Last year, I published Torrent, the first novel in my Rust & Relics contemporary fantasy series, and now the second book is ready to go. Thorn Fall is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords (Apple coming soon).
Delia never thought her love of adventure and artifact hunting would lead her to discover such oddities as man-slaying monsters, magical swords, and elves on motorcycles. Oh, and there’s also the Ancient Spartan warrior who’s been stranded in the present—he’s offering to work as her bodyguard in exchange for English lessons.
She’s barely wrapped her mind around these strange new developments when another monster arrives, this time in Sedona, Arizona. The tourist town is known for its majestic rock formations, “healing vortexes,” and ruins left by the Sinagua, a native people who mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. Monsters are a more recent development. This one is leaving death and destruction in its wake, and Delia and her friends are the only ones who know what’s going on. They’re also the only ones with a weapon that can harm the creature—if they can find it.
To add to their problems, a centuries-old evil has been reawakened, one that threatens to deliver the people of Sedona to the same fate as the Sinagua. And Delia and her friends along with them.
First Chapter Preview:
Apparently, the insurance commercials were wrong. I had parked under a streetlight and hadn’t left any valuables out in plain sight, but there were still six suspicious guys leaning on the car when I walked out of the grocery store. True, Temi’s sleek silver Jaguar did invite one to touch it, but there was a little too much admiration in the group’s eyes as they chatted, pointed, and fondled the car.
I shouldn’t have left the top down, but I had only been running in for five minutes. One guy leaned in, eyeing the steering column, while a second one kept stroking the door. He looked like he wanted to hop in and make love to the car.
I paused at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the store entrance, canvas grocery bags dangling from my wrists. It was after nine on a Sunday night, so of course, there was nobody else around in the parking lot. Should I risk going over there or head back inside to see if someone would walk out with me? Not that the pimply-faced checkout kid with glasses would scare these guys away…
I checked the key fob for an alarm button. Yes, it had one. I slipped my phone into the pocket of my jeans, too, in case I needed to call someone in a hurry. They looked like college kids rather than hardened car thieves, and this was the tourist town of Prescott, not South Phoenix. Besides, I had helped kill a man-slaying monster less than two weeks ago. I could handle some punks in a parking lot, right?
“This never happens when I drive Zelda,” I muttered, naming Simon’s decades old VW Vanagon as I headed for the car. I wished I had my bullwhip, but I reserved that for off-road adventures to dig sites and old mining tunnels, where it was feasible that I might need to wrap a stalactite and swing myself across a chasm. Granted that didn’t happen often, but it happened even less in the Safeway. I did have a collapsible multitool in a sheath on my belt. Maybe they would be alarmed by the way it clacked as I flicked my wrist and extended the pliers.
One of the kids noticed me. He elbowed his buddies, and they quieted down. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave. They lounged against the side of the car as if it were theirs. One sat on the trunk. I wondered if that happened often and if Temi had to polish off butt prints.
“What’s up, guys?” I asked, staying casual. No need to be sarcastic and get their hackles up. Cool and friendly, that was me. I moved around the one making the butt prints and tossed the groceries into the back seat, in part so my hands would be free, and in part so they would know it was my car, or at least the car I was taking care of while Temi was off learning sword fighting techniques from elves—yes, my life had grown strange of late.
“This your ride?” one asked as he scratched his balls. Three inches of his tightie whities were on display. He gave me a long look over while he was adjusting himself.
I didn’t know if he was getting excited or trying to decide if I looked like someone who could afford a Jag. Given the ripped knee in my jeans, the frayed hem of my hoodie, and the toe hole in my sneakers, it was probably the latter. Most of these kids were dressed better than I was. They probably had parents paying for their tuition and board.
“I’m taking care of it for a friend.” I veered toward the driver seat, the key fob in hand, my thumb on the red alarm button.
One of the kids slipped around the front of the car and got there first, leaning his hip against the door. “How about you take us for a ride?”
“I don’t think you’d fit.” Technically, the Jag had a back seat, but I had ridden in it and would be the first to point out that anyone over four feet tall would find it a tight ride.
“Oh, we can fit.” The guy held out a hand. He had a scruffy goatee with beads tied into it. Not the scariest look, but the number of kids was making me nervous. “Why don’t you give me the keys, and I’ll show you?”
“Sorry, my friend specifically said no picking up boys and going joyriding.” Actually Temi had been too worried about going off with Jakatra and Eleriss to say much about the car, but I figured she would agree with the sentiment.
Two of the guys climbed over the side and into the back, and a third went for the passenger seat. I sighed. I should have called the police from the door to the store. I backed away, figuring I’d have to do that.
