The 60-Day Novel Writing Challenge
July & August 2021 Portal Materials
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To get the most out of your membership, please keep these guidelines in mind:
Do Your Best to Show Up on Time
Make a commitment with yourself to join all the coaching calls on time. We start promptly on the hour to make sure we have enough time to cover all the materials for each week.
Mute Yourself if You're Not Talking
If it's not your turn during the round robin, or if you're not being coached during open coaching, please keep yourself on mute. This will cut down on the background noise and lessen any distractions.
If needed, though, I will mute everyone and request individuals to unmute themselves.
Be Respectful of Fellow Students
This is a judgment-free space where we all get to work on our brains' natural habits of thinking, which aren't always helpful.
Coaching is a tool to show us our minds from an outside perspective, since we can't read the label from inside the bottle.
Connect With Each Other!
I encourage you to make friends with your fellow students in this group! We're going to get to know each other pretty well over the next two months, and having writing buddies outside of the group can help increase motivation to meet word counts or even bounce ideas off each other.
Don't be shy about friending me, either!
Keep the Content Private
Please keep the materials you receive in this program and the content of all of the calls private.
Each coaching call will follow roughly the same format:
- Accountability round-robin check-in. Everyone will share progress on their goals for that week. I will cut you off at 6 or 7 minutes—not to be rude, but to make sure we get through everyone with enough time to coach at the end.
- Teaching on a coaching topic related to writing. Leave your questions in the chat box during this time if something pops into your fron*.
- Group assignment / exercise related to the coaching topic. We're all going to do the work right on the call!
- OPEN COACHING! If you have a question or a problem you want coaching on related to your writing, I'll ask you to raise your hand and we'll get through as many as time allows.
- Checking in on intentions for the following week.
*Fron is the Ancient term for "head," or possibly "mind," from the TV show Stargate SG:1
Goal Setting Group Activity
The group activity for this week is to write a clear, SMART goal for the end of the challenge. Maybe it's to write 50,000 words. Maybe it's to finish your story. Or get really good at honoring your commitment to yourself. Whatever you set your goal as, remember that this is the goal you'll be reporting your progress on each week in addition to your word count.
- SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound
- The time-bound part is easy, it'll be by the end of the challenge at 11:59 pm on August 31st in your time zone
- Relevant is also easy, your goal has to be relevant to the 60-day novel writing challenge
My goal is that every single one of you is a winner in 2 months. That you all reach the goals you've set and feel accomplished when you submit for your winner's pin when we wrap up. I believe every single one of you can win this challenge.
The Self Coaching Model
This is a tool developed and taught by Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School. I teach this more in-depth in my coaching practice.
There are neutral circumstances in the world... Things we can't change, like world events, other peoples' behaviors, your past actions or past results (such as how many words you wrote last week). Everyone can agree that a circumstance exists. It's facty.
We have thoughts about those circumstances. All thoughts are optional. Two people can think two entirely different things about the same circumstance. Sometimes we choose to think certain thoughts on purpose, but most are recycled from the previous day. We have about 60,000 thoughts a day.
Thoughts cause feelings, or "vibrations" in the body. We assign those vibrations words and meaning, like positive or negative, but typically we say things like sad, angry, happy, exhilarated, resentful, annoyed, etc. to describe how we feel.
We take action or inaction from those feelings. Every action we take, whether we think it or not, is driven by a feeling. The actions we take out of positive or useful feelings move us toward our goals, while actions fueled by negative or not-useful emotions keep us stagnant or moving backwards.
Then, the end result is what happens in our lives for us. The result we create is always related to the thought we're thinking, in some way.
How This Relates to Writing
Your thoughts about your writing determine your relationship with it.
T—This is hard
A—Don't write, think about how nice it would be if I could just get myself to write, wish it was easier
R—I make it hard to write
This is often what's happening on default. To change the result, most people will try to change the actions first. But if you don't change the thought or the feeling, the action changes will not stick.
The more useful model looks like this:
C—Writing (notice this stays the same! We do not change the circumstance when working on our thoughts.)
T—This could be easy
A—Brainstorm ways that writing could be easy, consider other writers' points of view on the difficulty of writing, sit down to write even if not "inspired"
R—I create space for writing to be easy
Other possible writing circumstances to consider:
- Writing goals
- word counts
- number of chapters
- hours edited
- daily time spent writing
- This challenge
- workbook sections or pages
- video concepts
- your progress (objectively stated, like "I am on day 3 of the workbook and it's day 6 of the challenge")
- what day it is in the challenge (by itself)
- Past writing accomplishments or "failures"
- published works
- your book is currently with an editor
- you published the final book in your series
- received letter from X publishing house saying "no" to my query letter
- there are zero Amazon sales on your last release
- you "started over" on your entire book
- What other people have said about your writing (exact words only)
- "This sucks"
- "you should be published!"
- "I can't believe someone would read this"
- "Horror is just not my thing"
- "I can't wait for more!"
- "I'm ready for book two now" <-- actual words my husband said after he finished reading draft 3 of book 1
Grab a pen and a physical piece of paper.
Write down all the thoughts that come up when you think about this question:
What do I think about my writing?
Write for 10 minutes without stopping.
It will feel like a long time.
Whatever your brain comes up with, write it down. The great thing about asking ourselves questions is that the brain will automatically want to answer it.
Do not let "I don't know" creep in.
Keep asking yourself what you think of your writing.
Other ways to consider the question:
- What do I think of myself as a writer?
- What do I think about my past writing?
- What do I think about my future writing?
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you do NOT have to believe any of the negative thoughts that came up.
What It Is
Self discipline is the ability to control your feelings and overcome your weaknesses, to pursue what you think is right despite temptations to abandon it.
Breaking this down:
Control your feelings - we know from last week that feelings come from our thoughts. Self-discipline occurs at the level of our thinking, how we perceive the world and how it impacts us and our writing. If you have a mindset of ownership and self-accountability, self-discipline becomes much easier.
Overcome your weaknesses - we all have different areas of strength and weakness. If you know you struggle with a certain part of the story writing process, or you're an underwriter (or an over-writer) then spending intentional time to address that weakness will pay off in the long run for your writing quality and your relationship with yourself of self-discipline and integrity.
Pursue what you think is right - what's right for you is not right for someone else. This is why we all have different story ideas, and different styles. This was clear when setting goals two weeks ago. Our goals are all different, for the most part, because we are different.
Despite temptations to abandon it - writing does not always feel easy. We get distracted. People interrupt our writing time. Apathy creeps in if it's not addressed up front. Self-discipline means staying on the path despite these things.
It's sitting down to write even when you don't feel like writing. It's building a muscle over time, building a relationship with yourself of trust and integrity, of learning how to hold yourself accountable instead of relying on other people to do it for you.
Because in the end, you not finishing your book doesn't affect anyone except you. But that should be the reason you stick to it.
Why Motivation & Willpower Don't Work
Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. It's not specific. There's no fire behind it. There's fire behind self-discipline, a WHY or a PURPOSE to your work.
The true value of motivation is the momentum we get from it, but we cannot rely on feeling motivated to write every day. You can get that momentum from regular habits, ideally daily habits, that support your writing goals.
We can feel really motivated at times, but what happens when that motivation dries up? We stop writing, stop working out, basically everything fizzles.
Willpower can get a lot of things done, but it's a finite resource that we use up throughout the day. Every decision takes a withdrawal from the willpower bank, and by the end of the day, it's empty. This is why you might find it more difficult to follow through on plans in the evening after a long day's work when you're mentally and emotionally drained.
If we're not naturally creative in the evenings or we're not night owls, sheer willpower might get you through a couple nights of writing, but it will likely take a lot out of you energetically.
Lack of Writing Discipline
3 ways lack of discipline shows up:
- Judging your writing harshly - based on last week, this doesn't seem to be a big problem with this group, but be careful about layering other peoples' judgments on top your own, or adopting other peoples' criticisms about your work if you don't agree with it and it's not useful.
- Having great ideas but getting lost in the process of putting them down, and then giving up - having a system to follow, like the workbook, will only help if you follow through with working through it
- Starting a project but switching to another mid-way through without finishing the first - everyone can start something, but not everyone is a finisher. Become a finisher.
Some things that showed up last week that could indicate self-discipline issues:
- Not knowing when to stop
- Letting other things interrupt your established writing time / not treating your writing like a priority on the level of a water heater breaking
- Not deciding what to do with your story and spinning in the not knowing
- Not honoring time you set aside to write
How to Cultivate It
There's nothing wrong with any of this. Remember that you get to do whatever you want. But if you want the result of a finished, complete draft by the end of the challenge, these all become obstacles you solve for.
- Decide when to stop. Sit in the discomfort when you do stop, expect to want to continue. It's okay.
- Treat your writing like it's a broken water heater that gets your attention first, for as long as it takes. Establish clear communication with your family and friends about what you're doing, and any ignoring or postponing is not to be rude, but it's because you've made a commitment to yourself to write a book in sixty days. It's called a challenge for a reason!
- Decide what to do with your story. It honestly does not matter what you choose to do, as long as you choose something and go with it. You can always change it later, work in new ideas, combine characters. Get the messy first draft out and remind yourself that "I don't know" is a choice and it always blocks your creativity.
- Set aside time to write. Sit down to write. Expect to not want to write. Write anyway. Repeat.
Self-discipline comes down to building habits and tracking them. We manage what we measure, and if we measure how often we're completing the habits, we'll get a good idea of how likely we are to hit our goals.
For the second half of the challenge, that's going to be writing 1,667 words a day.
Each day you don't hit it means adjusting future targets, and each day you go over gives you a bit of wiggle room.
The other side of this is making sure you have scheduled intentional time to take care of yourself, to get enough sleep, and building in things that actually nurture your creativity. For me this looks like going on a walk every morning. Sometimes I record ideas into my phone, other times I just let my brain percolate on whatever's going on at the moment. When I'm in the middle of a writing project, that's some of my best idea time.
Get out a pen and a piece of paper.
We're going to do the five whys exercise to find your why for writing. You can go deeper than 5 levels, but 5 is the minimum.
Ask yourself why you write.
Ask why again.
Keep asking why until you really feel it in your bones the emotion of your answer.
Spend at least 15 minutes on this exercise, if not longer.
Making Decisions & Following Through
Deciding what you're going to write, the plots to include, all the details - and then following through - is what makes a book come to life.
No author has completed a book without deciding and following through.
Decisions are thoughts, thoughts are instantaneous, therefore decisions are instantaneous.
Faster decisions means more time to get to work on the story and learn from those decisions, which creates better decisions in the future.
Percolating thoughts can work under the surface for a long time before bubbling up to the decision moment, but the decision itself is always instantaneous, even if it feels like you noodled on it for a while.
Nothing wrong with it, just recognize that the decision itself didn't take five years, it took a millisecond. The percolating took five years and wasn't entirely conscious.
Indecision is still a decision, to stay stuck and not moving forward with your book.
New variables - plot twists - in your story writing may mean changing things you've already decided on. It's a new decision, with new information, not going back on your first idea or meaning that the first idea sucked. This will happen with editing.
Open decisions, or things that you haven't decided on, are mental vampires. They suck your mental energy right out because you're constantly ruminating on what you should do.
One way to solve this is to ask yourself this question:
If both options were 100% successful and worked out great, which would you pick?
Helpful to think in terms of career choice.
If you're waffling between lawyer and doctor, and knew that you would have incredible success in either career no matter which one you picked, which one would you pick?
Run your writing decisions through that same test.
Following through even when you don't feel like it builds the self discipline muscle we talked about last week.
Self-defeating thoughts like "oh well" or "I knew I wouldn't have time this week anyway" are self-fulfilling prophecies that sabotage your follow through skills.
There is no state where you will always follow through 100% of the time. Life happens. You get to choose how you respond to it, whether you make it mean something negative about you or your writing, or whether you choose to roll with the punches and set yourself up for success tomorrow.
Be careful of all-or-nothing thinking with follow through. Even a small amount of follow through provides feedback.
Think about basketball players shooting the free throw.
In basketball, follow through describes how a player continues their hand motion after shooting the ball toward the hoop. Following through with a shot actually gives the player feedback, and if you don't follow through on your shot, it's unlikely that the shot will go into the basket.
In basketball, not following through on the shot messes up your chances of making a basket.
Coaches will watch the follow through and give the player feedback on what they should work on the next time around to improve their chances of making the shot.
Following through in basketball doesn't mean you're guaranteed to make a basket.
Following through on your decisions isn't a guarantee that you'll get the result you want from what you've planned, but it does mean that the likelihood is much higher. The feedback you get after following through gives you a roadmap to adjust and improve over time.
- Make sure you like your reason for whatever you're doing. Think about the WHY you uncovered during last week's activity. Do those reasons align?
- Decisions are instantaneous.
- Indecision is a choice. It's not a right or wrong choice, just make sure you like your reason for it.
- Take advantage of percolating thoughts by letting your brain work on the "problem" underneath the surface while you work on other things. It's okay to table a decision for later.
- Open decisions drain mental energy.
Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Make a list of all the open decisions you have with your book, your characters, your plot, your world, your backstory - anything that you haven't made a solid decision on yet for the outline.
When the timer goes off, choose one, and ONLY one, to work on during your next working block. You're going to close the decision. It doesn't matter which one you pick.
This is you practicing making fast decisions and trusting yourself.
What Other People Think
Typically we make assumptions about what other people think
- "They think I'm lazy"
- "He thinks I'm bossy"
- "She thinks I'm a terrible writer"
- "My mom thinks I don't have any potential"
Then we adopt these thoughts as ours, without realizing that they were OUR thoughts all along
What I want to show you today is that what we think other people think, is really what we think, just under the surface, hidden a little.
Difference between what other people SAY, exact words (circumstance), and what we interpret that to MEAN (thoughts)
C--He said "You're a terrible writer"
T--How dare he!!
Under the surface:
C--He said "You're a terrible writer"
T--I think I'm a terrible writer
Compare with someone saying "I hate your horror novels" if you don't write horror novels, it wouldn't impact you at all, because you know you don't write horror and the stories you do write are fantastic and that person doesn't know what they're talking about.
Defensiveness often comes from agreeing at some level with the other person.
We say "they think" but really it's what we think they think, which is a reflection of us, not them.
Make sure you name the others.
Sometimes we generalize someone else's thoughts based on the words they say, but we have to remember that we never know the whole story. The words they say depend on what they think and feel, and have nothing to do with you at all.
Their words are a reflection of THEM, just like your words are a reflection of YOU.
This can be REALLY useful though.
If you think your readers are going to be confused by a subplot in your book, maybe you're confused by it.
If you think people are going to hate what you wrote, understanding why you think they'll think that will uncover reasons why YOU hate what you wrote.
Pay attention to when you take what other people have said about your work as something to believe about yourself as a writer.
And remember that the ones who insult your nonexistent horror novels aren't your people anyway.
Fifteen minutes journaling/writing down answers to the following questions:
- What do I think other people think of my writing?
- What am I worried other people will / are thinking of my story?
- Why do other people think my story will be AWESOME?
You may answer all or choose one to focus on.
Why we are naturally past-focused
How we usually define ourselves is from the past - what we have done, what we already know how to do, our life experiences. This is natural because of how we were raised. Society teaches us to lean on the successes of our past to tell us what we can or can't do, but it translates into using past failures against ourselves.
- "I can't do that because I've never done it before."
- "I don't know how."
- "That's just not something I've ever been able to do."
With writing, this may come up if you're considering a different genre. "I don't know how" is a big one here. If you really wanted to write a historical fiction novel set in old west Montana, you might feel stuck because you've never done it before.
But we never know how to do things until we do them. That's why it's way more useful to be future-focused, on what you WANT to create.
Why we benefit more from future-focus
Focuses on possibility, not probability.
Possibility creates space, openness, creativity, it makes things POSSIBLE and therefore more likely to be achieved. Probability shuts things down with statistics (or, as my mom likes to call them, sadistics) and getting your focus on the likelihood of something being reasonable or realistic rather than POSSIBLE.
Future focus, and especially focus on your future SELF means you're envisioning the kind of person you want to be, and then making decisions NOW as if you are her already.
And that's the only way to become her.
If you're ever stuck, ask yourself, what would the future version of me, who has already succeeded at this, tell me to try?
Your Future Self
Who is your future self?
She can actually be anyone you want her to be. If it helps for the context of this challenge, it's the you who, on August 31st, has completed the challenge set before you.
She's claimed the winner's pin, and is basking in the celebration of actually writing a full-length novel, especially if it's your first one.
It will be messy, it'll have plot holes, your characters won't be perfect, you'll need to add more obstacles later, but that version of you 25 days away has DONE THE WORK. You're doing the work now.
Envisioning her can help with the motivation to keep going, but remember that motivation doesn't last. Commitment, discipline - those last.
