Care and Feeding

This week marks the release of the fifth installment in our OF CATS AND DRAGONS series. Carol and I are thrilled that the stories are finding their audience and really resonating with fantasy and cat fans.

We even hit #1 on Amazon for several days in a row before, during, and after the release:

ak#1_mag_prerelease copy

My great concern was that once this book was finished, we’d hit some sort of creative malaise. The journey hasn’t been terribly clear since we put out book one in August of 2017. Those who follow this blog know why, of course. While we still had a bit of rewriting and editing to complete, all five books (and the one novella) had been written before we released NIGHT’S GIFT.

We have a lot of plans, but now we’re in new territory. Scary stuff. Potentially paralyzing stuff.

I realize how fragile I am, as a creative. I know I have to be very careful not to give into fears and mental blocks. But practically, what can I do to stop sabotage that is mostly subconscious?

My answer — the answer that works for me — is “small bites.” Do a little something every day. But go back every day.

And so, I struggled to write a new short story that follows the main event in AUTUMN KING. Carol and I had batted the idea around for about a year, but the story just didn’t want to fully form. I finally sat down to write it at the beginning of October, and it was hard.

I’d spend a day writing one paragraph, some days only one sentence. But I went back every single day. I didn’t allow myself to be frustrated. I just put my head down and focused on the love I have for the characters and how much I want to share their adventures.

And one day, the first draft was done. Then Carol and I pitched it back and forth a bit, making changes, discussing tweaks, rewriting, editing, bringing it to life.

And where there’d been nothing, suddenly there was something.

Did it take longer than I expected?

Sure.

Does that matter in the long run?

Nope.

The only thing that counts is that we just completed another story.

The only thing that counts is that we keep going.

Carol, for her part, has been working hard both on her writing and on her artwork. Besides the beautiful new cover she did for SUMMER’S FALL (more of that in a future blog), she’s added to the OF CATS AND DRAGONS blog with some fun insights about the characters, about her research, and about her artwork.

I’ve been so inspired by her blogging, that I want to share her thoughts with you.

Hope you enjoy this little treatise on:

Care and Feeding of a Tormy

by Carol E. Leever

A lot of decisions go into writing a book, and one of the things Camilla and I had to decide on was the diet of the Tormy Cats. (Incidentally — the cats actually have a name that they call themselves which will no doubt show up in a future book, but Camilla and I have always affectionately called them the Tormy Cats.)

I have been owned by 7 cats in my life. My first, a beautiful Siamese, lived 17 years. After she died I didn’t get another cat until Camilla and I became college roommates; between the two of us we ended up with 5 cats — one of which was the original Tormy. Yes, he was a real cat, and utterly unique. He was a beautiful orange and white Maine Coon, who would serenade us every night with soft little happy trills after he’d eaten his dinner. We were so heartbroken when he died unexpectedly that I put him into our D&D games so that he would live on in our imaginations.

My current cat, a little quirky Tabby, had a terrible food allergy when she was a kitten. I tried every type of food on the market, including some ridiculously expensive types that just seem to make things worse. I had come across research into the ‘raw food diet’ on the internet and in desperation finally decided to try that.

The theory is that cats, if they lived in the wild, would only eat meat (and the occasional grain that might be found in the stomach of a mouse). Cats are carnivores after all. The raw food diet consists of ground meat and bone (uncooked!) supplemented with some vitamins and enzymes such as Taurine and B-complex. You can find the formula on the internet.

The new diet cured all my cat’s problems literally within 12 hours. She was horribly sick one moment (and had been for the first year and a half of her life) and then instantly cured with the new diet. I pretty much resolved right there that all future meals would consist of the raw food diet.

Which brings us to the Tormy Cats. Cats are carnivores; they eat meat. They LOVE eating meat. And I don’t want anyone to base their cat’s diet on what the Tormy Cats eat in our books. The original Tormy (our beautiful Maine Coon) also loved peas, corn, cantaloupe, and blueberry muffins. We also had a cat who loved pancakes — to the point that whenever we made pancakes we had to make an extra one for her. But just because they will eat carbohydrates, does not mean they are good for the cats or natural for them to eat.

Regardless of all this, I made a definitive choice to make the Tormy Cats omnivores. And I did it for a very specific reason. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the reasons we human beings are so smart (lol!) is because we started eating carbohydrates — that in fact an all meat diet would not provide the caloric intake necessary to produce the larger brains we possess. I reasoned that since the Tormy Cats are obviously far more intelligent than their domestic counterparts, they too would likely need a different diet.

So yes, Tormy eats pie, and donuts, and custard, and moffles (mouse-waffles). But like all cats he, and Tyrin, and the others (yes, there are a BUNCH of other cats out there) LOVE meat, particularly fish. Tormy’s favorite however is prime rib. These cats would be a nightmare on the pocketbook.

So please, keep feeding your own cats proper diets (research the raw food diet and see if it’s something you’re interested in). But know that donuts are perfectly permissible for Tormy and all his brethren.

*

To see a picture of the “real” Tormy, check out our OF CATS AND DRAGONS blog.

 

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Fantasy maps to guide your way

The World OF CATS AND DRAGONS

The Quest for the Autumn King begins in the city of Melia. Omen and his friends cross the Luminal Sea in part one of the trilogy, SUMMER’S FALL. In part two, HOLLOW SEASON, the adventurers travel from the city of Khreté into the kingdom of Kharakhan.

I’ve always enjoyed the inclusion of maps in fantasy books, so I am thrilled to be able to share the two maps Carol has created to give our readers a little help tracking the journey.

Happy trails!

Kharakhannew

thechain

-from HOLLOW SEASON:

They had traveled along the King’s Road for hours without incident, even Tormy falling into a silent, bored cadence as the miles passed, when Kadana motioned to a slight widening of the road. “This is where the King’s Road and the Chain run together for a bit. The Deldano lands start here. And the Chain is our best way home.” She looked over her shoulder at Omen. “But I’ll have to make some stops. It’ll add time.”

“Doesn’t the King’s Road keep going straight to Caraky?” Dev raised himself up in his stirrups, looking west.

“It does,” Kadana said, a sour note in her answer. “Which is not far from the Mountain of Shadow.”

“Omen?” Kadana didn’t answer Dev but gave Omen a quizzical look.

Am I supposed to control him somehow? With a bit of a start, Omen realized that Dev was in fact his to manage. Scales and toenails!

Templar loudly cleared his throat, and Omen thought he heard a distinct, “Don’t listen to Dev” through the dislodging of phlegm.

“Are you worried about the hex?” Omen was curious to puzzle out Dev’s angle. Maybe he’s just trying to be a burr in Kadana’s—

“Aren’t you?” the Machelli spy replied smoothly.

“Look, Omen,” Kadana said without the slightest irritation, “you have a couple of options if you’re in a hurry. You’re under no obligation to me. You can continue along the Chain to the Deldano castle. Or you can head straight to the Mountain of Shadow. It’s up to you if you’re worried.”

“Or we can cut through the Marroways and get to your castle before dark,” Dev added casually.

The Marroways?

“Or you can cut through the Marroways and your bones will never be found,” Kadana snarled.

“What are the Marroways?” Omen couldn’t keep himself from asking.

“The woods the Chain winds around,” Kadana said simply. “The Chain surrounds the Marroways like, well, a chain. Or a fence. Keeping things in that shouldn’t wander. Things that won’t wander,” she gave Dev a sharp look, “unless they’re reminded that there’s an outside.”

“Does this have anything to do with the Autumn Gates?” Shalonie asked quickly. “Or the wild gates?”

“Gates have nothing to do with it,” Kadana told the girl. “The Marroways were put in place centuries ago, and it falls on people of the Chain and the ruler of the lands to keep the Marroways protected.”

