Friday, March 24, 2017

A Plague of Dragons is Almost Here!

Hello Readers!

We are now only one week away from the release of A Plague of Dragons!  I'm so excited to be part of this anthology project with my five other, immensely talented writing buddies (Michael K. Rose, Katie Salidas, David Jones, Alexia Purdy, and Jason LaVelle).  There will be plenty of online events and what not in the coming days and weeks, so be sure to keep a look out for those over on my Facebook page.  Also, in case you haven't heard already, five of us authors will be present at Phoenix Comicon this year with copies of A Plague of Dragons as well as all our other books, so I hope to see you there as well.

If you receive my newsletter, then you got an early, sneak peek at Chapter One of Flame and Form, and if you like my Facebook page, then you've seen the snippets I've been posting once a week.  Since the release date is just around the corner, I'm posting the first chapter right here (plus a little bit more from Chapter Two ;)), for you to enjoy as you await the main release.  Happy reading and don't forget!  You can still pre-order your copy today.

- Jenna


PRE-ORDER LINKS

Add A Plague of Dragons to your Goodreads reading list!

AND NOW, A SNEAK PEEK AT FLAME AND FORM - A NOVELLA OF THE OTHERWORLD ...

Chapter One

Brienne drained the last, bitter remnants from her tankard and set the empty vessel down before her.  The tavern was crowded with raucous locals, farmers by the most part, enjoying a drink to celebrate the final days of their harvest.  Late afternoon light worked its way through the two dirty windows facing the street.  A small fire in the hearth, a few lit candles scattered on scarred tables and a half dozen cracked, sooty lanterns hanging along the walls merely enhanced the shadows rather than driving them away.  The perfect setting for those trying to blend in.

Despite her relative certainty she would not be noticed, Brienne pulled the hood of her thick cloak farther down her face, not wanting to give away her gender.  She wasn’t particularly afraid of any of these men, and her skill with a blade, be it sword or knife, would surely protect her against those used to swinging a scythe or pushing a plow.  But she didn’t need the extra attention and could do with an evening of rest.  Besides, she hoped to rent a room in this very tavern tonight, for clouds carrying early snow swelled on the horizon, and she was tired of camping beneath trees whose leaves had all but fallen for the fast-approaching winter.

“Another ale for you, sir?” a serving maid asked.

Brie smiled beneath her hood, shaking her head in refusal.

The young woman gave a slight duck of her chin and took the empty cup away, sweeping up the coins Brienne had dropped on the counter.  Once the tavern worker disappeared back into the kitchen, Brienne stood.  She was tall, even for one of the Faelorehn, so it was easy for others to think her a man.  If she kept her hair and face hidden, at least.  An easy enough task.  The tavern keeper was wiping down the long counter, so Brie headed in that direction, wondering whether or not she should try to pitch her voice low and keep up the facade of being male.  She never got the opportunity, however.  Before she could even take one step, the front door banged open, and a young man came tumbling in, his trousers caked with mud up to his knees, his shirt and vest torn.  He took several gasping breaths as the patrons stared silently at this unexpected intrusion.

“Dr-Draghan!” he rasped, throwing his arm out behind him.

The sudden hush grew even more profound, just before the tavern burst into shouts and bodies scrambling to flood out into the street.  Brienne stayed exactly where she was, not moving an inch until the entire place had emptied.  Even then, she took a few moments to gather her bearings before joining the rest of the villagers out in the square.

Had the young man really said draghan?  What in the name of the gods and goddesses was a draghan doing in Eile?  From what she understood of such creatures, which she would admit was very little, was that they didn’t possess the mental capacity to figure out how to pass through a dolmarehn to sneak into her world.  Perhaps it was some other large beast the youth had mistaken for a draghan.  Or worse yet, one of the Morrigan’s dreaded faelah.

Not wanting her mind to go in that direction, Brienne cast another look at the open door and worried her lower lip between her teeth.  She should stay in the tavern, but curiosity was gnawing at her and not joining the rest of the crowd would seem suspicious.  Taking a deep breath, she headed toward the door and ducked out into the late afternoon light.  The townsfolk, many more than the number which had occupied the tavern, stood in a large crowd, their gazes fixed on the road leading south from the village.

“I see them now!” the same young man from before shouted.  “They’re coming over the rise!”

People jostled to get a better view, not taking care to avoid the mud puddles.  A large wagon, most likely meant to transport hay, creaked down the rutted road and came to a stop in the wide town center.  The villagers had moved just enough out of the way to let the driver and his team of draft horses pass, their eyes and attention fixed on the large creature tied down with chains in the back.

Brie caught her breath as gasps and small screams skittered about the crowd.  It was a draghan.  One of the legendary winged, fire-breathing reptiles from Firiehn.  Not for the first time in her life, Brienne’s extra height gave her an advantage.  She did not have to shove people aside or stand on her toes to see the monster, so she could study it from a safe distance.  The beast was black as soot, but sparked with undertones of bronze where the torchlight played against its scales.  About the size of the draft horses pulling the cart, Brienne was surprised the wheels hadn’t splintered beneath its weight.  A triangular head decked in a crown of dark horns rested against powerful forearms ending in claws of a similar color.  She couldn’t get a good look at its wings, for they were folded close to the monster’s body, held in place by the chains, its tail similarly curled and held close.  Instinct told her the creature was injured, perhaps badly.  Its eyes were shut, and its breathing was labored.  She would bet all the money she carried with her the chains were not even necessary to keep it in place.

The voices of the crowd started to rise again, but before the men could even begin their inevitable demand that the creature be destroyed, she knew where this situation was headed.  If they didn’t kill it outright, it would be sent to the Morrigan as tribute.  That’s how things were done in and along the fringes of the war goddess’ territory.  And this creature would keep her pacified for a very long time.  Pity crashed into Brienne’s heart like a blacksmith’s hammer striking hot iron.  She had been born into her servitude; had never known freedom but craved it with every fiber of her being.  This draghan, by its very nature, was a wild creature never meant to be enslaved.  If it became the property of the Morrigan, its spirit would be crushed.

One of the bystanders, a hunter or warrior from what Brienne could tell by his height and build, lifted a huge battle axe and roared above all the chatter, “Kill it before it regains its strength and flames us all!”

“No!  Let us release it and make sport of it!” another interjected.  “We managed to muzzle it with chains, and it is injured.  The beast will not make it far.  The man or woman to bring it down can have the head and hide!”

“Don’t be absurd!” one of the women cried.  “Bring it to the Morrigan!  If she discovers we had such a treasure and just wasted it, she will force us all into her army.  Or worse, extract our glamour and discard us like husks.”

That set the crowd into a chorus of nervous rumbling, everyone shouting their own chosen demise for the draghan, each suggestion worse than the one before.

Brienne had seen enough suffering, enough death.  She had been with the Morrigan long enough to know that people, and creatures, were not always what they seemed.  Villains might be draped in expensive silks with alabaster skin and music in their voices.  And those who wished to help you, or those simply wanting to protect the ones they loved, might appear on the outside as monsters.

She shot her gaze back toward the draghan and jumped in surprise to find its eyes had opened.  The one she could see was a molten gold color, bright with intelligence and what might have been rage.  But there was also a spark of fear there.  Brienne narrowed her own eyes, holding the draghan’s regard a bit longer, and let her glamour feather outward.  Her magic wasn’t as impressive as most in the Morrigan’s army, but she could sometimes filter out emotions.  Anger, resentment, pride ... and hopelessness.  It was that final bitter feeling, one she was so very familiar with, that snapped her into action.