Think about what it will be like to close the word processor on August 31st with your novel finished. Think about how it will feel in your body to celebrate that moment of accomplishment.
What are you most looking forward to about that experience?
Top Five Outcomes
Expand this idea to look at the rest of your life.
Think about the top five outcomes you want in your life. It might take some brainstorming or journaling to figure it out, and it's okay to wait until after the challenge to dive into it, but it's a powerful exercise because once you compare that list to what you did yesterday, you might see opportunities for improvement.
- What does the future version of you have that you don't?
- What do you need to cultivate, learn, change, or do to become her?
- What does she do that you don't?
- What do you do now that she doesn't?
Where you put your energy and focus and time is what you will create more of.
That's why as writers, it's important to make time to write.
Write a letter FROM your future self, from the perspective of the woman who completed the challenge successfully. She is right where you want to be. Get some advice from her.
- What would she tell you to stop doing right now?
- What would she tell you to start doing?
- What else might she say?
Overcoming Writer's Block
While there is bonus material on this, I want to make sure we pay attention to it during the challenge because it can feel real when you get stuck in your writing. And the worst time for that to happen is during a challenge or a writing sprint.
Writer's block is the brain's response to some kind of fear, confusion, frustration, stress, threats, anticipated rejection, you name it. There is no one single cause because any negative thought about you or your writing can cut your creativity off at the knees.
There is nothing wrong with you if you experience writer's block. It means your brain is working exactly how it's supposed to along the lines of the motivational triad:
- Increase pleasure
- Avoid pain
- Be as efficient as possible
Putting your work "out there" and letting other people see it is the modern day equivalent of risking the tribe kicking you out and leaving you to fend for yourself.
Your brain literally can't tell the difference between real danger (a lion stalking you in the savannah, and you're by yourself) and perceived danger (people won't like my book and therefore I'm going to die).
When you think from your primitive, primal brain, you're only concern is with staying alive. These could be completely unconscious thoughts, but they're happening nonetheless.
When you think writing is painful, or difficult, or maybe you're at a boring part... the primal brain triggers and takes over, which turns off the prefrontal cortex responsible for creativity. It stays in a cycle of stress that keeps the primal brain in control, you're thinking the same things, and it just gets worse.
It's a neurochemical cycle physically occurring in your brain that blocks creativity and the ability to write anything, let alone anything "good".
We're again going back to the first thing I taught you, the self-coaching model.
A quick recap:
- (C) Circumstances happen in the world that we have no control over.
- (T) We have Thoughts about those circumstances.
- (F) We feel emotions in response to those thoughts.
- (A) We take actions, inactions, or reactions based on how we feel.
- (R) The effect of those actions in our lives is our result.
There are a lot of thoughts that could trigger writer's block:
- I can't get into the zone
- I can't force the idea fairy to come!
- The words just don't come
- I can't write right now
- I'm stuck
- This book won't write itself!
- Why is writing so hard???
These thoughts trigger feelings that block your creativity and ability to write. It could be any of the fear response feelings mentioned above.
"Writer's block" looks different for everyone, but the main action remains the same: not writing.
You could have other Actions peppered in there. Doing the laundry. Physically standing up and moving around when you're "supposed" to be sitting down and writing. Spending an hour trying to find the right music. Staring blankly at the screen. Reading through past work or prior scenes, hoping to spark some kind of inspiration. Switching to another task.
Getting over writer's block can happen in multiple different ways.
I tend to go toward changing how I think about things rather than going straight into different actions, because if I do the actions but keep the same list of thoughts causing the block, then the actions won't stick or they won't work as well as I want them to.
- It's possible to get into the zone today.
- I can write for just five minutes.
- It doesn't have to be perfect.
- It doesn't have to be relevant to my work right now.
- I'm figuring it out.
- I am the idea fairy.
- Writing is fun.
- I'm willing for it to suck right now.
- I can commit to a single sentence and see what happens.
Another way to help get out of the rut of writer's block is to focus on the process over the outcome. Instead of getting hyper focused on the goal of 50,000 words, focus on the process of writing every day or on a consistent schedule (writing anything, not necessarily your book). Build cues, routines, and rewards into your day so you're building writing habits that matter in the long run more than 50,000 words matters in the short run.
Release tension, set intention, and take conscious breaks between writing periods. What tension are you holding about your writing? What is your intention for the next period of writing you have planned? Take a conscious break between things to get your mind in the right frame before you start writing. It can help reduce the likelihood of feeling stuck.
Action-based strategies (but make sure you pair them with a new thought!)
- Start at the end. (Don't be afraid to jump around the story.)
- Write something different. (Genres, characters, style.)
- Try a new program. (Word, Scrivener, Docs, a program that deletes your words if you stop writing for more than a few seconds...)
- Try longhand. (Brainstorming via handwriting can unlock some creativity.)
- Answer world-building prompts. (Post in the Facebook group for people to ask you questions about your world, then answer them.)
- Mind mapping. (Make a bubble map of all the related ideas in your story.)
- Reread what you've already written. (Noted earlier as an action coming from writer's block, it CAN help you get out of it but only if you're open to letting the ideas flow while you're rereading.)
- Try ColdTurkeyWriter. (Program blocks access to your entire computer, even through hibernation, until you hit a word count or time goal.)
- Give yourself permission to suck. (Seriously.)
- Ask what it's about. (What's the point of your writing?)
- Play with the font and the color. (Visual differences help generate new ideas.)
- Take a break. (Give your brain time to noodle in your subconscious.)
- Visual brainstorming. (Search keywords and use pictures to brainstorm. Also, CAST YOUR BOOK. I did this and it helped a LOT with characterizations.)
Think back to a time when you felt writer's block or just generally stuck in your writing. What was going on? How were you feeling? What were you thinking? What was happening in your head that prevented you from writing? What seemed like the culprit at the time?
Then, answer these questions:
- What was under your control? (Hint, your thoughts, feelings and actions)
- What wasn't? (Hint, anything circumstantial that could be proven in court)
- What is your strategy for getting through writer's block NOW with the tools you've learned?
Share any insights with the group.
Use the Coaching Model from Week Two to inform your character decisions.
This week was 5-6 minutes spent on discussing that concept, and then extra time for writing.
Final wrap-up call with some extra writing time at the end.
6 countries. 6 kids. The battle of a lifetime.
Pheonix, Aaron, Serene, Crystal, Furi, and Nikki. The 6 that won. They find out how corrupted the agency really is. Now it’s up to the to find their elements and save the worlds.
Giants once walked the world, wielding powerful magic. But in a single night the Giants fell to ruin, the last remnants of their magic left in the shattered fragments of their petrified bodies.
One thousand years later, citizens of the Sovereign City Mocu’Opthir are vanishing, abducted by a floating city to the North. Left behind are messages claiming someone in Mocu’Opthir stole a valuable magic artifact and no one will be safe until it is returned. No one knows what the artifact might be and the individual with the best chance of finding the artifact is a criminal known only as Diamond Eyes, and he is imprisoned within Mocu’Opthir’s Soul Prison.
Diamond Eyes is promised freedom and the chance to return home if he cooperates and discovers the artifact. If someone doesn’t kill him first.
Nworu Ikoa, an up-and-coming Arbiter, is tasked with keeping Diamond Eyes under control. Here is her chance to shine.
They are joined by Feleste Pavv, an emissary from the South eager to lend a hand to the Sovereign City as a show of her nation’s good faith.
Following the trail of the stolen artifact leads them through Mocu’Opthir into the Ruin Wastes, where secrets lie waiting.
Aethryell, a mechanical city in the sky, was designed centuries ago to protect people from the hostile ground below. For some, it is a utopia, but it is far from that for Arynn. Ever since her father's mysterious death, she has played to the illusion of his dream for her to become the next great inventor, but in the shadows she is one the city's greatest thieves. She is searching for answers and treacherous secrets are unveiled. Sudden blackouts threaten the entire city's power and way of life. Aethryell's existence is in danger. With the help of unlikely allies, will they be able to the save the city even if it puts the rest of the world at stake?
Generations ago, humans and Fae began intermixing their familial lines - but no everyone is happy about it. Like Ignis' dad's side, and that's a secret she'll keep to herself. If not, she could lose her job - or worse, her life. But when magic begins to vanish, leaving all who depend on it gravely ill, Ignis must decide, with the help of her friends, if she can live with keeping her bloodline secret or fight against the threat. After all, what is life without a little magic or a little risk?
Love Acestor lost everything that made this crazy world make sense. When a mosquito bite's West Nile Virus side effects took her hearing, the colors and tastes of synesthesia that formed her daily life disappeared too. More than anything she misses her wings where her colors generated. Meanwhile she helplessly watches as the gap in communication between her and her husband expands. Loss is heartbreaking enough, but worse now that her colors keep trying to return, but she can't grasp them yet as they lead her on a journey that will reveal a realm that has been hidden since the disappearance of Greek Gods and Goddesses.
When Aspen found out her father had entered her cousin into the biggest hunt in Ateroth she felt betrayed, though that didn’t stop her from finding a way to enter herself. She’s set to compete against dozens of the best hunters across the lands all of whom have traditionally been men. That is until she meets Cole, a mysterious hunter with a dark past. An argument with him over the life of an animal leads to an encounter with an enchantress. Now she’s entering the hunt under a curse that's made her a target. As a Snow Leopard, her exotic pelt is a highly sought-after prize. Now she must use all her skills and training to survive. She needs to break the curse and to do that she must find the Enchantress. She finds Cole to be an unlikely ally, though she’s not sure she can trust him.
Wahyacoosa, Tennessee is about two hours south of Nashville (A.K.A. Music City, U.S.A.) and one left turn away from the absolute Middle of Nowhere. There was a time when Grace Abigail Caldwell thought she had it all figured out. Five years ago, she would have left town in a heartbeat to pursue her dream of becoming a singer/songwriter and never looked back. Today that seems like another lifetime.
First, her dad died unexpectedly.
Then she lost her mother and home to Mitch “the Rich” Smith.
In the trenches of freshman year at South Central College, Grace worries that new information about her own health will jeopardize everything as her friendship with sensible and handsome James McAfee finally begins to blossom into something more.
Before she can think about the future, Grace must learn to reconcile her past, make peace with her present, and accept that the truth will always set her free.
Two years ago, in the last kingdom of a destroyed world, the rulers of Tethys were overthrown.
Moira Aldrest, the fallen princess, has served The Conclave as their mercenary ever since, forced to cut down friends and enemies alike in a bid to survive.
A budding scholar when the crown was taken, Theron Abrose’s future was full of promise. He never imagined he would be relegated to stocking shelves and copying ledgers instead.
Visions come naturally to Sienne La’Rae, but the trouble has always been deciphering whether they are from the past, present, or future. She blames herself for not recognizing the rebellion until it was too late.
Now, a forgotten Curse sweeps through the Midlunds and threatens to destroy what is left of the world. When the leader of the new order is forced to call for aid, Moira, Theron, and Sienne have a chance at vengeance, glory, and redemption.
But will the remaining world survive when Fate, Destiny, and Freewill collide?
Love Acestor’s parents told her at a young age not to reveal the existence of her wings. She hid them so well that even her own husband doesn’t know she has been grieving their disappearance these last two years, which was connected to the loss of her hearing and color synesthesia.
After receiving a warning from her mother, who shows back up after years of no contact, and witnessing a shape-shifting stranger using magic, Love realizes there is more to her journey than just wanting to get her wings back, and maybe even more to find out about who she and her family really are.
As colors and sounds slowly return to Love carrying messages in their whispers, she must decide whether or not to follow their instructions of how to collect the rest of them and access their power, which will allow her to open an entrance into a realm that has been hidden since the disappearance of the Greek Gods.
Wow, this is so powerful, Heather! I automatically feel a connection to Love and empathize with her. You can really feel the weight she carries with the loss of her wings and her senses, and it makes you root for her from the beginning. There's just enough information to hook you in, and plenty of mystery to make you want to stay. I'm so excited to see what you come up with going forward!
Love sounds like a fantastic character and I'm already intrigued by her story. The shape-shifting stranger sounds fun and mysterious, too. There are so many interesting tidbits sprinkled into your blurb and they have all got me so intrigued to know more!
First 3 chapters of The Defining Love Series Book 1: Forest Floor
The silence hasn’t been so bad to get used to, but I desperately miss my wings. Has it really been exactly two years since they became phantom limbs missing from my back already? Is it possible that my parents were right and they never actually existed after all? It is starting to feel like I should question my own reality. As if I finally grew up and can’t see my imaginary friend anymore? But I still feel the heavy, tugging absence of them from my shoulder blades…Yes. They were there.
Nothing seems to make any damn sense in this world without my colors! The way they used to whirl around my wings all day as they waited for their opportunities to jump out and flash as large, beautiful dots reacting to sounds. Love looked down at the steam swirling from her hot coffee thinking it was just like a grey lifeless version of her old color friends. Maybe this cup of coffee makes sense, she mused. It smells good at least. I can already taste its bitterness each time I inhale the steam rising up towards me. As she started pouring creamer, the back of her tongue began tingling with the memory of its flavor. She reminisced of the chocolaty caramel subduing the edge. Ah, coffee…the only thing I have found so far that makes me feel like a little part of my synesthesia is still with me. I miss the salty-tasting reds. Heck, I can honestly say I even miss the chalky indigos every time I used to hear Morrow annoyingly smash buttons on his game controller! Ugh! How does the rest of the world live every day of their lives so blandly like this and not lose their minds?
Love took a quick sip, then lowered her coffee mug back onto the brown, granite counter top. She waited in anticipation long past the cup making contact with the surface, wanting to hear it clink. The clink would have jolted green from her wings to the cup. At the same time, her mouth would have been flooded with hot and cold sensations that would have really made the coffee flavor zing! As her face muscles worked hard to droop her eyebrows over her sad eyes she wondered, why does it still disappoint me so much? I just can’t seem to be able to stop missing how it should be. But now this is how it is. Everything is accompanied by a whole lot of…nothing.
Today is what, Friday? It’s hard to tell these days. Fridays used to be red all day long due to my lost synesthesia. I really could do with having that back now to boost my confidence for the appointment I have at 10am; confidence that I am doing the right thing, confidence that I could actually succeed at it, and confidence in the thought that when I became convinced I’m not just doing this to please Morrow, that I wasn’t lying to myself. I could wear a red shirt today, I guess. She brought her left hand up to her face absently. Her pointer finger started tapping on her lips as she considered her choices. Do I still have that sheer, red button-up dress shirt somewhere in my closet? Ha! She felt her body chuckle as she realized, if I do it probably still has the tag on it!
Every time after today became a memory and I recalled upon it, it also would have been red. A clear and detailed red day I could have played back in my memory like watching a movie. But now all my days and new memories are simply the colors of each item in the moment, albeit somewhat muted. Would I remember this light tan coffee clearly later on and the couple of black coffee grounds circling around on its surface? Probably not.
Well, I guess it is time to pull that box out from under the bed that I bought for today’s appointment…I felt my long, slow breath draw in before I let it escape back out. I knew I was using the slow breath to stall for any amount of time I could manage to hold onto. No! Stop that! Come on me, it is time to finally overcome all of my losses and get back out into the world, no matter how hard a task it feels like it is. I’ll look for that red shirt after I get the box.
Love squinted at the calendar on the brick accent wall to my left in hopes she would magically find another day in-between yesterday and today’s appointment before walking away from it and in the direction of the bedroom. There was not much room to store secrets in the small room that was so full of whites that it felt sterile. She had just made the sheets before going to make coffee, so everything looked normal on the surface. Not so normal was what she envisioned herself looking like now as a grown woman slinking half under the low bed frame to reach for something she had hidden under it.
Wow! Did I really shove the box that far under? Love inched closer and closer to the prize that felt so far out of reach. I must have shoved it back there better than I realized! Her finger tips almost touched a corner, but just barely missed. Ugh! She wiggle wormed a little more and pushed the box further away when she finally got a grasp on it.
Well this is just ridiculous! Love started to become frustrated with a small task turning into such a huge roadblock as her movements became less precise. She lunged further under the bed to simultaneously grab the box and bucked upwards as if she was catching a live animal that had been on the run. “ouch!”
A rainbow of lights completely blinded her and seamed to emit a scream! I can’t hear anymore, so that hit must have really knocked things around in my head to register memories of shouts sounding so real, she realized. Completely disoriented, Love slithered back out from under the bed and tried to stand. Dizzy, she landed on her bottom and leaning to one side. She fought to regain her balance enough to sit up straight and rubbed a spot on her head that hurt the most. Ah! A bump was protruding out from the top of her head and it was sensitive to the touch. She contemplated, how did a bump form so fast?
