Aura Lockhaven; A Future Retrospective

This month, Aura Lockhaven is nine years old. She first appeared in July, 2010. I’ve previously discussed where she came from, as a little tawdry hentai character back in 2010. Today, I thought I’d look at where Aura Lockhaven wants to go.

Yes, I said where she wants to go. I don’t tell Aura what to do. I don’t make up her stories. Anyone who has ever crafted a story, from a written piece to a comic, knows that the characters own us! They tell their stories to us and we just say “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” and bring them to life.

I didn’t even create Aura. She created herself in my mind. How else would I have crafted a woman protagonist, when most men write about men? The kernel for her was there for decades. It just took form around one goofy render nine years ago, and that form was female with green eyes and red hair. She let me decide on her actual figure, but insisted on the belly bulge, oversized butt, and nose hump.

I’d argue that’s true of even the most extreme sexploitation girl. We don’t sit down at the computer and say “I’m going to create a girl who will be defiled by horny Drows!” Nope. She was there to begin with, some tangible facet of a dark fantasy, and that moment was her decision to be born. From that point forward, it’s her story and we just take dictation.

That should refute the small contingent on DeviantArt who argues that such stories should be removed because we didn’t get the character’s consent before throwing her to horny Drows. Nope. We didn’t. The character told us what to do. The character didn’t get our consent! We just obeyed. Of course, I am assuming that contingent has common sense (I’m naïve like that).

Aura never asks my consent. I know if I don’t do it, she’ll slip a cookie into my coffee.

The movie Star Wars holds a special place in my life. That’s the movie most of you know as Episode IV. I saw it in 1977 before it was ever subtitled. Star Wars (as I will always call Episode IV) was the first non-Disney, non-Bond movie I saw in the cinema where the good guys stood for something. Until then, movies focused on dour, unrelatable, and unlikable anti-heroes, like Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and The Godfather. In Star Wars, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and Obi-Wan stood for something. They did the right thing because it was right. And they won! That meant much to a fourteen year old suffering through junior high school (I was the football team’s hallway tackle dummy) and looking for heroes in a world mired by Jimmy Carter’s malaise.

That idea sat in my mind for decades. Good guys can win. Good guys stand for something. They keep trying, against overwhelming odds. The idea grew. It congealed. In July, 2010, it demanded birth. It took a name. Aura Lockhaven. I have other characters with the similar philosophy, primarily Katie and Barbara, but Aura is the banner carrier for it.

Sometimes I lament that Aura didn’t come along in 1990, when I would have been young enough to be relevant, and could have published her stories the traditional way. Today, I don’t. 1990 wasn’t her time. Neither was 2005. Today is. America is right back where it was in 1977. Anti-heroes are the rage. We have one in the White House (Sonny Corleone anyone?). In the current Star Wars trilogy, Han and Luke betrayed everything they stood for in the original trilogy because that’s what Hollywood wants. The knight in rusty, dented armor (Tony Stark) is dead, and the knight out of time (Steve Rogers) is gone, because that’s what Hollywood wants. Movies refuse to depict a husband making love to his wife, but they sure can, and do, show him carving her up alive with a chainsaw, because that’s what Hollywood wants. And what Hollywood wants, Hollywood gets. We’re told by our news media that America is full of hate, anger, rage, and is tearing itself apart. That isn’t true; walk the streets and talk to real people (who do the working, playing, praying, loving, and eating) and most get along just fine. They’re lost, however. They’re bombarded by all this bullshit for political correctness and horseshit for profit. Ultimately, all that has an effect on us and we start believing it. We become cynical, burned out, and afraid, because those in power want us that way. Divide and conquer. Do as you’re told. Eat your peas.

Yeah, well, Aura thinks America needs a character who inspires, who encourages, who is simply good. Good people stand for something. Good people do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Good people win, dammit, if they just keep trying. Good people say “Up yours!” to bullshit like I mentioned in the previous paragraph. At least, Aura thinks so. A friend on DeviantArt once said “Aura is so darn loving!” That’s her whole point. It’s isn’t just what she believes, it’s who she is. There is plenty of room in this world for a character who truly tries to conquer through love, who has a clearly defined morality, and draws distinct lines she will not cross just to be pragmatic.

