One of the most epic aspects of being a fantasy author is that you get to test things... usually, under the auspices of making mistakes and correcting them, to tell the best story you can.
For the longest time, I've wanted to add a bit to Bitter Aries, book 1 in The Zodiac Series.
Honestly, I knew a long time ago, after further study of my craft, that the original opening to the book (thus, the series) wasn't the best place to start Zeke's story. I struggled with what to do for a long time.
I went off to write Battleborn books... six of them, in fact.
I started a new urban fantasy series set in the same world as the Zodiac books (if you're a newsletter subscriber, you've already been introduced to him. For everyone else, you'll meet Rev later this year).
But I always came back to Bitter Aries because I know how big the story gets. I know how much Zeke grows (and how quickly he does), and I also knew that original opening might turn off people who would cheer for him by the end of the book, and shout his name once they saw him in action in the later books.
How To Get People To Book Two?
A new beginning!
After talking with fellow urban fantasy author Kit Hallows, I was finally inspired to do it! Bitter Aries now has a new opening scene that shows you much more for the world and story readers can expect from the series.
Want to see?
New Bitter Aries Intro!
Prologue - Ages Past
“Wake,” a voice neither feminine nor masculine pierced the dark. “One comes.”
Lucifer spun, searching the black of His bedchamber for the source. No shadows of nocturnal visitors shifted. No unbidden feet shuffled across His floor. A quiet, almost unsettling, mocked Him. Lucifer willed His pulse to slow from its gallop, and turned over, closing His eyes. Rest was what He sought. What He needed.
Deep in the bedchamber's shadow, Demagon watched His Lord shift. Troublesome sleep. After tonight’s visit, Demagon would make sure Lucifer slept forever.
A wind whipped against the shuttered windows of the tower. High above the Underworld, the pair were cut off from those tonight’s events would impact. The lives of demons would change forever, the outcome of the struggle the only determinant of their fate.
Lucifer pulled the blanket around His neck. He flung an arm out to snag the extra pillow, placing it over His head and cutting out the racket of the wind. The storm battering the tower had gone on all night and He needed sleep.
Tired. So tired.
The pillow cut out some of the noise of the wind, but it did little to cut off the troubling thoughts in His mind.
Demagon watched the ruler of the Underworld reposition onto His side and cover His head with a pillow. Looking at the dagger in his hands, he almost chuckled.
The weapon was pointless against the Lord of the Underworld. No demon but Lucifer Himself could kill another in the Underworld. The dagger served as a defensive measure, nothing more. With Lucifer falling closer to sleep, he tucked the dagger away.
Deception magic was the key to him becoming the new Lucifer. The future of Hell itself would be born on Deception.
Demagon rubbed his hands, crouched in the corner, and waited.
“Wake or cede.”
Lucifer blinked at the sound of the ambiguous voice. Soft yet deep. Firm yet kind. He knew that voice, but never expected to hear it again. Not so soon. Not here.
His skin prickled. He was not alone. Calling on His magic, the lamps and torches in the bedchamber burst to life with the azure of the Hellfire. Darkness peeled back, shadows absconded.
And Demagon leaned against the dark cherry armoire, his arms crossed.
Lucifer sat up, blinked the sleep from His eyes, and tried to ignore His skipping heart. “What are you doing here? How did you get past the guard?”
Demagon chuckled. A raspy sound that better suited a snake than the incubus Lucifer had kept in His trusted circle of advisors for thousands of years. “I’ve come to end this farce of your reign.”
Words spoken, Lucifer’s spine went rigid. He tried to draw breath, but found the will to do so fading.
“You… bastard,” Lucifer squeaked.
Demagon chuckled from the corner as he watched the ruler of Hell twist and jerk against the restraints He had placed on Himself. Pushing off the wall, arms still crossed, Demagon approached. Lucifer eyed him, forcing Himself to stay calm. This usurper could take advantage of any vulnerability created by distraction. Focus. That was the only way to reach his magic.
Lucifer pushed back against the invasive thoughts. Resisted the urge to snap His own neck.
“You… will not… cannot ki—kill me…” He strained to say.
Demagon was within arm’s reach of the footboard. Lucifer reached deep, trying to tap into His Fire Ability. The source was there, raging inside like the Hellfire itself, but still untouchable.
“No.” He groaned as the desire to tap into it and scorch Demagon where he stood dissipated.
The incubus chuckled again, as if this struggle truly entertained him. “Stop. You’re making yourself look like a fool.”
Demagon flicked a finger, and Lucifer felt a bolt of desire go through Him.
I must jump, He heard Himself think, His voice strange, but familiar.
The window was a mere ten feet away. A few steps across the cold floor. Push the shutters open. The fall is long. I’ll pass out before I hit the ground. Cursed sleep. I just need to sleep. Rest. Eternal rest.
In that moment, Lucifer wanted nothing more than to end this, to end everything.
He threw back the blankets and barely noticed when Demagon stepped back. The chill was easy to ignore with His mind set on one thing. The end.
As He approached the window, the sound of the storm raging outside almost drown out Demagon’s satisfied laughter.
Lucifer shivered, not from the cold floor, but from the sudden trepidation of the want to end this all.
The window beckoned from less than ten feet.
You can end everything, the polluted part of His mind whispered seductively.
I don’t want to, He replied.
The pain. The hurt. The loneliness. We can end it all and find peace. Don’t we want peace, the voice teased and tantalized.
