Welcome to our third week of celebrations for the amazing
In today's post, we're talking about Kai Gracen, and Rhys is sharing a personal story. We also have another chance to win one of her books!
First up, Black Dog Blues
Ever since being part of the pot in a high-stakes poker game, elfin outcast Kai Gracen figures he used up his good karma when Dempsey, a human Stalker, won the hand and took him in. Following the violent merge of Earth and Underhill, the human and elfin races are left with a messy, monster-ridden world, and Stalkers are the only cavalry willing to ride to someone’s rescue when something shadowy appears.
It’s a hard life but one Kai likes—filled with bounty, a few friends, and most importantly, no other elfin around to remind him of his past. And killing monsters is easy. Especially since he’s one himself.
But when a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego, Kai is conscripted to do a job for Ryder’s fledgling Dawn Court. It’s supposed to be a simple run up the coast during dragon-mating season to retrieve a pregnant human woman seeking sanctuary. Easy, quick, and best of all, profitable. But Kai ends up in the middle of a deadly bloodline feud he has no hope of escaping.
No one ever got rich being a Stalker. But then few of them got old either and it doesn't look like Kai will be the exception.
Dempsey’s words didn’t bother me. We’d been down this road before. He’d been suckered into taking a mostly wild elfin in a poker game, calling a bluff that resulted in the bluffer passing me over the table as payment. I hadn’t understood a word of Singlish, and up until that point, I’d spent more time bleeding than eating. Over the years, I’d heard him wonder if it wouldn’t have been more profitable just to sell me to whoever would give him a good price. But sponsoring me as a Stalker was one of his better ideas, especially on those mornings when his fondness for drink kept him in bed. I was more motivated by the hunger in my belly, where Dempsey needed only a fifth to survive on for a week.
Considering where I’d come from, Dempsey was a godsend, no matter which god sent him.
“Not that I don’t want to bask in the warmth of your undying love, Dempsey, but I should head in and drop off the furs, then get some sleep. I’ll have the Post drop your share into the fund,” I said, pulling on a faded red T-shirt. “The account’s the same, right? They can do a transfer.”
“Yeah, same account,” he replied. “Stay a bit. I’ll bring out some food. Might as well feed you before you head back into the city. You can always eat. I’ve fed that damned stomach of yours long enough to know that. You probably need some more coffee in you too.”
“Yeah, I could eat.” I was hungry. I was always hungry, but I didn’t expect Dempsey to invite me in. The woman he was with hated elfin with a passion. She refused to be in the house if I stepped into it, calling a priest to bless the place whenever I crossed the threshold. It was easier to eat on the porch with him and afterward toss my paper plate and wooden chopsticks into the fire with the burning dogs.
He gathered breakfast quickly, and we sat eating rice, cold Spam, and wet eggs as the flames burned through the dogs’ bodies. I tossed my plate into the fire when I was done and lit a clove cigarette, filling my lungs with the kretek’s husky sweetness to wash away the stink of burning dog.
Dempsey’s plate joined mine after a few more mouthfuls. Standing next to me, he put his chewed-on cigar stump into his mouth, lit the end, then drew it back to life with a few pulls. Blowing out a stream of smoke to battle the dogs’ reek, he pursed his lips and stared off into the distance.
“You could have just sent me off with some food, you know.” I spotted the sun behind the gloom in the sky, surprised to discover it was only midmorning. Dempsey must have woken me up after only a few hours of sleep.
“Nah, that wouldn’t be right,” he growled. “You know it’s not good to eat on the run, and a Stalker should always have his man’s back. Be a shame if I’d spent all that time beating some sense into you and left that bit out.”
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Second so far, Mad Lizard Mambo
Kai Gracen has no intention of being anyone’s pawn. A pity Fate and SoCalGov have a different opinion on the matter.
Licensed Stalkers make their living hunting down monsters and dangerous criminals… and their lives are usually brief, brutal, and thankless. Despite being elfin and cursed with a nearly immortal lifespan, Kai didn’t expect to be any different. Then Ryder, the High Lord of the Southern Rise Court, arrived in San Diego, Kai’s not-so-mundane life went from mild mayhem to full-throttle chaos.
