Back to Home

Update – October 2018

Hi there!

First of all, some of you know that I live in the Florida Panhandle, which was recently hit pretty hard by Hurricane Michael. Thankfully, my area was spared the worst of the damage, but places like Mexico Beach and Panama City were devastated. I’m so, so lucky that my home and family are okay, but many of my fellow Floridians cannot say the same. If you are able, please consider donating to those affected. (More info here and here.)

Now to business. I’ve been putting off writing this post, but the time has come. Some of you may remember that I had hopes of publishing Catalyst Moon #3 this year. Unfortunately, the publishing date has been pushed back to 2019. 🙁 I know, I know, but it’s out of my control. My publisher has the book, but they are busy with other projects at the moment, and won’t be able to edit #3 until January.

While I’m thankful for the care and attention that Inkitt gives all of its publishing projects, I’m disappointed on a personal level because I’ve been really looking forward to sharing this with y’all! But I’m trying to stay positive and focus on the good parts of this, like the fact that I have some more “buffer” between this book and #4 (which is with my beta readers now). But as many of you know, the world of publishing moves at its own pace, which is often a glacial one.

SO! To (hopefully) mitigate some of your disappointment, I offer the following:

  1. The first chapter of Catalyst Moon: Storm (Book 3) is below. 🙂 I apologize for any formatting issues and grammatical errors – the chapter below is without any professional editing. (Only me & my betas have looked at it.)
  2. If anyone is interested in being a beta reader for #3 or any of the subsequent books, please drop me a line at lalogareads@ gmail, and we can discuss.

I’m so sorry for the delay, but I promise you… Storm will be worth the wait. 😉

Thanks, and stay awesome!

Lauren


Catalyst Moon: Storm (Book 3)

Chapter One

Snow drifted to Kali’s shoulders and wind teased her hair, but cold could not touch her within the shelter of Stonewall’s arms. She savored the press of their foreheads and the warm kiss of his breath against her lips. They were both mad to stay, but here they were. Together.

She shifted closer, pine needles crunching beneath her boots. He inhaled as if about to speak when a thrall’s scream pierced the air. The otherworldly, high-pitched shriek struck a nerve in Kali’s skull. She jerked away from Stonewall, heart clapping like thunder in sudden terror. They had to run, had to–

“Kali?” Stonewall’s voice was quiet, confused, one hand on her elbow as if to pull her back to his chest.

Breath hitching, Kali searched the shadowy forest around them for sign of the thrall, but only saw the sleeping sentinels, hers and Sadira’s tent, and the mage-made campfire, burning merrily in the filmy snowfall. Even Frost and the other horses stood beside the mage carriage, content in their slumber.

Warning crept up her spine to prick the base of her skull. Sweet magic. She could sense it in her own veins; like catching the delicious scent of something she had never tasted, but dearly desired to. A sense of hunger filled her, too sudden and severe to be her own. She looked up into Stonewall’s serious, almost-gold eyes. “You didn’t hear that?”

Dark brows knitted as he tensed and glanced around them, one hand reaching for his sword. “No. What–”

Another thrall’s scream cut him off. He must have heard this one, for he swore and drew his sword, spinning to place her behind him while he scanned the tree line. The horses started awake, snorting and stamping in their tethers, while the four other sentinels sleeping by the campfire scrambled upright, drawing their weapons.

“Where in the blazing void are they?” Flint said as her eyes darted across the surrounding forest.

Her brother, Milo, surged to the horses and carriage. “We have to go – now!”

The sentinels looked to Stonewall, but their sergeant’s gaze had fallen on Kali. Only when their eyes met again did that prickle of warning grow to a thrill, and she realized the truth. “No time,” she whispered. “They’re nearly upon us.”

Fear flashed in Stonewall’s eyes before the warrior in him took over. “Get in the carriage,” he told her before looking toward the tent, where Sadira had emerged, her moonstone-pale hair glowing in the darkness. “You too, Sadira.”

The campfire’s gentle snapping sharpened to a roar as the other mage hurried to the mage-carriage. Of the sentinels, only Rook shot the renewed flames a wary glance as she nocked an arrow. The rest were converging on the carriage, where Milo had untied the horses so the panicked creatures could gallop into the darkness. With luck, they would survive the encounter and the sentinels could find their mounts again.

