The Summons: Part 3

Start with Part 1 here!

Harris forced them forward another two steps, a panicked sound escaping their throat. He let go of their shoulders and Jay realised what was about to happen. They just had the time to snake a finger through his belt buckle before the push came. A sudden burst of force against Jay’s back sent them shooting forward faster than they could keep up with. Their arms straightened as far as they could go and pain shot through their finger, but the buckle came free as they stumbled away.

Harris swore but he sounded far away now. Jay floundered on, unable to right themself with their hands still bound behind their back. They lasted three more steps before they finally lost their footing but the cold, hard smack against the stone floor never came.

Face first, Jay collided with what must have been Gelethil’s chest, his arms wrapping around them and supporting their weight. His touch wasn’t warm – it was hot. Falling against him had the same effect as stepping into a steaming shower on a cold winter’s day. He lifted them easily back to their feet and Jay tried to pull away but he held them still, firm yet gentle. One of his hands slid down their back until it reached Jay’s own. He carefully prised the belt buckle away from them.

Good, he thought after a few seconds, keeping them softly pinned against his chest with one arm. This will do nicely.

Jay’s body was so tense it ached. Here they were – in total darkness, held captive by a demon. Just this morning they were on the bus to work. His claws brushed against their back and their mind ceased to function. Gelethil must have sensed it, giving them a gentle shake.

We’re almost there, he told them. I still need you.

Jay just about managed a nod, difficult with their face pressed against him. They were less inclined to pull away now that their skin grew used to his heat, realising just how cold they had truly gotten. A shudder ran through them and Gelethil held them slightly tighter.

“You see?” came Caine’s echoing voice. “You’re fine.”

An almost inaudible whimper escaped them. With his other hand, Gelethil patted their head in a rather similar manner to how someone slightly afraid of dogs might pat an Alsatian.

Answer them.

“Fuck you,” Jay said, the sound muffled by Gelethil’s chest.

Caine tutted. “Now, now, all I need to do is flick a switch and you’re trapped with a desperate beast. Does that sound fun to you?”

Her conversational tone infuriated them. Gelethil stopped patting and moved his hand back to Jay’s. With a simple flick of his finger, the rope was severed. Their arms fell to their sides and they flexed their digits as the blood flooded back.

Give me your hand, he said and they held one up in the darkness. Gelethil placed the belt buckle into their palm. It already radiated heat. Caine was speaking again but Jay wasn’t listening as the demon put his hand over theirs, closing their fingers around the square buckle. He guided them deeper into the darkness.

Caine cleared her throat pointedly.

Gelethil crouched down to the ground, taking Jay with him. Such low level agents these must be, to be so foolish.

Agents? What’s going on?

“Do you want these lights turned back on?” Caine persisted. “Answer me.”

Jay glanced up and saw the silhouetted outlines of their captors against the eerie red glow. Gelethil guided their hand down to the stone floor.

She’s going to- Jay began, but he didn’t give them a chance to finish.

Do you feel the binding? he asked, pulling their fingers along the rough stone and onto something smooth. I can’t damage them myself.

“That’s it,” Caine said, her heel clicks sounding. “I warned you.”

Jay saw the shadowy shape of her arm moving up to the switch on the wall and held their breath. A slow, deep rumble of laughter emanated from Gelethil.

“Yes, you did,” he said aloud, his voice a low and satisfied purr.

Jay’s jaw dropped and time slowed. Their captors panicked and Caine hit the lights. Gelethil screamed, throwing Jay away and falling to the ground. Harris reached for the dial, cranking it up. Jay’s eyes burned and thick, black smoke erupted from Gelethil’s skin. They looked down, one of the pristine, obsidian lines running right between their knees. In a split second decision they chose what they prayed was the lesser of two evils.

Jay raised their hand up, bringing the edge of the buckle down on the paint. The tiniest piece of black flecked off, twirling through the air and landing with a gentle pitter on the stone.

The silence was striking. Both the smoke and Gelethil were gone. On the other side of the room stood the two captors, appearing frozen in place. The pair shared a glance and Harris dove for the door. He battered the thing but it would not budge.

“What do you want?” Caine asked, her previously authoritative voice trembling.

That rich laugh came from directly behind Jay and their heart rose to their throat. He was free, they knew. He was free and he was powerful.

“You’ve already given me everything I want,” Gelethil said. His hand lightly curled over Jay’s shoulder and they glanced at those long, frightening claws.

Caine paled. “It was all an act,” she said, the horrifying realisation shaking her. “The lights, the language…”

Jay’s mind raced, blood pounding in their ears. Had this all been about them?

“It was her,” Harris shouted, pointing at Caine. “She’s one of them! It’s just a job to me!”

Anger flared in Jay’s chest as they recalled the people coming for them, stopping the bus. They remembered the blood and the bodies, and their fear melted away in the heat of their outrage.

“She didn’t kill those people,” they spat. “You did.”

