on Jul 27, 2012
Hey everyone! Book review blogger Between the Binds is holding an awesome Giveaway!!! Check it out!

between the bind giveaway
on Jul 24, 2012
In celebration of the new second edition covers, you can get Falls the Shadow for only .99 cents on Smashwords with coupon code: WJ24B

Hurry! Coupon expires on August 24th! So if you have an e-reading device like the Kindle or whatnot, or you know someone else who has one, then please help spread the love! :D ♥ ♥ ♥

I try to avoid internet drama at all cost. (1) It's dumb. 2) It's a waste of time. 3) I don't even know you people!) But as I cruised through my favorite book blogs this morning, I ran across a "Change in Reviewing Policy" by Bookish which was my first introduction to the Strange Case of Carroll Bryant.

Basically, this "guy" Carroll Bryant (or is it a girl? Still confused) sent out a bunch of books expecting reviews. S/he claimed the books didn't get reviewed as promised after several months of waiting. S/he then went crazy and sent an evil, nasty email to a teenage book blogger telling her to go kill herself and other mean things. You can read more about it on Evie's "Bookish" blog.

Now, Evie has the right to do whatever the hell she wants with her review policy, but because of this instance (and a few other cases of harassment from indie authors), she has decided to close her doors to indie book reviews. Meaning, indie authors once again lose an opportunity to be seen next to authors from big publishing houses.

This brings me to my main point: Indie Authors need to conduct themselves in a professional manner. ALWAYS.

One of the benefits of the traditional publishing world is that authors are usually represented by agents. Agents carry themselves with a certain level of professionalism and understand the nuances and etiquette of the publishing world. If you're a newbie author who has never been to New York before, no sweat -- an agent will take care of you and ensure that you don't embarrass yourself.

But indie authors have A LOT to make up for. Not only are we unrepresented, our books are notoriously unedited, badly formatted and lack well-designed covers. Because our reputation is already shoddy, we must carry ourselves with a ridiculously sharp professional edge. Which means....

1) Not begging for reviews like a starving orphan,
2) Not responding to bad reviews like a rabid animal,
3) Not making ridiculous lists of book bloggers who "don't do their job" (I mean for Crimie's sake, they're mostly teenagers) and
4) Not initiating or instigating internet drama.

The Indie Publishing world is a workplace, not a playground. But I suppose even in an amateur workplace, there exist the "amateurs of amateur," those on the very bottom rung, like Carroll Bryant, who harass teenagers for supposedly not posting a book review.

Here's the deal: if you send your book to a teenager for a book review and s/he doesn't post it, LET IT GO. That's the risk you take.

If you write an email to someone like Evie asking for a review, and she turns you down for whatever reason, DO NOT EMAIL HER AGAIN unless several months have passed.

Which brings me to my thoughts on reviewing Indie books in general....

I feel that closing one's doors to all indie authors feeds into a heirarchy that is rigidly structured and traditionally inclusive. There is something special and unique about bloggers who review indies. Indie book bloggers have a powerful position. The success/failure of a book depends on their opinion in many ways. There is something exciting and a bit risqué about that. As a book blog reader, I also like hearing about indie books that are well written and worth buying.

That being said, I've heard from several book bloggers that receiving hate mail and general rudeness is more common than one would think. This is despicable. Rude authors ruin it for everyone.

I understand why Indie review blogs might become more selective with what they decide to feature. For instance, a lot of Indie review blogs have closed their doors to everything but official blog tours. This might be a safer way to continue working with Indies. It also keeps a lot of people out, especially if you don't have a marketing budget.

As I said before, Evie has the right to do whatever she wants with her book review policy. But I hope that other blogs don't close their doors to Indies because of this blatant lack of professionalism.

Consider this an apology from the Indie World. I am sorry that people like Carroll Bryant exist. If s/he were my neighbor, I would build a great big wall between our properties and never speak to her/it/whatever again.
on Jul 20, 2012

The Naming

A Story of Cat’s Eye


T. L. Shreffler

    Sitting across the fire from her, he couldn’t keep his eyes from her golden hair. The way the night touched it with smooth, soft fingers.

Murmurs. She was dreaming, he didn’t know of what, but the frown across her brow was obvious. Perhaps a nightmare. In a place like the swamp, nightmares were constant, even while one was awake. Not even her Cat’s Eye could protect her against them.

    Gray trees arched up around them. The night was dead silent other than the snuffling of the horses. He looked down at the knife in his hand. A longer blade, curved slightly towards the tip. The hilt was old, worn by countless hands. Generations of assassins, thieves, servants of the Shade, children of the Dark God.

In some ways, he felt as though he had failed. He had been carrying this blade for years now, since he was practically a child.

And the life of a Viper shouldn’t last this long.

    His gaze turned to Burn and Dorian, the Wolfies across the fire. They were sleeping, but Crash knew better than that. Wolfies could hear everything, even when asleep. A wry smile curved on his lips as he watched them. Crash, they had called him. And the silly nickname had stuck. Something about his true title, the Viper, made them uneasy. They had always avoided saying it. But he knew why--because it reminded them of what he was.

He watched Burn’s long, pointed ears twitch with each snap of the fire. He wondered if they dreamed as well. Surely, Wolfies dreamed.

    But what of himself? The Viper? No, not tonight.

    Crash looked back to the knife. He could remember when he had first placed his hand on it. The way his fingers had trembled.

    A name, he had once thought. Here is a name.

* * * * *

Born into the colony, they lived without names, without parents, without family -- without true identity.

