Today a friend, who happens to be a great author and magnificent editor, features on my blog. She’s always promoting indies on her blog The Ether of My Imagination and now it’s time for her to be put in the spotlight and get some attention for her work.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some of my questions. I’d like to start with a few personal ones, to allow the readers to get to know the person behind the author a bit better. If that’s okay with you?
And if I said “No, it’s not okay,” what then? . . . I’m just kidding.
You just gave me a scare there, you silly woman! 🙂 Ha, but I knew you were pulling my leg, so spill! What made you decide to write fantasy and not crime, for example?
I’d been devouring fantasy books since I was about four years old—anything and everything I could get my hands on. They fed nicely into my hunger for something different, weird, fantastic, extraordinary, since real life growing up wasn’t so great. Escapism. We all need it—none more so than myself back then—and fantasy books provided me with a wonderful tapestry of “other worlds” to escape to. So I suppose my brain was taught, or structured, around fantasy-based thinking, and once I discovered I could manipulate words and sentences to my will, well . . . practice led me to discover I could do the same with a reader’s mind and emotions, and I wanted to share with others that wondrous feeling of experiencing something different, weird, fantastic, and extraordinary.
I know you are fairly active in helping budding authors, but could you explain to my readers just how you go about doing that?
Oh, it’s pretty simple: Usually through shout outs on my blog, author features/interviews (blog again), passing the word along through Facebook or Twitter (my bane, actually) or sometimes through Google Circles/Communities. Sometimes reviews, but I tend to be very wordy and elaborate on quite a lot, so I find those a bit daunting to write with everything else I have to do. Lol. Word of mouth is strong, and I’m a huge proponent of that, so I’m quite willing to tell others about an indie book or an indie author I’ve discovered and like, and encourage people to take a chance on someone yet to be discovered by the rest of the world.
There should be more people like you around. Keep it up, but remember to take care of you too.
What is your achilles heel when it comes down to your own work?
Description. It takes me several hours (at each writing session) to write and re-structure a single paragraph containing description. Everything needs to be “just so”; every word needs to fit exactly right, both feel- and sound-wise, AND sit correctly on the screen/paper; every sentence needs to resonate and come alive as its own self PLUS flow in harmony with its fellow sentences. Near perfection. (“Near” being the key word here, mind you.) I will accept nothing less.
Remember, there is no perfection, only life!
Given the choice, would you rather live in the woods, or seaside?
Ha! Simple question, simple answer: Woods. I already live there, actually. I grew up practically in the woods, frequented acres and acres of family-owned land (usually in the dark, usually by myself), and often hike with my family along state-owned wooded trails. The forest and I have a special connection of sorts . . . though it does complain I don’t call it often enough.
Hahaha, but I know how fond you are of calling. 🙂 We’ll come back to that later, for now I’d like to know if you have hobbies. Do you have time for hobbies?
Hobbies . . . hobbies . . . pray tell, what is this “hobbies” you speak of? What does it mean . . . ? *muses* All kidding aside, yes, I do have a hobby, though I’ll admit I’m not very good at it: Gardening. I love organically grown vegetables and fruits, and really, I try to grow stuff when I can, but . . . all I can really grow are string beans. They like acidic soil and usually grow most anywhere on our land. If I had my druthers, my front lawn would be completely green bean bushes. No mowing, and they’re tasty!
That they are, but tomatoes are even better! See? That wasn’t that bad, was it? But it’s not why you are here. I’ve dragged you here to tell us about your latest release. So, what is the title of the book you would like to talk about, and can you give us a small taster of it?
The title of the book is The Perfect Player,
and as for a small taster . . . here, I’ll give you my blurby-thingy at Amazon:
“A forbidden tryst exposes a threat and sets a secret plan in motion, and twenty-year-old Marisa discovers her life is all a lie. . . .
When Marisa of Mynae—sole heir of a benevolent leader, daughter of a shunned madwoman—stumbles upon a trail of demon hoofprints inside the borders of her father’s mystically protected dominion, she suspects evil lurks within the surrounding forestlands, lies in wait for the hapless Mynaen townspeople.
Yet even as their dominion is further secured against the threat of invasion by the demonic Bane, Marisa’s troubles worsen. A self-deciphering journal stolen from a hidden forestland glade begins to reveal her true life and hints toward a dangerous past mistake made by the long-dead creator of their world—a mistake Marisa learns she must rectify, or risk everyone’s lives to the demons’ strong addiction to human flesh and blood.
