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The RELIC: SPEAR Launch Contest! Read the first five chapters and enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

The RELIC: SPEAR Launch Contest! Read the first five chapters and enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Enter for a chance to win a USD $25 Amazon Gift Card! Just answer the question in the contest module above and you’ll be set. If you don’t know the answer, click the image below and read up on the exciting RELIC series. It’s part Buffy, part Indy, with body parts EVERYWHERE!

Image of cover to Relic Spear ebook in the supernatural thriller series on Amazon

THE STORY SO FAR…

Kane is slowly losing his memory, his self-control, and his sanity.
A rage is building inside him that isn’t his own.
In Tokyo, Kane slipped into a fury that distorted everything, except his famously accurate aim. Blinded by rage, he mistook his partner, Rebel, for an enemy and shot her in the head.
Nothing good came from the Tokyo mission. Rebel is dead. Skyler, Kane’s teacher, betrayed him one last time. And Kane is now a prisoner in his own bunker under Paris, held captive by an army of human survivors he once led.
The one slice of hope is also bitter as hell.
Before shooting Rebel, Kane recovered a scroll piece — the second of five fragments strewn across the globe. When brought together, they promise to deliver the one weapon that can help humanity win the war.
But first, Kane needs to escape…

CHAPTER 1

Odin hung from the edge of a cliff with one charred, three-fingered hand.
I watched helplessly from above, like a floating spirit. A seismic exhale billowed out from the god’s chest and sent a mist of sweat across his one-eyed face.
The god wasn’t just afraid.
He was terrified.
How do I know all of this? Because he told me. Sure, he told me in a dream, but it was him. It was Odin hanging on for dear life. I was sure of it.
His other hand held a spear. Without aiming, he chucked it into the sky with the force of a cannon.
The spear slammed into my chest. I didn’t feel any pain, but I bled. Red ran down the spear, filling small crevices in the wood. Crevices? Or were they runes?
I tried to wake up. The nightmare was applying an epic wedgie to the very core of my being. I wanted to open my eyes, but I couldn’t.
Odin kept me there. He wanted me to see what happened next. So I lifted my eyes and took it all in. It was the most terrifying sight I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a troll orgy, so yeah, it was bad.
It was the end of the world.
But it wasn’t the end of the world as I’d experienced it a few months prior. There were no vast landscapes of peaceful countryside. No fresh air, or unencumbered wildlife ravaging Mother Nature as she let them have their way with her.
No, this was the big, bad apocalyptic end of the world. The one we would have suffered if the Emperor of Vampires had succeeded in using Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, to smash the northern tectonic plate to pieces.
The lava flowed hot enough to melt the flesh off. The skies burned, slowly letting the cold vastness of space seep into our atmosphere, strangling all living things below. Soaring figures swept past the dangling god, looping around playfully as if they were celebrating something that delighted their dark hearts.
There was no hope here.
The world around me looked dead, but it was the lack of hope that made it impossible to tolerate.
Odin wasn’t the Odin I knew. His body was long and thin and muscular, not short and stubby. His hair was black as tar. His one eye was golden, and wide, and looking right at me.
His mouth opened as if to speak to me. His lips moved, but the noise of the end of the world is loud as hell. Pun intended, as usual. I couldn’t hear him and I told him so. But I couldn’t even hear myself.
Wake up, Kane.
DON’T WAKE UP, KANE!
My head filled with voices. Dozens at first, speaking different languages with different dialects. Then fewer languages, and fewer voices. Then one voice. His voice. Odin’s voice. He’d searched for a language I would understand, and he dumped enough information in my head to make me scream in pain.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
I don’t know what you’re talking about, Odin.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
His fingers slipped from the cliff’s edge. A searing wave of lava, the color of the sun, surged up from directly below him. His feet melted off in an instant, but Odin didn’t flinch, even as he fell.
He met my stare with his one eye and spoke softly into my head.
The spear. Find the spear.

