Unwrapped – Chapter 1

I’ll be honest, I totally didn’t realize I hadn’t posted the first chapter of Unwrapped. Here you go!

**

Chapter 1

As my eyes shifted from the goddess standing before me to the corpse of the girl I loved lying at my feet, time seemed to stop. Golden ichor leaked from her body as my eyes traveled along the butter yellow sand to rest on the top half of her severed head a few feet away.

My vision went ten kinds of blurry as I stared at her lifeless lips, still frozen in horror and pain, even though only three seconds before they’d been pressed against my own. I could still feel the warmth of her kiss, the strength of her embrace. How could that have been only a few moments ago?

Sekhmet had just broken our kiss, and as she had looked up into my eyes, a goddess as pale as death itself had driven a knife through the back of Sekhmet’s head before wrenching it violently sideways, decapitating my girlfriend in one gruesome blow and splattering me with her blood.

Rain spattered across the sand, drenching me in the space of a breath as I turned my gaze back toward the goddess. She stood before me, a golden dagger clutched in one hand, and the sight of her made panic rise up inside me. Her skin had the tight, pale texture of a corpse left in the morgue for a month. My eyes traced up her body, taking in every detail and committing it to memory. Blue veins throbbed beneath her porcelain flesh, and even from here, I smelled cinnamon in the air. Was it coming from her?

Her eyes reminded me of the milky marbles of an unseeing cadaver, only hers were fixed upon me. Her brows were crinkled in desperation. Her white as snow hair was piled upon her head in tight buns.

She took a step toward me, barely disturbing the sand beneath her bare, alabaster feet. Her shimmering blue dress whipped around her in the winds of the storm, but she paid it no mind. As she pointed her dagger at me, a drop of my girlfriend’s blood hit the sand. Rage boiled inside me, chasing away the last vestiges of fear clinging to me and tingeing my vision with scarlet.

It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. The werewolf inside me came rushing forward, desperate to take over in a flurry of hatred. My vision went black around the edges as I held up one hand, palm out. If she moved even one more inch, I was going to change completely. If that happened, I would attack her. That wouldn’t end well for either of us.

I was barely keeping the beast trapped within me as it was. Already, the bones beneath my flesh writhed and twisted. Fur thick, coarse and black as the heart of a girlfriend killing goddess sprouted along my arms, my neck, my chest. Pain filled me as a distant sort of throb, but I ignored it as my body changed even though I didn’t mean for it to do so.

She hadn’t stopped moving, but before she’d managed even one more step I transformed. I stood before her, a hulking mass of muscles and rage. My inner wolf had been brought to the surface, and he was pissed. No, that wasn’t quite right. He was ready to bring down the wrath of an angry, old-testament God upon her.

The goddess cocked her head to the side, examining me like I was some strange kind of bug. Maybe she’d never seen something like me before. Maybe it was something else entirely. Either way, she should have been scared, but her scent, so full of cinnamon it stung my nostrils, hadn’t changed. She was too worried about something else. Well, that would change. She would know fear soon enough. That would curb her desperation.

I crossed the space between us in the space of a breath. My right hand seized the goddess by the neck and squeezed. The muscles in my arm bulged with the effort. My claws bit into her skin, spilling rivulets of golden god blood down her throat. Wherever her molten blood touched me, it scalded my flesh, but I ignored the damage. It would heal. With any luck, she wouldn’t.

The scent of sizzling meat filled my nostrils, and the distant realization that my hand was cooking as I held her in my grip was strangely irrelevant. As smoke curled from between my fingers, I hefted her into the air. A look of annoyance crossed her features as she tried to jab me in the side with her dagger. I caught her wrist with my free hand, jerking it in a twist that filled my ears with the delightful sound of shattering bone. The goddess shrieked and dropped the knife as fear flashed through her eyes. Finally. It was delicious.

“What have you done?” I said, my voice was so quiet and flat it should have scared me. It didn’t.

“You will release my son, wolf.” She spat and a gob of saliva spattered across my cheek. As it dribbled down my cheek, my face began to bubble and smoke. I ignored it. Pain did not matter. “You do not understand what his imprisonment portends for the future.”

“You killed Sekhmet,” I snarled, ignoring her worries about her son because, quite frankly, I didn’t care. Not even a little. “You will die for that.”

