I love my cold, black heart

At the day job this week, I was reviewing editorial corrections with a colleague.

He looked at me and said: “Jackie, you’re sucking out my soul.”

“That’s because I don’t have one,” I replied with a smile. “It’s why I am editor.”

He sighed, glanced back at the project, and we soldiered on. 
I feel this picture is an appropriate representation of my editor’s persona. Very gothic. *maniacal laughter*


Tomorrow marks a whole year published. Wow!  Thank you all for your love and support.

To celebrate, you can download “Bound” FOR FREE from midnight Pacific on June 20 to midnight on June 25.

If you have already read the book, 1,000 thanks to you! If you haven’t and would like to, now would be the time to act!

Tell your friends and loved ones.
#UisforUndead

Available for Amazon Kindle and any Kindle apps: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00ZYW7RNM/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1466279211&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=jackie+hames

Celebrating One Year Published!

I Cannot Fly

Today, I cannot fly;

My wings are heavy.

They drag on the ground behind me like anvils,

Iron-stiff and slung low.

My back and chest ache to carry them,

Lungs burning with every step.

My wings are battered and leave a trail of feathers in their wake–

A downy wound in the dirt.

They hurt

And freely bleed as I lurch along the road.

But with every ragged breath I take, I can think of just two things:

Though today I cannot fly,

At least I still have wings.

  

The Campaign: Session 1, Part 2

This one is going to be a little long, since I am playing catch up. It’s still technically part of our first D&D session, when the dice were not kind and I didn’t know how to use my character sheet. I am still working on that, come to think of it. 

 

Part Two

Kroka led Isolde through a warren of streets to reach the docks of Waterdeep. He whistled tunelessly, loping ahead of her, all traces of anger seemingly gone. Isolde knew better, however; Kroka may not hold a grudge, per say, but he wouldn’t ever let her live down this wrong she had allegedly done him. She snorted, glaring at his shoulders, and thought about telling him how she thought he’d just abandoned her for no reason the day he’d left—he hadn’t even said goodbye. But she wouldn’t say that, not yet. She didn’t want to fight. It was nice to finally have someone around that she could trust.

Well. Someone that wasn’t actively trying to kill her, at least.

Kroka stopped in front of a rickety two-story building. The hinges on the door were rusty, and they creaked when he pushed it open.

“After you, princess,” he said, smiling.

Isolde rolled her eyes and went inside. The inn smelled like stale whale oil, wet dog, and man sweat. Kroka shuffled past her and took up residence at the bar. She hung back as instructed, loitering near the hearth. A fat, orange-and-white striped cat wound around her legs. She bent and gave it a little pat, keeping an eye on Kroka. He had struck up a conversation with a thin, greasy sailor. After a few minutes, the first sailor was replaced by a second—a thicker man with a heavy, black mustache. Kroka beckoned for Isolde with a flick of his wrist. She arched an eyebrow at him. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the ground beside him.

“Oh, you little shit,” she muttered, weaving her way through the bar patrons.

“Captain,” Kroka said when she arrived, “this is my associate, Isolde. Princess, this is Captain Gruff.”

Isolde forced a pleasant smile. “A pleasure, sir.”

Gruff barely spared a glance for her.

“She’s in security?”

“She’s tougher than she looks,” Kroka assured him. Isolde bit her tongue in an effort to stay silent.

“If you say so. Be at ship by dawn tomorrow.” Gruff knocked back the last of his ale and started to move away. Kroka grabbed his elbow.

“Beg pardon, Captain,” he said, “but we haven’t discussed the issue of payment.”

“You’ll get paid when the job is done.”

“We’ll get paid half upfront or the job won’t get done,” Isolde snapped.

“Exactly,” Kroka said, smiling wide.

Gruff sniffed, but pulled a large purse off of his belt. He handed it to Kroka with a sickly smile.

“Many thanks, Cap’n. See you in the morning,” Kroka said. Gruff snorted, and then whirled away to rejoin his companions at a nearby table. Kroka bounced the purse in his hand. “Care for a drink?”

“I care for my share of the money,” Isolde said, leaning against the bar. Kroka’s smile vanished.

“When did you get so materialistic?” He dumped half the purse into his hand.

“When I had to resort to piracy.”

“Piracy?” he asked, eyebrows climbing up his forehead. “Really?”

“Really.” Isolde held out her own money pouch. “Ante up.”

