LOOKING BACK AT 2017
I’m so done with this year. 😛 It was an absolute rollercoaster, both personally and professionally. While there were some great highlights, the overall experience was nuts. Day job blew up in my face a couple times, heartbreaks and health scares evaded my family and friends, and I spent the whole year working on a sequel that decided it didn’t want to end. 😦
On an author level, 2017 was bittersweet. Bitter for the obvious reason above, but sweet because The Benighted rocked the competitions this year. Not only did he get the bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite Awards for Young Adult-Action, but he became a finalist in the Book Excellence Awards for Fantasy. For a book that’s now four years old, I’d say placing in anything at this point is an absolute victory! Go Team Benighted!! 😀
With that said, I know people are wondering about the fate and progress of Benighted’s sequel, so let’s discuss a few things:
1. The first version of Illusory was thrown out.
See ya! Wouldn’t wanna be ya! This is a big part of why Illusory has yet to grace bookshelves everywhere. If you’ve read one of my previous posts, then you know that the first version I had written in the beginning of the year was completely trashed. You’ll thank me later since the new version is better than even I had expected. More action, more mystery, more dark twists – it’s definitely a book that belongs in this saga. ❤
2. The readers are still waiting.
Yes, I know. I KNOW. Illusory should have been done a long time ago, and to be honest it should have definitely been completed at the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo. Even I thought it was getting closer to completion until a new plotline developed and now things have stretched out. But to be honest, every part of the book has its place, so unfortunately we’re all at the mercy of this novel. 😛
3. The Illusory is double the size of The Benighted.
Its true, the length of this sequel has completely surpassed its predecessor. It’s a good thing though since there were a lot of unanswered questions from Benighted that needed to be addressed…not to mention a war going on.
But the real cause of the extra wordage is the fact that Illusory is being told through three main points of view, which is a completely different concept compared to Benighted which was told only through Skylar’s. While the majority of it’s split between Skylar and Harlin (yes, we’re actually going to see war through the eyes of a warrior), the third point is the new character Madden Calibre, a porter turned spy who ends up being the one that helps answer the unanswered questions. Was Skylar really the only person who survived the prison attack? Why was it mentioned only once that her brother had shaking palsy, but it was never mentioned again? Who exactly was Cross Lutherus that made him so ruthless and evil? What exactly was his motive? Things are gonna be revealed, whether we like it or not. 😛
4. The story is much darker than it was intended to be.
I’m almost ashamed. Almost. This book hits some nerves, discussing different perspectives on sensitive topics that will probably make all easily-offended millennials hate me. But hey, you don’t write a book about murder and torture and not have a sequel that follows those same lines!
And since we’re talking about dark twists, I feel I should give you all a quick heads up…
5. One of the main characters meets their death.
Yes, I played around during NaNoWriMo teasing fans that Skylar or Harlin might be bumped off. There were a few close calls for dramatic purposes, but then one dramatic scene got too real and one of them didn’t quite make it out alive. 😦 Why? How? Who??Well, that’s for Illusory to explain to you. I take no responsibility. *throws hands up in the air*
But good news is on the horizon! 😀
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018
Everyone has a New Year’s resolution, and mine (as usually) is probably unrealistic. Oh well. 🙂
The first resolution is that I want Illusory done. Nay, I need Illusory to be done! This book was not supposed to be this big, take this long, or act up this way. What we have so far is completely awesome and I wouldn’t take any of it back, but deadlines were burned in the process and my sanity is on the verge of breaking. I want to work on something else, readers! Anything else!!!
And that takes us to the second resolution: publishing two books this next year! 😀 Besides Illusory, I really want to catch up on my publishing list by getting some stand alone novels out, particularly a certain Amazon rainforest one. But to be honest, that one too was getting kinda dark and deep, so I may have to transfer to a more light story. If I can create a light story.
