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.

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Aura Lockhaven Trivia

 

Aura’s surname began with her giant of a warrior ancestor, the Locchaefen. In old Ayrdic, the name meant Lock on the Haven, and was given to him as the defender of the port town of Vine Haven more than 200 years earlier.

Aura’s name was supposed to be Aurora. Her mother Aurora died giving birth to her. Her sister Ester suggested naming the baby after their mother, but had a hard time saying the name. Their brother thought she said Aura. Their father Henry liked the way it sounded, so that’s what he named his newest daughter.

Aura was born on Haemmont 1.* It is also the first day of summer, and Parin, or the old feast day of Ystlena, the goddess of love.

Her astrological sign is Erasto, the sign of the lovers. ** It is the only dual sign in the zodiac. An Earth sign, most born under this sign are extremely tactile, somewhat slovenly, irritatingly stubborn, and rigorously sexual. However, being born on a change of the Wheel of the Year (Parin), Aura acquired some of the traits of the two signs at 90 degrees, which are both Fire signs. That gives her a speed, fastidiousness, and somewhat volatile temper not known in others born during this 28 day period.

Aura’s necklace is known as the Sacred Star. It is a septagram, with each of its seven points representing one of the elements; Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Metal, Light, and Spirit. Usually, the elements are assigned to directions: Air to east, Fire to south, Water to west, Earth to north, Metal to below, Light to above, and Spirit to center. On the Sacred Star, however, they are arranged simply by which element gets along with which.

She is a fantastic cook, having learned from her father and older sister. Her specialties are roasts and stews.

She eats and drinks too much simply because she adores the way things taste. If they’re good, that is.

Aura is famous as an ale fiend. Lesser known is her fondness for nutbreads and berry tarts, particularly from her own oven.

Aura grows her own herbs, for both culinary and magical uses.

Aura brews her own ale at home, from her father’s recipe.

She loathes any form of seafood, but will eat it if offered by a hostess. That is only good manners. Except for lamprey and eel. Those things look like worms, so “No thank you, I’m allergic.”

Other than carrots and potatoes, Aura is not fond of root crops. Radishes and turnips taste like dirt.

It’s a good thing Aura walks the mile into Hartshorn, and back, and performs her own chores. Otherwise, she might weigh considerably more than 150 pounds. At least a big chunk of that chunk is muscle.

Her favorite animal is a cat. She loves their aloof sense of independence.

Her second favorite is the raven, although she is fond of any bird.

The only animal Aura fears is a spider. Her fear borders on an obsession, and causes her to panic and hallucinate. The hand sized raft spider is the worst. Spindly cellar spiders aren’t much better. She has no fear of the small jumping spider, however. They’re cute, like grumpy old men with bristly moustaches.

Although Aura doesn’t own a horse, she is an excellent rider. She thinks bits are cruel and prefers to guide a horse with her legs and hands.

Her grandfather, Grimchester Lockhaven, built much of Hartshorn, or at least financed its construction. His crowning achievement is Fourth Wharf and Warehouse, commonly called the Lockhaven Dock. Aura visits the wharf whenever she needs to connect with her family.

Her other place to connect with her family is the Lockhaven plot in the temple cemetery, which has too many graves to suit her.

Aura inherited her nose and height from her father. Her face, figure, hair color, and eye color come from her mother.

Aura’s home is known locally as Big Hedge. It was probably a farm at one time, but no one remembers when that time was. It is 60 acres of untidy old growth forest, blackberry brambles, and fields that have not been cultivated in decades. The house has a stone first story and a waddle and daub second story. The roof is wooden shingle. A narrow tower is attached to the western side. Of course there is an ale cellar.

The house does have a shower out back, an outhouse, and an indoor sink in the kitchen. Aura’s master Sagacius, the wizard who taught her and owned Big Hedge before her, is the brother of a mad inventor after all.

She speaks five languages. She is fluent in Ayrdish, obviously, and Nebelish. She is also fluent in the Coadic variant of Tangoi, which makes her capable of communicating with the people of Garrania and Caillia to a fair level, and surprisingly Ogres as well. She thinks she’s fluent in Flumentine and Sollantine, but her stilted diction and syntax cause native speakers to almost die of laughter. Her competency in Karanthek extends only as far as being able to cast spells in the ancient language. ***

While normally a calm and loving woman, Aura can be riled. This is known as getting her Lockhaven up, her father’s term for blowing his stack. When that happens, she has the most vile mouth imaginable. Her ability to string together obscenities, and make them up, leave most people breathless.

