Excerpt From Pool of Memories and Serpents

Whenever I learn something new and revolutionary about my writing process, I say something along the lines of “wow, with this figured out, the next book will be easy to write!” and then the next book comes along, laughing at my sweet, sweet innocence.

Pool of Memories and Serpents is the most recent book to turn life upside down.

Actually, I wrote the first 30,000 words of this book very easily. Within two weeks of solid writing, I had 2/3 of the first draft done and ready to go.

Then I stopped writing.

I chalked it up to a busy life, and it was true. I had SO MUCH on the go.

So much that I didn’t realize I was blocked. That I wasn’t “imagining” the next part of the story anymore.

And I didn’t realize that until I sat down to work on the book again about a month later.

I learned a lot about my writing process over the next two days, where I scrambled to find answers to why wouldn’t the rest of the story fall together?

Well, good news for you. I did eventually find those answers, and after two more weeks of gruelling writing and editing, Pool of Memories and Serpents is JUST ABOUT ready for you to read!

Plus, if you Pre-Order before July 8th, you’ll get an exclusive bonus with your download: a special deleted chapter, the one that was causing me so much trouble until I deleted it! All Pre-Order copies will have the deleted chapter available at the end of the book.

For now, how about checking out the blurb and a preview of chapter 1?!

Pre-Order Now

He devoured a dark dragon spirit, and now it will consume him from the inside out.

Less than a month into Hidekazu’s journey to find where all the dragons disappeared to, he and his travelling companion are attacked by a dark spirit belonging to one of the very creatures they’re hoping to find.

Instead of receiving answers, Hidekazu is forced to tap into the power he can’t control to save his partner’s life. Only by surrendering to the darkness inside of him again, this time Hidekazu might not be able to return… or stop himself from feasting on the innocent spirits who get in his way.

Pool of Memories and Serpents is a fantasy tale filled with magic, dragons, and wonder, and is a supplementary novella in the Yumihari World. This story can be enjoyed after reading the Yokai Calling series or on its own.

Tap that buy button and experience the adventure now!

***

Chapter 1

The long dirt road snaking from the hills around the city levelled ahead, thinning so only a single cart could pass by the thin branches of the dark forest. Speckles of light penetrated the canopy, dappling the ground with hazy splotches that peered up from the grass like the eyes of forest spirits.

While forest spirits were benevolent guardians of the trees, the creatures Hidekazu had encountered in the Silent Hills in the past were anything but kind or helpful. He regarded the foliage with a sickening sense of foreboding as he and his travelling companion, Chizue, came closer to the edge of the thicket.

“No one will want to believe the Headmaster of Tsukiko Academy imprisoned and tortured a sacred serpent,” Chizue continued her story from the top of her chestnut-coloured mare. “Not that I’d blame them; how many people are capable of such a profane act? Even if we have eyewitnesses, not to mention the teachers monitoring the exam, anyone who wasn’t present will argue it must have been an illusion meant to administer the test.”

“What if it was an illusion?”

“You’re not suggesting that we’ve been running around in circles trying to rescue this shishajya for months for no reason, are you?”

Hidekazu blew out a breath. “I’m just saying we don’t have any concrete proof to level against his reputation. We are considered disgruntled former students, nothing more.”

“The serpent was real, and it was in pain. If we could go back, now with everything I know…”

“What he did to that serpent is not our fault. Our responsibilities take us to the Nightmare now, and we will continue our effort to free the shishajya upon our return.”

She scoffed. “It’s so unlike you to be reasonable about a topic like this. I expected you to be raving to the trees with your anger.”

“I am angry. I want nothing more than to march back to that cursed academy and free the shishajya! I am intimately familiar with what Headmaster Meki is capable of.”

“Then why do we pursue this fool’s errand instead?”

Because I am familiar with my former master’s capacity for cruelty. Or did you forget?”

Silence stretched between them. A heartbeat, and then two, and then Chizue sighed. “No, I didn’t.”

“The shishajya is trapped much like I was. We will get it out, trust me.”

Spirits were eternal. Since Hidekazu and his friends hadn’t destroyed the serpent when they faced it as part of their graduation test, the creature, Adohira, would have been sent back under the control of its ruthless master. Hidekazu had been a fool to leave it behind, but he would also be a fool to pursue the spirit now without a plan that would work.

