Hi guys! We have Mason Thomas stopping by today with his upcoming release The Shadow Mark, we have a great guest post and a great new excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
The Shadow Mark
Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.
But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.
The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.
The Pros and Cons of Writing in the Same Universe.
by Mason Thomas
THE SHADOW MARK is the second book in my LORDS of DAVENIA series. Although not a direct sequel, it does take place in the same world and around the same time as the events of LORD MOUSE. I made the intentional choice to follow LORD MOUSE with a spin-off as opposed to a sequel for a few reasons. Primarily, if I’m to be honest, I didn’t want to rush in and commit to anything yet. Mouse owns a special place in my heart, and I wanted to make sure that I had a new storyline that was worthy of him
I did, however, want to remain rooted in the kingdom of Davenia. I enjoyed my stay there and wanted to explore more of what it had to offer. I hoped to delve deeper into Davenia, flesh out the politics, the history, and the culture of the people. I also wanted the opportunity to introduce new heroes. The title of the series, LORDS OF DAVENIA, hints at a growing catalog of heroes that will rise to become the kingdom’s champions. Future works will bring these characters together into braided storylines.
There are certainly benefits to remaining within the same world. Yet, I discovered some surprising challenges as well.
The benefits are likely obvious. For one, much of the world-building work had already been done. There is no need to reinvent the entire wheel—just add on more wheels and decorate them up. As I built on the foundation already established, the world had a familiarity to it that was easy to sink back into, and granted me an unexpected confidence. The world felt more complete and tangible. Continuity mistakes and contradictions showed up less frequently, and all of elements that define a world, both old and new, were integrated more easily.
Some of the drawbacks are less obvious. The most glaring one is decisions made in the first novel can paint you into an unfortunate corner. Once a detail has been established, you can’t go back and fix it to suit your current project. You have no choice but to work with it or around it. This might be a cultural element, or the location of a place on the map. Or even a name that you’re stuck with that in retrospect sounds lame.
As I continue in the series, I’m now hyper-aware of each decision and how it’s might affect future projects. There is a compulsion to keep things general—but then I would lose the richness and complexity of the world that gives it life and three-dimensionality.
Similarly, I’ve had to make decisions that I actively avoided the first time around. Magic, for example, was something I had left intentionally vague. At the time, I didn’t have a solid mechanism for it. But in writing the new novel, I had to determine the direction I wanted that to go. I also had to establish that there were lands beyond the borders of Davenia. A nation doesn’t exist in absolute isolation. I had to make decisions about Davenia’s surrounding neighbors and what it’s relationships with those regions is like.
And considering that the world will continue to grow and add layers of complexity, small decisions can have a ripple effect even if they don’t impact your current work. Choices I make today could potentially affect the plotline of books I don’t even know I’m writing yet. That can be an intimidating and daunting notion, and can stymie progress if you let it.
The trick to managing it is to make certain every detail of the world is documented. The best place to start is always with a well-drawn map. It keeps track of all the places my characters have visited, and it also can help generate new ideas. Keeping thorough notes about each aspect of the world—politics and power structures, religion, history and past conflicts, art, attitudes of the people—is vital. These are things that shape a culture and bring a world to life, but you have to be mindful of possible contradictions within the story. I am always referring to my notes to make sure it’s all accurately presented.
There is also danger too of trying to shoehorn too much of your world into the story. I’ve had to ride a delicate balance between adding flesh to the world, so the reader feels like they are immersed in a much larger place than that of the characters’ own experience, but also leaving room for the world to continue to grow in future projects.
Whether this is your first visit to the kingdom of Davenia, or you are a returning traveler, I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I have.
Something moved out in the dark wood.