“So much for keeping a low profile,” she muttered as she stepped forward, her right hand going for the pommel of the sword hanging at her side.

The mood of the crowd had shifted while she’d been considering the draghan.  Apparently, a decision had been made, and that decision involved delivering the beast to the Tuatha De Danann goddess who terrorized their lands.

“But who will take it to the Morrigan?  We are all busy with the harvest!” one man managed to shout over the general clamor.

“I cannot go, my children are sick!” a woman put in.

One by one, the villagers cried out with some excuse or another, age-old terror coloring their words.  They feared the goddess who watched over their territory, but they feared her wrath more.

Brie wrapped her fingers around the grip of her sword and drew it in a long, dramatic arc that was more for show than anything else.  The people closest to her shouted in surprise and jumped back, knocking into those standing beside them.

“I will take the creature!” she cried out above the noise.  “I will deliver this draghan to the Morrigan.”

The conversation ceased as every pair of eyes in the village square turned to study this cloaked stranger.  Brienne kept her hood up.  If she could manage getting away without leaving them with a face to remember, she would be grateful.

“Why should we believe you?” one of the men asked.  He had been the one to drive the wagon into town.  “How do we know you do not wish to take it into the next town to demand a bounty?”

Shouts of ascent skittered through the crowd.

For a small moment, Brienne hesitated.  What was she doing?  Did she really want to risk leaving these people with a memory they could easily report to any of the Morrigan’s henchmen should they come searching for her?  She loosened the iron grip she held on her sword, letting the tip sink further to the ground.  Before she sheathed the weapon she glanced at the draghan once more.  It was watching her, those ember-hued eyes wary and almost desperate.

Brie, you know more than anyone what it is to be enslaved.  Can you really go on living with yourself if you allow it to happen to another creature, when you had the chance to stop it?

Brienne squared her shoulders and took a deep breath.  She could convince them she meant what she said, that she’d bring this creature to the Morrigan.  It meant they would remember her if her enemies came questioning, but she would just have to take that risk.

“Here goes,” she hissed to herself, as she reached up and pulled back her hood.

The crowd gasped, several people in front of her taking a step back.

“You should believe me,” she said softly, her pale blue eyes surveying the crowd, “because I am bound in service to the goddess of war.”

The woman closest to the cart lifted a hand, as if to run it over the side of her face, then snatched it away.  Brienne fought the urge to do the same.  She was used to the stares and looks of pity.  The questions were always in the eyes of those who saw her ravaged face, though.  Had the scars come from a wild animal?  A horrific fire?  Had her husband or lover taken his anger out on her and burned her face with a torch?  No.  The truth wasn’t as noble as any of that.  She had refused a direct order from the Morrigan, and she had been thrown into the fire as punishment.  Somehow, she had rolled out with damage done to only one side of her body, a few of the faelah in the camp adding a few more ugly marks by raking their claws at her as she rolled to put the flames out.  That had been two years ago, but the agony still felt fresh.

“Dear gods . . .” one of the men murmured, pulling his young sons close and backing away.
“If this is not enough to convince you,” she added, gesturing to her damaged skin, “there is also this.”

She flung her cloak free of her left shoulder and reached up to pull her collar down, just enough to reveal the top of a disc-shaped tattoo staining the pale skin between her breast and collar bone.

More gasps from the crowd.

“Morrigan’s get!” an old woman hissed.

“Faeduihn!” another added.

Brienne shot her pale eyes in the direction of that accusation.  Her soul may have been stained because of her association with the goddess of wrath and ruin, but she knew the dark glamour had not infected her yet.  She didn’t correct them, however.  If she could get them to fear her, or at least believe her claims, the better her chances of escaping with the injured draghan.

“As you have said, my mistress desires creatures such as this.  I will take it off your hands, so that you might get back to your own work.”

After a long moment of near silence, and a few quietly exchanged words between them, the cart driver said, “Very well.  But we want this thing out of here tonight.”

Brienne fought the urge to release a heavy sigh.  Instead, she nodded once.

“I can leave right now.”

Chapter Two

Brienne drove the draft horses a mile or so south of town.  Her own horse, the one she had stolen from camp when she’d made her escape a week before, secured to the back of the cart.  When they came to a crossroads she turned them left, choosing a path that would eventually take them back into the northern mountains, but hopefully, clear of any curious villagers or spies of the Morrigan.  The sun had set, and they had maybe a half an hour before full dark settled in.  She didn’t like the idea of making camp so close to the village, but they really had no choice.

Movement to her right caught Brie’s attention.  A large white wolf with a ruddy tail and ears darted in and out of the scraggly wood before approaching them.  The horses, already on edge because of the cargo they carried, snorted and pulled at their harnesses.  Brienne only grinned.

Scout out a safe, secluded place to settle in for the night if you can, Mynne, she sent to her spirit guide.

The wolf cocked her head to the side, a habit she had picked up since losing both her eyes to the Morrigan’s soldiers.  It had been part of Brienne’s punishment, a wound which had hurt her more than the burns had.  In the end, Brie could harbor some gratitude, however.  At least they hadn’t killed Mynne.

I believe there is a meadow of sorts up ahead, the wolf sent back through their mind connection.  A place travelers often use for resting.  It is surrounded by thick trees and a few standing stones.  No one should bother us this night.

Within fifteen minutes, the team of horses had moved the hay cart clear of the road and into the shallow hollow of the small meadow.  Brienne pulled on the reins and pushed the brake lever forward before hopping down to survey the area.  It was wide, but mostly flat and protected by trees and stones on three sides.  So long as no one happened by them in the night, they should have nothing to fear.

Brienne glanced up at the sky, wondering if those clouds would shed freezing rain or snow.  Or perhaps nothing at all.

Best get this fire started then, if you wish for it to burn through the night, Mynne sent.

Brienne pursed her lips, then turned to eye the hay cart.  She had been avoiding checking on the draghan.  The beast had been so silent and motionless during their time spent on the road.  She feared it had either died or was readying itself for an attack.  Now that there was only one Faelorehn woman to challenge it, she wouldn’t be surprised if the creature sprang suddenly to life, spewing fire and swiping deadly claws.  The very thought sent shivers of bone-melting dread through Brienne.  Fire was a necessity of life, but ever since almost dying by it she had harbored some anxiety whenever it came time to kindle a flame, whether it be to light a candlewick or start a bonfire.  Nevertheless, she would accomplish this task just as she had every night since her escape.  After observing the draghan for several minutes, Brie concluded the creature was of no immediate threat.  In fact, the cold weather was probably affecting it more than anything else.

Brienne spent ten minutes gathering what firewood she could find, grumbling over the fact that most of it was soaked through from a recent rainstorm.  After several attempts with her flint and knife, she couldn’t get the damp leaves and twigs to catch, so she rummaged in her saddlebags for a section of old cloth, hoping it might work better as kindling.  The dry wool and linen caught, but the green wood stubbornly resisted the licking flames.

“Cursed spirits!” she hissed, balling her half-frozen fingers into fists.  “Mynne, I might need you to sleep close tonight and hope the clouds don’t drop ice upon us.”

