Sunday, February 13

Sample Sunday #5

Is it number five? I think it's number five. Oh well, we're starting to number them at five.

I'll get to the sample here in a moment, but for now I wanted to send out a quick congratulations to indie author Victorine Lieske, who just surpassed her 50,000th book sold yesterday. Vicki deserves the success she is experiencing and one can only hope that follow-up books sell as many or more. Me? I'm still waiting to pass 100 books sold but it will happen sooner, rather than later. To make it easier to reach that goal, I've permanently lowered the price of Spiral X to $2.99. This is purely a business move and one that I've battled over making for a lot longer than it possibly seems, especially since I first brought it up here just the other day. Lowering the price isn't something that I really want to do, because I firmly believe it's worth $3.99, but the established norm for indie books is $2.99 and I feel my ultimate goal, getting the book in the hands of readers, is hurt by setting it at a non-established price point. And I've done my research, helped in fact by Kindle Nation Daily, who keeps track of how well their sponsorships sell starting from the moment it's put up until 48 hours later. The evidence is clear, $3.99 isn't a normal price point, and it's difficult for a new author to establish himself there. So, in light of this and other findings, the price has been lowered. The main three platforms, Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, have all been updated, and one can assume that Apple, Sony, and Kobo will be updated near the end of the month.

And now, for the sample. I said last week that I had a very special sample lined up today, and I'm sticking to it. After the break, you will be able to read Chapter Two of Spiral X. I'm not entirely sure if it'll help sales, but I don't think it can hurt. The main issue is that this book is a bit of a slow burn up until the middle portions, and it's something I will admit to doing purposely. However, there isn't anything in the early portions of the book that doesn't have some sort of payoff later on, so I didn't do it just because. Besides, for every person who has said it starts off slow, I have just as many people saying it's action packed from page one. So your mileage may vary. Anyhoo, hit the break and read Chapter Two!