And without their own individuality, they became -- in all ways -- invisible. All were brothers and sisters. Servants of the Shadow. The Hive.

    And the highest members of the Hive, those who went into the outside world, who fought and killed and died by the hand of the Dark God -- only they were given names. Titles earned through combat at fragile ages, when children shouldn’t have to spill blood.

    There was no word for child in their tongue. Only the word for Unnamed -- savant -- the same word for silence and sand and stagnant pools of water.

By the timid age of fourteen, he had waited long enough. He was ready to take a Name.

It was early, early morning. The shrine stood in a clearing of tall grass, covered in dew. He had arrived hours before the Naming would begin; hours before even the Elders were awake. The grass had a grayish hue, as did the dawn; the sky was covered in clouds, drifting inland from the nearby ocean, which he could still hear if he listened carefully. He was surrounded by trees; long, narrow things with smooth trunks, which branched into wide canopies behind him. He had grown up with the smell of salt water; the rush and hiss of the waves.

His teacher, Cerastes -- one of the Grandmasters, who had held the dagger of the Viper long ago -- always trained him next to the sea.

“Look at it,” he had said, only the night before. “At how it moves, coming and going. At all of the life that spills out of it. The ocean regurgitates life like a drunken sailor.”

He had looked at the ocean with his teacher, a Grandmaster of the shadowed arts.

“If it weren’t for us,” Cerastes had said, “for our kind, life would overtake the world. It would cram itself into every corner. Multiply out of control. Do you understand the danger in that? Just like the ocean waves, all things have a balance. The wave rushes in, then rushes out. It cannot just come in and in and in -- then the whole world would be an ocean.”

The nameless savant had nodded, watching the sea, poised in an alert sitting position.

“It is not beautiful or glorious, what we do,” his Master had continued, “but it is necessary. We are the outgoing wave. The harvesters. Hands of the Dark God. Tomorrow, you enter into our tradition. Are you ready to take a Name?”

He had nodded slowly. In that moment, it had felt as though he had been waiting a lifetime, counting each passing minute. A Name, he had thought. What’s in a name? Will it change me?

Then they had meditated, looking out across the iron gray sea. He didn’t let himself consider failure. Those who failed at the Naming became even less than savants; scorned and shunned, they were often forced to leave the Hive.

And now it was morning and he was ready.

He entered the shrine of the Dark God, a long stone building that had stood for countless generations. The stones were chipped and crumbling and would crumple under one’s fingers like dust, but once inside, the room was well-swept and maintained. The ceremonial offering of a dead shark had been laid on the altar the night before. This morning, the corpse had no stench. A sign that the Dark God had accepted.

Along the wall hung a row of ancient weapons. Swords and daggers and bows. Each weapon held a Name, and when a warrior displayed the right skills, he earned the weapon and its title.

There, hanging from the ancient stone wall, he picked the one he wanted. It was forbidden to do so -- only the Elders could pick a Name -- but he did it anyway.

It was a dagger, hanging from the end of the shelf, its handle worn from the countless assassins that had wielded it before him.

He couldn’t touch it, not yet. But it was the same dagger his Master had used, the one he had been trained for. The Viper. He who hides in the grass.

    “Aye!” a voice sudden reached him. “I know you’re in there!”

    The voice was immediately familiar. He turned, an eyebrow raised. He walked out of the shrine, blinking in the growing light.

She stood ankle deep in the dewy grass, a piece of oatbread in one hand. He nodded to her, his eyes flickering over the girl’s plain black uniform. Although most in the colony were Unnamed, he always thought of the girl as Bug. Both because she was small for her age, and because she often trapped bugs, putting them in small boxes or jars around her hut.

“Preparing for the Naming?” she asked, a slow smile spreading across her face. He was surprised by it. It was not common in the Hive to smile. It was a rare show of affection, and he felt something swell within him: a certain strength.

“I am already prepared,” he said, and grinned slightly in return. “Will you be watching me?”

“I will be competing too.”

“What?” He stared at her in surprise. But she was too young! Only twelve. Far too young to fight for a Name. Most of the boys competing would be older than even him, sixteen or seventeen.

She nodded. “My Master says that I must. He says that he has no other students to compete in his Name.”

He watched her with careful eyes. There was uncertainty on her face. Adults knew how to mask their emotions, but she was still young.

To fail at the Naming was to be expelled from the Hive. Everyone knew that. He wondered why her Master would force her to fight.... Maybe he wanted to get rid of her. It was not unheard of to get rid of weak students, one way or another. Bug had always had it rough. She was small for her age and showed too much kindness towards animals. He couldn’t count how many times he had caught her leaving food out for woodcats and squirrels.

“Come on,” he said, and held out his hand. “Let’s look at the weapons. Show me which one your Master used.”

She nodded, apparently grateful. As they entered the long, cool stretch of the shrine, she turned to glance at him, her green eyes still uncertain. All members of the Hive had the same make and coloring: black hair and green eyes. It was a trait of their people.

“I knew I would find you here early,” she said, perhaps shyly, he couldn’t tell. “I watch you practice sometimes, you know. You are very good. They say Cerastes sired you himself; that is why he wanted you as his student.”

Savant only shook his head. “That’s rude,” he said. “We’re all brothers and sisters in the Hive.”

She shrugged, still grinning. “Perhaps. But not by blood. The humans say that you can only be related by blood.”

“We are different.”

“You think so?”

Savant rolled his eyes. Of course he was certain. Biologically, the women of the Hive did not bare more than one offspring. They were only able to have one child each. The process was not easy.

