Please enjoy the following excerpt from Nights of Numberless Dreams, Book 2 in The Burning Moon Series.
I run for a long time, quite a bit longer than I remember running in the opposite direction.  Perhaps I’d taken a shorter route when following the wolf, or perhaps we were only running that much faster before, but the minutes stretch out interminably, and my lungs begin to burn.  The forest is eerily silent, giving no sign as to where the main body of the hunting party had gone, and I feel the whisper of ancient, terrible things brush against the fabric of my mind.  Every now and again, the wolf pup whimpers too, perceiving the same dark presences.  
I decelerate, jogging along a bend in the river and finding myself on the stretch of beach where we’d seen the shellycoat.  It’s colder now, and darker, and as my eyes adjust to the gloom, I notice certain other differences, most notably, tracks in the sand and an area of wet river rock several meters from the water, littered with a few broken shells.  Bending conscientiously so as not to dislodge the pup, I run my fingertips through the puddle, coming away with a gooey dark matter. 
“Who are you?”
Startled, I straighten and complete a swift about-face, the little wolf still concealed inside my jacket.  A man in a long, hooded cape springs off the embankment and onto the rocks beside me.  His movements are agile, his clothing utilitarian, but well-made.  He shifts the hood part of the way from his face, revealing the most arresting cerulean eyes, eyes that seem to cleave through the surface straight to the soul, though the slightly delicate contours of his face, lightly sprinkled with a day’s growth of whiskers, tempers the shock.  He drops the hood the rest of the way off his head, unveiling a thick mass of dark ruby hair the color of full-bodied wine, not a hair-coloring found naturally on earth, but one innate to him.  Indeed, everything about him screams fae, dark or Unseelie fae as the earl would say, from his black velvet cloak of shadows, to the shock of blood-red hair, to the massive, skeletal bow of silver at his side.
“I’m nobody,” I say, my voice trembling.  “Who are you?”
“I’m nobody, too,” he says, kneeling to investigate the puddle at my feet.  He shakes his head in something I can only describe as bleak irritation, retrieving a few of the broken shells and stowing them in an inner pocket of his black cloak.  “Did you do this?”
Inside my coat, the wolf cries out pitifully.
The focus of the man’s investigation narrows on the front of my jacket, which moves and shifts on account of the pup attempting to reposition himself against my chest.  “And who, pray tell, is that?”  The fae straightens, and without warning, unfastens the first two buttons, uncovering the source of the commotion.  “What do you mean to do with him?”
“Smuggle him away from here,” I say, meeting the fae’s scrutiny with defiance.
For a long moment, the man continues to scan my expression, then he chuckles deep within his chest, a low, sexy sound.  “I meant to do the same.”  As he refastens my coat, tucking the wolf safely back inside, he adds, “I’m Armagh.”
I draw a relieved breath, but still don’t wholly trust him.  “You’re not with the hunting party?”
He snorts in derision.  “With Elyon?  No.”  He makes a second more thorough perusal of my person, scouring my features, what he can of my form - covered as it is in the coat - and my weaponry.  His eyes linger and widen when they reach Fragarach, but he says nothing of the sword.  “Are you alone?”
I can tell he doesn’t believe me, but he again chooses not to press it.  “Well, you should hurry.”  He points away from the river, showing me the direction of the town.  “Go now, before...”
“Before what?”  A second man separates himself from the shadows of the forest.  Where Armagh is a picture of lethal precision, the other is one of golden splendor, his flaxen hair long and straight, his gold armor - surely meant for show, not actual use - lavishly decorated with precious gems of warm hues.  He sits atop a black warhorse both astonishingly beautiful and undeniably terrifying; the animal radiates with a phantom silver light of a spectral quality.  Adding to the ghostly vision, the steed’s eyes smolder with embers of flaming orange, and when he whickers and stamps his feet, a line of fire licks at his nostrils and hooves.  The man atop the horse grimaces in a predatory manner, riveted to Armagh, his eyes sparkling with menace and excitement, as if he’d caught the other man in a trap after many years of stalking him.  “I thought Elyon told you not to interfere, Princeling.” 
“He did,” Armagh coolly replies.  “But I don’t take orders from second-rate Seelie aristocrats.”
The man on the horse bares his teeth.  “I’ll kill you for that, boy.”  Using a black leather strap, he whips the horse, spurring the creature toward Armagh and me as he withdraws an elaborate bejeweled sword more suited for pageantry than warfare.  I leap aside in alarm, leaving Armagh standing tall and composed in the path of the animal.  Sedately, Armagh raises his arm and speaks an authoritative word.  The horse screams and rears up, its front legs pawing the air as the animal disperses in a black and silver mist, dumping the Seelie lord, along with his gaudy weapon, onto the ground.
Armagh surges forward, kicks the sword away, and plants the heel of his boot on the other man’s chest.  “It’s true I’m younger than you,” he grinds out savagely, giving me the distinct impression it wasn’t the first time he’d been discounted by the Seelie noble, “but you would do well to remember where you are and who you are speaking with.”