Of course, she kicks ass when asskicking is required. She likes to bare it, too. Aura believes this world needs a loving woman who can punch faces, and has a positive view of sex and her own body. Wow. What a concept. Not popular with the mainstream, but I don’t like the mainstream. That makes us even.

I’d love for Aura Lockhaven to be a household name, in the same list as Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Tarzan, and Luke Skywalker. That isn’t up to me. It’s up to you. I can’t make you like Aura, and wouldn’t if I could. Aura stands for self-determination in a world of conformity. So do I. Frankly, I’m horrible at marketing. The modern approach actually worked on DeviantArt, and I didn’t try. It just happened. My friends there like me as a human being, even if I am an opinionated, curmudgeonly, old-fashioned sonofabitch. They like Aura, but what’s not to like about her? That led to more book sales than from any other platform. Do it deliberately on Twitter and Facebook, and I’m totally lost. Don’t ask me to try Instagram, Tumblr, or Reddit! Just don’t. So, any actual fame Aura gains will simply be organic growth, and outside my efforts. Unless an opportunity presents itself, which is always possible.

Notice my list of household names is all men? I want to change that. I won’t use the phrase strong female character because it’s overused. It’s also inaccurate. To me, it implies an impassive killing machine, not a thinking and feeling human who rises above her own imperfections to accomplish the difficult. I prefer the term competent woman protagonist. The first competent woman protagonist in American fiction was Scarlet O’Hara, who debuted in 1935. The second was Wonder Woman in 1941. Both appeared during my mother’s childhood. The vast majority of competent woman protagonists – Modesty Blaise, Leia Organa, Xena, Lara Croft, Kinsey Millhone, Kahlan Amnel, Kathryn Janeway, Sarah Conner, and Red Sonja*– were created in my lifetime and I’m only 56. Compare that to 400 years of competent man protagonists dating back to Cervantes (the generally accepted pioneer of the novel and the concept of fiction). This has far less to do with any idea that half the American population is female (status is based upon earned merit, not upon quotas), and much more with the fact that half the Viking raiding and trading parties were women (that is earned merit). Besides, women are more interesting than men. Because we have 400 years to work with, if I give a sword, wand, or gun to a man, I know what he will do with it. With less than 80 years to work with, if I give the same to a woman, I don’t know what she will do until she does it. Aura believes there’s room for one more competent woman protagonist, especially one with her personal message.

Aura Lockhaven has come a long way since her debut as a character nine years ago. Let’s see where she goes heading into her tenth year.

* Red Sonja is credited as created by Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s. Technically, Howard didn’t. Frank Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith combined Howard’s Red Sonya and Black Agnes into Red Sonja in 1973. Thomas and Windsor-Smith were big enough to credit the source of their inspiration, so Howard generally gets the nod.

 

 

 

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Aura Lockhaven’s Upgrades for 2019

On one hand, it feels like the first month of 2019 has been totally wasted. On the other hand, it has been remarkably productive. I’ll cover the why it feels like a waste and how it’s been productive in a separate post. For this one, I want to focus on what occupied most of my time.

In preparation for 2019, I totally overhauled my 3D version of Aura Lockhaven.

First, she received totally new clothing textures. The originals dated to 2014. And they showed it. In the process, I gave her a totally new cloak that is actually designed for the Victoria 7 (Genesis 3 Female; such an unlovely term) model. For all of last year, I used the Anagenesis 2 skin shader system. While light on computer resources, it made Aura look gray and covered in metallic powder. I returned to a modified version of Sickleyield’s Beautiful Skin Iray, using all new maps. She looks much more lifelike. For her hair, I switched from Out of Touch’s system to Sloshwerk’s Colorwerks. This new system permits streaking of the hair, giving her hair a much more lifelike look.

The most dramatic change is in Aura’s body. I put Measure Metrics on her, following a change in height morphs. Now, Aura Lockhaven is a 36DD, with 38 inch hips. She overindulges and it goes to her hips and thighs. I discovered her 3D model had a chest circumference of 32 inches, while her bust was 41. That meant she was a 32I. Aura is endowed, but not stupid about it! She’s supposed to be a believable looking 3D model, a woman we could actually meet in a grocery store.

Well, she is now. She is now a true 36DD. In the process, I was able to give Aura’s breasts natural heft. They lay on her chest instead of sticking straight out. And she has a softer overall look. Her strength is from work, not a gym. Her stomach and lower body show her fondness for ale and sweetbreads.