But since I’ve talked so much about Illusory, why not give you all a real sneak peek into what’s been going on? 😀 As I said earlier, Illusory answers some unanswered questions from Benighted, so here’s a glimpse of one of those little hidden mysteries. For those of you who’ve read Benighted, remember the scene (in Chapter 5, to be exact) when Skylar and Harlin ride out into the forest to take a look at the area where Skylar’s brother was killed? We all end up seeing Harlin kill an assassin who tries to attack them, one speaking a different language that only Harlin understands, causing Skylar to realize that Harlin isn’t just some regular knight. Well, there’s a little twist to that scene that we learn about towards the beginning of Illusory, which just so happens to be posted below. 😉
However, please keep in mind that because this book is still a work-in-progress, minor details may change. It’s only been lightly edited, so be gentle. 😉
Without further ado, here is a chapter from Illusory where Harlin confronts the spy Madden Calibre whose being held captive in the catacombs that are buried underneath the castle. It’s this scene that the notorious benighted begins to realize that the once quiet porter may just know a little too much about what’s been going on…
***Spoilers Ahead: Read At Your Own Risk***
_______________ SNEAK PEEK ________________
A loud crack ricocheted as the guard’s fist connected with Madden’s face, snapping his head to the side which collided with his own bicep. Shaking the hit off, Madden smiled as he looked up at his tied hands. He stared at the rope which kept his hands above his head, wondering if the force could cause the rope itself to split apart. Knowing it wouldn’t, Madden’s eyes fell back to the castle guard who struck him.
“Glad they taught you something,” he mouthed off, right before the guard struck him again, this time causing warm blood to fill his nostrils.
“Enough,” Sir Temper Sullivan stepped in, the Captain of the Guard. He nudged his man away, who only took two steps back without lessening his gaze on Madden. “Your mouth likes to run away with you, doesn’t it?”
Madden smirked, the blood dripping across his lips. “Much like your wife.”
Sir Sullivan grunted, used to offensive comebacks. Rolling his eyes, he turned away, ushering his fellow guard to do the same. The two men withdrew, leaving Madden standing with his hands suspended over his head. The torchlights continued to cast shadows across his figure, pearlizing the white in his hair as he stared after them. He had begun breathing heavier now that he felt the pain begin to set deep into his face, spitting the blood out of his mouth that had crept in.
The stone walls of the catacombs felt enclosing as the two guards stepped out of the room and into the adjoining hall. There were several hundred rooms in the catacombs, creating an entombed labyrinth around its visitors. Each man had their own perception of the place, and each perception wasn’t pleasant.
“We should put an end to him,” the castle guard commented to his superior. He paused only after they passed the two guards stationed at the entrance of Madden’s location, coming to a stop a distance away to say his peace. “There isn’t any reason to keep him alive.”
“There is,” a stronger voice called out, silencing the conversation.
Both of the men turned, finding Harlin approaching from down the corridor. Taking in his hooded appearance made the young guard want to take a step back. He resisted, only because he didn’t want to appear weak despite the way his pulse throbbed in his neck.
“He’s a traitor,” Sir Sullivan tried to reason, reminding Harlin of who they were dealing with. Sir Sullivan, with his short white hair and well trimmed mustache and beard, considered himself much too seasoned to be fearful of the knight. Although he hadn’t seen battle since a young man, his admiration for a fellow soldier kept him confident and calm. But then he noticed the belt draped over Harlin’s shoulder, the hilt of a short sword protruding out of the sheath. He couldn’t help wonder why the knight would need a second one.
“He’s useful,” Harlin assured, coming to a stop before them. “And if you don’t mind, I would like to have a word with him in private.”
Sir Sullivan exchanged glances with his young comrade. With a nod, the Captain of the Guard gave in by walking past Harlin, his comrade following so that there would be privacy between the benighted and the spy.
Harlin stepped past the two guards keeping watch and entered the niche tomb.
“Oh, hell,” Madden breathed out, partly irritated. He saw the second short sword, and couldn’t help but eye both it and its owner. “I see we’re adding to the collection.”
