Lethal Red Riding Hood
Dark Goddess Chronicles Book 1
by Leonard & Anne Marie Wilson Genre: Dark Fantasy
"First character crush ever! I just want to say that Keely is my girl!...my FAVORITE character out of this whole book...very cunning and intelligent. The perfect protagonist to Bloody Scarlet." ~ Jordan, book reviewer, editor, author, life-on-the-shelf.com
Bloody Scarlet, the skull collector of the Crimson Forest, is just a cautionary tale to keep children from wandering in and getting lost — isn’t she? Well something’s out there.
In a world dominated by a cruel Inquisition that sees demons and witches everywhere it turns, Keely just wants to make a dishonest living convincing the obscenely wealthy to part with their excess riches through guile and trickery.
When the Inquisition shows up to destroy her life anyway, Keely goes on the offensive rather than scurry back into the shadows. To set it up for a fall she lures the Inquisition into an invented race to find a heretical book of prophecy that may never have existed.
When Keely builds her lies on existing rumors, though, and points the hunt in the direction of the Crimson forest, a new player introduces herself to the high stakes con game as a deadly wild card.
Whether or not the woman in red is the real Bloody Scarlet, the closer Keely gets to the dark, twisted heart of the forest the more quickly things spiral out of control.
Sabina pulled another dusty book off the nearest shelf and dropped it with a satisfying thud onto the table next to the growing pile. She opened it reverently, and carefully turned the brittle pages, to find more of the ancient, indecipherable text. Or, to put a finer point on it, the text was indecipherable to her, given her personal ignorance of the old imperial tongue, but this was the stuff: tome after tome that reeked of age and authority, each one a musty exemplar of what a fifteen-hundred-year-old holy text should be.
Behind Sabina, a light flared as her hostess lit a candle, then placed it on the table, and it was only then that Sabina realized how dark the cottage had become. Was night falling already?
“Where did you get these?” Sabina asked the woman excitedly. It was the first words either of them had spoken since Sabina had been invited in. Instantly entranced by the collection, Sabina had never even spared her hostess a second glance, and the woman had seemed in no hurry to break the spell.
“Oh, the usual places.” The woman answered in the hushed tones of a librarian—though there was no one else about for her voice to disturb—before gliding off again into the gloom. “Salvaged from the deepest pits of despair, wrestled from out of the darkest nightmares. That sort of thing.”
“That’s…usual, is it?” Sabina asked. Finally taking an active interest in her hostess, Sabina peered into the darkness, but could see no more of her now than a shadowy silhouette as she moved about, pulling a book off a shelf here, sliding one onto a shelf there.
“Where else?” The woman still whispered, though her voice carried like a bell in the cold silence of the library. “Seriena trains up women to read and to write so that when they die and she drags their souls screaming down into the pit, she can chain them up in dank little cells to make books for her for all eternity. When they’re not being poked with red hot needles, of course. That would make them jump and smudge the words.”
“Oh,” Sabina said, not knowing what other answer she could give to that story.
“Books are evil, dear. Poison. They’re how Seriena spreads her hate and her venom to every corner of the land.”
“And yet you surround yourself with so many…” Sabina observed, trying against all her natural urges to not sound judgmental.
“Oh, these aren’t mine,” the woman whispered. “These are for you. That’s what you came looking for, isn’t it? Forbidden knowledge? Power at any cost?”
“Who are you?” Sabina asked, shivering suddenly. She found herself whispering in imitation of the woman.
“Oh, I know Seriena has this whole ‘sweetness and light’ thing going,” the woman continued. “But that’s just a mask for the rubes. Helloooo? Inquisition? You think she doesn’t condone their methods? She’s no better than the rest of us.”
“I think I’d better go,” Sabina whispered nervously. “My brother’s looking for me.”
“Of course,” the woman said. “Show yourself out. Sometimes the power’s not worth the price, is it?”
“Sometimes,” Sabina agreed, a note of uncertainty creeping into her note of uncertainty. But she stood up slowly and started edging toward the door. “You’re the witch, aren’t you?”
The woman laughed loudly, the suddenness of it startling in the quiet darkness. “I’ve been called a witch,” she murmured finally. “I’m not.”
“Then what are you?” Sabina asked earnestly.
“Famished,” the woman answered with a thoughtful nod. “And perhaps a bit melodramatic. It’s hard to be sure, though. Is this Tuesday?”
“I…no,” Sabina shook her head, now at least as perplexed as she was nervous.
“Pity.” The woman sighed wistfully. “I have a theory about days of the week, you know. Melodrama is so much easier to recognize on a Tuesday. But look, we’re not here to talk about me, are we? This is all about…you.” The woman finally stepped into the candlelight, and for a moment there was something unnervingly familiar about her manic grin. Then she leaned over and blew out the candle with one quick puff of breath and the room plunged into utter darkness.