CHAPTER 2

A familiar squeaky voice woke me up. “Lunch, Mr. Arkwright!”
The door to my room creaked opened and Lucas waddled in backwards, food tray balanced on top of his demon hoof-paw-things. The two guards stationed outside my door peeked in over their shoulders to make sure I was still bound tight to the bed.
“Oui, oui, Monsieur Arkwright,” Lucas said in a tone that conveyed his disdain for French everything. “Vee have zee clam soup with zee butter broth and fresh poisson de blah-blah-blah.”
He slid the tray onto the table and the scent of the meal took over the room. Even in the apocalypse the French found a way to eat well.
I went back to observing every detail of the ceiling above me.
Lucas rolled his eyes. “You’ll have to eat eventually, sir. You can’t pout forever.”
“I’m not pouting, Lucas. I’m thinking.”
“Bah. Don’t hurt yourself. Humans are no good at thinking. Overthinking! Now that they’re good at.”
“You still work for me, you know.” He’d been my librarian for years. He was a damn good one, too. A hypochondriac demon makes for a clean, dusted and well-organized collection of tomes.
“I haven’t been paid in, well, ever, sir.”
“Your payment was access to my library, and you know it.” My collection of books was famous for its diversity of topics, rarity and supernatural influence. It was a treasure worthy of a demon like him.
Lucas sighed. “I miss my library.”
“You get me out of this prison, and maybe we’ll have a shot at going home.”
“No can do, sir,” the demon muttered with a shrug. “They have their eyes on me. Second only to the eyes they have on you.”
“If someone would talk to me, maybe they’d see that it was an accident. I’d never shoot Rebel on purpose.”
“I tell them that, but they don’t believe me. Lancelot has taken over security detail after you got your hand free last week.”
That meant Lancelot saw me as a threat, too. I’d hoped he was plotting to get me out of there. Maybe Baldr would make a move on my behalf.
“Shit,” was all I could say.
“Yeah, he’s good. Incredible attention to detail.” The demon sighed. “He knows we talk. I’m afraid this will be my last visit.”
“You talk to me about the weather, for fuck sake. How is that dangerous? What are they afraid of, Lucas?”
The demon frowned at me like a disapproving grandpa. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you shooting them in the head could be part of it. It’s only an educated guess, mind you.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“Really?” the demon asked, crossing his spindly arms. “You haven’t been experiencing memory loss and waking dreams?”
“Well, yeah, a few, but…”
“Sir, I’m on your side. But you have a mountain of paranoid people who would rather not take their chances with you.”
I saw a small opening to get him to talk. Even a little bit of knowledge would give me days worth of ideas to chew on. I knew that asking about Rebel would lead to the silent treatment, so I asked, “Were you able to translate the scroll pieces, Lucas? Do the two of them connect with each other in any way?”
“Why do you keep asking me questions you know I can’t answer?” The demon rolled up his sleeves, put on some rubber gloves because he was a germophobe, snatched the fork from my tray, and stuck it into the fish. He lifted it up for me to take a bite. I gave in. My lame-ass hunger strike of one day was doomed from the start. I didn’t have the stomach for it. Pun intended, as usual. It didn’t help that the chef must have been a pro. The meals were among the best I’d ever had.
As the demon’s hand moved back to the plate, I spotted some dark markings on his forearm.
He cut off another piece of fish with the edge of the fork. He positioned his arm so I could see the markings clearly.
It was a hand-written ink message on his flesh.
“DANGER! FRIENDS ARE TRYING”
He moved his arm back down to spear the next bite for me. He was feeding me too much, too fast. I worried I wouldn’t be able to see the whole message before he emptied the plate of food.
I chewed and stared at him. Lucas fed me bite three before I even swallowed bite two.
“TO HELP. TROOPS WANT TO”
Damn it, Lucas. He was going way too fast. I let some fish oil dribble out of my mouth, hoping he’d get the hint and maybe wipe my mouth. I needed more time to see the message.
I practically regurgitated the entire mouthful of food, but he didn’t notice. A chin of half-digested fish was probably perfect etiquette around his dinner table.
But his eyes suddenly opened wide as he read my face and understood what I wasn’t able to say out loud.
He smiled, revealing hundreds of tiny teeth. “Lookee at the widdle plane!” he sing-songed. He raised his arm and slowly moved it toward me, veering the ‘airplane’ of fish left and right. “Open wide for the nice pilot!”
Perfect.
“KILL YOU. BITE MY REPLACEMENT.”