Thankfully I at least came out of the cookie jar with the cookie so-to-speak. The box I had gone in for was safely encompassed by my left arm. She gripped a tighter hold, feeling oddly protective of the object after how hard it had just been to retrieve, and scared to drop it as the room continued to feel like it was spinning.
Unsure how long she had been sitting on the bedroom floor, the room started to settle and Love realized everything was almost pitch-black. She crawled on all fours to the kitchen island and used a bar stool to grip at while getting back to standing.
Wait, when did it get so dark in the kitchen, too? Is there a sudden massive storm due to hit? Light was flickering in the distance, but not from the window. Love began approaching the beaming blue light in the open floor plan living room with caution. Morrow turned his attention from the video game on the TV. He positioned himself over the top of the couch enough to look where he must have heard my footsteps suddenly coming from. “There you are,” he mouthed as he aimed his pointer finger at me.
“Early home?” my hands asked Morrow in American Sign Language as my forehead crinkled with the question.
Morrow looked as dazed as I felt before he pointed to the clock on the wall. What!? According to the steady hands it is suddenly 6:00 pm? It had only been minutes ago I woke up at 8:00am, got my coffee, and went to get the box from under the bed…
I followed Morrow’s gaze as he looked back down at the game remote in his hand to coordinate his next move. “Tick!” the button squeaked out under the pressure from his thumb. I felt almost as if my thumb had also just made contact with the smooth, rounded surface of the button as well. As I started to automatically bend my thumb a couple times to remind myself I hadn’t, from that sound came an indigo which was so light and smoky that I could almost completely see through it. It floated up and curled around and around as if a small mystical fairy had come out of a fable just to enjoy flying around my ceiling!
Did I just hear a sound again?! Is my synesthesia back? Am I dreaming?
I felt Morrow’s pointer finger tap my arm. My eyes had been so glued to the color swirling around that no warning before the touch startled me into dropping the box I had been holding so triumphantly. I looked down to see it had hit the ground already and I hadn’t heard any kind of “tunk” or “plop” or “bang” as it connected with the floor. I looked back up and the indigo was still soaring playfully.
Morrow tilted his head slightly to one side and locked eyes with me to ensure I would see him sign his question. His hands formed the 4 sides of a square in the air and then looked as if they were sliding back and forth under an imaginary serving plate as he asked, “box, what?”
The box, right…oh no! Morrow picked it up as I felt myself start to cry. Through the blur of disappointment I watched his lips mouth as he read aloud, “Langogo Minutes Two-Way WiFi Voice Translator Device, Digital Voice Recorder and Dictation Machine with Speech-to-Text Transcription, 100+ Languages, 2.45 Inch Touch Screen, Grey, $79.99.”
Before Morrow had time to wind up and give me the what-for about how much I had spent, he looked at me and changed his tune. His pointer fingers simulated tears streaming down his face and then transformed into the letter y that came from the top of his head. “Cry why?” his lips mouthed along, and then he hugged me before I could answer.
I wiped tears from my cheeks with my pajama shirt sleeve to gather myself enough so that I could see to grip his hand and lead him to our computer. Since having to learn America Sign Language after going deaf in my adult age, I felt more comfortable typing out longer conversations instead of signing through them sometimes.
I moved the mouse so that the screen saver would reveal the always-waiting blank Word document already open on the screen. The curser blinked at me in anticipation for only a second before my fingers flew, “I was going to surprise you and finally brave a job interview today. I bought this translator so that the manager could speak with me and not be intimidated by my deafness. It was 8:00am when I went to get this box from under the bed and now somehow it is 6:00 pm! I have a giant bump on my head and if it is really 6pm, that means I missed the interview!”
No, not that face Morrow. I’m already sad enough and you have to look at me like I just ruined your life yet again! I felt the weight of his expression as it forced a heavy sigh out of me that I am sure had been audible to him.
Huh. There it is still. The indigo had followed us to over the computer and was flying around Morrow’s head like a pet with separation anxiety that found us after minutes that had felt like an eternity to it. The ghostly indigo swooped down near me and as it barely missed my head I swear I heard it! Was it, mumbling something to itself? That can’t be! It dived by me again and I instinctively leaned to get out of its way. I still couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it was definitely clicking or something like clicking!
Morrow volleyed for my attention before his hands made choppy movements as his fingers felt all over the bumps of the synthetic dread extensions in my hair. Ahhh! Jeeze! He found the bump alright! Then he nudged in next to me to type, “Give me the information for where you missed your interview. I will call and explain what happened. Then we should get you to the emergency room and get that checked out.”
Morrow’s eyes instantly switched from disappointed Morrow to determined business Morrow. I hate when it feels like he isn’t being himself with me. As an investment banker he has to wear many hats. Had I become, in his mind, just one more client that he had to inform what was best to do next?
I lifted my right hand into an O shape, and before I could sign the accompanying “K”, hot, chunky vomit sprayed from my throat and onto Morrow’s slippers without any warning. Morrow was shocked and disgusted, it was unmistakable upon reading his face. He stepped backwards out of his slippers and waddled off while stripping his clothes off and leaving them in a trail on the floor as he walked toward the closet outside our bedroom. He was picking at the garments with the tips of his fingers, trying to barely touch them where possible. I sat in a daze as I let my stomach right itself again and tried to shake off the embarrassment that was creeping into my psyche.
The Saratoga Springs, NY hospital was walking distance away from our apartment, but Morrow loaded me into the car anyway, probably feeling more confident than I did that I didn’t have any vomit left to stink up our vehicle with and unsure how much walking I should be doing.
In just seconds after loading into the car we were parking. I noticed as we entered through the automatic doors how everything looked just the same as it had when I came here two years ago to the day, in a panic because I was feeling all kinds of sick and suddenly couldn’t hear anything. Same white walls with lightly tan, wooden-like accents and probably even the same ray of sunlight glinting off the window on the walk in. Who knows, maybe even the same person checking me in? I don’t remember that detail very clearly. I do remember the face of the doctor that wrote down my diagnosis for Morrow and I to read. Her eyes were large and sincere and her long, straight blonde hair looked the way mine used to before I decided I wanted to add dreads. It took 2 months for them to figure out my rare mix of symptoms were all due to West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite.
Suddenly all my hairs stood on end and I felt a chill run down my whole body. Someone was standing so close to me that I felt them breathing on my neck. Morrow was still by my side talking to the woman admitting me, so who would have the nerve to stand so close to a stranger at the ER check-in window?
I whipped around and felt myself get instantly nauseous again. I broke out into a sweat and felt my knees get weak underneath me. Love was sure she was about to faint, but not because of the bump on her head that she was there for, but because in front of her now stood…her parents!
Love’s mind raced, trying to find some kind of finish line that distanced her from her mother and father by the end of it. I haven’t seen them in years, but somehow they look exactly the same as when I saw them last! They should have some wrinkles or something to prove that the time in between us not talking has been real, shouldn’t they? Did they get plastic surgery or something? How and why would Morrow have contacted them for this?
I looked down at my left pointer finger for a break from all the stress that today was piling on me. “They can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the key.” In my head I chanted the mantra I adopted as my own after seeing it online once. Over and over again I reminded myself as I looked at the key tattoo reminder on my finger. I was in mid sentence when Morrow’s hand on my back started guiding me to step away from the desk.
My head rolled back and the ceiling came into view, as if guidance on how to handle the next few moments of my life would just magically come from the heavens…and there it is again…the smoky indigo had come here with us here too. It was darting all over, looking like a bug trying to find a way back out through the area that had trapped it in. I completely get that feeling…you aren’t alone up there indigo. I shook my head and sighed, what is that now, three sighs in one day today? Must be a record. What a day!
In between my shoulder blades I could barely tell the difference between the weight of my missing wings and Morrow’s hand still propped there even though he had stopped shuffling me to a new poistion. Slight vibrations pulsing from Morrow’s conversation and right through to his finger tips helped me find the distinction. He probably couldn’t wait to further plot with my parents. Of all the times we fought, I never would have dreamed in a million years that he would get back at me with my parents! I don’t keep contact information for them in the apartment and I didn’t invite them to our wedding. He must have put some real detective work into accomplishing this. What a waste of time.
Oh, wait a minute, Morrow’s face is actually looking quite flustered. That’s what you get for bringing my parents into any piece of our lives! Did you think they would be your friend? They don’t care about anyone but themselves.
That indigo is really zipping! It must be lonely and looking for friends. It is getting much closer to the other people in the waiting room. Oh no, the other people in the waiting room! Why did I look? It’s too late now. My eyes were drawn from the indigo and right to a little boy it was uncomfortably close to. He was crying while his family held a wad of paper towels under his chin and were squinting at him helplessly. Blood had already turned the white towels into a sopping red pile, and his family’s hands were stained.
I tried with all the might I could find inside me, but I couldn’t stop it, tears sprung from my eyes. My chin was throbbing. I felt like it had been slit. The one synesthesia form I was left with after everything else disappeared was my mirror synesthesia. It isn’t fair! I conformed to the rest of the world’s way of life with my loss and have to further conform by feeling whatever I see them all feel as well. I lost more than my hearing and my colors that day, I completely lost myself. I couldn’t help pouting and feeling sorry for myself on top of feeling the child’s pain.
There is no way that there is anything left in me to throw back up, but my body was about to try anyway. I felt so light all of the sudden that it was as if my head was in two places at once and my skin got clammy. Why can’t I tear my eyes away from that kid? Ugh! Such. Sharp…Pain! The screaming in my head stopped as my knees finally gave in and buckled.
Ahhh! The floor was very unforgiving where my knees made contact. The slam in my bones felt just as real as the stinging in my chin had, but averted my attention as it was the newest sensation.
A nurse at the front desk must have been very reactive because it felt like mere seconds in between me falling and me being loaded onto a stretcher. The ceiling whizzing by like I am traveling at warp speed in a TV show isn’t helping the nausea here guys, I thought about how I wished I could easily say that to them. I had to assume everyone I met didn’t know sign language and that meant everyone I came in contact with presented me with a barrier I had to overcome before I could communicate with them. Morrow’s face wasn’t one of the many keeping pace over me, so no one would be able to translate for me if I needed it.
I couldn’t keep focusing on the ceiling, so I turned to look at one of their faces. I am pretty good at reading lips if I do say so myself. I should have added that, and my skill at picking out coffee grounds floating in my coffee on the first try, to my resume! Well, it looks like I will have time to do that before another attempt at an interview comes around again.
The male nurse’s lips I was watching said to the others, “we don’t know if she is pregnant, so let’s start with an MRI instead of a CS scan.” This is a teaching hospital too I believe, oh boy, so I am a lab rat on top of everything else today? Great. Just great. Why not, right?
His lips continued to them, “the patient is already deaf, so the loud noises from the MRI machine won’t be a bother to her. Normally we would have to offer the patient earplugs or headphones.” Wow, impressive, his talking doesn’t seem out of breath with all this running, he must do this a lot in a day I guess, poor guy.
He turned to ask the doe-eyed group a question now as they slowed down to enter the room that seemed to be our destination, “does anyone remember from class exactly how an MRI works?” I was intrigued, I’ll bite, I want to know too, seeing I am about to have one. I scanned their expressions until I caught movement from the lips of what appeared to be the youngest one there just from my best guess, “MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses a constant magnetic field and radio frequencies to bounce off the fat and water molecules in a person’s body. The radio waves that the receiver picks up are translated into the image we need to diagnose the issue at hand. In class I thought of it like a dolphin’s echolocation to remember, sir.”
“Well done. Echolocation is probably a pretty accurate way to think of it. Your new nickname is Dolphin, kid.” The nurse’s comment made everyone seem to forget I was here for a moment as they all smirked and someone reached from behind him to playfully shuffle the hair on “Dolphin’s” head. Dolphin whined, “hey! Cut it out Spilled Coffee!” Wow! If Spilled Coffee over there was a spirit animal, he would be my spirit animal! What a crew I was getting to behold here!
While I had been watching the group, the male nurse had been busy pulling a clipboard from out of thin air and had written on the chart to show me, “are you claustrophobic?”
I hadn’t ever thought of an answer to that question before…So if I hadn’t had an issue with it I assume that means I am not, right? I shook my head, “no,” with such minute movements I almost wondered if it was enough for him to tell it was a head shake. He must have though because he nodded at me in understanding and wrote underneath it, “please lie very still in the MRI machine.”
This time I nodded my head up and down in response. The second I was in, I instantly regretted my answer to if I was claustrophobic or not. Yup, apparently I am now if I wasn’t before! I could feel myself breathing, but at the same time I felt like I couldn’t breath. My body felt like I was so hot all over. Did they add me into an oven instead by accident? I kept thinking the worst in my mind and couldn’t stop it, thoughts of never getting out, thoughts that the container I was in would shrink even closer onto me than it already felt, or maybe even would it crash onto me? I gasped, I needed air on my face and I needed it now!
I thought back to something I had read once about overcoming panic attacks, which must be what I was having. I needed to use my five senses. I needed to focus on things around me I could find of each thing. OK, something I can see. This death dome I am in, check. That is off to a great start with helping. Not really. I tried to control my breathing and hoped that my struggling and gasping for air wasn’t making this process take any longer than it needed to. I feel like I have been in here for a really, really long time already. How long has it been?
Focus! How about something I can smell? Come to think of it, I smell some vomit now, check. Wait, did I get some on me before we left for the hospital and I am just now smelling it? Two for two with no help. Ugh. Gross! And that takes care of taste, too unfortunately, because it is so potent now that I smell it I can taste it again too! Yuck! Check. Jeeze!
“Dolphin,” would be so proud if he could hear in my head. Nothing great coming from it so far, but this kind of proves his MRI echolocation theory works in here as a patient, too. Sights and smells and the heat from my breathing so far seem to be bouncing right back to me from the very, very close top here. Did I see the ceiling get closer to my face? I swear it did just now!
The vibration from the sounds it must be making are pretty strong, I bet if I could still hear this would be deafening. That is something I can feel though, the vibrations, check. And this is still not helping, check! Or maybe it is helping? I am still conscious, so I am still breathing. Come on, I really have to pull myself together!
Hearing, cruelly, is the last sense. Wait, can I hear something? I closed my eyes. It felt like it was practically slapping me in the face as it bounced from the inside top of the machine and back to me along with my breath now! Yes, clicks and taps that it was emitting among the other sounds it must be producing, I can hear, well, some of it! The indigos started bouncing off the top of the space I was enclosed in and I back towards me and all around me. It felt more like I was floating in a pool from all of the colors saturating around me. They bounced like tennis balls and clicked as they went by my ears. Colors are my friends here with me now, so the worst part was over now, right?
Nope, it was definitely getting worse still! I was transferred onto a cot in a small cubical with only a curtain to provide privacy from the other beds in a repetitive row next to where mine was stationed. That didn’t bother me, but the fact that mom was there. Mom turned her back to me, like she always was so keen to do. Everyone else in the curtained-off cubical started nodding in her direction and leaving the room as if they were all caught in a strong gust of wind. Morrow shot me a brief second of eye contact before he and dad left. A nurse closed the curtain as she was stepping out as well, feeling satisfied by the corralling of the group she had just accomplished.
My eyes jerked up to roll at the scenario I now found myself in, but before going full circle, they instead caught sight of the indigo colors that had stayed with me from the MRI machine. It was quite distracting, especially now that there were so many of the frail colors that were leaving temporary color trails as they darted back and forth. My colors never lingered like this before. They used to be instant flashes and tastes on a constant system or renewal.
I jumped when it suddenly felt like an ice cube had been slathered right onto my key finger tattoo. I looked down to see mom’s fingers covering the reminder I needed to not let her drive me crazy. Did she know it was about her? She always just seemed to “know” everything. She had the most heightened sense of mother’s intuition in the history of mothers, I am sure of it, just not the sensitivity to balance out how to deal with those all-knowing moments properly with me.
Suddenly she held out a paper with words already written on it that I could see from the back as inked shadows, and a pen. Where had she gotten that? I felt her eyes boring into me while she waited for me to show a reaction of some kind. I made sure to voice my disdain for her presence by glaring up at her before taking hold of the paper and pen she was shoving in front of my face.
Her hand writing was very controlled and neat, just the way she liked to appear to the rest of the world.
You can and must get your wings back. The sounds and colors will keep returning after this first one. You must collect them once they are all there and go where they will lead you. These aren’t your colors that are coming to you and I bet you feel that in your bones. The one sending them to you is who you must seek, before they get away with ruining both our worlds. Though you are destined to stop it, I truly am sorry to tell you that as far as I have seen, it ends with you in a motionless heap on the ground. Much like the way Morrow believes your shungite necklace absorbs power from his gaming console, you must find and collect their powers once you are able to. They need to be stopped once and for all. All of them. Even your grandparents. Do not let them steer you wrong.