“Which weapon?” he asked, turning to the wall, hoping to change the subject.

She pointed at a short, curved sword. “The Adder,” she said. Then she wrinkled her nose. “To be honest, I don’t want that one. I want the whip, the Krait. Or the shortbow, the Asp. I’m much better at them.”

He glanced at her, catching her eye. The Krait or the Asp? To be honest, he couldn’t imagine her with either one. She was too small. Too skinny. He felt his heart plummet at the thought, though he quickly quelled the feeling. It was not the assassin’s way to show pity.

And yet, here they were. “Do you want to practice?” he asked slowly.

She blinked. “Practice? With the Named weapons?”

He nodded.

“But... it is forbidden!”

He shook his head. “Only if they catch us! Come on, I’ve been staring at the Viper for fourteen years now. Let’s try them out.”

She watched him warily for a moment, her assassin’s mask slipping back in place, then she grinned again. “Alright,” she said. “But only for a half hour, and in the forest where they won’t find us!”

He nodded, looking up at the dagger of the Viper. What’s come over me? he wondered, suddenly uncertain. He wasn’t one to break rules. It was very, very forbidden to touch the weapons in the shrine... but something about Bug made things different. Something about her large, wide, slanting eyes. Their particular shade of green, like moss grown over a lake.

And the fact that he truly did feel sorry for her. He doubted that she would win a Name. She might even be killed.

He grabbed the dagger before he could change his mind.

At first she went to grab the short sword, but then she hesitated. She took the whip instead.

They dashed into the forest, the dawn light ever brightening, leaving the gray meadow behind.

* * * * *

They found a place about a half-mile away from the sacred ground. The forest dipped down into a fern-shrouded stream. Large, mossy elm trees swayed on each side.

Bug loosened the whip from its coil, dangling it in front of her, not even stopping to regain her breath. “Prepare yourself,” she said, eyes glinting.

He leveled the Viper before him. It was long and thick, sharp enough to peel the bark from a tree. He gripped it backwards from the handle and went into a crouch, preparing for battle.

It was difficult to tell who lunged first, but suddenly they were fighting. Her whip lashed out, faster than one could see, but he could hear it snapping through the air. He leapt to one side, the whip striking the tree behind him, tearing off a strip of bark and moss.

Then he lunged at her. She tried to engage him in combat, but he quickly slipping under her defenses, grabbed her under the arms. Within seconds, he had her up against a tree, the knife against her throat. He was skilled enough not to cut her.

Her eyes widened. Then she glared. “Again!”

She ducked under his arms as soon as he released her, then spun, kicking him behind the knee. She was fast! Faster than him. She caught his foot, and he fell to the ground, but was up again within a second. They circled each other, then she lunged again, the whip flying, catching him on the cheek. A shallow cut. He could tell that she had avoided his eyes on purpose.

He touched the blood on his cheek. Grinned slightly.

He watched her approach, timing her movements, then ducked under the lash of her whip and grabbed her by the shoulders. Rammed her up against the tree again. Pushed the knife to her throat.

She dropped the sword. “I give!”

He released her, barely even panting. It was somewhat disappointing. He had hoped she would be better than this.

“You’ll never win a Name with these skills,” he said.

She avoided his eyes. She knew the truth. “I know,” she said quietly. “What should I do?”

Savant couldn’t answer. He could only look at her, that peculiar feeling swelling in his chest again -- pity.

There was a sudden crackling in the underbrush.

“Hey!” a voice shouted. “What are you doing over there?”

Both of the savants looked up, their expressions blank and guarded. It had been a strange voice, unfamiliar. He narrowed his eyes, looking up the foresty slope at the man who stood there.

He was not of the Hive; his coloring made that obvious. Pale, pale hair, like the white sands of the beach, and a strange glow about him, one that savant wasn’t sure was there.

“Who are you?” he called.

“Just a visitor, passing through,” the man replied. There was a strange irony in his voice that Savant didn’t like. He leveled his dagger, glaring up at the man, suspicious.

“What do you want?”

“Well, nothing... until now,” the man grinned. Then he nodded towards them. “Grab the girl.”

    At his cue, five more figures emerged from the bushes. Savant turned, looking left and right, unable to face them all at once. One of them lunged for Bug, and he stepped in front of her, wielding his dagger with expertise. Wham! He jammed it into the man’s chest, letting his attacker’s own momentum carry him onto the blade.

    Bug screamed.

    There were too many to fight at once, and Savant had never been in true battle, only one-on-one sparring. He tried to reach her side, but another got in his way, and then he was facing two of them with swords. They were skilled. He slashed at them, but was unable to get close enough to use the dagger. Their blades kept him at bay.

    They had Bug by the mouth. A tall one was dragging her away, easily overcoming the small girl. Savant noticed their identical pale hair, the slight glow to their skin. Who were these men?

    He was overwhelmed, and they were starting to shift back into the bushes, taking Bug with them. A peculiar feeling was coiling in his stomach... his heart was pounding, his pulse throbbing in his neck. Chills flowed down his arms. Abruptly he stopped, unable to fight any longer, his body becoming slow and clumsy. He almost dropped his dagger. What was happening? He could feel a strange energy tingling across his skin, burning his feet, as though pulled up from the earth. Heat seeped through him -- no, fire. It scorched his lungs, consuming each breath.

    “Orion,” one of the blond-haired men called. “Look! He’s changing!”


    Savant looked up the hill at the one who had first appeared, their leader. He knew what they were now. Their glowing skin. Their melodic voices.