OF CATS AND DRAGONS – the whole series  on Amazon

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When The Unthinkable Happened…

Carol+Leever+and+Camilla+Ochlan

“My best friend Carol and I have roamed the OF CATS AND DRAGONS world for over three decades, creating our stories in the telling — from our high school Dungeons & Dragons games to a private collection of over three hundred stories and story fragments. But now we are getting ready to share what we’ve conjured up.”

That’s what I wrote a year ago as Carol and I were getting ready to release NIGHT’S GIFT.

I didn’t know what lurked just above the horizon.

Carol’s cancer diagnosis came the day our first OF CATS AND DRAGONS book was released, so we never had even a moment to celebrate that wasn’t under the shadow of this horrible cancer.

Since then, there have been many ups and downs (more downs than ups, if I am totally honest). It’s been a difficult year. Until a few months ago, I couldn’t even talk about what was going on. But secrets have a way of clawing you up from the inside.

When I was ready, I had the chance to share our story with Jo Bozarth for the Her Process podcast. I knew I had to open up because I’ve learned that cancer is a bitch, and we are not the only ones in her sights.

I hope you give this interview a listen. And I hope the territory is more foreign to you than Mars. But it’s probably not.

What do you do when the unthinkable happens? It happened to us, and this is what we did.

From Jo:

“Today’s show wraps up my series on collaboration. It’s a tribute to art and to friendship. It’s about what happens when you’re on a roll, when you’re making strides, realizing your dream…and the unthinkable happens. What do you do? How do you go on? Do you go on?

If you’re just joining Her Process for the first time, today’s guest, Camilla Ochlan, has been on the show before with her Werewolf Whisperer series writing partner, Bonita Gutierrez. 

But Camilla, being the creative soul that she is, and I’m guessing also a master at organization, has another writing partner with whom she’s been creating the world that houses another series, called Of Cats and Dragons. In fact, she and her dear friend, Carol Leever, her Of Cats and Dragons illustrator and co-writer, have been creating this world for over three decades now. But they didn’t realize it right away.

When Camilla and Carol did finally decide to share their creation with the world, life, as it does, stepped in with a twist that neither friend could ever have imagined or prepared for. You always hear people say that they meant to do x, y, z, but “life got in the way.” Well, these ladies didn’t let “life” thwart their plans. They’ve bobbed and weaved, and have persevered. This is their story.” 

Click here to listen:

HER PROCESS PODCAST

Thank you to Jo Bozath for being an exquisite listener and a gentle interviewer. Jo has a gift for putting her subject at ease, and her empathy is backed up by a strong work ethic that drives her to genuinely understand the breadth of her guest’s creative endeavors.

I want everyone to know that Carol has been strong and determined. She is the warrior I’ve always known her to be, but the enemy she is battling is fierce and powerful. We are hopeful. But this is real and terrifying. We don’t know what is going to happen.

We also want everyone to know that this is not the end OF CATS AND DRAGONS. After HOLLOW SEASON, Carol and I have another completed book that is now being edited and a handful of partially completed manuscripts. We also have over 250 story fragments, short stories, outlines, dialogues, and scenes. We have a timeline that reaches over generations in our story world. And we’ve started the outlines of three new books. We have been working on the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS for over thirty years. There’s a lot there. We have a plan.

I am deeply committed to sharing our stories because that is what I can do to honor our friendship. We love these characters so much, and since we made the decision to share them — that is what will happen. There will be more Tormy. There will be more Omen. And Kyr. And Tyrin. There will be more. . .

tormy smallcopy

Release Day for HOLLOW SEASON!!!!!!

This is the fourth book in the OF CATS AND DRAGONS series. And our fourth release in under a year. We are thrilled. Thank you for joining our adventure.

Our best always,
Camilla & Carol

NLHSLIGHT

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZNNBR3

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hollow-Season-Autumn-trilogy-Dragons-ebook/dp/B07CZNNBR3

Special Treat!

HOLLOW SEASON – Part 2 of The Quest For The Autumn King continues the tale started in SUMMER’S FALL  – and because you are all awesome, I am giving you SUMMER’S FALL for free today. 🎁

Get it right away!

SUMMER’S FALL – Part 1 of The Quest For The Autumn King

US   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZQ2VB4

UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Summers-Fall-Cats-Dragons-Book-ebook/dp/B07CZQ2VB4

 

HOLLOW SEASON Sneak Peek

NLHSLIGHT

Chapter 1: Port

OMEN

Kadana had described the port of Khreté but what Omen beheld upon their approach on that bracing, fog-shrouded morning was unlike anything he had imagined.

In the distance, a large granite islet jutted out from the mainland at a considerable distance and provided a solid platform for Khreté. The coastal town spread upward at a steep angle, the citadel winding around in a gradual spiral that reminded Omen of cinnamon snail rolls. Seamless stone walls corralled many-storied buildings from the busy harbor to the sizable fortress at its pinnacle. The stoic battlements of the fortress and four round towers took shape as the early-morning fog started to burn off.

I heard Kharakhian architecture was unimaginative. But if Khreté is any measure, Kharakhian builders have dark romance in their souls. I should write a song.

“Khreté is smelling deliciousnessness.” Tormy sniffed the air. “Like adventure and shaved truffles.”

“Could be, Tormy. Could be,” Omen said. I guess the wet stone could smell mushroomy. But how can he smell the city from all the way out here? Cat’s like a bloodhound.

Omen leaned a little closer, snuggling into Tormy’s thick coat to protect himself from windburn. “You don’t mind the wind, fuzz face?”

The cat giggled, his orange mane blowing this way and that in the rough breeze.

Kyr, also cuddled into Tormy’s fur, blinked sleepily and murmured, “Stone city by the sea.” The sunset hues of his irises swirled slowly, seeming to change from violet to red gold.

Trick of the light, Omen convinced himself.

“Pieces scattered on the ground. Broken.” Kyr studied the tall walls and the length of the causeway leading to the battlements at the highest point.

“The city isn’t broken.” Omen put his hand on Kyr’s shoulder. “It’s built to withstand the fury of the ocean. It’s encased in thick walls. Unbreakable.”

“The stones defend the city from the sea, but the man with the dove-grey eyes is frozen in time.” Kyr’s speech took on a distant lilt, as if he were not the one speaking. Omen noticed the quality of the vibrations in Kyr’s voice change briefly.

A spike of some sort? Omen wondered if the fluctuating eye color and the shift in vocal quality could be markers of Kyr’s odd episodes.

Maybe I can train Tyrin to notice the early warning signs. Maybe Tyrin can help pull him out of it before it starts.

“The man with dove-grey eyes? What man?” Omen asked carefully.

“What man?” Kyr asked, his incandescent eyes large and round. “Is it a joke, Omen? Like knock, knock?”

“What?” Omen couldn’t hide his confusion.

“Man,” Kyr said firmly and then let out a hearty belly laugh. “That’s a good one, Omen!”

Though the sea had been rough at sunrise, the waves smoothed for their arrival. The grey dampness had given way to blue skies, nearly clear with intermittent dustings of thin white clouds.

As they glided toward port, Omen admired the water’s gradual color change. Deep blues rivaling the sun-streaked sky flowed into brilliant aquamarines that in turn reached up to the fine sands of the cliffside beach.