CHAPTER 3

The demon wiped my face with his inked-up forearm and scampered out of there as fast as he could.
He managed to glance over his shoulder before the door closed behind him. The expression was a clear warning. It screamed, “You’d better be ready to get sprung!”
My thoughts jumped between “TROOPS WANT TO KILL YOU” and “BITE MY REPLACEMENT”.
I took some comfort in the fact that the troops didn’t know me. I mean if they’d known me, they would have loved me like everyone else who had ever met me. The citizens of Paris were good fighters. They were ready to defend their city to the death. I remembered feeling at ease with my decision to travel to Japan. I knew the Parisians would be just fine without me.
But I’d been thinking so hard about my betrayal of Rebel that I didn’t consider how my actions must have looked to the soldiers. These people were hanging onto life and hope by a thread. The cheap shot I’d taken at my own partner hadn’t just shaken me to the core. If Lucas’ note was correct, my boneheaded move had kneecapped the people’s faith in our whole operation.
But Lucas’ message also told me some of my friends were looking out for me. I hoped beyond hope, once again, that Lancelot could be counted among my allies. He was a brilliant tactician. I’d seen his skills in battle and, while I didn’t clue him in, I was floored by his abilities. If he was rising to the top of the ranks then, even if I didn’t escape, I’d be treated fairly in whatever trial was coming my way.
My thoughts skipped to the confusing part of Lucas’ inky-flesh message.
BITE MY REPLACEMENT
Was it some kind of code? My brain filed through all of the relics I’d gathered in my portal. Did any of them have teeth to bite with? I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t get to my portal anyway. I’d tried a few days before. I’d opened it above my bed and tried to shake something loose. That pointless maneuver resulted in my captors strapping my head to the bed for two days.
No, I wouldn’t be doing that again.
But one of the benefits of being alone in bed for days is that you can get sick of yourself. You can call yourself every bad name in the book. You can think a thought through a thousand iterations until it’s so fleshed out that it’s back to its most basic form.
I called myself an idiot, took a deep breath, and reset.
I was over-thinking the message.
It meant exactly what it said.
Lucas had mentioned he was being watched closely. He was on his way out of the Kane-sitting business. His replacement, whoever that was, was to be bitten.
By me. By my teeth.
Simple as that.
Fine. Whoever walked through that door next would feel Kane molars on one of his extremities.