“Excellent,” Gelethil said. “He dies first.”

The room dropped into darkness. No red glow, just a crushing black that made Jay momentarily fear they’d gone blind. The warmth of Gelethil’s hand left their shoulder. Far ahead of them, something swiped through the air, followed by an agonised scream. Jay shuffled backwards in the darkness, a thick tremor in their limbs, until their back hit the wall. Caine shrieked, first in fear and then pain. Jay cradled their head, covering their ears, trying to block out the wailing, clattering and tearing sounds. The spattering. The pleading.

They buried their face in their knees and became so efficient at wishful thinking that all they heard was their own sobs. Time passed. Eventually they became aware of the stillness in the room. They risked a glance up. The room was light again. The opposite end was painted red. They retched. Sat cross-legged before them, covered in blood, was Gelethil.

“What an odd sort of day,” he said conversationally. His hands rested on his knees, blood lazily dripping from them.

Jay opened their mouth and air came out. No sound. They tried again to no avail.

“At first I truly thought you were one of them, you know,” he carried on. “I’m pleased you aren’t.”

“Why?” Jay managed, nothing more than a breath.

He shrugged. “Makes things easier. My escape, and now the rest of our business together, I expect.”

Jay shuddered.

“You’re cold,” Gelethil said, extending a bloody hand. “Come here.”

They shook their head frantically and tried to huddle closer to the wall. “What business?”

“These people, this… ‘organisation’ has been summoning demons and binding them. I want to kill these rats and free my brethren so we can return to our home.”


Gelethil’s eyes flicked to the floor and back up to Jay’s again. They felt a little sick.

“It’s real?” Jay asked.

“As real as I am.”

“What do you need me for?”

His tail flicked from side to side behind him. “Information.”

Jay’s gut roiled. “I swear I don’t know anything.”

Gelethil shuffled closer, leaning forward with a glint in his eye that caused Jay to tense further. “Not yet,” he said. “Torture is unreliable. You can read minds like a book.”

Jay considered his words. He was right, even if it did take somewhat more effort than that. Their mind crept back to the blood splattered bus and they looked up at the crimson stained walls. Jay probably wasn’t the first innocent to be taken but they might very well have been the first to live. Their brow hardened. Jay wasn’t tied anymore and the people who had wronged them were gone. Their heart was steadying. It was worth a shot.

“You want to stop this organisation, free your people and what? Just leave?” they asked. Their sense reached out, subtly picking their way into his head, like mental fingers flicking through the files of his mind.

They found purchase.

“That’s all I want,” Gelethil said, holding their eyes. “We’ve no interest in this realm.”

Able to focus, their sense held. It was the truth. Jay thought once more of that blood smeared bus and smiled.

“Alright,” they said. “I’m in.”

I hope you enjoyed and if you did, why not check out some of my other short stories!

The Summons: Part 2

Read Part 1 here!

“Well?” Caine asked.

“I’m getting there, give me a sec,” Jay snapped, scowling.

“Harris,” she said with a sigh.

The man’s fist pounded into Jay’s jaw, knocking their head to the side, splattering blood across the floor. It was dazzlingly bright in the pure, white light. The punch hurt. A lot. Jay groaned, closing their eyes. The initial sensation subsided quickly but a strong, pulsing ache was left behind. When Jay looked up again, they flinched: Gelethil stood at the edge of the runes closest to them. He was far taller than Jay had guessed – taller than any human. His face was stern and cold. With a squirm from their stomach, Jay noticed the thin haze of smoke rising from his flesh. The light was literally burning him. His next thoughts sounded incredulous.

You truly are a prisoner.

“Find out what we need,” Caine said. “Or that’ll seem like nothing.”

Jay’s mouth tasted of iron. Yeah. I am. They rolled their eyes. Thought it was a trick?

He nodded.

They want to know what your price is, Jay projected. Whatever that means.

Gelethil snarled, his ears dropping flat along the side of his head. I am no Bargainer, feeding on greed. This little organisation thinks they are so clever. Pah! They are insects, playing with things they do not understand.

“He says he doesn’t have a price,” Jay relayed to their captors. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Harris stepped behind Jay and grabbed their hair, jerking their head back. They cried out but fell silent as something cold pressed against their cheek. They glanced down to see a knife glinting there.

“An answer or an eye,” he growled. “Pick.”

“I can’t make him talk,” Jay spat back in a poor attempt to hide their terror.

A low, feral rumble drew the attention of all three humans.

What’s happening? Gelethil asked.

The blade was pressed harder against them and a sound escaped their throat. “They want an answer!” Jay cried out, both aloud and in thought.

Gelethil showed his lengthy fangs in a sneer. Idiots can’t even summon the right demon and they think they could handle a Bargainer?

“Tell it these lights only get brighter,” Caine said through grit teeth.

They’re going to torture you, Jay pressed on, limbs trembling. The blade bit their flesh.