Shalonie climbed down from the rigging, the ship’s tiny monkey lounging tamely on her shoulder. “Built at the beginning of the Set-Manasan dynasty.” She cleared her throat. “Khreté was the capital of Kharakhan for hundreds of years. The ramparts are twenty feet thick and have served to protect the citadel from both land and sea. This port city was the Set-Manasan seat of power—”

“Until Indee built the new capital?” Omen asked plainly.
“Caraky,” Shalonie agreed. “Built for the coronation of King Khylar.”
“My parents went to the coronation, but I didn’t get to go,” Omen said with an edge

of embarrassment. “Something about slurping my soup in elevated company.”
“You were ten,” Templar threw in, he and Dev having joined them from below deck. Both young men were armed and wearing leather armor in anticipation of going ashore. The sigils embossed on Templar’s armor blazed briefly in the sun as if reacting to the light before settling back into a dark charcoal grey that blended in with the black. “It

was mostly dull. Mostly.” He fell silent.
“Respectfully, I can’t exactly agree with that assessment,” Dev said. “Granted, my

circumstances were very different.”
“I thought you said you hadn’t been there.” Omen hoped to catch a glint of uncertainty

in the spy’s silver eyes.
“Did I?” Dev’s lips curved into a smirk. “Must have been a lie. Or maybe I am lying

now—”
“Well, which is it?” Shalonie looked as if she were making a list of questions to ask

Dev later.
“I was stuck with my sister,” Templar admitted ruefully, ignoring the Machelli. “But

according to my father it was lots of pomp and circumstance, most of it kak Indee had made up.” Templar squeezed one eye shut and studied the horizon. “Of course, Terizkand and Kharakhan were barely on speaking terms at that time. My father hated

 

King Charaathalar. Called him a burr on the rear of a donkey. Only agreed to enter into talks once Charaathalar had officially been declared deceased.”

Dev’s usually unreadable silver eyes flashed as if he were biting down a comment. Omen noticed Shalonie raising an eyebrow.

“Of course, my father liked Indee,” Templar continued almost wistfully. “She was bold and fearless. The scuttlebutt was that Indee used wild magic to get Caraky built so fast.”

Templar unwrapped a piece of hard Melian cheese and an apple from a folded handkerchief. “Mégeira gave me this. Anybody hungry?”

“I is liking cheese,” Tormy mentioned casually, hope twinkling in his amber eyes.

Templar nodded. “I had a feeling.” He broke a small piece of the cheese off and threw the rest to Tormy, who snapped it out of the air. Templar handed the smaller piece to Kyr, who stuffed it in his pocket.

The pocket undulated, and a tiny voice yelled out, “It’s &*$!^% cheese. My favorite!” The rest of Tyrin’s words were lost in hurried munching.

“Wild magic?” Omen shouted as if he’d been smacked upside the head. “Khylar disappeared from Caraky! A city built by wild magic! Maybe he’s not even in the Autumn Lands, maybe he’s trapped in the city itself?”

Kyr cried out, then quickly hid his hand behind his back.

“Kyr!” Omen turned toward his brother, realizing with alarm that his careless words had inadvertently triggered the hex. Shame flooded through him. How? What did I say? I didn’t refuse the quest. What triggered it?

“Kyr, show me your hand.”

Slowly, Kyr brought forward his marred hand. Blisters were forming along the mark, spiraling up his wrist. The web of inky black lines was growing and pulsing even as they watched.

“It’s the Autumn Lands!” Dev exclaimed. “Say you’re going into the Autumn Lands to rescue Khylar. Quickly!”

Praying that Dev was right, Omen swiftly said the words, speaking them clearly and loudly with as much conviction behind them as possible. “I’m going into the Autumn Lands to rescue Khylar.” To his relief, the mark on Kyr’s hand stopped growing.

“But now the mark’s bigger,” Omen said, his voice hollow. “A lot bigger.”

“Well, at least now we know that you can’t even suggest something else happened to Khylar.” Dev fished a small jar of ointment from the inner pocket of his coat and handed it across to Omen. Omen recognized the label on its lid as his mother’s. Familiar with his mother’s potions from a long childhood of scrapes and bruises, Omen knew the concoction would ease Kyr’s pain.

Omen carefully smeared the ointment over the burn and then bound Kyr’s wrist with the white bandages Dev handed to him. He nodded his thanks to the Machelli, glad at least one of them had the sense to carry such things. Dev knows what to do to lessen the pain of the hex — either my mother told him, or he has experience with hexes himself.

 

Maybe I shouldn’t open my bloody mouth at all! How am I supposed to know what will trigger the hex?

Templar watched with a bitter twist of his lips. “Indee’s a bitch!” he spat out. “I can’t even magically or psionically heal the burns.”

“Indee might not even realize what she’s done,” Shalonie tried to defend Indee once again, though she didn’t sound convinced.

Her loyalty to the Sundragons runs deep.

“I think this means we have to move faster.” Omen felt helpless but determined.

“Your psionic blast already brought us here weeks before Kadana was expecting to arrive.” Shalonie scratched at her eyebrow with her thumb as if deep in thought. “We should have arrived about ten days after midsummer — and instead we’re arriving almost a week before the solstice.”

So we’ll be here for the solstice.

“Kadana sent word to her husband a few days ago,” Shalonie said. “Another one of her handy magic trinkets, some sort of message box. She put a letter in; it disappeared, and not five minutes later a reply from Diatho came.”

“How big was that box?” Templar asked; wheels seemed to be turning in his head. Shalonie ignored him.
“Diatho should arrive in Khreté by lunch,” she said to Omen. “If possible, I’d like to

get into the fortress. Rumor has it there’s a faulty portal there, and seeing it could help me with my studies. I’ll need to know more about portals if we’re going to be wandering around in the Mountain of Shadow — that place is filled with portals and traps and doorways into other worlds. The more knowledge I have, the better I’ll be able to help you.”

“I don’t know anything about a faulty portal, but I can get you into the fortress,” Dev told them then. He’d pulled a small spyglass from another inside pocket of the metal- studded leather coat he was wearing and peered at the long stone dock they were approaching.

“Can’t we ask for an audience?” Omen asked, turning his attention to the tall battlements of the massive structure at the top. The fortress had been the home of King Charaathalar Set-Manasan, and likely still was home to numerous members of his family. As prince of Lydon, Omen had always been granted full access to any castle he’d visited, and since his grandmother Kadana held some sort of title in Kharakhan, he couldn’t imagine they’d be denied.

“If you ask for an audience, you’ll be welcomed into the Palace Hall — that’s that large stone building next to the fortress with the white tower and all the flags,” Dev told him, pointing toward the building in question. It appeared to be made of a different type of stone — the outward facade’s gleaming white marble designed to catch the eye. Fluttering flags proclaimed that at least one member of the royal family was in attendance. “There’s nothing interesting in the Palace Hall. If there is anything to be

 

seen it would be in the fortress, but Indee sealed that off years ago. They won’t take us there. Especially not you.”

Omen gaped at Dev. He makes it sound like they have something personal against me. He couldn’t recall ever having had any sort of unpleasant encounter with the Set- Manasans. Khylar and Caythla were the only ones he’d ever met. And Indee — but she’s a Lir Drathos now.

“Especially not me? What’s that supposed to mean?” Omen asked.
Templar and Shalonie looked at Dev with curiosity.
Dev’s lips twitched upward. “The Set-Manasans don’t like your father . . . or your

mother for that matter. They tend to hold grudges. Wouldn’t say anything to your face, but wouldn’t even bother to spit on you if you were on fire either.”

“Spit on you?” Tyrin piped up, poking his head up from inside Kyr’s coat pocket, his little white paws looped over the side. “I is thinking that the saying is that they wouldn’t p—”

“Tyrin!” Omen cut the little cat off before he could finish. “He was trying to be polite. We don’t say bad words in front of Shalonie.”

“Why not?” Tyrin looked baffled. “I is just trying to be accurateness. Shalonie is liking things to be accurateness.”