There were countless obstacles on the course to freedom. Now was no different from last year or the year before, but how long could he keep putting it off?

The pressure in the air tensed, and his eyes flicked from branch to branch while Chizue carried on with her new ideas about freeing the serpent. They were coming up fast on the forest, the tall limbs stretching out to meet them like spindly fingers.

“Hey, are you listening?”

Hidekazu swung his gaze to meet hers. “Hmm?”

“I asked if Aihi’s word might mean something. She’s shōgun, after all.”

“Her word might give us leverage,” he considered, “but it would be foolish of her to level an accusation against Headmaster Meki when she needs the soldiers from the academy to fill the ranks of her army. War won’t pause and wait for us to do the right thing. She is obligated to protect the living first and foremost.”

“Another task left to us, I suppose,” Chizue sighed.

A pair of silver and gold eyes peered out of the glittering forest ahead. They made eye contact with Hidekazu, sending a chill racing through him. A second later, they dissipated into wisps of smoke.

He yanked the reins, and his horse stopped in the middle of the dirt road. “I thought you said the malevolent spirits had been cleansed from the Silent Hills?”

“Sure. The priestesses and the Tiger Reserves spent the past few years cleaning up the mess you left behind.” She flicked a lock of her inky, blue-black hair over her shoulder. “They declared the area safe for travellers last month.”

A sharp twang struck out through the air, followed by a shockwave of translucent energy.

The blast struck Hidekazu in the torso and sent him flying from the back of his mare. He hit the ground and rolled into a crouch, his skin gaining a light purple hue as he readied a battle stance.

Another bolt of ki came from the woods and hit Chizue. She shrieked and collapsed into an inelegant mound beside him.

Their riderless horses whinnied and scattered, bolting down the path toward the city, leaving their riders destitute on the road into the haunted forest.

“What in the Spirit’s name was that?” Chizue crept closer to Hidekazu, staying crouched but with her hands up to deflect the next blow.

Hidekazu flattened a palm against the earth, letting tiny streamers of ki reach into the ground. Not all of the angry spirits ahead were meant to be here. At his prodding touch, their unnatural energy ripped through him, seesawing back and forth in warning.

“I’m sensing plenty of unhappy spirits in the forest right now,” Hidekazu said. “This isn’t exactly how I imagined our morning going.”

While no immediate threats were visible, he and Chizue knew better than to dismiss potential threats beyond their sight. Malicious energy scratched at Hidekazu’s arms as he gazed out at the emerald ginkgo trees at the forest’s edge. Mist seeped low around the gnarled trunks, and shadows flitted about, seething around old roots like snakes, making it difficult to see deeper into the trees.

And if more powerful creatures waited for them.

“The priestesses and bushi inevitably missed a few when they cleansed the spirits here, but I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t handle.” Chizue wrung her hands and then placed two fingers on her tattooed wrist, where a subtle hum of energy came from the green ink of her irezumi. “Whatever that surge was, it had to be a fluke.”

Crimson light fluttered within the trees, spattering the leaves like red paint. The enormity of the ki bowed Hidekazu’s eyelids closed.

Blood. Blood on your hands. Blood in your eyes. Blood stains your spirit.

The voice wracked Hidekazu’s mind, causing him to stagger.

Are you my next meal, traveller? I see what you are.

“Hide? Are you okay?” He didn’t feel when Chizue planted her hand on his shoulder as she spoke to him.

Hands flew up to his face, but they weren’t Hidekazu’s. Claws scratched his cheeks, cutting into skin, leaving marks along his jaw. Blood gushed from his nose, slid down his throat, and he couldn’t breathe

Chizue’s fingers brushed his nose and lips, and her fingers came away bloody. “Strange. There are no spirits close enough to have this kind of effect on you yet. What’s happening?”

Hidekazu blinked away the choking, hot sensation of rushing blood. It’d been a year since he last heard a spirit’s voice in his head; he forgot how invasive they were, the withering chill that wove through his mind and lingered long after their presence had disappeared.

This voice was far too similar to the spirit who once occupied Hidekazu’s head, dictating his life. That had been a warlock—the monster who had the Dragon Goddess’ blood running through his veins.