“Going somewhere?” Bead Beard pushed away from the door, his eyes on the keys in my hand.
“Yeah, I forgot the avocados for my guac. I’ll be back in a minute.” With the police…
He lunged for my hand. I jumped to the side, grabbing his wrist. With one hand, I twisted his arm into a chicken wing behind his back at the same time as I clamped onto his opposite shoulder from behind, so he couldn’t reach me to try anything else. With his fingers almost scratching the back of his neck, he gasped in pain, giving no sign of fighting back. I jammed my heel into the back of his knee to drop him to the ground and keep his shaggy head from blocking my view of the others. Not surprisingly, they were rising out of their seats and getting ready to help their buddy.
“What the hell is that?” one asked, pausing with his foot on the top of the car door. He pointed, not at me, but at something behind me.
I almost looked back, but figured they were trying to distract me so they could jump me more easily. Not that they needed to resort to tricks when they outnumbered me six to one.
A shadow moved at the corner of my vision. I jumped back, letting the first guy go, afraid I had a new problem to worry about. But the man who stepped up beside me was familiar. Well, actually he was quite strange, but I had seen him before. Alektryon. The Spartan I had met and exchanged words with back in that cave. The dark eyes, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, and handsome face weren’t all that strange, but the crimson cloak and tunic weren’t what the tourists here usually wore, especially since that tunic was just shy of revealing his utter lack of tightie whities. But maybe his bare, muscular arms and legs would convince the would-be car thieves to take a hike. Or, if not the muscles, then the short sword belted at his waist. He’d also had a spear and a shield the last time I had seen him, but he must have left them wherever he was camping. I couldn’t imagine someone stolen from 480 BCE navigating a hotel check-in, so assumed he was staying out in the woods somewhere.
“Hello, Alektryon,” I said. Too bad he couldn’t understand a word of English; at least he hadn’t two weeks ago when last I had seen him.
He tilted his chin at the guys around the car, guys who hadn’t stopped gaping at him yet, and said a single word. Too bad I didn’t know what it was. Our earlier communication had all been done via a drawing app on Simon’s tablet, where I’d done my best to remember how to read and write Ancient Greek. If I spent some time with him, I was sure my brain would put the dots together and I’d learn to understand the spoken language, too, but I wasn’t there yet.
“If you’re offering to remove these thugs from my car, I accept,” I said, speaking in modern Greek. Maybe his brain would connect the dots more quickly than mine. I also didn’t particularly want said thugs to understand what I was saying.
“Hey, man,” the guy with his foot on the door said, “Halloween was last week.”
The others sniggered, apparently over their surprise. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear inclined to scamper away. The one I had chicken-winged was standing back and shaking his arm, but the others had hopped out of the car to face us.
Alektryon strode toward them, his face cold and hard.
He touched his sword, and a surge of panic went through me. Outside of war, people hadn’t killed each other willy nilly in Ancient Greece, but for all I knew, he would regard these guys as conquering Persians, intent on pillaging the countryside and raping the helots.
“Don’t kill anyone,” I blurted.
One of the bigger guys strode out to meet Alektryon, grinning and throwing a fist. The boys on either side of him rushed in to help. I debated between jumping in to distract some of them and jumping back and calling the cops. I had already spent time in the Prescott police station and, thanks to Simon’s notorious blog coverage of the monster attacks, wasn’t sure how fondly the local authorities would regard me. I also had no idea how to explain a Spartan warrior in the Safeway parking lot.
Alektryon blocked the first guy’s punch, lunged in, and caught him by the shirt. He hurled the big kid over his shoulder with enough momentum to send him rolling across the pavement to land in front of my feet. The second man fell to an elbow to the solar plexus, curling up in a wheezing, gasping ball in front of the car. The third managed to grab that waving crimson cloak, but he should have been grabbing for a more vital target. Alektryon lowered his head and smashed into him, gripping his shirt and leg and hoisting him into the air, the muscles bunching in his powerful thighs. He flung this opponent away, too, and whirled, fingers curled, clearly ready for more attackers.
By this time, the car thieves were done. Those who hadn’t jumped into the fight ran for the street, and those who had attacked scrambled to their feet as soon as they were able. The one who had taken the blow to the solar plexus was clutching his chest and looking like he needed an inhaler. He stumbled toward the store entrance instead of after the others. I had a feeling the cops might show up even though I hadn’t called them, and someone running around with a sword might be hard to explain, even if he hadn’t drawn it. He must have known good old-fashioned wrestling moves would be sufficient for these non-Persians.
“Thanks for the help,” I said after the brutes had all disappeared, still speaking in Greek. I jerked a thumb at the car. “Need a ride somewhere?”
