Lethal Red Riding Hood
Dark Goddess Chronicles Book 1
by Leonard & Anne Marie Wilson
Genre: Dark Fantasy
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.
“So are you ever going to tell me what this big ‘master plan’ of yours is?” Elissa asked as Keely strolled like a shopper among the astounding assortment of props and costumes, pausing to examine a dress here or run her fingers through a wig there.
“I thought I said,” Keely replied distractedly. “We’re going to find the Grimm Truth.”
“And which of the overwhelming problems with that plan did you want me to point out first?”
“Oh, amuse yourself. Whichever one strikes your fancy.” Keely stopped in front of a full-length mirror to try on a curly brown wig and ponder her reflection. She wrinkled her nose, shook her head, and returned the wig to where she’d found it.
“Okay. What if it doesn’t even exist?” Elissa asked impatiently. “Miraculata Cosima seems pretty convinced it doesn’t.”
“Non-issue. Next objection?”
“In what conceivable world is this a non-issue?!”
Keely gave Elissa an exasperated look. “The one in which I don’t give a fig what’s in it. Don’t let her baby face fool you. That miraculata of yours is a shrewd one—a serious politician. She knows how the game works.”
“And how does the game work?” Elissa asked tersely.
“Like this,” Keely said, pulling a set of three tin cups down from a shelf and laying them out upside down on a dusty tabletop. With a flourish, she produced a small ball, which she held up briefly before sliding it under one of the cups, then she began shuffling the cups quickly back and forth. “Now, which cup is the ball under?” she asked when she’d stopped.
“None of them,” Elissa answered levelly.
“None of them?” Keely asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“You palmed the ball before you started. I saw it in your hand.”
“Really? I could have sworn it was under the middle one.”
“It’s not.” Elissa confidently lifted the middle cup and did a double take. Her brow furrowed as she lifted the other cups. “Okay, it was. But that proves…what?”
“It proves,” Keely said, producing a twin for the ball on the table, “that you thought I was a cheat, so you treated me like a cheat.”
“Well, you gave me reason to.”
“And…?” Keely shrugged expansively. “The point is, it wasn’t truth you reacted to, it was what you believed was true. That’s what people do. Day in, day out, minute by minute, we make our best guesses about what’s true, and we act on them. None of us can ever see the whole truth at once, so in the end, the only thing that makes one truth better than another is how much reality it can hold before it breaks. If a whole lot of us believe the same lie—if an entire kingdom believes the same lie—and the lie is solid enough, that lie can move mountains. So I don’t care whether or not the Grimm Truth exists. I just want to drop a mountain on Jane Carver.”
Dark Goddess Chronicles Book 2
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
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
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.