He was also Hidekazu’s deceased uncle.

This spirit, and his uncle’s, both constricted like serpents. They weighed heavy on Hidekazu’s mind, quick to come and slow to leave before he was entirely himself again.

Yet he could count how many dragon spirits he’d encountered before on one hand.

There had always been spirits in the Silent Hills. But a dragon? It would be worshipped if anyone knew it was here, haunted forest or not.

Perhaps they were in luck. A dragon was exactly what they were after.

He stood and dusted off his robes. “Don’t worry about me; the spirits only caught me off guard.”

“I might have an easier time believing you if you weren’t leaking again.”

Hidekazu glanced at his feet, where swirls of violet ki cascaded from his tattoos and pooled on the ground. With a deep breath, he scoured his body with his mind until he found the spot the energy had escaped from—the tip of his elbow, which had hit the ground first after the spirit’s warning attack. He drew all the ki back through him until the hovering mist disappeared altogether.

Visualizing the white canvas of his spirit, he then let the energy fall into place over top and soak back into place. He stifled the glow on his arms, returning to his normal appearance as a perfectly well-adjusted majyu.

“I thought you had your little problem under control,” Chizue said.

“I do, I promise.”

She wore the embodiment of skepticism on her face, but he was used to those looks by now, as she too had become accustomed to him lying.

Hidekazu’s eyes drifted to Chizue’s hand, which was still firm on his shoulder. This was the closest they’d been to each other in months, beyond the occasional night where he let her open the path to his spirit and peer at the secrets inside.

“We should keep to the road if we want to make it through the forest by nightfall,” he said in his excuse to make more distance between them. “We shouldn’t linger around here after dark.”

“If you say so. We’re not going to get far without our horses, though.”

Their mares had stopped by the edge of the nearby rice field and grazed in the thin grass. The pair had bundled their supplies to the sides of the two horses, enough to get them to Yazumisato, where they would restock before heading farther east.

They retrieved their horses, and Hidekazu patted Kioshi’s golden coat. “It’s too early to be running off. You’re going to make it through the forest, aren’t you, girl?”

She snorted and sniffed Hidekazu’s hand, searching for treats. She gave him a look he’d come to recognize as displeasure when finding he didn’t have any for her. He swung onto her back, relieved to put space between him and Chizue again. He wasn’t ready to face the disappointment that flashed in her eyes when they were close and he didn’t touch her.

Chizue curled her fingers through the chestnut mare’s mane. “They would vacation in the field if we let them, the lazy brutes. You’d hardly guess they’re warhorses with how much they like to eat.”

“I need a vacation, too.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing right now?”

“There is nothing about a dangerous trek across Seiryuu in search of a mirror to the spirit realm that sounds relaxing or rejuvenating to me. It sounds more like a disaster waiting to happen.”

“We could cut all this travelling nonsense if we contacted your brother, you know.” Chizue crossed her arms while their horses inched toward the forest. “When I met him, he didn’t seem that bad of a man. I don’t see why you insist on dragging me all the way to the mountain portal just to avoid talking to him.”

“I’m not avoiding him.”

She laughed. “Hence why you’re willing to risk our lives journeying across the country rather than reaching out for Masanori’s help. If that’s not extreme avoidance, I don’t know what is.”

Shade fell over them as they passed under the forest canopy. Mist curled around the mares’ hooves, and they let out nervous neighs as they carried on the path. While there had been obvious signs of spirits hovering in the boughs as they approached the trees, the branches and roots stood still and silent. Too silent.

“Masanori had the chance to stay; he chose to leave us all behind.” Hidekazu tightened his grip on the reins, eager for a change in topic away from his missing twin brother. “And this trip was your idea, or did you forget?”

“You were the one who was struck with the sudden need to venture off in search of dragons. I am but your humble guide leading you to the closest known spirit portal.” Chizue grinned and drifted closer so her shoulder brushed against his. “Not that I’m complaining to have this time with you.”

Conscious of her touch this time, Hidekazu shied away from the brief, innocent contact.

Despite Chizue’s devotion and efforts in rebuilding Hidekazu’s fragmented spirit, he would never be the man she’d fallen for when they were students. He couldn’t control the demons when they came. He couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t hurt her or worse.