    Rage burned inside of him. They were taking Bug, and he couldn’t stop them....

    His muscles bulged. He suddenly felt as though maybe... just maybe... he was growing taller....

    “Stop him!” one of the Harpies yelled. “Bind him! Don’t let him transform!”

    A few of the Harpies turned back, staring at him. He caught a glimpse of Bug’s small body, a bag forced over her head.

    And then, suddenly... music.

    He didn’t know where it came from, but a song echoed through the forest, a melody that held more power than voice alone. It took him a moment to realize that one of the Harpies was singing. The sound appeared to be coming from the man’s entire body, or more than that, from the trees, even -- and as Savant watched, he saw the singer begin to glow. The light grew until it was bright, blinding. He had to look away....

    Pain lashed through him.

    Savant fell to the ground, his arms suddenly strapped to his sides. His body was glowing just like the singer’s, but it was not a gentle experience. He felt as though his skin was being burned off. The voice paralyzed him.

    Magic, he thought. His rage boiled, seething and roaring inside of him... but his body remained frozen. Song magic.

    He finally gave up struggling, lying in silent pain on the ground.

The Harpies strode back towards him. They didn’t seem concerned at all, and perhaps that was the most infuriating. “Should we kill him?” one said in a beautiful, sky-filled voice.

    “He’s only a child,” another said.

    “Yes, but he will grow into adults.”

    “We are of the First Race,” their leader spoke up. Savant recognized the voice. It was the first one he had talked to, who had hailed them in the forest. “We do not kill children.”

    “They have killed ours before.”

    “But we are not like them.”

    And then, with the dull rustling of foliage, the Harpies turned and walked away.

    And he could do nothing but lie in pain... until finally he passed out.

* * * * *

    Crash frowned, still staring at the dagger’s blade, remembering Bug’s face as though she stood directly before him.

    He had returned to the Naming ground as soon as he had been able to stand. The competition had been just beginning, and Cerastes had met him near the forest, his eyes cold and solemn. “Where have you been?” he had asked. “Where is the Viper?”

“Here,” he had replied, and given back the dagger. He could remember changing the story slightly, telling his Master and the others that the Harpies had come to steal the Naming weapons, and had taken Bug. The Grandmasters had been sitting in a circle, meditating, chanting the sacred rites of the Naming. They had stopped to hear his story.

“We must finish the Naming. It is tradition,” one had said. “We will search for her after.”

After, when it would already be too late.

He had competed that day. He was supposed to be silent during combat, as smooth as running water, but rage had boiled inside of him. One after one, he had dropped all of the contestants, boys that were years older than him and far stronger. His rage had burned him alive.

    He had taken the Viper. Told himself that a Name would make up for it... that losing Bug was not his concern. It wasn’t his responsibility, was it?

And they had searched. As soon as night had fallen, they had entered the forest, looking for signs of her. They had followed the Harpies’ trail through the woods, snapped twigs and threads of clothing, all too obvious. As though the Harpies were laughing at them.

The trail had ended at a tall cliff, where the forest dropped off into the ocean.

“She is gone,” Cerastes had said. “Just as well. She was weak. That is why they took her.”


    Crash knew they had been right; they had only spoken the truth. Their Hive was not compassionate, would not chase after a small girl to the ends of the earth. No, they had let Bug be taken, and had lost the whip as well. He had nothing to feel guilty over. His day, in fact, had gone just as planned.

    But he was the one who had led her into the forest.

    Crash finally slipped the dagger back into its sheath, a long, slow breath escaping his lips. His gaze returned to Sora across the fire, to her golden hair, so different from Bug. She was small, too, and weak. And he was leading her into the swamp.

    No more, he thought. No more innocents at my expense.

    He had won the Name of Viper, had continued killing, had tried to be merciless and unwavering in his duty to the Dark God.

    But his Name had become a curse.

    Perhaps Crash could be different.

on Jul 18, 2012
Here we have it, everyone! The new covers for Falls the Shadow and Melody of the Dark! Both were designed by the wonderful T.L. Shreffler!

The Chronicles of Midgard: magical items, airships, pirates, mythical creatures and races, an empire seeking to free the dark god Loki from his prison, and the unusual group of friends trying to stop the Empire!
Available Now! Amazon  |  Smashwords  |  Barnes & Noble

Available Now! Amazon  |  Smashwords  |  Barnes & Noble
on Jul 17, 2012
As an indie author and publisher, reviews are always on the brain. How can they not be? Get enough bad reviews on a book, and people stop reading it!

But while cruising the forums and pages on Goodreads.com, a trend has jumped out at me.

Most readers leave reviews about characterization.

Which makes sense, since most readers like to "live" through the eyes of the character.

But Why?

Very honestly, after the last five years I've spent as a Creative Writing major, let me tell you -- characterization does not necessarily indicate good or bad writing!

Now everyone is entitled to their opinion and, obviously, not all readers care about the "Art of Writing" or technique. But the overwhelming amount of reviews that focus on characterization started to become ludicrous to me. I would see comments like "This character is so annoying, I couldn't finish the book!" or "She acted completely contrary to her character, which was not very believable," or "His character was too cruel, which made me dislike him," or "There was no justification for why she acted that way."

Also, supposedly "good" writers spend all of their time introducing the nuances of their characters, and completely skimp on the prose, the verse, metaphor, alliteration, delay, and the myriad other techniques used in skilled writing.