Something big glides through the forest toward us, its approach heralded by the sound of snapping twigs, trembling leaves, and an overwhelming stench of rotting flesh.  A feeling of intense dread creeps over me; the pup gives sound to the feeling as he unlooses a long, lonely howl that jangles my nerves even more.
The Seelie gags on the scent of rot, attempting to rise.  “What is that?” 
Still with his boot on the man’s chest, Armagh answers.  “That will be The Eater.  You did wonder why this forest is so silent, did you not?  Or were you too busy slaughtering all the poor, defenseless creatures to realize you are poor and defenseless?”
“No!” whispers the man, struggling to get up.
Armagh slams his foot down, reasserting his dominance.  “You are used to killing without consequence,” he says in a clipped growl, “but these lands do not belong to you, and you must answer for your disrespect.”  Forthwith, he removes his foot and backs away, extending his arm across my front in order to move me along with him, which is to say, away from both the Seelie and the terrible stench.
Beyond the Seelie, an enormous black thing like a caterpillar wriggles out of the forest, its body undulating as it inches its massive, corpulent form across the dark earth.  It creeps over the edge of the steep embankment, the middle distending as it slithers over the edge and drops fatly onto the sand.  The front end resembles an earless, eyeless bear, but where a snout should be, a round protuberance lined with rings of pointed teeth pokes out.
Mesmerized by the grotesque form of the approaching monster, the Seelie tries to stand, favoring his right leg, which had been injured in the fall from the horse.  With The Eater gaining ground faster than its rotund body might suggest it capable of, the fae noble regains awareness of the danger he’s in.  “Call it off!” he screams, scrabbling around in the sand.  Managing to get to his feet, but only able to hop on one foot on account of his wounded leg, he stumbles, toppling over in the same spot he’d just been lying in.
“You think I can call it off?” Armagh whispers to himself, or maybe to me, still very slowly moving himself, the wolf, and me down the beach in the other direction.  On one side lies the water, spotted with sharp rocks and a fast-moving current.  To the other, the embankment rises steeply, hemming us in.  “The Eater is older than this kingdom.  My mother and her sisters are the only ones to have ever tried to communicate with it.”
My skin squirms with horror as the funk of dead flesh intensifies, sticking in my nose with a foul relentlessness.  “Should we run?” I inquire, my pulse speeding, everything inside urging me to get out of the area as fast as possible.
“No,” Armagh says, holding me back.  “If we run, it may shoot us with its poison.”  He looks to our left, indicating the river.  “It moves faster in the water, but it won’t go in if we don’t.” He jerks his thumb toward the steep embankment.  “If we can make it a little further, the rise levels out, and we can perhaps slide into the forest without it noticing us.”
Digging his elbows into the rocks and sand, the Seelie crawls toward the river.  Before reaching the water’s edge, the thing behind him rises up, its sac of skin and fluid retracting into itself, then surging forward as it launches a ball of thick, white sludge from its teeth-ringed mouth.  The venomous goo arches high into the air and descends, landing squarely on the Seelie, who screams in agony as the acid sizzles and smokes, dissolving the golden armor and melting the man’s skin.
In my dismay and repugnance, I stumble over a slick stone, but Armagh tightens his grip on my forearm, keeping me upright.  A cool, wet something grazes my other hand, and I jerk my arm up in terror, squelching a scream.  All around us, strange white mists seep out of the ground and river, slowly taking on the forms of enormous hunting hounds.  I turn to Armagh, intending to ask what’s happening, but his eyes have gone white, his pupils and irises vanished, and belatedly I realize the phantoms are his doing, that he’s called them as a line of defense against the horrible Eater.  Something beside me whines, prodding my hand again gently, and when I look down, I gasp, my heart leaping into my throat. 
“You know him?” Armagh inquires, still moving us slowly down the shore.  The hounds begin to close in, surrounding us with a ghostly silver light.
I nod, a few tears leaking from the corners of my eyes as I rest my hand on the crown of the great hound’s head.  Although his body glows with the same spectral light that permeates the other phantoms, I can feel the soft familiar tuft of fur between my fingers, the warmth of his spirit, made tangible by some power of this place or of the man beside me.  Reciprocating my touch, the spirit of the dog I knew as Brutus gently presses against me, filling me with reassurance. 
“How is this possible?”
“In times of darkest need, the souls of those we love - even of those who have passed beyond the gates of mortality - stand with us,” Armagh says.  “Here in Cárn na Marbh, if we’re very, very lucky, we can sometimes even see them.”
Down the beach, The Eater finally reaches its prey.  Wailing shrilly, the liquefied mass of blood, skin, and bone that was once a Seelie noble shudders violently, as if still trying to escape.
“We don’t die when it consumes us,” says Armagh, looking on The Eater with disgust, but also morbid fascination.  “Nor after.  We fae are too resilient.”
