It’s a new year, and as such, sharing is caring. Dragon and I decided, why not share some of our writing with you? Below you’ll find an excerpt from our third book Clashing Muses available at Amazon. (<–Clicky the link below to grab your copy!) In this installment, you get a glimpse of one of the creepier scenes in the book from Morgan’s point of view.
“Now we have an understanding.” It wasn’t a question, but at my hesitant nod, she laughed. There was a rustle of movement, scales gliding against skin, a barb pricked the soft flesh of my chin, easing my head up. Intense heat blasted my cheeks and, pressing my fists into the soft carpet of the runner beneath me to ease the shaking of my arms, I opened my eyes.
Tisiphone’s face filled my vision. My skin itched, wanting to peel itself right off my muscles and flee back to the bed I awoke in. The memory of her claim on Dirk’s soul kept me in place. “Do I frighten you, Airlea?” Her voice was a honeyed purr, sweet with an undercurrent of malice threatening physical harm if I were to give the wrong answer.
I had never meant an answer more. She was the physical embodiment of every dark and dangerous thing lurking in the living shadows haunting my nightmares from even before I was old enough understand the word. Night terrors that even now left me screaming into the nebulous blanket of night, convinced the monsters were coming to devour me. I’d taken a lot of flak over the years for not sleeping. Tisiphone represented every single reason why. The stories painted her as the ruthless warden of Tartarus, guarding the denizens imprisoned within, most of whom she’d been instrumental in their demise. She and her sisters, Alecto and Megaira, the Erinyes, were ruthless vengeance made flesh.
Being in her presence, the weight of her aura bearing down on me, the agelessness, and the dangerous spark of madness gleaming in the depths of the eyes boring into mine, drove home how lightly I needed to tread. The gods were, for lack of a better way to put it, passionately convinced of their own magnificence. Pissing her off would not help my situation. She may not be a goddess, but she was close enough to give me serious pause.
“Yes, what?” She asked, lips pursing.
“Yes,” I swallowed hard. “You frighten me.”
She pulled back, giving my cheek a soft pat. “Good.” Moving past me, she continued to the dais. I stared at the doorway for a long moment, the irrational side of me urging me to run, to dash through into the darkness beyond, to escape… but what waited in that darkness? If I was here, and Tisiphone was here, it stood to reason Tartarus was out there. I was nowhere near ready to deal with that.
Instead I rose to my feet, my movements slow and measured, worried the tremors would drop me again. With a calming breath, I faced Tisiphone’s retreating figure as she ascended the stairs to the bed. Glancing over her shoulder to be sure I was paying attention, she reached out and ran her fingertips against the nearest column. The bed liquefied at her caress, dropping to the dais floor in a rippling black liquid that moved and coalesced as though alive. Tisiphone turned to face me, the skin where her eyebrow should have been hitching in a question as her eyes dipped to the bottom step. Behind her, the fluid shifted, building upon itself, tendrils reaching further up and re-forming without explicit direction, into an elaborate ebony throne. It was still creating the back framework as Tisiphone sat, her long, tapered fingers brushing affectionately against the armrests. Her skirt moved out of the way to avoid being crushed as she settled in, curling instead to drape along her forearms, slithering over her palms the way a cat might, seeking her touch.
A chill, black silence settled over the room as she regarded me from her new position. I still hadn’t moved, focused as I was on the weirdness behind her, but when her expression darkened, I hastened forward, standing awkwardly. Bracing myself, I squared my shoulders and lifted my chin, clasping my hands behind my back. If she’d wanted to attack, she would have done so. The thought didn’t ease my nerves much, but it allowed me to change perspective enough to keep myself upright.
“You know my name.”
I nodded. “And you know mine.”
“Indeed I do. Airlea, Basilissa of the Amazons, first-born daughter of Penthesilea.” Her smile chilled my blood. “I have an offer for you.”