The 21st Century Trend

For those of you that care, I want to point out that this whole obsession with "psychological realism" in terms of characterization is a TREND. It is simply the era we have been born into. Realism has been on the rise since the 19th century and psychological analysis found its place in the 20th century. Authors have not always cared about characterization or explaining "how" and "why".... and neither have readers.

Which brings me to the traits of a 21st century "good read":

1) Highly psychological. Characters should have in depth back stories, substantial "inner" conflict that drives the plot, self doubt coupled with personal growth, themes such as the search for independence, salvation, overcoming one's demons, finding love, and of course, they must experience complete emotional resolution towards the end of the book.

2) Plot should be fast-paced and full of explosions, mystery, hand-to-hand combat, sassy dialogue, lots of attitude, sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.

3) Technique should be watered down to the extent that a 15 year old can read it, no brainer.

4) No poetry allowed! *hssss*

5) Stories are event based, not "message" based. For instance, people often discuss what happens in a book (primarily between the characters.) Once upon a time, readers were more interested in the underlying message of a book, the lesson that can be learned, the political commentary or cultural discussion taking place. But of course, common day readers don't care about that. Just skim to the sex scene, why not.
Literature is also highly cultural. What I am trying to say is, read a translated book from Japan, India, or Russia, and you might find the characters highly lacking in psychological depth. Why? Not because it's "bad writing," but because they culturally and stylistically place less importance on a character being "believable." They understand that a story is just a fabrication, and doesn't need to make perfect psychological sense.

What do you think? When you read a book, do you focus mainly on the characterization? Do you find yourself hating/loving a character? What's so special about a "believable" character, anyhow? :)
on Jul 9, 2012
Surprise! Sora's Quest will be FREE ON KINDLE Today through Wednesday (9th-11th.) There, is that short enough notice for you? ;)

Nab it here:

Price: $2.99 FREE

A noblewoman, an assassin, and a soul-stealing necklace....

Sora planned on running away from her wedding, but she never expected to be kidnapped! Dumped into a world of magical races, arcane jewelry and forgotten lore, she finds herself at the mercy of a dangerous assassin, haunted by an even darker past. She yearns for freedom, but he won't let her go -- not when her Cat's Eye necklace is the only thing that can save his life.

But the necklace itself presents a problem. It is an ancient device from the long forgotten War of the Races, and its magic has the ability to steal souls. Can Sora learn to wield its power -- or will the power wield her? (Winner of the SKOW 2006 Best Fantasy Award)


"T.L Shreffler has the skill to paint a very visual setting, creating a believable and exhilarating world to escape to. Her characters have depth and feel real with natural flowing dialogue and interesting personalities." ~Linsay & Jane's Views and Reviews

"Sora's Quest gets a big high five from me because it's as close to completely original as it can get. The story is full of non-stop adventure, a cast of characters that are hilarious as much as they're relatable and a slow-burning romance that'll leave you hanging mercilessly. Needless to say, it's guaranteed to have you slobbering after the sequel like a dog after a bone.

A huge part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much is the quality of the writing. It's much, much, much better than what's usually found in indie books and I think it could actually outdo some of the novels in the big publishing houses." ~Natasha @ What Makes YA Beautiful
on Jul 2, 2012
Hello, I'm new to The Runaway Pen and I would like to take a moment to introduce myself! My name is Melissa Sasina and I write mostly in the fantasy genre, usually epic adventure, though I will be trying my hand at an urban fantasy soon. I would like to present you with a little tidbit if you will, a small glimpse into Falls the Shadow, the first book in my current series, The Chronicles of Midgard (which you could enter for the chance to win a free ebook copy, just check out the Giveaways! (Free stuff) section on the top right of the blog! Have you entered for your chance to win? What are you waiting for?

And if you'd like a glimpse into what the characters look like, then follow this [link]

Midgard Year 848. 16th day of the Barley Moon; Anka, Vigrid

The room was small with few windows, as were many homes in Anka, the small town which lay beneath the hill where Ragnarr was perched. Night stretched across the sky, leaving the only light given off the soft clear glow of the lumini stones adorning the walls, suspended by metal chains attached to a brace. The room was sparsely furnished, bearing only a few cluttered book shelves and a small table with a chair. An old, worn rug lay upon the ancient wooden floor. Yet, it was her place of solitude. The place where she would go to escape the world and ease her mind. But this day, her mind could not be eased so effortlessly. Despite the utter peacefulness the small room often offered, she felt unsettled.

Mæja stood at a the table, her hand resting upon a very old, leather-bound book covered in dust. The pages were faded and brittle, but their words held so much history and sadness to them. Her blue-green eyes remained fixed upon the ancient volume, almost as if she hesitated in opening the book she already knew word for word.

"Am I the only one to feel a lingering sadness with the approach of nightfall?" she murmured to herself, running her pale fingers along the spine of the book. Her eyes shifted to the gold embossed runes adorning the cover. "Feel that something has been forgotten that should not have?" Mæja's eyes narrowed on the book before placing her hand over the lettering. "Such is my every thought…"

"You speak in odd riddles, Mae."

The woman turned in surprise, her fiery waves swirling with her sudden movement. "Ah, Ilario, I didn't hear you come in." The man had taken her completely by surprise. A feat she did not approve of.

His gray eyes flickered to the book on the table, looking it over intently. "So that is the book you guard so carefully?" he drawled with a small curl to his lips. "What secrets does it possess?"

Mæja turned away. "Nothing of importance…" she murmured.