The white wolf sniffed and inclined her head.  Of course.  It might be better not to have a fire anyway.

Brienne couldn’t argue with that.  If the Morrigan’s generals considered her valuable enough to track down, then a fire would only draw attention to their location.  She rocked back into a half crouch, one knee pressed into the damp earth, her elbow resting on the other, and peered back at the draghan.

“I am sorry we don’t have better cover, or a source of heat,” she said, regret tainting her words.

She only hoped the creature could withstand the chill.  Or maybe it would succumb.  That might actually be a sort of mercy.  She hadn’t been able to get a good look at the beast’s wounds, but she didn’t doubt their existence.  Perhaps even infection had settled in and that was why the draghan hadn’t moved.

As if in open defiance of those very thoughts, the monster decided at that moment to emerge from its delirium just long enough to crack open one eyelid.  The iris melted into molten scarlet rimmed with deep red and focused in on her, the full attention of the draghan sending a nervous twinge through Brie’s body.  The creature slowly lifted its head.

Brienne stepped back, afraid she had offended the beast in some manner.  Had it heard her internal musings?  Had she angered it?  She held up her palms as it narrowed both eyes in her direction.  The draghan drew in a deep breath and exhaled, a stream of heat and flame the color of a distant, pale blue star careened toward her.  Brienne gasped and leapt aside, old, instinctual fear pumping adrenaline through her blood.  The stream of fire slammed into her pathetic pile of wood with a hissing crackle of sound.  The draghan kept up the jet until the once damp pile of logs and branches danced with orange and yellow flames.

With an exhausted huff, the creature let its head drop back against the cart bed, the chains weighing it down clanking ominously.

Brienne blinked, shocked at what had just occurred, her chest rising and falling as she tried to subdue her panic.  She eyed the fire, the wood no longer smoking.

Mynne trotted up beside her, almost making her jump out of her skin.

Looks like you won’t freeze to death after all.

Brienne nodded out of habit, then returned her pale gaze to the draghan.  The beast was utterly still, its eyes closed in pain once more.  Only the tiny rise and fall of its flank told her the creature lived.  When it first lifted its head and spit fire in her direction, Brienne had thought the draghan meant to turn her to ash.  But that had not been the creature’s intent at all.  Now it lie still, the cold of the night even more oppressive now that she had the heat of the fire to warm her numb fingers.

“But I fear the draghan will,” she murmured, in response to Mynne’s comment.

That can’t be helped, Mynne offered.  You’ve done what you can for the monster.  Removing it from the clutches of the Morrigan was the best thing you could ever have done for it, even if it should now perish.

Her spirit guide was probably right, but guilt ate away at her anyway.  The draghan had clearly used up what little energy it had left to help her.  There had to be something else she could do.

Brienne glanced around the clearing, now barely able to make any colors out in the dark.  But she knew exactly where the fallen trees had been on her earlier hunt for firewood.  She went back to her horse, now secured to a tree far away from the draghan, and pulled out her small axe.

What are you doing? Mynne questioned, her head tilted to the side as she tried to listen to Brienne’s movements.

“I’m going to try to help,” was her response.

Two hours later, Brie had managed to build a moat of larger logs around the wagon.  The draft horses, still in their harnesses, had been secured to a massive oak near her own horse.  She checked her ring of firewood, adjusting it so that it would be as close to the cart as possible without the risk of setting it on fire.  She had taken some of the burning branches from the draghan’s fire and managed to get a few places smoldering.  By the time her own exhaustion knocked her off her feet, a ring of flames encircled the trapped beast.

“I’m sorry I cannot do more for you tonight,” she said to the creature, “but I hope the fire takes off some of the chill.  Tomorrow, I will see what I can do about the chains.  I simply do not have the energy or the strength now.”

And that was the truth.  Her fingers and toes were like icicles and spots swam before her eyes.

In response to her voice, the draghan opened one of its eyes again, a dark, slitted pupil rotating in her direction.

Brienne tried a smile, but her lips felt numb.

“Until the morning, then,” she promised, collapsing onto the sleeping roll she’d tucked beneath the wagon.

Despite her apprehension about being surrounded by flames, Brie settled down quickly, her exhaustion stronger than her unease.  Besides, the logs were already burning down to hot coals, and soon, they would simply radiate heat until going out completely in a few hours’ time.

Mynne joined her after giving the draghan a suspicious glare, curling up beside her familiar within the wall of smoldering coals.

Brienne welcomed the familiar warmth of her spirit guide, her only source of comfort in a world that had so far offered her only cruelty.

As she waited for sleep, she thought of the draghan again and how it watched her with those smoldering citrine eyes.  Of the way it had used its strange and potent flames to start a fire she could not.  The creature was a stranger in this world, and clearly, it had been treated badly.  As far as the draghan knew, she could be just as terrible as those who had chained it to a wagon to offer up as a sacrifice, yet, it had helped her just now.  Brienne set her jaw, thinking of the men and women under the Morrigan’s control who had used and abused her.

I won’t let that be your fate, she vowed.  If you survive this night, I will find a way to return you to your home.
* * *
THANK YOU FOR READING!
Flame and Form will be available on March 31st in the Plague of Dragons anthology.  Flame and Form is intended for a mature reading audience (age 18 and up) and is a complete novella at 33,000 words (for reference, novels are a length of 50,000 words or more).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

LIVING LIFE AUTHORLY

No. 3


Hello Readers!  Here is the third edition of my Living Life Authorly reflection.  In this piece, I talk about what you, the reader, can do to help your favorite authors and their books find success.  Readers play a very important role in the life of a book and its creator, especially for us indie authors.  If you've always wondered how you can take an active part in making a book more popular, read on!  And as always, happy reading and writing ;)!
- J.E. Johnson



The Care and Feeding of your Favorite Authors

For the most part, authors are strange, reclusive creatures by nature.  We lock ourselves away in our writing caves and glare through the blinds should a neighbor dare to mow the lawn whilst we are trying to concentrate on a scene.  We thrive on caffeine, chocolate and the perfect soundtrack for our writing time.  During the day when we must skip off to our day jobs (yes, most of us need day jobs in order to stay afloat), we do our best to pretend to be normal.  Fortunately, we can pull this off because we know about characters and how play the part.  In a nutshell, we are odd creatures who live to tell you a story and I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that 100% of us dream of the day we can do this book writing thing full time.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult for authors (especially the many of us who are independently published) to make a mark in the world of literature.  Even with a great story, wonderful editing, superb formatting and a gorgeous book cover, it can be difficult to get our books seen if we don't have the money for marketing.

I know, that's a lot to take in and all you probably want to do is read our books and not worry about the business end of things (and believe me, most of us authors are in the same boat - we just want to write those books for you and not have to worry about marketing and getting the word out).  But, for those of you who would like to help, there are ways to do so without spending a dime.  In this edition of Living Life Authorly, I am going to focus on two ways you, as a reader, can help out your favorite authors.

1.) WRITE A REVIEW

Let's say you've read a new book by a new author and you really liked it.  You know purchasing their next book is the best way to keep supporting them (more book sales = more royalties = author getting closer to their dream of writing full time), but you can't afford to get their next book just yet.  Don't fret.  Writing a review is just as important, if not more so, as purchasing their next books.  By writing a review, you are telling other potential readers that this book, this author, is worth checking out.  It's free and doesn't have to take a lot of your time.