A third shriek echoed through the forest, sending Kali’s heart into her throat as Stonewall pulled her to the carriage. But when he tried to shove her inside, she dug in her heels. “I must try and cure at least one!”

His mouth thinned but he offered no argument as he shoved on his helmet. “Protect the mages,” he called to the other sentinels, who immediately drew closer to Kali and Sadira.
“After that display at Parsa,” Rook muttered. “The mages ought to be protecting us.”

“The real danger is out there,” Stonewall shot back. “Everyone will do their part.”

“Aye,” Kali managed. She looked at her fellow mage. “Sadira, will you help them?”

Sadira nodded and flexed her hands; little tongues of flame leapt to life in her palms.

Rook did not reply, only climbed up the side of the carriage to the roof with the grace of a cat and readied her bow and arrow. “There. To your right, Stonewall.”

The group held its collective breath. Throat dry, Kali turned to face their enemies, shoulder-to-shoulder with Sadira. First one, then two, then three pairs of eyes, bright and burning as stars, floated through the darkness toward her and her allies. Never in her life had Kali been so glad to be surrounded by sentinels and near the shelter of a mage-carriage.

“Mara have mercy on us,” Beacon murmured. Like his sentinel brethren, the mender had drawn his daggers rather than his sword, and had positioned his tall, lanky frame in front of Sadira.

Stonewall stood in front of Kali. While she was rigid with fear, his shoulders sank with his deep exhale as he slid into a ready stance, calm and collected – at least from behind. His presence relaxed Kali a tiny bit, so she managed a choked, “Remember: keep as many alive as you can.”

Stonewall inclined his head toward her but addressed the other sentinels. “You heard her: try to disable the thralls, not kill them.”

“Oh, aye,” Flint muttered as the eerie stars materialized into shadowy shapes. “The sodding thralls’ well-being is my biggest worry.”

Milo’s voice wavered, but only at first. “They were people once, relah. We must try to help them.”

“I know,” Flint replied. “I just hope we live to argue about it.”

“Do the best you can,” Stonewall said. “But your priority is to defend yourselves and each other. Kill as a last resort.”

The thralls came on slow, powerful steps, circling the humans in the manner of hunting wolves. The creeping shadows and glowing eyes made Kali yearn to run away. But running had never done her any good, and her knee was aching again, despite the metal brace. She had to stand and fight.

Focus, she told herself, trying to banish her fear. This might be her only opportunity to use her magic to save even one of those poor people; she couldn’t afford to be afraid.

A deep breath brought Kali a tiny measure of calm, enough for her to drop into the concentration necessary to perform magic. A new sense of eagerness swelled within at the mere thought of using her abilities, but she tried to ignore the feeling.

“Sadira?” she whispered.

“I am ready,” the Zhee mage replied as the thralls drew closer. Some were armed in the manner of lower-tiered villagers, with only pitchforks and rusted axes. A few carried swords. Bits of cloth and leather covered every piece of metal that might have touched a thrall’s skin, and a few folks wore gloves. This confirmed Kali’s suspicion that the thralls were somehow connected to the supposedly mythical beings known as the Fata, who could not abide the touch of metal.

“A fireball would be most welcome right now,” Beacon said.

If Sadira replied, Kali didn’t hear. She was lost to magic. She closed her eyes out of habit and reached out with her senses to feel the particles—the tiny specks of energy that made up all things—of the nearest thrall, an older woman who was still several meters away. When Kali’s awareness brushed the thrall, the creature screamed. Its shock sparked through Kali like lightning, though the feeling turned at once to a hunger, a need like she’d never known.

The feeling centered on Kali and came swiftly from not one thrall, but all of them. The sudden weight of the thralls’ emotions hit Kali in the chest like a kick from a mule and she gasped aloud, fighting to maintain her control. If she lost herself to the strange emotions, she would lose control of her magic, and possibly her humanity. But how could she feel the thrall’s emotions? Dimly, she sensed Stonewall moving in front of her, heard the song of steel as his daggers met a thrall’s weapon, felt her other allies press closer. Unnatural heat coiled in the air, making sweat bead at Kali’s back and forehead, rolling down to sting the barely-healed slash at her throat, but she kept her eyes shut.

Sweet magic.

