Origin Stories: The Talon & the Blade

“I am Gregor, head of security.” He stopped with military precision and folded at the waist in a courtly gesture.
The smirk on his face was anything but courtly. It was knowing and sensual, with lips no man should have a right to and eyes an electric shade of blue…
His smirk tilted the slightest bit under her scrutiny. Gregor turned. “You will follow me.”
Her mother was wrong; it was possible for German to sound sexy as hell.

Death’s Dancer

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Gregor was originally going to be a Very Bad Man. In the original outline of Death’s Dancer, after seducing Isela, Azrael’s trusted enforcer was going to betray them both. The trouble was, he kept being droll and aggravating but unceasingly loyal. He also refused to do anything but give Isela a hard time, making it increasingly challenging for her to do her job, or to fall for him.

At last, I uncovered the true Big Bad in Death’s Dancer (no spoilers!), and I wound up disregarding the idea that Gregor would be anything other than Azrael’s dedicated, pain-in-the-ass, second in command. And I sorta got attached to him. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. After Isela and her family he was the single most commented on the character in the whole book (Sorry, Az).

There will be 2-3 spin-off stories related to Isela and Azrael’s overarching battle with the Alliegance. I have fond memories of the “monster hunt” episodes of X-Files, and these will explore the post godswar world outside Azrael’s territory and give Azrael’s Aegis, the warriors he’d collected from around the world throughout time to serve as his guard and advisors, center stage. (I’m also working on a three-book prequel staring Isela’s brothers, but that’s for another day)

First up: Gregor Schwarz.

As a reader, I love a tortured hero with a closet full of demons. As a writer, the challenge is to invent demons wild enough to have chased Gregor almost 300 years into his immortality and make him a taciturn, world-weary soldier but not a total heartless bastard. Paranormal romance and urban fantasy are stuffed to bursting with Alpha-holes, so I also knew early on that Gregor would check my another of my favorite romance hero boxes, one author friend Eva Moore and I refer to as alpha in the streets/beta in the sheets. Gregor has the cajones to put down a horde of undead and stand up to a necromancer and still possesses more emotional intelligence than a fruit fly.

The key to Gregor’s origin story came in Death’s Dancer.

“Gregor sends his regards,” Azrael said without a hint of emotion, but Isela felt the sudden waft of heat. It was a warning.

“You are too protective of him,” Vanka mused.

Azrael said, “He belongs to me, and you will remember that.”

Death’s Dancer

Annexed by the British to fight in the American Revolution, the Hessian soldiers were maligned by colonists as mercenaries: ruthless fighters with a penchant for plunder. One may have even inspired the tale of a certain headless horseman. In spite of the reputation, more than 3,000 were lured to defect or chose to remain in the US. A part of an elite jäger unit, Gregor came to serve Azrael after living for several years in the US following the end of the war. The result of those years made him the pitiless but ultimately loyal enforcer that earned the moniker the Black Blade of Azrael.

Gregor Schwarz
aka The Black Blade of Azrael
⚔️Would rather be terrorizing something
⚔️They were colonies then. That’s how long it’s been.
⚔️ On a road trip, refuses to eat in the car
⚔️ Does not own pajamas

Bringing Gregor back to the US seemed like the best way to both confront his past as well as explore what the North American territory would be like under the rule of the necromancer known as Raymond Nightfeather.

In Dancer’s Flame, Raymond helps Azrael by giving him information of an impending attack from two other members of the Alliegance.

Raymond has long kept his origins shrouded in mystery. But when a threat from his past surfaces and threatens his control of the North American territory, Ray calls in his chit.

In the Talon & the Blade, Azrael sends Gregor to oblige the debt, and assess the potential for a real alliance between himself and Raymond. Discharging the debt means working with his counterpart in the necromancer’s court–The Nightfeather’s Talons.