The pen couldn’t move fast enough to keep up with my rage and looked like barely readable chicken scratch compared to my normal writing. That woman could always unnerve me in seconds flat, and it looks like in all this time she hadn’t gotten rusty at the skill in the least bit!
Sure. Uh huh. Now all of the sudden you come out of the wood work and believe I had wings, when you used to tell me I was crazy for believing I had them in the first place and not to tell anyone else about them?! And all this babble makes absolutely no sense! And suddenly I have grandparents to mention now, while all those years growing up when kids told me about their fun holiday get-togethers at their grandparents homes and I asked you why we never visited our family you told me that we didn’t have any and not to ask any more about it! While you are here at the emergency room you should admit yourself. Have them check you for a concussion too. Oh, and have your circulation checked while you are at it, your hand is freezing. On your way to the desk please send my husband in here you I can tell him how angry I am that he called you to come here today.
While Love’s mother read the response, Love motioned to fidget with her shungite necklace, which was usually tucked under her shirt. She hadn’t had time to put it on today after coffee like usual, and suddenly felt very exposed without it. I’m not sure how she knows about the indigos following me around right now, but I am not surprised. Love was surprised however that her mother knew about that reoccurring fight between her and Row. She reasoned with herself that she was going to have to call him Row instead of Morrow, because she was so mad. Thinking of his nickname is usually the only way she could look him in the eye to sign with him again. He is in so much trouble right now! What does he do, secretly complain about me with my parents behind my back or something? How long has this been going on?
Mom lifted her head and I watched her mouth form the words, "D, I know that is you."
What in the world was she saying now? I must have misread her lips.
I followed her eye line as she turned to look at another nurse that had just entered. The nurse lowered a chart in her left hand, smiled, and then pointed confidently and sarcastically at herself at the same time as if to say, “come on, would I do that?”
The smile lingered longer than was comfortable until suddenly she transformed into a man with long dark hair, a caped outfit, and a large, smug grin. I followed his mouth movements and completely at-ease body language as he said, “then you must also know I hate nicknames. The last person who called me one… is no longer with us. How did you know it was me?”
Mom must have waited to respond for me to finish rubbing my eyes while I was trying to make sense of what I thought I just saw. After all the time I felt I took, I was still somehow in time to see her lips say, “I foresaw it.” Mom didn’t turn to face him and, instead, continued to hold eye contact with me.
His brow furrowed before he puzzled, “but I thought you can only see tragedies?”
Mom took a turn at a smile that made everyone around her uncomfortable before she answered, “that is true. This is the start of one. Yours....” She turned to drive her statement home by finally looking at him.
My eyes ping-ponged back to the ”D” fellow as his complexly serious expression was followed by an, “I don’t believe you.”
Mom turned back to facing me and sighed heavily before rolling her eyes. “I know. No one ever does and no one ever will, thanks to my incompetent husband.” I took more offense to her statement than I could have imagined I would, and made a mental note to argue with mom about it at a later date. Of the two of them, dad was the nicer of the two.
The man looked directly at me now as he spoke to my mother, which felt extremely unsettling in the pit of my stomach, “your daughter seems to be interfering with my magic all of the sudden. The opening she made called me here. Now how is she doing that? I have left you all alone because you haven’t been a bother to me. You had a chance at a normal life. Was that not enough for the lot of you?”
Ever the master at naturally avoiding accountability for sharing anything that pertained to information about her thoughts or feelings, mom deflected the subject matter of response onto me, along with her gaze as well. This was starting to feel like some weird twilight zone episode where the actors were directed to stare directly into the camera for longer than feels necessary. It started giving me chills! “They aren’t hers you know, your focus is aimed in the wrong direction.”
Mom wasn’t finished, “Tut tut,” her tongue clicked at him in mock, sly disappointment, and this time instead of just watching her lips, I heard the sounds.” I saw in my peripheral vision that all three of our heads followed the new indigos as they seemed to come out of nowhere and play with the rest of them already staying with us in the curtained-ff room. They were like children released later than their friends to the playground and were beyond excited to be reunited again. Were mom and “D” just on alert to see what I was looking at, or were they somehow seeing the indigos too?
As the man’s eyes barely squinted, he replied, “I see.” Mom smiled and raised an eyebrow. Her body language straightened slightly, as if she was bracing herself in anticipation of accepting some kind of challenge. A challenge that she had complete confidence in herself to take the win at as her eyes twinkled with delight. I felt my mother's right hand grasp my leg and her left hand slide under my back as the man pointed his hand towards the curtain in front of me. The grip struck me as oddly protective of her, as we never held hands even to cross the street when I was a child.
He ran and leapt at a spot that looked like colorful acid was eroding a window through in the air just before the layer of curtain that made our area a sort of room. He completely disappeared through the dark, out-of-place, person-sided oval.
Then the world suddenly spun around me as I found my indigos and myself somehow darting through the opening as well!
I love your first sentence! It makes me want to know more about your character right away while giving me just enough information to want to keep reading. I like how there is a little bit of mystery for me to discover. I like how Love compares her wings being gone to no longer seeing an imaginary friend. I also liked the different ways Love described how she experienced her colors. And the inclusion of ASL is awesome! I love it when characters use sign language.
The scene in the hospital with Love, her mother, and D was very interesting and I want to find out what happens next!
I'm not sure if the story was meant to be written this way, but it seemed to bounce around between first and third person and sometimes that pulled me out of the story a little.
Aspen was ready for the chance to show her skills in the biggest hunt in Ateroth. That is until she meets Cole a mysterious ember-eyed hunter with a wolf at his side. An argument with him leads to an encounter with Terra an enchantress. Now she’s entering the hunt in a way she never expected, as a snow leopard. Her exotic pelt makes her a target and If that wasn’t bad enough Terra is wandering around wearing her face and ruining her reputation. She needs to find a way to break this spell, but first, she needs to escape the hunting grounds. She makes some unlikely friends along the way including Cole. If he finds out who she is she’s on her own. If she didn’t have enough on her plate she’s also got to deal with an angry Alpha with a grudge against her new friends. A run-in with him and she learns the hard way magic’s not meant to be mixed.
I seriously love Aspen in this!!! You can already get a sense of who she is as a character, and I loved the comment about Terra wandering around wearing her face. You can feel the irritation and sass already, it's fantastic! You do a really good job of creating anticipation and a sense of urgency given that Aspen is in a tight spot from the get-go.
Your blurb is great! It paints such an awesome picture of your story and has so much intrigue! If I was to suggest anything, for me I had to reread a couple of sentences as I went through that maybe could just use a comma to help with where I got tripped up? These are the 2 where I would add the commas, just from how it read in my head: An argument with him leads to an encounter with Terra, an enchantress./ If he finds out who she is, she's on her own. I love all of the obstacles that you have for Aspen to overcome and how much just reading your blurb makes me side with her right from the start as a reader and makes me excited to read your story and find out more!
I love snow leopards, so that fact your main character gets turned into one is already awesome. Aspen's journey sounds like it will be exciting and full of danger, and I want to see how she overcomes everything.
Chapter 1 Leopardess
I can hear the angry grunts behind me getting closer. My heart is pounding painfully in my chest and my legs protest every step I take, but I can’t stop. It’s as if my entire body is on fire as I push myself to go faster, wanting to put more distance between myself and the angry boar crashing through the brush behind me. If it catches me with those tusks they will do some real damage.
When I woke up this morning I expected to be getting ready for my hunt, my chance to show my skill. Instead, I woke up alone in the middle of the woods in the body of a snow leopard. I could barely walk at first, the damn tail throwing me off balance. Then I stumbled across this boar. Thankfully instinct took over and I’ve managed to keep my legs under me thus far, but for how long?
The hunt’s yet to begin and I am running for my life. It’s only going to get worse when the horn goes off and the hunters are free to begin. I’ve got to get away from this boar figure out what happened to me so I can fix it before I get gorged or a hunter tracks me down with the desire to hang my pelt on a wall. Neither option is appealing.
A growl escapes me when I realize the boar is getting closer. I’ve got to do something fast. My body is starting to tremble and I fear my legs could give out at any moment. I attempt to make a sharp turn my eyes widening as the tail whips to the side and I lose control of my legs I hit the ground rolling.
I pained yowl escapes me as I’m forced to stop abruptly as my body slams into the trunk of a tree. I snap my gaze around just in time to see the boar adjusts its course straight for me. I close my eyes and turn away bracing for the boar to strike. Only it doesn't come, instead, I hear a familiar voice speaking a language I’ve never heard.
I open my eyes slowly and I look up at the woman standing over me. With her back to me, I can’t see her face, though I can’t help but notice she’s wearing my cloak. I tilt my head just enough to see past her and watch as the boar wanders off flicking its tail as if it hadn’t been chasing me all morning with the intent to gorge me on its tusks.
“You nearly had that turn.” I furrow my brow as I turn my attention back over to the woman. Is she talking to me? “Next time try not to fight your tail so much.” She turns towards me and her face, though hidden in shadows seems- far too familiar. From the sun-kissed color of her skin to the heart shape of her lips even the dark curls falling around her chest.
“Why does she look so much like me?” Are we related? No that doesn't feel quite right.
“Oh, that.” My eyes widen as she reaches up and pulls back the hood to reveal even more of her face, or rather my face. My grey eyes, though more intense due to the coal smeared across her face are hard to mistake for others. “Hope you don’t mind, but I’ve decided to borrow your face.”
“Imposter!” I can’t help but growl out before it suddenly dawns on me. “Wait you can understand me?”
“Of course I can.” She winks down at me as she reaches up and twirls a lock of hair around her fingers. “I trust you slept well?”
“I- what?” I narrow my eyes at her as I slowly push myself up. “Who are you?”
“Oh, my apologies.” She kneels in front of me a grin pulling at her lips. “My names is Terra, we've met before.” I furrow my brows as she stands up suddenly, her smile fading. “Though I suppose you wouldn't recognize me now.” I take a step back as her eyes suddenly start to glow a bright green.
“Wait.” I recognize that glow. “You’re the woman from last night.” Her smile returns as she crosses her arms.
“What are you even doing here?” She gestures down towards me with a hand.
“I wanted to see my work first hand.” My eyes widen as I look down at my paws before snapping my gaze up to hers.
“You did this?”
“Of course, you didn't think waking up with a tail was normal did you?”
“Change me back!” Her smile fades and a frown pulls at her lips as she shakes her head.
“No.” A growl escapes me as shake my head.
“This isn’t fair, you can’t do this to me.”
“Why not?” She asks with a shrug before her eyes narrow. “Your just an animal.”The words flash through my mind. They feel like a slap to the face taking me back to the night before when I’d used those very same words to describe- the snow leopard. Even now I can remember the huntsman with his ember eyes and a wolf at his side.
“He put you up to this didn’t he?”
“The only one to blame for your current predicament is you.”
Such an exciting beginning! I love how you throw us right into the action of the character's point of view and her heart pounding as she is reacting to an angry boar after waking up as a snow leopard! Such cool details too, like how a person getting turned into an animal would be so disoriented with a tail, but she still has animal instinct that came with the body right away! At the beginning of a paragraph you have: "I pained yowl escapes me as I'm forced to stop abruptly as my body slams into the trunk of a tree." This is the only sentence that threw me. I think it is for a few reasons- Probably an "A" to start the sentence instead of an "I," the paragraph before starts with the word "escapes" in it as well, and maybe instead of the 2nd "as" in the sentence switch it with an and? I loved reading your 1st chapter and it really got me invested in your story! I hope the editing stage goes well for you and I wish you good luck with your publishing goals!
I love that we start with Aspen on the run and already in danger. I was rooting for her right away to escape! I like that the enchantress is so casual about borrowing Aspen's face. It adds a fun element to her character right away. I think my biggest complaint is that I wanted more story! I didn't want the chapter to be over when I got to the end.
The Fabled Lands were sundered. Tethys, the last bastion of the destroyed world, has stood alone ever since. But now the kingdom has fallen, sickness spreads, and ruin with it.
Princess turned prisoner, Moira Aldrest is handed a death sentence when tasked with finding a cure for the Delirium. With no leads on what causes the sickness or how to stop it, Moira must rely on strained alliances and fractured friendships to hunt down an antidote in a world that wants her dead.
Theron Abrose has a secret; he shouldn’t be alive. When the fallen princess appears on his doorstep asking questions only Theron has answers to, he quickly finds the tales he’s spun to keep his secret safe are dangerously close to unravelling. While aiding Moira means risking discovery, refusing her guarantees it.
Visions haunted Sienne La’Rae, but they stopped the day the crowned princess, her closest friend, betrayed the kingdom. When Sienne’s visions resurface with a message from the past, she is forced to confront the person she vowed to never speak to again.
With the death count growing, Moira, Theron, and Sienne must battle against enemies both new and old to find the cure. But as trust wanes and tensions rise, they learn the worst foe is the one in the mirror.
This is fantastic! I love the way you have introduced all the characters separately, but in a way that allows the reader to also see the beginnings of how their stories all connect with the princess's. And your last sentence in the blurb, about the worst foe being in the mirror, has so much impact!! I love it! Your blurb would definitely intrigue me to buy your book if I picked it up at a book shop and read this!
A lot going on in the blurb and it does build up some excitement and I'd read it, however, if I picked a book up and saw the blurb was this long it's unlikely that I would read through it cause I like the quick browsing. That being said i'd love to find out everything connects and see how it all plays it:)
I am particularly fascinated by the sickness being called Delirium. For some reason that little nugget grabs at me a lot. It seems like there will be some interesting dynamics between your three main characters. This sounds like it will be an interesting read!
Chapter 1 (Full) & Chapter 2 (Partial)
Part I – Fate
Three Days Before the Fall of the Aldrenian Kingdom
Chapter I – Mask of Mettle
“Here us and know truth.
As surely as the Marauder chases the sun, so too does our light dim for a new dawn to rise. On her coronation and thereafter, crown princess Moira Aldrest will be High Queen of the joined Principalities under the Aldrenian Kingdom. Ordained by the Gods and chosen by the Light of Adara, she will Rise.”
The Royal Proclamation on King Rorrick and Queen Arialla Aldrest’s abdication and the coronation of Princess Moira Aldrest
Announced on 1st Marauding Moon, to be held in two months’ time on 1st Bearing Moon
Summer had come late this year, but when it did, it came with a vengeance. Moira’s father said the Gods were making up for lost time. Moira said the Gods were spiteful. The king had laughed at that. The answer more likely lay somewhere in between, but the truth of the matter was of little consequence to Moira. She had already made up her mind, and her current circumstances were more pressing than philosophical debate.
The Gods, she determined, were decidedly spiteful today.
Spiteful, because it was sweltering out. Decidedly spiteful, because she was locked in a prison carriage that was quickly becoming an oven. Moira did not appreciate the heat at the best of times.
This was not the best of times.
Nothing prepared you for being abducted.
She had been in darkness for the better part of three days. To her reckoning, the darkness began when she had fallen into a suspiciously good night's rest, courtesy of a sleeping agent, no doubt. The darkness had continued when she had woken to find she could not see.
The solid metal mask padlocked to her face had not earned the Gods any favors, either.
She had run her hands ragged trying to pry the contraption from her head. All she accomplished was nearly strangling herself. The chains manacled to her wrists hung down to thread between her similarly tethered ankles, all before looping back up to where a set of chains lay upon her throat. To lift her hands was to tighten the noose.
Not desperate enough to die yet, she had quit after the first few attempts left her gagging. Having fallen prey to her captors had damaged her pride enough, there was no need to add insult to injury.
The wagon that functioned as her prison swayed back and forth, sweat prickling uncomfortably at her skin.
“Damn the Gods.” She muttered the blasphemy into the dark, throwing her hands into her lap as she couldn’t reach to scratch at the itch. A moment later she muttered her apologies. She had already drawn someone’s ire, best not tempt the deities as well, especially so near Adara’s Day.
The Sun Goddess, Queen of Freewill, and the Third Gift to humanity was not to be trifled with. Images of the deity, wreathed in flame, and smiting dark souls into the Neverfield, flashed through Moira’s mind as she shuddered. The scene was common within temples, either painted onto ceilings or sculpted into reliefs on marble walls, but the wrath displayed by the goddess was never not disturbing.
Moira feared little, but something about Adara had always set her on edge. It was too much like looking into the mirror some days. Her own birth coincided with the goddess’s holy day after all. Maybe that was what disturbed her most. Adara was a reminder that she who gave life could so easily take it away. Just like a ruler. Just like a commander. Just like Moira.
Who had taken her? She tucked her knees against her chest as the thought clanged through her for the thousandth time that day alone.
It was not like she was unpopular. People found her intimidating, sure, but that stemmed from piety, not because they had anything to truly be fearful of.