Kroka funneled the coins into the pouch, frowning at her. “Can we have a drink now?”

“Of course,” she replied, giving him the most charming smile she could muster.

“By your leave, highness,” he said, voice flat.

Isolde slumped against the bar. She ordered rum, and drank it in silence while Kroka chatted up the bartender.

Not five minutes later, shouting erupted from Gruff’s table. There was a rapid fire back and forth about the cargo being too dangerous, which degraded into screaming insults.

Kroka swallowed the rest of his ale.

“Better check it out,” he said.

“Why?”

He sighed. “Because we work for him now, remember?”

“Why don’t you just beckon me when you need me,” she sneered.

“Sounds good,” he said, and then strode over to Gruff’s table. “What seems to be the matter, Captain?” he asked loudly.

Isolde took a step away from the bar so she could get access to her crossbow, should she need it. Kroka had lowered his voice and was mediating Gruff and the newcomer’s argument in a charming rumble. Unfortunately for Kroka, Gruff was already on the war path, and he started screaming at the half-elf, too.

“I won’t do it!” Gruff yelled.

“You will, or you’ll have no employment,” the newcomer—a broad, brunette woman—said evenly.

“Then I want my fee doubled.”

“You’ll keep your regular fee, or you’ll have no employment,” she said. Her face was stony.

Gruff threw up his hands. “Then negotiate with my employees,” he growled, taking a few steps away and gesturing at Kroka and a handful of others.

Kroka rolled his shoulders and waved for Isolde. She glanced around the room and realized Gruff and his employees were sorely outnumbered. Even Kroka wouldn’t be able to do much damage with his sword in so close quarters.

Isolde tapped a finger on the bar, thinking. Kroka gestured to her again as he and the thin, greasy sailor squared up against five much larger men, while Gruff fled the building. She put aside her apprehension about the consequences of using magic and took a few steps closer.

“Sleep,” she whispered, flicking her fingers at Kroka’s assailants. A white and blue mist shot forward from her hand. Just as it was about to hit the brunette’s thugs, Kroka took a half step to the right and the whole cloud slammed into the back of him.
He crumpled to the floor, snoring.

“Shit. You couldn’t have stayed still just two more lousy seconds,” she hissed, dashing over to him. She grabbed his arm and pulled him bodily across the floor. “Damn you, Kroka, why do you have to be wearing so…much…armor!” She heaved him into a sitting position, his back braced against the bar. After sixty seconds, the spell wore off, and Kroka blinked awake.

“What happened?” he asked, glancing at the fighting in the center of the tavern. Isolde winced as a clay cup smashed on the bar above their heads.

“You moved into my sleeping spell,” she said, shoving his sword into his hands.

“Sleeping spell? You can use spells? You used a sleeping spell on me?”

“No, not on you, on them, and you stepped into it, now get up.”

“Are you trying to kill me?”

“Kroka get up!” she hissed, shooting to her feet. The second she was upright, Kroka kicked her feet out from under her and she fell. A dagger whizzed past where her stomach had been and embedded itself into the bar.

Isolde stared at the dagger.

“Well, what are you lying around for? We need to leave,” Kroka said, crawling for the nearest door.

Isolde scrambled after him.

The pair hustled to a different inn and spent the night in a room with a sloping roof and a single, beaten up bed.

“I’ll sleep on the floor,” Kroka volunteered, unrolling a blanket from his pack.
Isolde smiled. “I think I’ll join you,” she replied. Kroka drew a line in the dust of the floor.

“Stay on your side,” he said, chuckling.

Isolde rolled her eyes. The man was insufferable. But she slept better that night than any other night since they had gone their separate ways.

 

They were at the ship on time, as promised. The crew looked a little bedraggled, members peppered with black eyes and hastily stitched cuts. Captain Gruff greeted them on the gangway, his mustache drooping and face pale. Kroka reached out and shook his hand. The captain’s palms were clammy.

“We take the cargo to it’s destination, unload, and come back to this port, as quickly as possible,” he explained. “No detours. No shore leave.”

“What are we carrying?” Isolde asked.

Gruff leveled a shaking finger at her. “Most especially, no questions,” he hissed before trotting up the gangplank.

“Oh, well now I’m definitely curious,” Isolde said.

Kroka groaned. “Izzy, woman, can’t we just do the job and get paid?”