She did not heed the seriousness of his tone. "What is it you need, Ilario?"
"You know that I am in this for treasure," Ilario continued. "I could care less about the Empire. Let them have Vigrid. Jarl Woden and his family are dead. All I want is the treasure hidden in the castle." He ran a hand through his ash-brown hair. "Surely, you do not think that a ragtag band of former guards and servants can really reclaim the castle. Who would rule it?"

"I would rather see the castle fall into ruin than have the Empire continue to hold it," came her cold reply as she picked a scarf up from the table and began to carefully wrap the book. They had this discussion several times before and each time it made her feel more and more uneasy, leaving her eager to change the subject. "And you should know very well that whatever treasure that remained in the castle has long been removed by the Emperor's son. How can you, a former guard, be so neutral to their presence there?"

"I beg to differ, Mae," Ilario said firmly. "How can we expect to reclaim Ragnarr for all of Vigrid if we don't acquire the funds necessary to remove the Empire's hold? You know as well as I that a few lowly guards and untrained servants are no threat to the Empire's brute force…"

"Enough nonsense, Ilario," snapped Mæja, turning to face him in her anger.

"Then it would seem that we have a problem with meeting an agreement."

Keeping her face set firmly, she turned away from him once again. "This discussion is over," Mæja told him, hardly in the mood to argue with him about their movements against the Empire.

She could almost feel the smirk in his smug tone when he spoke again. It was then she knew she had made a crucial mistake.

"Oh, I beg to differ, Mae."

Before the woman could have the chance to react, Ilario wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her tightly against his chest. His voice was low and dark when he spoke, sending chills down the woman's spine as an overpowering musky scent began to overwhelm her senses. "There is so much to discuss…"

* * * * *

Sleeping Vale, the High Wood

Golden rays of sunlight drifted through the thick canopy of breeze rustled leaves to warm the face of a man who slept down amongst the roots. Linkyn could easily be mistaken as half Álfar with his slightly pointed ears, but many would be sadly mistaken to discover he was something that was greatly feral. His sun-touched brown hair reached past his shoulders with an odd lock of copper red on the right side of his face.

A smile touched his lips as the wind rustled around him. The woods were quiet and serene, the song of the birds soft and lilting. Though, it would seem, this day was a rare exception as the loud snap of a branch caused Linkyn's ears to twitch and his fierce sky blue eyes to peek open. He sat up, listening and following the rustling movement, narrowing in on the men who approached towards his place of sanctuary.

He could hear them. There were three, four at most. Very few ever set foot inside the Sleeping Vale, aside from traveling merchants or lost travelers. These intruders were far from peddlers ready to sell their wares, intruders with ill intent who were not welcome in his little village.

Linkyn rose silently to his feet. Voices drifted on the breeze, reaching his ears.

"Be quiet!" hissed a male voice lowly. "We need to make this quick and quiet."

Linkyn reached to his leather belt, pulled out a throwing knife and held it in his right hand. Runes for Geri ran along the skin from his index finger to thumb.

"What do you expect to find in such a small village?" asked another.

His leather sandals fell softly with each careful step that Linkyn took. He did not see them yet, but he could practically smell their unwashed bodies.

"You fool," snapped a woman's voice. "An Álfar man in this village crafts the mythril weapons and shields that are used by the very guards at Starfall. If we can get our hands on those, just imagine the price we could fetch for them!"

He could see them now, standing in a cluster of trees along the edge of the small village. A frown crossed his face as his eyes narrowed on them. Bringing his hand up swiftly, Linkyn let the knife fly. It had barely left his fingers to land at one of the men's feet before he had his sword drawn.

The three intruders turned to face him, their reactions to his presence mixed.

"Heh…one lone half-Álfar to protect the entire village?" laughed the man who had spoken first, a wide smirk crossing his lips. "Do you, one man, think you can stop the three of us?!"

Linkyn said nothing as he stalked slowly towards them. His hand was firm on the hilt of the old, battle scarred sword which had been forged by the very weapon smith the intruders spoke of. Circling them, Linkyn watched for even the slightest movement. He would not be the first to attack. He would wait like a wolf for the perfect moment to leap.

"You fear to strike us?" sneered the leader. "Well, then, allow me the pleasure of taking your head!" Drawing his blade, the man lunged at Linkyn without a trace of hesitation.

Linkyn braced his feet and waited. As the thief foolishly raised his blade high to attack, Linkyn swung his own up and struck the man hard in the torso. As the thief fell, Linkyn shifted his feet and spun to face the other two. Both hesitated and once again he waited for them to move first.

It was the woman who made the next attack. With a shout of outrage, she charged at Linkyn with naught but a dagger in her hand. Her steps proved she was skilled with such a meager weapon, but she would still be no match for a man like him. Even as she moved, he could read what actions she would take and was quick to side step and defend before launching his own attack. Linkyn knocked the woman's dagger aside and struck her in the arm, successfully crippling it. With a cry of pain, she fell back, clutching her bleeding arm.

The third man hesitated, his hand shaking upon his own blade as his eyes remained fixed upon Linkyn.

Linkyn waited, his own blade held ready.

The man continued to hesitate, his reluctance clearly evident on his face. "Damn!" he cursed, turning suddenly to flee. "Forget this! They don't pay me enough!"

The woman followed, leaving a trail of blood.

He did not follow them, merely sheathed his blade and bent to look at the first man to attack. Linkyn could tell by the man's worn and poor clothing that he probably did any form of work offered to him for money. Most professional thieves were dressed in nicer clothing and armed with various tools of the trade bought with the money they acquired. But this man and the other two were dressed very poorly with weapons in ill repair.