CHAPTER 4

Escape.
I was going to escape.
I should have felt relieved. Excited. I should have prepared myself mentally. Meditated. Stretched my muscles so I’d be able to move when the cuffs were off.
Instead, I went into a very dark place.
Dangling from high places was nothing new to me. Cliffs? Easy. Skyscrapers? Whatever. Planes. Three times. No, wait, four.
But I’d never looked down at the darkness inside me.
Even though I was lashed to a bed by a combination of chains and leather straps, I was actually hanging on for dear life by a fingertip.
“Dammit, Rebel,” I said in our comm for the thousandth time. The Comm Spell let us speak to each other with just a thought from a world away. But ever since I’d shot my partner and best friend in the head, well, she’d been silent. Likely because she was dead.
So I didn’t hear a “What the fuck do you want, Kane?”, or, “Oh, now you want to talk, asshole?”, or, “Put that thing away, Arkwright. You’ve shot it off enough today.”
Nothing. Silence. A silence that cut through my gut and made me want to surrender.
I kept telling myself I didn’t know it was her in my sights when I pulled the trigger. I didn’t recognize her. But just like everything else in my life, that was a lie.
Something in my head switched off that night in Tokyo.
My past, everything that made me who I was, had disappeared in an instant. Suddenly, I wasn’t Kane Arkwright anymore. I was someone else, someone so angry I couldn’t control him. The yearning for the relic was all-encompassing. The scroll piece we’d searched for and died for beckoned to me, stronger than ever.
When Rebel reached for it, she was my enemy. She was trying to keep me from my prize. It was rightfully mine. I’d waited too long and fought too hard to let anyone get in my way.
My despair deepened.
My demon librarian Lucas was the only ‘person’ I saw in my little prison cell/recovery room. He wouldn’t talk about that night in Tokyo. No matter how much I yelled, begged, and threatened, he wouldn’t tell me Rebel’s condition. This, of course, made me assume the worst. I’d learned that the end of the world is the perfect time to assume the worst. Even if she wasn’t dead yet, she had to be in critical condition. I’d shot her in the head. But being in critical condition during the end of the world was as close to a death sentence as you could get. It’s not as if a team of doctors and nurses could mend her with top-of-the-line equipment.
Lucas also did a masterful job of keeping news of the relic from me. I remembered that the mask had hidden the scrap of ancient parchment within its layers of painted papier-mâché. I remembered Lucas’ glee at having two scroll pieces in our possession. But the guards had cuffed me before I could learn more.
Had the scroll piece yielded any clues? Were we any closer to securing the unknown weapon that my old teacher, Skyler, had told me could end the war?
Even with all of these questions, one haunted me more than any other.
Had I killed my best friend and partner for nothing?
I’d finally surrendered to the idea that Lucas didn’t have to tell me anything. I was his prisoner, after all. But the day before, recognizing my weakening will, he’d taken pity on me and told me the war was going well. That was a relief. But I was pissed that my own team was kicking ass without me. Maybe I wasn’t so damn important to the war effort after all. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
I stared at the wall of my room and searched for answers. I would have given my entire fortune to know something for certain. Anything.
I needed help.
After I escaped, I needed someone to help me get my head on straight. But who? Who could guide me? Who had answers?
Skyler, maybe. My old teacher might help if I held his balls over a flame. Literally. Even then, I doubted he’d talk. Skyler had his own agenda. He and his kid-god-opium-addict Loki were up to something that had little to do with the battle I fought.
I could track down Tabitha. Otherwise known as the goddess, Isis. Otherwise known as Queen of Vampires. Daughter and wife of Set. Mother and sister of Osiris.
Best known to me as hot-as-hell.
I tried to damp down the hormones. It wasn’t a good time to fantasize. But her blood ran through my veins, and it had a knack for showing my own blood who’s boss at times.
Tabitha knew more than anyone else about everything. Maybe I should search her out. But she’d made it clear that she wasn’t going to play the game anymore. Her role was done. She was waiting to kick the bucket. She’d told us that her destiny was to die at the hands of Rebel and me. That gave me some comfort. Yeah, taking comfort in the death of someone was what my life had become. But if Rebel did indeed have a role in Tabitha’s death, then that meant Rebel would live. She had to be alive if she was going to fulfill her fucking destiny, right?
Like I said, there was a lot of darkness for me to fall into, and no Rebel to fall with this time.
And then, at the bottom of it all, I had the dream to itch at me somewhere way out of reach of my scratching finger.
The spear. I must find the spear.

