Guest Blogging with Nancy Holzner from Darklands



Most spiritual traditions have theories and stories about what happens to the soul or spirit after the death of the body. When it’s time to pass over from the world to the next, the soul usually doesn’t have to travel alone. A psychopomp shows the soul the way.

The word psychopomp comes from a Greek term that means “spirit guide” or “conductor of souls.” For the Greeks, the best known psychopomp was Charon, the boatman who ferried souls across the river Styx and into the realm of Hades—for a price. Greeks often put a coin in the mouth of the dead at burial, so the departed soul would have money to pay the ferryman. Any soul who couldn’t pay Charon’s fare was doomed to wander the riverbank for a hundred years before being allowed to cross.

Psychopomps usually do not judge souls for how they conducted their lives on Earth. There are other gods and spirits who do that job. Instead, the psychopomp helps the soul make the transition from life to afterlife.

But “helps” is too gentle a word for some psychopomps. The Grim Reaper is an example. This psychopomp is terrifying in appearance—a skeletal creature inside a hooded cloak carrying a wicked-looking scythe—and cannot be escaped. No one wants to meet the Grim Reaper, and yet the whole idea of the harvesting of souls suggests that death is not an end, but part of the natural cycle.

In Norse mythology, the Valkyries (“slaughter-choosers”) were warrior women who decided who would be killed in battle. It was an honor to be chosen for death by a Valkyrie. The fallen warrior would be whisked off to Valhalla, Odin’s great hall, and served mead by the Valkyries themselves. Even so, the fierce cries of these spirits, as they galloped toward the battlefield on their flying horses, could strike fear into the heart of the bravest Viking.

In some traditions, psychopomps are more friendly. They may be the souls of friends and family members who have passed on before, waiting to welcome the newly arrived soul into the afterlife. Many find this image comforting; in the next life, we won’t be alone and we’ll be reunited with those we love.

Darklands, the fourth book in my Deadtown urban fantasy series, features a psychopomp from Welsh mythology. Mallt-y-Nos, or Matilda of the Night, is a female spirit who participates in the Wild Hunt and uses her pack of hellhounds to hunt lost souls and chase them into the realm of the dead. According to one legend, Matilda was a Norman princess who loved hunting above all else. She was so fond of the hunt that she declared, “If there is no hunting in heaven, then I don’t want to go there.”

She should have been more careful in what she wished for.

Matilda never got to heaven. Instead, she became the Night Hag, an eternal huntress whose quarry isn’t deer or foxes but souls. She rides at night, and anyone who hears her baying hounds and wild cries knows that death itself is bearing down upon them. Some believe that the huntress’s cries are cries of pain, regret that she rejected her chance of attaining paradise. Others, though, believes she still finds joy in the cruel pleasures of the hunt.

Most run from Mallt-y-Nos. But Vicky Vaughn has a job to do in the Darklands. And the Night Hag can help her get there. But, as with Charon, the psychopomp demands a price—and it won’t be a mere coin or two . . .
DARKLANDS, the fourth novel in Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown series, is now available. For information on Nancy and her books, visit her website. You can also find Nancy on Facebook and Twitter. And visit her Kickstarter page to find out about her plans for a Deadtown prequel!

Blurb DARKLANDS Book #4 in the Deadtown series:
They call it Deadtown: the city’s quarantined section for its inhuman and undead residents. Most humans stay far from its border—but Victory Vaughn, Boston’s only professional demon slayer, isn’t exactly human…

Boston’s demons have been disappearing, and Vicky’s clients are canceling left and right. While fewer demons might seem like a good thing, Vicky suspects foul play. A missing Celtic cauldron from Harvard’s Peabody museum leads her to an unwelcome conclusion: Pryce, her demi-demon cousin and bitter enemy, is trying to regain his full powers.

But Pryce isn’t alone. He’s conjured another, darker villain from Vicky’s past. To stop them from destroying everything she loves, she’ll have to face her own worst fear—in the realm of the dead itself.

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Click on READ MORE to read the blurbs of the previous 3 books and an excerpt of DARKLANDS

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BLOODSTONE  Book 3 Deadtown Series
Boston’s diverse South End is known for its architecture and great restaurants, not its body count. So when mutilated human corpses begin turning up in the area, the entire city takes notice. The killer—dubbed the South End Reaper—uses a curved blade for his grisly work. And even though there’s no real evidence pointing to a paranormal culprit, the deaths are straining the already-tense relations between Boston’s human and inhuman residents.
As the bodies pile up, Vicky, her formidable aunt Mab, and her werewolf boyfriend Kane investigate, only to find that the creature behind the carnage is after something much more than blood…
HELLFORGED Book 2 Deadtown Series
After Vicky banished her demon nemesis to the fiery depths of Hell, she thought life would return to normal. But considering she has a werewolf lawyer boyfriend, a zombie apprentice who’s angling to become a pop star, and an eccentric vampire roommate, what is normal, anyway?
When Vicky realizes she’s the only connection between the victims, she suspects that the demon is somehow working through her dreams to become Deadtown’s living nightmare.
What she doesn’t know is that her old enemy brings with it a force more terrifying—and deadly—than anything she’s battled before.
DEADTOWN Book 1 Deadtown Series
They call it Deadtown: the city’s quarantined section for its inhuman and undead residents. Most humans stay far from its borders — but Victory Vaughn, Boston’s only professional demon slayer, isn’t exactly human…
Vicky’s demanding job keeping

the city safe from all manner of monsters is one reason her relationship with workaholic lawyer (and werewolf) Alexander Kane is in constant limbo. Throw in a foolhardy zombie apprentice, a mysterious demon-plagued client, and a suspicious research facility that’s taken an unwelcome interest in her family, and Vicky’s love life has as much of a pulse as Deadtown’s citizens.