Omen stared hard at the little cat, and Tyrin twitched his ears a few times before letting out a little sniff and sinking back down into Kyr’s warm pocket.

Kyr seemed oblivious to the exchange, staring instead at the bandages wrapped around his wrist. Avarice’s burn ointment was supposed to take away any pain on contact, but Omen worried the boy was still suffering. It’s not like Kyr would say anything about the pain.

“So what was it my father—” Omen began again, turning his attention back to Dev.

Dev cut him off, his smirk widening. “You might want to ask your parents that,” he told Omen. “I try to stay out of politics, and I definitely have no interest in meddling in your mother’s personal affairs. You’re welcome to borrow the bonding book if you want to ask her yourself.”

Annoyed, Omen turned his attention back to the city. She wouldn’t answer. Would tell me to mind my own business. Avarice had never responded well to his pointed curiosity — she expected him to figure things out for himself. And if he couldn’t, then — she’d told him — he’d have no business knowing.

“If you don’t meddle in politics, how are you going to get us into the fortress?” Templar asked then, looking intrigued by the entire conversation.

Good question. Omen frowned and glanced back at Dev.

Dev pointed toward the fortress. “See that stone house with the red roof at the base of the battlements?” He indicated one of many manor houses ringing the fortress. “The locals call the area Fortress Hill. It’s where lesser nobles and wealthy merchants like to live.”

 

The neighboring abodes were all built of the same dark stone, only the tile on the inner roofs distinguishing one from another. The tile colors were quite impressive in variety — reds, blues, greens, golds. The house Dev pointed to had tiles of reddish gold — like untarnished copper. As the fog around the hilltop burned away, the roof caught the sunlight and flashed like flames.

“That’s the Machelli Guild House. We can get into the fortress from there.” Dev motioned toward the long stone dock the ship was approaching. At the far end, on the main causeway that surrounded the port, Omen spotted a number of carriages. “Kadana has business with the guild. They’re waiting for us.” He handed over the spyglass without asking.

Omen peered through it toward the dock at the carriages. Apparently they know how many are in our group. Doubt they accounted for Tormy. Omen couldn’t really see Tormy wanting to ride in a carriage, even if he were tired. The poor cat had grown so restless, Omen didn’t expect him to slow down even for a second as soon as his paws hit solid ground.

Along with the carriages and the muscular horses attached to them, Omen saw two tall, dark-haired men standing nearby. Wonder how long they’ve been waiting. He strained to see as many details as possible.

Though well-dressed in the fine doublets expected of wealthy merchants, there was something wild and dangerous about them — even from the distance. Both were well- armed, swords hanging from their sword belts and gleaming daggers strapped to sheaths on their legs. Bits of shiny metal plating was woven through the fine material of the doublets and leather breeches. Omen recognized their profiles and had no doubt that their eyes would be silver. These men looked like the Machellis Omen knew — unlike Dev who, despite his uncanny resemblance to Avarice, was far more delicate and slender than the typical Machelli male.

“Relatives?” he asked, guessing Dev would know the answer. He handed the spyglass to Shalonie who was watching curiously.

“Probably,” Dev agreed. “Cousins more likely. Glaive and Foil.”

“Those are Kharakhian long swords,” Shalonie corrected swiftly as she peered through the spyglass.

Dev laughed at that. “I meant those are their names.”

Definitely Machelli.

Shalonie’s brow furrowed. “I understand the custom behind the names,” she said. “But do you all have actual names as well — like Armand for Omen and Ava for Avarice? And do you ever use them?”

“My mother and I have those names because the Machelli custom doesn’t go over very well in Lydon,” Omen admitted. He smiled fondly when he thought of all the times as a child he’d argued with his father’s mother, Queen Wraiteea, about his name. She’d finally agreed to call him Omen in private as long as he went by Armand in public. “My grandmother Wraiteea insisted we have proper names. My real name is actually Omen

 

— that’s what my mother named me when I was born. And as far as I know, my mother was named Avarice at birth. The Machellis call them hex-names, to ward off bad luck.”

“What about you, Dev?” Shalonie asked. “Do you have another name?”

“Lots,” he admitted with a smile that gave nothing away. “If you don’t like Devastation, make one up. I’ll answer to it. Not particularly attached to any of them.”

Not the answer she was looking for, Omen noted, grinning at the consternation on Shalonie’s face.

“Names can be stolen,” Kyr said, his gaze still on his bandaged hand. “Like rings found on the ground and picked up by kings who are no more.” He turned his solemn gaze on Omen, the morning sunlight catching in the violet hues of his eyes and making them seem more amber. “There’s a monster inside it.”

“Inside what, Kyr?” Concern swept through Omen.

The boy’s eyes widened, and then he smiled peacefully. “That’s a great idea, Omen! I miss fried cakes. There aren’t any on the ship — Tyrin and I looked. I hope they have ones with custard inside them. Do you think they know about custard?”

Omen glanced over at Templar who raised his shoulders imperceptibly. They were both willing to take Kadana’s words to heart and take more notice of Kyr’s strange ramblings, but it wasn’t easy when it always seemed as if he were having a completely separate conversation. “We’ll check when we get to shore,” he assured his little brother. “I’m sure the Kharakhians know all about custard.”

Kadana and Liethan joined them on deck a few moments later, Kadana barking out orders to the sailors around them as they prepared to pull into port.

Khreté, like most port cities, possessed deep-water slips where even a ship the size of the Golden Voyage could dock — though they were limited to a small number of outer piers. Some had only floating wooden docks leading back to the main causeway, but the pier Kadana directed the ship toward was permanent, held up by enormous stone pylons embedded into the sea floor. Omen imagined his grandmother had paid quite a handsome docking fee for the slip.

Tormy started dancing impatiently as the ship glided gracefully toward their final destination. The great vessel slowed down through the elemental magic that controlled it, Kadana herself guiding it into port. The moment they neared the stone pier, several sailors tossed thick ropes to the dockworkers waiting for them, tying the vessel off as others moved to lower the gangplank.

Omen watched in fascination as workers rolled large, intricate cargo cranes into position along the pier to empty the hold. My dad would love this. Workers easily hand- cranked the wheels on the side of the cranes to lower the jibs by ropes and pulleys.

Numerous people lined the docks and congregated farther up along the causeway, all having watched the great ship pull into port. From the looks of people pointing toward them, Omen guessed more than one person had spotted Tormy. A giant orange cat hopping around on the deck, tail lashing back and forth, is pretty hard to miss. Omen tried to see his cat through a stranger’s eyes. Hope they like cats.

 

Tormy’s presence in Melia went for the most part unremarked — beyond the numerous people who admired him. The giant cat, while strange, was not the oddest thing to see in that city — the Sundragons dwarfed the cat, and the Melians had no fear of large creatures. And while Tormy had certainly caused a stir the first time Omen had taken him to Lydon, the citizens there had gotten the opportunity to know the cat when he was still relatively small. The Kharakhians would have no such preparations. In a few more months Omen imagined Tormy would be large enough for him to ride.

From the look of things, Tormy was not going to present himself sedately, and Omen didn’t imagine that any amount of cajoling would change that.

He patted the cat on the flank and scratched him behind the ears to calm him down, but even before the sailors could finish lowering the gangplank, Tormy took one huge leap over the side of the ship and landed all four paws on the stone pier, causing the workers below to scatter. The cat took off, racing down the pier, turning at the end, and sprinting back to the ship, only to repeat the course over and over again. All the while he shouted at the top of his lungs, “DRY LAND! DRY LAND! I IS LOVING DRY LAND!”

Watching from the upper deck, Kadana roared with laughter. Kyr tittered happily from his place at the ship’s railing while holding a remarkably sedate Tyrin.