The sound was clear and distinct. A dry twig snapping. He lifted his head and his back straightened as his hand drifted to the hilt of one of the swords on the ground beside him. It could have been an animal out foraging, but something about the sound made Auraq reject that. He waited, straining to pick up anything beyond the crackle of the fire and the sizzle of fat. Then heard it again—the sound a boot makes when snapping a twig on the leafy ground. It came from the direction of the road. Auraq curved his fingers around the grip, ready to slide the blade from the sheath.
Brigands again? Either a new band was thinking he was an easy target or the same ones from before had returned, thinking to retaliate for their bloody failure.
The warm fire and isolation from the road had persuaded him to take off his heavy leather jerkin. He wore only his undertunic. Now, he wondered if he had the time to slip the jerkin on before an ambush. Unprotected, he could be killed by a well-aimed arrow or crossbow bolt. But even with his vest on, there were no guarantees.
More sounds. He could hear breathing now, and the whisper of brush being pushed aside. Someone was approaching his camp. Perhaps two by the close proximity of the sounds. Either they were poorly trained at stealth or no longer cared about being heard. Bandits were at times overconfident in their ability to overwhelm their victims.
He caught movement. The firelight reached out just far enough and at the right angle to catch the white of a tunic sleeve.
“Ho there!” came a warm and friendly call. A leafy branch was lifted aside and a shape emerged from the darkness. “Hail and good eve, friend. You’ll not be needing that weapon for us.”
An old man stepped into the clearing. His face was a chaos of white hair, but among the mess, Auraq spotted a gentle smile peeking through. A rustle of foliage behind him announced the arrival of a second visitor. A man much younger than his companion. Twenty maybe. He stood partly in shadow behind the old man’s shoulder.
“We saw your fire from the road, good sur.”
Auraq didn’t respond and held his fingers to the hilt of the sword. He waited, measuring the two of them, wondering if this was an elaborate ruse to get him to lower his defenses.
“We hoped you’d be kind enough to share it with us at this late hour. We have provisions we could share in return for the kindness.”
The two hovered at the edge of clearing waiting for an invitation. The old man was dressed simply, but well for travel. Heavy breeches and thick boots for long days on foot, a tunic and jerkin and a thick woolen cloak. He had a small canvas haversack on his shoulder and a line of pouches and purses on his belt. Auraq caught the glint of metal underneath the cloak. A dagger or short sword, still sheathed. The younger man was less adequately attired. His boots were well-worn, and he had on only a thin tunic with no cloak upon his shoulders. A bulkier pack was slung on his shoulder.
The old man maintained his warm smile down at Auraq, but the younger man stared at his boots and shifted awkwardly. Nervously. When the moments lumbered by without a response from Auraq, the younger swore under his breath. “Leave it, Tan,” he grumbled. “Let’s return to the road. We’ll find something.”
Auraq felt his mouth turn down. He thought he’d traveled deep enough into the wood to not be seen from the road. He’d been romanced by the clearing he’d found, counted himself lucky at finding it in the gathering dark, and hadn’t bothered to check if it was safe. He’d been foolish and sloppy. If they had spotted his fire from the road, others might too.
The old man must have seen the change in Auraq’s expression. He nodded in resignation. “Sorry to disturb ya, then.” He glanced at his companion over his shoulder and signaled with his head to leave. “We’ll leave ya to—”
Auraq broke in with a grunt deep in his throat. “No.” He lifted his hand from the hilt of the sword. These two were just as they seemed—travelers like himself, out on the road at too late an hour. “You’ll find nothing nearby on the road tonight.”
The two stood frozen, the younger one half turned to head back into the trees. They exchanged glances, telling Auraq they weren’t sure if it was an invitation. Auraq wasn’t sure either, until he found himself gesturing toward the ground on the opposite side of the fire.
“Oh, many thanks, sur. Many thanks,” said the old man. He scrambled to join the fire. Dropping his haversack, he lowered himself to the ground and extended his hands toward the flames. “Oh, it’s a cold one tonight, sur. It would have been a long night without your generosity.”
