So I received the following 1-star review from a disappointed reader the other day (yes, I read every review I get.):
1.0 out of 5 stars waste of time, December 28, 2012
This review is from: Eye of Darkness (Dragon’s Eye Cycle) (Kindle Edition)
I’ve found the end extremely unsatisfying, evil, cruelly hopeless and not worth all the reading I invested. Very, very disappointing, like a slap in the face.
I feel betrayed and I don’t think I will ever read anything from that author again. If I could give no star at all I would. I’ve got it for free, and I think it wasn’t even worth THAT.
Cruelly hopeless? Unsatisfying? EVIL?
Yikes! What, I wondered, could possibly have led this reader to such depths of disappointment. But then I realized what had happened.
I have left out a crucial piece of the story, one that I’ve relied on other reviewers to know implicitly, but not something that I’ve clearly spelled out. And for others who don’t know me, like the reviewer above, for whom this story is a first introduction, it’s a bit of vital information that should be stated clearly. So here goes:
The end of the book is not the end of the story.
See, Eye of Darkness is just BOOK ONE of a four to five book cycle. BOOK TWO is already in the works, and what lashed this reader so cruelly was the serious hook I left at the end. A cliffhanger, if you will. Now, in my Jefferson’s Road series, I do this all the time. The difference being that I give, at the end of the book, a sample page or two from the next book in the series, so you know it just doesn’t END, but continues on where it left off. And Eye of Darkness is already 100K words long. Would you really have read it if it were twice that length? Four to five times that length? Because that’s probably what the full story will wind up being.
Nevertheless, I didn’t give my readers any sample of book two at the end of book one. And that is my error – one that I am rectifying as we speak. The newest versions of Eye of Darkness will include the first complete chapter of Book Two – tentatively titled The Blood-Eater Coven (I say tentatively, because my wife hates the title. But for those who’ve read the book, you’ll know what a “Blood-eater” is.).
But for those who’d like to read the first chapter of book two (and in the unlikely chance I may win this reader back), I am posting it in its entirety here, as well as updating the kindle and print versions with the new information.
Again, I apologize. It won’t happen a second time.
Michael J. Scott
Chapter 1: The Penance of the Wolf
The mounted soldiers led the shackled man forward, and the she-wolf followed. The riders did not see the wolf, but the horses sensed her presence, and nickered nervously to one another as they skirted the western edge of the Dragon’s Ridge as it plunged southward toward the lake district of Val Turon. The wolf kept her distance, though it would have been a simple matter to run down the beasts and attack with preternatural speed. Without their mounts and armed with nothing more than swords and crossbows, the armored men would stand little chance against her. But for instincts she could neither articulate nor understand, she refrained, and chose instead to simply follow.
It had something to do with the man in chains, the one the soldiers led on foot while a pair of rider-less mounts followed behind. At night they would stop and make camp, lighting a fire to ward off the chill and cook their meat. Twice now she’d driven game their way, ensuring the men with crossbows could hunt successfully without straying too far from their bivouac. The deer, of course, tended to evade the mounted party, but one whiff of her sent them forward into harm’s way. The men congratulated each other on their cleverness and skill, never realizing who or what was responsible for their success.
She took her own kills after the men brought down theirs, and would sit some distance away to eat and keep watch beneath the light of the waxing moon. She’d been following them for a week now—the man in chains even longer. Her first memory came in the light of the full moon. She remembered the man standing in front of her, extending his hand and letting her catch his scent. She smelled the fear on him, but it was tempered by something else, something that confused her and kept her from acting on instinct and tearing out his throat. She didn’t know what this other scent was, but it drew her now, and kept her close to him even after the men on horses put him in chains.