“We is being a spectacle,” Tyrin explained to anyone who wanted to hear.

And it did seem as if all work had stopped as Kharakhians and sailors stared at the giant ball of orange fluff racing up and down the pier.

Initially, the cat gone wild had been met with sounds of concern and even terror, but the panic was short-lived. Before long, Omen saw people beginning to laugh at the sight, and numerous sailors nodded as if they could well understand Tormy’s sentiments. If nothing else he’s an extremely cute giant fluff-ball.

“You’re going to have a serious problem if you ever want to arrive somewhere unseen,” Templar remarked as they watched the cat.

So quiet, so stealthy, so cat-like.

Eventually, Tormy calmed down and trotted happily back toward the ship to sit down and wait for the others. While warming himself in the breezy morning sunlight, he thoughtfully positioned himself off to one side, well out of the way but still able to see all.

Satisfied that his cat wasn’t going anywhere, Omen headed below deck with Kyr to retrieve their belongings and prepare to disembark.

He’d already packed his things — keeping track of everything he’d need for himself, Tormy, Tyrin, and Kyr for the journey. Like Templar, he wore a light coat of armor — thin, interwoven metal scales made of lightweight Lydonian silverleaf that would turn most blades. And though it was summer, the weather was more autumn-like, and the wind blowing in off the ocean was cold. Omen shrugged on a knee-length leather coat over the armor, before slipping his sword belt over his left shoulder, and strapping the enormous two-handed blade across his back. He adjusted the quick release buckle that

 

rested against his chest, allowing him to unfasten the sword belt instantly and draw the sword from its scabbard easily. He’d learned the painful way that it was too difficult to draw over his shoulder, the blade far too long to clear the scabbard unless he’d released it from the belt.

“Do you have everything?” he asked Kyr. Omen fastened two thin daggers to his belt and tied them down to each thigh. Then he grabbed his backpack along with the lightweight saddle he’d have to coax onto Tormy’s back. The larger the cat grew, the stronger he became, and the more could fit into his saddlebags.

Kyr held up the small traveling satchel Avarice had given him in Melia. Save for a few changes of clothes, he didn’t have much, leaving the bulk of their supplies for Omen to manage. Kyr wore a finely cut leather coat also made by Omen’s mother — Lydonian design with a high collar and inner silk lining. It was made of dyed brown and green leather and would hold up well to travel, but it offered little in the way of armored protection.

Omen worried that Kyr would need something more substantial.

He’s quick; he hides well, Omen reminded himself. And he knows to run if there’s trouble. Besides, knowing my mother, she wove protection spells into that coat.

The boy also held the thin sheathed blade Omen had selected for him before they left Melia — a Lydonian sword also made of silverleaf. Kyr seemed uncertain what to do with it, holding it out to Omen.

Omen took the blade and clipped the scabbard to the metal loop on the boy’s belt. “You should always have a weapon on you,” he told Kyr. “And remember that this one is sharp. So be careful with it!”

If worse came to worst, he wanted Kyr to have some means of defending himself, even though the lesson in the Melian park had still been the only time they’d practiced. Should have worked with him during the crossing, he scolded himself. But while the boy didn’t have any understanding of how to use a sword, he was extremely skilled with his carving knife and certainly understood the dangers of sharp edges. It’ll have to do for now.

Kyr nodded blithely, accepting Omen’s word without hesitation.

Tyrin, who was watching them from the desk, leaped with grace onto Kyr’s shoulder. The boy instinctively turned at the last moment to make his shoulder more readily accessible. The kitten settled contently down, tiny claws digging into the leather of the extra padding Avarice had added to Kyr’s coat.

“All right, let’s get going, and remember you two, stay with me. This isn’t Melia. Don’t go wandering off by yourself,” Omen reminded them both. Kyr was not prone to wandering — he followed silently after Omen no matter where he went. But sometimes Tormy and Tyrin were harder to corral, and he feared they could manage to get the boy lost if he wasn’t vigilant.

 

Templar, Shalonie, and Liethan were waiting for them on deck when they arrived, all of them armed and decked-out for travel. Shalonie’s dragon blade gleamed brightly in the sunlight, and Omen had to grin when he saw that Liethan was at last wearing boots.

Liethan noticed the angle of his eyeline. “I do occasionally wear shoes,” he told him. “The Corsair Isles are all white sandy beaches, but my mother also owns land in the heart of Kharakhan. Spent a lot of time hunting in the Kharakhian forests.” Along with the long sword the Corsairs tended to favor, Liethan also carried a crossbow which he had strapped to his backpack.

Omen glanced briefly over at the dock to assure himself that Tormy was still waiting in the sunlight. The cat was eating a large fish that he’d most likely begged from some fisherman and that Omen would no doubt have to pay for. He looked to the others. “Where are Kadana and Dev?”

“Kadana is talking to the harbormaster,” Shalonie told him, pointing a bit further down the dock where Omen could see his grandmother talking to a tall burly man with a bushy black beard and dark skin. “Wanted to warn him about the leviathan and the troubles with the summer route so he can pass the word on to the other captains.”

“And Dev’s up there,” Templar added, pointing toward the long causeway beyond the docks where the carriages were still waiting. “No doubt plotting something dastardly with your Machelli cousins.”

Omen glared at him. “The Machelli are merchants, the guild is a merchant’s guild, regardless of whatever ridiculous stories you might have heard.”

Templar laughed out loud. “Even most of the Machellis call themselves ‘information brokers’ and not merchants . . . They’re spies, and that’s the polite term.”

“They’re merchants,” Omen insisted. “They sell stuff — food, spices, clothes. My mother designs clothing — see this nice coat she made for Kyr.” While Omen was well aware that the extended Machelli clans were far more than mere merchants, he tended to ignore the more unsavory side of the family. Admittedly, their wolf-bred Shilvagi blood made them ill-suited for the more placid life of shopkeepers and tradesmen, but he didn’t consider them bad people. They were rowdy, temperamental, often aggressive, and mostly mysterious. And his mother had systematically kept any darker aspect away from the immediate family in Melia.

“I like my coat,” Kyr offered. “It has extra deep pockets for Tyrin. Avarice says it makes me look lovely.” The plainspokenness of his voice, as if he were imparting the weather, caused the others to burst out in guffaws. Kyr laughed along, looking only slightly disoriented.

Tyrin, still seated on top of Kyr’s shoulder, preened and fluffed his tail, nuzzling his face into the boy’s pale, golden hair.

“We is being the loveliest,” the little kitten agreed with a purr.
“Come on then, lovely.” Omen chuckled with a shake of his head. “Let’s go ashore.”