The lights. They get stronger.

He growled and swore but then his ears perked up above his head, a wicked smirk creeping onto his face. Tell them I want you.

Jay balked. “What?” they asked aloud, stricken.

“What did he say?” Caine demanded. Harris flicked her an uncertain look.

Tell them, Gelethil insisted. Trust me or trust them.

Great choices. You want to EAT me, Jay thought. With their chest still tight, breathing took focus.

I was thinking of your other suggestion.

Harris moved the blade closer to their eye, a hot dribble of blood running over their cheek.

“Me,” Jay said, barely a whisper. “He wants me.”

That gave both captors pause. The pair glanced at each other before the woman nodded. Jay held their breath but Harris simply withdrew, taking the knife away. They released a shuddering exhale as the pressure was removed from their flesh.

Gelethil’s grin darkened. It seems you are an acceptable price. Ask the bitch what she wants.

What do you want with me?

Ask her, he replied curtly.

Jay’s mouth felt dry as sand, despite the blood. “He’s asking what you want,” they managed, at length, to say.

Caine chuckled. “Excellent. Tell it we’ll get to that after I’ve asked it some questions.”

Jay relayed the message as if on autopilot, too stunned for anything more. Gelethil threw his head back and laughed, a deep and rolling rumble. He then shook his head.

Tell them that isn’t how this works.

Jay did.

Caine glowered. “Turn up the lights.”

Harris mumbled discontentedly but reached for a dial on the wall opposite the switch and turned, eliciting a click from it. The brightness of the room doubled. Gelethil screamed and dropped to his knees, clutching at his eyes as thicker steam plumed from his skin. Jay shuddered, his agony pulling them from their shock.

“There are four more settings.”

Jay glanced uncertainly between the dial and the demon twice before relaying the message. Gelethil said nothing, curling over in his anguish. Jay chewed their lip anxiously. On one hand, he was terrifying and would kill all three of them given the chance. On the other, Jay and this demon were both captives, both wronged by these people.

“He said make it dark and he’ll talk.”

Caine took a long moment to consider the offer, brow furrowing theatrically. Taking her time, she reached up and flicked off the light, plunging them all back into the eerie red. Gelethil gasped and there was a soft thud that Jay assumed to be him falling to the ground.

Sweet darkness, came the velvet voice of his mind.

Jay exhaled slowly. I told them you’d talk if they killed the lights.

“Now,” Caine began, “to my questions.”

She had a series of queries about the dark world below and the truth of demons, which Gelethil answered tersely. Thanks to their talent, Jay had always suspected the world was not as mundane as advertised, but hearing such things discussed so candidly was chilling. The questions moved onto magic and the answers became slower and increasingly vague until she had to ask questions exceedingly specifically. Jay’s mind ticked through the exchange. Enough time passed that they began to feel brave again.

Has anything you’ve told them been true? They could practically feel his smirk from the darkness.

Of course not. This is not knowledge for mortal minds, much less these morons.

What about the things you told me?

My name is Gelethil, he replied. And I do very much intend to devour them both.

Jay’s shoulder was nudged, a reminder of the presence of Harris and his knife, and they relayed more of the demon’s bullshit.

And me? they asked.

He was silent for a time. You never told me your name.

They hesitated. Jay.

A telepath is a useful thing, the demon mused. Almost a shame I can’t make a true bargain for you.

Jay’s skin crawled.

Yes, a pity, Gelethil went on. Still, I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. You can tell them I’m done answering questions now. They’re not getting anything else until you’re with me.

“What?!” Jay exclaimed aloud.

“What did it say?” Caine asked. She rose from the desk, interest piqued.

Jay opened their mouth, heart thundering, but no sound came.

You need to listen very carefully, Gelethil said.

“What did it say?” she repeated, this time a barked order.

Answer her, the demon said, a surprising softness to his voice. Make sure she knows she has no choice.

Harris took a fistful of Jay’s hair and they grunted in discomfort.

When they bring you, you must grab something sharp or hard. You MUST.

I’m tied, I can’t-

Do it! he commanded, making them flinch.

With voice quaking and no other plan, Jay gave Gelethil’s demands to their captors. They braced for a punch that never came. Caine gestured and they both moved behind Jay, far enough that the ensuing whispers were inaudible. Jay glanced around, desperately looking for anything that might fit the bill. It was difficult in the gloom but a faint glint caught their eye. Harris’ knife was sat upon the desk to their side. Jay’s hands slickened with perspiration.

What’s happening? The demon asked.

I don’t know, I can’t hear, Jay replied, feeling sick. I don’t like this, I don’t trust you. They flexed their mental muscles to try and pick at his brain again but to the same result. They needed focus and none of that would come in this state.

It’s me or them, he shot back. I won’t hurt you. I need you.

And when you don’t?


Gelethil? Jay ventured, breath quickening.