There was only one time she strayed from this course, and that was when a distant memory—even more confused in its own way—caused her to find and dig out a rotting corpse wrapped in a blanket, itself little more than rags. Despite the earth and death that clung to the shroud and the body it contained, she nonetheless carried it back several miles to the edge of the farm where the soldiers had taken the shackled man into custody. Here she brought it as close as she dared, and then left it in the field near the front of the house. The horses and cows in the barn had raised a ruckus, and the pigs had squealed in nervous fright, running paces in their pen and pressing far back from her as possible, butting into the fence as if struggling to break free and run for the hills. Not that they’d have gotten far if she’d had a mind to take them down. She watched them for a full minute, tracking their movements even in the gloaming light of early morning. At this hour birds would have been tittering in the trees, but the wild ones were unnaturally silent, and only the chickens squawked fearfully in their coop. It wasn’t long before the noise alerted the farmer and his wife, and he came to the front step with a lantern in his hand, crying out, “Who’s there?”
The farmer didn’t frighten her, but she turned tail and fled at his presence regardless. As she passed beyond the edge of the farmer’s field, she heard the keening wail of the farmer. He’d found the body. She glanced back, a forepaw lifted hesitantly off the ground. With a snort, she’d turned and raced back across the empty grasslands, bounding over a fallen log until the farm and the sound of its grief were lost.
After that, she kept to the trail of the horsemen, following even in the bright light of day, when the sun’s heat beat down upon her and its blaze hurt her eyes—following even though every instinct screamed for her to seek shelter and rest in the bracken and wait for the coolness of night.
It only took two days to catch up to the horsemen. She followed at sunset until she caught up to them, and then kept a lonely vigil at a safe distance.
She did not realize that the distance she deemed safe diminished with each passing day.
On the night of the next full moon, the distance had vanished altogether. The men were sleeping now, snoring fitfully around their little campfire with their swords and crossbows stashed just a little too far out of reach to do them any good. Even the horses were quiet, having grown accustomed to her scent over the past several weeks, such that she was able to pad softly into the circle of their fire without raising so much as a nicker from the steeds.
She slipped easily past the men, making no more sound than a shadow, her sable fur reflecting none of the firelight. She moved like a fragment of the night itself, a wisp of harrowed dreams made flesh. If the men awakened now, the last thing they’d see would be a pair of green-gray eyes glowing in the black, before they descended forever into the inumbrated abyss.
To their good fortune, none of the armed men so much as stirred.
At the foot of the shackled man she stopped and sat back on her haunches, regarding him from narrowed eyes. The man breathed evenly, his chest rising and falling in a placid rhythm. Her tail, which had pointed straight out initially, slowly began to curl downward. She lowered herself to the ground, keeping her head erect and ears forward. When he still did not stir, she inched forward, gently nosing about his feet and ankles. Her tongue flicked out briefly. A low sound rose in her throat and escaped her muzzle in a quick huff of breath. Her nostrils flared, taking in more of the prisoner’s scent.
After several minutes of this silent vigil, she rose quickly and crept forward, laying her muzzle across his arm, and leaning against his body for warmth. Gently, with no sign of wakefulness, the man’s hand opened up and stroked her fur.
She closed her eyes.
Lucas opened his one good eye just a slit, barely enough to see the shadow that clung to him. He kept his lips pressed together, and maintained a slow, even pattern of breaths.
It had been a month since her change. The next several hours would be critical. If the moon set and she did not change back, she might never recover her lost humanity. Depending on how much of the wolf she embraced, or how much she struggled against it, she might be a permanent victim of the lunar cycle, or she might gain mastery over the transformation, and be able to change shape at will, regardless of what floated in the sky. He prayed fervently to the Hunter for the latter, begging that some small mercy be shown to her in light of the self-inflicted punishment with which she’d sentenced herself.
He lay there like that for hours, gently stroking her fur, unwilling to move or sleep, lest somehow he should disturb her rest and send her fleeing into the wild. Or worse, startle her into lashing out and staining the ground with blood—quite likely his own.
Oh Avenyë! he prayed, please come back to me.