Even so, Marisa balks at this notion of a controlled destiny until an encounter in the woods tears asunder her closely held beliefs and plummets her headlong into the chaos of her fate. A lone demon stalks her, searches for her; he says he knows her scent.
And this, Marisa cannot ignore.”
I’ve read bits and pieces of it already, way before you had it ready for publication, and even then I loved it. This just tickles my reading muscle to no end. If you feel the same, get your copy now at:
AMAZON KINDLE | PAPERBACK
Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?
Um . . . no . . . not really. Although it’s the one title I can’t stand. Normally I like the titles I come up with, but “The Perfect Player,” to me, sounds so blegh. And modern, to be honest, though I’ve researched the word “player” time and again, and have seen how far back it actually goes. Far enough to be acceptable for the parallel time period the novel’s supposed to represent. I guess. Still not happy with it. Lol.
If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform your work to suit the market?
No. Period. It is what it is. Either people like it or don’t, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s one of the many reasons I put it out there myself. I didn’t do it ALL by myself, though; without my betas, my editors, and my proofreaders, the project would be still stuck in a rut!
Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?
Celebrate? Hmm . . . I celebrate by simply moving on, continuing with the next chapter or paragraph. Sometimes I clap my hands in glee at how something sounds—presently—knowing, though, I’d likely alter it some time in the future until I’m simply sick of dealing with it. Then I’ll feel silly for gleefully clapping my hands.
Is there anything you don’t like about being an author?
The sometimes harsh criticism. Those who tear a decent book limb from limb . . . really, I have to wonder: Do they have any idea how many buckets of blood, sweat, and tears it takes to research, structure, write, edit a story to its fullest potential? How much serious work and amount of learning it takes to get it right, book-wise AND writing craft-wise? I often wonder this, particularly about those who randomly cry “Writing a book is easy!” when clearly they’ve never once lifted a finger to even attempt writing, much less complete an entire novel.
That, and the stigma that sometimes goes with indie authors: “What, you published it yourself? Your book must suck, then, if no publisher wanted it.” Well, hell, some authors WANT control over their projects, to reach their own bottom lines (namely readers) . . . I’m one of them, and I can’t stand being boxed together with those who just toss something out there without a whit’s care in the world and hope it flies. ‘Cause it ain’t gonna, I can tell you that. Not if you don’t care enough to turn out the best project possible for your potential readership. But I digress . . .
I love how you do that ranting stuff, and I’m sure many of my readers feel the same.
What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?
Oh . . . hmm . . . Facebook, Twitter, Google Circles/Communities, a couple of forums I frequent. Free promos seem to generate good downloads, and a Goodreads giveaway has called some attention to the book. But it’s all hit and miss, trial and error, really. Everything. Consistency is key, though, I think, and making sure your presence is out there – again, in a consistent, but not spammy, manner – is most important and will generate interest and the best sales in the long run. I’m guessing. I don’t know. I don’t really have hard proof (for myself) that this actually works, as I’m still in the “new” stages of it all.
Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?
Coffee. I drink oodles of coffee when I write, sometimes up to two perc pots in the morning. Luckily, they’re both half-caff, though I tend to get jittery anyway.
What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?
Don’t have one, so no particular recipe to give. Sorry!
Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!
Well, depends on what you mean here. I have a family and a household to take care of, and that takes up a lot of time, so I have to take at least one full day to grocery shop and clean (other things I can do off and on throughout the week, after my writing sessions). But if you mean “Hey, why haven’t you written for an entire day?!” then I’d have to say that my mind—just like everyone else’s—can only put out so much brainpower at a time—usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours per morning—before it crashes and everything becomes unintelligible glop. Working one’s brain is just like working one’s body—it’s going to need to rest . . . or blow up. (Yes, my body has blown up . . . several times.)
Okay, now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want to blab about. But please no cats, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂
Well, I’m not so sure I really want my dirty little secrets out there, floating around through the internet to be snatched up by all and sundry and later blown out of proportion because of misunderstandings and possible spite. No thanks. And I’m not sure what would make you laugh (unless you were ticklish), or cry (unless I happened by chance to be a heartfelt movie), or even envious (unless my house were made out of pure gold and I shat diamonds).
But I will tell you one thing that “none has ever heard before” from me . . .
Well, no. All right. Some people know this already, but it bears repeating.