The only sound was the steps of their captors returning. A near silent whine escaped their throat. They released a short, startled yelp as something grabbed their wrists. Harris was untying the bonds that held them to the chair. They instantly felt sick with regret.

“No!” Jay cried, limbs surging with desperate strength as they writhed against their bonds. “He’s gonna eat me!”

“Not until he’s free,” Caine replied, a cruel sneer on her face. “He needs you at least until then.”

Jay swore. Profusely. “You can’t do this!”

Come, come, little one, the demon crooned.

Jay, far less substantial than the bulky Harris, was easily pulled to their feet and dragged towards the darkness. They bucked and struggled but there was no give. Only one option presented itself – appease the demon and hope for the best. It wasn’t a great plan.

They rammed their shoulder into Harris with all the strength they had, causing him to stumble ever so slightly into the desk. He chuckled, amused by their pathetic efforts. So amused that he never noticed Jay’s fingers curl around the knife handle. A brief thrill went through them before something hard slammed down on their hand. They grunted and felt the knife pull away easily from their grasp as Harris righted them both. “Nice try,” Caine said, placing the tome she had used to assail Jay’s hand on the desk. “But you’ll need a little more than that to defend yourself from that thing.”

Read Part 3 here!

The Summons: Part 1

Jay was not having the best day, trudging god knew where with their hands bound behind their back. They’d given up struggling – that only resulted in exhaustion and pain. Between the bag on their head and the binder on their chest—which should have come off hours ago—breath was short. Jay didn’t know for certain why they were here but they could certainly guess. Their talent, unusual as it was, must have been discovered. Jay knew this because it wouldn’t work on their kidnappers.

As they were roughly pushed into an icy cold room, something stirred. Fear crushed the last breath of air from them. There was something in the room. Something inhuman. Jay could hear its ragged breath, hear the soft scraping of claw on stone and, most frighteningly, Jay could hear the creature’s mind.

Finally feeding time, is it? the thing wondered, thoughts oozing with gleeful malice.

“At last,” came a cool, feminine voice from directly in front of Jay. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

The mental image of white lights, electrodes and scalpels crossed their mind, as had happened many times on the journey here. Along with the image of the bus. Jay shuddered, red flashing before their eyes. How many people had been on that bus?

“Mmmph umph,” they replied, as good an expletive as they could muster through the gag.

“The subject has been… uncooperative,” said a voice to Jay’s side. One of the kidnappers from the bus—a chunky, block—headed man if they recalled right.

“As has ours,” said the feminine one. “It’s about time they met.”

“Are you sure we should be rushing into this, Caine?” the man asked.

“Why don’t you leave the thinking to someone who’s a little more than a paid grunt? I know what I’m doing.”

Jay was forced deeper into the room as the man grumbled something foul under his breath and shoved down onto a chill metal chair. Rope was threaded between their still bound hands and used to secure them tightly to the seat. What sounded like high-heeled shoes clicked across the floor towards them.

“Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re here,” Caine said. “There are many people out there who’d kill to get their hands on you, to study your gift. You aren’t here as an artefact though – you’re here as a tool.”

The bag was pulled from Jay’s head, their eyes filling with dull red light. The room was long and sparse. Close to one side was a sharply dressed woman in a skirt suit—Caine, presumably—and to the other was the squarish kidnapper they expected. Both wore a band of metal around their heads, glinting in the crimson glow. Some kind of blocker? Jay wondered. In front of them, the lengthy room tapered into darkness. From the shadows, that soft scrape could be heard pacing back and forth.

“You’re going to communicate with the beast,” Caine continued. “Ask it our questions, give us its answers.”

Enough with your pomp, the creature thought, just give me the meat. Its impatience was palpable, emanating from the end of the room.

The man to Jay’s side stepped up to them, jerking their head to the side as he cut the gag free. Jay gasped for breath, still fighting their constricted chest, and flexed their aching jaw.

“What is it?” Jay asked.

“That’s none of your concern,” Caine said, pacing slowly to close the distance between them both. In a sudden movement, she grabbed a handful of Jay’s short hair and yanked their head back. The woman glared down, eyes cold and empty. “Your only concern is self-preservation. Believe me when I say it will be a difficult task that will require all of your concentration. Understand?”

Jay did their best to nod with their hair still in Caine’s bear-like grip, and they were released, head falling forward jarringly. The woman ambled to a low desk by the wall, the echoing of her heels filling the room again, and leant against it.

“Now,” she said, reaching onto the desk and clicking on a recorder. “Ask the beast its price.”

They screwed their face up. “What?”

Caine flicked a hand dismissively. “Harris.”

The man to Jay’s side balled a fist and took a step toward them.

“Okay, okay, I’m doing it!” Jay quickly added. They turned their attention from Caine to the shadows. It wasn’t really an improvement.

Scraaaape. Scraaaape. Scraaaape.

Jay pushed their fears away as best they could, focusing. It was always easier if they could see the person—or thing—but they were skilled enough that it didn’t matter much. They inhaled slowly and began to project.