Now an official liaison between the growing Sidhe Court and the human populace, Kai is at Ryder’s beck and call for anything a High Lord might need a Stalker to do. Unfortunately for Kai, this means chasing down a flimsy rumor about an ancient lost Court somewhere in the Nevada desert—a court with powerful magics that might save Ryder—and Kai’s—people from becoming a bloody memory in their Merged world’s violent history.
The race for the elfin people’s salvation opens unwelcome windows into Kai’s murky past, and it could also slam the door on any future he might have with his own kind and Ryder.
I’d brought in its largest dragon skeleton, and it’d hung along the long hall’s ceiling, suspended on nearly invisible wires, caught in midswoop in all its glorious fifty feet of ivory bone and fang.
A dragon that was now missing.
In fact, most of their dragon-related exhibit was stripped clean, leaving only the plaster constructs done by local artists. There were a few artifacts, some castings, and a silly footprint display of different draconian types so visitors could compare their shoe size with something that would slurp them up like an udon noodle if they actually met face-to-face.
Sure, there were other dragons—plush, grinning things set along a shop’s glass walls to coax parents into coughing up a week’s wages to keep a smile on Junior’s face. The coffee kiosks on either side of the hall were squat round interpretations of ground slithers, boasting neon spines along their roofs and sides bright enough to blind anyone who stared at them too long. There were other dribbles and drabs, illusions of the massive and teeny beasts who lived and died in the wastelands above Carlsbad, but not a single damned piece of an actual dragon.
Delicate, fragile wings made of fabric and boning framed the ceiling nearly four stories above us. The museum’s exhibits wrapped around the space, tiers of floors branching off lifts and stairs, leaving the massive hall in the middle practically empty. My dragon—the museum’s massive red—once dominated the space, its serpentine spine set into waves high enough for a child to have walked under it when it’d been on the floor. The bone fixers canted the lizard’s wings back, curving its body into an attack stance, as if it were sweeping down to snatch its prey from Pendle’s rough black hills.
Since I’d found the dead dragon in a rotting, mangled heap, I’d secretly approved of its after-death ferocity.
I’d taken great fucking pride in that dragon.
“Let’s forget about the egg for a second. Where’s the red?” I asked, pointing upward.
“The red?” He blanched, literally lost all trace of color in his face, and scurried a step to the side, hovering near a large unsidhe ceremonial urn used to capture the blood of their kills. The museum’d marked it as a decorative example of early unsidhe worship. It was pretty much a giant punch bowl used for holiday parties, but I hadn’t wanted to burst their bubble at the time.
Now was a different story. It wasn’t just a bubble I wanted to burst.
“Yeah, the red I brought in when this piece of shit kiddie show first was scrambling for something to hang its hat on. That red. Where is it?”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Mr. Gracen,” he sputtered, wetting my face. “With the arrival of the Dawn Court, display dragon artifacts are offensive—”
I didn’t need to hear any more. Everything unfolded for me in my mind, and the demise of my contract and the skeletal glory of my red came down to one damned pointy-eared piece of shit who hounded my shadows.
To the humans, dragons were a source of wonder and nightmares. To the sidhe, the reptilian predators were as sacred as beetles to the dead talkers. I didn’t know what the unsidhe thought about the overgrown legged snakes infesting our skies and coast, but from everything I’d seen, they were pretty much in line with the sidhe. All things scaly and frightening were treasured and precious, even as they crunched through your skull to suck out your eyeballs.
“Ryder,” I ground out while the squirrelly human doing the two-step in front of me. “You’re telling me the damned Lord of the Pandas and Light has come in here and persuaded you wankers to stop displaying dragon bits? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“The museum can’t… that is, there’s been a policy change—” The man squeaked when I grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked him up to the tips of his toes. “Mr. Gracen!”
“Let me make this short and sweet for you, bucky.” I peeled my lips back from my canines, snarling into his face as it shook a few centimeters away from mine. There was a little primal tickle in most humans. When faced with fangs, they quivered. Luckily, my sidhe blood came with fangs, and while I’d spent years practicing to speak and smile without showing them, there were times when I had to remind someone they were far lower on the food chain than they remembered. “You’re going to go reach into those deep pockets the museum has and pay me for that damned egg. I don’t care what back-asswards agreement you got into with Ryder, but a deal’s place of that dragon you took down. Comprende?”