Alektryon gazed at me. There wasn’t a speck of pride or triumph in his eyes over the fight. He wore the same forlorn, almost haunted expression that he’d had in the cave. He said something succinct, and I probably would have guessed the gist even if I hadn’t recognized the verb for talk.
“You want to talk? I do too. Just not here.” I jangled the keys, realized that probably wouldn’t mean anything to him, and pointed to the car again.
He considered the vehicle for a moment, then climbed over the door and onto the passenger seat. His first time getting in a car, apparently. I was glad he didn’t have the spear with him; I’d hate to explain punctured leather to Temi when she got back. Whenever that would be. It had been a week since she had disappeared with our strange elves.
I slid in and started the car. Alektryon watched me, his face so bleak that it tugged at my heart. Now that I had more time to look him over, I noticed the smudges of dirt and pitch on his cloak, the weary look in his eyes, and the beard stubble on his jaw. He had been clean-shaven before. Yes, he must have been living in the woods, probably hunting for his meals too. And trying to figure out what to make of the bizarre new world he found himself in.
“Simon has the tablet—the thing we were using to talk last time,” I said as I drove through the touristy downtown area. “I need to pick him up, but then we can go back to our campsite and figure out how to communicate again.”
Back in that cave, Alektryon hadn’t been surprised when he had seen Jakatra’s pointed ears, and I wanted to know why. He had also warned me not to trust the elves, something that had been in my mind often, especially since Temi had gone off with them and hadn’t been heard from since.
There was zero traffic in town, so it was only a couple of minutes before I was pulling into the community college driveway. I steered to the back, to the parking lot in front of the machine shop, where I had dropped off Simon earlier. While I had been picking out the necessities—hamburger meat, hot dogs, and peanut butter—I had been trying not to worry too much about how much trouble Simon might be getting himself into. He had promised me that he had made friends with a teacher and that the chemicals and who knew what else he was picking up were being lawfully given to him by someone who was a fan of his website and wanted to help him fight monsters. For some odd reason, I had struggled to believe him.
“Wait here, please.” I held up a hand to Alektryon and hopped out, hoping there weren’t more would-be Jag thieves hiding behind the metal sculptures in the grass beside the lot. The machine shop lacked windows, so I couldn’t tell if anyone was still inside; at least a light was on over the door. A nearby sign proclaimed the college had the best gun-smithing program in the nation. Too bad guns didn’t work on the monsters, at least not the one we had dealt with.
I knocked, then pulled out my phone to text Simon.
The door opened first, and a cloud of sweet smoke wafted out, wreathing the light. I gawked into the hazy, poorly lit gloom inside, surprised at the scent, in part because I had never known Simon to consume anything more toxic than Mountain Dew, and in part because a giant shop filled with machinery that could cut off digits—or limbs—seemed a particularly stupid place to get high. At least I didn’t hear any saws or see any welding torches.
Simon walked out, carrying a pressurized oxygen tank under one arm and a crate full of metal scraps in his hands. A couple of sealed tubs and tubes balanced on top of the crate. He didn’t look stoned—his brown eyes were bright, and he smiled cogently at me when he said, “Hi, Delia.” But I wasn’t sure that meant much.
“Exactly what kind of teacher is this who’s supplying you with…” I waved at his booty. It looked more like junk than anything that could be turned into monster-fighting gear.
Someone inside coughed, then came to the door, carrying a gallon jug drowning in Mr. Yuk stickers. “You forgot your benzene, bro,” the guy said, elongating the last word to epic proportions.
Benzene? I hadn’t looked at the college catalogue, but they had to be offering more than gun-smithing in there.
“Thanks, Simon,” Simon said.
I squinted suspiciously—maybe he was stoned—until Simon caught my look and said, “We have the same name. He’s a T.A. Can you get that jug? Oh, and the iron bar leaning against the wall there. I’ll put all this stuff in the front and sit in the back.”
“You can put it in the trunk.” If I had known our grocery-shopping trip would include picking up poisonous and possibly caustic liquids, I would have made him bring the van. I gingerly grasped the jug from the T.A., a twenty-year-old kid with dreads Bob Marley would have approved of, gave him a nod, and wondered when I had started thinking of college-age people as kids. It had been less than a year since I graduated. “The front seat is taken.”
Simon stopped and stared at Alektryon, who was gazing at the scene blandly. He couldn’t possibly know what was going on, but I felt sheepish, and a little guilty, anyway. I didn’t know why; it wasn’t as if I had done something wrong. Maybe it was just that he was a few years older than I was, and he had an authoritative military aura about him, like he might have been someone used to giving orders once. And enforcing the rules. Not that marijuana had been illegal in Ancient Greece—I was pretty sure it had been used to dress wounds or something like that.