Here is the Enchantress of Hartshorn, ready to face 2019:

 

A closer look at her overhauled body, and considering Aura likes being skyclad, she decided to pose nude:

 

How does she look in action?

Happy 2019; Goals for the Year

Happy 2019.

2018 was a fast year. And a disappointing one. I distinctly remember thinking last January 1, “I probably won’t do a darn thing this year.” And that’s exactly what I did. Nothing. Oh, I had my reasons. Most were rooted in my faulty adrenals. I was just too physically burned out to do much except stare out the window.

But I should have done something.

I hope 2019 is different.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. Those are always forgotten by January 12, if it takes that long. I do, however, believe in goals. Those can be accomplished. Those are based on the long-in-the-tooth, but true, maxim “The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.”

If I can do these every day, or even most days, then I can say on January 1, 2020, “Holy crap, 2019 was phenomenal!”

So, here we go!

1. Write 2,000 words per day on the Aura Lockhaven novels. That isn’t much. The average blog post is 1,000 words. It adds up. Just writing on week days, that adds up to 10,000 words per week. With 52 weeks in the year, that is 520,000 words. Or, five novels the size I like.

2. Work up two pages of Valkyria per week. Low balling that goal because a comic page is time consuming. But at least it’s progress and advances Katie’s story by 100 pages.

3. Make one fantasy high-level art piece per month. A reasonable goal. Fantasy is my favorite art genre, and I’ve neglected it.

4. Walk every day. Thirty minutes is ideal. I read about a man who lost 60 pounds, reversed a heart condition, and cured both high blood pressure and diabetes by walking 30 minutes a day for six months. The long, slow method to losing weight and getting in shape is the method that works, and lasts.

5. Ignore politics! I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with politics lately. It’s a social construct. It isn’t real. Don’t believe me? Think about being stranding on an island, alone. What the Democrats and Republicans do is no longer relevant; only that next fish is. But we in America think it’s all too real, and it’s too distracting. So, while I have opinions, I’m not going to talk about them. That keeps the venom of politicians from seeping into my soul. Political opinions are also bad for business. I’m an entertainer, not a pundit.

6. Write one blog entry every week. I’ve been slack the past year. Sorry about that.

7. Read one chapter per night. I didn’t read a darn thing in 2018 that wasn’t on a computer screen. This comes from a man who lives with nearly 1,000 books.

Seven small single steps. They should all add up to a fantastic year.

Ban All Christmas Songs!

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” — That song is about rape. Ban it!

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” — Promotes bullying. Ban it!

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” — A private individual giving away things? That’s the government’s job! Ban it!

“White Christmas.” — Obviously a song by the Ku Klux Klan. Ban it!

“Jingle Bells.” — Promotes violence against horses. Ban it!

“Frosty the Snow Man.” — Exploitation of a non-human. Ban it!

“Joy to the World.” — Promotes the privilege of the happy. Ban it!

“Oh Holy Night.” — Tribalist song with no inclusivity for other religions. Ban it!

“Santa Baby.” — Encourages women to depend on the Patriarchy. Ban it!

“Do They Know It’s Christmas.” — Rich white men colonizing the hungry of Africa. Ban it!

This is what happens when people whose heads are too full of sociological theories decide to become holiday music critics. Why do they bother listening? They don’t even celebrate Christmas. Oh … That’s it, isn’t it.

About Bill Maher

Apparently, the smug, self-important, and self-righteous so-called comedian doesn’t understand comic books.

But don’t worry, Bill. We question your legitimacy and relevancy, too.

The comic book is American Mythology. They’re our Zeus, Odin, Aphrodite, Shiva, Gilgamesh.

In the future, when we think back on 2018, we will still remember Stan Lee and what he brought to not just American culture, but world culture. It is said that America’s contributions to the world are Jazz and the Comic Book. Well, Stan Lee made the comic book dynamic and the superhero human. He will be remembered.

Bill Maher? Exactly what has he contributed to American culture? He will go the way of Rush Limbaugh, remembered about as often as Walter Winchell.

Alone

Twelve Years Ago

 

Rain drops struck the window with heavy smacks. They clung for a second in thick globs before flowing slowly down the glass, leaving trails not unlike those of small unhurried slugs. Townsfolk rushed by on the street below in an effort to get indoors before the heavens opened even more. The ledger on the table next to the window read Drayfmont 1, 1039. It was Tyrfin, in the old calendar, the first day of winter. The season arrived with uncustomary punctuality this year. Aura Lockhaven watched the drops on their journey to the ground. Heaving a loud sigh that gave voice to her ache, the girl’s exhaled breath fogged the glass. The window looked as miserable as she felt.

