home.  The flowers would be blooming on the shore of Lake Superior, by now, and homesickness flooded her.  She could almost smell the violets, tulips and hyacinth.  And beneath it all, the subtle scent of cigarette smoke…

            Misty’s head snapped up, her thoughts broken by that out-of-place scent.  No one in Manara’s temple smoked.  These people had an odd purity, for as hung-up on sex as they were.  And none of the Prometheans here at the moment smoked, either.  Her eyes narrowed, Misty sniffed the air, dragging in the scent as she tried to place why it was so familiar.  It wasn’t just a cigarette.  There was a subtle, sweet note to it, reminiscent of vanilla and… cinnamon! The final piece jogged into place, and she decided she’d gone off the deep end.  Those were Nick’s cigarettes she smelled.  Only, Nick was dead.

            Pain twisted in her chest like a python as the scent wove through her, bringing memories of her husband – the man she loved more than life – out from the depths of her heart.  She buried him six years ago, not questioning that he was dead even without a body to prove it.  The empty hollow in her heart told her all she needed to know.  Nick was gone.  Nothing would bring him back.

            Anger followed hard on the heels of pain, and she flipped her sidearm free from its holster, disengaging the safety as she followed the scent toward its origin.  Whoever was smoking that cigarette, she didn’t believe it was coincidence.  Call her paranoid, but since Nick disappeared, she felt like someone was following her.  Even though no one told her exactly how he died – all they would say was that he “disappeared” – she knew he’d been on a deep cover CIA mission under the guise of a UN inspection of the No Fly Zone.  She wasn’t stupid.

            The scent led off toward the eastern boundary of the Temple’s construction zone. Misty kept her breathing silent and steady, moving slowly as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the moonless night.  Whoever was out there, she would find him, and make him answer for following her.  She wouldn’t fail her boss, or these people.  No one was going to get to them through her, no matter how much he pretended to be her dead husband.

            As she reached the boundary, Misty caught sight of a silhouette, and froze.  No way!

            “Who the hell are you?”  She snarled the words, refusing to believe what her senses were telling her.

            The figure turned, stepped toward her, and Misty flicked on the small penlight, casting a narrow, soft beam of light that wouldn’t harm her vision, or her reaction time.  As the beam played over his body, the breath sucked from her, leaving her shaking with disbelief.  She wouldn’t believe this.  She couldn’t believe this.  The beam touched his face, and the cold night had nothing on the chill that spread through her.  Oh my god.

            “Nick?”

            And then, the click of a safety disengaging froze her, as a gun lifted directly into her line of sight.  He was going to shoot her!

Join Project Prometheus from the beginning! Pick up your copy of the EPPIE-nominated IN HER NAME, today at Amazon.com or Desert Breeze Publishing!

“Her Father’s Keep” — Excerpt from PHOENIX RISING

PHOENIX RISING Cover

Phoenix Telyn Gwndal gave up the love of her life for the destiny she was born to bear. As she undertakes the quest levied on her, will she uncover a secret alliance meant to destroy her, or can a shadow from her past save her from the ultimate mistake?

“Her Father’s Keep” — excerpted from PHOENIX RISING (Legends of Tirum, Book 2)

The crumbled ruin of a soaring war keep loomed on the forested horizon, bathed in the bloody streaks of Helios’ setting light.  Telyn’s breath caught in her throat as she stared at the structure, imposing in spite of its dilapidation.  Pain wrenched her heart, startling her.  She’d never been to this place, so why did the mere sight of that decaying ruin fill her with such grief?  Her eyes stung, and she blinked away the tell-tale signs of impending tears.  She didn’t have time for this foolishness.

Determination fueled her forward, toward the destroyed remnants of her father’s lineage – all that remained of her heritage, and the once-mighty Phoenix Clan.  One day, she promised herself silently, she would see it restored.  For now, she intended to search every nook and cranny of the old ruin.  The Phoenix Book was still here.  She could feel it.

Pelarius Brunnari was an evil man, driven by an insatiable desire for power that didn’t rightfully belong to him, but he wasn’t stupid.  Oh, no.  The old fox was wily, right up to the end.  He knew the legends of the Phoenix Book, and probably better than anyone left alive, at that.  It was said, she’d heard whispers once, that the removal of any of the sacred artifacts from those entrusted with their care would not only render the artifact useless, but also quite dangerous to the one who did the removing.  The Aerai Majin, it was said, made sure of that.  And those whispers confirmed Telyn’s gut feeling – the Phoenix Book never really left Phoenix Hall.

Excitement pulsed a fiery song through her veins as she urged Bloodcloud toward the forest surrounding Phoenix Hall.  She had no fear of its darkness – her Bathron eyes would grant her vision even in its darkest corners and brambles.  And, if Kishfa rode with her this night, she’d have the Phoenix Book in her hands before the morning light.

Get your copy of PHOENIX RISING from Amazon.com! Want to see how it all begins? Find Book I: DAUGHTER OF ASHES, available from Amazon.com and Desert Breeze Publishing !

“Call of Fire” — Excerpt from DAUGHTER OF ASHES (Legends of Tirum)

Daughter of Ashes

 

Telyn Gwndal has always feared Majik. When her destiny brings her back to the place her nightmares were born, Telyn must take up a sacred quest to avenge the father she never knew. Her greatest ally is a man with a secret that could reawaken a past Telyn believes dead and buried, and destroy the truth she holds sacred. Can she trust him with her heart, or will her destiny force her to let him go?

