Extra Life Excerpt (and FIRE IN THE BLOOD updates!)

Happy Monday!

Here, readers, is your regularly scheduled Extra Life Excerpt, to help you decide who to vote for when it comes to who I play in this year’s 24-hour D&D game to benefit Children’s Miracle Network. Since a Havilar excerpt already lives on this blog, I’m skipping forward to Nestrix, the star of my first novel, The God Catcher.*  A vote for Nestrix will cost you $25, and will result in me being surly, abrupt, physically awkward and potentially finding some dragon-ish eye makeup for effect.

BUT FIRST, I want to remind you of a few awesome events coming up:

  • TOMORROW (10/7, 8-9 EST), I’ll be participating in a Google Hangout with the rest of the Sundering Six (R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, Richard Lee Byers, Troy Denning, and Ed Greenwood). Come join in as we wrap up the Sundering right!
  • October 16th in Renton, WA (5pm-late), I’ll be at AFK Elixirs & Eatery in Renton, WA to celebrate the release of Fire in the Blood. This is a public event, so you are invited readers. There will be books for sale, a theme menu (Do you want to drink a Brimstone Angel? Or eat a plate of imp sliders?), and more D&D luminaries than you can shake a stick at. Also my Granma will be there, and she’s a hoot.
  • October 21st on the Internet! Mark your calendars: I’m doing a Reddit AMA! 
  • YOU HAVE FOUR (4) MORE DAYS TO ENTER THE FIRE IN THE BLOOD GIVEAWAY! Most popular answers for “Who is your favorite fictional ruler?” which you may crib off of: Lord Havelock, President Zaphoc Beeblebrox Vetinari & Bruenor Battlehammer. My answers, which you may totally steal: Sheshka, Queen of Stone, from Eberron; Cimorene and Mendanbar from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles; the Femputer from Futurama; and Queen Frostine from Candyland, because a part of me will always be six.

Now, excerpt:

***

Nestrix eased out of the doorway, step by careful step. Tennora followed, careful to shift her weight gently across the floorboards.

A pale but steady light suddenly illumined the room from the far corner.

The silhouettes of four people stood out against the faint, the edges of their weapons reflecting the dim light.

The light grew brighter, revealing two men carrying short axes, and a woman with a sling. The man farthest away—the owner, by his well-cut suit and expensive gloves—held two knives so sharp they could have cut Tennora’s gasp to ribbons.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “What a pretty pair of thieves. You picked the wrong shop to break into, my little magpies.”

“Run,” Nestrix growled and shoved Tennora away from the treasure room. She stumbled and scrambled toward the door.

Out of the darkness, a knife flew across Tennora’s path—just inches from her throat. Blind instinct seized her, and Tennora twisted away from the blade, falling back to the ground behind a display of tarnished silver. She landed hard on one hip and glanced up at the knife, quivering in the framework of a cabinet.

Nestrix still stood a few steps from the treasure room. Between the tables and cabinets, Tennora could make out three of the men advancing. She pulled herself to her knees and over the top of the silver display, readied her carvestar in a shaking hand.

Just as Nestrix’s dragonfear flooded the room.

Later, Tennora would wonder what had made the difference—before, had the dragonfear been an accident of Nestrix’s mood? Had she really been angry? Had she ever been angry before that night in the antiquary’s shop?

For out of nothing, terror bloomed in Tennora’s heart and she knew by the way the men froze stiff that it affected them as well. She risked a glance at Nestrix. She had drawn herself up like a striking serpent. Her fingernails seemed sharp as blades, her bared teeth iron, her dark hair violent whips. Tennora shook to the core of her heart, watching as something terrible climbed out of her friend’s skin—something that looked and sounded like Nestrix and not at all like Nestrix. Something that thundered and wailed like a windstorm with its very presence, and screamed for all of their blood.

“Who dares?” she said in a voice like the storm’s. “Who dares threaten me?”

Tennora squeezed her eyes shut. It is Nestrix, she told herself. This isn’t real. This is the dragonfear. Fight it, damnit. Fight it.

Trembling with adrenalin, she opened her eyes again and saw that the axmen were petrified where they stood. The slinger had collapsed.

The man with the knives clung to a post and watched Nestrix with astonishment plain on his face. But not fear, no. If he’d felt it, he’d mastered it as Tennora had.

“Do not interfere in my business,” Nestrix rumbled. “Flee, before—Ow!” She broke off as a knife caught her in the thigh. The dragonfear drained out of the room.

“Another player for the game?” the man with the knives said. He called to the others, “They seek to depose your master! Kill them!”