Gingerdread Dark Goddess Chronicles Book 2
“Beautiful atmosphere with a touch of macabre with an unreliable narrative done magnificently…if you have any love of horror and suspense, add this to your list.” ~ Catherine Bowser, ARC Reader
Hell is a Bakery
Jordan hadn’t wished his stepmother, Eva, dead. A little something involving spiders would have served vengeance quite nicely.
Still, he hadn’t exactly grieved when they said she’d died in the fire. A protective big brother will only forgive so many sins against his sister.
Even if Eva had been alive, though, what business would she have begging for his help now—a year later? And how insane was he to even consider offering help, much less seek out where her voice was coming from on such a miserable dark night?
As heir presumptive to the barony and a soon-to-be knight in training, Jordan refuses to let fear stop him from seeking answers to impossible questions.
But when the questions keep piling up, each darker and more dreadful than the last, only one thing becomes crystal clear: he’ll never look at an oven the same way again.
He peered cautiously in through the window there. Beyond lay a smallish room, half-intact but stripped of furnishings, marred by soot and smoke and by a year of partial exposure to the elements. In the dark it had seemed dreadfully sinister. In the morning it just felt abandoned and forlorn. No crying, pleas, or pounding came from within. He wanted to tell himself he’d dreamed the whole episode, but the charred timber lying freshly shattered on the floor said otherwise.
Rather than climb through the window—which looked structurally unsafe—Jordan retraced his steps around to the doorway and through the old house. Whatever the room had been before the fire, he didn’t recognize it. This would have been servants’ territory and nowhere he had ever ventured. With the scent of damp and decay filling his nostrils, he moved slowly, carefully, so as not to cause any further shifting of the ruin. He also moved as quietly as he was able so as not to disturb anything that might be lurking. Locating the wall, he circled it again, hoping sunlight would reveal something that candle light hadn’t. It didn’t.
Jordan had longed to find some way to quiet his conscience that didn’t involve drawing attention to himself again, but soon it would be breakfast, and lessons would come after that whether he’d eaten or not. Before he could return here again it would almost certainly be dark.
His mind raced down all the possible paths he might find himself on if he walked away not knowing. It didn’t like any of them one bit. He weighed them against what could go wrong if he didn’t just walk away. It didn’t make him feel any better.
How on earth had anyone decided that he was the brave one? But somehow now that everyone thought he was, he was terrified of letting on that he wasn’t.
He pressed his ear to the wall again, ready to flinch away and run. Nothing. He closed his eyes. He drew a deep breath. He realized he was stalling. He rapped quietly on the wall. He rapped again a little louder.
“Hello?” The voice came small, tentative.
“Eva?” he finally managed to squeak, emboldened by the morning light.
“Jordan? Jordan, please don’t go.”
He started to say he’d just run to get help, but could he? Maybe if he came up with the right lie. Maybe. “I…I’m not leaving,” he said finally. “How can I help?”
“It’s so dark. I can’t see. The door is stuck.”
“Eva, I don’t see any door,” he said, starting to feel a little better, bolder. A weight had lifted when he focused on her fear instead of his.
“What?! No! It’s here. Right here.” The distinct rattling of a doorknob could be heard through the wall.
“Rap on the door,” he said. “There, by the knob.” He heard it. “Keep rapping.” With his ear to the wall, he kept listening, moving around until he’d pinpointed the spot. He drove his knuckles into the plaster there, creating a noticeable dent, then he went looking for a makeshift tool.
He found it in the form of a jagged piece of stonework that had fractured from the wall. With it, he began to gouge at the plaster in earnest. It crumbled away quickly and easily but revealed only solid brick behind.
Jordan honestly couldn’t say whether he was disappointed or relieved, but it was too late to walk away--even for breakfast. It was too late to walk away even if he missed lessons and they sent a search party. If that happened and they didn’t hear Eva it would mean the willow switch. If they did hear her, though, then he could pass the whole thing off to the grown-ups. He’d have to risk it.
“It’s just a wall!” he called back. “I still can’t see…” His voice trailed off, and he hurried once more around the wall, inspecting it, his confusion giving way to suspicion.
“Hold on,” he said when he got back to where he started, and he began hacking away at the plaster again until he found the vertical seam where red brick met gray stone. Then he tore at it the other direction until he found another seam.
Brickwork less than a yard wide lay between him and his stepmother. Someone had bricked up a doorway and plastered over it. Jordan’s stomach tied itself in all sorts of new knots as that fact sank in, then got dragged to new depths as he studied the soot on the remaining plaster. There was no possible way that the door hadn’t been sealed off before the fire. His knees gave way to fear and horror, and he started retching on the spot, trying to turn out the contents of an empty stomach.