I wasn't lying when I told Tank I wouldn't end up sleeping. I went home, shed my clothes, and crawled into bed, but just ended up lying there for a good hour before I gave up and turned on the television. Not much was on, but my channel-flipping landed on an episode of Buffy and I decided to leave it there. The irony of a real-life Hunter of demons and vampires watching a show about a fictional Hunter of demons and vampires was not lost on me.
Something about the show must have calmed me down because the next thing I knew, someone was saying my name as they shook me awake. Bright light pierced my eyes when I opened them, a byproduct of the person in question having pulled my shades up. With a wordless growl I grabbed my covers and pulled them over my head, killing the light. A millisecond later, the covers were ripped out of my hands and tossed aside. I yelped as the cold October air hit me, and tried to ward it off by curling up into a ball.
"Wakey, wakey," said Virgil, my best friend and housemate. "This is Cheryl Erikson's wake-up call for her eleven o'clock meeting with the board of directors. Get your ass in gear before they decide it's no longer necessary to be courteous, and include you in on the decisions they make with regard to the company your father left you."
His voice was close, so when Virgil finished his speech, I lashed out with my right hand and clipped him on his leg. He yelped in pain, which caused me to smile as I finally opened my eyes. The light didn't hurt so much anymore, so I got a good look at my best friend in the world rubbing furiously at the charley horse I'd given him. "You know better than to wake me up like that, Virgil," I said without sympathy.
The bed creaked as I sat up and swung my legs around so I could dig my feet into the plush carpet of my room. The faint tickling sensation helped me wake up a little more, but also called attention to less pleasant feelings. Moving caused me to wince. I looked down and saw several bruises had appeared around my midsection. Dave's Master had been really tough to take out. He was, however, dead. That's what counted. My body would heal. In a couple of days the bruises would be gone, but until then ibuprofen was a pretty good remedy.
Virgil stayed sitting on the floor, absently rubbing at his leg, as he looked me over. I wasn't wearing anything, but the look was clinical in nature. Truly it was one of the benefits of having a best friend who happened to be gay. "Rough night?" he asked.
"Rougher than usual."
"I didn't hear you come in."
"I got in around the normal time," I said, then waved a hand at the television. "Couldn't sleep though."
"How come?" Virgil always got to the point. It was one of the reasons he was such a good friend for me. I had a tendency to evade the issue, and would talk my way around a subject for hours if given a chance. Virgil never let me.
"I finally got a lead," I said, skipping the detail of me torturing Dave the Feeder to get said lead. Virgil didn't need to be burdened by my sins. Not until I could reconcile my actions at least.
"You finally got a vamp to talk?" he asked, and I could sense the disbelief in his voice. I couldn't blame him. No one I knew had ever gotten a vamp to break on any of their operations. It's hard to bargain with an honest-to-God demon. Most of them don't mind Hell, so threatening to send them back where they came from didn't hold any weight. They were also too strong to hold by conventional means, so it was better to kill them, then get what you want from their Feeders or other minions.
"No," I said, dispelling the thinly veiled illusion that I could accomplish the impossible. "I was out on a sweep when I stumbled on a vamp around Highland Park. I took him out and just as I finished, some guy named Dave shows up carrying about two pounds of Plast."
Virgil let out a slow whistle. "That's a hell of a lot more than one vampire would need."
"I figured the same, so I subdued him and called in Tank to help me pump him for information. We had a nice chat, Dave and I, and I found out he got his stash from some dealer over near the VA named Jamal. I'm gonna head there tonight after my first sweep and see if I can convince him to help me out."
"Could it really be that easy?" asked Virgil.
I shrugged and winced at the bruises on my back. "God helps those who help themselves," I replied, standing up to put my robe on. I stretched and popped a few joints and felt better for it, at least enough to get some coffee. "Even if I can't get Jamal to give me some information, I don't think it would be hard to follow him around for a few days. The Feeder said he rode around in a green caddy with spinners. Very subtle." I punctuated the sentence with a yawn, then turned on Virgil and cocked my arm as if to hit him again. "Now tell me why you woke me up!" I said with mock menace in my voice.
Virgil chuckled and shook his head. "Forgot already. You have a conference call with the board of directors this morning at eleven," he said.
I let my arm fall. "Damn." When I had turned eighteen, the part in my father's will which stated I was to assume principal ownership of his construction company had been executed. I still wasn't sure why, but it had meant the company stayed in my family's name. Lucky for me it also meant I had a lot of people to help me run it, which in turn meant I didn't need to do anything. I had bimonthly meetings where I traveled to the headquarters in Tulsa and signed papers, plus the occasional conference call where I had to agree to any new contracts, but outside of those two responsibilities I was free and clear. Not a bad gig for six figures a year, plus bonuses.
"Just get freshened up and I'll have the bullet points in front of you when you get out, not to mention something resembling a meal." Virgil came close and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then a gentle shove toward the bathroom. I smiled at him, happy that he was here to help keep me organized.
We'd been friends since kindergarten, an odd pair, but one well suited for each other. Virgil, the effeminate African-American boy from a well-respected local politician, and Cheryl, the tomboy white girl from a construction company owner. I felt as if we had been fated to be the best of friends since the dawn of time itself, a belief Virgil shared during our quiet moments. It could never go beyond friendship, but that was part of why we were so good for each other. I'm not against friends loving one another enough to start a life together, but there was something to be said about having a friend you knew would accept the relationship you had without the burden of wondering if it could ever go further.
I gave him a quick salute as I turned for the bathroom. When I reached the door, my cell phone started going off. Virgil waved at me to keep going. "If it's important they'll leave a voice-mail," he said. I nodded, and disappeared into my kingdom of porcelain and tile.