I hate phones.
Yes, they are (in my opinion) the most wretched, abhorrent, stupid, annoying pieces of equipment ever invented in this dimension, and if given the chance, I would toss them all into space – or into a black hole to watch them spaghettify. When they “ring-ring, ring-ring,” there’s that constant “pester, pester, pester,” feeling, and just the sensation of having to “OH MY GOD, RUN TO THE PHONE TO ANSWER IT BEFORE THE PERSON ON THE OTHER LINE HANGS UP!!” gives me the freakin’ heebie-jeebie-creepy-crawly-willies. I mean, really. The constant interruptions, the never seeing a person’s facial expressions or experience their body language on the other end . . . pfft.
The list goes on.
But I will not.
I simply hate phones, end of story.
. . . or is it? [insert creepy music]
Thank you for having me on your blog, Lucy. It was an honor and a pleasure to be here. 🙂
Thank you Devon, it has been entirely my pleasure to have you, and I would love for you to come back and give me a good rant about what annoys you the most. 🙂 For now I would love to give my readers another sample of The Perfect Player and tell them to get their copy now, because it’s well worth their time and money.
THE PERFECT PLAYER — CHAPTER ONE
Marisa stood behind her slightly open bedchamber door, cheek pressed to the wood. One eye scanned the stone corridor as she waited for the perfect chance. Soon. It had to be soon, or else the game would be spoiled.
Her thumb tapped the latch, mouth drawn to a thin line. Maker’s bane! When did that accursed keeper plan to shroud her lantern? What was Abigale doing in there anyway . . . ?
The light beneath her keeper’s door faded, and Marisa partially eased through her own. She craned her neck left, then right.
Moonlight bathed the western end of the manor house where gossamer curtains stirred with tapestries and banners amid sconces aglow. Motes swirled in slanted shafts. She leaned farther. The double doors to her parents’ bedchambers were still shut, silent. Good. They’d be none the wiser.
With another glance at Abigale’s door, Marisa crept out into the hallway, then down the eastern staircase to the entrance.
She slipped into the darkness outside.
Under the manor’s front balcony, Marisa pressed her back against the inner wall, gaze roving the township for commoners still awake. Cobblestone paths spread like iridescent fingers between clusters of timber-and-thatch huts with windows shuttered, outer sill lanterns alight. Flowers in soft beds of grass hid beneath the shade of silver-topped trees. Luminescent elixir gurgled in the communal pool. All of Mynae’s citizens lay in a slumbering hush.
All . . . but one.
Midway down the main path sat Marisa’s first destination: a structure of wattle-and-daub that hid between its more prominent neighbors; a home built as a hasty afterthought — larger than a coop, smaller than her bedchamber — where a shadowy figure hovered near.
Marisa grinned. Time for a bit of fun.
She bounded forth. Light strides carried her slight frame swiftly and silently across the township; a red-haired specter in the night, rounding the tiny house to disappear against its far wall. Leaning out, Marisa peeked at the manor house’s second-level stone-arch windows — a dark line of four — and drew back in a relieved rush of breath.
“Ho there, what kept you?”
Marisa whirled. Behind her stood her closest confidante, Ariana, arms folded and chestnut-brown eyes probing beneath a furrowed brow. Strands of black hair loosed from her plait hung against her flushed cheeks. She wore a rough-woven skirt and blouse, far heavier than Marisa’s own delicate garments.
“What kept me?” Marisa frowned. “What, you think it’s easy for a watched heir to slip off into the night?”
Ariana scoffed. “The way you do it, yes.” She pointed skyward. “Look. You’ve wasted most of our time. The Roseate’s already past the Cerulean. You know what that means, don’t you?”
To the west, beyond the bloated blue moon fixed in the sky’s apex, sat a waxing pink crescent moon shimmering in tandem with Maris, bold star of the heavens and Marisa’s name source. Yes, of course she knew. Half-month to the start of a new lunar year, half-month to the completion of the star’s two-decade long cycle, half-month to her twentieth birthday heralding the end of her youth. Wasted time, indeed! With a duty-bound life of leadership poised to strike, why waste more?
“Come.” Marisa grabbed her friend’s wrist. “Let’s finish our game.” She streaked off into the night.
Along packed footpaths between huts and trailed by Ariana, Marisa wended her way toward the city gates. She tore across open stretches, past fenced-in growing plots, lean-tos, chook pens, red-berry brambles and brushwood, to huddle behind a nearby copse. There, she peeked out.