“I’m not Basilissa. I have no wish to be Queen,” I corrected, the response automatic and out of my mouth before I could stop it. I bit back a curse, my breath seeming to solidify in my throat as I waited for her reaction.
“Not yet, but you will be,” Tisiphone countered, dark tendrils rose from her armrests, dancing along her fingertips like tiny tentacles, thrashing restlessly in my direction. “I assume you are familiar with my position here in Tartarus?”
My heart sank as she confirmed my fear. “Guardian of the gates and punisher of those who take the lives of others through violence.”
Tisiphone’s face broke into a wide grin at the recognition. “Then you can understand, I’m sure, why I requested your presence.”
“I’ve created a hefty body count in service to my tribe,” I acknowledged, dread knotting my guts into a ball of pure ice. “But no more than is asked of any other Amazon or warrior walking the earth.” Swallowing hard, I nudged my chin up a notch. “I have never taken a life outside the fields of war or without provocation beyond murderous intent first directed my way. I shouldn’t be here.”
“Truly? Are you so sure every life you’ve taken has been thus?”
“Without doubt. I admit maiming, certainly, and injury. But I have never murdered in cold blood without reason.” My jaw set. “Why am I here?”
“Your convictions are admirable. Your dedication speaks highly of your abilities.” Her hand swept around the chamber. “I cannot leave this place without permission and retain my physical form.” She leaned forward, fiery eyes focused on me. “I require strong vessels to be my eyes and ears above ground. And you, my darling Amazon, have been chosen.”
I fought to keep my expression neutral. “Chosen?”
Tisiphone sat back, danced her fingers through the air. A blanched goblet rose from the writhing tendrils on the left armrest, solidifying against her palm. Sweeping it up, she cleared her throat with a phlemy cough and spit into the bowl of the goblet. She held it beneath her chin for a moment, and I watched, aghast, as tears, the same hematic shade as her skin, poured from her eyes and dripped from her chin to join the spit within the chalice.
Moments later, she stood, drifting down the stairs like a creeping mist, hand outstretched in offering. I stared at it, recognizing the inverted skull for what it was, the stem a delicate pair of skeletal hands – one cradling the top of the skull, the other a flattened pedestal – attached to a spindly ulna. Her lachryma had filled the chalice, the combined secretions a gelatinous goo my stomach protested with a lurch.
“Well, go on.” She nudged it toward me when I continued to stand there, unmoving. I didn’t want to touch it. Every cell of my being lurched away as it came closer. “Have a sip of the past and savor your future.”
I opened my mouth to decline, struggling to find the words to keep it polite and civil, but before any sounds came out, Paine interjected. <Declining her offer might be considered an offense, yes? You know how easily insulted the higher powers can be. Take a good long look at her, Morgan. Do you truly want to offend one of the Erinyes?>
<She’s not a goddess.>
<She’s close enough.> He had a point.
His sigh rang through me, dripping with derision. <Trust me, Morgan. I can’t help blatant stupidity. My bag of tricks has limits.>
<You needn’t gulp it down as though you’re dying of thirst. Put the edge to your lips, but do not moisten them.>
I doubted that was even possible as I took the proffered goblet. Peering into it, I fought to keep my lip from curling in disgust. The fetid liquid stank of rotted shellfish, the acrid ammonia tang burning my nostrils and forcing me to swallow hard against the bile tickling the back of my throat. A growl echoed from the dry well of my stomach, warning me I had nothing but stomach lining to offer if I attempted to drink. I politely told it to shut the hell up with a quick tense of my abs. With a breath, I dipped my mouth to the rim, head bowed to hide my wince. Tisiphone made a happy noise, flinching at the uninvited sound into the utter silence, slickness pressed against my lips as a tremor in my hand tipped the goblet too far.
Shit. I yanked the chalice away, shoving it back at her as my free hand scrubbed at my lips. If I could have peeled them off and drop kicked them into the flames around the dais, I would have. I was pretty sure she would’ve taken offense at so extreme a reaction.
