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Diary of An Accidental Sidekick: Training, cake, and danger

I swear, faeries are sadists.

Did Alina take me hunting after my great fainting faux pas? No. No, she did not. Where did she haul my embarrassed ass? The gym.

“Are we warding gyms now?”

“This one is already warded or there wouldn’t be people here.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of the weight room where several men and women lifted hunks of metal. Their efforts made me want to eat a chocolate bar.

“Then why are we here?”

“You have a date with a treadmill.”

I scowled at her. “You’re joking, right?”

“Not in the least.” She examined her manicure, frowning at a chip on one of her nails. “You’re my responsibility, which means if you’re going to hunt with me, you’ll be fast enough, strong enough, and skilled enough not to get killed.”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

She smiled. “Punch me.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

I frowned and then shrugged. Whatever. I hauled my arm back, swung at her, and went stumbling as I smacked empty air. Something collided with my ankles and I went flying face first toward the floor, stopping short of kissing concrete only because Alina snatched my shirt and hauled me upright.

“You have the mind and the will, but lack the training.” She leaned over my shoulder and grinned at me, her purple hair tickling my cheek. “I’d be a crappy superhero if I let my sidekick get killed.”

I huffed out a breath and stalked off toward the treadmills. She followed me, waiting until I picked one and then hopped on the one next to it. “We’ll start with five miles.”

“That’s not too bad. I walk that much—”

She interrupted, “Run.” She reached over and hit a button on my treadmill. “Go.”

I almost fell off the damn thing as I scrabbled to gain my feet and start running. Mile one wasn’t terrible. All the walking I did kept me moderately fit. By mile three I had dropped my pace by half and by mile five one could only call it running if I were a turtle. I collapsed onto the floor in a heap at the end of the run.

Alina hopped off with a bounce, not even winded. “Okay. Now we spar.”

“What?” I wheezed.

At least she handed me a bottle of water and gave me ten minutes to recover. “Your rest breaks will shrink as we go,” she warned.

I expected to get pummeled, but much of our so-called sparring involved her correcting my form, showing me how to properly punch, kick, and fall. By the time she dragged me off the training mat, I didn’t even protest at being zipped through dimensions to get back to the apartment. I hadn’t fought anything, but I sure felt like it. I crashed on the sofa, vaguely registering that Alina went out again, probably to hunt, but I was too exhausted to move.

As I drifted toward sleep, whole body aching, I debated giving up the idea of hunting, but letting a stupid treadmill beat me seemed pretty pathetic. UnSeelie were fast, very fast, and who knew how much territory Alina covered in a night.

That became our routine. Alina dragged me on errands, meetings and to the gym. She disappeared to hunt alone, came home and slept for awhile, and then kicked my ass at the gym.

I figured the torture sessions excused my new habit of chocolate cake for breakfast. Okay, I ate omelets and healthy crap too, but a girl has needs and I need chocolate. Besides, after weeks of running and learning how not to die, according to Alina, I almost enjoyed our morning routine.

I kicked back and streamed an old comedy series, waiting for Alina to get in as usual. Internet reception varied, as infrastructure suffered from this stupid war—although the government refused to call it that– but Alina’s net always worked. There were definite perks to this whole Faerie sidekick gig.

I surfaced from my binging when my stomach demanded food and my bladder bitched about my intake of soda. I got up to silence the bladder and realized it was nearly non and Alina hadn’t appeared. I went down the small hall after my bathroom detour and tapped on the door to her room, listening for any noise. I inched it open, peeking in, then opened it all the way. Maybe she had come in before I woke up.

Nope..

Her bed sat empty, still neatly made from yesterday. The bright happy colors on her quilt seemed muted, or maybe it was just me.

What was the protocol? 911, what’s your emergency? My Faerie roommate hasn’t come home. It sounded inane even in my head even if 911 worked. Police had their hands full tracking down violent killers and keeping some semblance of order. Missing people just stayed missing nowadays. Not to mention, she was a grown woman and a faerie who could shift dimensions. Surely someone kept track of her. She went out and hunted things that fought back. Wouldn’t they care if one of those things she hunted had been faster, stronger, deadlier?