What are you? Jay thought at the creature.

The pacing stopped abruptly and Jay felt eyes on them.

It speaks the infernal? the creature mused. A moment passed then the realisation struck, that Jay was in its head. Jay didn’t need to see its face to know, they could feel the change on the air – and so could their captors. Both of them straightened, becoming more alert.

Jay sensed the thing throwing itself towards them and screamed just as a deafening thunderclap rang through the room. Everything that followed sounded muffled and far away. More thunder rang out, each strike bringing a flash of light. Jay saw the thing in brief glimpses, watching as it hurled itself against an invisible barrier. In one flash Jay saw a torso, frigid blue in colour. Another revealed an arm. Despite the hue, both looked human but it was a boar-like wail that came from the darkness.

Caine calmly reached behind herself, flicking a switch on the wall. Pain seared Jay’s eyes as brilliant white light flooded the room. Their eyelids were promptly jammed shut but even then it still hurt. The creature’s wailing intensified and they could narrowly hear it scrambling about. A last single thunderclap sounded before calm descended. As their ears began to recover, Jay heard sobbing.

First my body, invaded and violated, and now my mind, came wretched thoughts. They would take from me everything and leave me a husk.

“Tell that beast the light will stay on until it has answered our questions,” Caine said. Her voice was utterly unchanged. Unfeeling.

Jay peeled their eyes open, adjusting to the blazing, clinical glare. The room was properly visible now, a long, grey rectangle of smooth concrete. At Jay’s end were a few desks with paperwork, computers, the recorder and other equipment that they didn’t recognise. The other end was devoid of any furnishings but was covered in a web of black painted runes. The symbols were not like anything Jay had seen before, sharp angled and complex. Right at the far end, huddled in the corner, was the creature.

Human in shape, its skin was vibrant azure. Its only attire was a pair of ragged black trousers, a long, slim tail protruding from the back and wrapped close to it defensively. It faced away, giving the room a good view of the ridges that ran down its back and along its arms. Its hands and feet had long, black claws. Pointed ears rose up far above its head, quivering.

“Tell it!” Caine barked, and Jay flinched.

“All right, I’m doing it,” they replied, voice cracking. They returned focus to the miserable creature.

I’m sorry, Jay thought at it. I didn’t mean to hurt you. They reached out with their mind but with the stress and anxiety they could not concentrate enough to find purchase there. They clenched their teeth, exhaling sharply.

I am a prisoner here, came the deflated reply. You experiment on me. Burn at my flesh with your light, and you do not mean to hurt me?

Look at me, Jay urged, I’m as much a prisoner as you. They kidnapped me to talk to you.

Tell them to return the darkness.

They won’t, Jay told the creature, a little of their courage seeping back. Not until you answer.

It released a long, slow whine.

“Is it cooperating?” the woman asked.

“Slowly,” Jay said.

“Ask it its price.”

Jay took a deep breath. Who are you?

They care? the thing thought bitterly.

I do.

I was Gelethil, it replied. He was strong. Fearless. Now I am a worm, caged and broken.

That makes them the pricks, not you, Jay thought to it- to him. One of his long, sweeping ears twitched. How can I get you out of here?

That ear flicked again. You would help me? I would have gladly eaten you.

A cold prickle ran over their flesh, but they forced a calm demeanour. Eat them instead.

Finally, Gelethil turned his head from the cradle of his arms. Greasy black hair framed his face and his eyes were slits, braced against the light. His thin-lipped mouth burst into a wide, menacing grin, baring pointed teeth.

I like you, he thought.

Read Part 2 here!

Little Goals

Clipboard with a sheet of paper. Written on it is "To Do:"

It’s been a well established part of my writing life to set goals for each year to try and keep me focused, otherwise I would end up flitting from project to project and tweaking things here and there, and in the end never actually get anything done. Having goals gives me motivation to keep all the hamsters in my brain going close enough to one direction to get some things done. 

However, a year is a long time. There’s a good chance of growing stagnant, of thinking “oh, I’ll just play around with this other thing for a bit, I’ve got all year,” of just being lazy with writing altogether. Sometimes a bit of playing with other projects or spending evenings with games is all fine and good, often encouraged, however it’s pretty easy to do it more often than intended. Before you know it, it’s August and you suddenly realise you’ve made no progress at all on the things you were supposed to be working on. 

Let’s just say I’ve been guilty of that a few times… and considering that October, November, and December are taken up by NaNoWriMo plotting, writing, and recovering, it’s less than ideal. So this year to help combat that, I’ve revived a habit that I used in 2017 which was very, very helpful. Basically, it’s a bastardised version of bullet journalling, but the part of it that I’m specifically talking about here is setting monthly goals. 

It sounds obvious, but setting small monthly goals which break down the big yearly ones keeps them attainable. By ensuring that I chip away a little each month instead of in intense bursts a few times throughout the year, I get steady progress, which in turn means I’m more likely to actually achieve my big year goals. 