The younger man approached more slowly, clearly apprehensive of Auraq. No surprise—Auraq tended to have that effect on many. His size alone was enough to cause people to give him a wide berth. But the long days on the road had him likely looking as if he’d been dragged by a horse. The younger man kept his eye on Auraq while he slid the heavy pack from his shoulder at a distance from the fire. He joined the old man only to be slapped on the thigh before he sat down.
“Whatcha doin’ leaving the pack way over there, lad? Bring it on closer.”
Whatever Auraq sensed earlier, whatever ill forces had passed through the wood around him, these two were not part of it. They settled in across from Auraq, with the pack now positioned between them.
“We will leave you to your thoughts. We’ve no interest in being a nuisance. Kane, pull out what we can share with this kind man.”
Auraq held out his hand. “No need.” A part of him was surprised to discover he was happy for the company. A rarity—most of the time, people grated on his patience. But it had been too long since he had spent time with others, and perhaps these other souls might distract him from his own thoughts. He had spent far too much time alone with them lately. And it would certainly be better than spending yet another night staring at a fire until sleep took him.
“Nonsense,” the old man replied. There was a genuine warmth to the man and Auraq, despite his own trepidation, felt drawn to him. “We have fresh pears that we found today and a goodly number of hickory nuts. Kindness should be rewarded, sur. I insist.”
“Very well. Then share my catch tonight too. It is more than I can eat anyway.”
The offer got Kane’s attention. He looked up with wide eyes first at Auraq, as if he couldn’t believe what he’d heard, and then at the sizzling roast.
Kane pulled from the sack what they’d foraged while Auraq took the rabbit from the spit and, using his dagger, divided it into quarters. The food was passed around, and the three of them sat in silence while they ate. The meat was juicy beneath its crispy charcoaled skin and tore easily from the bone. The pears were ripe and sweet. One by one, bones and cores were tossed into the fire. When the last bone of his quarter was picked clean, Auraq leaned back licking the remnants from his fingers. The old man did the same, while Kane helped himself to the final quarter. He showed no signs of slowing.
“Shall we wash it all down with this?” the old man asked with a grin, pulling a skin from the sack.
Auraq lifted a brow.
“Not the best vintage, I’ll admit,” the man said as he pulled the stopper from the top. “But much like a woman, it’s better than having none at all.” He took a swig and passed the wineskin over to Auraq, who raised it to his new companion as a toast, and took a swig from it himself.
“What’s your name?” Auraq asked.
“Mentanus from the duchy of Har Purdea, at your service.”
“Auraq, at yours,” he said with a respectful nod. Out of habit he omitted his surname and his own place of origin.
“Friends call me Old Tan,” Mentanus added. “A bit of jest, on account I’m a tanner by trade. This here is my apprentice, Kanteron Elrus.”
The younger man flashed a glare of annoyance at Old Tan. “Kane will do.”
Auraq narrowed his eyes at Kane. Apprentice? Seemed old for that title. Auraq would have expected journeyman by now. At the least. He dropped his chin in a single nod in his direction.
Kane tossed the last of the rabbit bones into the flames, then rested his elbows on his raised knees. He stared into the fire without expression.
Auraq had thought perhaps the old man was his father or grandfather. Not his master, certainly. There was something curious about the two. Why would a master and his apprentice be traveling alone down an old road late in the night?
Mason Thomas began his writing journey at the age of thirteen when his personal hero, Isaac Asimov, took the time to respond to a letter he wrote him. He’s been writing stories ever since. Today he is ecstatic and grateful that there is a place at the speculative table for stories with strong gay protagonists.
Mason, by all accounts, is still a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and waistline indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding furiously at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video-game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role-playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress-up, whether through cosplay, Halloween, or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by daring middle school students to actually like school and encouraging them to make a mess in his science classroom. He lives in Chicago with his endlessly patient husband, who has tolerated his geeky nonsense for nearly two decades, and two unruly cats who graciously allow Mason and his husband to share the same space with them.