CHAPTER 5

The wait for my new babysitter was painful.
Being alone, in isolation, with just my thoughts for company, could be excruciating. And what made it worse, was my memory was slipping away, bit by bit. I’d recall a pizza dinner I’d enjoyed with Rebel years before, and it would fade away right in front of my mind’s eye.
I racked my brain for memories, desperately holding onto each one that flashed by. Even a recollection of a favorite film or book would wash over me like a salve, easing the pain that grew inside me. For a short time, at least.
The guards shut off my lights, which I’d assumed was a sign of night time. Who the hell knows, though. It could have been noon and I wouldn’t have known in that dark, windowless room.
The realization that I couldn’t remember how my parents had died hit me hard. My breath would get away from me and I’d find myself struggling for air. An anxiety was settling in.
A madness, maybe.
The quiet. The darkness. The loneliness.
The guilt.
I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to Skyler’s meditation lessons. The asshole could sit down, legs crossed, in the middle of Grand Central Station and relax. He was able to find a place of peace in himself no matter what was going down. No small feat for a selfish, conniving rat like him.
With no sense of peace within reach, I shifted my frantic brain toward something I could chew on.
Lucas.
Lucas’ ALL CAPS message only grew darker and deadlier as I thought about it. I wished there was a window so I could see what time of day it was. It felt like I’d waited for days. The darkness inside of me and out was smothering.
Finally, the fluorescent light flickered on. It surged three times before it popped on all the way.
I heard the door knob rattle as the key was slid into the lock.
I ran my tongue over my teeth. I tried to swallow a moan of desperation. I needed to get the hell out of there, or I’d go mad.
The door swung open.
The two guards leaned in so they could check out the room.
They stood aside and Lucas’ replacement slapped the floor hard with the heels of boots that would have been right at home on a femdom dominatrix.
“You hungry, dickhead?” Ronin asked me, as she squeezed her way between the guards with a plate of steaming hot food in her hand.
Ronin.
Rebel’s sister.

The New York Paranormal Police Department wants YOU!

The New York Paranormal Police Department wants YOU!

The New York Paranormal Police Department wants YOU!

Not in that way, but… okay, maybe in that way. But they also need you to help spread the word far and wide about the best series with a cocky weretiger, her pixie partner and their battle against New York City’s mobgoblins!

Just choose a tweet or two, or three, or four, or whatever and smash the RETWEET button until your mouse and/or tapping-finger cry out for mercy. Thank you!

Do you like Supernatural Thrillers? Try my new book, Relic: Blade!

Do you like Supernatural Thrillers? Try my new book, Relic: Blade!

Relic Blade Kane Arkwright Supernatural Thriller ebook

I’m delighted to announce a new eBook series on Amazon. The Kane Arkwright Supernatural Thrillers will follow the adventures of Kane Arkwright and his partner, Rebel. The premise is pretty simple.

The Vampires have slept for 1000 years. They awake in our world and want their treasures back. Kane and Rebel need to snag the relics first.

Here’s the description for the first book in the series, Relic: Blade.

Cocky vampires, mythical swords, steady Glocks and ghost hordes. Welcome to my world.

Thousands of vampires just woke up from a 1000-year slumber. Before nap-time they buried their fortunes around the world. Now they want their hidden treasures back.

It’s my job to get to the relics first.

My partner Rebel and I need to track down and dig up hundreds of ancient items, and fast. They’re worth, well, whatever comes after quadrillions. Most of them also happen to pack nasty supernatural powers.

Our latest target is a sword with the power to destroy the world. We just have to get past the grumpy blood suckers, the biting ghost hordes and a particularly nasty wizard.

But who am I kidding? Sneaking around won’t work. Not when it comes to vampires. There’s really only one way this can end.

On the edge of a blade.

Pick it up and leave a review if you like it. Book two comes out on January 31, 2018. Yup, one week from now!

Does this mean no more Shirley Link or The Camelot Kids? Nope, I’m off to work on them right now! Stay tuned…

Kathleen Chalfant reads The Camelot Kids!

Kathleen Chalfant reads The Camelot Kids!