Dark Goddess Chronicles Book 3
A Dragon Is Forever
Meilani always wanted to be a monster hunter for the Inquisition. She was good at it, too, until the first time she came face-to-face with real monsters. Now she’s alone with her nightmares on the road she paved with all those good intentions.
Then one tiny glimmer of redemption finally offers itself—a chance to safeguard a little girl with a very familiar ambition—only to lead her further down the rabbit hole. The journey leaves them stranded in a tangled web of time with a deadly rogue’s gallery of psychopaths and other monsters.
Hanging over it all, a once comfortingly familiar song exhorts them relentlessly, inescapably to push ever deeper into a night that never ends, even as something at the center of the web stirs restlessly on its gleaming hoard of possibilities. Here, now, and always, there be dragons.
Catching up to the girl didn’t take long given her short strides. “Where are you even going?”
The girl looked up and gave a small, relieved smile at the sight of Meilani. “Do you hear that?” she asked, gesturing ahead as she paused again in the swirling snow.
Rather than peer into the darkness ahead, Meilani peered nervously into the darkness behind, watching for any sign of a lumbering shadow, but still she cocked her head and listened. With sounds muffled by the snow and away from the cluster of taverns they’d left behind, the night had fallen nearly silent. In truth Meilani could hear nothing more than her own breathing, the background whisper of falling snow, and the song carrying more distinctly now from the opera house. She tried listening to that, but could make out nothing beyond its innocuous and traditional solstice celebration of rebirth.
When will the night be done With the returning of the sun A new year to have begun Sing laetatio
Finally, Meilani shook her head. “What am I supposed to hear?”
“You can’t hear the song?” the girl pressed.
“Just ‘Arise Again, Begin Anew’ coming from Icehall,” Meilani said. “Nothing sinister.”
“Look at Icehall,” the girl insisted.
Meilani glanced obligingly ahead but she already knew she couldn’t see it from her memory of the dark street. The opera house was an impressive, soaring thing full of glass and light—a beacon in the dark night. It couldn’t be missed. It just wasn’t there yet. “If I come close enough to see it with you and everything looks fine, will you come back to the tavern with me?”
“It’s right down there,” the girl insisted, ignoring the question. “Straight shot. Right in front of us.”
“Have you ever seen Icehall at night?” Meilani sighed. “There’s no missing it. It’s still behind…” She waved an arm in frustration off down the street. “Stuff.”
“You can’t miss it,” the girl agreed, though clearly growing impatient herself, “until everyone’s gone home for the night. It was two in the morning last clock I heard. The opera’s closed and empty.”
“Can’t be,” Meilani protested. “I can hear them singing.”
“So can I,” the girl assured her slowly and deliberately. “All that stuff you’re trying so hard to forget? It broke something in you. It broke something in me, too. I’ve seen a lot of the same nightmares. Once you see them, there’s no going back. Your head stops screening them out just because they’re unthinkable.”
“Worked that out yourself, did you?” Meilani arched an incredulous eyebrow.
“Sister Adalva did,” the girl said, unfazed. “You should start reading her.”
“Pretending for one moment that we’ve got an opera house singing while it’s empty, how is this worse than being stalked by a giant shadow?” By this point Meilani could feel the comfortable embrace of the alcohol completely unwinding. “You think an opera house is going to get up and start following us?”
“The opera house has been doing this every night for weeks,” the girl said crossly. “Also, it’s killing people.”
Leonard & Ann Marie Wilson met when she showed up on his doorstep where they quickly bonded over nearly everything, including their shared love of writing. Two years later they were married and collaborating on nearly everything, including writing as freelancers for role-playing games.
Leonard came to storytelling first through Dungeons & Dragons, then on to other role-playing games. Immediately after earning a degree in writing, he began freelancing, writing adventures for the RPG industry. While he was never a prolific author, the internet still seems to regard a couple of his works as classics of their type ("The Ghost of Mistmoor" in Dungeon magazine, and "The Heart Blade" in Pendragon's Blood and Lust adventure anthology). Coincidentally, those same two adventures are what paid for their wedding rings and honeymoon.
Ann was a gamer girl in her own right when they met, and she retains an "old school" pedigree longer than anyone who's ever accused her of being a poser. She wrote stories for fun, but thanks to the careless words of a particularly unfortunate English teacher, never got around to pursuing her ambitions of publishing before she met Leonard. That didn't stop her from finishing her first novel-length manuscript before he finished his.
They launched their own imprint, Lost in the Wood Press, just in time to have it as a steady project to ride out the COVID lockdown, and are loving the complete creative freedom that comes with self-publishing.