Beyond this, how they managed to smuggle her from her chamber and through the city without alerting any of the Golden-Watch was a mystery. It was not like prison carriages, forged from iron and windowless, were inconspicuous. Whoever planned her capture had been meticulous and left nothing to chance. She was begrudgingly impressed. It was no easy feat to infiltrate her family’s ancestral seat, let alone days before a coronation.
A coronation I am not going to be in attendance for, at this rate. Which was problematic considering she was the one meant to be coronated. She guessed that was the point.
Of course, she thought sullenly, they had to have had help from the inside. Rohdain, while an illustrious city now, was originally a fortress built for one purpose; to withstand a world that wanted to bring the Aldrenian line to its knees. It was a marvel to behold on the outside, and a labyrinth within. The Aldrest family had built an empire, and an empire they would keep. Rohdain had made sure of that for the last five-hundred years.
Amidst the harsh terrain of the western point of the Aspar Mountains, it was not a sprawling city, but one that was built up and into the steep mountain face. The central palace was comprised of levels that soared into the clouds, open facing rooms and sweeping terraces looming over the edge of mighty towers. On clear days, the crown’s mightiest of achievements could be seen flying high above the ramparts; the Golden Rapturn.
The Aldrest family had won the rule of Tethys not from military might alone, but with the help of the Great Beasts of Sky. The Rapturn were fierce winged creatures, resembling birds of prey only in body, with an intelligence unmatched by their lower kin and a wingspan the length of four men. Devoutly loyal to those who earned their trust, the story of how the first King of Aldren earned the right of Companionship to the Rapturn was legendary. The story varied depending on who did the telling, but one thing remained the same no matter the version; the King gained the favor of Adara.
During the days when the world was still dark, it was the goddess herself who birthed the Rapturn when she flew across the sky as a great bird of fire. As she flew, her feathers dropped away and where they touched earth a Rapturn bloomed. When the last of her feathers fell, she was only a blazing inferno in the sky. That was her gift to humanity. To light the world for all eternity. To be their sun. The Third Gift.
Why did it always come back to Adara?
The carriage lurched suddenly, jostling Moira enough to distract her before she uttered any further damnable offences. She hissed at her stinging writs as pain lanced through her, the manacles boring ever deeper into her skin. The weeping wounds were only further aggravated by the chafing metal. Whoever had thought of prison carriages was a sadist, she thought bitterly.
That sadist was of course her own five-times-great-grandfather.
The carriages were born out of the necessity of moving those too dangerous to be transported by normal means. Those deemed the most deplorable of society. Those like Kirn Bracken, renowned anarchist responsible for the desolation of the Midlunds nearly two centuries ago. The farmlands had taken the better part of a century to fully recover from the Great Burning, the most grievous of injuries during the Worker’s War. Bracken was caught no less than five times during the conflict, and each time he miraculously escaped.
He had not been so lucky the sixth.
Iron carriages served two purposes: containing you and breaking you. The metal was unforgiving no matter the time of year. If your body was not broken by the wretched heat or the biting cold, it was the darkness that drove you mad. Bracken was the first of many to suffer that fate.
Moira remembered the first time she had seen a prison carriage, and her elder cousin’s warning still rang in her ears. ‘A broken body has a chance of recovery. A shattered mind has little hope.’
Even with the mask clasped to her face, Moira knew the carriage would be void of light, just like the one she had seen with Tavaran. It had haunted her childhood, wondering who might have been inside that personal prison, who they might be when they came out. If they came out.
The disorientation was the worst part of the mental torture the carriages were known for. Most times, once a prisoner went in, they never emerged quite the same. The interior was like a coffin. Sometimes it became one. The air was stagnant, the outside noises muffled, each sense slowly stripped away. Time became an illusion, and the line between living and dying frayed.
No one escaped.
Some nights she woke up screaming, linens soaked and room dark, just like how she imagined the carriage would be. She would demand to sleep with candles burning, always burning.
But that was long ago. She was no longer a child, and if her estimates were correct, she would be turning twenty-five in three days’ time. A Queen at a quarter of a century, to be crowned on the day of her birth. On Adara’s Day. Like some demigod.
She could have done without the pageantry, people either revered or feared her enough as it were. It was a nuisance and left a rotten taste in her mouth since her parents’ announcement two months prior. Their decision to abdicate had surprised even her, though no one seemed to notice.
The King and Queen had found it metaphorically fitting to retire just as the days grew shorter and Tage the Marauder, God of the Waters, chased his elder sister from the sky. The sixth moon of the year always brought change with it, and King Rorrick had a flair for the dramatic.
Regardless of the spectacle, why they decided to compare her coronation to the sun rising was still beyond her. The entire point of the Marauder chasing the sun was to steal Adara’s light. Moira had never bothered to mention the metaphor made no sense. Though, at the rate her captivity was going, she imagined it was now a fitting description and wished she had. It would seem Fate had a comedic way of proving her point.
If only the king could see his daughter now. Her situation certainly constituted as dramatic, albeit inconvenient. Rorrick might even be proud. Not everyone was considered dangerous enough to warrant an iron carriage.
She supposed she should take her current predicament as a compliment.
Too bad she did not exactly feel dangerous right now. Only petulant and vindictive. And hot.
The carriage was heating to a stifling degree, the iron warm on her clammy skin. Though not yet blistering, the temperature had consistently risen since the beginning of the day. The previous two days travel had been bearable, if only because they must have been within the foothills of the mountains. Today was a different story. It had to be approaching midday, and Moira already wanted to tear her skin from her body. Her head tipped back as she blinked into the darkness, sweat beading along her brow.
The last time she had been outside was earlier that morning. Initially she found it odd her abductors risked taking her out at all, but she managed to discern their motives after the first day’s travel.
When evening had arrived, her guards had been foolish enough to try to haul her out of the carriage. She could almost forgive their naivety for believing she was not a threat. From the way she had felt, aching and exhausted, to how she must have looked, bloody and bruised, she must have been the portrait of frailty. But while her mind may have been muddled from the sleeping drug, her body had not forgotten the practiced patterns carved into her bones.
And it did not fail her.
They remembered who they were transporting once one of their companions was disarmed and disemboweled. It had not taken much. Her masked face had slammed into his and she immediately felt the triumphant spray of blood. The chains forced her hands to stay low, but that served her just fine. She had grabbed his manhood and squeezed until his scream was nothing more than a high-pitched whistle on the wind and he dropped to his knees. By the time she loosened her hold, the poor man had not realized he had been cut open from groin to breast, courtesy of the dagger nicked from his belt.
The rest of the guards had not said a word. Whether the silence was from shock, outrage, or disgust, she did not know. She liked to imagine it was from fear. They had all given her a wide birth that evening. She could not help but be disappointed that it was all too easy. Guards were all the same. They never hid their weapons anywhere interesting.
They were wise enough to not let her near any of their personal effects after that.
It made little difference to her. The man’s death was a gamble, one she could have suffered greatly from, but she was all the better for it. She had satisfied her own curiosity on how they would react and learned they were not going to harm her. If the others were angry about the bloodshed, they did not show it in their treatment of her. Their threats were hollow, even if their orders dripped like venom off poisoned tongues. She was fed and watered like a prized broodmare.
Someone wanted her alive, and that she did find interesting.
As the hours slowly ticked by, each one more insufferable than the last, Moira’s mood deteriorated from altogether irritable to wholly unpleasant, souring faster than milk left in the sun. Nausea roiled in her gut and bile threatened to climb her throat, but she refused to retch. If she started now, there would be no stopping.
Her jailers should have let her out by now. They had been routine in their daily stops. Morning, noon, and evening. It was past midday, dammit. Why hadn’t they let her out?
A groan of exasperation crept past her lips as a hollow ringing began in her ears. What now? Some discordant rhythm pounded in her blood, through her head and into her bones as a hazy feeling snaked its way through her body. Icy dread crept across her skin as realization set in; she was going to faint.
Moira swallowed the rising lump in her throat, suddenly lucid, given how precarious her position was becoming. Not because she was in true danger from her captors themselves, but because she feared they might well and truly be stupid enough to forget she could in fact die, despite what the stories might lead them to believe. That would be annoying. They certainly would not mean to kill her, but intent versus impact mattered little once you were dead.
Would she wake if she allowed herself to keep falling into that too black embrace?
She knew the answer.
“Out of all the ways I’ve nearly died in my life, this would have to be the worst.”
Adrenaline sluiced through her rebelling body. Hefting one leg to brace against the inner wall, she steeled herself. Every movement was an effort. Too much effort.
The bare sole of her foot rammed into the side of the carriage once, twice, three times. The chains, slick with sweat and blood, rattled noisily. Panting from the exertion, her body sank back down. Waiting.
Moments passed, but the carriage did not slow.
She banged against the walls again and began calling out until her throat ached, and her limbs were jelly as her mind inched closer and closer to oblivion, her spell of clarity fading rapidly. Either they could not hear her, or they did not care.
“Complete, and utter, idiots.”
Silence beyond her labored breathing descended once more and she felt herself sinking into the inky black… until a small, unwelcome voice she had shunted down years ago began to whisper to her.
“No…” she said into the darkness, her voice as coarse as a boar’s bristles. She clung to the denial like a child would cling to their mother’s skirt. Denial of the truth. Denial of what the voice would ask of her. Denial of what she would have to resort to if she listened to the call.
Yes. You know what you need to do, it seemed to say. Make yourself heard.
A new type of cold entered Moira’s bones, one that was fed by terror.
“I can’t. Anything but that.” She didn’t know if she were pleading with herself, or with the discordant voice that had long haunted her.
Do it or die, the voice mocked.
“I said, no!” she hissed, and the reverberating sound of her still raw voice echoed around her, causing everything to seem louder and quieter at once. An unbidden note of power had edged into her tone. She made another feeble attempt to kick the door, but her foot slid down the side uselessly. A ringing sensation still pulsed in her ears. “No…”
Something ancient and violent and cruel and devastating coiled in her, and she could have sworn she heard laughter.
“Don’t make me,” she choked out, beginning to slip away.
Down, down, down you go, little raven. No one to wake you, no one to save you, only you…
“STOP!” Anger pulled her from the brink of unconsciousness through pure willpower alone as she raged against the voice in her head.
Who are you, little raven? No one, little raven. Forgotten, little raven. Goodbye, little raven.
The voice teased her and taunted her. Provoked her to do what she had only done once before. It reminded her of who she was. What she was.
“No,” she seethed. “I have never been no one.
Because Moira was an artist, and waging war was her craft.
Strategy was her paint, the blade her brush, the battlefield her canvas.
And she would sooner paint the world red than bow to those who sought to break her.
Good. Now, SING.
Despite how her soul begged her to back down from the voice’s challenge, she could not turn away.
With a scream of pain and fury, the ancient Voice entered her and tore through her very being. The Song built upon itself with melody after melody as Power burst into the air, past the iron walls and out, out, out until she could feel her Song stretching over hills and fields and lakes and rivers of Tethys and causing ruin, ruin, ruin.
Chapter II – Passing Echoes
“The Sun Goddess goes by many names. The Queen of Light, the Maiden of Protection, Creation Incarnate. Many forget she is also a harbinger for loss and death. Light and creation cannot exist without darkness and destruction. She is the Siren. The Voice. And should one hear her call, may the other Gods rest their soul.”
Oration by the Grand Magistrate of the Adarthien Faith, Year 1294
Lady Sienne La’Rae was in Caradier, and she could not say why.
Well, that was not precisely true, she considered thoughtfully while watching a pair of doves fly overhead, backlit by the cloudless cerulean sky. The birds sailed in between the billowing awnings that shaded the long line of shops that dotted the [Main Road] leading all the way from the Eastern Gate to the center of the city. The busy marketplace was a comfort as she walked through one of the many colorful bazaars that popped up overnight during the summer, the aroma of spices and meats permeating the air as people shouted back and forth, touting their wares.
Sienne knew why she was in the capital theoretically. The summons to attend Princess Moira Aldrest’s coronation had arrived nearly two months ago, and she had been buzzing with excitement ever since. But she did not know why she was here currently.
Sienne had arrived earlier than most, a whole two weeks before the ceremony was to take place. She had intended to see her closest friend, but she had not deigned to show up on time despite the weeklong celebrations being in honor of her. Even though they had planned this since they were children. So, the question remained.
Why the hell was Sienne here when Moira hadn’t shown her damned face once since she arrived? It wasn’t like many people beyond Sienne willingly put up with her insufferable character.
“M’lady? Are you quite alright?” The reedy voice startled Sienne, and she pulled up short in the thoroughfare. She had nearly forgotten Julien Bargreave was accompanying her. The ruddy faced squire dabbed his brow with a handkerchief that had been steadily turning a dusty brown as the day drew on.
“Fine. Why do you ask?” She clipped, and even as the man stuttered to find a response, she couldn’t bring herself to feel guilty, though she surely would later. Annoyance pinged off Sienne’s skin like hail, and Julien was the unfortunate traveler caught in the storm.
A few heartbeats of awkward silence extended as people rushed around them, one bumping into Sienne hard enough for her to be reminded she was standing in the middle of a street. Glancing about, she noticed they were receiving a fair share of sour looks.
She sighed and moved off to the side.
Sienne knew she was brooding, had seen it in her own face when they had perused an open storefront full of mirrors earlier on. She had been admiring a small hand mirror when her eye had caught a reflection in a shadowed alcove of the shop. The floor length looking glass showed a woman cloaked in plain grey garb, the simple gauzy sheath billowing down to her slippered feet with sleeves that buttoned at her wrists, the gold winking in the sunlight. It was the eyes that had caught her attention. They were angry and… old. She had stared at the grim-faced woman for longer than was appropriate before she realized she was looking at herself. The contorted expression made her face all wrong. While her rosy cheeks and heart shaped face should have been pleasant, her furrowed brow and clenched jaw spoke of angry tempests and raging seas. Where there should have been soft curves, she suddenly became all angles and sharp shadows, lips set in a thin grimace. For a moment, her features had softened. She had not liked what she saw in the mirror.
“I’m fine. Just… You’re fine, Julien.” The squire looked at her skeptically but didn’t question her further as Sienne pinned him with a withering look and gestured for him to lead on. He did so obligingly.
Sienne was not an angry person. Usually.
But she couldn’t seem to help herself today. She was in a mood, and not even the multitude of shopping bags that Julien carried had cured her of her ailment. It would take nothing short of Moira pleading for forgiveness to snap her out of it if she had her way.
Moira was rude at the best of times but to stand Sienne up days before the coronation? That was a new and intolerable low. They had grown up together. Always playing at being Queens of the kingdom. Moira kneeling before Sienne as she placed a tiara of flowers atop her head. Even as they’d grown, they would lay awake at night in the fields of Brimshore or under the stary sky of Rohdain and whisper their grand plans to one another. What they hoped to become. What they hoped for each other. They had remained inseparable. And now, when the moment had finally arrived, Moira couldn’t even show up? Queen or not, when Sienne got her hands on that woman, she would never hear the end of it.
I love the character dynamics and differing opinions right from the start that are so visible and fun to read! I felt like you invite us into your world and we get to know your characters so quickly and easily and slip right into enjoying and being hooked to continue to read! I am including a lot of Greek gods and goddesses in my book and I love all the god and goddess references in your work right from the start! Are you using gods from a culture or did you make them up for your story? My other question about the beginning, is as I read at 1st and she is talking with her father about the gods being spiteful, is that a memory she is recalling on? Or is he with her in the prison carriage? That flow confused me a little bit as I read it, it had me picture them in a more comfortable setting at first, and then with the next lines it made me rethink what I had pictured for setting. But your story is so captivating right from the beginning! I love it! I love everything! For the conversation memory with her father, I would just suggest maybe adding a word or two in to let readers know she is recalling it while in her current circumstance. Everything seems so well thought-out and you have so many impactful and deep lines! I love the same feeling of everything and everyone connecting to Moira's story that I got from reading your blurb, carrying over seamlessly as you show the next POV in the 2nd chapter! Your chapter names are epic! And I love your consistency with starting each with a quote from your world's history! You have such a great story here! Such a joy to read!
I quite enjoy the little blurbs at the beginngs of the chapters. They are fun glimpses into the world you have created. I love the detail about Moira having a metal mask covering her face. It adds an element of danger to her situation for me since it reminds me of The Man in the Iron Mask in France. I am very intrigued to discover what kind of tie Moira has to Adara. It feels like there must be a link between them. I like the glimpse we get of Moire and Sienne's relationship. I'm a little sad we didn't get to see more of their interactions, because that could be fun to read! I'm sure that will come later, though.
Aethryell, a mechanical city in the sky, was designed centuries ago to protect people from the hostile ground below. For some, it is a utopia, but it is far from that for Arynn. After being blamed for her father's death during an Inventor's Festival eleven years ago, she has abandoned her father's dream for her to be the next great inventor. Now, in the shadows, she is one of the city's greatest thieves. With a new Inventor's Festival approaching, Arynn uncovers a treacherous secret. Sudden blackouts threaten the entire city's power and way of life. Aethryell's existence is in danger. With the help of unlikely allies, will they be able to save the city even if it puts the rest of the world at stake?