I went back to the living room and searched the comm directory, which didn’t take long. It only contained a handful of names and numbers. The only two I recognized were Katarina and Zane Gratig. I was so not going to call the scary executioner dude. He looked at me as if he could see through me. It gave me the shivers.

I hit Katarina’s number and the comm dialed. I okayed the holo projection, figuring she might remember me.

“Yes?” The scary executioner dude stared back at me.

I yelped and disconnected. I went back to Alina’s room, making a mess as I hunted through her closet, but finally found a stash of weapons in a box that looked like someone had gone nuts with a bedazzler. For all I knew that shit was real, but all I cared about were the nice dangerous grenades, shiny swords, and a stack of guns and ammo to outfit a small platoon. I grinned, geared up and headed toward the door.

Nearly seven feet of intimidation stood in the doorway. He looked me up and down. “You called.”

I gulped. I thought of Alina. She wouldn’t be intimidate. My knees shook. I wasn’t Alina. Seconds ticked past as he scowled down at me. I finally squeaked out. “Alina hasn’t come home.”

If he’d been scowling before, his expression turned into a deadly glower and pointed at the sword in my belt. “You’ll need more than that to find her, kid. Come on.”

He turned away and gray hazed my vision. I remembered to breathe as I locked up and followed the legendary Zane Gratig. I couldn’t afford to faint again. Sidekicks don’t faint and leave the hero in danger, at least that’s what I told myself as I got into the most badass aircar I’d ever seen. I maybe squealed like a twelve year old on a roller coaster when Gratig sent it straight vertical and forward so fast I think I pulled gs.

I squeezed my eyes shut and yelled at Alina in my head. I’m riding in an air car with a crazy alien executioner. You better be in trouble, Alina, and not on some other continent having magic sex or something. I will kill you myself if you aren’t in trouble.

Maybe I thought too loud, because as we zipped over Memphis, the crazy alien executioner busted out laughing.

 

 

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Diary of an Accidental Sidekick: Meeting my Hero

On the plus side, Alina’s ability to shift space to wherever she wanted kept the fridge stocked with foods I hadn’t had in months, and some instances years or never. Climate change made real coffee and chocolate far too expensive. My mom had told me about life before Reaper, before all the violence that triggered a deep global recession. The fancy coffee shops closed or turned into budget diners serving imitation soy derived stuff with loads of caffeine and sugar to make it palatable. I’d never had the real stuff. I wasn’t missing much. After a sip of Alina’s espresso, I decided to stick to my sodas.

She served seafood at least once a week. The extravagance boggled my mind. I hadn’t had wild caught seafood since I was a little kid, as over fishing killed the industry. Living in Kansas, far from any ocean, seafood always cost too much, farmed or not. So Alina’s penchant for clam chowders and grilled salmon made me feel a bit guilty for anyone still alive back in Kansas, but didn’t stop me from eating my fill. What with so many humans gone, I figured I wasn’t harming the oceans too much, and who knew if I’d ever get another chance to eat like this.

The chocolate, which I gave me a stomach ache from gorging on, the seafood, and coffee were just starters. She dined in foreign countries on a whim and dragged me to stores that sold stuff that cost more than I imagined most people made in a lifetime. The contradiction though was that she was just as likely to stop for a street vendor and buy a chili dog. I never knew what to expect.

She didn’t take me hunting, as promised, but insisted I learned to ward better. So I followed her like a shadow for a week, watching her inspect wards, adding layers, warding repaired buildings. She quizzed me the whole time, probably because the first day I paid more attention to the cute doctors tending patients then to what she was doing.

By week two she made me copy her warding spells as instructed, usually on like a mailbox or doghouse or flowerbed. It seemed like a waste of time, but I guess better to screw up on a mailbox than a building where people relied on the wards for safety. As much as she flitted about the world enjoying its luxuries, she took the safety of people very seriously.