There are a few criteria I have for these monthly targets. Setting too many or making them too difficult to do in a month means that I’m not going to achieve those either. Small but achievable goals make me not only work on my projects, but often do more work on them than I’d planned, and without burning out. 

I nailed my January goals and did more work on my target projects that I have planned for. For February, I’ve already made a good dent in them. I’m going to work hard to keep this up because with my sights set on self publishing in the future, getting things finished has become even more important – though more on that in the future! To keep myself double accountable, I’ve decided to add these goals on to my progress board.

Do you have any methods to make your goals attainable?

Character Profile: Pippa

Digitally painted portrait of Pippa Banks, a stern looking blonde woman with short hair wearing a military uniform with a plethora of medals on her chest.

Story: The Maggie Celeste

Protagonist or Antagonist?: Protagonist (unless you ask Ethan)

Name: Hippolyta “Pippa” Banks

Age: 47

Country of Origin: Sweden

Occupation: Warship Captain

Loyalties: United Nations of Earth

Goal: Originally to take down a pirate captain, then to survive.

Morals: Always do the right thing, unless a superior orders you to do otherwise.

In unknown space and in the middle of a war, military hero Pippa “The Angel of Death” Banks finds herself the second-in-command aboard the very pirate ship she was sent to destroy. With no clue where they are or what’s going on, she must navigate life aboard the Maggie Celeste without being killed by the vengeful outlaws or losing any more of her already decimated crew.

However, as they spend more time in this new region of space, the hostility from both sides of this war has her questioning if they are truly as foreign there as they originally thought, and just how they ended up there in the first place. She finds herself in the middle of a grim plot and she needs the help of her sworn enemy, the Pirate Captain Ethan Doe, to uncover it.

That is, if she doesn’t strangle him first.

Book Review: Pacts Arcane and Otherwise by Joanna Maciejewska

It’s funny, for someone who both loves reading and loves writing, I sure am terrible at writing book reviews. I still leave something on the book’s Goodreads and Amazon pages to help the authors, but it’s never much more useful than “this is dead good, peeps”. That said, it’s something I’ve been meaning to get on for a good while and, with Joanna Maciejewska’s Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series coming to a close last week, it seemed like a good time to go for it. 

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to write reviews for books I don’t like because I don’t want to trash someone’s baby and I also don’t want to lie. Maybe I should call them book recommendations instead? Anyway-

To celebrate the release of the final book in the series, Demon Siege, I thought I would talk about where it all started and the series so far. It all starts with By The Pact, a high fantasy epic adventure starring quick witted but seemingly mediocre magic user Kamira and her good friend and professional muscle Veelk. Together they stumble across a powerful demon, imprisoned in the ancient ruins they are searching, who traps Kamira into a bargain which will either see him freed or her causing a huge disaster. Fortunately, both Kamira and Veelk are both more than they seem, and each step they take leads them closer and closer to the dark truth of their world. What ensues is a colourful and complex adventure of magic and demons and swords and snark. 

Image of the cover of novel "By the Pact" by Joanna Maciejewska, featuring two human figures looking towards a large crystal with a demon encased inside.

This is a great one for people who enjoy your classic sword and sorcery, but also those who like cutthroat political fantasy tales without crossing over into the grimdark genre. What are some of the major highlights for me, personally?

Pacts Arcane and Otherwise has a great cast of complex characters starting right with Book 1. Kamira, introduced as a low grade arcanist, grows and grows throughout and shows us what she’s made of. Her past and her future are ever expanding and fascinating, and her family history shows its influence so profoundly – despite how much she runs from it! The supporting cast hosts a great mix of altruistic princes, evil royalty, secretive societies, mysterious outcasts, and on and on. It’s a great series for people who love to debate characters – get all your friends to read and then battle to the death over who is Team Ryell and who is Team Put Ryell In The Sea! 

Also, I can’t neglect to mention the world building! Maciejewska has crafted a vibrant and real feeling world, with intricacies and details that reminded me of why I loved Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle in spite of a certain redheaded bard/wizard/etc. Kaighal is a living and breathing city with layers upon layers, and it doesn’t feel like an island. The world around it and the links are interconnected so well that it’s easy to become immersed in this magical place. 

As with most high fantasy series, the stakes rise exponentially as we move from one book to the next, but Maciejewska has crafted a story which flows without leaps or suspension of belief (y’know, apart from all the demons and magic and stuff). Every plot point has its place and every wall in the story has its foundation, which just keeps me hugely invested in what on earth is going to happen next. 

And now, the series is complete, so I get to find out! Time for me to go and keep reading, biting my nails as I wish for everyone to make it safely out the other side!

(Except you, Ryell. Get in the sea.)

The 2023 Goal Post

Two tall, slim glasses of champagne surrounded by shiny gold confetti.