Aura is competent with a quarter staff and a dagger. She is also a capable brawler, with powerful arms and legs honed from chopping firewood and gardening. She is totally incompetent with a sword or bow, although she has her late brother’s sword.

If she charged fees for her spells and charms, she might be modestly well off. As it is, the townsfolk insist on paying her with services and food. Right now, they’re rebuilding that ramshackle old farmhouse of hers. It’s a good thing, too. The roof has started to leak, and Aura is no carpenter.

 

 

* Our equivalent date: May 1. It is also known as May Day or Beltane (one sexy holiday). In older calendars it was the first day of summer.

** Our equivalent astrological sign: Erasto loosely translates into Taurus

*** Our equivalent languages: Ayrdish = English. Nebelish = German. Tangoi = Celtic. Coadic variant = Welsh. Flumantine = French. Sollantine = Spanish. Karanthek = Greek.

 

What wasn’t established in A Path of Stones will be in The Fires of Tallen Hall and Crimson Cloak. The fourth novel, The Enchantress of Hartshorn, will open with Aura being driven to distraction by the din of One-Eyed Rupert building her a barn, without any instigation on Aura’s part.

Aura News, December

For various reasons that I won’t go into (they’re too numerous), the second Aura Lockhaven novel is not ready for publication this month. Alas, December, 2017 was my target. Perhaps, next year.

There are major developments, however.

The way I write a story is I create the skeleton with dialogue. Then, I add thin muscle and skin with description and enough narrative to hold it together. After I have a complete form, I go back and flesh it all out and make the language lyrical.

The Fires of Tallen Hall is currently 85,000 words long. It’s only two-thirds complete. And it’s still a skeleton with the barest of muscle and flesh. So, completed, and with the language I want, it will no doubt exceed 200,000 words.

That’s just too long for my tastes.

So, I split Tallen Hall. As much as a trilogy is a cliche’ it seems the best way to make the book affordable and small enough to read. I’d rather split the book myself than have it split itself in your hands. This also gives me the opportunity to build tension leading up to the revelation of the opening story’s villain, the one who manipulated Aura all through A Path of Stones. It also allows me time to build toward the climactic wizards’ duel that now takes place in book three.

The second book will still be called The Fires of Tallen Hall. The third is entitled Scarlet Cloak. Considering that both books are in the same stage of development, I should be able to release them concurrently, holding Scarlet Cloak until sales of Tallen Hall start to dwindle. That would be nice.

So, here’s to June, 2018.

Wish me the best.

The Enchantress and the Warrior

I am pleased and honored to announce a collaboration with Zaki Asakura, known as Akizz on DeviantArt. We have followed each other for over a year, and developed a good working relationship. For some time, we’ve wondered what would happen if his character Viona, the Warrior of Beauty, met Aura Lockhaven.

We decided to find out.

To see what happens when Viona enters Aura’s world of the 11th Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/The-Enchantress-and-the-Warrior-01-690670626

To see what happens when Aura enters Viona’s world of the 21st Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/Early-days-690510555

“The Fires of Tallen Hall” Update

For weeks, I was stuck on the first chapter of The Fires of Tallen Hall, with only nine written. That first chapter was just too choppy. Not poetic enough.

My wife had a brilliant idea. She suggested I write the entire book. Just write it, as a skeleton. Then go back and flesh it out. That way, I progressed and would end up with at least an outlined complete story. Capital!

A skeleton for me is dialogue, action, and description. Then, I add the muscle (the expository that holds it together), and the skin (the lyrical language). I planned to focus on the skeleton, and ignore the muscle and skin.

I am happy to report that as of last Friday, I have completed nineteen chapters. They’re anemic and emaciated, but they have flesh and skin over the bones.

This is an interesting point in the story. I began Aura’s initial tale in 2010. It morphed through six different incarnations: the first graphic novel, and five novel versions. At no time did I ever complete it. From Chapter Twenty forward, I am in new territory.

It would be easy to say that I have the story outlined in my head. In fact, it’s outlined on a dry erase board to my left. However, it has changed. In Chapter Eleven, I wrote a few paragraphs to reintroduce a character from A Path of Stones so the reader wouldn’t forget he exists. Those few paragraphs radically altered what I planned to be a confrontation with the villain’s henchman. Based on those paragraphs, someone else will have to deal with him.