“Good to see you as well,” Harlin smiled, approaching with a fluid stride which made Madden cautious. He took note of the bloody nose, but didn’t pay any more attention to it. “Now, where did we leave off?”
“You were killing my comrades,” Madden recalled distinctively and with no emotion.
“Yes. That.” Harlin came to a stop in front of Madden, falling into his stance with his hands folded in front of him. “I do apologize that you had to watch.”
“I’m rather jealous.” Madden smirked, unable to contain himself. “But then again, I’d hate to get in the way of revenge. An eye for an eye, so to speak,” he quipped as he stared at the man with the eye patch.
Harlin, though his own gaze darkened, ignored the spy’s antics that subtly irritated him. “As I said,” he restated, “I do apologize that you had to watch. But Her Majesty insisted that you live—”
“Why?” Madden interrupted, adjusting his stance despite his arms tingling from the blood loss. “She’s a Mandolyn who never mingles with servants. Why should she spare me?”
“Because you might be the only one who knows who murdered her father,” Harlin pointed out. His ultramarine eye never wavered from the spy’s gaze.
“Yes. That,” Madden mocked, recapturing Harlin’s exact tone. “I do apologize that she had to see it.”
Harlin took in a steady breath, but waited patiently for the next thing Madden would say. He watched those words build in the spy’s eyes, seeing the way his mind tinkered and worked with each thought. From this distance he saw that Madden’s eyes were sincerely altered; white veins robbing the blue color and making them look ice-like. Cold and calculating, Harlin perceived.
“I need to talk to her,” Madden broke in, his voice taking on seriousness that he very rarely used. “She has a right to know everything.”
“Everything?” Harlin asked, his jaw line twitching despite his calm pose.
“You know,” Madden said, resting his head against his arm. “Don’t deny that their politics never reached your ears.”
“I don’t divulge in rumors,” Harlin confirmed. “And to be honest, this is the only reason I’m being patient with you.” He pulled out a parchment from where it was stuffed underneath his belt, holding it up so Madden could view it. That was his parchment, confiscated while on the ride over to where he was tied up now. Swallowing hard, Madden grimaced but didn’t reply.
“The information you were going to send back,” Harlin continued. “This would have eventually given you what you want.”
“That was the plan,” Madden admitted with a tired smile, “since you apparently won’t do it.”
Harlin put the parchment back underneath the belt before returning to his resting stance. “You spent a couple years in the House of Mandolyn, serving as both a porter and a spy. That would make you rather exceptional at watching people and knowing your surroundings. Did you ever come across any knowledge of who might have murdered our late king?”
Madden took in a deep breath, letting the air out annoyingly slow just to get under the knight’s nerves. He still couldn’t quite tell if he was accomplishing it or not, but it was fun to try. “But you’re forgetting the first murder,” he recollected, making it sound like he was thinking out loud instead of leading the conversation away.
Harlin’s jaw fully clenched then. But that’s when he remembered the ring he was wearing, and like a drug his temper began to ease.
“Braydon Mandolyn would have made an excellent ruler. That’s the bittersweet reality. The perfect heir plagued by his own family.”
“And?” Harlin asked, trying to move the conversation along.
Madden laughed, only because he could. “And I know more about this part than you do, Sir Brien. I witnessed them planning his assassination.”
Harlin stared at him hard, his skin prickling. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but he believed in Skylar, knowing these words would sting if she heard them. Somehow he was reacting for her.
“They had one of your own do it,” Madden responded as if reminding him. “A knight from the Order of the Benighted.”
That was part of the story Harlin never told Skylar, back when she was a Princess Royal and he was only assigned to protect her. She had overheard the Nar language he would later explain to her, but he purposely left out that only the benighted spoke it. It was a way for them to communicate so their enemy wouldn’t understand what was being said. Only a couple extremist groups had learned the ways of the ancient Nar warfare, he never lied about that; but he purposely left out that none of them had lived long enough to continue.