I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect the depression either. She hadn’t been kidding about wanting company. No one visited her. Almost every morning when she got home from hunting I found her hunched over a mug of coffee. Good days meant she had no kills and went to bed for a few hours before dragging me off on another round of ward the shit out of all the things. Bad days meant I sat beside her, offering awkward comfort as she told me how many she had killed. The humans turned ghoul bothered her, but the UnSeelie or occasional Seelie traitor angered her.

One day I walked in and found her with tears running down her face.

“I knew the bastard,” Alina muttered as I sat down opposite her, setting my soda and bowl of cereal on the kitchen table.

“I’m sorry.”

“Eric and I played together, grew up together, even fucked a few times. I thought I knew him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

She looked up at me. “Why? Why would he choose that?”

“I don’t know.”

She downed her cup of coffee and retreated to her room for the rest of the day. As I spent the day reading a book she’d given me to study, I realized she needed a real sidekick, not just one that played tag-along and dress up. I sighed and looked at the closed bedroom door, wondering if all sidekicks felt as totally useless as I did.

Alina appeared a bit before sundown. “I have to attend a meeting.”

I turned off the television and set the popcorn aside. My horror movie marathon could wait. “Want me to come with you?”

She shrugged. “I’ll be out hunting after, but I can drop you back here if you want, so whatever.”

I shoved my feet in my boots. “No need.”

She turned, misinterpreting my response. “Later then.”

“Alina, no, I meant no need to drop me back here. I’ll hunt with you.”

She turned and frowned at me. “Sure? I thought you said hunting ghouls was stupid.”

“Oh yes, very, but someone has to, right?”

She flashed a grin. “Right.”

Instead of poofing us to the meeting, we walked. “This is novel.”

Alina laughed. “We’ll be sitting at a table listening to people complain for the next hour. Better to walk and burn off any twitchy energy before as I don’t want to piss off the Queen by bitch slapping her brother or something.”

I bit my bottom lip, realizing I was about to meet a whole bunch of other Fae. Before I could ask her if I needed to curtsy or kneel or something, she marched us up to a nondescript brick house. A one-armed guard with scars streaking his face glared at us, but said nothing as Alina waved and said, “She’s with me.”

He looked like the offspring of a grizzly bear and a mountain, and I wondered what the hell had managed to get the drop on him, because the shimmering eyes said he was Fae. I maybe sidled closer to Alina as we walked past him. A small tricycle stood off to the side in the hallway and a forgotten doll sat on a side table alongside a vase of fake flowers.

I tapped Alina’s elbow. “Whose house is this?”

Without looking at me, she answered. “The Queen’s house.”

I frowned. “I thought the Fae Queen lived in Fairy.”

This time she glanced at me. “Honey, you do know what caused the UnSeelis uprising, right?”

“Uhm…” I hated to admit it, but no, not really.

“The reigning monarchies were assassinated. The emissary, Katarina Gratig is now Queen. Not everyone liked that.”

I made an oh with my mouth. A half human running Fairy? Now I got why some of the Seelie had defected, well sort of, if I pretended I was some uptight race purist. I followed her into a dining room.  A good half a dozen people already occupied the room.

“This isn’t a full council meeting. We do those at the Judgement Council facility. This is a Memphis status report meeting. If you have anything to add from what you’ve seen of the city, feel free to chime in.”

As Alina walked up to the other people in the room she morphed from subdued and upset back to the chipper grinning person I first met. I realized now it was mostly a facade. She shook hands with two very tall, blond, male faeries. I sighed in appreciation and my hormones said, “Hello!” as I stared, at least until I noted the petite woman beside one of them glaring at me. I coughed and a red head smirked at me from beside blond number two. Oops. Way to make an impression, Christine. I did a double take looking at the red head. Absolutely no whites showed in her eyes and instead of the iridescent glow of Fae eyes, hers were dark fathomless pits. Looking closer, I realized the oddities didn’t stop at her eyes. Her limbs were a shade too long and face too angular to be human. I had no idea what she was, but she smiled at me, which I figured was better than the glares or disinterest of the others.

