authorNow that NaNoWriMo’s gone and done, I face the decision over what I want to do next. The Unquiet Dead needs a little time to simmer, because I want to go back and edit the first half before beginning work on the second half. Unfortunately, editing requires distance and I have other promises to keep.

You might recall that, before NaNo, I threatened to work on two novellas as warm ups to the 50K marathon about to commence. Unfortunately, I was so bogged down in real life problems and my piece for the upcoming Nocturnal Embers anthology, I didn’t get to either one. So, while Christian cools his heels and licks his wounds (I really did beat him up a lot already), I have be forming a game plan.

It goes without saying that I have The Vampire Flynn, Pt. 3 (aka: Fate of the Seer) to edit. I want to release that sooner than its current anticipated release month – June – and think I might be able to have it ready for April. Cross your fingers for me, because if that happens, I could have The Return of the Seer out in December and spend the summer finishing The Unquiet Dead. And right now, I really, really want to get myself up to releasing two books a year instead of one.

But I also have the aforementioned two novellas to tend to, and thus, I welcome you to my month of December.

First things first – Julian’s Story. Now, that bastard of a working title needs something snazzier and I welcome any suggestions. Long story short, though, this is the tale of Julian Reichlin, the seer who was chasing after Flynn in Rebirth of the Seer.  Jess Fortunato was the one who put the bug in my ear to talk more about him and suddenly, the gruff, quiet man had a whole history laid out before me. I generally get nervous when they do that. It usually means they’re moving in.

Secondly, I have Thick as Thieves, which you might recognize if you follow my Works in Progress blog. It’s the story of vampire art thief Walter Krause, who features prominently in the Nocturnal Embers anthology. I don’t know why a lot of authors shun fan fiction. Granted, there might be a day when people are shipping some weird pairing in my books and I have to wade through the Robin/Peter slash fic while trying hard not to die laughing. But seeing other authors handle Walter made me giddy.

If you want to read more about Walter, check out the teasers I have already posted here. I barely started Julian’s piece, but here’s a small sample of things to come.

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Part One

He had been tracking the boar for the better part of the afternoon, staying low to the ground and following the small marks left on the soft, forest floor. Once or twice, it had broken through less navigable terrain, but it always wound back to one of the paths. A few more meters and he might finally have a clear shot.

Julian paused by a running brook, still crouched and with his crossbow by his side. The fingers of one hand tracing idly across the string, he lifted the other hand high enough to check the direction of the wind. In those blessed moments which followed, the world fell to a hush. The harmonious sounds of nature faded into the background and serenity blew through his soul like a breeze on the wind. His palm found the stock of the crossbow while the lifted hand pivoted further still and felt for the bolts in his quiver. Just as the leaves of a bush began to rustle, Julian sprang into action.

The bolt was swiftly secured into place as he launched onto his feet and lined the boar in his sight. The animal lurched and as Julian pressed the trigger, he compensated for the turn with a split second adjustment which drove the bolt home into the back of the boar’s neck. It floundered to one side and lay still after issuing one last squeal of protest. A smile of victory broke out on Julian’s face. “Got you,” he murmured under his breath.

The words produced a tuft of steam and the march to where the fallen animal came to a rest brought with it the crunch of pine needles and small twigs. The air crisp, it bore the reminder that this winter would be a brutal one and might have surrendered the last hunting trip Julian would enjoy. He knelt beside his kill and pulled the bolt out of its neck, admiring the size of the beast with a heavy sigh. Carrying it back to the car would be a difficult, mile-long march. Still, she was worth it.

It had been two years since the last time she returned home.

Julian frowned as his gaze lifted to regard the overcast sky. Securing the crossbow into a sling, he removed his quiver from his back and unzipped a pouch to produce a small, folded tarp. His thoughts drifted as he tied a length of rope around the boar’s body. Two years ago, he had been seventeen, finishing school and apprenticing at the factory. Now, he worked there full time, a mundane life of work and family waiting for him in the horizon. It was enough to make the military look appealing.

He stifled a soft chuckle and tossed the length of rope around a low-lying, sturdy branch. Gripping it tight with both hands, he pulled on his end until the wild pig dangled from the ground. His muscles strained under the weight of the animal and the tree limb bowed nearly to the point of breaking, but held. He tied his end of the rope off and pulled a dagger from a sheath strapped around his thigh. Bleeding the pig out would at least make transport a little easier. Not to mention, it would give him more time alone with his thoughts, even if that had been a dangerous proposition those days. The walls were closing in around him – the life of auto assembly lines and urban chaos becoming more than he could bear. The only time he found any reprieve seemed to be out in the forest.

Papa said he had almost been born with a crossbow in his hands. Mama relished the fresh meat and rewarded the family with a hearty dinner. Julian only told a half-truth when he mentioned hunting something for Birgit’s homecoming; he had wanted to ensure she have a proper dinner, true. But he wandered an hour away because seeing her again was beginning to mark the passage of time. Something about the concept had inspired this latest wave of unease.

He grumbled softly and slit the boar’s throat. Blood trickled from the wound, a macabre display he had long since become desensitized toward. As it pooled onto the forest floor, he admired the blade of his knife and frowned, wishing he knew what had taken up residence in such young bones. Maybe it was something in the air, but it did not seem apt to depart anytime soon.