Aura turned from the window. Despite the total lack of shadows on the ground outside, she knew the day approached eleven of the sun. Morgana would unbolt the tavern door soon, and they would arrive. They had arrived every day for the past week. They came like roaches. First they came to pay their respects and grieve with her. Then, they came to cheer her. Now, they came to do what they did best, eat her father’s food and drink her father’s ale. Only now, it was her food and her ale. Some nights, Aura just wished they would go away. Still, they were her people now, her customers, and she had a name and tradition to continue.

Her room was tiny. Officially, it did not exist. Lockhaven Tavern had only four rooms upstairs for guests. This room was that oh, I think a guest had to leave town early fifth room. It was kept mostly for customers too drunk to walk home but not too drunk to drag upstairs to sleep off their twelfth tankard of ale. It was also kept for the tavern owner’s youngest daughter, who all too often fell asleep behind the bar playing with her army of straw dolls. Aura needed a place to sleep, now that Lockhaven Manor, as the cozy house had been known, lay in a pile of cracked stones and charcoal. She thought her father would approve of her taking the small room, leaving the larger rooms for paying customers.

Once, Aura loved waking in this room. On most nights, it was around ten of the moon, and she awoke to Richard’s brawny arms lifting her with a laughter-filled Squirt, it’s time to go home. Let me tell you about the night a troll broke into this room! Her big brother carried her down the stairs to the sounds of flute, lute, and fiddle, laughter and bootfall, and always the fond farewell from Ester and their father, and not a few good nights from whatever customers happened to be standing near the door. This morning, as she had the past five mornings, Aura awoke to searing agony in her left hand, and silence so thick it beat in her ears as if she lay next to a drum.

Being right-handed, Aura always thought her left hand was just a spare, like that second hammer most carpenters carried in their chests. She knew otherwise now. For the past five days, Aura spent an hour slipping into her one remaining dress and brushing her hair. Whenever she instinctively used her left hand, she screamed as another blister burst. The apothecary told her that the wound would heal, eventually, but it would leave a nasty scar that stretched across her palm from her little finger to her index finger, then down to her thumb, and over to the other side of her hand, like an ugly capital letter C.

C for clumsy. C for careless. That candle looked so pretty in the market, all bright and blue. She thought it might smell like berries. Why did she light that one, instead of one of the others? The candlemaker must have mixed the fragrances wrong. It exploded, sending fire all over the sitting room, onto the rug and up the draperies. Why had she hid beneath the table, instead of running outside? By the time Henry Lockhaven reached her, flames had replaced the stone walls. He made it to the front door, throwing her out into the yard. Then, that burning beam fell across his back. She tried her best to push it off. All she had to show for her efforts were tears, agony, an empty life, and a bandage over a useless hand.

Aura threw her head back. She opened her mouth. Lockhavens do not cry in public. Cedric, Henry, Richard, and Ester stood silent as the gravedigger filled in the grave of Aurora. Even Aura, a newborn in Henry’s arms, remained silent. Cedric, Henry, Ester, and Aura stood silent as the gravedigger filled in the grave of Richard. Cedric, Henry, and Aura stood silent as the gravedigger filled in the grave of Ester. Cedric and Aura stood silent as the gravedigger filled in the grave of Henry. The scream wanted to come. Morgana might hear her. The scream became a gurgle in her throat.


Aura stood before the bronze mirror, making certain she presented a confident face to her town. Her auburn hair, growing redder with each passing year, looked tolerable, considering it missed Ester’s hands and brush. The nice blue dress, the only one remaining from the fire, was clean. Morgana washed it for her every night. Staring at her emerald eyes, she wondered if they would ever sparkle again. She thought she looked about as confident as a ten year old could, considering she carried the weight of the hopes of four dead adults on her narrow shoulders. At least, she still had Uncle Cedric, whose shoulders filled a doorway. When Grimchester Lockhaven died, his eldest son, garrulous Henry, took the tavern, while his youngest, quiet Cedric, took the brewery. Theirs had been an amiable, and profitable, partnership. Now, Hartshorn’s wealthiest man, and a lifelong bachelor, Aura knew he was too stingy to take a wife, one who would want his money. With each passing year, her father said of his brother, one year older and one farthing tighter. Still, he often ate with her family and always told her funny stories while bouncing her on his knee. She doubted if the man would open his wallet enough to take her into his home, but she hoped. Cedric was, after all, her family.