Another year, another list of goals. I knew at the start of last year that I wasn’t getting much done. This year though I am hoping to be able to get a bit more done because I should have less big life events going on. So, what are my goals for this year? 

Writing Goals:

  1. The Halfway House first draft completed – This one is quite close to being done to be honest but, with other stuff going on, I need to make sure I don’t lose momentum and stop when I’m so close to the end. I have a track record of doing this if I don’t intentionally set myself goals (see Goal 2).
  2. The Fairy Godfather with betas – Now that I’ve finally admitted to myself that traditional publishing isn’t for me, my original beloved trilogy The Twyned Earth is back on the rails. Book 2 was so close to being beta ready but I became disillusioned and stopped working on it. It’s time I fixed that! 
  3. Self publishing fund – Self publishing can be as cheap or expensive as you decide for it to be. My books are a complete labour of love and I want them to go out into the world in the best possible state they can be, which unfortunately can be pretty expensive! Thanks to the current cost of living crisis, I’m not giving myself a specific numerical goal but instead committing to setting aside at least a little bit every single month. 
  4. Website overhaul – I want to go over and refresh every page on the site and, in addition to that, I want to delete or unpublish old posts that I either don’t feel are necessary anymore or that I would like to rewrite and republish to be better. I’d also like to update the appearance if I can find a layout that I like!
  5. Turn my Twyned Earth encyclopaedia digital – This was a really fun project I started ages ago. Basically a world building bible for Twyned Earth to help me keep consistency throughout the books and series, and keep track of all the fun world details that either never made it into books or had to get cut. It’s currently on paper in a binder and I want to get it typed up so that it’s both easier to change and add things to and also so I have a copy if something happens to it.

General Life Goals:

  1. Consistent Duolingo – I don’t want to say “keep a streak for the whole year” because, while that would be great, if I failed at any point I’d be demotivated to keep going. Instead I’m going to aim to get the 1000 xp badge for every month. That way at least if I fail one then I can redeem myself the next month. 
  2. Health targets – There’s a few things that I want to get back on track with that help my physical and (especially) mental health.
  3. Talk on Discord again (again) – Last time I set voice therapy with the end goal of talking on Discord to my online friends, I actually managed it. I want to get back into doing that and be more consistent this time!

That’s me for this year! All in, I think it’s a realistic amount of stuff to do while also giving me a few solid things to show at the end, which are both good for motivation. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m done with “hoping next year will be better” and instead just aiming to get more stuff done. 

I hope everyone had a lovely new year and that you’re all looking forward to whatever challenges you have set yourselves (if any)!

The 2022 Round Up

It should come as no surprise that this year has not been good for the goals I set out earlier in the year. However, while I’ve missed the mark on almost all of them, I’ve been very successful on some other stuff which was arguably quite a bit more important. For example, I no longer live in a country I hate and I own a home. I also have a lovely little cat and have passed my probation to make my new job permanent. All very successful! We’ve also had a few additional disasters this year which, while sorted now, certainly set me back. Still, let’s have a look at those goals.

A white and grey cat, curled up asleep on a keyboard, with two angry looking plushie octopus on her.
  1. The Halfway House – The goal was to get this to beta ready and we never made it to the finish line, however, I am pretty happy with the progress I did get. On the printed out line edits stage so not too far from being done. 
  2. NaNoWriMo – This was the big one for me this year and fortunately I delivered! Ten years and ten wins. Huzzah!
  3. Reading – I didn’t get through as many books as I would have liked but I did get through a fair number and I’m pleased with how diverse my selection of authors was. Not technically a win as I didn’t hit my arbitrary number but still happy with how I did and hoping to keep it up into the new year.
  4. Health stuff – Very early into October this changed to “just keep yourself together” because even that was a tall order thanks to some illegal work being done outside my home and completely knackering our water and boiler. I did keep myself together just about, even if I went backwards on a lot of the progress I’d made. Hugely disappointing but sometimes life is like that.

I think only one win out of my yearly goal list is a new personal low for me but I’m trying to look on the bright side. I got a lot of very tiring, time consuming, and essential things out of the way this year and while I’ve thoroughly had the “next year will be better” attitude beaten out of me slowly but surely since 2016, I am hopeful that next year I will at least be able to focus on writing a little more.

Future Goal: Self Publishing

I’ve been thinking a lot this last year or so about my writing and what it means to me, and even more so what my goals for it are. Writing has always been a pursuit of passion, of fun, and I didn’t even think about trying to get published when I was a kid or even when I got “serious” again after university. Somewhere along the way though I realised that I wanted to put my work out there. If I was putting all of this time and effort into it, I wanted something tangible that I could hold in my hands and be proud of. For a while, I thought traditional publishing was what I wanted and even spent a good chunk of time querying. It was during that time though that I realised something.