That strange foreign hunger spiked through Kali again, stronger than before, and it took every ounce of strength to resist the urge to grab Sadira, and–

Kali cut off the thought. Focus.

She wrenched her concentration back onto the first thrall’s particles. As far as she knew, no other mage could do what as she was about to, but she had been practicing, so she began to siphon the woman’s energy away, pulling it toward her as one would pull handfuls of coins across a table. Not too much, she cautioned herself. Not enough to kill; only weaken. Only enough to make the sentinels’ jobs easier and hopefully incapacitate the poor woman before someone cut her down.

A few thralls screamed in fury, their anger resonating through Kali’s body like a dozen plucked viol strings. But Kali’s mind was only for the current of magic. Raw power flowed into her body and it was all she could do not to laugh in delight, because it felt so sodding good, because she felt strong and supple, and because there was nothing she could not do.
“Kali!” Stonewall’s voice, thick with effort and tense between clanging steel, brought her back to herself, slammed her into her crippled body like a face full of mud, and reminded her of her task.

She opened her eyes. The thrall had fallen before her, scuffing the loam and snow as she thrashed, trying to break Kali’s grip. Stonewall had kept his place by her side, but faced two other thralls, working to keep himself between them and Kali. Arrows whistled down from atop the carriage. Beacon, Flint, and Milo stood shoulder to shoulder, each wielding daggers as if they’d been born with weapons in their hands. Sadira was busy too; at each approach attempt, little fires erupted at the hems of the thralls’ coats.

Rook swore from the top of the carriage. “They’re breaking off!”

Stonewall shouted something, but Kali did not hear. She knelt in the newly-fallen snow and grabbed at the woman’s arms, but the thrall screamed and jerked out of her grip, not allowing her to get even a cursory look at the woman’s particles. Even weakened by Kali’s magic, the woman was far stronger than she was. With the thrall in this frenzied state, Kali could do no more than try to hang on.

“I need more time,” Kali cried.

Stonewall grunted and the clang of steel rang out again. One of the thralls he had been fighting screamed as he knocked it back. Chest heaving, he prepared to lunge at another thrall, pausing only to call back, “Hurry!”

*

There was no forest, nor wind, nor gently drifting snow. There were no daggers, nor blood pounding hot through Stonewall’s veins. There was neither emotion, nor thought. There was only the fight. Stonewall did not watch his foe drop to the ground, only turned his attention to the next. Sadira’s fire had caused some thralls to retreat, shrieking, but the rest either didn’t care or were too stubborn to go down easily.

Stonewall had that in common with the thralls, at least.

When he found a moment, he shot a glance back at Kali, but she wasn’t behind him. His heart stopped, then he looked down to see her kneeling over a thrall, her face tight with concentration. He had no time to wonder what she was attempting, for Rook shouted a warning and the battle was upon him again.

He tugged his dagger free of the thrall he’d been fighting only an arm’s length from Kali. The creature gave one last gasp before crumpling to the ground. This battle was over. Stonewall’s breath came in pants and gore painted his armor, while his own blood still sang with energy. Although he’d taken a few hits, he felt no pain.

Despite the chaos, he had not lost count of the thralls he and his squad faced. A dozen had tracked the group from the little village of Parsa. Three had fled after feeling the touch of Sadira’s magic. Five had fallen by the sentinels’ blades and arrows; sacrifices to keep Stonewall’s allies safe. One remained under Kali’s ministrations, writhing and shrieking in agony as the mage worked her magic. The burnie twins faced two thralls now, clearly struggling to defend themselves without killing their attackers. But the thralls were vicious and unrelenting; one way or another, the battle would not last much longer. Before Stonewall could intervene, Sadira offered her assistance, and the buckles on the thralls’ belts glowed red, the scent of searing flesh mingling with that of spilled blood and new snow. Flint and Milo exchanged defeated looks and lunged for the last time, and the forest was silent.

Eleven. Stonewall’s heart froze. “There’s one more,” he shouted to the others. “Rook, do you see–”

The mage-carriage rattled as something rammed into its other side. The carriage had no true windows, only ventilation slots near the roof, and one door that Stonewall and the others stood before. But whatever had rammed the thing did so with enough force to shove the carriage a pace forward, making Rook leap down and the other sentinels and Sadira dart out of the way. The carriage would have crushed Kali if Stonewall had not managed to shove her out of the way, but he could not do so for the thrall she had been trying to heal. The carriage groaned as it rocked in the dirt and dead leaves before toppling over onto the Parsan villager.