I'm in love with this city you've created! I love steampunk-inspired writing, and I'm already invested in the world and plot. You do a fantastic job of getting to the point of the story while balancing who Arynn is as a person and developing the world your story is set in as a whole. I'm not a concise person and it's something I struggle with, so I'm super impressed with how you're able to write such a compelling piece in such a succinct manner! Awesome job.
I love your blurb! As I read, I found myself wondering so many more things about your story that makes me want to read it and it feels like it will definitely be a page-turner! I love your concept of a mechanical city in the sky and love that you blurb leads with that information because there is definitely a whole following of readers and steampunk fans I believe will also be hooked right from that beginning detail!
I'm really excited about the fact you have a mechanical city it's not something that comes up a lot so I really wanna see how it plays out and how the black outs will effect it all. If I read this on the back of a book i'd be taking it home with me.
Aethryell sounds like such a fascinating city! I am curious about Arynn and and her past. And I am already extrememly intrigued about why someone (or many someones) want to would want to mess with the city. For some reason I am getting the impression that someone wants to drop it from the sky and that seems very exciting for a story.
I was wondering about this sentence: Now, in the shadows, she is one of the city's greatest thieves.
I feel like you could get away with saying "Now she is one of the city's greatest thieves" and leave out the shadows bit. To me being a thief implies they sneak about in the shadows, but maybe that is just me.
Only inches stood between Arynn Westcott and the thousands of miles of air stretched between the Middle Island and the ground below. With the tips of her shoes hanging over the unprotected edge of the connection platform, the steady breeze combed through the stray locks that had fallen from her braid. Stretching her arms out to the side, she closed her eyes. If it wasn't for the robot horse-drawn carriages and people strolling Aethryell's cobblestone streets, she could almost forget that the city continued to bustle with life behind her. For a brief second, she imagined she soared through the air with the Aether Gulls.
A loud honking beep startled her, and her eyes popped open. The bright light of the evening sun blinded her. On reflex, she abruptly shielded her squinting eyes. The sudden movement thrust her off balance, sending her reeling with arms flailing to catch herself. The city's background noise buzzed, and the gasps of onlookers went unnoticed as she reached for the nearest side railing, searching for anything to grab hold of.
The tips of Arynn’s fingers brushed against the cool metal of a guard pole. Its smooth surface slipped through her grasp, and she fell forward, plummeting into the emptiness of the space between the floating city and the ground below.
Somewhere, someone screamed. A gasp caught in her throat. The wind whipped her air, and her father’s necklace smacked her face as she tumbled through the air. She couldn’t breathe. The air seemed to suck everything from her lungs as she fell. Her chest burned with the straining effort to take a struggling breath.
How long does it take to reach the Ground?
It was the last thought Arynn had before the excess rappel rope attached to her belt went taught. The sudden halt of her descent ricocheted her back up into the air before dropping her back down with a slap against the metal grating of the island’s side.
The world stilled. It left her dizzy. Uncertain of which direction was up, Arynn groaned. She gripped the now tightened rope that dangled her awkwardly against the island’s port side and hugged it to her chest. Only then did she realize that the scream hadn’t come from one of the citizens of Middle Island, but the hoarseness in her throat told her it had come from her.
Arynn unexpectedly laughed in an eruption of unrestrained giggles.
“Arynn!” Someone called in the distance. She didn’t hear it over her hysterical fit. “Arynn!”
Slowly, she followed her gaze upwards along the rope and to the connection platform thirty feet overhead. A single dark face with wide eyes peered over the edge, and their gazes connected.
Garrick Finnley, one of the few friends that she had, stared down with his mouth hanging in disbelief. His dreadlocks swayed in the gentle breeze, bumping into his cheeks as a handful fell over his shoulders. He shook his head when he realized that she was still alive and no longer tumbling through the air to her death.
“Last time I checked, you weren’t a gull!” He called down as he made sure to hug a guard pole to keep himself experiencing a similar fate. Unlike her, Garrick was not wearing the equipment needed to safely sky jump over the edge of an island.
Brushing away the strand of hair that fell out of her braid, Arynn took in a long breath and carefully studied her surroundings. Her belt tugged uncomfortably at her waist, and she looked down at the steel carabiner that attached her harness to the rope. Everything appeared to still be intact, with nothing frayed or apparently damaged with a glance. Though, she knew her rope wasn’t intended for the sudden snap at the end of her fall.
Arynn cursed quietly underneath her breath and leaned her forehead against the rope. There was a decent chance that the inner core of the rope could potentially be harmed, meaning that she will have to add another unexpected expense to her ever-growing list. The rope wasn’t meant to go jumping, unlike the island jumpers' dynamic ropes from the waterfall on the edge of Palace Island.
“Yeah, yeah,” She waved a hand up towards Garrick, “I’m fine! Just remind me next time that I haven’t learned how to fly yet.”
“Why are you in your gear anyways?”
She wanted to peer at the underbelly of the Middle Island. For the last week, a sinking feeling in her stomach warned her that something was wrong, though she couldn't put her finger on it. People didn't listen to her when she mentioned it, though. Everyone on Middle Island waved off the occasional flicker of lights in the street. They didn't view it as a warning. Even her brother, the over-enthusiastic inventor from the Outer Island, didn't seem to think it had any importance. So, she took matters into her own hands.
Now that Arynn sat dangling in the air, she realized how rusted the notion was. Ever since her father's death, she has avoided anything to do with a wrench and machinery. She thought that maybe once she was down here, peering at the engine hatch and eyeing the nearby propellers, all his teachings would come back. Perhaps she would find that answer to why her stomach dropped at every flicker of light.
It made no sense to her. After living on the Outer Island for the past eleven years, after her family was forced to move there after Arynn destroyed their lives, she has experienced thousands of blackouts. The Outer Island had them frequently enough that it was expected to always have a candle on hand. She has one right now, tucked in the pocket sewn into her jacket. She wasn't afraid of another blackout. She was afraid of the consequences that would follow if they started happening on the Middle Island.
Three separate islands created the city of Aethryell, but it has not always been that way. When her ancestors fled the ground nearly 2,500 years ago, they originally settled on a floating mountain. Over the centuries, as the people progressed and new inventions were created, two separate islands were eventually made: the Middle and Palace Islands. If the power of all the islands suddenly went out simultaneously, eventually, those two islands wouldn't be able to sustain their weight in the sky. Only the original mountain would remain, as it didn't rely on an engine and fuel to keep it floating. There were propellers, though, guiding it through the air.
"Arynn?" Garrick's called, snapping her out of her daze. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she replied, glancing upwards. All she could see now were the bottoms of his shoes, swaying back and forth as he sat on the edge of the connecting port.
A connecting port was one of many locations around the islands that airships and rail trains attached to when dropping off passengers traveling between islands. This particular one was out of commission, waiting for the maintenance of a jammed gear that prevented the port from lifting when not in use.
"I heard a funny noise. Thought I would check it out," she lied and turned her attention to the side of the island.
A metal grate covered the engine inside. She could see the churning of gears and levers, none of which appeared to be an obvious issue that might be causing the flickering lights. A locked hatch prevented her from getting a closer look. Whatever the cause was, it likely was deeper in the engines. Perhaps not an engine issue at all, but a wiring issue caused by Skrill Mice in the abandoned railway tunnels that twisted through the entire insides of the island. They haven't been needed since the invention of the airship and hover trolleys in the city nearly 400 years ago.
"I'm coming up!" Arynn called.
In a matter of minutes, she self-belayed herself back to the surface. Only once her feet were back on the ground did she notice that Garrick's small transport airship was hovering off to the distance.
Garrick noticed her looking.
“Your family dictator sent me to come to find you and take you back to Outer.” He smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “Astra was in a fit of rage when I delivered her the groceries she ordered, demanding that I find you and bring you back to locate Jonell.”
Arynn sighed. Astra was her sister-in-law and has gotten into a terrible habit of ordering her to locate her brother whenever he disappeared on his latest misadventure. While Jonell always had good intentions of returning at a decent hour, he practically was nonexistent or simply forgot about the time. He was currently determined to win the Inventor's Festival this year and finally achieve their father’s dream. Making him more out-of-his wits than normal.
Arynn, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the Festival. She already experienced the catastrophic consequences of participating in the festival once in her life, eleven years ago with her father. Besides, she has been barred from ever participating in one again. The CORE, the city's service guards, informed her of this after she has done enough damage the first time she entered. People of the Outer Island reminded her of it daily. The Middle City still had the scars of what happened burned into the ground around Astro Park.
“How much do you bet that he’s at the Boneyard again?” She asked, wiping the back of her hand on her beading forehead. Her skin was moist with sweat, grime, and dust clinging to her face.
The Boneyard was a labyrinth junkyard that rested on the lower edge of Outer Island. It was all the junk of discarded engine parts, dead robots, and rusted gears from the Middle and Palace Islands. It was a gold mine to someone from Outer Island - except that the Bone Ravager gang crawled around it like ants to a colony. It was impossible to explore without one of the thugs threatening to cause harm.
“Grounds, I hope not!” Garrick grimaced. “I refuse to connect my ship to the platform nearest there, even though it’s the closest one to the majority of my customers.”
He stepped to the side as Arynn began to unhook herself from her rigging and put it away in a worn black bag tied to a nearby pole.
“I wouldn’t put it past the Ravagers to turn my ship into a pile of scrap metal as they try to resale all the useful parts,” he added.
Plopping down to the ground once she was completely unhooked, Arynn stretched out her legs and peered up to him. The last sliver of sunlight was beginning to disappear behind his silhouette, and she could already pick out the dotted lights of the Crown island in the background. Glowing lights of the Middle city were already lit, flickering in their streetlamp cages. In the distance, a song skipped from someone’s record player, and metal hooves clicked across the stone streets.
“Now imagine if you had a clueless brother that finds a sick sense of humor from working with them just so he can have second pickings at whatever the rich folk at the Palace decide to throw away that week,” Arynn said, shaking her head, “He’s going to get hurt someday, and Astra believes that it’s my fault he’s out there in the first place. Because, well, you know.”
She waved a hand to switch the subject.
With the Inventor’s Festival approaching, it was dredging up old memories she has kept buried since the last festival. Every six years, Aethryell holds the competition to bring the city together while hopeful citizens compete to have their invention chosen. If picked by the queen, riches are bestowed upon them while their creation is implemented into society.
Her father wanted to give the people of the city the opportunity to learn more about the Ground. Arynn now knew how dangerous that idea was. It killed him in the end.
No. I killed him. She thought.
“He was crushed when he didn’t win the last one. I think he believes he failed our father, so he’s been even more reckless as he prepares for this one.” Arynn shook her head, changing her mind. “No. Scratch that. Jonell has gone insane.”
Garrick nodded in silent agreement.
With a sigh, she rolled onto her knees and carefully stood up. Every joint protested the movement, already sore from the sudden jolting stop from the fall. Her skin was still prickled with adrenaline and her stomach twisted at the memory. If it hadn’t been for her gear, she likely would still be falling. Dying on the Ground, where she spent the majority of her life being told it was too dangerous that only the city’s worst criminals were sent down to the prison to work the land, was a recurring nightmare.
Uneasy, Arynn stepped up next to him. Just as she did, a man walked by in a perfectly tailored suit and top hat. A pocket watch chain hung from his hip. As he watched by, she witnessed him toss a ball of garbage into a wastebasket. It bounced off the edge, unfolding remnants of wasted food all over the ground.
"I can't go back to Outer just yet, though. There's something I need to do first before I head back," she said, glaring at the man's back.
Garrick eyed her, lifting a suspecting eyebrow. Arynn shrugged innocently.
"What are you planning on doing?" He asked in a whisper, stepping closer to her. "If you break your parole, you know they can use that as an excuse to send you to the Ground Prison?"
She huffed, waving her hand in a dismal of his concern.
"The man needs a lesson, Garrick. People are starving on Outer, and he is wasting food without care," She hissed, glancing over her shoulder to look at his airship. "Can you wait here? It shouldn't take long, and I might need a quick getaway."
The city wouldn't waste the money on sending her down to prison for petty theft. They wouldn't even get the chance to do so if they didn't catch her.
Before Garrick had a chance to attempt to convince her to ignore the man, she flashed him a mischievous grin before dashing away.
Arynn remained in plain sight as she followed the man, blending in with the crowd. People were strolling along the sidewalks and streets, the majority of them heading in the direction of the Bazaar Row. She passed open shop doors displaying clothing and food before she reached the man. He seemed to be in a hurry for someplace to be but stopped at a pickup location for a hover trolley.
"Get out of my way," he ordered another person waiting. A flash of another watch on his wrist signaled to Arynn that he wasn't a resident of the Middle Island. This man was heading to the Palace.
Who needs two watches? She thought in disgust. Such a waste of money. Money that could be used to assist the people in need on Outer Island.
She hesitated only briefly because she knew the consequences would be higher if she were caught stealing from him instead of some Middler. It might be enough to get her sent to the Ground Prison. She glanced around. No one was looking at her. Everyone was too distracted with their own business to notice her walk up behind the man.
Feigning to step around him, Arynn pretended to bump into his shoulder.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" She said, reaching out to catch herself on his opposite arm. Distracted by the hand that she gripped him with, she used her opposite to skillfully pick the watch out of his pocket and slip it into her own.
"Don't touch me, you filthy rat!" He snapped, pulling away from her disgust.
The bells of the approaching trolley sounded. Arynn stepped back and held both hands up as she smiled politely.
"Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to do that," she apologized.
He glared at her. For a brief moment, he appeared to have a brief spark of recognition of her, but he must have decided against it when the trolley pulled up and opened its sliding door. Instead, he huffed in annoyance and walked away. Once he turned his back on her, a sly grin appeared on her face. She turned, sensing the increased weight of the watch in her pocket.
If only I can see his face once he realized he only has one watch now.
"Hey, you!" Someone yelled, and Arynn froze. Hearing that tone, she knew exactly who it was. A CORE guard, coming to bully her.
Stepping out of the crowd, her heart started to pound wildly in her chest as she turned to face the man dressing in a crisp black uniform. Thick gold buttons adorned the side of his jacket and stiff trousers. No wonder the CORE guard always appeared to be in a foul mood. She would be, too, if she were forced to stand around in that uncomfortable-looking outfit all day.
"Arynn Westcott. It's never a good sign seeing you out past dark on Middle Island," he said in a gruff voice.
"I'm sorry, officer, but I don't have the pleasure of knowing your name as well," she forced a pleasant smile, "But I can assure you, I'm heading back to Outer right now."
He looked her up and down with his grey eyes.
"Turn out your pockets," he ordered.
Arynn's heart seemed to skip a beat.
"Excuse me?" She asked, pretending that she didn't hear him.
"I said, turn out your pockets."
Her eyebrows shot up.
"For what? I didn't do anything," she replied, feigning innocence.
He would have called her out immediately after she stole the watch if he witnessed it. The guard was just looking for someone to harass, and she was an easy target. Many people in the city still knew who she was and what she did eleven years ago. They used it as an excuse to call her out on the street. Even now, the people that were walking by were beginning to slow their strides to stare.
The guard stepped towards her. If he found the watch in her pocket, he would confiscate it, assuming she stole it. Even though that was the truth, he didn't need the proof. Her name was proof enough: Arynn Westcott, the little thief of Aethryell.
Arynn darted out of his reach. She ducked under his arm, then sprinted down the street. The crowd parted as she ran. Heavy booted footsteps of the guard followed her. Using her small size to weave around the people and hide in the shadows, she suddenly turned down an alleyway and hid behind a rusted bin. She heard him sprint past.
Leaning her back against the bin, she lowered herself into a seated position to catch her breath. Nervous sweat beaded down her forehead.
I'm going to have to avoid Middle City for a while, she thought. At least this portion of the city.
After a minute, Arynn headed back towards Garrick by taking the back streets of the city. Middle Island's buildings were crammed together, often only leaving enough space for a single person's arm span between them. Grime and garbage often collected in the small alleys, while the lights barely reached the further from the main street she went. She passed only a couple of people on her rush back to Garrick. People that were likely up to no good, just as she was. They nodded at each other as she passed.
"Finally," Garrick said once he saw her approaching. The sun completely set by the time she returned.
Arynn smiled apologetically.
"Sorry, Gar, I didn't mean to take that long. I had a guard after me." She ignored his open mouth as she pulled out the watch from her pocket. "But look what I got."
Placing the watch on her palm, she extended her hand out towards him.