If you want to keep it simple, ask yourself these two questions: 1.) Did you enjoy the book?  2.) Would you recommend it to others?

Your review does not have to be spectacular.  It can be one sentence long, or several.  And writing a review does not have to take more than a few minutes to complete, and those few minutes can really help a book's visibility.  I've read a few articles stating that once a book receives 50 or more reviews on Amazon.com, it starts getting more exposure.  So the more reviews, the better.

Short reviews are great, but if you really want to expand on your review, I always follow this outline: 1.) In one to three sentences, what was the book about?  2.) What did you like/what did the author do well?  3.) What did you dislike/what could the author have done better?  More detailed reviews tend to be more helpful and helpful reviews are even more appreciated by potential readers.

Whether or not you write a quick or detailed review is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable with.  Like I said above, ANY review is appreciated (even the negative ones :)).  The fact that you took the time to give feedback tells me the story had some impact on you and that alone is a great encouragement.

Another thing to consider is if you have accounts on multiple sites where books are sold/discussed, you can post the same review in all those places.  If you purchased your book on Amazon, you can leave your review there as well as Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play and Goodreads.  You can also rate the book on Wattpad if you are a member on that site as well.   

2.) SPREAD THE WORD

If you discover a new book, share that news with your friends.  Tell them why you liked it, let them know it would be perfect for their son/daughter/niece/nephew/cousin/aunt/uncle.  Inform them their next book boyfriend lives in that book and, OMG, they just HAVE to read about him! . . . You get the picture ;).

You can tell your friends in person when you meet up for your weekly coffee date.  Suggest it as the next book to read in your book club.  Donate the book to your local library when you've finished reading it or give it to someone on the subway or the bus who looks like they might enjoy it.  There are so many ways you can help spread the word about a book.

Another easy way to help share the love is, if you follow your authors on social media, share their links and posts.  On your own wall, on a Book Lovers' page, by tagging a friend who might find the book interesting ...  Pin their book cover art to your Pinterest page or share images of places and things that remind you of the book or series.

Of course, I'm sure there are many other ways you can help your favorite authors, but hopefully these are some good places to start.  Before I sign off, I want to express how much I already appreciate you all and everything you do to help me and my other author friends become the best writers we can be.  When you believe in our stories and characters as much as we do, it gives us even more purpose and drive to finish that next book or to begin a new one.  To not give up on that dream we can see so clearly in our minds.  I am forever honored to have you all as members of my readership and I hope to bring you even greater stories in the future.  Until next time, happy reading!

- Jenna

Thursday, December 15, 2016

LIVING LIFE AUTHORLY

No. 2


Hello Readers!  Here is the second edition of my Living Life Authorly reflection.  In this piece, I talk a little bit about being a fledgling author and my own process when it comes to writing my books and novels.  I hope you can find something encouraging (and useful) from my words below, whether you are new to this whole writing thing or just looking for a fresh take on something familiar.  As always, happy reading and writing!
- J.E. Johnson


The First Novel is the Hardest . . . 

In late summer, early fall of 2005 I officially embarked upon my writing career.  I was eager, passionate and determined to get my story out and to make it the best I could.  I also had no idea what I was getting into.  For four years, I worked diligently on The Legend of Oescienne.  I made revisions, I changed out words, I built up the world and I sent out query letters.  At some point in time someone informed me the book was too long, so I cut off a large chunk at the end (that would later become the first chapters of The Beginning - Book Two), and kept on revising and revising and revising . . .

What is the point of telling you all of this?  Am I trying to discourage you (Honestly, who am I to discourage anyone from following their dreams)?  Boast about my unfaltering dedication (Ha!  If only you knew how many times I just wanted to throw it all aside and save myself the heartache)?  Inform you that writing a book takes a massive amount of time and effort (Which would be silly because you all know that already anyway ;))?

No.  The point of this edition of Living Life Authorly is to encourage you and let those of you who are beginning authors know that there is no perfect formula to writing your novel.  Sure, there are formulaic ways to pen a novel that will be absorbed by your audience, but that's not what I'm trying to do here, either.  I simply want to point out that if you are working on your first novel, and you find yourself struggling or taking FOREVER to finish it, do not despair - we all go through that first novel workout.

So, here is some advice to help you wake up the next morning, or week, or year after beginning your new writing regiment without a sore brain . . .

1.)  There are no rules to writing a book.  No, seriously, there aren't.  There are rules of grammar and the English language you learn in school (and that knowledge base is really important and comes in handy), but the beauty of novel writing is that it is CREATIVE writing.  You don't have to pen a perfect sentence and you can even bend those grammar rules I mentioned above.  Write what feels right to you and take the criticism with a grain of salt.

2.) There is no hurry.  Yes, we all want to get that book done and into the hands of our readers and oftentimes by the time we are close to the end, we are sick of it and just want to be done.  That's normal for many writers, but don't let it loose into the world before it's ready.  Set it aside and work on something else.  Take a break and go on a reading binge.  I can usually tell when a story is ready.  I can't really describe it, but it is just my author's intuition letting me know that yes, this book is ready for the world.  Sometimes, when I think a book is ready, that same sixth sense digs at me like a splinter, refusing to leave me alone.  Then the next day, or the next week, a plot twist or some missing information I didn't realize was missing will work its way into the story and make it better than it was.  Listen to your intuition and trust your gut.

3.) You don't have to write your story in chronological order.  I don't, and that is not how the story comes to me.  My Muse often sends me scenes of a story that are out of order.  What I do and what I have done from the beginning is write down each scene or plot twist or setting description as it comes to me, then I fill in the gaps later on.  Think of it like putting together a jigsaw puzzle - piece by piece, sometimes filling out the edges and then finishing up the middle - a sporadic process but effective nonetheless.  If I try to write a book in chronological order, I get stuck trying to get past a plot gap and waste time doing so.  I find it more time efficient if I write the parts of my story as they come to me.  However, if you work better writing your story from beginning to end, then go for it.  My point is, everyone has their own style and method.  Don't be overwhelmed or feel like a fraud if you find other well-established authors swearing by a method that doesn't match your own.

And here we are, at the end of this edition of Living Life Authorly.  I have tried to give you sound and helpful advice this time around, but I want you all to remember it is just that - advice.  Perhaps you find what I have shared helpful, perhaps you don't.  My purpose in writing about the first novel being the most difficult to finish is to remind you that learning the art of writing through the process of writing is both challenging and important.  It would be far easier to sit down with a pro and have them walk you through the entire writing process, but if you relied 100% on a mentor, what will happen when you are ready to write your next novel?  I spent a great deal of time checking out forums and asking questions of those who were far more experienced than me, and I wouldn't discourage any of you from doing so.  What I do want to encourage you to do, however, is to embrace this first struggle and to learn from it.  When you take the time to hone your craft, it becomes something special and it will help you find your own unique voice as a writer.  Never give up on that end goal: a complete novel, and don't rely too much on the experts.  Follow your instincts, take advice with a grain of salt, and most importantly, sit down and get that story out!