A new wave of horror crashes over me.  Indeed, as I absorb the information, I can hear the faint, muffled screams of several hundred souls trapped inside the monster. 
Armagh swallows hard, and I notice an almost imperceptible tremor when he urges me to start moving again.  At the same time, the thing bends over the grisly puddle, the slick, pink mouth lined with teeth rooting about like an infant pig.  As it touches the mound of quivering flesh, the Seelie’s wail increases in shrillness, accompanied by a wet sucking and slurping.
I close my mouth, by sheer force of will ordering the contents of my stomach to stay put.  “Are you sure we can’t run?” I whisper. 
“No, we really can’t.”
Sweat trickles down the back of my neck.  We continue to move, accompanied by the sounds of the Seelie being devoured, still alive, but unable to move or speak or even end its own terrible agony.  It’s one of the worst fates I can imagine, and stealthily, I withdraw Fragarach, vowing to kill myself and the pup, and Armagh too, before allowing The Eater to have a single one of us.
The Eater has other ideas.  Finished with the Seelie, it advances, snuffling the air with its toothsome mouth, searching for an additional source of food. 
“Keep going,” says Armagh softly, pushing me behind him.  “When the embankment levels out, step into the cover of the forest and run straight for Emain Macha.”
Seeing he means to face the beast alone, I stubbornly plant my feet.  “I’m not leaving you to die for me.”  Brandishing Fragarach, I add, “This is probably the best chance we have of killing it, anyway.”
Armagh nods grimly, standing his ground as The Eater surges forward, its body swollen and distended like a leech that’s had too much blood. 
I close my eyes, summoning my courage, drawing on the feelings of camaraderie still emanating from the hound at my side.  As I think of Brutus, the hound in question quivers in anticipation, his whole body shaking with joy.  Knowing instinctively the cause of his elation, I open my eyes, discovering the earl had joined us.
“This wasn’t a part of the plan, Ms. Morgan,” he says soberly, resting his hand on the hound’s head, his attention fixed on the oncoming beast.  “Remind me to explain to you later what ‘very, very good’ entails.”
“You think there’s going to be a later?” I ask hopefully.
He regards Armagh shrewdly, but optimistically.  “If we three stick together, we might have a chance to run it off.”
Armagh’s mouth forms a hard line, indicating he’s not pleased with the prospect of working with Lord Nottingham, but without a better alternative, he reluctantly gives his consent.  Meanwhile, The Eater surges forward, gaining on us.
“You’ve had enough,” says the earl decisively, taking a step toward it. 
The thing hesitates, drawing into itself as if trying to remember how to speak.  When it does, the sound is fashioned from the hundreds of trapped souls inside it.  “What creature dares address me,” it howls in an orchestra of anguished spirits.
“We do,” says the earl, taking yet another step toward the monster, Brutus faithfully at his side.  “Feel our power and know we will destroy you if you do not retreat.”
In tandem with the earl’s threat, Armagh’s phantoms glow brighter and multiply, clouds of spirits rising up from the ground or floating out of the fringe of forest to surround us in a protective bubble.  Their bodies form from the mist, becoming palpable, but retaining a distinctive spectral glow.  The moon grows brighter too, casting a ghostly sheen onto the surface of the river, throwing long shadows into the water.  The shadows eddy and swirl, giving impressions of things that one day might be, a shifting panorama of a kaleidoscopic possibilities.  To our right, the forest awakens, the trees sway and bend, the leaves murmur; the entire green-black growth roils with power born of the very essence of life. 
The Eater feels the air with its mouth, tasting the changing landscape, searching for more information.  “The Prince of Shadows…!” it screeches.  “The Lost Seeress…!  The King-Killer…! Quite an accomplished company…”
“A company that will destroy you if you do not retreat immediately,” the earl reasserts.
Unimpressed, the thing rises up, retracting into itself as I’d witnessed it do before.  I brace myself, waiting for the poison to launch.  At the exact moment it should appear, a series of perfectly-targeted arrows plunks into the swollen cavity of its odiferous maw, stapling the mouth shut.  Without full use of the outlet of expectoration, the acid bubbles out of the mouth and trickles down the front of The Eater.  Screaming as its outer skin begins to burn with its own foul poison, the wounded monster writhes and wriggles into the water, retreating to its lair.
“That was well done,” says the earl to Armagh.
“You aren’t allowed here,” Armagh replies, stiffly.
A group of men on more of the ghostly warhorses appear, trickling a few at a time from the forest.  At the head of the company, Elyon sits coldly and imperiously, the head of the shellycoat and several other unfortunate creatures dangling from his saddle.  Fluidly, the Seelie lord leaps from his horse down onto the riverbank in front of us. 
“For once, I agree with the Princeling.  You’re absolutely not welcome, Mallacht.”
Look for Nights of Numberless Dreams Summer of 2016.

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Behind the Scenes: Writing Under the Burning Moon
August 9, 2015