At the gates stood two sentries, both dressed in drab-grey Agis uniforms that all but blended them into the seasoned wood. Ruddy faces and pale flaxen hair shone beneath the moons’ light. One brother surveyed the township, alert and keen, cudgel at the ready. The other rubbed the back of his neck, bored, weapon by his feet and shoulder at the door.
Marisa smirked. Typical. Twins weren’t always alike.
She hefted, then hurled a palm-sized stone. It ricocheted off the gates with a resounding clunk! They flinched, and Ariana sniggered.
“Right,” Marisa said, feigning seriousness. “That’ll teach Kahlil to be so lax.”
“Another,” Ariana said. “Throw another. See what they do.”
With a nod, Marisa did, but the stone fell short this time, bouncing into the grass. She cursed, and two sets of eyes darted in her direction.
“Ach! Hide!” Crouching down, she pulled a giggling Ariana behind the thickets. “Shh!” She batted at her. “You’ll get us caught.”
But warnings went unheeded and giggles grew louder as the brothers bolted from their post. One dashed left, the other right. Ariana grasped Marisa’s arm, eyes wide in mock concern. Marisa returned her friend’s excited grin, when a pair of hands dragged Ariana, stumbling, from the brush. She vanished in the wake of her laughter.
Now alone, Marisa waited eagerly for the presence she sensed creeping up behind. Her nape prickled. He was near. So near. And in a soft rustle of fabric, strong arms slid over her shoulders like smooth coils of rope, pressing her to a lithe body wreathed in a virile scent.
Marisa sighed, tilting her head, melting into her suitor’s warmth. The ache of her desire mounted. He whispered into her ear, his breath tickling her cheek.
“Evening, my love. Ariana said you wanted to sneak away tonight, but it’s so late, I thought you might have forgotten.”
“Forgotten?” she whispered. “Never, Tayib. I just need to be careful. My keeper’s ever watchful.”
“Well, not now, she isn’t. . . .”
His lips met hers, and Marisa leaned into his kiss, savoring it. Sweet. Tender. Passionate. Forbidden. Future lifemate chosen in secret. What would Abigale think? Indeed, what would Father? A leader governed by example, after all, and for an heir to knowingly break Mynaen law, well . . . it was considered crude, brazen. But Tayib’s touch, months absent, erased all reason and shoved aside consequences. Bothersome mould. Really, forced chastity to satisfy a centuries-old mandate? Rubbish.
Marisa withdrew from his kiss. “They can’t keep us apart forever, you know.” She lay her forehead against his. “We’ll be bonded soon. I promise.”
“I know. Soon.”
Movement near the gates caught her attention as shadowy figures slipped out into the meadow hill beyond. One wore a uniform, while the other’s hair hung long and loose, freed from its plait. She grinned. Success! Half the players were in, with the game set in motion. Now the challenge. And she didn’t have much time.
“Come.” She seized Tayib’s hand. “Come out to the woodland with me.” She leapt to her feet.
“Wait.” He tugged her back, and Marisa rolled her eyes. “We can’t,” he said. “I mean, your keeper . . . she’d post the commander at your bedchamber door if she ever found out.”
“She couldn’t. My father wouldn’t stand for such a waste of the commander’s time. Besides, she’ll never find out. We’ll return well before the Roseate even sets. Quick, quiet, easy.” She shrugged, but Tayib merely bowed his head. Frustrated, she crouched again. “Oh, come, we’ve stolen away before — ”
“And taking your father’s tunnel key was risky. We’re lucky we weren’t caught last time. You even said you wouldn’t chance doing that again, so please” — his voice dropped — “don’t expect me to abandon my post.”
“Why not?” She pointed to the gates. “Kahlil’s not afraid; he’s out there with Ariana.” Tayib cursed, pulling a face, and Marisa cupped his cheek. “So, what say you, my love? Follow your brother’s lead, come out to the woodland and finish our game. You already know the reward for my capture.” She pushed into him. “How can you refuse?”
Tayib closed his eyes, groaning. “Maker’s bane. . . . Don’t do this to me, Marisa. It’s wrong. You know it’s wrong. I’ll be suspended.”
“Only if they find out, which they won’t, I promise.” She grasped his hand. “Come. Why should we obey society’s ridiculous rules and return to our places like a pair of blind puppets, when the night can be ours? We have urges and desires, just like everyone else, don’t we?”
She unfastened the top clasp of his shirt and slipped her fingers in. Soft fabric caressed her skin even as she caressed his, and beneath her palms, his heart raced. Tayib let out a trembling breath, resolve weakening. She edged closer, inhaling his scent once more. Nearly there. Yes, nearly there. . . .
“Stop.” Tayib caught her hands, face hardened. “We can’t, shouldn’t —”
“Oh, but we will.” She tugged free and unfastened the second clasp, parted his shirt. “You know we will, because it’s fated in the stars. . . .” Then she leaned in, kissed his chest. Tayib crushed her to him with a moan of defeat.
“All right, you win. I yield. You already know where my heart lies. But we shouldn’t be long. And no one must know.”
“Of course not,” she replied, grinning. “Upon my solemn word as heir, early dawn will greet you at the gates. Now come” — she dragged him from the copse — “the night beckons.” With that, she slipped through the still-open doors.
Liberated from the confines of the city walls, Marisa loped and glided down the meadow slope toward the treeline and forest beyond. Outside, the lands felt more natural, the air fresher as a breeze blew in from the east. It washed her in the potent, sweet scent of wild elixir pitter-plashing in a stream at the hill’s base.
Halfway down, she halted, sense of abandon fully roused. She stretched out her arms, drew her head back, closed her eyes, and pulled in a cleansing breath. The cloak of responsibility fell away.
Ah, freedom. . . .
Rare. Fleeting. Desired as much as Tayib. Out here, books and tasks, lessons and laws dissolved in a rustle and sway of silvery-gold foliage alongside stalks of lavender grass. Oh, to be one with the world, blend into the night, be carefree, independent and utterly common.
Finally, she eased her eyes open to the sky where Maris and the moons frowned down at her reckless actions. She scowled back. She’d never asked for this lot in life, so why should she be strangled by its rules?
Ignoring the sky’s silent rebuke, Marisa hastened to join her friends.
Along a twisting trail of stones, she crossed the stream, headed toward the mouth of two pathways that branched in opposite directions, winding into the hills. A hearty laugh came from the nearby thickets. She rounded them to crouch with the shadowy figures already there. Tayib, having raced ahead of her, gathered her close. As she slid into his arms, a cool confidence enveloped her. Marisa lifted her brow curiously. How quickly he’d shed his worry now that they were hidden by darkness!
“Right. Now, we’re all here,” said Kahlil, “so let’s start. Marisa, Ariana” — he nodded — “Tayib and I have agreed to give you a running lead — ”
“ — because women are so awkward in the woods.” Kahlil shrugged at Ariana’s glower. “Especially at night.”
“And in skirts,” Tayib added.
Ariana’s glower deepened, and Marisa chuckled at her friend’s pique. The twins had a point, though. Regiment garb was sleeker, quieter, far easier to maneuver in.
“Of all the cheek!” Ariana slapped Kahlil, and the two brothers laughed. “No, you won’t be giving us a running lead because we don’t need your pity favors. Marisa and I won last time, as fair and honest as your Soldier’s Oath.”
“Yes, yes, of course you did. If that’s what you want to believe, my dearest one.” Kahlil smirked, elbowing Tayib. Ariana huffed, crossing her arms. Marisa hid her grin.
“You’re just too stubborn to admit we beat you,” Ariana said, “so we’ll just have to prove you wrong. Again.” With that, she plunged into the brush toward the forest, branches quivering in her wake. Kahlil snorted.
Tayib leaned into Marisa. “You’d best run too,” he said, “lest I capture you before the game’s even begun.”
“Right,” she scoffed. “Catch me if you dare, soldier.” She dashed off.
Up through the ever-thickening forest, Marisa trailed the crackling sound of Ariana’s retreat as her friend buried herself farther into the wilds. She fought to keep pace, to distance herself from the brothers, who would soon be in pursuit. Hand over hand, foothold by foothold, she pushed and pulled against branches, trunks, and rocks, climbing higher and higher. But as the forest grew denser, vines and underbrush began to tangle her feet, hindering her efforts to escape. She playfully cursed the warmer months. The upper canopy had once again fully bloomed, obscuring much-needed moonlight. The woods seemed nearly as dark and shadowy as the belly of an underground cavern. Marisa halted with a grunt and searched her mind. What had the commander taught them for efficient nighttime navigation? Weave the thickets, leave the boles . . . or was it the other way around?
“I see you.”
Behind, two flaxen-haired shadow-figures approached, steps muffled against the mossy forest floor. They angled far around dark clumps of brush with nary a sound. Ah. She grinned. That’s right. Leave the thickets.
“That wasn’t much of a lead,” she called, and the shadow-figures halted. One straightened and gave a gallant wave.
“Oh, but my love, nothing outdoes the tracking skills of the Agis!”
The other slapped his hand down. “You’re just slow. Besides, Ariana said you didn’t need a lead, so . . .”
Marisa smirked. Cheaters. A giggle rose up somewhere to her left, and she shuffled backwards, glancing around for an escape route. “This isn’t going to make up for last time,” she said. “Tracking skills, indeed. You’ll need more than that, you know.”
“We’ll see,” came the reply.
The brothers advanced. Ariana shrieked. The brush snapped once more.
Kahlil sprinted left, toward the noise, while Tayib charged full on. Marisa spun around, heart thudding and skirt hitched. She began to clamber up the wooded hill, insides atingle with a renewed thrill.
Crunching, crackling, dodging, and weaving, Marisa scrambled through the forest — under branches, over logs, around the deepest of thickets — unable to shake Tayib’s nimble pursuit borne through years of strict regiment training. Yet he deliberately lagged. His grunting breaths and rustling trailed, near enough to stoke excitement, far enough to allow her unhindered ascent toward the hill’s crest where the thickets thinned and the number of trees diminished.
The canopy broke at last to flood moonlight over a stone-strewn slope, where Marisa slid, scrabbled, and struggled to stay ahead. Tayib’s hand swiped across her back, fingers catching through her hair. She laughed, surging out of his reach.
She flew over the summit, sped down the other side toward the sparsely wooded descent of the eastern border and the edge of the pillarstone-marked Unclaimed Lands, racing toward the trail that hugged the stream and the slab of rock hidden by underbrush that marked the place of their prior forbidden intimacies: the tunnel egress. She puffed and blew, legs pumping, feet pounding. Warm wind dampened her face, and she lengthened her stride. With capture and reward at stake, she refused to be easy prey. For now.
Within moments she was upon the level pathway and, laughing, twisted round to jeer at Tayib . . . then promptly pitched backwards with a startled cry and a rough thud. Bewildered and sprawled, she wheezed and blinked. The Cerulean and stars wobbled, refocused, and wobbled again before a silhouette rose up against the night sky.
“Maker’s bane!” Tayib cried, offering his hand. “You’re terribly clumsy for someone who’s had regiment training. Are you all right?”
Marisa grasped his wrist, hissing out strangled words. She sat and slowly regained her breath.
“I’m not clumsy. Something snagged my foot.” She shifted. Pain pinched her knee, and she gritted her teeth. Tayib’s grip tensed. “Oh, stop. I’m all right,” she said, waving a dismissive hand. Brow furrowed, she felt along the nearby ground. “Somewhere here . . .”
Tayib chuckled. He pulled her close, kissed her nape, her shoulder, her ear. “It’s likely nothing, you know. A root, a rock — nothing to bother with.”
Yet Marisa continued to grabble. “No, these trails are regularly timberworker cleared.”
“And long,” he said. “People are prone to mistakes.” His hands wandered while Marisa’s own patted the soil. Tayib gave a frisky growl. “I do believe I’ve caught you, my love. And now for my reward. . . .”
But upon his words, Marisa’s fingers hooked over, then traced, the edge of a distinct hole near her feet. Quietly, she surveyed: a hand’s breadth deep, two wide, oblong and notched.
She scuttled sideways from Tayib’s grip with a gasp.
“What? What is it?” he said.
Tayib leaned forward to inspect, then stiffened. “By the Maker!” He twisted to her. “Are those . . . ?”
A line of cloven prints wove toward the border of the Unclaimed Lands to a swath of trampled thickets that lay beyond like a dark, gaping maw. Marisa stumbled to her feet, heart pounding. Dear Maker! Stories of old described them perfectly. Seeing them stabbed her with fear.
“Demon tracks,” she whispered.
“But . . . but, Marisa.” Tayib drew her close. “You don’t think — I mean, they can’t be here, in the Northlands. . . . Could they?”
She bit her lip, afraid to answer.
If evil stalked Mynae, what had happened to their protection?