But now Vicky’s got bigger things to worry about. The Hellion who murdered her father ten years ago has somehow broken through Boston’s magical protections. The Hellion is a ruthless force of destruction with a personal grudge against Vicky, and she’s the only one who can stop the demon before it destroys the city and everyone in it.

Darklands Short Excerpt:
Calling a spirit is tricky business. To do it right, you need a ritual dagger, along with candles, incense, salt, and an altar loaded up with all kinds of magical paraphernalia. Except for the kitchen salt shaker, I didn’t have any of that. What I had was my intention.
I stood in the center of the living room, having pushed its few pieces of furniture against the walls. I took a couple of minutes to get centered, breathing deeply and going inside myself. Breathe in . . . breathe out. Breathe in . . . breathe out. No thinking, no guilt, just a steady focus on each breath. When the world seemed to pulse in time with my heartbeat, I opened my eyes. I pointed at the cabin floor and moved in a slow, clockwise circle. I concentrated on my intention: protection. I projected my will from my brain, my heart, down my arm and through my pointing finger, creating a sphere of protection around me. Nothing could enter the circle unless I allowed it.
Let it be so.
Then, I called the Night Hag. I pulled up everything I knew about her legend. I remembered the terror I’d felt as a child—lying in bed, sure she was coming for me, pulling my pillow over my head to block out the sound of galloping hooves. I could see the pages of a book of Welsh folktales, one from Mab’s library, where I’d read her story. I felt the uncanny shiver that had tingled through me when, walking alone at night in a dark Welsh lane, I’d felt something pass by. My pulse pounded like those galloping hooves. My whole body trembled with the desire to run, to flee, to stay out of range of the hag and her pack of hellhounds. But I stood my ground.
And I called her to me.
“Mallt-y-Nos!” My voice rang out with a confidence I didn’t feel, pushing past the cabin’s walls. “Matilda of the Night! Lady of the hunt! Mistress of Hounds! Night Hag, who drives lost souls to the Darklands! I, Victory Vaughn, do invoke thee!”
The words echoed back to me, then faded. My intention cut through the silence, as I held the image of Mallt-y-Nos in my mind. A silhouette on horseback, shadowy against the moon, long hair flying behind her as she rode. She reined in her horse and cocked her head, listening. I called out again: “Mallt-y-Nos, come to me!”
In my imagination, the hag wheeled her horse around. She whistled to her hellhounds. Shrieking a bloodcurdling hunting cry, she raced toward me.
“Come!” I shouted, shrieking too, raising the volume to blot out the horrible sound of the hag’s approach. “I command thee!”
Hounds bayed and howled in the distance. The sound grew closer. The ground shook as thundering hooves pounded closer, closer. I clamped my hands over my ears and kept shouting. I wasn’t saying anything now; I was just making noise. Anything to fight the terror of her approach.
An explosion jolted the cabin as the wall collapsed. I staggered back a step, almost falling, covering my face with both arms. A tingle in my shoulder told me I’d bumped into my protective magical barrier, and I jerked forward. I had to stay inside the sphere.
I dropped my arms to see what I’d called
I stared into the fiery, red eyes of a massive steed. Flames shot from its nostrils, but they broke to the left and right before they reached me. Hounds leapt forward, jaws snapping, but they couldn’t reach me. My protection held.
“Quiet!” shouted a woman’s voice. The hounds fell back, milling around the cabin. The wall they’d burst through remained intact. The half-dozen hounds that crowded the place didn’t look like any dogs I’d ever seen. Each was the size of a small horse. Their eyes glowed red and orange, lit by inner fire. Saliva dripped from their fangs; it sizzled when it hit the floor.
The horse turned sideways, and Mallt-y-Nos came into view. I blinked. This was the Night Hag? The woman astride the horse was young and beautiful, with blue-green eyes and golden blonde hair that flowed, shining, to her waist. She looked nothing like the nightmare hag that had terrorized my childhood imagination. “Why have you summoned me?” she demanded, regarding me imperiously from her demonic steed.
Before I could answer, her face changed. Wrinkles formed around her eyes, on her forehead, between her nose and mouth. Her blonde hair faded to gray, then bleached white. Her skin went from creamy to blotchy red to jaundiced. I gaped, unable to look away,
as the beautiful young woman sagged and faded into an ancient crone. Finally, the hair thinned to a few wiry strands. The skin shriveled and peeled away, baring the skull beneath. Flames consumed the eyes, leaving only a red glow.
I looked into the face of death.
The cycle began again. In the course of a few minutes, Mallt-y-Nos flowed from youth to middle age to decrepitude and death. And back again. And then again. I stared, fascinated, almost forgetting the terror of her presence.
In her death’s-head form, she pointed a skeletal finger at me. “Why did you call me?” she asked again, her voice impatient. Youthful flesh covered her skull. Her cheeks turned pink; her eyes sparkled. Thick, shining hair cascaded down her back. “Do not suppose, mortal, that you can command me. I came because I was curious. Mortals run from me; they do not request my presence.”
That I could believe. Even in her youthful form, she was terrifying.
“I called you to ask you a favor.”

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