 

At the bottom of the gangplank, Tormy happily licked his chops clean of the last remnants of the fish. “People is being so nicestness here!” the cat purred. “I is telling the dockworkers that I is being really hungry and they is all throwing fish at me.””And who said Kharakhians were dull-witted?” Templar looked around, making sure Kadana hadn’t heard him.If a giant cat told me he was hungry, I’d probably throw fish at him too. Kadana joined them a moment later, the harbormaster following after her. The man kept a wary eye on Tormy. “Your beasty there tame?” the man boomed out to Omen. Tormy began spinning in circles, his large plume of a tail whacking Omen and Templar repeatedly. “Beasty, beasty, beasty? Where is being the beasty?” the cat jabbered frantically, looking around with keen interest.”He was talking about me, Tormy,” Templar assured him. Tyrin, still balancing on Kyr’s shoulder, narrowed his eyes dangerously as if understanding the truth. Worried that the harbormaster was about to be lambasted with the kitten’s blistering tongue, Omen stepped forward to assure the man. “Everything is fine,” he told him quickly, holding up the saddle he was still carrying. “See I even have a saddle.”The man nodded gruffly, his eyes still distrustful. Tormy sat down and scratched at his ear with his back paw. “I is thinking the saddle is being for me, Omy? Is it being for Templar?”The question set Templar choking with laughter; he turned away attempting to hide his mirth at Omen’s dilemma. Tyrin stood on his hind legs on Kyr’s shoulder, front paws perched on the boy’s head so that he could glare at the harbormaster. The tiny cat’s tail lashed violently back and forth. “Hey, mister!” the little cat shouted. Kadana fought hard to keep a somber expression but failed.”Really . . . Everything’s fine!” Omen cut in, glaring briefly at Templar and throwing his grandmother a pleading look. “No beasties here, and yes, Tormy, it’s your saddle, though if Templar doesn’t shut up, he’s going to be wearing it. Now, are we ready to go?””Yes.” Kadana took the reins of the conversation. “The Machellis are waiting for us.” She motioned toward the causeway, before calling out a few final orders to her crew. The Corsair sailors were attaching the hook block of one of the cargo cranes to the first crate of the ship’s stored haul, the unloading of cargo in full swing as if choreographed. Omen quickly ushered Tormy and Kyr forward. Tyrin, hardly appeased, continued to glare the prickliest of his spite at the harbormaster as the lot of them hurried up the stone dock and toward the awaiting Machelli carriages.

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CZNNBR3

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hollow-Season-Autumn-trilogy-Dragons-ebook/dp/B07CZNNBR3

 

Hurrah! Cover Reveal for Book 4 OF CATS AND DRAGONS!

Deciding on one image to convey all of the magic, adventure, and hijinks that mark Omen’s continuing quest sure wasn’t easy. Carol and I are so pleased with Samantha Key’s beautiful illustration for the Hollow Season cover.

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What’s ist all about?
It is the season of monsters, and wild magic rules the land.
Young warrior bard Omen Daenoth and his intrepid companions —the prince of Terizkand, a Sundragon scholar, a cynical spy, a reckless Corsair, not to mention the talking cats — journey toward the looming Mountain of Shadow.
But how will they rescue the kidnapped king and lift the curse of the faerie sorceress when every step along their way is wrought with murderous creatures and lethal magic? And what exactly is the secret of the Cypher Runes?

You can find out here:

Hurrah! The SUMMER’S FALL audiobook is here!

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Now on Audible – download here

Listen to the dulcet sounds of Tormy’s brogue and Tyrin’s cursing grawlixes!

Click here to sample

_I'll bite the &!%@_ monster!_ copy

SUMMER’S FALL

What do you do when your talking cat accepts a crazy quest?
If you’re Omen, you jump right in.

And before Omen knows it, he’s crossing the Luminal Sea on a miraculous ship called the Golden Voyage. But the voyage is anything but golden.

In the shadow of a devastating hex, pursued by a stealer of souls, with both interference and help from Tormy and the potty-mouthed kitten Tyrin, Omen faces monsters, ghosts, and grave troubles unshackled by the volatile seasons.

The entire OF CATS AND DRAGONS series is available on Audible right now.

Click here to view.

Cover art for Night's Gift

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nominated by the SOCIETY OF VOICE ARTS AND SCIENCES as best audiobook of the year in both Young Adult and Fantasy categories

Nominated by the AUDIOBOOK REVIEWER as best audiobook of the year in both Young Adult and Fantasy categories

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Listen as Etar finds Tyrin at the edge of a broken world.

Listen as Omen and Tormy chase magic mice in the Divine Library of the Soul’s Flame.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Move over Potter. Stand aside Aslan. There are new heroes in town and they’ve got a giant talking cat! – Amazon review

“Redwall, Nimh, Middle Earth—Of Cats and Dragons will soon stand alongside them. Full of wonder, humor, and adventure, this is the rare series guaranteed to thrill young and old alike. Close your eyes, put on your headphones, and strap on your seat belt! Audie Award winner P. J. Ochlan’s brilliant performance is about to transport you to this enchanting world.” 
—Brent Simons, screenwriter for Megamind and Penguins of Madagascar
Find even more magic, monsters and talking cats at http://ofcatsanddragons.com

Winter Tithe: A Solstice Story

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This holiday, I’d like to share a little tale we wrote for the season. If you are already familiar with the OF CATS AND DRAGONS fantasy series, you will recognize some names and references. But this story stands alone as well.

WINTER TITHE takes us to another corner of the world OF CATS AND DRAGONS. We find ourselves in the land of Kharakhan on the eve of the winter solstice. This time our hero is in fact a ten-year-old girl — Tokara, one of Omen’s young relatives on the Deldano side of the family, whose strong curiosity and loyalty to her sister drive her toward a dangerous encounter. But our girl has a brave heart and an irrepressible spirit, and the longest night of the year still holds many secrets:

 

Chapter 1: Storybook

Tokara Deldano eyed the leather-bound tome resting in her mother’s lap. The girl had seen the dusty book before, high on the shelf and out of reach. Is Momma going to read to us? She pressed her lips together, trying to suppress the squeal of joy building up inside.

They had retired to the castle’s solar, the place where the whole family usually spent winter evenings playing board games or cards. Unfortunately her father and brothers were away for the evening.

Despite the early hour, it was already dark, and — even though it was well before her own bedtime — Tokara felt tired and chilled to the bone. Caia, who was four years younger than Tokara, had started yawning before the pudding had been served and was half-asleep by the time they had climbed the tower stairs to the solar. The relentless harsh winds and weeks of icy temperatures were taking their toll on everybody.

Tokara let her eyes drift over the solar, her favorite room in the castle. Intricate tapestries lined all four stone walls. Her mother had brought the hanging pieces from a faraway land only last fall. Enormous, they depicted faerie stories and tales of magical beasts that made Tokara’s imagination tumble.

The room’s chilly stone floors had been layered with plush rugs, which created a spongy cushion for her every step, but this evening she’d pulled on two pairs of knitted socks before cramming her feet into her sheepskin-lined house boots. Leaning slightly forward on the stuffed leather hassock, she wiggled her toes, grateful for the arched fireplace so big that it could fit a team of pack mules. Fed throughout the day and evening, the fire kept the solar toasty and drove away the dampness.

Tokara turned her back to the fireplace, enjoying the warmth that spread from her lower back to her shoulder blades. She was glad her mother would not be traveling again until spring. Home was always merry for the Deldano children but never as merry as when their mother returned from one of her long voyages. Tokara also noted happily that her mother’s tremendous desk was bare. The farmers’ tithes had been collected after harvest, and the annual review of the estate and the Deldano lands had been concluded in time for the midwinter feast. According to tradition, the family would soon bring solstice gifts to the inhabitants of the Chain and the farms that surrounded the villages. Tokara always looked forward to the village celebrations and the feast that would follow at the castle.

As an early present, her father had taken both of her brothers ice fishing on Garganey Lake. Tokara shivered to think just how cold her father and the twins would be on this long and starless night. While she liked fishing, she was happy to have stayed behind. Her mother traveled so often throughout the year that having her home was solstice prize enough for Tokara.

The flames in the fireplace jumped up and sent a pleasant blast of warmth up her spine. Tokara looked over at little Caia. The six-year-old lay contently curled on the thick lambskin rugs, nestled between the family’s five hunting dogs. Caia and the dogs were fast asleep; the youngest, a seventy-pound monster of a six-month-old puppy, snored in Caia’s tightly wound grasp.

“I think Howler belongs to Caia,” her mother said softly. “He’s taken to her.”

Tokara nodded firmly. She longed to pet the pup’s short velvety coat but kept her hands to herself.