“He was a rogue who does not speak for the rest of us.” Harlin’s answer followed with a glare, remembering how he encountered the knight in the forest.
The rumors are true, he had said in Nar. It was then Harlin had drawn out his blade while Skylar crouched in the grass, holding the pistol he handed her. Get out while you still can. An inquisition is coming.
“That was the only reason they got him to agree to it,” Madden replied. “That, and they found out about his child hidden in Almany where he was stationed. It didn’t take a lot for them to persuade him to do the job.”
Harlin looked past Madden. He remembered how his comrade stalked towards him like a warrior. Despite his stoic demeanor, his words held fear, a warning no one would have caught on unless they were a part of the order. An inquisition is coming.
“That was part of the reason why the late king wanted you to protect his daughter,” Madden proceeded. “He needed someone of equal ground to protect his last heir, fearing things might take an unexpected turn.”
Harlin still heard those last words repeating in his mind, overlapping over Madden’s story.
“And that’s the problem. Things might still take an unexpected turn. They are making her walk a fragile line, which is why she must know.”
Harlin imagined himself right before he struck his own comrade down. The chanting words seemed to still linger even after they were cut off when Harlin snapped the knight’s neck. It was the only merciful death he could give him. Blinking back the memory, Harlin’s gaze focused in on Madden.
“All I ask,” Madden said, persuasion in his tone, “is that you give me what I want.”
With a deep sigh, Harlin questioned, “How much time until Bellumortis arrives?”
Madden smirked a little. “Anytime. In fact, they might already be here, hiding in plain sight. They like to do that.” Madden absentmindedly looked up at his hands. They were once porter hands, he mused. A porter’s hands who everyone around him thought could do nothing but serve. “I bet you had a hell of a time sorting out the castle guards,” he spoke out almost absentmindedly. “Not knowing who honestly believed in Cross Lutherus’ manifesto or who followed out of fear. Bellumortis loves using family members as collateral.”
It was while Madden was talking that something in Harlin clicked. It was the old gut feeling of war, the adrenaline of knowing an enemy was nearby. There was no more preparation, no more planning. Now it was just a matter of time.
“I want to talk to her,” Madden spoken again before a devilish smile curved his lips. “I want to see her before she’s destroyed by her own demons.”
“No,” Harlin resolved, just as he turned away. But before he made it even halfway across the room, Madden stopped him.
“They’re deeper than he first thought.”
Harlin came to an abrupt halt.
“They may not heal correctly.”
He had heard those words before, but he never thought anyone else had been listening.
“What was it?” Madden thought out loud, trying to remember the exact words. “From the evidence on her wrists and ankles, it matched her story of being electrocuted. That, in turn, seemed to have interrupted the healing process in regards to the damage done by the whip lashings on her back.”
Harlin’s fists clenched, his nostrils flaring as those words—those same words—repeated themselves. He slowly turned to look at Madden, though he knew those words weren’t originally from him. They were first spoken by Dr. Laurence when he had examined Skylar after the prison fell and she was back behind the castle walls.
Madden smiled, knowing he caught the knight’s attention. “She contracted a fever, was weak and dehydrated. It was feared the stress of it all, both physically and emotionally, might have weakened her heart. A good reason why she occasionally feels chest pains.” Madden chuckled a little. “I guess the induced coma the doctor put her under didn’t do much. Rest can’t fix tortured.”
It only took Harlin a few giant steps to confront the spy head on, his hand wrapped around Madden’s throat in a tight squeeze. He could smell Madden’s blood now, almost attracted to it like a predator to a prey. In response, Madden chocked but didn’t stop from letting the rest of his words fall out.
“But that’s not why you put her on suicide watch, was it? Why the guards really follow her.”
Harlin, whose barred teeth started to show, simply shoved Madden away, releasing his grip which caused the spy to cough.