- Jenna

Saturday, October 15, 2016

LIVING LIFE AUTHORLY

No. 1


Hello Readers!  It's been ages since I updated my blog, but I'm hoping to start sharing this feature from my Author's Newsletter.  My writing schedule and this autumn's author tour schedule has sucked up most of my time, so I have less of that to dedicate to any side projects (including blog posts :P).  Living Life Authorly, however, is a project I hope to share every other month through my newsletter, and the following months here on my webpage.  With this particular feature, I will attempt to write a reflection that is both informative and inspiring.  I hope to discuss my journey as an aspiring author, as well as offer some advice to those just starting out or those thinking of taking on the great and worthy quest of writing their own stories, big or small.  Furthermore, I plan to occasionally include some tips and advice with regards to building your brand as an author.  Hopefully you'll find some encouragement and inspiration from my words.
- J.E. Johnson


It Started as an Art Assignment . . . 

The Legend of Oescienne began in a sketchbook, a simple artist’s sketchbook which ended up more full of character and creature ideas, and even a few lines of text regarding these beings and their world, than the mundane, daily objects and situations I was, as an art student, supposed to be filling the pages with.  All the while I was happily doodling away, I was oblivious to the significance of these things until one day the realization hit me like a spark of lightning crackling through my mind (Robyn might be able to relate to this one ;)): I needed to write this story down or no one would ever get a chance to read it.

It was in that moment, in the living room of my apartment, that I realized I wanted to be an author.  I was twenty-four years old and despite having attended college for the past handful of years, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  Perhaps it was Fate, then, trying to tell me at that early stage, that patience would be a virtue I should learn to respect and welcome.

I moved back home after graduating with a big idea, the determination to meet a challenge I’d never faced before and a strong belief in what I had to say (what my Muse had been stirring up in my mind for goodness knows how long and what I was terrified of beginning) would be worth all the time and effort I knew it would take.

The months passed by and the words started to fill up a once blank word document.  Back in those early days, I was still thinking in terms of page count and not word count.  I kept this endeavor a secret, even from my family.  Only after I had completed fifty pages did I work up the gumption to tell them, with my heart in my throat, what I was doing locked away in my room.  To me, meeting that fifty page milestone meant I was really going to do this - I was going to write a book.

After that fateful day when I made my big reveal, a weight seemed to be lifted.  I had admitted I was embarking upon a perilous journey and my family had not disowned me.  Now, I could really dig in.  I tweaked the plot when it wasn’t working out, I printed out hard copies of the manuscript and attacked it with a red pen.  During my lunch breaks at my then current job of working in a pet store, I would pull out a small, beat-up notebook and jot down my ideas.  For four years I chipped away at this big idea until a cohesive story began to form.  I attended writers’ conferences and took a few creative writing seminars at the local community college.  Online I discovered support groups and forums for those of us aspiring authors who were spilling upon the Great Plain of the independent publishing world.  I made plenty of mistakes along the way and faced down my daily frustrations, but I persevered.

I don’t consider myself a very patient person (I decided to self-publish after just ten rejection letters), but somehow I managed to find some modicum of patience for this.  Or perhaps I just didn’t give up on it.  I had been raised always to stick out a commitment, but this was something different.  Writing was my calling.  Finally, I had found my niche in life.  Despite the long hours and rejection and negative reviews and scant income, I have stuck with it.  I’m in for the long haul because I know, even if the next bright idea isn’t quite hatched yet, I understand it’s just around the corner.  Time and time again I have stared at my computer screen, frustrated that the story just isn’t flowing at the speed I’d like it to, only to realize a few days (or weeks or months) later, after just leaving it be, it unfurls before me.  Even now, as I'm going through another period of Author's Frustration with Life and the Unknown, I have faith that it will pass and the stories will eventually burst forth.

For those of you just starting out - the ones with that spark of an idea that has not yet grown, and for those of you who have been at this game for a while, know that inspiration can come at any moment, and most often does when you least expect it.  As much work as it takes to form that spark into something tangible, sometimes it’s waiting for that initial flicker to push itself to the surface that is the hard part.  Writing a book can be tedious, time-consuming and frustrating, but it is something we can do if we put ourselves in front of that computer screen and work at it.  When you can admit that to yourself and when you can make peace with the fact that not everything will fall into place just as you wish it, you have taken that next step in not just becoming, but being the author you have always wanted to be.  Carry on, my fellow scribes, and don’t fret over those moments where you don’t have the answers.  It will get better and you will rejoice when everything falls into place.

- Jenna

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Brand New Releases for Both Otherworld and Oescienne Fans!

READ A NEW SHORT STORY IN THE OTHERWORLD SERIES!

FAESCORNED - A TALE OF THE OTHERWORLD

Available EXCLUSIVELY in the ONCE UPON A CURSE Anthology!  Only $0.99 where ebooks are sold!!



FAESCORNED
Being the Celtic goddess of war and strife isn’t a job for just anyone, but for the Morrigan, it seems like the perfect fit.  She is cruel, conniving and will do anything to get her hands on the raw glamour of Eilé.  Yet, like anything else in the Otherworld, not all is as it seems, and a person’s past can hold dark, terrible secrets.  During a confrontation with her son, Caedehn, the Morrigan is compelled to relive a memory strong enough to rattle her and painful enough to remind her of what she can never have.
A 6,000 word short tale told from the Morrigan’s point of view!  Featured EXCLUSIVELY in the Dark Faerie Tale bundle, Once Upon a Curse.
*****
  PRAISE FOR FAESCORNED - A TALE OF THE OTHERWORLD:
"Wow, I am IMPRESSED! Faescorned is an exhilarating read from the first page to the last. I was thrilled when I realized it takes place during one of my many favorite scenes in the Otherworld series. It not only made me homesick for the Otherworld, but the direction of the plot stunned my senses as I realized my perspective of the Otherworld is forever changed. The revelations written from the Morrigan’s POV is conflicting mentally and emotionally. Faescorned is a plot twist all on its own for this series and anyone who has read the Otherworld MUST READ IT!!! If you haven't read the Otherworld Series by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson then get to it! Who doesn't love castles, kilts, and magic? 5 well deserved stars!"
- Katrina Curry of Paranormal Romance Trance

GET YOUR COPY OF ONCE UPON A CURSE HERE:

THE WAIT FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE OESCIENNE SERIES IS FINALLY OVER!

THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE - THE ASCENDING IS NOW AVAILABLE IN EBOOK AND PAPERBACK FORMAT

 PRAISE FOR THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE - THE ASCENDING:

The Plot Thickens
"In the quest to stop the Crimson King Jahrra, Dervit, Ellyesce, and Jaax are betrayed by a supposed ally, the great walled city falls to the Red Flange and our heroes must get the Creecemind dragons to agree to join the Coalition."
- duchesscjay, Amazon Reviewer

Couldn't Put it Down!
"The story continues with more page turning action ! Lots if twists and turns, new friends and a possible love interest... can't wait for the next book as we are getting closer to seeing the prophecy fulfilled."
- Ahtilat, Amazon Reviewer

"If you are looking for a series to read, this is the one!!!! I swear every book gets better and cannot wait for the next book!!!! Thanks Jenna for your series :)."
- MommaOf5Crazy, Barnes and Noble Reviewer

GET YOUR DIGITAL COPY HERE:

GET YOUR PAPERBACK COPY HERE:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cover Reveal and Excerpt from The Legend of Oescienne - The Ascending!

COVER REVEAL AND EXCERPT FROM THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE - THE ASCENDING!

EBOOK AVAILABLE MAY 20TH, 2016!