“You don’t mind?” Her mother turned her bright and penetrating gaze on her.

“A little.” Tokara could never lie to her parents. “I thought Howler would be my special dog.” She shifted her body and leaned toward the leather chair to be closer to her mother. Dressed in warm robes that brought out the green of her eyes, her honey-blond curls loose around her shoulders, Kadana Deldano looked far less commanding than usual.

Tokara loved these rare moments, when her mother was relaxed and completely present. She admired her mother greatly, but at times like this, Tokara’s heart swelled with adoration as well. Momma is the most beautiful woman in the world.

“Why did you think that?” Her mother wasn’t searching for a specific answer; she just wanted to know the truth.

“Well, I thought, since Fergus and Liam and Becca and Rawley are twins, they obviously belong to our twins.” Tokara thought about how one of each of the hound twins had sought out one of her twin brothers to follow around and worship. “Fergus and Becca are always with Rask. And Liam and Rawley can’t wait for Reeve to play with them, even though they are really working dogs.”

“You noticed the dogs didn’t go ice fishing with the Rask and Reeve?” her mother pointed out with a smirk. “The dogs stayed here where it’s warm.”

Tokara nodded, aware. “I though when Daddy brought home a puppy this summer, that it would be my puppy. Because I’m next in line.”

“I see why you might think that.”

“But Caia loves Howler. Can’t sleep without him.” Tokara spoke from experience. “He’s a baby, and she’s our baby. So, it all does make a lot of sense.”

“You sound very grown up, my sweet girl.” Her mother put her hand on the leather tome. “The giants of the earth could learn from you.” She smiled. “Did I ever tell you the story of Straakhan . . . and Bumpus?”

Tokara leaned against the overstuffed arm of the chair. “I don’t know that story, Momma.”

Kadana opened the great book to the middle and began to flip pages, searching for the story. The leather binding brushed softly against her woolen robes.

Tokara held her breath. Her mother didn’t often take time to read to them. Far more often she’d take her children hunting or run them through sword drills or archery practice. Under her mother’s strict tutelage, Tokara had learned to ride a pony when she was only three. Story time was more the realm of her father and sometimes the Melian relatives on the rare occasions they visited.

Kadana carefully shifted the book, folding out a longer page to three times its length. The rustling of paper caught Howler’s attention. The puppy raised his copper head, looked around the room, bleary-eyed, and gave a hearty yawn. Then he settled back down and rested the full weight of his head on Caia’s shoulder. The little girl didn’t stir.

“In days long ago . . .” The story began the traditional way. “Straakhan built his castle in the impenetrable forest of—”

“Is it our castle, Momma?” Tokara thought she already knew the answer.

“Yes, this is the castle Straakhan built,” her mother confirmed.

Tokara sighed. “A castle built by the one of the giants of Imlidral. . .” She let the mystery of it hang in the air.

“Straakhan wasn’t just one of the giants of Imlidral, you know. The blood of the faerie coursed through him as well,” her mother went on. “And once, when the days were short and the nights were long, Straakhan left his castle to search for a companion.

“He didn’t like spending time with the other giants. But he had grown weary of being alone. So, he sought new company.” Her mother looked up from her book. “What kind of companion do you think he found?

“Wouldn’t he seek a human companion?” Tokara asked. “A friend?”

“Remember, this was in days long ago,” her mother said. “So long ago that there were no humans.”

Tokara considered. “Was it a cat?” she asked, finally. “A mighty, fierce cat like Tormy?” She’d never met the talking cat, which was rumored to be the size of a pony, but the stories told of Omen and Tormy’s adventures were fantastical and amazing. She wondered if they were all true.

“I don’t know if Straakhan knew about Tormy’s kin,” her mother said. “I’ve never heard stories of such cats before.”

“My third guess . . .” Tokara looked at the pile of dogs. “My third guess is that he sought the company of a dog.”

“He would have, my dearest.” Her mother flipped the pages of the book. “But in those days so long ago, there were no dogs.”

“No dogs, Momma?” Tokara set her lips to a pout. “Dogs have always been. Haven’t they?”

“Nothing has always been.” Kadana tapped the page.

The story wasn’t going the way Tokara had expected. Her lips trembled slightly, questions dancing through her head like snowflakes caught up in an unexpected gust. “Did Straakhan ever find a pet?” she asked finally.

“Not a pet,” her mother corrected. “A companion. There’s a big difference.”

“Did he find a companion, Momma?”

“Straakhan went out into the forest. In the deepest, darkest part of the woods, he saw a great beast. The creature was so large and so fierce, he dared not approach it, but he watched its movements for many days.

“It was mighty indeed: large jaws filled with fearsome, snapping teeth; fat paws round as stones with claws drawn out and sharp; a coat as brown as the earth and as thick and long as pine needles. When it roared, the trees trembled and the moon hid behind the sun.

“The creature holed up in a cave for a long time, and Straakhan lay in wait, his patience growing thin. When the mighty one emerged from the cave again, Straakhan knew the wait had been worth it.

“With her, for Straakhan learned then that the creature was a female, were four little ones of her kind. Three were brown like their mother, but one — the largest — was white as milk and had eyes blue as the sky at noon.

“Over many months of waiting and watching, Straakhan won the trust of the mother. He brought her food, watched over the cubs, and protected them from enemies. A season passed, and the cubs grew.

“One day, the family moved on while Straakhan slept. He woke to find them gone and the cave empty. His heart was broken, for he had come to love them all.

“But as he turned away, knowing he would have to return to his empty castle all alone, the snowy white youngling with the blue eyes came to his side.

“He named him Bumpus.”

“Bumpus is a funny name,” Tokara interrupted.

“Bumpus is a funny name, and Straakhan was delighted by his funny companion.” “Was Bumpus a good companion?”

“The very best, most loyal companion. Bumpus grew to be incredibly big and strong. His long coat was white in winter and golden in summer. Bumpus followed Straakhan everywhere, like a puppy.”

“Is there a picture in the book?” Tokara asked impetuously.

Her mother stiffened slightly, but she turned the book so Tokara could study the folded-out page.

The parchment was brittle but the picture seemed fresh, nearly gleaming. A tall, handsome man in leathers stood next to an enormous creature Tokara thought looked like both a wolf and a bear.

“Is that Bumpus?” she asked, pointing her finger at the white wolf-bear. “His neck is thick; his legs are like tree stumps; his jaw is round like a bear’s, but everything else about him is like a wolf. And he walks on four feet.”

Her mother nodded. “And don’t forget, Straakhan was a giant. So Bumpus is much larger than a regular wolf standing next to a regular man.”

Tokara thought that Straakhan in the painting was nearly as handsome as her oldest brother. “Straakhan looks a lot like Beren,” she said absently.

Her mother chuckled softly.

“I don’t recognize this language, Momma.” Tokara tilted her head to look at the odd letters, which appeared to her as if a chicken had danced across the page.

“The writing is very, very old,” her mother said. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to learn it.”

Tokara wanted to hear more, but a powerful yawn took hold of her. She quickly flung her hands to her face to cover her mouth.

“Straakhan and Bumpus were the best of companions. They traveled the world and had many adventures.” Her mother closed the book, stifling a yawn of her own. “It’s getting to be bedtime, for all of us.”

“Were Bumpus and Straakhan companions forever?” Tokara hoped to draw out the tale.

“Not forever, my sweet.” Her mother returned the book to the side table.

Though afraid to hear more, Tokara couldn’t stop herself from asking. “What happened?” she whispered anxiously.

A sad smile played on her mother’s lips. “What always happens. When it was time for Bumpus to pass, Straakhan wouldn’t accept it. Straakhan, through his faerie blood, was immortal. He wanted his companion to be immortal as well.”