“No!” Kali cried, scrambling to her feet among the fresh snowfall.

Another thrall’s scream cut off her words as the twelfth and final creature clambered over the fallen carriage to stalk toward them. It was a young woman, with arms bent at odd angles and a black and white cloak, tattered and bloody, swaying behind her. Even though her eyes burned like stars and her face was smeared with dirt and blood, Stonewall recognized her and his stomach dropped to his knees.

“The Cipher from Parsa,” Milo whispered. “By the One!”

Kali lunged for the woman, but Stonewall grabbed her arm to let the others to subdue the monster. Kali twisted back to him, eyes flashing with fury. “Let me go!”

Surely it was his imagination that made her voice sound so harsh, almost piercing with hatred. He released her, stunned at the look on her face: pure rage, a mirror of the thrall. Kali turned away from him to the Cipher, the revered priestess of the Circle clergy, who now lay struggling in the snow and dirt beneath the sentinels’ grasps. Despite what were clearly two broken arms, the young priestess fought against the sentinels, screaming with what Stonewall imagined was pain and anger. Rook and Flint held the thrall’s shoulders while Beacon and Milo held her legs. Sadira stood to one side, body relaxed, face grim. All eyes turned to Kali, who stood still, chest heaving as if she had been running.

After a second of debate, Stonewall dared to touch her shoulder. “Can you help her?”

To his consternation, she looked back at him, tears streaking down cheeks smudged with dirt and blood. All traces of anger were gone and there was only earnestness in her voice. “I must try.”

Kali limped forward. Stonewall followed. She knelt beside the possessed priestess, who snarled furiously up at her, struggling to break free of the sentinels’ grips. Her face, round with youth, was twisted with hatred, but Stonewall felt nothing but pity for the poor young woman. She was not herself. He knelt by Kali as well, ostensibly to keep her safe should the others lose their grips, but mostly because he wanted to be near Kali while she worked her magic. Stonewall had no magic of his own, of course, but he wanted to learn from Kali what he could.

Sadira knelt at Kali’s other side and the three of them studied the Cipher before Kali placed her palms on each of the priestess’ cheeks. “It’s all right,” she murmured, eyes closed. “Everything will be all right. Just relax.”

The thrall screamed again, but this sound lacked that eerie resonance. Heartened, he exchanged glances with Sadira, whose face mirrored his own hopes. Kali was still concentrating, but he couldn’t stop himself from placing a gloved hand against her back, hoping, somehow, to send her his strength, to help her fight this battle he could not see. Kali leaned into his touch, heartening him further still. No doubt the other sentinels would guess the connection between them, but in this moment, he didn’t care.

“The hematite.” Sadira pointed to the multitude of hematite rings and pendants the priestess wore. Hematite – the dispelling stone. It would prevent Kali’s magic from working properly. The sight made his breath catch: this was proof that mages couldn’t have created the thralls! As carefully as he could, given how the woman still writhed, Stonewall removed the jewelry and tucked the pieces into a pouch at his belt.

Kali’s gentle murmurs continued, the words blending together beneath the thrall’s cries, which indeed sounded more human than before. While the others watched the scene before them, Rook met Stonewall’s gaze, a question in her eyes. He caught her meaning at once. They were too exposed here, should any other thralls find them, but Stonewall was reluctant to move.

Give her a few more moments, he thought, holding Rook’s gaze and nodding to Kali. The petite sentinel frowned but resumed her watchful glances.

The thrall was quieter now, though she panted and writhed. But her movements lacked their initial frenzy. Was she better?

Before Stonewall could ask, the priestess shrieked again, making all the sentinels start. She jerked out of their grips as if she were made of stone, and leaped to her feet, eyes blazing, body aimed like a dagger – at Kali. “Sweet blood,” the thrall hissed. “Give it to us. Now!”

The thrall moved before she’d finished speaking. She lunged at Kali, who only stared up, mouth agape, defeat written on her face. No time for hesitation. Stonewall stepped in front of Kali and grabbed the thrall, and dragged his dagger across the poor woman’s throat.
I’m sorry, he thought as the thrall fell to the new snow, unmoving.

Leave a Reply