Sometime during the night, the full moon passed beyond the horizon and disappeared below the curve of the earth. The transformation was startling not only for its swiftness, but also for its peacefulness. Gone was the agonizing struggle in her flesh when the wolf first emerged, popping bones and realigning joints as she sweated and shook while her humanity was torn away. This time, the wolf just seemed to melt back into her body. One minute he was stroking fur. The next he was holding her naked form. He reached forward and touched her face.
The wolf’s eyes opened, and she was staring at him and snarling. Then she blinked, and the maddened rage evaporated into confusion, pain, and fear. She started to pull away. He slipped his hand behind her neck and held her fast.
“Lucas?” she said.
“Shh,” he replied, pressing his other finger to her lips. “Welcome back. By the Hunter, I have missed you.”
“In a moment. First things first. While I have no objection to your current attire, we are not alone.”
Avenyë glanced down, staring aghast at her naked breasts. She spun quickly, eyes wide as she caught sight of the guards still sleeping around the campfire.
“Your clothes and boots are all in Nibbler’s saddlebags. The guards have appropriated your rapier, knives, and bow. I don’t know who has what, though I have faith in your ability to recover them.”
“Lucas, what happened? Why are you in chains?”
“You remember Sheriff Bram.” Lucas nodded toward the man’s sleeping form. “He met me just outside the Dugharrow’s farm. He must have set a watch on the Giant’s Trough who alerted him by raven as soon as I crossed through the pass. Or something like that.”
“The Dugharrows…” she repeated, and then closed her eyes as her memories returned. “Oh no. You figured it out. You forced me to confess.”
He let his arm slide down to the scars of the wolf bite on her arm. “I never meant for you to do this. And I know that Annabelle’s death was a tragic accident.”
“I killed her. I didn’t mean to!” Tears rimmed her eyes.
“How can you stand to look at me?”
He bit his lip. “I’ve had nothing but these men and horses to look at the past month. You are a vast improvement.”
“You make a joke of it?” She drew back from him. He clutched her hand and pulled it to his lips.
“I forgive you, Avenyë. Now you must forgive yourself.”
She tore her hand free of his grasp, and in a heartbeat had somersaulted over the side of him and disappeared. He turned to watch her, but she was gone.
She reappeared moments later, fully clothed, cinching her belt around her waist. Her red cloak, the one in the king’s colors he bought for her in Kilearny, she’d flung across her shoulders.
She crouched before him now and caressed his cheek. “I cannot forgive myself. My feathers are gone. I am Ronami no longer. I have to go back and face them.”
“The Dugharrows? You choose a harsh penance.”
“They have a right to know. They have a right to bury their daughter.”
“What will you tell them?”
After a moment she said, “The truth.”
He sighed. “I wish I could be there with you.”
A sad smile tugged at the corner of her lips. She pulled a small pick from her sleeve and lifted the lock to his shackles.
“No,” he said.
“I have my own penance to make. Bram is taking me to the king to stand trial. I will make my appeal before him there, and submit myself to his justice.”
“Does your king know justice?”
“I must trust the Hunter that he does.”
She nodded. “I’m so sorry.” She bent forward, pressing her lips to his, dampening his cheeks with her tears. He kissed her fiercely, aching when she pulled away.
She turned from him and crept to the guards. Noiselessly, she lifted her quiver and bow from the side of one guard, took her knives from the belts of two more, and lastly slipped her rapier and scabbard from beneath Sheriff Bram Loric’s very nose. Lucas watched her, awed by the grace with which she moved.
As the first rays of dawn crept over the horizon, she untied Nibbler, gently stroking the horse’s neck before swinging up into the saddle. The horse’s hooves made soft clopping sounds against the dirt as she directed the mount over to where Lucas lay. Bram stirred in his sleep.
Lucas sat up. “Return to me as swiftly as you can.” He reached up and touched her hand with his own.
“Before the next moon.”
“Swifter, if you can manage it.”
She blew him a kiss then, kicked her heels, and surged away from the camp.
Bram came fully awake, staring around with wide eyes, as if trying to get his bearings. His gaze fell on Lucas. “What happened?”
Lucas couldn’t suppress a grin. “You’ve been burgled.”