The goddess clucked like I was an insolent guardsman who knew nothing. “Foolish wolf, Sekhmet is a goddess. She can’t die from a mere flesh wound.” She struck me. The movement was too quick for me to even react. One moment she was talking to me, the next I was flying backward, her knee having broken every bone in my ribcage. It hurt, indescribably so.

I hit the sand a few meters away and bounced a couple times as my wolf tried to heal me. The taste of blood filled my mouth as I forced myself onto my hands and knees. Jagged bits of rib bone pulled themselves out of my lungs and other internal organs, slipping back together in a screaming cacophony of agony.

The goddess knelt down beside Sekhmet’s lifeless body and with a flick of her wrist, drove one pale as death hand through my girlfriend’s chest. She rummaged around inside like she was looking for something inside of a particularly full grocery bag before pulling her gore spattered arm free and holding it out to me, palm up. A golden heart beat in the center of her palm.

“See, her heart still beats. As long as it does, well, she can get back up.” The goddess shrugged and reached her free hand into a satchel the color of old, dried blood slung around her hip. I hadn’t even noticed it before, and as she flipped the lid open, a golden jar gleamed within. She removed the jar and placed it on the sand between us. It was covered with hieroglyphics I couldn’t decipher and seemed to glow in the light of the sun with ethereal energy.

“Stop,” I wheezed, trying to crawl toward her, but my arms buckled. I collapsed to the sand and though I tried to will myself forward, but my body was spent. I’d just defeated Apep, the veritable king of darkness a little while ago, had pulled out all the stops to do it. My body had nothing left, which was unfortunate because if it did, I’d tear this woman to pieces and dance on her remains. You know, if I could dance.

“No,” she replied. Her voice was a cross between annoyance and boredom. Then, staring directly into my eyes, she pulled the lid off the jar. Screams of agony filled the air as golden smoke poured from the vessel. Still making eye contact, she dropped Sekhmet’s heart into the shrieking jar and slammed the lid down. A flash of sapphire light exploded from the urn as the goddess’s bloodless, dead lips curled into a devious smile, revealing her bone white teeth.

“Canopic jars are wondrous things.” Her grin widened, sending chills running down my spine as she scooped up the jar and shoved it back into her satchel like it was a Tupperware filled with last night’s leftovers. “They can hold even a god at bay. You know, assuming you’ve torn out said god’s heart and placed it inside.” She nudged Sekhmet’s body with one toe. “It’s almost a pity to waste it like this, but then again, you were actually dumb enough to imprison my son, Horus, during the one moment in all of eternity when he must be free.” She shook her head. “If this was tomorrow, I wouldn’t have even cared… much.”

“I’ll kill you,” I growled, finally strong enough to pull myself to my feet. I took one wobbling step toward her, my jaw clamped together in concentration as the rain beat at my fur, matting it against my body.

“Or you can release my son, and I trade you this.” She jiggled her satchel at me like it wasn’t filled with the heart of my girlfriend. “Sounds good, eh?”

With those words she was just gone. There was no wisp of smoke, no flash of lightning. One moment she was grinning at me like a lunatic. The next she had vanished off the goddamned planet, leaving me standing broken and beaten over the body of my girlfriend.

I trudged toward Sekhmet even though I didn’t know what I hoped to accomplish. I knelt down, clutching her corpse to my body as golden ichor spilled from her wounds. There wasn’t much coming out of her now. Most of her blood had already soaked into the sand around her body. Still, as I held her close to me, the last remaining traces of warmth faded from her body.

Khufu found me like that, still clutching her cold corpse against me. I wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it must have been a while because it’d stopped raining. He put one large mitt of a hand on my shoulder and shook me gently. I turned my eyes toward him. Everything felt bleak, numb, and empty.

“What happened, Thes?” Khufu asked, concern filling his normally jovial voice to near bursting.

“I don’t know,” I replied, chewing on my lips. I was back in human form. I’d reverted and hadn’t even noticed. That’d been happening a lot more lately. Part of me wondered if it was because I was starting to be comfortable with both my inner werewolf and my humanity. The other part of me worried that was true. If it was, it meant I was becoming way too used to being in wolfman form. The last guy who had gotten that familiar with his wolfish nature wound up going insane and living in the woods, chasing down wild deer to eat.