 

Nacaris Onarchar is a man without a home. He thought he left behind the past when everything he loved disappeared from his life. Resigned to his rootless life, he never imagined that a desperate Elder’s request would bring him face-to-face with his past, and a chance to change his future. Can he bring himself to destroy the only love he’s ever known, or will he sacrifice the truth to hold onto a heart he can’t be sure he ever held?

 

“Call of Fire” — Excerpted from DAUGHTER OF ASHES (Legends of Tirum, Book 1)

Telyn.

The voice whispered, light as a breath and reverent as a prayer, in her ear.

The daughter of Ashes has returned. A second voice, as ardent as the first, joined in.

We have been calling. If she is the One, why does she not come to us? This new voice hissed, dark with skepticism.

There is a new power about her. A new ally. It will take time for her to understand, the first voice explained patiently.

We must teach her to wield that power properly, agreed the second. The Phoenix must fly again.

We don’t have time for this, the third muttered impatiently. With every moment we delay, the Book slips further away. Without it, we have no protector. Send the Summoning, and let’s be done with it.

The voices continued to swirl through her, joined by more and more, all chanting in a cadence that pulsed like the Dorfaíle, and tears seeped from her closed eyelids as she fought their siren song. Her heart twisted in her chest as if she suffered diabolical torture, rather than comfortably ensconced in a lavish bed. Those voices were full of desperation that ate through the sleep she tried to cling to. Yet there was a joy in their song, reveling in the mountain’s fire.

The sense of purpose she searched a lifetime for suddenly blossomed in Telyn’s heart as flames licked at her skin from the inside, hot enough to sear flesh from bone. Yet, bizarre calm held even the thought of pain far from her mind. Instead, she tossed in her sleep, attempting to banish the seductive sound that pulled so strongly at her.

Agony grew in the flames around her, until light seared the backs of her eyelids, and pounding heat engulfed her body. With a cry of terror, Telyn sat bolt upright, her eyes flying open.

The room was dark, though shadowy flickers of light crept in around the edges of the roanwood door. A cool breeze shifted the curtains and flowered through the room. Telyn shivered as it hit her sweat-soaked, overheated skin. Her brow furrowed. Camp Houses weren’t known to be drafty — least of all this one. So where was the draft coming from?

A terrifying thought struck her. It couldn’t be!

To prove to herself that she was paranoid, Telyn turned toward the west wall. Her eyes widened, and her stomach wrenched. “I don’t believe it!”

The shutters she so painstakingly made certain were bolted tight now bumped softly against the wall, wide open once again. The face of Raiador peered through the inky blackness outside, lit by over a hundred thousand flickering lights. She was in so much trouble.

Pick up your copy of DAUGHTER OF ASHES today, and continue the journey with Telyn in Legends of Tirum, available from Desert Breeze Publishing!

“The Request” — Excerpt from BETWEEN WORLDS (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeIt’s my birthday, and I felt like sharing a little something with everyone (call it a birthday gift – from me, to you). So, without further ado, here’s an excerpt from one of my upcoming Project Prometheus books, for your enjoyment. 🙂

“The Request” – Excerpted from BETWEEN WORLDS (Project Prometheus, Book 5) —

“Stay.”

That stopped him dead, but he still refused to turn.  Breath bated, Delila wished she could call the request back.  Hadn’t she promised she wouldn’t put herself in this position again?

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, one hand to her mouth in dismay.

That brought Jim around, his gaze wary as he searched her face for something she wasn’t sure she could give.  Then, in two strides, he was standing before her, his work-roughened fingers skimming her face as he lifted her chin until she was forced to meet his gaze.  “You’re sure?”

She nodded mutely, swallowing the lump that stopped the breath escaping her throat, even as her heart skittered around the confines of her chest.  Blessed Ishtar, what did she agree to?  One touch, and already her body went crazy.

Dark fire flared in Jim’s eyes, and Delila’s blood burned beneath that steady regard.  She couldn’t make a move forward, though her hands itched to touch him.  In all her time at the Temple, she never took the initiation of an ishtaristu.  Some mistakes jaundiced for life, and  the memory of everything she suffered as John’s wife made the idea of trusting a man again impossible.  She wanted to weep, because as much as she wanted to trust Jim, she was afraid she could never take that step forward.  She was afraid she lost that trust forever.

He must have read her turbulent emotions, because he sighed and the heat in his gaze banked.  Gently, he enfolded her in an embrace so tender her eyes burned and overflowed.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, dismayed when her voice emerged small and broken.

“Shh.”  He stroked her hair, back, and shoulder.  His touch stayed gentle and tender without being sexual.  “Quit apologizing, Delila.  You don’t owe me anything.”

She shuddered against him.  He had no idea exactly how much she did owe him.  She hadn’t yet found the words to tell him he’d saved her life not once, but three times, when she was still trapped by John.  He still had no idea how his kindness led to her escape.  She didn’t have the courage to tell him.  Which made her the world’s biggest coward.  She grimaced.  Not the most flattering image.

“Jim, I…”  The words stuck in her throat again, and she closed her eyes, drawing a breath for courage.  She was in so much trouble.