“I thought you were just picking up burgers and hot dogs,” Simon said.
“Burgers, hot dogs, ancient Spartan warriors, you know how hard it is to stick to the list.” I glanced at the T.A., realizing Alektryon would be hard to explain in that outfit, but the door was already thudding shut. Doubtlessly, the kid had papers, or maybe metal-smithing projects, to get back to grading.
Simon headed for the trunk while keeping a wary eye on Alektryon. “Is he coming back with us?”
“I think so. He wants to talk. I thought you’d have your tablet handy.”
“It’s back at camp. You can talk while I start working on my projects.” Simon rubbed his hands together like an evil overlord contemplating world domination.
“Am I going to approve of any of these projects?” I wedged the jug between the crate and a bag of tire chains, hoping there was no way it could slip free and roll around in the trunk.
“You might like the upgraded version of a Maglite laser I’m going to make. And the thermic lance is going to rock. Oh, did you get the polystyrene cups I asked for?”
“Are you sure they’re polystyrene?”
“Yes, and you can thank the dollar store for that. It’s hard to find that stuff anymore.” I eyed the benzene, and a few memories from chemistry class came together in my mind. “Simon… you’re not planning to make napalm, are you?”
He grinned at me, his shaggy black hair flopping into his eyes.
“Are you serious? Arizona is in the middle of a twenty-year drought, you know. The rangers don’t even like people building fires at the campsites.”
“I’m not going to burn the trees, just any monsters that show up.”
“When you fling fire around, other things tend to burn. How do you know fire will even work? Bullets and arrows didn’t, and our buddies said human weapons wouldn’t hurt the monsters.” The jibtab, that was what the elves had called the creature, and they had promised more were on the way. “Hence the whole adventure to find the glowing sword.” I glanced at the door again, making sure nobody had opened it again. Even a stoned guy might remember this kind of craziness.
“Yeah, but you can’t trust them. We don’t know anything about them or what their agenda is. I refuse to believe that Temi’s the only one who will be able to fight them until I personally see one walk away after a nuke lands on its head.”
I stared at the trunk, his words birthing a new horror within me. “You’re not making plans to build nuclear weapons are you?”
“Don’t be silly; you can’t get uranium from the community college. Or the dollar store. I’m just planning to try some non-projectile methods of fighting.”
I glanced at Alektryon. He was gazing toward the woods behind the metal sculptures this time. That made me twitchier than if he had been frowning at us. There hadn’t been anything in the news about monster-related deaths in the last two weeks—we were actually following the Internet feeds this time around—but that didn’t mean a new creature couldn’t have appeared.
My phone blasted Pour Some Sugar on Me, and I jumped. Temi’s name flashed on the screen.
“Temi,” I blurted into the phone. “You’re alive!” Either that, or someone had found her phone lying in the forest and was randomly calling her contacts. My gut clenched at the thought, especially when nobody answered right away.
“Yeah,” her voice finally came over the phone. “My battery’s almost dead, and I’m up on Senator Highway past Goldwater Lake. Can you pick me up?” She sounded wearier than an ER doctor after a twenty-four-hour shift.
“Yes, of course.” I eyed the small car, again wishing we had opted for the van. “I hope you have lots of stories to share.”
“Some, yeah. But all I want now is something to drink and a bed.”
The line died before I could answer. I didn’t know if it was a reflection of how she felt about the conversation or if her battery had died.
“Is she all right?” Simon asked, genuine concern in his eyes. I wondered if he would be that concerned if I had been missing for a week. I kept telling him Temi was out of his league, but he refused to believe it.
“I think so. But she wants a ride. And a bed. Maybe we should upgrade to a hotel for the night.” I grimaced at the expense—November’s student loan payment had been sucked out of my account at the beginning of the month, leaving me barely treading water, as usual.
“A hotel?” Simon whipped out his own phone. “If my lady wants a hotel, I shall arrange fine accommodations for her.”
I watched in some bemusement as he arranged “fine accommodations” at the Motel 6. Thanks to his frugal streak, he didn’t have my pile of debt, but getting him to spring for something extravagant was next to impossible. “You don’t think your lady—” I made air quotes around the words, “—would like something classier than the Motel 6?”
He frowned at me. “Like what? The Econo Lodge?”
“Never mind. I—”
My phone bleeped, and a text message from Temi popped up. The reception is too spotty for calls. But needed to let you know. They said there’s another jibtab here.
“What is it?” Simon asked.
“You better start on your napalm right away.”