If she had just not lit that particular candle, she would slip into a long, thick woolen dress. With ease, considering her left hand would not be burned. Then, she would put on her winter coat. Then, she would wander across the street to pester Brythony with her latest dream about living in a castle and being able to control the weather. She thought about crossing the street to see Brythony, except her recent dreams were all about fire, smoke, and death.

Turning from the mirror, Aura walked to the small table by her small bed. Without thinking, she flexed her left fingers. Fire roared through her palm. Aura winced and fought to control the scream pushing its way up her throat. When she could breathe again, she reached her right hand toward the table. With delicate caresses, she touched the few items on it, the few things to survive the fire. Propped against a tin tankard, she kept her parent’s portrait. In front of it, lay Richard’s sword, Ester’s favorite wine glass, Henry’s tankard, and Aurora’s thimble. In the center sat the most precious of all, a smoke stained leather bound notebook containing her father’s tales of the Sarethian Seven, copied down as Henry told them to her only five months ago. Whenever she read it, and she read it often the past few days, she still heard her father’s voice. Other than the tavern and her own name, this tiny shrine was all that remained of her life.

Aura took her time descending the stairs. She knew what awaited her. Or rather, she knew who did not await her. Only four months earlier, she would have flown down the stairs to hear It’s about time you woke up, Squirt from beaming Richard. Only four months earlier, she would have received a tousle of the hair from Ester, followed by Look at you! You’re such a mess. Let me put you together. Only four months earlier, Henry would have scooped her up, thrown her over his shoulder, carried her across the tavern, and deposited her on the bar. Now, sit there and make sure I tap these kegs the right way, will you?


            A nice, tidy tavern, with walls of cream colored plaster over stone, and thick oaken upright beams every eight feet, and a sconce bolted to each beam. Four windows, three along one wall, and the fourth near the wide front door. A fireplace with its winter fire already warming the chilly air. Over the mantel, a muscular monster of a two headed axe, and a shield big enough to serve as a child’s bed. Four chandeliers hanging from the wooden ceiling with twelve candles each blazing overhead. Twelve round tables with eight chairs at each and a lit candelabra prepared in the center of each. Three stools in one corner, with a lutenist already seated upon one, checking the tuning of his instrument. The dark wooden bar against the back wall, behind which stood the blonde Morgana, polishing pewter tankards. Behind her lay the already roaring kitchen and the stairs down to the cellar where famous Lockhaven ale aged. The only Lockhaven in sight was the girl standing in the center of it all.

Half a minute later, that changed. The door burst open. Trailing the rain and wind behind him, Cedric Lockhaven strode into the tavern. Aura smiled upon seeing him. He looked like a shorter, thicker version of her father. Same brown hair and beard, same heartbreakingly blue eyes. Her smile faded as he stormed by her without even a nod. He bolted to the bar. The girl followed her uncle as he knocked on each and every cask and keg. He inspected the kitchen, tasting the roasts and stews. He checked every cask in the cellar, twice. Then, he snatched the ledger from Morgana, reading only the most recent page.

Cedric walked to the center of the tavern, and looked around. Aura followed, wondering what he was doing. The man nodded. Then, he looked down at Aura. She cocked her head to one side, trying to read his gaze. His eyes looked like ice. He pointed toward the front door.

“Get out,” Cedric Lockhaven said.

“What do you mean, Uncle?” Aura asked. “I can’t leave. My customers will arrive for luncheon soon.”

“They’re my customers now,” Cedric said. “Get out.”

“This is my tavern now,” Aura replied.

“Not any more. It’s mine,” he said. “A tavern is no place for a child.”

“You’re going to run it for me?”

“No,” Cedric said. He remained quiet for a full minute. “I am going to run it for myself. You don’t belong here anymore.”

“But it’s my home, Uncle Cedric.”

“No longer. I said, get out!”

“But it’s Daddy’s! That means it’s mine!”