With a solemn sigh, he began the task of dressing the kill.

Maybe Birgit would know. She always seemed to.

***

It had been explained to him the only way such matters could be discussed with eight year old boys. His older sister – the rock who had been a surrogate parent to him – was sick and needed to get better. Each time he saw her since then, he never noticed any illness manifest in the way she held herself. She would sleep for half the morning her first day there and tell stories about London over dinner. Her tales of the school itself were vague, with faceless instructors who were teaching her ‘a lot of things.’ By the time he turned twelve, his parents stopped asking which things and by now, they had given up any hope of her moving back to Germany.

Julian would still press her, though, in private, and away from the skeptical glances and frowns of their mother and father. Through the years, a tale had been assembled with strategic pieces left out of certain parts. Her school let her travel, and she’d sneak back a trinket for Julian from Paris or Belgium or somewhere in Spain. “I wish I could see the world like you do,” he had said during her last visit home.

She only smiled solemnly and replied, “Everything comes with a price, Julian. You wouldn’t want to see it for the same reasons.”

Still, it had done nothing to dissuade him. He visited relatives in Switzerland one summer and took the train to Italy on his eighteenth birthday in a sheer flight of fancy. Mannfred chastised him when he returned, reiterating the charge that one day, Julian would have to find his own apartment and be an independent man. The life of responsibility thrust upon him suited him ill, but he never failed to show up for work and never stopped considering the next place he might wander off to. Backpacking in the Alps. Perhaps even surprising Birgit in London. Maybe life would find him somewhere out there, instead of fencing him within the confines of Stuttgart.

Maybe one day he would figure out why that was such a concern for him.

Carting the remains of the boar took longer than he expected, and dusk had begun to settle by the time he started the car and drove the tarp-wrapped carcass back to the city limits. A light drizzle descended on the German countryside which turned into a full deluge when he merged into the busy metropolitan traffic. His mother was waiting by the door when he pulled up to the house. “Back in plenty of time?” she said, folding her arms across her chest as he opened the trunk and hefted out dinner. “I expected you home three hours ago. Your father had to take his car out to the airport to pick up your sister.”

Julian sighed, water beginning to trickle down the collar of his shirt. “I needed to dress the pig,” he said, leaving the trunk ajar in favor of carrying the boar into the house. His mother frowned as she held the door open, and deigned to walk outside and shut the trunk before retreating inside again. The weight of her stare settled onto his shoulders when she padded into the kitchen.

“We’ll have to save that for tomorrow. Your father isn’t here to butcher the pig.”

He deposited the weight on the counter and bit his tongue when his mother suggested that next time, he should kill a rabbit or something smaller. The Reichlin matriarch did not skip a beat in springboarding from a critique of his target to commentary on his state of appearance, and as the topic of discussion centered on his general grooming, Julian retreated into the bathroom to shower. The silence of seclusion found him again, even if just for a few fleeting minutes. The activity of the house picked up soon afterward, though.

His younger siblings bustled around the living room and were shooed away from the kitchen while Hannelore cooked. Julian smirked to himself when he noticed bits of pork frying in a skillet with a complement of chopped up vegetables and broth. The beer he stole from the refrigerator served as a prize for a job well done, and was polished off in time for the front door to swing open again. Mannfred entered first, lugging a suitcase in his right hand.

When Julian spied Birgit, his face lit with a smile.

She glanced around at the other children as they raced to the door to greet her. The years had bestowed her with beauty, and regardless of whatever might have been twisting inside her mind, her exterior bore a tough, but graceful appearance. Barrettes held back her long, silken locks and her blue eyes were still the glacier blue they had been as an eleven year old. When they found Julian, a mixture of relief and happiness washed over her face. In the back of his mind he wondered how much he mirrored the expression.

He crossed the room to circle her in his arms, his grin broadening when she clutched onto him in return. The embrace held for interminable moments and when they parted, the glow of her warmth still radiated despite the damp chill which had afflicted her heavy coat. She chuckled when he brushed drops of rain from his shirt, both hands settling on her hips as she paused to admire him. “Julian, who gave you permission to grow into a man?” she asked.

Julian laughed, pointing heavenward while walking with her toward the kitchen. “Take it up with the Almighty,” he said. “I think He handles that sort of thing.”

“At least your brother is big enough to bring dinner, now.” Hannelore turned from the stove to kiss Birgit on the cheek. “Hello, Liebling. I hope your flight went well.”

“It went very well, Mama.” Birgit exchanged the kiss and glanced toward Mannfred as he lumbered into the hallway and toward the girls’ room. She sighed at the suitcases in his hands. “I should help Papa with that.”

“Oh nonsense. Let your father leave it in your room. You can unpack after dinner.” Hannelore nodded toward Julian. “Thank your brother. He went out hunting and brought home a pig.”

Birgit smirked with amusement when she looked toward Julian again. “Sneaking through the woods with that crossbow of yours?”

Julian shrugged, grinning coyly. “I like to hunt.”

“He would live in the forest if he was able to,” their mother said. She pointed a wooden ladle at the boar’s remains. “Your father is going to grumble about having to cut up a pig so late in the evening. I’ll remind him that means he has bacon in the morning.”

“He complains too much as it is.”

Birgit shot a look of warning at Julian, who rolled his eyes in response.

To Be Continued…

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