The first of Raymond’s Aegis, hers was the only consistent face among the North American necromancer’s avowed guards over the last hundred or so years. Others appeared and vanished—reports suggested she had killed more than one. The credit for the necromancer’s iron grip on the North American territory belonged to the woman known as the Nightfeather’s Talons.

The Talon & the Blade
Ana Gozen
aka The Nightfeather’s Talons
⚔️In possession of two sharp swords & zero f*cks  
⚔️Abhors plans
⚔️Not a team player
⚔️Could always go for waffles

Ana came about not so much as “what kind of woman would Gregor go gaga over,” as “who on earth could knock my favorite trigger happy enforcer on his ass?”

Warrior women have always been a passion of mine. Lysippe, Azrael’s adopted daughter is a descendant of Amazons, arguably the most famous example of badass women warriors (whether or not they actually existed or were just a cautionary tale to keep Greek women in line doesn’t interest me as much). But female fighters exist in almost every culture and archeological evidence now backs up stories of the onna-bugeisha, the female fighting members of the bushi or samurai class of Japan. Though most trained with the staff, bow, short knives or daggers, is it such a stretch to imagine a few might have wielded daishō? After all, a Japanese medieval epic claimed the most famous onna-bugeisha Tomoe Gozen, “so dexterously did she handle sword and bow that she was a match for a thousand warriors.”

Coming up with answers to those kinds of “what if” is what fiction-writer-brain loves most, imagining a girl secretly trained in the art of bushi decades after the Meiji Restoration formally put an end the warrior samurai class. Brought to San Francisco at the turn of the century (before the so-called “Gentleman’s Agreement” of 1907), Ana served a companion/bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy family. Her failure to protect her charge put her on a path for vengeance that landed her in Raymond’s sights.

“Keep your blade and your tongue sheathed on my behalf. I’ll fight my own battles.”

Gregor let his smile spread, not bothering to hide his amusement. “I look forward to the next time I can sheathe my blade and tongue on your behalf.”

The Talon & the Blade

A century later, as the head of Raymond’s Aegis, Ana makes no apologies for doing what needs to be done to keep herself, and Raymond on top. Ana interested me not as a Strong Female Character, but a Complex one. She is what her circumstances have impressed on her, building walls she’s needed to survive in a court far more ruthless than Azrael’s. But even before Gregor arrives, she’s begun to question her place in Raymond’s retinue–and tire of being just the judge, jury and executioner of the Nightfeather. As the world evolves around them, her search for a deeper connection –to be trusted as an ally or even a friend– leaves her up empty-handed. Her journey finds her seeing her own value.

Gregor’s arrival puts a pin in her brewing dissatisfaction. She also doesn’t need any help hunting a grace blooded monster thank-you-very-much.

Her resentment at having been partnered with Gregor ticks another one of my ‘favorite’ trope boxes: forced proximity. And what better way to amp up the tension between two cranky immortals than putting them in a small metal box traveling at insanely high speeds. Road trip!

Both Ana and Gregor have to face the events of their pasts that drove them to bargain with necromancers. Neither are happy moments. And spending an eternity stewing in one’s own guilt and recrimination seems a miserable way to be an immortal. No wonder they’re so cranky.

Gregor and Ana’s origins aside, I’m no historian and this is no historical fiction. But it’s no accident that the two primary characters are immigrants and the third Native. It seemed disingenuous to write about North America without acknowledging the part that Indigenous people and immigrants have had in its origin story.

And because it’s a Grace Bloods book, supernatural creatures abound, expect the usual suspects– shifters and demons–but a few newbies you haven’t seen before. But in the end, this North American territory has more than a few things in common with our own world. As Ana explains after their first “date”–

“Never assume you understand a thing because of where or when it came from. Here, both meet and clash and form new alliances. This place will always surprise you.”

The Talon & the Blade

I hope you’ll come along with Ana and Gregor on this marvelous road trip monster hunt adventure. If you do, please remember to leave a review at your favorite online source for book recommendations or purchases. You’re doing me a big favor, but more importantly, you’re helping out other readers searching for a new book to enjoy!