"Think you can get anything for it?" She asked. If he didn't want to sell it for her, she likely would give it to Azriel to do it for her. She hoped Garrick would take it since he would get more for it.
Azriel was the leader of a small band of thieves named the Shadow's Circle. He was the man that had put forth the movement that had quickly gained momentum of stealing from the Middle Island to provide for those that lived on the Outer Island with necessities - because of it, people knew that buying from him meant they were buying stolen goods. The price he often got was not what it was worth. It was better than nothing, though.
Arynn knew that the only way to get what they were not being given, especially the necessities seeming to be given in surplus to the wealthy, was to take it. Meals should not have to be begged for. Water should not be delivered a week late. People were dying, and the rest of the city did not seem to care.
Sometimes, even Garrick did not understand what the people went through since he lived in the Middle City.
He took the pocket watch without a word and stored it in the inner pocket of his jacket, obviously annoyed. Arynn playfully nudged him with an elbow.
“Let’s go make sure that Astra doesn’t do something drastic as she searches for me, yeah? I already have enough time getting people to look at me. The last thing I need is for her to convince everyone in Outer that I forced Jonell to go to the Boneyard.”
“Sure,” Garrick replied, waving a hand to his ship with less enthusiasm than he usually did. “Captain Garrick is more than welcome to be the guide for your ride today.”
She picked up the sarcasm but didn't address it. Knowing Garrick, he would be back to his normal self within minutes. As Arynn glanced towards the small airship connected by a small ramp to the platform and a rope tied to an anchoring pole, she glanced towards where had fallen over the edge earlier.
The blackness of the night finally swallowed the entire city. The sky endlessly stretched before her, studded with glistening stars. Only the top of the Aithos, the first moon, was beginning to peak over the remaining sliver of purpling light on the horizon. It was the largest of the two moons, allowing her to study the dark dimples of craters on its white dusty surface. By the time it reaches the highest point in the night sky, its twin will make its appearance - Deitha.
She smiled, recalling the nights when her father used to sing her a lullaby about the love between the two moons whenever she couldn’t fall asleep.
Her gaze dropped, and it landed on the Outer Island that floated by. Not a single light illuminated any of the distant windows, leaving it to appear as if it was a massive black ship sailing by. Then, one by one, candle lights were lit and flickered as little stars in the windows of the island’s residents.
For the majority of her life, blackouts plagued the island. They have become a way of life, and the residents adapted. That reason alone is why she always carried an extra candle in her toolkit. If she didn’t have her kit on her, which was practically never, one was tucked in one of her pockets. Currently, she had one in both locations.
"It's the queen's fault," Arynn said, narrowing her eyes.
There was no one else to blame. Ever since her family was forced to move to the Pits, she did not remember a single instance where any person who worked for the Crown put forth the effort to make a change.
Poverty ran rampant on Outer Island. Homes were falling apart if a family even had one, to begin with. Food was scarce, water not always clean. Many people relied on purchasing their necessities from the Middlers, whose prices were outrageous and even more so if someone from the Pits didn't have the funds to travel to the Middle Island and pick up what they needed. It cost money to travel between each island. Garrick was one of the few who made deliveries for free.
"All she has to do was ask for the people to help out Outer. It would fix all our issues," she added sternly. Her fingers curling into fists by her sides. "I don't get it, but the people adore Queen Opal. If she gave an announcement asking for each family just on the Middle Island to donate food, they would."
"She has set up a program to assist with helping people from Outer find jobs," Garrick remarked, then flinched when Arynn glared at him. "I am only pointing out the truth."
"Have you ever looked into that program, Garrick? It's ridiculous. First off, the paperwork to sign up for it is endless. Then, by the end, I know more than one family was denied because they don't have access to regularly travel from Outer to Middle. Or they didn't have the proper experience that was needed for the jobs they were offering. Out of fifty applications, maybe only one would be accepted."
Arynn crossed her arms over her chest and shifted her narrowed eyes upwards to the castle that sat center of the Palace Island in the distance.
"It's almost as if they purposefully made it even more difficult for us to get a job. Like the Crown wants us to remember that's we're from the Pits, so we deserve to stay in the Pits." She ground her teeth together.
"Queen Opal Assen...I don't get it. The entire royal family is named after stones on the Ground. The Ground that we are supposed to be terrified of it." She shook her head and dropped her gaze down.
Holding onto the nearest guard rail, Arynn studied the dark orb of the world down below. The light from Aithos only hit part of the planet, allowing her to see the dark silhouettes of distant oceans and land. There were the occasional spots of lighting that indicated the location of a city, but she did not know which one. Very little information was available to the life and people that lived on the Ground. It was dangerous. That was all she knew. In school, all they learned about was the War of Brier - the war that pushed the people to flee to the sky under the guidance of the Assen family.
That was centuries ago in the year 2546 A.L. Currently, it was 2977 A.L.
After four hundred years in the sky, has the Ground changed at all? Her father died believing so.
"People should start calling Queen Opal that the Queen of Stone," Arynn suggested darkly, "Her heart sure seems to be made of out it."
Somewhere behind her, she heard Garrick snicker at her remark. Her mood lightened at the sound of it, knowing that he was no longer upset with her. With a hint of a smile, she leaned her elbows against the railing and returned her gaze to the floating Island of the Pits as it was beginning to drift further away.
Enamored by the resilience that she witnessed on her island, her smile grew with each new candlelight that flickered in the windows of people's homes in the Pits. As she watched for an unknown amount of time, Arynn hadn’t noticed when Garrick suddenly shifted to stand directly next to her. He moved in a way that lifted the hair on the back of her neck. His shoulders were too stiff as they turned towards her, blocking her view from what unnerved him.
Arynn stilled as a shiver rushed down her spine. Something was off. She could sense it in the air as silence swallowed everything around her, leaving only the whispering breeze to be heard. Usually, the typical noise of the city blocked out the distance rumble of the engines that guided the islands through the air. Only now, when there were no longer people walking by or music playing from street vendors stores, she could hear the familiar buzz faint in the background. It shouldn’t have been possible. It was a noise she only heard when a blackout happened on Outer Island.
“Arynn,” Garrick whispered. His head tilted upwards, and she followed his gaze just in time to witness the final lights of the Palace Island that floated in the distance blink out. One by one, the entire Middle and Palace islands were swallowed by darkness.
Witnessing each light disappear left them with only the Deitha’s dim moonlight. Before now, only Outer Island ever experienced a blackout. To have all three islands at the same go completely dark has never happened before. Her earlier worry was correct.
But, what did it mean?
The beginning feels so strong and gives me so many feels right from the start-the anxiety that I would feel if my shoes were hanging over an unprotected edge, but at the same time the calm that Arynn has about it. I also really love the first detail you tell about her being her braid. It is just enough for me to get a hint of who she is, and then allow my imagination to fill in the rest! And then the mention of robot horse-drawn carriages!!! So cool!!! You also do a really great job throughout connecting her actions to things that allow us to realistically envision each minute movement and the environment that she is interacting with around her! You have a line that reads, "She huffed, waving her hand in a dismal of his concern." Did you mean to type dismissal? P.S. I love that your Garrick character has dreadlocks, my main character does too! I love the information hints to background story you give that don't feel like info dumps and how well they flow in the story as we are reading it in its present setting and lead to more questions that make me want to keep reading! I hope the editing stage goes well for you from here and good luck with your publishing goals! Your story is so unique and I love what I have read of it!
There were certainly some exciting moments in this chapter! The ending definitely had me hooked with all the islands going dark. It felt ominous and makes me want to know more! I loved the use of [rusted] and [Grounds] as a curses. And that the animals mentioned were called Aether Gulls and Skrill Mice. These things helped your world feel immersive. I find that I am very curious to learn more about what Arynn did that got her father killed and the Inventor's Festival in general. This seems like it will be a fun adventure!
Just a couple things:
There were several instances where I feel like the tense changed? Maybe it was just the way I was reading it. I noticed serval times where "has" was used and I thought "had" might have been more appropriate. But I could be wrong.
If Arynn screamed while she fell, did no one else hear it? Other than Garrick? Since Arynn mentioned the robotic horse carriages it almost seemed like the area was pretty busy? Maybe I misunderstood, though.
And then for this: “Arynn!” Someone called in the distance. She didn’t hear it over her hysterical fit. “Arynn!” / It feels odd to me that it is there if she didn't hear it. Maybe saying she nearly didn't hear it over her laughing would work?
I enjoyed your first chapter a lot!
The criminal known as Diamond Eyes has spent the last seven years in prison, his soul separated from his body and subjected to endless pain. When the torment suddenly stops and his soul is returned to his body, Diamond Eyes discovers he is the best chance the sovereign city of Mocu’Opthir has for peace. The people of Mocu’Opthir are vanishing, retribution for the theft of a magical artifact from the floating city far to the North.
Diamond Eyes is offered what he wants most: his freedom. But only if he can discover the location of the stolen artifact and bring it back. If he fails, he will be thrust back into the prison he wishes to escape.
With a time limit hanging over his head and the secret of his magical abilities in danger of exposure, Diamond Eyes must lead a team of glorified babysitters out into the Ruin Wastes in search of an artifact he isn’t sure exists.
Such a great blurb! Wow! I am sucked immediately into wanting to know more and feeling the weight of the world your characters live in from the soul separated and subjected to endless pain prison description! The main character's name is Diamond Eyes, which is already awesome and exciting, and even though the blurb isn't written in a 1st person point of view from your character, I get a sense that his personality is already a bit revealed to us in your wording choices like, "Diamond Eyes must lead a team of glorified babysitters." With the promise of a main character with magical abilities who has a goal that I think will connect with many readers in their own way, doing what they must to achieve personal freedom, I think your story is going to be such a fun read!
Hearing about your book along the way I've been curious and I reading the blurb I definitely want to know more. :) It sounds like an adventure I'd like to be apart of :)
All Diamond Eyes knew was pain.
Time meant nothing; an unraveled preconception shed log ago. A heartbeat of pain simultaneously lasted a moment and stretched into infinity. He could feel his soul shred in slow, agonizing strips, fraying into a chaotic jumble.
Had days passed? Or years? He attempted to focus his thoughts, but a new spike of pain scattered thoughts and memories before they could take hold. Pain encompassed eternity and would never end, not for him. The punishment for his life led to countless pain.
But after a sting of pain that sent his mind reeling, Diamond Eyes felt a blessed instance of peace. As if a breath of fresh air caressed his soul and filled lungs he no longer felt, the absence of agony sent a shudder through the entirety of his being. Had it been possible, tears would have threatened to fall.
The peace continued and for the first time in a long time, Diamond Eyes found his thoughts racing together in quick succession. Had his senses been so destroyed by the pain he no longer felt those claws of agony tearing into his very soul?
Had something gone wrong?
Had something gone…right?
Had his sentence come to an end already?
That doesn’t seem likely, his own voice echoed within his soul. The infinity I felt would not have ended that easily.
Diamond Eyes probed forward with his senses, sending his awareness inching into the darkness until he felt himself bump into what felt like a smooth surface. As an untethered soul with no physical body, he explored the smooth surface, slipping along the smooth darkness as his frustration mounted.
He tried to scream but felt only a reverberation though his soul.
In a fit of anger, Diamond Eyes threw his soul essence against the barrier and out of habit reached for the essence of his magic. A hint of unease roiled within his soul and what felt like sparks shot out of his essence into the darkness engulfing his soul. The magic buffeted against the barrier and refracted, arching around him and lancing off other barriers Diamond Eyes had not yet discovered. His own magic arced back through his soul, and Diamond Eyes felt as if he nearly broke into pieces.
And he thought he heard distorted laughter.
Giving his soul a quick shake, like a dog heaving free of a river after a swim, Diamond Eyes let his essence swirl around whatever contained his soul.
If they put my soul in a bottle I will move their eyes onto their backs of their skulls, Diamond Eyes seethed.
Another voice, garbled and unintelligible, spoke with a tone of authority. Diamond Eyes pressed up against the barrier one last time, straining to make out any words. What was happening?
He made out another voice, this one raised in sharp disagreement.
Straining harder, Diamond Eyes barely made out a voice respond, “Enough of this. Return the soul to the body. I have made my decision and I expect you all to support it. He is our best option at putting an end to this insanity and I will do whatever I can to fix this.”
A thrill vibrated Diamond Eyes’s essence. The voice had to be talking about him.
But why would his captors need his help now? They had been all too happy to throw him into the Soul Prison…however long ago that had been.
Diamond Eyes’s strange world jostled about roughly. A real gust of air washed down around his soul and a chill sensation drew his awareness upward. Voices no longer sounded distorted. Diamond Eyes heard a man’s voice huff, “Can this process be any slower?”
“There are procedures we are already breaking,” a clipped female voice responded. “It is difficult enough as it is to return a soul to a body in stasis and I would thank you not to rush us any more than you have already done.”
Anticipation filled Diamond Eyes as well as a mounting trepidation. The chill feeling guiding him onward bored to the core of his being, like ice growing outward from his heart.
“Now, hold the body steady,” the same clipped voice instructed.
“The soul seems willing to return,” another voice observed.
Wouldn’t you be if you were returning to your body, you carcass? Diamond Eyes surged forward, his soul drawn toward the growing presence of his own body, an overwhelming beacon to his soul.
His soul broke free of the magic guiding him back toward his body and Diamond Eyes sped onward. He felt his soul collide with soft flesh before he began merging inward. A roiling sense of nausea filled his awareness and he zipped backward a moment before gathering himself and hurtling back at the presence of his body with full force.
A tide of physical sensations bombarded Diamond Eyes as his soul shoved its way back into his waiting body. A heavy weight settled around him, almost smothering. Dull numbness of the flesh melted into a wave of stinging as blood began to surge back through limp limbs, having been kept in stasis while the soul essence remained separate. The tingling culminated in a searing burst of wrongness deep in his core.
Diamond Eyes gasped, his head thrown backward unexpectedly. His ears heard echoing gasps and mingling voices that made little sense to him as bile rose his throat and violent spasms wracked his body. He sank down, but strong arms kept Diamond Eyes from fully collapsing to the floor.
He fought down the wave of nausea dancing gleefully in his stomach and opened his eyes.
Pale, glass-like eyes stared straight forward, seeing nothing.
Diamond Eyes let the individuals on either side of him bear his weight, waiting for the liquid feeling of his joints to return to normal. He sucked in another breath his lungs desperate for air. His whole chest felt like an empty husk decaying to dust.
As he took stock of his returned awareness, he noted an unsettled feeling creeping through each heartbeat. Shaking his head slowly to clear his senses, hair brushing against his cheeks, Diamond Eyes sighed.
And then he retched on the floor.
Once his body finished betraying him, Diamond Eyes lifted his chin haughtily, fighting for any shred of pride he could salvage.
“I suppose it is too much to ask for water?” he asked, forcing his voice into even apathy.
“Bring him over here,” a woman’s voice directed. “And for the love of my sanity and your attachment to your jobs, someone please clean that up.”
Diamond Eyes instinctually resisted as he felt the individuals holding grasping his arms haul him forward. When they felt his body tense and pull back, one of them placed a hand on his back and shoved him forward. Diamond Eyes stumbled, his legs shaking like those of a freshly born fawn. A snicker from the left drew his attention, and Diamond Eyes gestured with one hand. His thumb and index finger made a clawed crescent that he swiped toward his own mouth, his teeth barred.
An intake of breath caused Diamond Eyes’s snarl to become a toothy grin.
“What is wrong with his hands?” a paper-thin voice warbled from somewhere ahead of Diamond Eyes.
Curses, he needed to see. He had to know what kind of situation he found himself in.
Rising up to his full height and shouldering his bodyguards with a sniff, Diamond Eyes held his arms out before him. Though he could not see them he knew their look well from before he had given up his sight. Both arms, though feeling clunky, were still well-muscled despite his body’s time kept in magically induced stasis. And both arms bore shoulder to fingertip tattoos of a night sky, midnight blue tendrils overlapped hints of green and purple and clusters of stars. He brought his hands up and turned them back and forth, granting anyone in the room a full view of his tattoos. “I imagine the only thing wrong with them is your perception,” his voice thrummed, dropping low. “And perhaps they have been out of use for too long.”
“A reprobate like you ought to keep your vile tongue silenced,” a strong voice cut into the conversation. “Diasta, surely you can’t truly mean to ask th---”
“Teokin, you have voiced your concerns many times. To my growing annoyance,” that same woman’s voice, demanding to be heard, responded. “I have made my decision and the time for debate is over. I will ask you to leave this meeting if you are uncomfortable with this.”
Ah, the Diasta herself is here then. Stones and souls. Any meeting involving the ruler of the city meant bad news as far as Diamond Eyes was concerned.
Teokin did not respond, but since no one left the room it seemed he had resigned to keep him complaints to himself.