Here’s a lovely audiobook cover illustration by Ian Greenlee.
As usual.
The guy is a genius.
I’ll always be thankful to Nathan Fox for introducing us. Oh, and there’s much more to the image, by the way, which I’ll share later this week as we get closer to the audiobook launch.
I’m so honored to have had Kathleen Chalfant on this project. I’m writing a post about the experience. It was 10 days of my life that I’ll always cherish. In the end, it was the ultimate New York City story. I look forward to sharing it with you.
If you want to see Kathy’s other work you can see her in The Affair (NSFW)

She’s theater royalty (I’m sure she hates that term — but it’s true!) She brought so much depth to the characters and the story. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt from The Camelot Kids Book Two

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from The Camelot Kids Book Two

 

Here’s an excerpt from The Camelot Kids: Book Two.

It’s Simon’s birthday but he doesn’t want to tell anybody. Can he keep a secret in a place like New Camelot, where a secret is just a spell away?

Simon wasn’t going to tell anyone it was his birthday. He’d spent years minimizing the event, as if it didn’t matter to him, as if it wasn’t worth celebrating. His new friends would probably want to know. Maybe next year…

The day started as all other days did. Simon sat up as his internal clock rang. Training started at daybreak and he enjoyed hitting the dining hall early so he could have some time to hang out with the staff. Taithleach Morecraft was the boss of the team and one of Simon’s favorite people not only because she gave him the most delectable donuts in existence (”basted in a butter spell!”) but because she was the most honest person he’d known since Sister Alphonsus. Ms. Morecraft never hesitated to sit someone down and talk some sense into them. When they first met she spotted a lot of nonsense going on around him and, being Ms. Morecraft, she got involved. The Dim Bulbs, as Simon called them, led by Eric, were a nasty bunch of kids who focused their nastiness on Simon. They didn’t care that he was, technically, their superior and was destined to lead them into battle. Whenever there wasn’t a teacher present they’d let loose on him and his friends with no mercy.

Recently, things had moved from a mischievous to dangerous. Within the last week the Dim Bulbs had settled into a routine of tracking Simon, Russ or Josh and striking when they were alone. Russ ended up on a flying chair with no idea how to control it. He was ten thousand feet in the air when Maille Rose finally found him, cold and petrified. Simon was still determined to get back at Eric and his goons. But he wouldn’t tell Ms. Morecraft that.

“You’d best not be doing yer plottin’, boyo,” she said to Simon as he sat down at the humongous round table that seated 150 hungry teens. No one was there yet except the two of them, which was fine with Simon. Ms. Morecraft sat down next to him and snagged a slice of his toast.

“I’m not doing anything, Ms. Morecraft. Just eating my donut.” He batted his eyes innocently and she nudged him in the shoulder.

“You know you can’t lie to me, Mr. Lancelot-Sharp.” He cringed. He hated that name, but Ms. Morecraft was determined to remind him as often as possible that he was the descendant of Sir Lancelot. Or something more, if you believed his father and Merlin. To them, Simon was Lancelot. He was the knight reborn. To them, Simon was doomed to an identity and a fate that he had no control over. It was all enough to even make donuts taste duller.

“That stunt they pulled with Russ and the magic chair could have killed him,” Simon said.

“Understood. Which is why you deflate the situation afore it gets outta hand, right?” Simon shrugged. She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “If I hear yeh’ve started a revenge campaign of any kind and you can kiss the bagels goodbye.”

“Ouch,” Simon said. That got him. He’d do anything to get his hands on those bagels. Ms. Morecraft had learned the recipe after she’d heard how Simon missed one thing (and one thing only) about New York. The bagels. So she had Merlin send some folks through a Lazy and bring back samples from the city. She experimented with 459 combinations of dough and accoutrements to concoct the most perfect Everything Bagel ever baked. And she used them to bribe Simon all the time.

“How’s Gwen doin’?” she asked, clearly confident that she’d made her point.

Simon shrugged. “She’s still finding excuses to not be around me. I changed soap and everything.”

“She’s just nervous around yeh is all, Simon. Don’t read much into it. She’ll come around when she’s ready.”

“I don’t know. I think it’s…”

“What? Spit it out, boyo.”