“Aren’t you curious?”

“No!” he said, a note of desperation creeping into his voice.

“Not at—hey!”

He shoved her up the gangway, muttering threats. “I just want to get my money, and get on with your little family reunion, all right? Is that too much to ask?”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I left it in the last man I killed, now get on the boat.”

“Ship.”

Kroka let out a noiseless sigh. He gave her one last push as they reached the top of the gangplank. She shot a glare over her shoulder, green eyes blazing. He smiled sweetly in return, but he suddenly had the feeling he wouldn’t want to be a pirate facing her ire.
He let her wander off as he went to ingratiate himself with the crew. He spoke with one particularly battered sailor for about two minutes before he noticed Isolde noticing a guarded door.

His shoulders slumped.

“Hey, princess,” he called. Isolde turned, red hair swirling. “Let’s find our bunks.”

Isolde glanced at the guarded door before walking over.

“Did you see—”

“Yes. I did. And I saw you, you’re too obvious.” He grabbed her elbow and yanked her along the deck. He came to the entrance for the lower deck and guided her through.

“Excuse me for not being used to hiding my motives,” she snapped, whirling on him at the bottom of the ladder. “Could you not man handle me? It’s very irritating.”

You’re very irritating. You’re gonna get us both killed.”

“Honestly, Kroka, you don’t want to know what we’re guarding?”

“Would you keep your voice down!” He pulled her further away from the ladder. “And yes, I would like to know, but only if someone is kind enough to tell me.”

“What if it’s dangerous? Gruff seems pretty rattled.”

Kroka pulled himself to his full height and loomed over Isolde. “If you go snooping, don’t expect me to come and save you.”

A muscle in Isolde’s jaw twitched. “I won’t,” she said, voice tight. And then she climbed right back up the ladder.

“Fuck,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Isolde Edgewater, I swear to every god in existence, if somebody stabs you, I’m gonna laugh,” he muttered, climbing up after her.

She helped the crew make way, climbing around in the rigging in a far more competent way than Kroka remembered. Once the ship was at full sail, she waited just long enough for the rest of the crew to be distracted with other things before sauntering right up to the guards at the door and flirting with them. Kroka leaned against the rail, arms folded.

“Woman, you have about as many feminine wiles as a wet hen,” he murmured, snickering.

He couldn’t hear what she was saying, but he could guess. Isolde popped her hip and flipped her hair, and the guards glanced at each other. They gave her the courtesy of considering the flirtation before one shoved her backward—hard. She stumbled slightly, recovered, and then sauntered away. Kroka met her in the middle of the deck.

“You trying to flirt your way into that room, princess?”

“No, I was trying to flirt my way to getting them to admit something about that room. Apparently I’m rusty.” She laced her collar a little tighter, scowling.

“Izzy, you’ve always been rusty.”

She made a face. “Rude.”

“Why are you so hell bent on figuring out what we’re hauling anyway?” Kroka asked.

Isolde pushed a strand of hair out of her face and looked him in the eye.

“I just have a bad feeling. I’ve been on enough ships so know when the crew is spooked, and this one is very spooked.”

“I noticed that too.”

“Well?”

Kroka groaned. “I’m going to hate myself for this, but I’ll take care of these guys and we’ll go check it out.”

Isolde narrowed her eyes. “Take care of them?”

Kroka nodded, grinning, and strode over to the guards, hauling Isolde along by the arm. He stopped in front of the surly looking men, reached into his pocket and pulled out ten gold pieces. He took the guard on the left’s hand and poured the money into it.

“You and your friend have somewhere to be?” he asked.

The guards exchanged glances. The one on the left shrugged, threw Isolde a wink, and they both walked away.

Isolde stared at Kroka.

“What?”

“That worked, but I didn’t?”

Kroka shrugged. “Maybe I’m more their type.” He moved a strand of black hair away from his face with an exaggerated flick. “Come on, then, ladies first.”

Isolde sniffed, but pushed the door open. Kroka followed her down a dark stairwell. The moment his feet met the bottom, two torches flared to life. He jumped.

“If you’re going to use your magic, princess, warn me.”

“That…that wasn’t me,” she said, looking around. They were in a five foot square room. Behind them, the stairwell. In front of them, an ornately carved door. Isolde looked over her shoulder at Kroka. He drew his sword.