“You don’t know how this happened?” he asked, raising one large, bushy eyebrow at me. “That seems unlikely.”

“A goddess who looked like death came and cut off her head. Then she stole Sekhmet’s heart and put it in a bag before vanishing.” My voice came out in a hoarse whisper.

“Do you know which goddess?” he asked, kneeling down next to me and slowly unwrapping me from around the corpse of Sekhmet. I let him. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I did, though I couldn’t tell you why.

“Whichever one is the mother of Horus. She was pretty pissed her son was captured.” As I said the words, his eyes went as wide as dinner plates.

“You can’t be serious,” he said, swallowing hard enough to make the lump in his throat bob like a fishing lure.

“As serious as a heart attack,” I replied, though I hadn’t been intending to make a joke. I shut my eyes and counted in my head in an effort to keep from screaming. The goddess had been right. Sekhmet would recover from this as unreal as it seemed. I just needed to get all her pieces back in the same place. To do that, I had to release Horus. No big deal. My allies had captured the falcon god. They’d damn well release him too.

“So, Isis has shown herself,” Khufu whispered, and as he said the name, the sky above us crackled and the wind howled. “Did she say anything else?”

“Not really, mostly that we’re dumbasses for imprisoning her idiot son today of all days.” I got slowly to my feet, still drenched in gore and stared at the mummy king. “Now, what’s say you call your best buds and get Horus released.”

“Okay,” Khufu said, brushing himself off even though his metallic armor looked pristine. “Let’s go see if we can talk some sense into them.”

“It’s either that, or I rip them in half and free him anyway,” I growled, and the wolf within me looked up from its place among the tall grasses of my mind and eyed me curiously.

“Yeah, I figured you were going to say that.” Khufu sighed before bending down and pressing his thumb against Sekhmet’s body. Emerald light flashed from beneath it as gilded fire leapt across her form. Even her head burst into flames, and it was several meters away.

“What are you doing?” I screamed, leaping toward him as he lifted his hand and presented it to me, palm up. A glittering, golden pendant in the shape of a snarling lion sat upon his calloused flesh.

“We can’t very well leave her body lying around in the desert, can we?” He pressed the pendant into my grip. “There are lots of things that would love to find a perfectly good body, especially one fit to hold a god, and let me tell you right now, you wouldn’t like any of them, even if they weren’t inhabiting the body of your girlfriend.”

My fingers closed around the pendant in my hand, and from within it, I felt the faintest spark of life. I swallowed. I would save her or die trying.

 

Why Comics are hard for readers

As a person who reads comics, I’m reasonably secure in my comic book knowledge. I’m not going to spend my time debating whether or not it’s enough for me to be able to name Aquaman’s wife (it’s Mera BTW) because that’s sort of my point.

I was re-reading All-Star Superman the other day, and I had a really hard time keeping up with it because it essentially packs everything that has ever happened in Superman ever into twelve issues. As much as I enjoyed it, I felt myself getting lost. Constantly.

I just finished Kingdom Come by Mark Waid, and if you haven’t read it, well, you should. It’s similar to Injustice in that Superman decides enough is enough and it’s time for a change (Owen Hart). During the comic, they make awesome little jokes like Superman telling Batman we’d make the World’s Finest team. I snickered.

Then a few frames later, Superman disappears while Batman is mid-sentence, and when Batman realizes he says “Oh, so that’s how that feels.” I started laughing and my wife looked at me like I was crazy. Still, thinking about it later, neither of those jokes would have been funny (or caught) if I hadn’t read my share of comics. I mean who reads World’s Finest? #NoOneEver.

Anyway, my point is simply there’s a lot of backstory around those characters, and sometimes things just wind up being confusing. Too confusing for it to be good, and it just makes me feel dumb. You never want your readers to feel dumb. I know, coming from me that’s sort of hypocritical, but I honestly try to keep things like that out of it. (And I have more than one sentence to explain things.)

That’s one of the reasons I loved Ultimate Spiderman and the new 52s because I didn’t have to remember every single aspect of the characters.

On that note, I think I know the recipe for DC television shows.

Introduce hero

  • Barry Allen caught in freak explosion becomes Flash
  • Clark Kent comes to earth on rocket
  • Supergirl comes to earth
  • Oliver Queen is trapped at sea on island 5 years in past

Introduce thing that causes bunch of villains to appear so we have bad guys bent on destroying hero.

  • The explosion that makes Flash makes lots of other villains
  • The rocket/ meteor thing falls to earth with him releasing kryptonite that changes normal people into villains
  • Supergirl’s ship pulls prison full of goons out of phantom zone along with her
  • People Oliver has met/faced during those five years decide it’s time for revenge

Laugh all the way to bank.

  • Use endless cadre of villains created by explosion to fight Flash
  • Use endless cadre of villains created by meteor to fight Superman
  • Use endless cadre of villains released from prison to fight Supergirl
  • Use endless cadre of villains created by Oliver’s past exploits to fight Green Arrow

Now we just really need a Shazam series. Serious.

Introduce hero

  • Billy Batson finds old wizard and is granted magic powers to become Captain Marvel.

Introduce thing that causes bunch of villains to appear so we have bad guys bent on destroying hero.

  • His new magic powers draw other supers looking for the wizard.

Laugh all the way to bank.

  • Use endless cadre of villains drawn by magic powers to fight Captain Marvel

Jean Luc

You know what I’ve never done? Written a book where a side character has been as immensely popular as Jean Luc has been in Wardbreaker. I’ve received numerous emails, FB messages, etc asking where the hell he is.

Well, here’s the deal, I’ve had Wardbreaker sitting in my head since July 2015, the outline is a bit earlier, let’s say June. I’d already written the first five Lillim books at that point, so the unfortunate side effect to writing a prequel is that some stuff just won’t exist in the previously made stuff, you know, unless you’re George Lucas.

That said, I have a whole arc planned in my head for Jean Luc. I just don’t know when I am going to do it. Lillim 7 wraps up the current arc which is Hardboiled, Mind Games, and Fatal Ties. I have a book 8 rolling around in my head, but that is focused on Mattoc and Pandemonium (best name ever) and another prequel focused around werewolves.

I’m thinking maybe Jean Luc deserves his own series. There is a lot of backstory around the Wardbreaker I never revealed because I was saving it, but hey, if you guys want to see a Jean Luc book, I’m happy to oblige. I’ll have to mull this over.

Also, did you know, I actually penned one more chapter for Wardbreaker? I didn’t include it in the book because it was from Jean Luc’s perspective.

Anyway, I’m trying desperately to finish Unwrapped (the third Thes book) so I can release it Thanksgiving week. It’s about 70% complete.

Reading Comics

As you may or may not know, I actually really like comic books. Who knew right?

Anyway, I’ve recently learned the library actually carries an assortment of graphic novels, a number of which I’ve been wanting to read for years but never actually wanted to buy. I’m cheap, what can I say?

To that end, I’ve checked out a number of volumes from my local library and am steadily making my way through them. At the same time, I’ve come across an interesting phenomenon. Most of the ones I found on the whole “Best Graphic Novels Ever” lists were written by Alan Moore or Frank Miller. Crazy, right?

Still, I think I’ve got a pretty good list going thus far and am currently working my way through it. If anyone has anything to add, hey I’m all for it, you know, assuming the library has it.

Title Author Read So Far
Watchmen Alan Moore Yes
Wolverine Chris Claremont Yes
Superman: The last son Geoff Johns Yes
All Star Superman Grant Morrison Yes
Injustice: Year 1 Tom Taylor Yes
Batman: Killing Joke Alan Moore
Superman: Man of Tomorrow Alan Moore
V for Vendetta Alan Moore
From Hell Alan Moore
Y the last Man Brian K. Vaughan
300 Frank Miller
Batman: Dark Knight Strikes Again Frank Miller
Daredevil: Man without fear Frank Miller
Batman: Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller
Batman: Year One Frank Miller
Ronin Frank Miller
Sin City Frank Miller
Batman: Long Halloween Jeph Loeb
Batman: Hush Jeph Loeb
Superman: Red Son Mark Millar
Wolverine: Old Man Logan Mark Millar
Kingdom Come Mark Waid
Sandman Neil Gaiman
Injustice: Year 2 Tom Taylor
Injustice: Year 3 Tom Taylor