“Who’s your human pet?” blond number one asked.

“Sidekick,” Alina corrected.

Blond number two snickered. “I didn’t know you were a comics fan. Did she draw the line at spandex?”

I felt my cheeks heat as everyone stared at me, especially since blond two wasn’t far off the mark. Alina patted my arm. “Don’t mind them. They’re just mad that they don’t have a helpful sidekick.” She took a seat and proceeded to ignore blond one and blonde two, instead patting the seat beside her. “Sit. So, do you want a sword or a modded laser gun?”

“Laser gun?” I asked, suddenly forgetting all about the audience.

“I’ll take that as a yes. They’re modded to take out ghouls and UnSeelie, but you have to be sure at what you’re aiming at, because there won’t be anything left if you hit the wrong target.”

The thought of that kind of fire power sent a delicious thrill down my spine. My dad taught me to shoot as a kid and I hunted with him sometimes. I loved the power of a well-made firearm and red-neck enough to admit it. Of course, what with all that had happened, I hadn’t noticed anyone bitching about guns of late.

As I was fantasizing about blowing up ghouls with lasers a familiar woman walked into the room. Everyone who had turned on a television, comm, or computer in the last decade knew that face. She’d spearheaded the fight against Reaper, created a vaccine for it, and more recently a cure, and then to top it off ended up smack in the middle of the Fae and alien shit storm. I stared, well aware my jaw went sort of slack and that I didn’t hear one word anyone said.

This was my childhood hero. That super smart girl, now woman, was the reason my family survived. She was the woman my mom pointed at as proof I could be or do anything I wanted, and I was sitting in the same room with her.

Alina leaned over and whispered, “Breath.”

I sucked in air, realizing that’s why I felt dizzy. I have no idea what they discussed because shortly after I started breathing again, it sank in that blond one, blond two, accompanying women, and the scary dude at her left were all family. When the meeting ended, Katarina smiled in my direction.

I fucking fainted. I will never live this down.

 

 

Three Years Later

WordPress informed me I’ve been prattling on here for three years now. Has it been that long? Really? Wow.  This week has and continues to be a lot of WOW– no, I do not mean World of Warcraft. Sorry, but that’s a different realm of adventure.

I presented a poster at my first national American Chemical Society convention.

Teaching mode, ENGAGE!

Teaching mode, ENGAGE!

I met people from all over who are as equally passionate about science as I am. The Expo Hall showcased all kinds of nifty tech that us poor academics drool over, but can rarely afford.  It was also a wonderful, encouraging sight to see an equal representation of men and women, at least in the under 45 crowd.

While all of that science-y fun was going on, my publishers scrambled to get two stories out in time for MidSouthCon, which I attend starting today and ending on Sunday. The prequel short story, Daughter of Destiny: Reaper is available for purchase on Amazon, as is the novel, Crossroads of Fate: Daughter of Destiny. I have to admit, I teared up when I saw how awesome it looks. I started this book way back when Miss Drama was an infant. That’s eight years ago! It’s been an amazing journey of learning and making new friends. Now I get to share my stories with all of you, with plenty more excitement yet to come. For my blog followers, I say an extra thank you for liking, commenting, and sharing my online writing journey.

DaughterDestinyPromo_Color

The short story will be available free for MidSouthCon attendees, so if you plan to attend, stop by ProRow or Pro Se Production’s booth to get your code! Also, I’ll have nifty buttons as swag for my Fated Bonds fans!

 

“Fated Bonds”- Character Interview

Today we’re doing something a bit different– a character interview.

As some of you may have seen, my novel “Fated Bonds” will be out this Wednesday. Tala Neil is the heroine of the story. Her brother, Kevin Neil, is here with us today to share some details about Tala and their life.

***

So, hi there, and welcome to my blog!

Hey. Happy to be here.
 

Tala’s story, and in part, your story, is coming out soon and I hear that you wanted to tell us some things about your sister?