Linkyn frowned as he straightened once more. There was something about the three that had gotten his blood flowing with a familiar feeling.

* * * * *

The first thing Mæja registered was pain. It filled not only her head, but her entire body with a sharp, aching throb. The second was the cold hard floor beneath her and the lingering musky scent. Opening her eyes, she forced her body to move and sit up, a strangled gasp escaping her lips. The tiny room was in utter disarray. Books, which had only a short while before been shelved neatly, were now strewn all about, scattered over the table and floor. Lunging to her feet as quickly as her body would allow, she dug through the scattered books in mild panic.

Many of them were open to familiar pages of Vigrid and maps of the castle itself, of Shilyka's battle tactics, notes on the guards rounds and even shift changes.

But most important was the leather bound book that was missing. The one she had been reading shortly before Ilario had interrupted her. The one which had been written by King Sigurd's wife herself. The fading words had revealed great hints of a past that had been long forgotten. Most was not understandable, as if Brynhild herself thought it best for Midgard's past to remain shrouded in the dark. But there was something she had done that none other had. She knew the resting places of all the treasures of the gods and how to break the seal upon the Gates of the Einherjar. Something Mæja had never wanted the Empire to learn of.

Mæja cursed under her breath. Ilario had taken something that had been part of her family for years. A secret well guarded. "Ilario…what have you done?!"

Flinging the door open, she ran down the tight, narrow hall and into a room not much larger than the one she had just been in. A man stood with his back to her, another sat in a chair by the table, while a third leaned against the wall.

"Mikhail!" she called out to the man standing with his back facing her.

He turned to her, running a hand through his dark brown hair. His bright sky-blue eyes settled upon her, a mischievous light in them. It was his slightly pointed ears that made him stand out, making many think him half Álfar. On the left side of his neck was a triskle tattoo. On his left hand, running from index finger to thumb, was the name Freki in the elder futhark runes while hiding beneath his sleeve was a tattoo of the world tree Yggdrasil.

Mikhail looked at Mæja in concern. He knew the woman well enough over the past two years to know she did not panic easily. Thus the frantic look on her face drew his concern. "Mæja…what happened?" he asked with a heavy accent.

She hesitated, her eyes drifting between the two other men. She trusted him with her life, but the other two not so much with what she had to say. "We need to speak."

He nodded and waited as the two men exited the small room. Though he trusted them, if Mæja wanted to speak alone, then they would do so, no questions asked. Mikhail waited patiently for the woman to speak again, watching her slender figure step past him to sit in the now vacant chair.

"We have been betrayed…by Ilario."

The man slammed his fist down hard on the table, releasing a string of curses. "Ah, feckin' hell…" muttered Mikhail in a heavy Airlann brogue that didn't fit his name. "He knows everythin'. Our location, everyone in the resistance, our plans…"

"I do not think that will be the worst of our fears," continued Mæja, shaking her head. "In fact, I do not believe we have to really worry about that at all." She hesitated, rubbing her face wearily.

Mikhail frowned. "What is it, Mae?"

"He took Brynhild's book."

The man's face remained calm, but his jaw tensed and his voice was laced with venom when he spoke, "Tha' book not only spoke o' the gods treasures, but their restin' places as well. Possibly even the means ta break the barrier around Bifröst. If the wrong person were ta get their hands on it, then the Empire would be the least of our worries."

"At least we still think the same."

He looked at the woman.

"We need to retrieve the ring Draupnir and possibly the spear Gungnir and keep them from his grasp," continued Mæja. "I do not know what power they may have held, but I am sure he will seek them out first once he's read through Brynhild's book. If we can get them in our possession, we may be able to delay whatever he may have planned, at least for a short time."

Mikhail nodded. "Perhaps ye're right, but just ta be safe, we should leave Anka an' find a new place ta hide somewhere above in Ragnarr."

Mæja shook her head. "That won't be necessary," she told the man. "Ilario could care less about our little resistance. I'm afraid he has higher goals in his head and it is those goals that we should truly be worried about."

* * * * *

The Valley of the Fallen Star, the High Wood

The tallest and most ancient of all the trees in the sea of trees known as the High Wood were the ones in the Valley of the Fallen Star. Known as Starfall to many outside the High Wood, the Valley of the Fallen Star was home to the long lived Álfar race. The redwood trees were tall and proud, their massive limbs reaching high. Thick ferns thrived in the shade offered by the giant trees while large, woody bracket fungi wound its way along the thick trunks of the trees, forming a natural staircase which lead up to the homes situated in the boughs of the trees. The Álfar homes were made from the broad branches which had been bent and tied together, leaving it open and airy, but also providing shelter from rainfall. Sheer cloth swayed in the breeze in places that served as doors and windows, allowing some amount of privacy.

Amena Evenwood, Lady of the High Wood, stood before a low basin of water, her hands resting upon the cool stone. Her sapphire blue eyes were trained upon the surface of the water, watching a leaf spin and glide across the water with the gentle breeze of the wind. Her long, golden blonde hair rustled with the breeze, catching a glistening glow when sunlight peeked through the leaves. She wore a dress of soft lavender-blue that bared her shoulders over a longer sheer chemise. The sleeves were wide and patterned like the wings of an eastern-tailed blue butterfly, the skirt edge also mirroring a butterfly's wings.

"The darkness will soon fall," she murmured to herself. "But there is still time. I must draw them here, one way or another before time runs out. Before Midgard falls into utter chaos once again. Loki must not be awakened. The false god must remain in his sealed slumber."