Peace had been all He’d sought for millennia. To be wrapped in its sweet embrace, to feel the caress of serenity.
Lucifer threw the shutters open with quivering hands. The blast of chill sucked at His breath. He stepped up on the smooth stone sill.
With one step I can rest, the teasing voice whispered, sending tingles down His arms like a lover’s caress.
“You never deserved the title,” Demagon said. “You must know that? A failure from the beginning. The Underworld spins out of control because you are weak. Demonkind deserves a Lucifer who doesn’t cower every time His Council sneezes. Who doesn’t quake when Yahweh deems to demand something from our kind. Who doesn’t quiver and quake under the demands of the job. No, we need change. You are pathetic. How do you not see that? We see it in everything you do.” Demagon paused as Lucifer stepped onto the sill. When he spoke, his voice dripped with self-satisfaction. “Those you rule laugh at you behind your back. I will bring the change they beg to see. Just as soon as your corpse hits the cobblestone.”
Atop the sill, Lucifer wobbled. The wind struck Him in the chest, almost blowing Him back into the bedchamber. He grabbed the rough brick corners and held true.
Demagon was right. He had been a failure. The Underworld had suffered under His rule. It didn’t matter that He’d built it from nothing at the moment of creation to what it now was. The hundreds of thousands of demons He ruled had prospered, were prospering. But they weren’t happy. He heard it during those few occasions he left the tower to walk the Circles. The Council reported on the population’s dissatisfaction. Word of angelic spies. Of flashes of revolts. Of a building coup. They never ceased.
They will never cease, the voice taunted and tantalized. It all ends with a single step.
A step and a fall. The fall of Lucifer.
In a brilliant flash of clarity, Demagon’s spell slipped, and Lucifer saw clearly.
As He spun, Lucifer cast a Manipulative spell.
Demagon had taken a seat on Lucifer’s bed as he pushed the ruler of the Underworld to jump from the tower. Lucifer used that to His advantage, sending His Ability into the mattress. It collapsed in a pool of foaming liquid. Without its firmness, caught by complete surprise, Demagon toppled backward. As he did, his grasp on the Deception spell convincing Lucifer to jump to His death slipped.
Lucifer leaped to the floor, casting another Manipulative spell. The corner lamp writhed as it animated. On its base, it swiveled like a cobra, gliding toward where Demagon swatted in the liquid mattress to gain a handhold.
By the time usurper incubus had pulled himself out of the bed frame, the lamp had wrapped around the incubus’s feet. He stared down in a look of disbelief, his mouth agape.
Lucifer shot a hand forward, a ball of flames bursting from His palm. His Fire Ability was not his strongest, but it would suit His purposes.
Demagon’s shirt burst into flames. The incubus screamed, swatting at the shirt to tear it free. In his panic, his Deception spell crumpled and Lucifer’s mind was fully freed.
Lucifer shot another fire ball, striking the incubus in the arm and flinging it backward. Demagon screeched.
Outside the bedchamber, a ruckus rose. Voices of guards coming up the tower steps. Nothing from the door guard?
“You killed my guard?” Lucifer screamed. “He was a good incubus with a family!”
In a flood of pain, He pulled on His Construction Ability. A bedpost ripped free, sending the corner of the bed crashing against the floor, the liquid foam of what was His mattress oozing across the stone.
In his panic, to survive when he’d come to assassinate, Demagon was helpless.
Lucifer snarled, pulling on His own Deception Ability. He shoved the thought deep into the would-be usurper’s mind. “Jump from the tower.”
Demagon’s arms dropped to his side as if his shirt weren’t still on fire. The lamp uncoiled itself from his ankles, freeing him to walk to the open window. Without a look back, the thin incubus raised a foot to the windowsill. Pulling himself up, he never looked down before dangling one foot over the abyss and pushing off with the other.
With a step, Demagon’s silent fall took him from Lucifer’s life and ended the threat to the title of Lucifer.
The Lord of the Underworld moved to the window and pulled the shutters closed.
Two pale-faced guards burst into the bedchamber, their faces drawn in concern.
“Lord, are you okay?” the largest one, an incubus nearly too burly to fit into any of the traditional armor of the order, said. He panted. The other stood rigid, as if he feared he would pay the price for this assassination attempt.
“Yes, I am now,” Lucifer said, turning to gesture with an arm at the mess. “Please send for someone to clean this. I’ll be in my study. I can’t sleep.”
“Yes, Lord,” the burly guard said before the pair raced off.
Lucifer stood in the center of His chamber, staring at His black cloak hanging from a hook on the armoire. Swirls of red embroidery were its only decoration, a symbol of the station. Of His title. The title Demagon had meant to steal this night.
With a sigh, He donned the robe. Cinching it with the black belt, He had almost stepped from His bedchamber to start another day’s work when the voice spoke for the first time since waking Him.
“This is not the end,” it said in a poetic voice, neither male nor female. “One day, another will come.”
Well, there you go! The new opening to Bitter Aries. If you haven't given the series a look, there is no better time to jump in. It's only getting bigger as Zeke and the gang fight for the future of Hell (nearly a quarter-million words books five and six alone will attest to that).
If you're still not sure... the Zodiac is a snarky urban fantasy with six books already published. The seventh is in the works. They feature Ezekial Sunstone, the only demon in the history of Hell without magic. So, if you're looking for dark urban fantasy that will give you some serious laughs, take you on adventures to Hell and back, where demons are the good guys, and angels are the enemy, then check out the Zodiac books!