Hey all, great news! I’m almost done editing Escape from Hotel Barbaas, so I’m confident that it’ll be releasing on time. I’m planning on it being published this Friday!
To celebrate, I’ve decided to give you guys a couple of sneak peeks! For one, here is the tentative cover, made by the very talented Jenny Ahern (Instagram @aeonpigments):
Second, I’m also including Doren Report #3. The report will introduce one of the main villains of the book: Thistle, a Corrupted that has a very…earthy disposition. Hope you enjoy!
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you don’t like spoilers, the following text is an excerpt from my second book!
(Also, please forgive me for the terrible formatting…I’m still learning how to work with WordPress).
DOREN REPORT #3: THISTLE
DEATHBORNE CAVE BRANCH
CENTRAL CONTROL ROOM
It had been seven days since the neophyte agents of Edania had defeated the shadow mantis queen and acquired the first Ark. Dr. Barbaas, an executive member of Doren Corp. in charge of the mission, was summoned to present himself before Doren to explain his failure. Luckily for Barbaas, he already had a plan to not only abate his master’s wrath, but to get back in his good graces.
“Barbaas, you have failed!” Doren screamed from his computer-generated prison cell. “Your mission was derailed by a group of schoolchildren. What’s worse is that the vile Edania Organization has the Ark. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Barbaas, taking the full brunt of his master’s anger, bowed down at his virtual feet. “It’s true that I have failed you, Master,” he groveled. “I am incredibly sorry about that. But my darling shadow mantis queen and her brood—may they rest in peace—not only had the Edania agents to contend with, but they also had those F.E.S.P.A. fools to fight.”
“Silence!” Doren snapped. “You assured me that she could handle both fronts, and yet we don’t have the Ark.”
Barbaas winced. “My apologies, Master. I miscalculated, something that will not happen again. I swear to you by all that is oh-so-evil and indecent that I will get the next Ark and deliver it to you, along with the lifeless bodies of these new agents.”
Doren was silent for a long moment. Finally, he spoke. “You have a plan to retrieve the next Ark and destroy Edania’s new agents, do you? Let’s hear it.” Doren crossed his pixelated arms. “And hope that I like it, or you may just find yourself in Deathborne Pit.”
“Don’t be too hard on him, Master,” said Flutura, feigning sympathy. She had been listening from a corner[G1] , enjoying Barbaas’s thrashing. She walked eagerly to the center of the room in front of Doren’s computer. She flicked her silky hair in Barbaas’s face. “Perhaps all he needs is a more feminine touch to help spruce up his otherwise meager plans.”
“Puleeease, as if I need your help, man hands! I’ve got the feminine touch I need already,” Barbaas snarked.
She turned to Barbaas and blinked at him. “Don’t snap at me just because you failed your mission,” she said. “If I were you, I’d step down before you embarrass yourself and Master Doren further.”
Barbaas giggled. “My new plan is way beyond your comprehension level, Flutura.”
“I’m not the one who failed to get the first Ark,” she said with a wicked smile.
He put his palm in her face. “Dr. Barbaas is talking now. Please refrain from deafening me with your petty squawking.”
She slapped his hand away. “Run your mouth all you want—the fact is that you were unsuccessful in your mission. And you know what Master Doren does with useless trash.”
“Still your tongue, Flutura!” yelled Doren. “I’m the one who decides who is useless and who isn’t. Barbaas, tell me your plan, now.”
Flutura took a bold step toward the computer screen and grunted quietly. “But he failed. Aren’t you going to punish him?”
“Although it’s true that his insects were defeated, it still showed promise,” Doren said. “I will allow him one more chance to redeem himself, should I like his plan.”
She stomped her foot. “But—”
“Perhaps you’re the one I should punish, Flutura,” Doren remarked. “After all, you have very little to show for the resources I have given you. Have you located any of the Arks? Have you made any plans for collecting energy, or devised a strategy for identifying and defeating these new Edanian agents?”
Flutura took a step back. “I— I—”
“Trust me, my dear, you will be the one I punish should you be so insolent again. Do you understand me?”
Flutura bowed low to the ground. “Yes.”
“Now, Barbaas, your plan?” asked Doren, turning his attention to the gratified doctor.
Barbaas sneered at Flutura. “I’ll tell you as soon as it gets here. Or rather, she,”he said. He took the communication device from his lab coat. “Alrighty, you can come in. Show us what you’ve got, sweetie.”
There was nothing but silence.
“Wait for it…wait for it…” Barbaas said, practically giggling from his excitement.
“What are we waiting for?” Flutura asked angrily.
Barbaas glanced down at the floor behind her. “That,” he said, pointing down at the ground.
Something slithered over Flutura’s foot, and she leaped back. “A snake?” she squealed. But it wasn’t a snake. It was a writhing green vine that slithered like a serpent to the center of the room.
A rustling sound echoed all around the central control room, like bushes being shaken by the wind. The room quickly became overrun by long, green vines that moved and slithered by themselves.