Fireflies danced about as Amena turned away from the pool of water and began walking along a grassy path. Vines hung down from trees, becoming thicker and thicker as she made her way until they formed a curtain before her.

Reaching out a delicate hand, she pushed aside the vines and stepped into a small glen where a weathered and worn stone shrine stood. The passage of time had played its part on the small building, wearing away at the stone and covering parts of it in a thick green moss. It was a shrine to the goddess Freyja. Most of the world had begun to forget the gods who had ruled over Midgard before the great doom known as Ragnarök. But she had not. She remembered the gods, she remembered that all the kingdoms of the Midlands had once been one undivided realm. Her eyes saw much: past, present, future. There had only been one other since the Age of Man began who could see all as she did: the oracle Acelora of the High Order.

Amena approached the doorway of the forgotten shrine and paused for a moment. Many paths lay before her and she could see them all. But to follow them all could easily force her to lose her own way. She knew she had to take the right path and pay no heed upon the others. Amena could see them clearly, branching out before her like a massive tree. Closing her eyes, she focused until seven began to glimmer with a golden glow. Following them, she found that they merged together.

"So there are the ones who can help save this world," she murmured to herself, opening her eyes and entering the shrine. "Those who will play the largest role in the path the world will soon be undergoing. It may take a long time, but I must seek them out."

The shrine was open inside, holes in the roof allowing pillars of light to illuminate the chamber. Faded paintings covered the crumbling walls. At the far end of the room stood a tall, long stone altar with carvings surrounding the base. The carving depicted a great tree in the center. A rainbow arched out above it, connecting the gods home of Asgard on the right and Midgard on the left. To the average man, those carvings would confuse and dumbfound. But to her, they meant much.

Amena paused before the altar, kneeling before it and clasping her hands together as she closed her eyes. She often came there to clear her head and think. And this time was no different from the others. To be in the shrine of Freyja, whom many Álfar revered in the Age of Gods, filled her with the added strength and wisdom she needed.

Because of Loki's actions, Midgard became the place it was today, broken and scared. But perhaps it was the gods that the people of Midgard need now more than all the wonders that had made their lives so carefree. For the death of one at Loki's trickery, many of the gods had paid with their lives. Their power had become a part of Midgard and was now being abused and fought over.

Yet she had seen something that many had not. With each passing year, that very power housed within levistones, energy crysts, and lumini stones was slowly draining away the longer the gods remained forgotten. Amena feared that far too soon, they would be forgotten completely, and time would have worn away all that spoke of their lives. It was a matter she wanted to prevent. Midgard needed their gods. Midgard needed legends and heroes. Midgard needed to mend her scars and unite as one kingdom once again. And she would do all in her power to bring such about.

The Lady of the High Wood opened her eyes and rose to her feet. "Gorrowen."

A form shifted from the shadows in the corner of the shrine. "Yes, my lady?"

"There are dark times creeping upon us," continued Amena. "There is one who seeks to awaken Loki. We must prepare ourselves so that no matter what happens, we will not fall. In the end, he must fail."

* * * * *

The Sacred Hart, custom class airship. Current Location: somewhere over Caerdydd

"Are you sure about that?" asked the Dökkálfar man, propping his elbow up on the table and resting his chin on the heel of his hand. His eyes, the palest of blue, were trained upon the slightly glowing speak stone sitting on the table before him as he sat with a foot propped upon his knee. His skin, like most of the Dökkálfar race, was a dark gray tinged with blue. His platinum white hair was long enough to fall into his eyes and bore violet dyed tips. Small, brightly colored speak stones also hung from gold cuffs on both of his long, pointed ears. Many would think him very privileged with the manner of his dress: a silver embroidered black vest over a rich blue shirt. His breeches where a muted gray and well crafted leather boots adorned his feet.

"I am quite certain."
The slightly fuzzy voice came from the speak stone itself. "All research points to the former royal capital of Vigrid, Ragnarr. The treasure lies, unfortunately, somewhere within the castle itself. It seems to be extremely well hidden."

"Well that will prove slightly difficult," muttered the man in a rich, upper-crust accent.

"Ah, but it's nothing that you cannot handle, right Ril?"

The Dökkálfar man laughed. "Of course not. That is where all the fun lies," he continued. "Where is the challenge if it is too easy? Besides, those Imperial dogs will never see it coming."

Laughter came from the speak stone. "You never change, do you?" There was a pause. "Be sure to keep your eye out, just in case. We don't want the Empire trying to get their hands on you."

"Now where is the fun in that?" smirked Ril.

"You should know better than to encourage him, Jude," came the sultry voice of a woman.

Ril glanced over his shoulder at the Rhine Maiden.

She stood leaning against the wall, a foot propped up behind her and her arms crossed just below the swell of her breasts. She was tall and shapely with skin that was a soft, subtle tone of ashen blue. Her hair was the red-brown of autumn leaves and reached to the middle of her back. Her eyes were the warm amber of the incandescent glow of a setting sun. Her lips were a rich violet in color, mirroring the petals of a black lotus. Brightly colored speak stones matching Ril's hung from her ears delicately.

Once more a warm chuckle came from the stone. "As observant as ever, aren't you, Mjrn?"

The woman stepped away from the wall and walked towards the table, her light, translucent jade green garments flowed with her movements. "Someone has to be," replied the woman with a straight face. She came to stand behind Ril, leaning an arm against the tall back of the wooden chair.

"I would suggest leaving the Sacred Hart docked safely outside Ragnarr,"
continued Jude seriously. "If the right eyes see her, then they'll be looking for you."