“Don’t worry, Sir Brien,” Madden coughed out, taking in heavy breaths. “I know you’re only following doctor’s orders. Though, I highly doubt the doctor will like you giving that short sword to her—”
“But how do you know?” Harlin demanded. Part of him wondered if he had missed anyone else. Part of him wondered how he had missed Madden Calibre.
“You’re not the only one who can move lightly,” Madden winked. “And I’ve spent many years memorizing what people say the first time they say it. It’s the highlight of being a spy. As you should know since the benighted have the same attributes.”
Harlin became a statue, not taking the snide comment casually.
“Personally, I don’t even think Skylar Mandolyn herself would blame you for having her watched.” Madden shifted in his stance as he looked up, trying to remember the words again. “But what did the doctor say? ‘Her subconscious is showing other signs caused by extreme stress, delirium being one of the symptoms.'”
Harlin felt his heart beating against his rib cage, the veins in his neck tight with each anxious pulse.
“We both know what that means. It might as well be a demon.” Madden eyed the knight, his look slipping into a serious glare despite his grin. “No one knows about illusories like we do.”
With a deep breath, Harlin controlled himself. He kept his arms at his side when all they wanted to do was unsheathe one of the short swords and take Madden’s head.
“But then again, she still has the small pistol on hand, doesn’t she?” Madden defied him without pause, looking up as if the thought just occurred to him. “Good job giving her options. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see which one she ends up using.”
Harlin stared hard at him, trying to ignore the antagonizing comment that was meant not only for Skylar but for himself. Although he trusted Skylar, he tried not to show that the thought Madden was trying to provoke had already crossed his mind.
Madden grinned a little harder, changing the subject like a snap of the finger. “So when is the rest of your kind showing up? Hopefully some time soon.”
Harlin didn’t bother to reply as he turned around and walked out of the room.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” Madden mumbled towards the knight, deflated as he rested his head against his arm again.
Harlin moved out of the room with an agitated stride. “Don’t have anyone speak to him,” he instructed to the two guards as he walked past them. Down the corridor he saw Sir Sullivan walking towards him. Readjusting the strap on his shoulder, he relaxed his hands that had been tight fists during most of the conversation.
“The castle guards are keeping a close watch on Her Majesty, per your orders,” Sir Sullivan reported as he came to a stop in front of Harlin. “She’s returned to her chambers.”
“From the Conference Hall?” Harlin questioned.
Sir Sullivan nodded. “Stayed for a couple hours. Still waiting for the council to return, it seems.” The older guard glanced behind Harlin, acting like Madden was standing behind him. “Has he said anything of importance yet?”
“Not quite,” Harlin answered, knowing that if the two guards had heard the conversation, they would disclose it to their superior soon enough. “Keep him isolated though.”
Sir Sullivan smiled a little. “Consider it done.”
Harlin nodded before walking passed him, escaping the same way he entered.
Harlin may have walked like a knight, but deep down he thought like a madman. Madden’s last words irritated him more than he wanted to admit. But as he continued down the corridor, marching up the stairway and passing through the solid door that led into the secret passageways, Harlin felt himself start to calm down. He had the parchment with Madden’s true intentions on it. He had the second short sword that he requested to be made, fashioned out of tungsten carbide instead of steel, just like his own. He had the truth, and he had a plan.
All I ask is that you give me what I want.
Harlin came to a stop. His thoughts traveled without him, past the pipes and sprays of steam that swirled by. Madden Calibre, despite everything, only wanted one thing. It was that same thing that made illusories so dangerous, the same want arising out of those who suffered from them.
Standing among the hissing steam, Harlin’s handsome face took on the persona of what he truly felt: the dread that Skylar Mandolyn would one day want the same thing.
__________ HOPE YOU ENJOYED! ___________
Here’s to you, you fabulous readers! Keep being the best bookworms an author could ask for! Hope 2018 is an amazing year for you! ❤
(Psst! Gifs are from The Great Gatsby 2013 movie)