So, there is no telling what Chapter Thirty, or Twenty for that matter, will do to the ending.

To the Death

Duel

Ygraine Pagel looked up from her work table as Aura Lockhaven entered her chamber. She cast Aura a cold glare. She said, “I know who you are.”

Aura frowned. There was a note of cynicism in the sorceress’ voice. It was not that of a merchant receiving a customer. She said, “You should. I wrote you last week. I’m interested in the emerald sphere you have for sale.”

“Hmm,” the sorceress said. “We’re both initiated magicians. There is no need for subterfuge.” She looked Aura up and down, and sneered. “Crimson. I expected death to wear black, and reveal much less skin.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Feigning surprise is disingenuous of you. My order sent you here to assassinate me,” Ygraine said.

“Wait. Excuse me?” Aura asked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Rumors abounded that Ygraine had turned her cloak, surrendering to the lust for power that seduced some sorcerers. The idea that the Order of Sorcerers would send someone from another magical order to deal with one of their own was ridiculous. The mere thought that that someone would be an enchantress, a member of an over-wrought and far-too-sensitive order that the aristocratic and rib-numbing tightly-corseted sorcerers despised, was beyond absurd. The sorcerers had the best internal constabulary of all eight magical orders, and were notorious for dispensing swift justice against members who violated their oath of non-manipulation. If they wanted to execute Ygraine, then Aura would have found a week old corpse. Aura shivered at the thought that she may have just walked into an unpredictable situation. Still, Ygraine was the finest purveyor of magical crystals in all of Ayrdland. “I’m here to buy a stone, Ygraine. I am customer, not an assassin. I don’t kill.”

“Then, that shall be your downfall!”

With that, Ygraine launched herself at the young enchantress. Before Aura could brace herself, Ygraine knocked Aura’s staff from her hand. Then, she grabbed her by the throat. Aura did not need to ponder what the sorceress had in mind. She felt that intent in Ygraine’s right hand as a malignant spell poured down the woman’s arm and flooded Aura’s neck. Aura knew some of the sorcerers’ spells, but not enough to counter them. This one was new. She didn’t have to tighten her hand. The spell did the work for her. It felt like an iron vise upon soft pine wood. Aura felt her windpipe cramp.

“Ygraine,” Aura said with a gasp. “Let me go. You’re killing me!”

“That’s the whole idea, you stupid tart!” the sorceress said.

Aura grabbed Ygraine’s arm, trying her best to break the sorceress’ hold on her throat. Ygraine’s hand was fixed to her flesh as ivy to brick. All of Aura’s respect for elders vanished. The sorceress meant to murder her. She threw her considerable weight and height into Ygraine, but her hand and spell remained fixed. Around the chamber they danced their waltz of death, knocking over the bookcase, overturning a chair, then spilling a rack of tinctures. Dozens of small bottles shattered on the stone floor, their contents mixing in a bubbling brew. Then, Aura slammed Ygraine against her table, in an effort to knock the woman loose. It only served to upset the table, sending books, rats, and even a skull into flight. A lit candle fell onto the ruins of the tinctures. The mixture erupted in flame.

The inferno diverted Ygraine’s attention long enough. Aura employed an old tactic she used against boatmen who lusted for her budding breasts when she was younger. A woman lacked the necessary external appendages, but it would still hurt. She kneed the sorceress in the groin. With a yelp, Ygraine released Aura’s throat and fell back against the table.

“Ygraine,” Aura wheezed, trying to catch her breath. “We have to get out of here.”

“I shall. The only way you’re leaving is in a coffin, assassin!” With that, Ygraine advanced.

Oh, merciful heavens, Aura thought. Ygraine was mad. It was bad enough that she wanted to kill Aura. Now, she continued her murderous assault as fire spread the floor of the windowless chamber. Noxious smoke, the result of igniting tinctures that should never be mixed, filled the air. The flames would soon reach the wood of table and bookcase, and the chamber’s timbers. If the fight lasted much longer, both women would die.

Ygraine pounced. Aura turned, dashing toward the back of the chamber. The sorceress grabbed Aura’s cloak and pulled her backwards. Let her have the cloak, Aura thought, gripping the clasp and tearing it open. Ygraine threw the garment across the overturned chair, and dove toward Aura.