A year has passed since the Tanaan dragon Jaax and his human ward, Jahrra, came to live within the protected boundaries of Lidien, the great City of Light.  But even the safest places in Ethöes can harbor enemies, and one cannot hide from one’s fate forever.
At the onset of yet another departure, Jahrra realizes there is more to this next step in her journey than she previously thought.  With Lidien fading in the distance, she understands she is finally leaving behind not just her friends, but also her childhood and a life once filled with dreams and illusions of safety and love.  The road ahead is perilous, and Jahrra knows she will face many trials before coming to stand before her destiny.  With each passing day, the threat of the Crimson King grows stronger, and Jaax and their allies will need the help of the legendary Creecemind dragons if they wish to overthrow their common enemy.
Before they can present their case before the king of the Creecemind, however, Jahrra and her Tanaan guardian must make a perilous journey north through the mountains, where danger and uncertainty lurks in every crevasse and behind the face of everyone they meet.  Their trust in others must be bartered carefully, for the Tyrant’s influence stretches far and wide.  And even if they do reach Nimbronia, the frozen City in the Clouds, their troubles may not be over.  If the king of the ice dragons cannot be convinced to join their cause, then their fate, and the fate of Ethöes, may very well be sealed in sorrow and defeat.

*SPECIAL PREVIEW CHAPTERS NEWSLETTER*

Sign up to start receiving the first six chapters (Prologue - Chapter 5) of The Legend of Oescienne - The Ascending, leading up to the release date on MAY 20th!
Starting on Saturday, May 14th, you will receive a newsletter containing the Prologue for The Ascending.  The next day you will receive Chapter One and so on and so forth until the release date on Friday, May 20th.

SIGN UP HERE:
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Can't wait until May 14th for a snippet?  Read the Prologue for The Legend of Oescienne - The Ascending now!  Ebook and Paperback editions coming soon!