Yep. Now don’t get me wrong, Tala is totally badass, but I thought I’d share some stories you won’t hear from her; stuff only a sibling knows.  [Kevin winks.] As her brother, it’s my sacred duty to make sure she doesn’t get too big an ego, ya know?
 

Yes, and my sister does exactly that to me on a regular basis. Before we get into spilling Tala’s secrets, why don’t you tell us what it’s like to be a mage?

Sure.  For one, there aren’t any mage schools anymore. There aren’t enough of us. Traditions are passed down a family line and if you’re lucky, you know where to look for more information. Most human magic users are no more than kitchen witches now.
 
The secret’s out, supposedly, but people don’t believe there are mages and vampires and stuff unless they run into it first hand. We’re considered urban legends or bad pseudoscience. I once lit a teacher’s desk on fire, totally accidental, of course. The guy convinced himself that it was an electrical fire, even though it was an old-school wooden desk and nowhere near cords or an outlet.
 

Wow.  That must have been difficult for y’all growing up.

I suppose. You get used to it, eventually. I was a bookworm and socially awkward, so I didn’t really care. Tala, however, aspired to have a social life in high school. There was this one time she attempted to cast a spell, kind of like a no-see spell, but not as complex. The goal was to keep Mom from noticing she’d snuck out of the house. As spells like that have a way of doing, it backfired. She didn’t do it right, ended up blue as a smurf for a week and had to pretend she had the flu. She never made the rendezvous with snobby Sarah’s crowd and she got  grounded.
 

Blue? That can happen?

Totally.
 

 A reader submitted a question. They asked, “Is Tala a nose wiggle or head-bob spell caster?”

[laughs] Neither. When she was a kid she’d bite her bottom lip and scrunch up her face, but she learned to be subtle. With small spells, sometimes it’s just a small finger snap, or even a blink. Personally, I like to wave my wand dramatically, but I’ve broken a few lamps and vases that way.
 
Magic is all about will and power. Now big spells require casting a circle and all that jazz, but that’s because you summon the elements, god, and goddess. Whenever you summon, it’s best to make sure uninvited parties can’t join in the fun.
 

Another reader question regards familiars. Do y’all have them?

Nope, at least not unless you count dust bunnies.
 

Tala is several years older than you, right?

Yeah. Eight, to be precise.
 

What was it like when y’all were growing up? Did she play with you? Were you friends or did you fight a lot?

She was bossy. We played some, but once she got to be a teen she was pretty busy. To be honest, she was more like a second mom. We love our mom, but she’s battled severe depression since Tala’s dad was killed. 
 

What age did you each start using magic?

I think we were both pretty precocious. A lot of mage-born kids are casting simple spells by ten or twelve. We could both cast by six. We weren’t technically allowed to cast spells outside of practice time, but I remember Tala making my action figures battle to entertain me.

So do you have to be a mage or can you opt out?

People opted out so much that entire family lines have gone mundane. Hundreds of years of witch hunts took their toll. The families that remain, like mine, take the responsibility very seriously. So, while we could technically decide to never practice magic, neither Tala or I got the option as a kid to skip the training. Our mother was a bit ruthless. Of course, she had reason to be. Without our training, we might fall prey to Mordecai. She lost her husband to him. She didn’t want to lose us.

I see. So, magic is serious business.

Usually, yes.

Were you ever jealous of your sister?

Of course. If any sibling out there claims that they were never, ever jealous, I say they are lying. It’s human nature. She was older and so it seemed like I was always playing catch-up.  It didn’t help that I crushed on some of the guys she brought home. She made everything look so effortless and I felt awkward. As I got older and found my own niche, I quit trying to be her and the jealousy faded away.

What made Tala decide to go into law enforcement? Does she ever bring her work home with her?