About twenty minutes later, I emerged refreshed and feeling a lot better for having soaked in the bathtub. I picked up my phone from the nightstand and saw a voice-mail had been left. I called it up and worked to dry my hair. When the voice on the other end started speaking, I froze. It was the last person I had expected to call. "Cheryl, it is Cho. I need to speak with you immediately, and will be at your house in about thirty minutes. I know you do not like surprises, but this cannot be helped. I will see you soon, and will then explain everything." The line went dead and the automated voice popped in to ask me if I wanted to delete the message. I flipped the phone closed, muttered a few choice words, and immediately dug into my dresser for something to put on. If the message was twenty minutes old, that meant Cho was less than ten minutes out.
Cho had been my teacher in all things demon and vampire. Emphasis on had been, because two years ago, he had pronounced me "ready" and had disappeared from my life. Our relationship had always been a little tense because Cho tended to hold to ancient tenants his culture had instilled in him about women. He had been able to overlook it in the capacity of a master to his student, but in a social setting it had always been awkward. I never would have guessed a man shorter than me could make me feel judged every second I was around him, but Cho had managed it. I hadn't been sorry for my release from his tutelage, but at the same time I had missed the guidance of his steady hand in a few situations over the last couple of years. Such was our relationship.
None of it seemed to matter though, because I could almost feel the worry in Cho's voice as he left the message. Something was getting to him, and his unease made me nervous.
I rushed through putting an outfit on and had my shoes in hand as I stomped downstairs into the kitchen. Virgil stared at me as he dumped the eggs he had been making onto a plate. I didn't say anything to him, I just called up the voice-mail and let it play while I put my shoes on. When it was done, he calmly pulled out some aluminum foil and wrapped the plate before putting it in the oven. Then, without a word, he disappeared upstairs.
Virgil's sexual preferences had been a touchy subject in my relationship with Cho. Virgil, for his part, hadn't ever pressed the issue, and disappeared whenever Cho came around. He knew how much being a Hunter meant to me, so he made some sacrifices in the name of keeping things civil.
I had just finished pulling my hair back into a ponytail, the best I could do after having washed it, when the doorbell rang. Despite knowing it was coming, the sound startled me, and I found myself going through a quick breathing exercise as I went to the front door. When I reached it, I took one more deep breath, let it out slowly, and opened the door with a smile on my face.
Cho was indeed there, but he was not alone. Behind the diminutive form of the man who had trained me in three forms of martial arts and dozens of different ways to kill demons and vampires stood another man dressed almost entirely in black. The stranger spoke first, asking, "Cheryl Erikson, I presume?" I nodded slightly. He responded with a toothy grin, the kind you imagined an evil genius would display when he discovered his arch nemesis had just been caught with their pants down. "Good."
Confused, I looked down at Cho and saw him mouth the words, "I'm sorry."
Then the shit hit the fan. 
In a span of a single heartbeat, the scene in front of me fell apart in ways I still have problems processing. The man who had been my Master, who was standing there, silent but alive, collapsed to the ground in a heap. I reached to catch his falling form, but the stranger reacted quicker, and kicked me across the room with an unnatural strength no mortal could ever hope to achieve. Not without help. As I rocketed back into the room, I could see his eyes emanate a reddish glow, the sign of a human who had sold his soul to Hell. The thought lingered briefly before I slammed into the back wall of the living room. The drywall caved in and filled the air with specks of white dust as I fell to the floor and gasped for air.
The stranger took his time walking toward me; confident I wasn't going to be much of a challenge. Unfortunately for him, I was far from helpless. The man lying unconscious on my threshold had drilled into me the tenants of a Hunter's life. Rule number one was: Never go unarmed.
I got my legs underneath me and reached for my belt, where, instead of a belt buckle, I had used a custom-made miniature sai to hold the thin strip of leather together. The stainless-steel weapon had three prongs that were about a finger's length apart. It had no handle, so I could hold it comfortably in my fist with my index and middle fingers straddling the middle prong, which extended out about two inches. It felt like it took an eternity to get the damn thing out, but I had it ready by the time the stranger reached me. When I felt I had him where I wanted him, I uncurled and drove the prong straight up through his jaw. The expression on his face was one of surprise as I pulled the sai out, then jammed it into his temple. The light in his eyes, both real and demonic, flickered and extinguished as he fell in a heap to the floor.
I pulled the sai out and let the weapon slip through my fingers and fall to the floor as I rushed to Cho. Before I rolled the body over, I knew that he was gone. He wasn't breathing, and he remained limp as I picked him up. But past that, when I looked into his eyes all I saw were two black holes. Cho was gone, and the only thing left was a lifeless husk. It didn't stop me from pulling him close and rocking his body back and forth as I tried to fathom the loss of someone close to me yet again. Blood soaked my hand and ran down my arm, but I paid it no more mind than the tears running down my face, or the sobs that wracked my body.
I lost track of time, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds before Virgil found me. He didn't bother trying to ask what happened, he simply pulled me away from the scene and set me down at the kitchen table. He picked up a phone and dialed a number as he grabbed a washcloth and soaked it in water. Then, as he worked to get the blood off my arm, I heard him say, "Father, it's Virgil, Cheryl's roommate. I need you to get over here as fast as possible." A pause, then, "All I know is that we've got two bodies in the living room and one is Cho’s." Pause. "Goo- Hello? Hello?" He closed the phone and let it clatter on the table. "Help is on the way Cheryl. Just hang on."
Help was on the way. Good.
Except, I wasn't sure I cared.

And there's Chapter Two! Quick update on Book Two, while I'm at it. Initial index card outline is done, so from here it's a matter of transcribing those into something I can read. I'm hoping to have the transcribing done soon so I can read through the notes and figure out where to expand on ideas or cut something out. Should make it easier once I start the actual writing.

See ya'll in a few days!

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