“Ladies first,” he repeated, falling into a guarded stance. Isolde grabbed a torch, took a deep breath, then pulled the handle of the door. It swung open silently.
Isolde waved the torch through the opening. Satisfied nothing bad would happen if she crossed the threshold, she stepped through.

“It’s just a hallway,” she called.

Kroka frowned. “Boats don’t have hallways,” he said, coming up behind her. The door closed behind him. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. “If I die because of magic,” he whispered into Isolde’s ear, “My ghost will torment you for the rest of your life.”

Isolde sighed as she moved down the hall. They walked for a several minutes, every step setting Kroka’s teeth further on edge. They finally came to another door, as ornately carved as the first, but this one was red.

“I don’t like this,” Kroka gritted.

Isolde examined the door for physical triggers and found none. She put her hand against the wood and closed her eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Shh.”

Kroka exhaled loudly through his nose. He tapped the pommel of his sword with a finger.

“I don’t think it’s rigged,” Isolde said after a moment.

“With magic?”

“Not that I can tell.” She reached for the door handle.

“Wait,” Kroka said. He pushed her aside. “Your reflexes are abysmal.”

She folded her arms and glared.

Kroka pulled the door open. Once it was fully ajar, he heard the twang of a bowstring. Kroka leapt to the right, slamming Isolde against the wall with him. Five arrows whistled down the hall. He could hear the fait thwup as they buried themselves into the wall at the end.

“Not rigged, huh?” He scooped up the torch Isolde had dropped.

“Not that I could tell!”

Kroka threw the torch into the room and waited. Nothing happened. “Your sorcery could use some work,” he said, stepping into the room. Isolde trailed after him. The door closed behind them again, making Kroka roll his eyes. Magic was terribly cliche.

And repetitive. They were in yet another small room with an ornately carved door in front of them. He shot Isolde an annoyed look. She shrugged.

“Move.” He crept up to the door and examined it. There were no physical signs of a trap, but runes were etched into the wood of the door. He gestured to them pointedly.

“Protection spell.”

“Fabulous.” Kroka knocked on the wood. It sounded ordinary to him.

“I could go first,” Isolde suggested.

“Like hell.”

Kroka threw open the door. It was another empty room, but the door on the opposite end was made of metal, and it was barred. Nothing twanged and whizzed in warning. The floor was wooden. Kroka put his toe through the threshold and tapped the floor. Still nothing happened. He took a few steps into the room. When he beckoned to Isolde, he heard a metallic thump and felt a rush of air. Spikes shot out of the floor, grazing his boots. He froze.

“Kroka?”

He waved her to silence, trying to hear another trigger over the sound of his heartbeat. He cautiously maneuvered around one or two of the spikes. When nothing else happened, he wove to the the other side of the room.

“Come on,” he said.

Isolde followed his path exactly. “You’re one lucky bastard, you know that?”

“That’s probably good,” he replied, throwing the bar on the metal door, “Since you’re so unlucky.” He put his shoulder against the door.

“What if this one is rigged, too?”

“Look at the door, princess. Look at the wood around it. This is the ship, not some magical funhouse filled with booby traps.”

Isolde took a step back. “Go ahead then.”

Kroka heaved the door open. It revealed a small storage room, but the only thing in it was a three and a half foot by three foot metal cage. Inside the cage was a small woman—an elf. She looked boney and drawn, and she reeked. Kroka closed the distance to the cage in two strides, growling for Isolde to get in the room.

He knelt by the cage. The woman wrapped her fingers around the bars.

“Help, help me please, don’t let them take me there,” the elf whispered.

Found it!

I finally found the picture I wanted to post with this poem originally, so…be prepared for a rerun. Happy spring, my hearts!

  

Popcorn buttered the crisp autumn air
And music overwhelmed the dusk.

I walked among these others, all wide-eyed and sweet

Red sweater, golden corduroys,

Fresh airbrush tattoo on my right hip—

How scandalous; how trite.

Laughing and sighing and friend-making,

I trailed in the wake of a social goddess,

Noting, with surprise, I was just as lithe as she,

My smile just as bright.

Together, we were the belles of the Fall Fest,

Freshman Cinderellas painting the quad red.

I watched the foam joust,

Princes battering each other with giant cotton swabs,

And thought: This could be where I belong.

This place, where I realized I was beautiful

In the one, short hour before the gathering night,

When I was unafraid.