“And that couldn’t happen.” Tokara felt a lump form in her throat.

“Oh no, Tokara.” Her mother took a deep breath. “It did happen. Straakhan railed against the gods and nature. He found a way to make Bumpus immortal.”

“But then everything was all right.” Tokara didn’t understand why her mother had made it seem like the story’s end would be sad.

“Straakhan made a lot of enemies in his quest to make Bumpus immortal. He defied many powerful immortals and put worlds in danger. He cared for nothing but obtaining his goal. Straakhan got what he wanted. But not the way he wanted it.

“Once Bumpus was immortal like Straakhan, the powerful ones he had offended punished Straakhan. They banished him to a solitary realm, a place that could only hold one immortal at a time. If a second immortal joined him there, they would both be torn apart, splintered into the tiniest bits of energy and pure power. Destroyed for eternity.

“If Bumpus hadn’t been immortal, he would have been able to join Straakhan in his exile. The very gift of immortality held them apart, will hold them apart for all eternity.”

Tokara’s eyes stung. “What happened to Bumpus?”

“Bumpus was left all alone. His family long dead, none of his kind walked the earth.”

Tokara frowned. “This is only a story, right Momma?”

Her mother tilted her head. “This happened in days so long ago, it might as well be called ‘only a story.’ But I want you think of the responsibility that comes with gaining a companion. Straakhan ruined himself for the love of Bumpus; and his heart breaks every day anew.”

Tokara looked over at Caia snuggling closer to Howler. “So, is it bad to have a companion? Does it always end in sadness? If it’s like that, I don’t think I want one.”

“My little philosopher,” her mother said. “You have to live and love wherever your heart takes you. And sometimes love of another takes you down a thorny path. That is life.”

Tokara looked at her mother’s smiling face and the cozy dog pile, her sister at its center. “Life is beautiful and cruel then.”

“Let’s get you girls ready for bed,” her mother said. She scooped Caia from the rug, lifting the sleeping girl as if she weighed less than a feather.

Howler, stretching and yawing, padded out of the room after them.

Tokara’s eyes fell on the leather tome. Impulsively, she picked it up from the table and followed her mother and sister to the sleeping chambers.

wintertithe_cover

To download the whole story for free  visit us at

http://ofcatsanddragons.com/books/11/

 

Don’t Judge a Book by… Its Indie Author Roots #2

guest blog by Bonita Gutierrez

I’m a fan of books. I love to read. I read almost every night. Best sellers. Comics. Small press. Self-published. You name it. But it wasn’t until I became an indie author/publisher myself that I realized just how hard it is for a self-published author to get exposure for his/her work. That’s why I pitched Camilla this blog series (Check out our first installment here), and why we’ve made it our mission to get the word out about the great indie authors you should be reading.

So get those e-readers ready. (Don’t have a Kindle. No problem. Just download the FREE app to the device of your choice and voilà you’re reading 21st century-style!)

Here’s the next batch of books to download…

Four o'Clock Alice

FOUR O’CLOCK ALICE

by Vanessa Ravel

Dark Gothic Fantasy

Book blurb:

Alice Davies would rather die than harm another living soul, but death seems to follow her everywhere. And as the corpses start to pile up, the villagers of Dolwicke start to whisper.

Little Alice may seem terrifying, indeed, but there is another, more sinister threat afoot in Dolwicke. An ancient diabolical entity has infiltrated mankind, its essence spreading like a cancer among men, women and children and drowning their humanity in a cesspool of wickedness. Finding nourishment in the ravages of war and plague, the insidious being also pines for Alice, who can’t shake the feeling that someone or something is watching her from the forest just outside her bedroom window. But as long as she obeys the mysterious four o’clock curfew imposed by her parents, she is safe from her invisible stalker. At least, that’s what her parents tell her.

Desperate to uncover the truth behind her mysterious curse, Alice embarks on a frightening journey of self-discovery and transformation that will ultimately lead her to face an ancient enemy and to discover a world she not only belongs in, but where she reigns supreme. In her courageous attempt to destroy her enemy and save mankind from its infusion of evil, Alice will have to open her eyes to truths that seem too ugly to face.

FOUR O’CLOCK ALICE link

 

dhscc

DEMON HUNTER SACRIFICE

by J. Thorn, Lindsey Buroker, Zach Bohannon & J.F. Penn

Supernatural Fantasy Thriller

Book Blurb:

A relic thief.
An ex-military Mom.
A grief-stricken father willing to do anything to save his son.
An American Demon Hunter.
All aboard the 8.05pm from Chicago to New Orleans for 19 hours that will change their lives.

When the relic of an ancient blood cult is used to summon the dead and open a portal to the beyond, demons escape onto the train. As the body count rises, each must fight to save their own lives and those of the people they love. New friendships are forged in the battles and love blossoms in the carnage.

But who will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice?

A dark fantasy from four bestselling authors who just happened to be on the 8.05pm from Chicago one March evening…

DEMON HUNTER SACRIFICE link

 

Enchanted

THE SUMMER SOLSTICE ENCHANTED

by K.K. Allen

Young Adult Fantasy

Book Blurb:

After Katrina Summer’s mother dies a mysterious and tragic death, she is hurtled into life at Apollo Beach where she learns the legends of her Ancient Greek ancestors. Kat’s world unravels as secrets from her heritage are exposed—secrets that her mother purposefully concealed. Leading to her 16th birthday, the day of the Summer Solstice, Kat becomes frightened when enigmatic visions and disturbing dreams haunt her. As her visions become reality fear turns to terror as powerful forces threaten the lives of those around her. Amidst the turmoil, Kat meets the gorgeous boy-next-door, Alec Stone, who becomes her sole solace in an evocative world of mythological enchantment and evil prophecies that lurk around every corner…

THE SUMMER SOLSTICE ENCHANTED link

 

Translucid

TRANSLUCID (DRAGONFIRE STATION BOOK 1)

by Zen DiPietro

Science Fiction

Book Blurb:

What if you woke up knowing how to do your job, but not your own name? What if you had to rely on other people to tell you who you were?

What if you thought they were wrong?

Emé Fallon is the security chief of Dragonfire Station, and she does a damn good job of it. That’s where her competence ends. Outside of work, she has a wife she doesn’t know, a captain who seems to hate her, and a lot of questions that don’t add up.Without a past, all she has is the present, and she’ll stop at nothing to ensure she has a future.

Dragonfire Station is sci-fi thriller series with technothriller and cyberpunk elements. It features adventure, plot twists, action, witty and amusing dialogue, and most of all highly developed characters who feel like real people you know. In a nutshell, it’s about kick-ass, flawed people who are doing their best overcome the challenges thrown their way.

Fans of Firefly and The Expanse will love this new series.

TRANSLUCID link

 

And last but not least, Camilla has written an extraordinary Urban Fantasy Myth Punk story that I absolutely love. And right now, it’s FREE! (8/7/17 – 8/11/17)

7thcoverbook copy

THE SEVENTH LANE

by Camilla Ochlan

Urban Fantasy Myth Punk

Blurb:

When work-a-day corporate stiff John Cade makes a delivery to a prodigiously eccentric client, his world spins out of control. Hunted by otherworldly creatures in a wild chase, he hurtles through an abruptly unfamiliar Los Angeles as the boundaries of reality bend and blur. Will Cade hold on to his sanity or be driven off the edge by forces beyond his comprehension? The answer can only be found in the Seventh Lane.

THE SEVENTH LANE link

Experience The Seventh Lane on Audible, narrated by Audi Award winner PJ Ochlan!

https://www.amazon.com/The-Seventh-Lane/dp/B00QKZ0NM4/

 

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