-Prologue-
The Winds of Change

It is said among the ancient ones in Ethoes that the trees know the goddess’ secrets.  Toward the clouds their branches stretch, and into the depths of the earth their roots reach, so how can they not?  They do, however, keep these secrets close, revealing them to no one, for Ethoes understands her creation would not be able to accept most truths.  Despite their loyalty and silence, the secrets the trees keep do not always stay with them.  Where the trees guard confidences, the wind shares them.  Laughing, crying, singing.  The wind does not know the meaning of silence.  Rising from the seas, coursing down the valleys, rolling through the grassy plains, dancing over the dry deserts, climbing the mountain peaks.  The winds of Ethoes comb through the boughs of oak, pine, beech and fir, tickling their thoughts from their leaves and branches, carrying them across the lands for anyone to hear, so long as they know how to interpret the trees’ language.
However, the breath of the earth carries not only the secrets of Ethoes, but also bears the voices of those holding dominion over others.  For those who know how to control and manipulate it, the winds can be very useful in conveying messages across continents.  And, depending on the time of year, those loquacious gusts can prove useful to anyone wishing to communicate over a vast stretch of land.
In the Hrunahn Mountains of the west, during the thawing weather of early spring, one is likely to find an abundance of wind, fresh and cool and eager to spread its gossip.  And it just so happened someone was waiting to take advantage of its garrulous nature …
Boriahs wrapped his threadbare cloak closer to his body and cursed the relentless breeze.  Not only did it bite at his exposed skin and cause his eyes to water, but it also worked to draw information from him.  Far to the east, his Master awaited news of his exploits, and he would not be surprised if the wind had already tattled on him.
Shaking aside his concerns, he continued his search for a small pool of water that wasn’t frozen over.  He longed to be out of these accursed mountains, to be moving east again back to his desolate homeland of Ghorium.  But he wasn’t too eager.  The biting cold would be worse there, and he had yet to accomplish something to appease his merciless Master.  Twice in Oescienne, he had failed to capture the human child, and then once again in Lidien.  He had been mere hours from making his most recent move, a strike which would have been successful.  Yet, that accursed Tanaan dragon had somehow discovered his plan, fleeing the city with the girl right under his nose.  They were still moving, even now as he stumbled around in the forest, heading north toward the realm of the Creecemind.  If it were up to him, Boriahs would have gone after them right away.  But to change his plans without informing his Master would be suicidal.  And it had already been several days since their last conversation.
Boriahs cursed, a long, nasty string of barbed words laced with magic.  A cluster of small saplings nearby shriveled and turned black, the result of his careless language.  The man sneered in perverse satisfaction.  He did not like trees, and being in the tree-infested mountains of the west was only turning his mood fouler.  But he knew the true reason for his anger and fear: his inability to capture the human child his Master so desired and the repercussions of that failure.  Yes, Boriahs was frustrated, but more than that, he was afraid.  The Crimson King had been patient for five hundred years, surely he could be patient for a bit longer.  Boriahs, however, didn’t want to be the one to test that patience.
He kicked aside the ashen ruins of the trees which had played victim to his ire and ascended a few dozen feet more through a thick carpet of pine needle detritus, making it past one last rocky outcropping.  He stumbled upon an empty glade a minute later, his heart clenching and giving a relieved flutter in the same beat.  Several pools of frozen snowmelt littered the ground like icy mirrors.  Boriahs was glad the strenuous hike was over, but he feared what awaited him.  Seeking out the largest puddle, he trudged over, the muddy ground pulling at his boots.  To his great relief, the pool had only a thin layer of ice covering the top.
This is the best you are going to get, he told himself as he picked up a rock and smashed away the film of frost.  Cool, black water soaked into his gloves, and once the liquid settled, his reflection stared back at him, glowering.  Stark eyes, unkempt hair and a slightly crooked nose suggested a life of hardship, but the most distinguishing, and telling, feature was the scar on one side of his face.  Boriahs lifted a hand and brushed at the brand that marked him as the Crimson King’s slave.  Years of suppressed memories and suffering rushed forth, almost stealing Boriahs’ breath away.  He had joined the king’s army when he was young, his heart torn asunder for the loss of all those he loved.  He had willingly given up his mortality and free will for the promise of vengeance.
His father had tried resisting the Crimson King when he’d first come to power.  A simple tradesman in one of the coastal cities of Ghorium, he had helped lead a rebellion against the Tyrant in the north.  But they would never gain their chance to challenge the king of Ghorium.  Boriahs’ father and his companions were discovered and brought to ruin.  The townsfolk had uncovered the men’s plot and had recognized it for what it was: a risky venture that would only result in angering the Tyrant who ruled over them.  Boriahs’ father and his companions were captured and tortured.
Every single rebel was killed that terrible day, their dismembered bodies strewn throughout the town, a warning to those who still wished to draw attention to their city by provoking the Tyrant King.  To make certain the townspeople never took it upon themselves to revolt again, the families of the usurpers were also dealt with, many burned to death within their own homes.  Boriahs managed to escape, but not his mother and sisters.  He had been sixteen years of age when he fled, and on the anniversary of the slaughter of his entire family, he’d returned to that sleepy little port with a contingency of the Crimson King’s army and a fresh scar burned into his cheek.  He had watched in cold satisfaction as the men who had caused so much harm and pain succumbed to the same fate as his parents and siblings.
He had enjoyed seeing their suffering, but when the Crimson King’s men continued to burn and kill and raid their way through the entire town, Boriahs learned the terrible mistake he had made.  For one single moment of revenge, he had forfeited his soul, pledging it to a madman controlled by the god of death and chaos.  He understood, as he and the army left the ruined city behind to return to their new Master, that his life was bound to that of the king’s.  So long as the Tyrant lived, so would he.
Taking a deep breath of the biting air, Boriahs tried to clear his thoughts so that he might get through his task.  But the past’s dark memories clung tightly to him, their claws buried deep, and by the time he was in control of his own mind once again, the sun had broken free of the horizon.
Cursing a second time, Boriahs used his numb fingers to dig out his dagger.  He had best hurry.  His men would be waking soon, and he needed his next set of orders from his Master.  Removing the glove from his left hand proved tricky, but he didn’t even feel the cold steel as he pressed it against his palm.  One swift movement reopened the wound that could never quite heal.  Fresh blood, dark red and tainted with poisonous magic, welled up.  Boriahs released the dagger and used his free hand to pull a cord from around his neck.  The pendant hanging from it was the color of yellowed ivory, a bloodrose carved from bone.  According to the Crimson King, it was bone taken from the last king of the Tanaan before his people and descendants were transformed into dragons.  Boriahs believed it was bone, but he had his doubts about where it had come from.  Human, perhaps, or more likely bone from one of the Tanaan dragons his Master had captured and killed over the years.  Regardless, Boriahs wrapped his bleeding hand around the talisman and held it over the pool of water.  He gripped it tight, forcing the blood to bead and drip from his clenched fist.  As the dark droplets met the surface of the water, he muttered ancient words of dark magic under his breath.  His concentration was absolute, and soon the dark puddle was swirling and rippling, even though the wind had finally ceased its endless barrage.
Boriahs called upon his Master, both in mind and aloud.  The undulating water began to churn, then bubble and froth.  Putrid smoke rose from its surface and curled over the muddy earth.  It was as if Ethoes herself knew who he conjured and fought against his vile presence.
Boriahs gritted his teeth and fought the ache in his head.  The connection was a distant one, making it all the more difficult.  Gradually, the water simmered down and smoothed out, the acrid smoke hissing against the ground.  The puddle no longer resembled the muddy water it was composed of, but a window into another land, a cold, dark land.  A face appeared out of the gloom, and Boriahs drew in a breath of relief.  It was Cierryon, in his human form, not the demon god who controlled him.  That meant Ciarrohn was at rest, and perhaps, he would avoid the god’s wrath today.
As the magic worked and the picture grew clearer, Boriahs took the time to study his king’s features.  Golden brown hair, sprinkled with some gray, covered his head and fell to his shoulders.  He looked to be approaching middle age, but the Crimson King’s servant knew better.  Cierryon had stopped aging the day he’d struck that terrible bargain with the god of hatred.  He had become immortal, a link, a puppet, for the god of death and despair.  Without Cierryon’s consent, Ciarrohn would never have been able to consume him, to channel his vast power through the human king’s soul.  Because of Cierryon’s greed and ambition, half the world had fallen to the dark god’s malice.
The water settled, and Boriahs shook himself free of his treasonous thoughts.  If the Crimson King discovered how much his servant despised him, then Boriahs would be dead.  Instead, he looked his Master in the eye, eyes that reflected the black pit where his soul used to be, the place where the demon god now lived.
“You have news for me, Boriahs,” the Tyrant said, his voice quiet, but resonant nonetheless.
It always made Boriahs shiver, for his king’s voice reflected everything he hid within.  If anyone were to encounter Cierryon in his human form, they might not be able to discern just what he was if he remained silent.  The moment he spoke, or the moment one looked him in the eye, however, would let them know what they dealt with.  Boriahs had seen warrior elves and centaurs alike brought to their knees by a mere whisper from his Master’s lips.
Boriahs shook his head again and cleared his throat.
“I have,” he answered.
“Very well.  You have kept me waiting long enough.  I will hear what you have to report.”
And without any further delay, Boriahs told King Cierryon everything that had taken place since his last reporting.  He told him of his attack and eradication of the dragon Hroombramantu and the interference of the dragon Jaax in the kidnapping of the human girl.  He spoke of the corruption within the Coalition and his dealings with the dragon Shiroxx.  He told him about the rumor that had been spread about the girl’s questionable heritage and how the same rumor had called the dragon Jaax’s competence into question.  And reluctantly, he divulged how the girl and her dragon guardian had, once again, slipped through his fingers.