“I think it’s more complex than that.” Talking about it meant opening up some old wounds. But Ms. Morecraft was a pro at doing that. She was also good at treating the pain. He glanced up and saw that she was waiting for him to continue. “I just think it has to do with the gold tree.” That golden tree, that trap laid by his father to attract the dragon army, was always present. It lingered over Simon like a ghost. It was a reminder of his father’s betrayal, a reminder of his own bad judgment, and it had been the one thing that brought Simon and Gwen together. Until the dragon’s attacked and ruined everything.

Ms. Morecraft was uncharacteristically quiet. She looked down at the table, thinking, and when she met eyes with Simon again, she was more serious than he’d seen her before. “You think she’s staying distant because she doesn’t want something like that to happen again?”

“Yeah. It’s just that… It’s hard to feel like anything we do is our own choice. It’s like we just keep walking into plots and traps that have been waiting for us for centuries. It’s hard to explain.”

“Yer doing a good job o’ it, don’t worry about that.”

“I think maybe it would be good if we all go our separate ways sometimes. I mean how can the prophecy come true if I’m in the North Pole or something? It gets into your head that every step you take could bring the roof down on your home and everyone you care about.”

A silence took over the huge round room. Only the morning fires in the seven fireplaces surrounding them made a sound. Their crackling and popping provided some small sense of comfort.

“I think trouble would find yeh no matter where you go, Simon. And I think yer just goin’ to have to get used to it, I’m sorry to say.”

“I know that. I’m trying.”

“I know yeh are. You sure you don’t want me to teach her to bake white chocolate cookies?” Simon smiled and shook his head. Ms. Morecraft insisted that cooking cookies “with love” was a potent love potion. Her plan was to teach Gwen how to bake them and keep the casual conversation on Simon. Simon thought it was unfair but to Ms. Morecraft, it wasn’t a magic spell. It was just a way to clear the path between someone’s feelings and their love of the sweetest cookies ever. That sounded like magic to Simon.

The other students started trickling in. Ms. Morecraft stood and patted down her apron. She put a hand on Simon’s shoulder and smiled. “You keep on tryin’ with her Simon. My feelin’ is that she and you have some good to do for yourselves and everyone if you can help each other through all this. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll leave you in peace. Enjoy it ‘cuz you only have seven seconds of it left.” Simon followed her stare and saw Russ and Josh shuffling toward him with their standard morning gait. Which was like a couple of zombies.

“Hi guys,” Simon said, adding as much chipper to his voice as he could, just to annoy them.

“Enh,” they both grunted. His joy was their poison. Simon smiled and slid the toast down the table. It darted toward the edge but when it was about to fly off the table, Josh quickly snagged it and grabbed a slice in one elegant move. His eyes still at half-mast, he glared at Simon, silently daring him to try that again.

So he did. Simon lifted the orange juice from the table and tossed it to Russ who grabbed it without spilling a drop. Simon laughed. Especially when Russ shot him the same look. They may be tired, but they were also descendants of two knights of the Round Table. Their reflexes were beyond anything Simon could have imagined even six months ago. He had the same reflexes, which is good because they helped him catch the cup that was just aimed at the back of his head.

Eric and his dim bulbs huddled together near one of the fires, warming themselves up. Eric was disappointed that his missile didn’t find its mark but he managed to chuckle as his buddies slapped him on the back. Simon put the cup down on the table and turned his back on the smirks. Eric didn’t like that one bit. He lifted another cup to throw.  But right as it left his hand, it turned back around mid-air and dumped juice on his head. When the cup started slapping him on the cheeks everyone knew what was going on.

Or who was going on.

Maille Rose.

Simon turned to the door to watch her walk in, bat held high and aglow with a sickly green haze. She smiled as Eric ran out of the room slapping at his own face to get the liquid off. Everyone at Eric’s table started to make a face. They covered their noses and fled out of the dining hall.

“That wasn’t juice you just dumped on his head, was it?” Simon asked.

“Juice? Where’s the fun in that?” Maille said.

But the smiles didn’t last.

“MAILLE ROSE!”

Maille cringed, realizing her mistake a minute too late. Ms. Morecraft emerged from the kitchen, roller held high.

“Sorry, Ms. Morecraft!” Maille shouted. “I’ll clean it up.” Simon had never seen Maille so scared before. He almost smiled but caught himself. He liked having all his limbs.

“YOU DO IT NOW!”

“Yes, ma’am. Just… gimme a minute…” Maille was trying to think of the right spell while having a 300 pound woman looming over her with a kitchen tool that could knock her head off. It wasn’t easy but after a moment, her silently moving lips started a quiet chant. With no fireworks or fanfare, the stink began to lift from the room, replaced by roses. Two mops and a cloud of towels floated from the kitchen and danced about the area where Eric had stood. They scrubbed at the spot with such ferocity that nearby kids covered their ears from the noise.

Maille gave Ms. Morecraft a friendly wave, but the elder crossed her arms and gave her an eye.

“So… what are you guys up to?” Maille asked, hoping to salvage some kind of dignity.

“We were enjoying a nice conversation with the Dim Bulbs before you interrupted,” Simon said. Maille sat down and pulled up a bowl and slopped some porridge in. “What’s wrong?” Simon asked.

“Besides being humiliated in front of everyone, that is,” Josh interjected, without thinking. Maille frowned at him and he tried to cover the awkward moment with a smile. When she stared into her bowl again, he thought he’d slipped out of trouble, but the snake he was holding used to be a fork so he was wrong.

“It’s Sam,” Maille said as Josh ran to the window and tossed the snake outside. “He’s out on the south balcony throwing food at people and then ducking away. I’d toss him off the balcony myself but Merlin says to leave him be. Needs to vent or somesuch nonsense.”

“You’re joking, right?” Simon said. “He’s throwing food at people?” Sam, a new recruit, was acting up recently. Simon had taken him under his wing. He knew how hard it was to adapt to life in New Camelot. But he was being a real jerk these days.

Maille nodded and took a big bite of porridge.

Simon put his sword on the table and stormed out of the dining hall. If he’d bothered to look back he’d have seen Maille smile and wink at the boys.

Simon ran through the castle, moving swiftly past the morning crew as they prepared the castle for another busy day. He tried to be polite to everyone who greeted him, but he was focused. He was getting tired of babysitting. It had gotten to the point where Sam sapped the energy out of everyone around him. Simon was determined to teach him a lesson. He didn’t know how but he’d figure it out when he got there.

When he arrived at the balcony, he didn’t see Sam anywhere. Did he move on already? Maybe he’d found higher ground to heave his bananas from. Simon looked over the edge of the balcony, expecting to see the beautiful view of the town and its busy citizens scurrying about in a glorious maze of commerce. He saw the town all right, but the people weren’t busy…

They were all looking up at him underneath a gigantic banner that read “Happy Birthday, Simon!”

The crowd erupted in cheers when they saw him, smiles on every single face. The noise hit him so hard that Simon had to take a step back.

As did the feeling. The feeling of joy and love and belonging. It swept over him and gave his spine a jolt that moistened his eyes.

Maille, Josh, Russ and Sam stood beside him. They took turns patting him on the back and Maille even gave him a hug.

“Happy Birthday, Simon,” Maille said. “Gotcha!”

“How… how did you know? I never told anyone.”

“Silly question. Merlin. Hello?”

“Oh, yeah. He knows all, and all that.”

A thought shot through his head like a splash of cold water.

Where’s Gwen?

But the answer to that question came with the dimming of the din. Simon cleared his throat to thank everyone. When he looked down on his home he saw Gwen standing on a small platform in front of the crowd. She smiled up at him and waved. He waved back and she turned to conduct the loudest rendition of Happy Birthday To You he’d ever heard.