Other strange flora began to grow . Bushes with waxy purple leaves that looked like skeleton faces; giant Venus flytraps that coiled through the support beams; and beautiful glowing sunflowers that were as white as moonlight.
“Where are all of these plants coming from?” asked Flutura, trying not to trip over a group of slithering vines that tried to coil around her foot.
“From me,” said a feminine, earthy voice from behind her.
A tall, thin woman walked into the room. Her long, vibrant orange hair was untamed like wild brush. Her skin was pale ashwood gray, and her eyes were autumn orange. She wore a dark-green skin-tight lab uniform.
The woman approached Flutura. “You’re in my way. Step aside, little moth.”
Flutura glared at her. “How dare you? I should cut you down like the weed you are!”
The plant-woman showed her nails, which were long and sharp with green nail-polish. “Careful, buggy, this weed has thorns. It would be a shame for that lovely face of yours to get gouged by them.”
“I’d like to see you try!” Flutura snapped. She grabbed a moth-shaped throwing star from her pocket.
“Now, girls,” Barbaas said with a sinister grin. “As much as I would love to see this cat fight, we have business to take care of.”
“You heard Master Barbaas. Move,” said the woman.
“He’s no master of mine,” Flutura chided.
“Flutura, move your fat self over and let her through,” Barbaas snarked.
“It’s okay,” the plant-woman said. “If she won’t move herself, I’ll gladly do it for her.”
A vine wrapped around Flutura’s ankle. Before she had time to react, the tendril knocked her off her feet before lifting her up from the ground.
“Put me down this instant, weed girl!” Flutura yelled as she struggled to free herself. She was upside down, suspended seven feet in the air.
“It’s Thistle, little bug. I’d learn to remember it,” she said as she joined Barbaas in front of Doren’s computer.
“I said, put me down!” Flutura insisted, flailing in the air.
“As you wish.” Thistle snapped her fingers, and the vine loosened its grip.
Flutura nimbly flipped right-side up and landed on her feet.
“Ooh, the little moth has some moves. Color me impressed,” said Thistle sarcastically.
“You’ll see what kind of moves I really have in a moment,” Flutura said, her eyes narrowing as she glared at Thistle. “You were able to sneak an attack, but don’t think you’re superior because of it.”
Thistle giggled. “That’s not why I think I’m superior, hon.”
Flutura took an angry step forward. “You wretched little— I am one of Master Doren’s leading officers. Who are you?”
“Why should I tell you?” Thistle answered calmly.
“Enough!” yelled Doren. “I grow impatient of everyone’s bickering. I am trying to run a criminal organization, not mediate a schoolyard squabble! You, Thistle. I command you to answer Flutura’s question: Who are you?”
Barbaas patted Thistle on the back. “Go ahead, darlin’, give him your credentials.”
“Very well,” she said. “As I stated before, my name is Thistle. I received my Dark-Segol eight years ago, and for the last three months I have studied under Master Pan—”
“Pan of the Olympian Alliance?” Flutura asked, her arms crossed.
“The very same,” Thistle answered.
“Why are you here, then?” Flutura inquired. “Shouldn’t you be following that group of fools?”
Thistle shrugged. “I may have studied under Pan, but I have nothing to do with what he or the rest of the alliance is up to. I simply learned what I could and left.”
“Are we to believe that?” Flutura snipped. “You’re probably a spy from the Olympian Alliance, trying to get something on Master Doren so he’ll join their group. They’ve been trying to recruit him since the Seven Shadows were defeated.”
“You can believe what you want, bug,” Thistle said dryly. “I am Dr. Barbaas’s assistant now.”
“You’ve sure been downgraded. Was Pan not pleased with you?” Flutura asked.
Thistle’s orange eyes glimmered deeply, going from serene autumn to a blazing fire. “I’ve gone on more than fifteen energy-retrieval missions independently, which is much more than you can say, I’m sure. And, my Dark-Segol is advanced enough to be considered MC level.”
“Your little plants are powerful enough to be an MC level? I doubt that,” said Flutura.
“Jealous much?” said Thistle.
Flutura laughed humorlessly. “Of you? Please!”
“Aww,” Thistle said, feigning a pout. “It must be frustrating to know you stand before a superior. So sorry.”
“Why don’t you put your Dark-Segol where your mouth is?” said Flutura.
Doren’s computer flickered. “Yes, I’d like to see you prove your claim. I am intrigued. You say your Dark-Segol merits an MC-rank—let us see why that is.”
Barbaas squealed with excitement. “Ooh, you’re just gonna love this, master!” He nodded at Thistle. “Go ahead, show ’em what your lovely plants can do.”
Thistle bowed her head in affirmation. She closed her eyes and spread her arms out. All of the plants in the room began to grow and contort. They began to change their shape; the vines that slithered on the floor flattened and became smooth and lustrous, covering the whole floor. The shapeshifting plants started to change color, making a black-and-white checkered pattern. The ivy overhead turned a rich and earthy brown. Brilliant golden plants swirled around in the center of the ceiling, merging into one source of bright light. The plants that covered the walls turned red, blue, and purple, flattening to the wall.