Rather than relieve me of the gruesome offering, she flicked her fingers toward the surface of the liquid, giving the goblet a pointed glance. She didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by my response. Instead, her eyes sparkled with a calculating interest, watching me as I peered down into the murky chalice again.
At first, I saw nothing more than firelight shimmering across the brackish liquid within. But then the surface rippled, like a pebble had plummeted into the center. The concentric rings radiated out from the center, and there, images rose and fell. Amazon tiro in full battle regalia, my sisters in arms, sweeping across the land in a slow inexorable march toward the perceived threat. Thunderstorms above, swords and spears cleaving through enemies below; arrows raining down in a hail of death to obliterate any who dared get in their way. The bloody wages of war I’d seen countless times in the past.
The violent scene sharpened and I gasped, recognizing myself at the fore, triumphantly dismembering any challengers with the ferocity of an Amazon war machine; Aduro in hand, raising my blade high with a silent war cry meant to strike fear into any who remained unwilling to clash with me. My heart ached fiercely in remembrance. The fire in my blood sparked with longing for the simplicity of the fight. I remembered those days with reverence, but they were a part of my distant past. The Amazons hadn’t needed to prove their military might in centuries.
My mouth worked silently for a moment before the words found air, “Why are you showing me this?”
She didn’t answer me. Instead the images continued to cycle, shifting to display red-skinned tiro wreathed in a purplish glowing aura, some as young as Astrid, filling the confines of the tiny viewing space. Again, I recognized myself at the front of the fray, but this time I frowned in response to the sight, the circumstances similar, but the players different. These tiro wielded weapons of a grayish metal, outfitted in armor of obsidian and crimson scales. Beautiful and fierce, their faces alight with a strange, fanatical zeal that left me confused and strangely energized. The liquid shimmered, stilled, and the scene vanished.
The smacking of my lips punctuated the silence, counterpoint to the rushing blood thundering through my ears. My stomach curdled in protest to the repulsive flavor painting the back of my throat. Fighting the nausea, I gasped a breath, glad the display had stopped. Not wanting to view the carnage any longer, I turned away before losing myself in its brutal embrace the way I had time and again. If not for Paine’s intervention, I would’ve drank deep of its enticing rush, rather than moistening my lips by accident, ending every ounce of control I’d struggled to maintain my entire life.
I couldn’t allow myself to succumb to the bloodlust of old. I’d never to return from it.
<It would make killing Tisiphone easier.> Paine’s words rang with sincerity, unnerving me further at how easily I was pushed toward the edge in the first place.
“Another war is on the horizon,” Tisiphone’s voice shattered the quiet. “One that will make the Cataclysm look like child’s play. The gods are gathering and choosing their pawns.”
I stared up at her. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I thought I had chosen the perfect harbingers of renewal. And yet, recent events, have me reconsidering who I wish to be catalyst to the world’s remodeling.” She returned to her seat. “Under my watchful guidance, naturally.”
“Naturally,” I murmured, looking down at the chalice. My reflection stared up at me.
“I wish to offer you a chance at glory, Airlea. A world of unending warfare where the mighty rule with the iron of my will and no one deserving of retribution goes unpunished.” As she spoke, the images rippled the surface again, a highlight reel of my savage and brutal future victories, untold battles, blood and carnage, capped by an image of me standing atop a mountain of corpses, drenched in the gore of my enemies, a fierce look of pure ecstasy wreathing my blood-stained face. I wrenched my gaze to her.
“You make a compelling argument.”
Clashing Muses (The Nemesis Chronicles, Book 3)
Morgan…An Amazon never gives up, never surrenders. Faced with her biggest challenge, she must find the strength to claw her way out of the depths of the underworld to reunite with her Viking.
Dirk…Determined to find his feisty Amazon, he will move the very heavens themselves to bring her home. Even if the denizens of those realms do everything in their power to stop him.
Temporal Insanity…The members of Nemesis, scattered, broken, traversing timelines gone awry, how can they make sense of anything when nothing is as it appears?