“It belongs to the one best suited to run it and that’s me! Don’t think I haven’t seen you spill the ale. Claiming you hurt your hand. You’re wasting profits. Lockhaven Tavern is mine. If you want money, go be a harlot. Get out!”

“Cedric, no!” Morgana shouted, storming toward the Lockhavens. “It’s cold outside, and raining. She’s wearing an autumn dress and the girl doesn’t even have a coat.”


“As for you,” Cedric said, turning on Morgana, “I know your husband can’t feed that brood of yours alone. How would you like to see him try?” When Morgana shook her head, Cedric said, “Get back behind that bar where you belong, and I don’t want to hear another word about this child again.”

Aura gulped. Four months ago, her brother Richard died on Rathstone Bridge defending Hartshorn against a Skol attack. Two months ago, three Flumantine boatmen raped and strangled her sister Ester. Six days ago, fire took her father Henry. That didn’t count the fact that her mother Aurora died giving birth to her. She had not thought it possible that life could get any worse. Now, her tavern was gone, and the only remaining member of her family just threw her out. What feelings remained in the child’s soul plummeted down into her bowels. She wanted to urinate. She wanted to cry. Lockhavens do not cry in public.

“Where will I live?” Aura stammered.

“That is none of my concern,” Cedric snapped. “Just don’t go asking any of my customers to take you in. I’ll see to it that you don’t! Now go, or I’ll sell you to the Skols for a tidy sum. How would you like that? End up in some Arantian king’s bed?”

Aura’s hands flew to her face. She ignored the agony in her left palm. This could not be happening! How could Uncle Cedric be so cruel? She trusted him. Only four months ago, he had been so kind, but everything had changed within those four months. Shaking her head, she mumbled, “Let me gather my things –”

“What things?”

“I have some things upstairs –”

“The only things that are yours are what you are wearing. If it’s in this tavern, then it’s mine.”

“But –”

“Get out!”

Her parents’ portrait. Richard’s sword. Ester’s goblet. Her father’s tankard. Her mother’s thimble. Her notebook. Her tavern. All that remained of her life had just been wrenched from her grasp by the one man she trusted to care for her. Her head spun. Black flecks appeared before her eyes. This could not be happening, she thought. She wanted to vomit. She wanted to cry. Lockhavens do not cry in public! Lockhavens do not … do not … do not …

Aura threw back her head. She shut her eyes. Every shred of love, every shred of hate, every fear, every tear, every piece of grief, anguish, joy, peace, rage, and stirring feelings she did not understand roared up her throat, twisting together into unity as they did, and erupted from her mouth in one long scream. The sound was not that of fear or rage. It was that of pure creation and absolute destruction. Aura became that scream, an vocal entity roaring out the throat of a fleshen vessel into the air. The scream flew around the tavern. It smashed into the walls. It rattled tankards. It roared through casks. It raged through the kitchen. It knocked the lutenist off his stool. It continued to smack the walls long after the mouth that uttered it closed.


“Dear Baniar,” Morgana whispered. She collapsed to the floor, staring at Aura in horror.

Aura opened her eyes to an almost blackened room. Only the cold gray light struggling through the windows illuminated the tavern. The odor of soot from extinguished wicks filled the air. Even the fireplace and oven had been snuffed out. The only sounds in the tavern, other than raindrops on glass, were the breaths of fear, greed, and fury.

The tavern looked as empty and silent and she felt. She stood oblivious to the darkness around her, knowing only that which consumed her. The chaotic storm of raging emotion, and the total void of nothingness filled her. Without another word, Aura turned toward the door.

Her feet made no sound upon the floor. With each step, her heart broke further. With each step, she left behind a life she thought would continue forever. With each step, her soul trembled more as yet another feeling tore itself loose. By the time she reached the door, she no longer knew what she felt. Aura Lockhaven felt it all. Love for her father. Pride for her brother. Grief for her sister. Sorrow for the mother she never knew. Pity for Morgana. Terror for herself. One feeling, one special feeling, for her uncle.

She ignored the fire in her left hand. She ignored the cold bite of the iron latch in her right. What were they compared to the agony in her heart? As she turned the latch, she turned to Cedric. She cast him a cold glare, one devoid of all feeling except unrefined hatred.

Aura said, “I thought you were my father’s brother!”

Then, she stepped out into the freezing rain.

= = =

An illustrated chapter from The Fires of Tallen Hall, the upcoming second Aura Lockhaven novel.