Short answer, her dad. He was a journalist before he married Mom. He switched to online freelance stuff after they married– lower profile. Tala tells me that he’d tell her stories back from his investigative journalist days. That, combined with the injustice of losing him at such a young age, I think it gave her a bit of a ‘save the world’ complex. Back before Alexander, she’d lug case files home. She lived and breathed work. She’s developed hobbies and stuff, but she’s still pretty dedicated to justice.

Has she ever had a really horrible case, and what did she have to do afterwards to detox?

Yeah, she has. She’s probably had more than I know about. I didn’t really pay much attention early in her career. The ones where kids are the victims– it gets to her. She bottles it all up until she closes the case or the trail goes cold. If she closes the case, she gets shitfaced drunk at home afterward. The ones that grow cold put her in a pissy mood for months. She’ll spend a lot of time beating the crap out of the punching dummy at the gym until she accepts the inevitable. Every once in awhile she pulls the case out, goes over it again, and ends up back at the gym.

Okay while we all know that the police deal with more than their share of ugliness on a day to day basis, we’ve also heard of some really amusing, heart warming encounters.  Does Tala have a favorite?

 Her mentor, Greg, was a really nice guy. He and his wife came to dinner every once in awhile. They had her over to their place it seems like every other weekend. On cold mornings, at the start of every shift Greg would pick up coffee for himself, Tala, and get four extras. When they went out in the cruiser, he’d stop at Greenly Park and hand out the coffees to some of the homeless. Of course the mayor passed that asinine law not long after Greg died, and they have to lock any indigents up now if they find them in the park. Tala never seems to find any. [Smiles]  So, that’s my favorite.
 
Tala acts like a hardass, but I’ve seen her get all teary when she reads about cops doing stuff, like buying people shoes, or whatnot.
 

Do you have any other stories you’d like to share?

Well, one of my favorites is the time she cornered Angela in the woods and made her faint, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how that happened.

I’m sure our readers will take you up on that. Thank you, Kevin!

The Case of the Disappearing Hen

Keeping with the Sherlock Holmes theme of late and mysteries in general, I address the latest events in my realm of existence. One of the hens disappeared. My sleuthing quickly eliminated alien abduction and canine mischief. Events from a prior day provide circumstantial clues as to the likely fate of the missing hen.

2 Days ago, 6:45 a.m. (dawn…ish)

Miss Diva runs into the house as I’m making coffee. “MOM! One of the chickens almost DIED!” My immediate thought is that Marble has been a bad dog again, but she’s inside with me, and was not outside all that long. Before I can ask, Miss Diva continues, “A huge bird swept down and picked it up, but then it dropped it.”

“Oh dear.” Given that it wasn’t fully light, it was probably an owl instead of the hawk I’ve seen once or twice flying in the vicinity during the day.  “Let’s hope it doesn’t come back.”

Famous last words, I suppose, considering when I went to feed the hens yesterday evening only four of the five showed up. I poked about the yard in the dark with a flashlight and found nothing, but hoped it was simply due to a small flashlight versus a big backyard. I repeated the search quickly this morning and more thoroughly this afternoon. Alas, no little easter egger hen was to be found.

Unless she evolved superior flying skills and took to the skies, which prior observation does not support, I’m afraid I must conclude that our disappearing hen vanished into an owl’s gullet.

Due to the sad conclusion, I suppose I shall not charge the hens a consultation fee.

Rainy with a chance of stories

Today’s forecast includes a headache inducing low pressure front, possible tornadoes, and the news that my short story, What Autumn Leaves, will be appearing this month in the debut issue of Conjurings. As weathermen like to keep us guessing on the accuracy of their predictions, I likewise do not yet have a specific date of publication. Barring the editor being carried off to Oz on a tornado, it should be available for purchase by the end of the month.

I finished the rough drafts of two short stories set in the Crossroads of Fate universe. Keep in mind that titles are not so different from the forecast of isolated thundershowers; maybe it’ll rain and maybe it won’t. So maybe the series title will change and maybe it won’t. In any case, one of those short stories will come out likely before the end of the year, so be sure to check the news and freebie pages every now and again.

Suggested reading gear does not require an umbrella or coat. E-readers are optional.