As the enchantress turned to flee around Ygraine, she slipped on broken glass and spilled potion. She went down on one knee. That was all the sorceress needed. Again, she gripped Aura by the throat. Again, the vicious spell poured into Aura’s neck. Again, her windpipe constricted. Aura tried her best to wrench free, but her boots kept slipping on the wet floor. If she fell, Ygraine would simply sit on her and kill her. She had to maintain her footing. To keep herself upright, she locked onto Ygraine’s leg with her own.

Black specks appeared in front of Aura’s eyes. The spell was strangling her, ending her life one failed breath after another. Her mind reeled in panic. Aura gasped for air. None came.

“Here’s a kiss for the leader of my order,” Ygraine said.

A ball of pure life force formed in Ygraine’s left hand. It was enough to turn a human inside out. This woman not only could cast one spell, while maintaining a second of a different type, but she cast both without a single incantation. Aura had to speak an incantation, and speech was now lost to her.

The Enchantress of Hartshorn had only moments left. She lashed out with her left hand. She grabbed Ygraine’s face. Claw her eyes! Tear her skin! Rip her mouth! Anything to get her to let go. Not enough. Her hand still grasped Aura’s neck, the vile spell pouring into her throat.

Aura felt her fear and desperation coalesce into a ball of pure vitality, will, and emotion. It formed on its own volition, without any conscious thought from the enchantress. It formed without an incantation. It rushed from her chest, and poured into her right arm. It erupted in her hand as the most lethal spell in her entire arsenal – the Divine Thunderbolt.

I don’t kill, Aura said only moments earlier. If Ygraine did not release her throat, then Aura would violate that statement by shoving the ball of solid light into the sorceress’ face. The woman’s skull would survive. At this range, her flesh would be incinerated. Aura knew, as entwined as they were, that she too would take the force of the spell. She would crawl away with massive burns, burns that could be healed tomorrow. If she did not launch the spell, there would be no tomorrow for healing anything. Aura gritted her teeth. Someone was about to die, and the determining judge was Aura Lockhaven herself.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

This is not canon.

The Evolution of Aura Lockhaven

For the fun of it, I put all three of Aura Lockhaven’s 3D incarnations in the same scene. The result reveals her evolution as a 3D character, as well as serving as graphic touchstones of her evolution as a fictional character.

Left: Victoria 6 incarnation. Center: Victoria 7 incarnation. Right: Victoria 4 incarnation.

Auras II

Victoria 4 Incarnation (April, 2010 — January, 2013):  She wasn’t even Aura Lockhaven when I designed this character. She began as my feeble attempt to create a model based on Playboy Playmate Lindsey Vuolo. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, there is no resemblance between the figure and the Playmate. How she became Aura is chronicled on my website if you’re interested. This is the graphic novel version of Aura.

Victoria 6 Incarnation (January, 2013 — August, 2016): I suspended the graphic novel when I started grad school. Upon graduating, I decided to write a fantasy novel, using the graphic novel as the foundation. That required a new physical representation of my heroine. So, I chose Victoria 6. That base figure much more human like roundness than the earlier V4 (I skipped Victoria 5 completely). Her appearance is based on her written description, so there is no resemblance to the V4 counterpart. Around 2014, I decided the gold body jewelry was too blooming difficult to describe in a written narrative, and gave her the outfit worn by the V7 version.

Victoria 7 Incarnation (August, 2016 — Present): I refused to upgrade to Victoria 7 for an entire year. Eventually, the improved posing and sculpting systems won me over. I transferred Aura from V6 to V7, slider by slider. They don’t quite look alike. The V6 base face is more heart-shaped than V7’s, but the new version is close enough. I really like the new muscular body. Aura’s transfer from V6 to V7 occurred at the same time I determined to finish her first novel by the end of 2016 and publish it. It also happened at the time I cut the opening trilogy down to a duology. This is the incarnation who appears on the cover of A Path of Stones. It is how I see Aura at the end of the series, transformed from the unsure wizardess in the brown dress into the powerful enchantress who fights tyranny.

Most of us in 3DLand anticipate the release of Victoria 8 this June. I said no to Victoria 6 and Victoria 7. We see how well that resolve lasted. So, I shall see what Victoria 8 has to offer. She best impress me. As in, she needs to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, and build me a stiff Manhattan. If she does, I will once again, transfer Aura to a new rig.

This is what that one, silly, little Victoria 4 figure back in 2010 started.

The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM