Monday, May 24, 2010

Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter - Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Uno gripped my arm with the retractable blade and held it in place. I punched him hard in the face with my free hand. Little good it did. It hurt me more then it did him. He laughed before I felt his hot breath on my neck. I wondered if my corpse would share a space on his front lawn with the rival clan leader. His fangs pricked at my skin.
“Killing him would be a grave mistake,” a woman said nonchalantly.
Uno stopped and turned toward the intruder. “Sekhmet?”
I recognized the name immediately. Sekhmet was a Thaloc, more plainly known as a shape-shifter. Perched at the edge of the large oak desk like a great bird, she had taken the form of a small girl. Huge wings extended from her back as black as her raven colored hair and eyes. Her sudden appearance had surprised everyone. Hammer had drawn back his Khopesh ready to take Sekhmet’s head from her neck.
“Stay your hand,” Uno yelled, “She is an ally.”
She glanced over at Hammer and smiled. “Oh don’t worry about me dear. His sword would never have touched my delicate skin.”
Sigma stood and grimaced like a wounded animal, but I knew it wasn’t because of pain. The rapid healing abilities granted to all vampires had already mended his shattered bones. I suspected his beef at the moment was the fact I had injured him in the first place. Assassin, as well as vampire pride obligated him seek retribution. He grabbed my leg and yanked me out of Uno’s grasp. My back thudded against the floor, knocking air out of my lungs again. Elevating me into the air, I dangled upside down in his one hand like a fish on a hook. I jabbed my blade into Sigma’s leg, the same one that I injured earlier.
Sigma screamed, dropping me at the same instant. I rolled away until I was stopped by Uno’s desk. Sigma’s wound was too much for him to bear and he finally buckled to the ground staring at me, his face a twisted jumble of hatred and pain. His fingernails became long and pointed, and as sharp as talons. He struck at me, thinking I was defensively braced against the desk with nowhere to go. He was wrong. I countered with my own attack and severed his forearm from the rest of his body.
Panicked I would strike again with a killing blow, Sigma drew himself quickly away, screaming and cursing in an ancient language. Since his heart hadn’t pumped with true life in hundreds of years, no blood sprayed from his stump of an arm. The detached limb on the floor squirmed for a short while like a fish pulled out of the sea. When it eventually stopped, the hand curled into a fist and then extended its middle finger defiantly in my direction.
“Enough,” Uno said directing all of his attention at the one armed assassin. “If Moon is to die it will be by my hands.”
Propped against the door, Sigma hauled himself up on his one good leg. “He dishonors me! He should be my kill!”
A silence fell in the room that was almost palpable. Hammer’s concentration stayed focused on Sekhmet like she was the only person in the office. The shape-shifter smiled down at me. She remained unmoving, balanced on the far end of the desk waiting patiently for something to happen.
I picked up Sigma’s Khopesh off the floor and got to my feet. Standing between the two men that wanted me dead, I pointed my retractable blade at the assassin and stretched out the sword at Uno. “Who dies first?”
Like the small child that Sekhmet pretended to be, she laughed gleefully, clapping her hands together in appreciation. In my voice, she said, “Who dies first?” And then she laughed some more. “Humans are so much fun.”
Her amusement brought the tension in the room to a manageable level. Uno looked at me. “Lower your weapons, Moon. Your blood will not be spilled this night.” He turned his attention to Sigma. “Collect your arm and get out until I call for you.”
Sigma glowered at me. “And what of my honor? Am I to let the insect live?”
“For now,” Uno answered. “You two can settle matters later.”
That seemed to calm the assassin.
I tossed him his Khopesh.
In a voice that sent chills up my spine, he said, “I will send you to Osiris to past judgment on your soul.”
I gave his severed arm a hard kick and sent the limb rolling across the floor until it stopped short at his feet. “You’ll have a better chance of doing the job with both your hands, though I wouldn’t place any bets on it.” Then I turned my back to him, which equated to a slap in the face.
There was an animal growl and then the door opened and closed.
Uno stared at Sekhmet. “Were you in my office spying the entire time pretending to be a cockroach?”
“A fly actually. Cockroaches are so filthy. I would never think of becoming one of them,” she answered. “And a good thing I was here. If you’ve killed the human, you would have lost any chance of ascension.”
I retracted my blade and took a few steps backwards. “I’ll be on my way then.” In the corner of my eye, I saw that Hammer kept pace. He wasn’t about to let me reach the door.
“I think not,” the shape-shifter said, “You have work to do.”
“I don’t work for vampires.”
She stood to her full four feet height balanced at the edge of the desk by her toes. “Then I shall hire you.”
I laughed. “That’s worse than working for Uno.” Shape-shifters are as dishonest as imps. The only real difference, an imp won’t try to kill you after the deal was struck.
“Uno isn’t the only person I’ve been spying on of late,” she commented, “I’ve been keeping an eye on you as well, Moon. You need money in a hurry.”
Her words stopped me in my tracks. I did need cash, lots of it. I lost count of how many debt collection agencies called my home and office number. The only thing that had comforted me was the fact the phone company would soon be disconnecting my service. I hadn’t had a customer in over three months and was down to my last twenty dollars and that would be gone after I hailed a cab to get home.
Uno must have noticed my hesitation. He reached inside his suit jacket and withdrew a sheaf of money. He tossed the bundle and it landed at my feet. “Take it. Consider it a commission just for listening.”
I looked down at the cash. Benjamin Franklin’s face stared back up at me and it looked like he brought at least thirty of his identical family members with him. My empty stomach growled as if to say in a Mr. T voice, “Fool, pick up the damn money!” What the hell, if they he wanted to paid me just to listen, why shouldn’t I take the money?
Both Uno and Sekhmet smiled as I scooped up the bundle. Never could resist Benjamin Franklin. “What’s the job?” I asked.
Uno sat in his blood red leather chair. “We need you to find two items for us.”
I gave him my best annoyed expression. “Finding things is what I do, so I already knew that much big guy.”
The sign on my office door and business cards listed me as a relic hunter. I search for ancient artifacts in the most unusual places. You won’t find me exploring the jungles of the Yucatan or the deserts of Egypt. The objects I recover shall never find its way into museums or in a billionaire’s private collection. The people who employed me are only interested in relics filled with supernatural properties, located in places where anyone with half a sense would never dare to tread.
“We need you to find the Sceptre and Ankh of Life,” Sekhmet explained.
I cringed and then stared first at the shape-shifter and then at vampire clan leader with disbelief. I understood then why Uno didn’t want the members of Set Amentet to know what he was up to. I knew exactly why he wanted the ancient Egyptian relic.
Uno wanted to become a god.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter - Chapter One (unedited)

Chapter One

With his eyes closed, Uno sat behind his large oak desk lost in thoughts older than I could imagine. His thick hands formed a massive pyramid beneath his meaty jowls. Every finger was bejeweled with two rings on them but they weren’t worn for style. Uno never allow himself to indulge in anything as mundane as fashion sense. The rings were a symbol of his power and authority in the Set Amentet. Loosely translated it meant ‘The Mountain of the Underworld’. Why one of the oldest, most secret and powerful organizations in the world wanted to call themselves Set Amentet was beyond me. It didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Uno had been chanting in an ancient language before I was even forced into his spacious office. I didn’t have a clue what he was saying, but whatever it was, it certainly couldn’t be good for me. The last time I’d seen him chant was after his crew got their hands on a rival clan leader that tried to muscle his way into Uno’s territory. Big mistake. Uno displayed his skills in taxidermy. Until the end of time the rival clan leader will have glass eyes instead of his real ones. He was being prominently displayed in front of Uno’s house as his garden gnome.
Glancing around, I took the time to see if escape was actually possible. Two big men stood at the door brandishing swords shaped like sickles called Khopesh. Both men were shirtless and had matching tattoos of Egytian hieroglyphs that started at the top of their muscular shoulders and all the way down passed their belly buttons. It could have gone much lower and covered other parts of their anatomy, but I really didn’t want to consider that thought. The one on the right was called, Sigma, the other Hammer. They weren’t bodyguards. Uno didn’t need protection because he was a force by himself. They were assassins. One was formable enough to eliminate a room filled with seasoned killers by himself. To have both assassins together at one place was overkill for any situation.
I didn’t know whether I should be flattered that Uno felt he needed to have both standing guard or terrified to the point of wetting my pants. Going through the door wasn’t an option. Maybe I could take on one, but not all three. I scanned the rest of the office. All the windows had been sealed by bricks and there didn’t seem to be any ventilation shafts leading into the room. I shifted uncomfortably in the large chair. Though it was large enough for two and soft as pillows, at the moment it felt as stiff and confining as an electric chair on execution day.
There was no way out of the room except cleaving through flesh and bone. And even if by some miracle I did survive fighting the most skilled assassins in the world and the one man that could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, I would still have an army to face on the other side of the door. But on the bright side, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about anymore calls from collection agencies.
Uno stopped his chanting and slowly opened his eyelids. Two points of black inhuman irises stared across the desk and fixed on me. He pulled his hands apart and laid his palms flat on the large oak table. I could have sworn smoke rose from beneath his fingers. It was as if something unnatural touched upon something in the natural world and was being rejected. But it might have been my imagination. Fear does that to the mind sometimes; it makes you see things that are not really there. But, the unmistakable smell of brimstone wafted up my nostrils at almost the same instant.
“Taurus Moon,” Uno said my name with amusement. His lips curled into what he probably considered a smile.
Since both my parents were African-American, weren’t peace loving-drug tripping-sixties flower child’s, and swear I wasn’t adopted, my name tended to have that effect on folks. Being that I wasn’t born in April and to my recollection my family never owned a bull, I never understood their reasoning for giving me such an odd name. They died tragically before I could ask them.
“Uno,” I said with a calm that betrayed the pounding of my heart. My nostrils started to sting from the brimstone. It took all my concentration not to wiggle my nose. “I was a little surprised to get your unexpected invitation to your office.”
“I didn’t have time to ask nice, Moon, and I knew yo’ ass wouldn’t come without help,” he answered.
“Uno, it’s a good thing your people caught me while I was preoccupied or right about now you would be receiving their bodies at your front door.”
I was attacked while I was in the bed of a lady-friend, doing what comes naturally when a man and woman share that close a space. I would have heard his people entering the apartment if my normally keen hearing weren’t being bombarded by her cries of passion. His men literally caught me with my pants down. Still, I put up quite a fight, broke a few of their bones and punched out some teeth before they eventually thought to use my lady-friend as a bargaining chip. I let them inject me with something to save her life. Before I passed out, I told Uno’s men that if they killed my friend out of spite, I swore I would hunt every single person involved and skin them alive. I always keep my promises.