Tennora whipped the carvestar at the two axmen. It missed, but chimed against one’s axe, taking his attention off Nestrix. He swung around toward Tennora, with a wicked grin. So big he had to have ogre blood in him, he had little trouble wading over the displays. Tennora scuttled backward toward the door, fumbling for another carvestar.

Nestrix wrenched the blade from her leg and claimed it as her own—what little good it would do her against the axe, Tennora thought.

Her own attacker was closing in on her, his axe ready. Instead of the carvestar, she raised a hand.

Ziastayix,” she said and sent two bolts of silver speeding toward the massive axe wielder. Both struck him, and he ducked down behind a row of cabinets, having learned his lesson.

A bullet from the sling retorted. The glass pane of the cabinet behind her shattered, sending splinters of glass into her path, and Tennora let out a shriek of surprise. The axe man took his chance and rushed her.

The words of a spell rose up quickly in her mind. Instinctively they flowed out of her mouth as her hands reached toward the axeman.

The spell flew from Tennora’s hand, wobbling and spreading unevenly into a spider’s web. It hit the man with the axe, wrapping his free arm and sticking to a column. Tennora sprinted past him toward Nestrix.

The edge of the axe caught her jacket and tore through the quilting, nicking the skin beneath. A shallow cut, but gods, it burned.

And bled. She pressed her left hand to the wound and felt a trickle of blood seeping through her fingers.

The momentary distraction slowed her down, and the man in the well-cut suit was suddenly between her and Nestrix. Without thinking she threw the second carvestar.

It was utter luck that it caught him in the arm that held the knife. He cried out and clutched the wound. Tennora raised her hand and a fireball bloomed from it. She cringed away, but the blaze still caught the edge of her sleeve.

Fortunately, she saw as she smothered the burning cuff with her cloak, the bulk of it had swept over the man with the knives, charring his leathers and forcing him backward. He fell against one of the heavy iron cabinets, and it toppled over, pinning him. He did not get up. Heart in her throat, she sped past him to Nestrix.

Nestrix ducked the axe that swept toward her neck. It lodged instead in the wall. She darted forward with the stolen knife and caught the man just under his collarbone, plunging the knife up to its hilt. He screamed, and stumbled, trying to pull out the dagger. It wouldn’t budge, caught against bone or gristle.

Tennora fell back a step at the sight. Blood spurted from the wound. Nestrix rounded on her, eyes sharp. She grabbed Tennora’s arm and yanked her back into the doorway as another bullet whizzed past.

“There,” she said, pointing into the darkness. “Spell!”

Tennora obediently raised a shaking finger. “Ziastayix.” Two more bolts of silver shot across the room, briefly illuminating the woman with the sling, before slamming into her.

The axe man fell to the floor, still bleeding, still trying to pull the dagger free. Blood wheezed from his mouth. The knife was in his lung.

Nestrix looked down at him, a puzzled expression on her face. She reached down and wrenched the man’s head. His neck popped. His legs kicked once. Then he lay still and twisted.

“Oh gods,” Tennora said. She took another step back toward the exit.

The urn that had been on the iron cabinet caught under her feet and she fell backward over it.

Just as the blade of the broad-shouldered man’s axe sliced through the air where she had been. It came down instead on the handle of his fellow’s axe, snapping the haft. He hauled the heavy blade back up, and turned to Tennora, trapped on the ground.

Nestrix snarled—a hideous, animal sound—she picked up the broken half of the axe handle. With a roar, she tackled him, knocking him off his feet. The broken axe handle came down hard on his head, over and over again. Tennora scrambled to her feet. The man’s skull cracked with a sound too-like an egg’s shell. Blood spattered against the tarnished silver.

Tennora grasped Nestrix’s arm before the handle could come down again. “Come on!” she said. “While we have the chance!”

Nestrix looked up at her with an animal’s incomprehension, as if she didn’t know Tennora. As if she didn’t know why she should stop beating in the man’s head.

“He’s dead,” Tennora said, and her voice shook as she said it. She tugged hard on Nestrix’s arm until Nestrix dropped the club.

“I . . . ,” Nestrix said, hesitantly. “I don’t . . . We should go.”

“Yes!” Tennora said. “Now! Please!” She pulled Nestrix to her feet and grabbed the case with the mask.

They ran off into the night.

Donate to my Extra Life fund!

*$600 dollars of Extra Life Donations has unlocked a scene from The God Catcher sequel that wasn’t. It is forthcoming–have to wrap up some Fire in the Blood stuff this week so I can polish it up real quick.

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