I had lost a lot of my passion. I wasn’t writing what I wanted to and was worrying about what an audience would want to see in my books. My themes had changed and my characters flattened. I was thinking too hard on what an agent might want and not what I might want. This was all very subconscious, so subconscious that I would only much later realise that I was losing my love of writing and of my stories. 

Some of you may recall around the end of 2020, I decided to spend NaNoWriMo writing a story that was just for me, with no intention of ever sharing it with anyone. One with every trope and trash that I loved without worry. 

That was the easiest NaNoWriMo I ever won, and only the second time I had ever actually COMPLETED the story within the month (the only other time was my very first year). This was when I started realising that I was making a mistake. Yes, I wanted my novel to become something more than a private file on my computer, but I didn’t want to think of it like a business. I didn’t want to worry about markets and trends or anyone else even liking it.  

Now this may sound like a strange conclusion, given the title of this post, as self publishing surely means you have to be even MORE business minded, right? Not necessarily. The beauty of self publishing is that you can pursue it in line with what your actual goals are.

It can be for the most hard-core of career writers, who put in their hearts and souls, and who create amazing and fruitful writing careers from it. But it can also be for the ones like me, the ones who just want the joy of sharing their story even with a handful of people. 

There are a number of benefits to self publishing that have made me realise that it is right for me, specifically.

  • I can write what I like without worrying about the market
  • Complete creative control
  • No querying to stoke my anxiety
  • I can set all of my own deadlines
  • I just want to share my work with those few who might be interested

All of these things have made me realise that self publishing is the way forward for me. It aligns with both my end goals and with the way I want to enjoy writing. It gives me control over my work and also the process. And that is why I’m really pleased to finally say out loud, even though I know that there’s a lot of work ahead, that I’m going to do it.

I am going to self publish my work.

Long width-wise image of two stacked bookshelves filled with books.

NaNoWriMo – Ten Years, Ten Wins

This post is a few days early considering it’s not quite the end of November yet, but I have the exciting news already so let’s go! As we approach the end of the yearly madness, let’s have a look at how I did.

First up – I won! Woo hoo! Ten years in a row doing NaNoWriMo and ten wins. I’m very happy with that! Feels weird to think that I’ve done this every year for almost a third of my life but I also couldn’t imagine my year without it. I look forward to it every year and always appreciate the challenge and inspiration that it brings me. Even in the hardest years (2021 being a prime example), I’ve still managed to get myself writing thanks to this event. So, to the NaNoWriMo team, thank you.

Yellow banner with drawn floral designs with the text: "Spoonwood for perseverence. WINNER. NaNoWriMo2022"

I anticipated this being a tough year but it actually went very smoothly, despite petering out a bit towards the end of the 50k. I was writing a story, The Maggie Celeste, that I had thought about a lot for several years and I was very hyped for my ten-year anniversary. Things slowed down around the middle of the month, partly because my ridiculous October meant that I didn’t have time to plan more than the first third of the book properly and partly because of Game Freak’s notorious habit of releasing new Pokemon games in the middle of November. That said, I made my way to the 50k mark fairly comfortably, which is nice since after That October I really didn’t want to burn myself out all through November.

A graph showing the date from the start of November to the end of November on the x axis, and word count on the y axis. A grey line shows the linear "on track" word count per day and a blue wiggly line shows my actual progress. The blue starts high above the grey and rising, until around mid November when it gets very close to 50k and becomes almost flat.

As for the story, I’m pretty happy with the start but as soon as I ran out of my plan it all started coming off the rails a bit. Still, I have a good thirty thousand words of it that I’m happy with and now I have the time to sit and plot out the rest. At the very least, I got some nice scenes and character development out of the latter half as well so even if I scrap a lot of it, it shouldn’t feel like time wasted.

What comes next?

Well after my last couple of years which have been rough, I’ve made some big decisions which I’ll talk about later but for now my priorities are as follows:

  • Finish getting The Halfway House beta ready. Pretty close to this one, just on the line edit stage for it.
  • Get The Fairy Godfather beta ready. Again, this one got close to done but I got disillusioned with the series a while back thanks to where my head was at. I’m in a better place now and I refuse to let this trilogy disappear into the depths of draft hell.
  • Do some Through the Black touch ups. Speaking of the Twyned Earth trilogy, there are a couple of things I want to tweak in this manuscript that I’ve noticed which I’d like to get sorted.

There’s a few things I’m working on that aren’t novel related too that I’ll be tinkering with in the background, the main one being giving my website a nice overhaul! It’s been quite stagnant around here since I set up shop in 2012 (oh my god, really?) and a lot of the pages need a refresh. This includes adding in some art galleries! I was originally planning on using InkBlot for this, which I still will, but I didn’t realise that unlike some other art hosting sites you need to have an account to view. Now that I’ve figured out how to make a gallery here without it looking terrible, I think it will be nice to be able to have everything all together.

And that’s it from me! I hope you’ve all had an excellent November. 

Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo? How did you do? Remember – any words at all is more than you had, and that’s a win.