Thankfully Uno lifted his palms up from the desk, ending the offending stench as suddenly as it had begun. He leaned back settling in his thick leather chair. The padding was the color of blood, and the chair’s frame carried a sickening semblance to human bone. Pulled back out of the dim light, the dark spaces where Uno’s inhuman eyes should have been merged in with the shadows disappeared completely.
I was relieved not to see those dark pinpoints staring back. The thudding in my chest actually slowed. If Uno wanted me dead, he would have finished me already. I dared to turn my gaze away from him to look over my shoulder at his two assassins.
Sigma’s long black dreadlocks seemed to move with his eyes like a nest of snakes seeking prey. The man smiled without mirth, inviting me to take a chance and see if I could get past him.
Hammer didn’t appear interested in anyone in the room except himself. He admired his reflection through the shiny silver blade of his Khopesh. Faint light glinted off both the smooth surfaces of his bald head and the sword metal.
“Are they here for me?” I asked.
“Hell nah, man. You’re good Moon, but not thad good,” Uno replied. “Now don’t you worry yo’ ass about why they here.”
I turned my attention back to the large man. “So what is this about?”
Uno bent forward somewhat again revealing those damn black pits he called eyes. “I want ta hire you fo’ yo’ special services.”
“The Set Amentet and I never saw eye-to-eye. Why would they want me working for them?”
“You don’t get it, bruh. This has nothin’ ta do with the clan. This is my personal business. The Set Amentet know nothin’ about this.”
That got my attention. Uno seeking help outside the clan and without their knowledge was punishable by death. Whatever he wanted had to be important—damn important. “Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the Set Amentet and anyone involved with the clan. I won’t work for you.”
Lightning fast, Uno jumped out of his chair and stood at his full six-four stature. His knuckles slammed hard on top of the oak desk and actually shattered the wood underneath creating two huge fissures. “I’m not asking you, Moon! Deny me and drown in your own blood!”
All the slang had faded from his verbiage and he spoke with the elegance of an English college professor—an angry, crazed, powerfully built, menacing, giant of a college professor, mind you. He lifted one arm and reached across too fast for me to avoid. He had me by the throat and effortlessly hauled my ass up and into the air. My feet dangled inches from the ground.
I acted instinctively. A retractable blade made of silver flicked out of my sleeve. I jammed it up into the arm that held me suspended and twisted as hard as I could. If it had been the arm of a smaller person, the limb would be lying severed on the floor.
But Uno was unlike any other man. He screamed as his grip involuntarily released me. The second my feet touched earth, I whirled around with my weapon up in a defensive posture and blocked the downward thrust of Sigma’s Khopesh with my own meager blade. Unfortunately, my opponent had all the advantages with his longer, more deadly weapon. He also possessed far greater speed and strength.
The synapses in my brain worked to figure out the best course of action. Then I thought the hell with that, I was most likely going to die anyway. Despite the fact that Sigma stood over me while applying a significant amount of force to push me down to my knees. I risked losing any leverage I had and put all my strength behind a kick, striking his tibia just below the right knee. There was an audible crunch as bone gave way. Sigma crumbled to the floor; he didn’t scream. Had to give him points for that. I expected Hammer to join the attack, but he hadn’t moved from the door, automatically taking on the responsibility of the door’s guardian and assuring I didn’t make it out of the office alive.
From behind me, a great hand gripped the collar of my jacket. Once again my feet left the floor. Uno’s other bloodied hand took hold of my thigh. I was lifted higher into the air and for a brief moment all I saw was the ceiling. Uno jerked me back earthward and on top of his oak desk face down, knocking all the air from my lungs. An explosion of pain erupted inside my head. Red, white and yellow spots danced before my eyes and I almost expected to hear some little boy say, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.”
But the demented voice I eventually heard came from no child. “You fight well, Moon.”
With brute force he spun me over onto my back. The spots faded and were replaced by a grisly nightmare as I stared into the true face of death. Uno’s fangs extended and the black in his irises were no longer small specks. The black encompassed the entire sockets of both his eyes.
I hate vampires.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The pain of writing a synopsis