Finally the morphing fauna stopped writhing and conjoining. Now, Doren’s dark, rotting lair looked like it was part of an extravagant palace. The floor appeared to be made of polished marble, and the ceiling looked like a mahogany dome with a brilliant chandelier hanging down from the center. The walls were red with blue and purple tapestries overlaying them. There was even a fireplace on the far wall with a fire crackling in it.
“My Dark-Segol is called the Forest of Illusion, and you can see why,” Thistle said, motioning around the room. “I can make my plants take any shape I wish.”
“And that’s enough for it to merit an MC-rank?” Flutura asked sassily.
Thistle glanced at Flutura, her glowing orange eyes twinkling. “Let me show you what else my powers can do. Master Barbaas, would you kindly bring in a volunteer?”
“Will do,” he said. “Hey, Fredrickson, can you come in here for a sec, pretty please?” he said on his communication device.
“Yes, sir,” Fredrickson said on the other end.
A man wearing a hazmat suit walked in. “How can I help you, Doctor?”
“Could you be a dear and put out the fire over there?” asked Barbaas.
Fredrickson looked around the room. “Did we do some renovations? This room looks really good, sir.”
Barbaas patted Fredrickson on the back. “It was a last-second thing. Now, the fire, if you would?”
Fredrickson looked puzzled. “The one…in the fireplace?”
“No,” said Barbaas with every bit of sarcasm he could muster. “The fire burning in my heart—yes, the one in the fireplace!”
“Sir, shouldn’t I be focusing on your research?”
“Trust me, this will be the best thing you’ve ever contributed,” Barbaas said.
Fredrickson nodded slowly and walked to the fireplace. As he approached, the fire began to crackle and contort.
“Uh, sir? The fire is doing something strange,” said Fredrickson.
The red flames shot out of the fireplace and transformed into several sharp vines. They pierced Fredrickson in the stomach and lifted him ten feet off the ground. The vines began to grow over his writhing body.
Thistle smiled at her vines. “My beautiful plants are very efficient at ensnaring their victims, as well as collecting their energy. They retrieve it slowly, but I make sure they get every last bit. When my plants are done, all that’s left of their prey is dried-up flesh and bones.” She held her hand out and a small ball of light appeared above it. “See? My lovely vines have already begun sapping the energy out of dear old Fredrickson.”
Flutura grunted at the entire display, watching sulkily as Fredrickson’s life drained away.
“Most impressive,” Doren said. “But what exactly do you plan to do with such an ability?”
Barbaas bowed down. “Please don’t think me presumptuous, master. But Thistle and I have already found the second Ark, and we have a plan underway to get it.”
“Oh? It is presumptuous,” Doren said. “To think that I would approve of your plan after your first failed attempt. But I may just allow it. Give me details.”
“As you wish, Master Doren,” said Barbaas. “We’ve found the next Ark deep within Soraya Woods on Tolles Island. It lies underground in an abandoned power plant that was buried by an earthquake some time ago.”
A ten-foot-tall, fully formed tree shot up next to Thistle in an instant. She leaned against it affectionately. “I planted a tree just like this one, only much bigger, on top of the ruined plant,” she said as she ran her hand down its bark.
The tree’s branches began to twist and writhe, changing their shape. When the tree stopped its metamorphosis, it took the guise of an old-fashioned brick mansion.
“The Tree of Illusion,” Thistle continued. “That’s what it’s called. I used the great tree in Soraya Woods to create a grand hotel above the underground plant to lure in any poor souls that get lost in the maze I’ve created in the woods. There are many traps in the faux-hotel, and we’ve already had six people fall victim to my lovely tree.”
“Sounds intriguing, but what are you planning to do about the new agents of Edania?” Doren inquired. “We need to destroy them now while they are new to their powers.”
Barbaas giggled. “I’ve got you, Master. The Ark will definitely call out to the kiddos, and they’ll eventually find their way to the hotel, where we’ll ensnare and drain them. They’ll be nothing more than four mummies by the time we’re done with them.”
“Very well,” Doren said, sounding pleased. “Proceed with your plan. But I warn you again: do not fail me. If you do, you’ll be in an even worse state than Fredrickson is. Do you understand?”
“Yes indeedy, Master,” Barbaas said with a nod. “Don’t worry, I won’t fail you this time.” He turned to Thistle. “Are you ready to go, dear? So many lives to ruin, so little time.”
Thistle nodded, and she and Barbaas left Doren’s presence. The moment they left, all of the shape-shifting plants returned to their original states, then receded into the ceiling, floor, and walls, with the exception of the ten-foot-high collection of vines that continued sucking away poor Fredrickson’s life energy bit by bit.
Next blog post, I will be starting up the character profiles again (for real this time!). Also be on the lookout for another surprise. Until next time, happy reading!