Boriahs finished his tale with his head bowed and his eyes closed, anticipating the blast of angry magic that would most assuredly come.  He waited, and waited a few seconds longer, but there was no reaction.  When he dared to open his eyes, what he saw terrified him to the point of utter speechlessness.  The human face had changed, warping into the skeletal visage of a demon.  Burning red eyes regarded him under a forest of wicked, black horns.
“You try my patience, slave,” Ciarrohn hissed, this voice deeper, harsher than Cierryon’s.
“Forgive me, my lord,” Boriahs rasped, lowering his gaze once again.  “There are spies I know nothing of aiding the girl and the dragon.  They were warned before I could move.  My men and I were gathered around the outskirts of Lidien.  A day more, two at the most, and we would have had them.”
The demon’s ire burned with rage, his slit nostrils flaring as black smoke poured from them.  Boriahs felt his bare hands dig into the mud, his fingers curling into fists, trying to grab hold of something to keep from shaking.  Frozen air drifted up from the puddle and curled around his body like a giant hand.  The icy breath passed through his clothes and seeped into his skin, closing in on his heart.  Boriahs gulped for breath and his heart sped up, fear and frost waging war on his senses.
“You are too valuable to me to kill,” Cierryon growled, the last traces of the demon god fading from his visage, “but do not think anything less than capturing the girl and that dragon will garner my forgiveness.”
Boriahs shook his head, his eyes wide with terror.  “N-no, your Majesty.  I would think not.”
Slowly, the ice receded only to be replaced with the prickling pain of warmth returning to his body.
“Do not report to me again until you have accomplished something worthy of my attention.  That you did away with that bothersome dragon in Oescienne will grant you my peace for only so long, Boriahs,” the dark voice murmured as it faded away, the resonant tones echoing in Boriahs’ mind.
Gritting his teeth and taking deep, ragged breaths, the Tyrant’s slave fought against the intense nausea that resulted in these magical exchanges.  He fought it, but lost out in the end.  On wobbly legs, he stumbled over to a cluster of rocks and retched behind them.  Once he was done with the unpleasant episode, Boriahs gathered some of the chilly water into his hands and cleaned his face.  It would do him no good to return to his awaiting men looking like a beaten drunkard.
By the time he rejoined his small army in the wide meadow they’d camped in the night before, Boriahs was much more presentable.  He had managed to scrape most of the mud from his uniform, and even his churning stomach and the pounding in his head had eased.  Boriahs hesitated on announcing his return.  Instead, he stood behind a screen of fir trees and simply observed the men below.  All of them had pledged their souls to Ciarrohn and shared a level of combat skill which elevated them above the thousands of others who had joined under the Crimson King’s banner.  But he was their high commander.  He held power over all of them.
Boriahs almost snorted at the thought.  Yes, he may be their superior, but it came at such a high price.  Not one of them had any idea what it cost him to speak with their common Master.  In fact, he envied them all, going about the morning in such a normal way: starting fires, brewing coffee and tea, cooking porridge and telling bawdy jokes.  Some of them tended to the quahna, the fierce beasts they rode instead of horses.  With the teeth of carnivores, sharp, cloven hooves and large, powerful bodies, these animals provided transportation as well as an aggressive edge over their equine cousins.  It also meant they posed a danger to those who handled them as well.
As Boriahs studied the creatures, two pulled free of their handlers and lunged toward one another, screaming their violent rage.  The Tyrant’s favored servant wrinkled his nose in disgust.  It took ten of his men to pull them apart, and even then, he counted no less than seven of them clutching arms or abdomens where the monsters had managed a bite or a kick.  Yes, having such creatures was hazardous, but it also meant no one stood in their way.  The small legion had been very successful raiding towns and settlements as they headed north up the coast.  Yet, not once did they stumble upon the dragon and the girl, nor find any evidence of their passing.
Boriahs curled his lip in irritation.  For a year, the human girl and her dragon had hidden behind the magical barrier surrounding the City of Light.  Even now, after receiving vital information from that red she-dragon and with the help of his dark mages, he could not find a way into the city.  No matter.  The dragon and the girl were gone, so it was time for him and his men to move on as well.  They would clear out as soon as he gave the order, this time splitting into groups to comb the wilds more thoroughly.  No more wandering aimlessly through the endless mountain chains of the west.  Not now.  The dragon Raejaaxorix and his ward were heading for Nimbronia, and there were only so many roads that led to the great city of the Creecemind.  The girl and her companion had a few days head start, but they were traveling on foot and if Boriahs could keep his men moving at a steady pace, then they would catch up to them sooner rather than later.
Setting his jaw in determination, the Crimson King’s assassin peeled himself away from the trees and continued down into the clearing.  Those who saw him right away stopped what they were doing and offered him a salute.  He nodded, but kept walking.  When he reached the center of the campground, he climbed atop the trunk of an old fallen tree and raised his arms, his black cloak billowing out behind him.  By this time everyone had seen him, their attention now trained on their commander.
“Listen, all of you,” Boriahs called out, his deep voice ringing through the meadow.  “I have spoken with our Master, and he is not pleased with our failure with regards to the Tanaan scum and that girl.”
A low, worried murmur spread through the crowd, but Boriahs kept one hand lifted high above his head.  “Fret not, for he has given us another chance.  He is pleased with those of us who took the initiative and eradicated the old Korli vermin in Oescienne,” he paused and nodded his head to those of his troupe who had been present for that honor.  “So, we fall still within his favor.”
A small round of relieved sighs and short laughs arose from the crowd, but Boriahs shouted, “Silence!  Any failure, no matter how minute, is not something to be celebrated.  Yes, we managed to rid the world of one more filthy dragon, but that is a minor detail compared to the prize he seeks above all.  We will not rest, nor will we rejoice, until the girl and the dragon are quivering at the feet of our Master!”
Silent nods met his words this time.  Better.  He took one long look at those standing below him before going on.  Ten groups of fifteen, plus one commander to keep them in order as well as a dark mage for each faction to take care of that which sixteen ruthless killers couldn’t accomplish.  And, he was the Master of them all.  Boriahs savored the sense of smug satisfaction unfurling within him, but not for the first time, the feeling was quickly replaced by the sting of his Master’s presence.  A reminder to him that he was still a slave.
“We must move quickly, if we wish to overtake them,” he called out.  “They are headed for Nimbronia, and we must capture them before they reach their final destination.”
He knew, just as every single one of his men did, that if the dragon and the human should move within the boundaries of Nimbronia, they would be untouchable.  The magic that surrounded the city of the Creecemind was even more powerful than the magic guarding Lidien.
“Let us not waste another minute.  We will break camp and be on the road in half an hour.”
The men, most of them descended from the mixed races of humans and elves, gave shouts of agreement, all of them thirsty once again for battle and bloodshed.  As they scattered about, taking heed of their commander’s words, Boriahs was joined by a waif of a man dressed head to foot in brilliant crimson robes.  Like Boriahs, he sported the brand of the Tyrant on one cheek.  Unlike Boriahs, he was a wielder of black magic, the sort that required a blood sacrifice.
“Armauld,” Boriahs growled under his breath.
The dark sorcerer grinned, revealing his decaying teeth, and hissed, “The dragon and the girl are not alone in their quest.”
Boriahs turned cold eyes onto the dark mage.  “Who travels with them?”
Armauld shook his head, his grin fading.  “One whom I cannot detect.”
Boriahs cursed.  “Then how do you know of his presence?”
The mage held up a hand and moved his fingers in a small dance.  An orb of white light floated above his fingertips and within its center floated two bright sparks, one green and one blue.
“The dragon and the girl,” the mage whispered, indicating the two sparks.
Boriahs was about to strike the mage for wasting his time when something odd caught his attention.  It wasn’t so much the presence of anything, but the fact that the two sparks came to a standstill, and in the next breath, the blue dot winked out for a split second before flaring back to life again.  Then, the two dots began moving once more.
“Why did the spark blot out?” the high commander demanded.
“A third companion,” the mage sneered.  “Someone capable of using very powerful cloaking magic.”
Boriahs gave him a look of impatience, so the mage continued on.  “This person who travels with them is an extremely powerful mage.  And he is using magic I’ve not seen in several hundred years.”
This time, Boriahs swore loud enough to startle the closest soldiers scurrying around him.  He glared at them and barked a reminder that what they didn’t have packed in twenty minutes would be left behind.
“What does this mean, Armauld?  Who is this phantom mage?”
This time, the dark sorcerer had the decency to forego his smug expression and replace it with a worried one.  “I do not know, High Commander.  But, we best not underestimate this dragon and the human girl.  Or, the company they keep.”
Grinding his teeth together, Boriahs dismissed Armauld and continued walking briskly to the makeshift stables.  His quahna was saddled and waiting for him, the largest of the beasts and as black as soot.  The animal, naturally excitable and giving the men holding him as much trouble as a herd of enraged boars, flared its nostrils and calmed upon Boriahs’ approach.
Murmuring soothing words, the army’s high commander rubbed the animal’s forehead affectionately.  Funny how he had so much trouble connecting with others of his kind, but this vicious beast behaved so well for him.
“There now, Andor,” he crooned.  “I know you are eager to seek out your prey, but you must allow me to get settled on your back first.”
The beast squealed and snorted, slashing its hoof at the ground.  Everyone, save for Boriahs, backed away.  Taking the reins firmly, the squadron’s leader placed a boot in the stirrup and gracefully mounted the beast, throwing his dark cloak over the quahna’s hindquarters.  The animal only protested a bit before Boriahs had him under control.
“To your own steeds!” he shouted.
Everyone scrambled to follow his orders, and soon, all one hundred and seventy of them were moving, their quahna screaming and snapping their sharp teeth at the excitement of a new hunt.
Boriahs waited for all of his men to move out before following after them.  Armauld, as well as a few of the other squadron leaders and mages, fell back with him as their sights pointed north.  A gust of frigid spring wind curled down the mountainside as they left the meadow in their wake.  Boriahs shivered at the cool air moving through his hair and sending his cloak billowing out behind him.  But the wind’s icy bite failed to bother him as he led his troops deeper into the mountains, their will set on capturing a Tanaan dragon and the young woman who, with the simple power of her existence, sought to change the world.