If you think finishing a full novel is hard, wait until you begin working on the synopsis. If you have any aspirations of submitting to an agent or publisher, it’s essential to have a 2 to 5 page breakdown of all the major events and characters from the novel you’ve finished. If you plan to self-publish, you can breathe a sigh of relief because you won’t have to endure this headache.
To condense your 60k to 120k novel to five pages is a grueling experience. Trust me. Ask any writer and ninety-five percent of the time they’ll say the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing a synopsis. There are some advantages to squeezing your entire manuscript down to a few pages. There will come times when you’re asked, “Can you tell me about your book?”

The question can come from an agent. If so, you only have small window to impress this person with as little words as possible. Think of this description as an extended book blurb. After sitting down for hours or days of mulling over what to put into the synopsis, a verbal thirty second description should be a piece of cake. This extended blurb rule also applies to drawing in potential readers for your novel. The synapses in a person’s brain suddenly stops functioning when he/she listens to long, drawn out descriptions.

Though I know it’s important, it doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely hate writing the synopsis. Putting my disdain for writing one aside, when everything is said and done, I always appreciate having one ready. A synopsis can be a useful tool for recalling key elements in a story when I begin work on sequels. And now that I finished my ranting about writing a synopsis, can you guess what I’m about to do? Oh well… (Sigh)

No one ever said it was easy being a writer.