And with that, I got my money.
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I have a deep lust for Ursula Vernon. No really, my soul is both lustful and envious of her and I’ve had the pleasure of having her in my life. Even the merest brush of her presence is enough to make me smile. I adore her. She’s also one of the greatest artists of our times. No really. I’m not making that shit up. Her art hits all my buttons and hell, she won a fricking Hugo and even beat Neil Gaiman down at the nacho bar. Okay the last part was a bit of a fluffernut but he was getting in the way of the melty cheese. One does not get into the way of the cheese.
Ursula is a fricking mad scientist of artists. She’s wandered off into 3D land once in a while and recently she made these…sheep. Funny thing is, I even just wrote something similar to one of the sheep into Fish and Ghosts. I adore sheep. I adore bunnies. I adore demonic versions of these things. Don’t even get me started on Little Creature. I love that demon white thingie.
A while back when I was working as an author and a victim of company wide layoffs, I’m job hunting and I’m trying to be very good about not spending large amounts of money on… my inner squees. I was so good but the recent spat of Ursula sheepie things weakened me. I wanted one soooooo badly. I mean… SHEEP! Crazy Looking Sheep! In bright colours! She names them and gives them back stories! Pludwhump! Leader of the Wool Tribe. He doesn’t want to be leader but he drew the short straw… so there you go.
My love knows no bounds. But I was good. I have to be very good.
But still, the household needs things like pots and pans so the other day, my sister Jenn ordered some. Boxes began to arrive and I was all…. shit, they shipped the glass lids separately. Toddle it all into the kitchen to open them up when we discover the box marked GLASS is in fact, Pludwhump.
I started crying. Like full on fucking ugly girl getting asked to the prom by Johnny Depp and Dave Navarro, both in leather pants and promising to make my eyes roll back in my head later on in the limo kinda crying. It was ugly.
And I felt like someone poured hot cocoa into my soul and sprinkled it with mini marshmallows that bloom into bunnies.
So Pludwhump was a gift from someone who collects Ursula’s stuff. His name is Carl. I do not know Carl but I swear to God, I will now wrestle Satan for him so he can have the last bit of apple pie. Seriously. Fucking stabbing Satan happy.
Because apparently he decided I needed a random act of sheep. And Ursula agreed.
And so that’s how I got a Pludwhump. And a hell of an ugly cry of joy.
Pludwhump’s story as told by Ursula Vernon of Red Wombat Studio. Yeah she writes too. She also has a best selling children’s series. I would hate her if she weren’t so fricking awesome. Really.
Overheard in the encampment of the Moon-Stuffing Clan, Year of the Potato:
“Look, I’m telling you, there is something weird about Wool-Tribe.”
“Dude, don’t be racist. Just because they’re not like us—”
“I’m not being racist. I’m not saying they’re weird because they’re stuffed sheep, I’m saying they’re weirdoes who happen to be stuffed sheep. It would still be weird behavior even if they were chickens or teddy-bears or woolly mammoths or something.”
“Well, fine, maybe they’re a little odd, but they let us pass through their territory, which is more than you can say for some of the other tribes.”
“Is this about their shaman? Because shamans don’t count. All shamans are nuts. Our shaman is nuts.”
“It’s not about their shaman. Frankly, it’s their chief. I think there’s something really wrong with him.”
“Pludwump? There’s nothing wrong with him.”
“Maybe he’s a berserker, did you think of that? Do you have something against berserkers?”
“He is not a berserker. My mother was a berserker, okay? I have no problem with berserkers! Whatever’s wrong with him, it’s not that.”
“Well then, what is it?”
“….I dunno, man. Something about the eyes…”
More about Rhys Ford:
She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Yoshi, a grumpy tuxedo cat and Tam, a diabetic black pygmy panther, as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.
Find Rhys on her website or on Twitter.
Thanks for celebrating with us. Come back next week for more of Rhys' books, our Author Q&A, and one more chance to win.
Until then, happy reading!