Chizue was right, though. If Hidekazu contacted Masanori, they could get to the Nightmare—one of the two spirit worlds—a lot easier than travelling to the Skyfall on the other side of the country. However, contacting Masanori posed multiple consequences he didn’t want to deal with, and there was no guarantee Masanori would transport them. Hidekazu would rather take the extra time to travel by land than re-open the wounds that were only now beginning to scar over and heal.

“Are there really dragons in the Nightmare?” he said.

“Yes, but not your kin. Our dragons are a different species, though they can be gentle or ferocious like the Goddess’ dragons. Have you seen a whale before?”

“They loiter along the coast near the palace every now and then. The one time I went on a ship when I was a boy, a blue whale came up to the side of the vessel and bumped the hull; it was covered in barnacles as big as children.”

“The Kagi dragons are like that.”

“Is that why I find you hiding out by the docks from time to time?”

Chizue’s smile broadened. “Ahh, I can’t wait to return home. The ocean in your world is a poor imitation. When the water trails down the Skyfall and hits the great river, its cosmic essence dissipates. Your whales must be the descendants of dragons who fell from the skies.”

“Our legends say the Skyfall crashes all the way from the Goddess’ domain. The enormous waterfall is so far from the capital city that I’ve never been there before, though,” Hidekazu said. “I look forward to witnessing the sacred waters on our way up the mountains.”

“It’s been twelve years since I last saw the Skyfall; it’s almost like we’ll be seeing them for the first time, together.”

Hidekazu pulled his gaze from the crooked forest path and landed on Chizue. She stared back at him, the silver flecks in her dark irises glowing like stars at midnight. Moments like this made him realize all over again how he was helplessly drawn to this woman; he found Chizue’s poorly timed humour and charm captivating, as well as the unapologetic ferocity with which she cared for those around her. Including Hidekazu.

The court ladies would say Chizue’s skin and eyes were too dark, her face too round, her legs too short. But all he could think, whenever her eyes captured his like this, was just how much he loved to watch the lines forming around them when she smiled and laughed. He would trade all the traditional measurements of beauty for just a conversation with her, no question.

Peculiar shadows darted over the path ahead, giving Hidekazu a real reason not to respond to Chizue’s leading statement. She’d distracted him long enough not to notice the spike of ki lingering everywhere in the forest. The fog seemed to be made up of spiritual energy, obscuring the exact locations of the creatures that had appeared since he last checked.

He sensed them watching from the branches and behind trunks, their essences like heartbeats reverberating through the silence. Spanning his senses outward, he detected Chizue’s spirit as a blinding cosmic ocean, waves of glittering light. But the spirits hiding in the trees? They were like splotches of darkness that could have swallowed him whole if he went too close.

Tendrils of blackness reached for his mind, dragging him closer.

I am what you will become.

The voice crashed into Hidekazu again, paralyzing his lungs to keep him from warning Chizue.

The trees rattled like a dozen monkeys were racing through the branches. Wicked cackling echoed all around them. Hidekazu’s irezumi glowed warm with ki in anticipation, a spell readied on his fingertips. This time, the presences he sensed weren’t a false alarm. There would be a fight, but with what?

Chizue sighed and gripped her katana’s hilt. “We couldn’t go twenty minutes without being accosted? What’s it going to be this time—Kama itachi? Tengu? Oni?”

She sounded bored, but she wasn’t the one hearing a malevolent spirit’s voice in her head.

A prickling sensation on the back of Hidekazu’s neck urged him to look over his shoulder. A black shadow hovered on the road, serpentine in the way it crisscrossed over the pathway. The spirit’s whole body rippled, giving the creature the appearance of flowing ink. Speckles of white and silver dotted the smoky body, disappearing and reappearing beneath the shifting blackness.

Then the spirit raised its narrow head, and the tall antlers and floating barbel were unmistakable.

“A dragon,” Hidekazu whispered, half awed, half terrified, because the creature’s maw opened in an unaccommodating snarl that sounded far too much like it intended to eat them.

***

Grab the book while it’s in pre-order and get the exclusive deleted chapter!

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—Erynn

 

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