Diamond Eyes took a step forward and heard rustling as others shifted uncomfortably around him. He took a second step forward and cracked his knee against something hard. Wincing, Diamond Eyes reached out and felt around, his hands brushing against a smooth wooden chair. After waiting a moment, Diamond Eyes pulled the chair back and draped himself over it with an air of abandon. His body rebelled as his muscles spasmed and he felt his foot kick the underside of a table, but he acted as though nothing had happened.
Secretly glad to not have fallen on the floor, Diamond Eyes tapped his fingers along the chair leg. “What am I doing here?” he asked to the room at large, trying to gauge how many people might be surrounding him. “Consider me surprised to be granted an audience with the Diasta Shastara herself after being called a criminal and sentenced to spend the rest of my days experiencing the finest of agonies in the Soul Prison. Are we even still in the Soul Prison? I have no idea.”
“You are a criminal!” a soft voice punctuated the silence before the Diasta could respond.
Diamond Eyes made a dismissive gesture, “Congratulations on stating the obvious.”
The sound of someone leaping to their feet set Diamond Eyes on edge and he tensed, waiting for sign of an attack. Instead, he heard a sheaf of papers slide across the table. Hands slammed down on the other side of the table. “What does this mean?” Teokin’s voice demanded, his voice dripping with contempt.
Diamond Eyes sat up straight and pointed at the space between his eyes and tapped the spot twice. “In case you need a refresher, I am blind. I can’t see what you are talking about.”
Teokin sucked in a breath to respond, but something Diamond Eyes could not see stopped the man from making a retort.
Diasta Shastara cleared her throat. That would explain it. “The Sovereign City of Mocu’Opthir needs help and I—we—think you might be our best hope. For some time now there have been reports of citizens going missing. Vanishing without a trace. Most recently, members of my own family have been taken right from within our own home. I desperately want my family and the people I am guardian over returned safely and returned speedily.”
“And what does any of this have to do with me? I have been imprisoned for…” Diamond Eyes paused, unsure of the timeframe. “…for long enough I clearly have not been kidnapping anyone in this city in a fit of revenge.”
“Yes, I imagine it would be difficult for a soul imprisoned for seven years to do any of this,” the Diasta agreed. “But you see, after my husband and daughter went missing—”
The Diasta’s voice faded into the background as a rising heartbeat performed a frenzied staccato between Diamond Eyes’s ears. Seven years? While certainly seven years were of no consequence when compared to a lifetime sentence locked away in a prison, the fact remained his original intentions were to spend no more than a year in Mocu’Opthir. Promises had been made, promises to return home to Saltavatn. Promises to stay safe. To stay inconsequential and draw no attention to himself in a city where the people of Saltavatn were feared and despised.
Diamond Eyes had made many promises.
He left them all in ruin, apparently.
Suddenly aware of a tense silence, Diamond Eyes sat forward and rested him arms on the table before him. He felt the papers that had been tossed down, their curled edges scraping lightly along his skin. Diamond Eyes tamped down elation at feeling any sensation other than pain. He idly took the corner of one letter between two fingers and rolled the corner into a tight scroll. His hand shook as he did so and instead of speaking into the silence he frowned in the direction of his hands. His pale, sightless eyes drifted downward as if they could witness the offensively quivering extremities and will them into submission. In the past his body had never betrayed him in this way.
A sound over his left shoulder broke Diamond Eyes out of his sullen contemplation and in imitation of a person who expected to see something, he turned his head to the side as if glancing over one shoulder. Water sloshed on the floor and at the following sound of scrubbing Diamond Eyes remembered that some poor soul had been tasked with cleaning up criminal vomit.
“I take it from your inattention you either stopped paying attention or you are electing to deny us your help and relinquishing your one chance at freedom?” The Diasta’s voice stung like a slap and Diamond Eyes turned his face back in the direction her voice came from.
“My…freedom?” one of his hands jerked spasmodically and he clenched it into a fist to hold it still.
“Yes, I am prepared to offer you your freedom and absolve your prison sentence, assuming you can pay attention long enough to make an agreement.”
Was that a hint of humor he heard in her voice?
“You have my attention now,” Diamond Eyes said. “I find myself inundated by sensations I have not experienced in years. It is distracting. Now, explain this deal you are offering me again.”
He settled back into his seat and crossed his arms over his chest, training his eyes toward the Diasta. The seeing always liked feeling as if they had his full attention and they always wanted to look into his eyes, as if that made any impact on the conversation. But Diamond Eyes could not deny that in this instance sight might be a great benefit. He sat in room, of that he was certain, but the unknown number of people filling that room made him nervous. Better to have an unexpected advantage during this conversation if he could provide himself one.
Keeping his expression neutral, Diamond Eyes tapped into his innate magical ability, gifted to him by the shattered remnants of a giant’s soul back in Saltavatn. While most of the world could only access magic with the aid of the petrified remains of a giant’s body—items called Tears—some few of Saltavatn’s citizenry scarified a little more to gain mastery of magic without the constraint of physical contraptions. As a youth Diamond Eyes had offered to make a sacrifice and the giant soul had claimed his sight.
But Diamond Eyes had found a workaround.
Magic pulsed through his body, an extension of his soul, and seeped into the room to seek the brush of contact with other souls in the room. Beacons of awareness lit up in Diamond Eyes’s mind. Aside from his own soul, he could pinpoint ten other souls in the vicinity. A sense of unease began to build in his chest, but Diamond Eyes pushed the feeling aside.
Shastara, the Diasta of Mocu’Opthir, began to speak again, and gauging which point of awareness matched the location of the voice, Diamond Eyes let his soul magic brush her soul just long enough to grant him a connection to her. As his world of darkness began to resolve into shapes and silhouettes, a burst of pain rocked his entire body, snapping his head backward. A tidal wave of nausea bloomed in his stomach and roiled mercilessly, the feeling of rising bile stinging in the back of his throat. For a moment Diamond Eyes thought he could suppress it all and regain control, but the trembling of his body became full convulsions. He barely managed to keep his seat as he bent double and suffered the gagging humiliation of vomiting again.
Amidst the entire ordeal he managed to keep the thread connecting himself to the Diasta intact. Not only did he live the encompassing pain and sickness wracking his body, but he was treated to the unique experience of seeing it happen from someone else’s viewpoint. Few things were more humiliating than knowing exactly how pathetic one looked while their insides fought to become their outsides.
He watched his hunkered frame, dressed in the simple white garb of all institutionalized within the Soul Prison, begin to dry heave. The choppy asymmetrical cut of his bone white hair, astonishingly ending in an improbable recreation of a starry night sky, hid most of his face. The incapacitated criminal tried to believe that afforded him some small measure of his pride, but he knew the truth. His detached perspective rose as the Diasta scrambled to her feet when the body of the Saltavatn criminal known as Diamond Eyes slumped over and tumbled out of the chair in which he sat. The starry sky tattooed on his arms seemed to vibrate with life as his muscles convulsed feverishly.
“What is going on?” Shastara shouted.
This is incredibly horrifying, Diamond Eyes thought as his body gave one last shudder before lying still. Accessing his magic had never induced such violent illness before, and while the retching and convulsions had come to a stop the stabbing pain withing his soul did not stop. But Diamond Eyes refused to end his connection with the Diasta quite yet.
He both felt and saw two armored men, likely the two who had held him up not long ago, reach down and hoist him up off the ground. They shared a look and instead of returning Diamond Eyes to the chair they kept him held firmly between them. The man on the left snaked one thick arm around Dimond Eyes’s waist as a means of support.
The Diasta’s vision turned to study the faces of the others in the room. Well-dressed men and women had come to their feet around her. All of them stood gawking at the display before them. The man nearest her, with dark hair slicked back and honey-gold skin, turned a pinched expression upon the Diasta. He stroked an immaculate goatee with a hand bedecked in rings. As soon as the man began to speak Diamond Eyes recognized the voice as belonging to the one referred to as Teokin, “Diasta, in all my time as an arbiter in service to your council I have never witnessed a reaction as intense as this. From my understanding, illness is minimal in most cases. My first thought would be that this peccant boor somehow tried to make use of a Tear and misused it. Perhaps the gaoler who brought this worthless cretin to us know more.”
Diamond Eyes managed a gurgled chuckle. When Diasta Shastara turned to look at him, Diamond Eyes reached into his shirt and the guards tightened their grip for a moment until they saw that he pulled out a small iron ball on a leather cord. He dangled the end of the necklace up high so all eyes could spot it.
“I have no Tear, as anyone well knows,” he retorted, forcing each word to stay steady despite the sick feeling still lingering in his belly. “Prior to my confinement I did not possess any Tears for myself, despite having several in my possession for selling. And at the time of my sentencing, I was stripped of all belongings except this, a small token of remembrance from my home. And a bead of iron is no Tear, harvested from e petrified giant’s body.”
He let the iron bead necklace fall back against his chest.
Diasta Shastara raised one olive-skinned hand into the field of view, perhaps meaning to motion for Diamond Eyes to remain silent. He kept going.
“Maybe you would like to spend seven years with your soul ripped from your body, where that soul is subjected to relentless agony without stopping, before being returned to a body kept dormant and see how you handle it.”
A dark look crossed Teokin’s face, caught in the peripheral of the Diasta’s vision. His stormy ocean eyes narrowed. The arbiter opened his mouth, but snapped it shut again with a quick sideways glance toward Mocu’Opthir’s elected leader.
Diasta Shastara looked behind Diamond Eyes, to where a spectacled woman dressed in a severe uniform of grey and green stood. A leather holster on her hip held a dark bottle with a gold stopper. Inset into the stopper was a petrified stone carved with a stylized eye. A Tear taken from the petrified eye of a giant; an Eye Tear granted access to soul magic. Diamond Eyes had seen plenty of Eye Tears in his time, many of which had been used within the Soul Prison by the many gaolers who kept order there.
Diamond Eyes watched his body try to turn toward the gaoler the Diasta currently focused on, but the two guards held him firm.
“Gaoler?” Diasta Shastara spoke in a soft tone. “Your thoughts?”
The woman shook her head, rich brown hair swishing around her shoulders. “I’m not sure I can enlighten you on this circumstance. His condition does seem to be unusual at first blush. I, or other gaolers, would have to put some study into this to truly understand all that is at play here. And it would be fair to say that his soul has experienced an abundance of…attention…that most separated souls do not experience.”
The goaler looked around the room and hastily lowered her eyes, causing Diamond Eyes to wonder what she saw that worried her so. She looked back up to make eye contact with the Diasta and added, “I can confirm, however, that this man has had no access to a Tear or any kind. That kind of oversight would not be permissible within the walls of the Soul Prison. Diamond Eyes has never been on record as an individual capable of using the magic provided by a giant’s Tear.”
And if Diamond Eyes had any say in the matter, they would all go on assuming so.
Bracing for another wave of stomach-curdling nausea, Diamond Eyes severed his connection to the Diasta. The smooth wooden walls of the meeting room faded into shadow quickly, the crystal fungus adorning the walls shining with soft light also dimmed and passed into darkness. Faces lost focus and blurred out and for a moment Diamond Eyes considered releasing his hold on the magic completely when he realized that the near-debilitating tremors and sickness began to subside. It took only a moment to drop that decision, though, and Diamond Eyes snapped his magic toward a new target and the room around him resolved into a new perspective: this time he found himself looking out of the eyes of the gaoler.
The faint dirt dusting her spectacles and marring an otherwise crisp view caused Diamond Eyes to pull a face. One of the guards must have though Diamond Eyes was about to start retching again, because he took several abrupt steps backward, releasing his tight grip on Diamond Eyes’s right arm. Diamond Eyes gave a soft snort of derision to mask a reflexive gag. The criminal swallowed hard and focused in on the view provided by the middle-aged gaoler.
She kept her gaze firmly on the Diasta’s face. Diamond Eyes had never seen Diasta Shastara Odux up close, even at his sentencing. That had been overseen by other members of Mocu’Opthir’s conclave of sniveling governing officials. Allegedly the Diasta had been too busy smoothing ruffled feathers of the nation of Pavv across the ocean to spend her previous time dictating the fate of a man arrested for running a successful black market selling confiscated Tears to anyone who wanted one.
Looking at her now, Diamond Eyes was struck by the way her presence dominated the room. Draped in a golden wrap dress and a sheer shawl patterned in a riot of vibrant colored butterflies that fell to the floor. While wrinkles couched her eyes with delicate bird feet, those dark eyes glimmered with emotion. Those eyes moved thoughtfully between Diamond Eyes and the goaler who remained standing back toward the door. She gave a crisp nod of her head, chin held high, and Diamond Eyes found himself wondering how the woman kept the headdress that dominated her head from falling. The poise it took must take practice. The headdress looked to be carved from a striated wood into an imitation of the Soul Prison, which itself was a giant tree with roots spanning the width of the Lindelgap, the two features the coastal city of Mocu’Opthir had sprung up around centuries ago. The roots of the headdress wrapped around the back of the Diasta’s head. Instead of leaves, chips of ruby hung on golden chains and caught the light, setting the Diasta is a glittering halo.
She motioned toward Diamond Eyes; her biceps cinched with bands of copper. “I am satisfied with your response, gaoler. But if his illness remains an issue, we may need to consult a physician,” the Diasta paused and shot a keen look at the conclave members surrounding her. “A qualified physician.”
Diamond Eyes wondered what that dig might be about but did not question it. Preferably no physician would be required. “Diasta Odux,” he spoke. “It would be wise to finish our conversation before I find myself redecorating the floor again. Let’s not draw this out any longer.”
To make his point, Diamond Eyes slipped free from the guards and, using the sight provided to him unknowingly by the gaoler who watched his every move, maneuvered his chair away from the puddle of his own yellowed bile on the floor and once more took a seat. The conclave members followed suit and also took their own seats in an arch around the other end of the long table. Because that wasn’t intimidating at all.
Placing one hand to his chest, Diamond Eyes continued to address the portion of the city conclave arrayed before him, “You have dangled my potential freedom as successful bait. I am curious to know why specifically you feel compelled to offer it to me for my assistance.”
Dropping the gaoler’s field of vision, Diamond Eyes vision-hopped from person to person in the room. The room danced in a halting arc. While many of the people seated at the table watched him in silence, not all were so focused on the pariah in their midst. One woman refused to even look at Diamond Eyes, her hands clenched in her lap. A man leaning into the later end of his middle years stroked his thick beard carefully and alternated between watching the Diasta and checking the door. While the man did not appear threatening in any regard—in fact he looked like a contented grandpa more than anything—Diamond Eyes wondered if the man might be a bodyguard of sorts.
The flickering vision paused on Teokin’s perspective. Teokin kept looking down at his hands, staring down at the multitude of rings on his hands. He fidgeted with a large silver band, his fingers twisting the ring from side to side. He took his hand away as Diasta Shastara began to speak, revealing two polished stones of petrified giant. Each stone bore the mark of the eye, identifying them as Eye Stones. Diamond Eyes filed that fact away for consideration later.
Without thinking about it, Diamond Eyes turned his sightless eyes toward Teokin as though he could in fact see what the man was doing. Teokin’s head shot up and he settled an unwavering gaze on Diamond Eyes. Dropping his connection to Teokin immediately and switched his magical gaze to one of the ever-present guards flanking him.
Feeling disconcerted, Diamond Eyes turned his head back toward the Diasta, pasting a bland expression on his face. For her part, the Diasta had begun her pitch right from the beginning like a well-practiced speech. She recounted the recent abduction of her husband and daughter, the event that brough the severity of the situation to a head. She trained pleading eyes on Diamond Eyes, likely forgetting that, as far as she knew, he could not see her emotion. “After some discussion, we determined you would be our best hope. We are in great need of a magical artifact and your talents at acquiring artifacts of all kinds, magical and mundane, has been your greatest asset in Mocu’Opthir, as you may well know.”
Pausing to pick up one of the papers off the table, Shastara held it up for Diamond Eyes to see. A sheepish look graced her statuesque features. “My apologies, I forgot your condition,” she said. “The papers here are a selection of the missives being left around the city. For every person abducted several new letters are found scattered. Some have been found in the homes and offices of the Conclave while others are tucked into produce in the market squares or tacked to public wells. One sailor on the docks found hundreds floating in the port. They pages were nearly illegible by the time they were fished out of the ocean, but that was of no consequence. Every letter has been an identical recreation of the first.”
A shudder shook his shoulders, and Diamond Eyes was not certain if the mention of the ocean or a fresh wave of tremors were to blame.
“I imagine the contents of the letters must be why you thought to seek my services?” Diamond Eyes asked.
Shastara nodded, then rushed to add and verbal confirmation. “Yes, indeed. The message is a short one. I will read it for your benefit.”
Taking a deep breath, she began to recite the letter. Her eyes barely scanned the page. With members of her own family missing, it would not surprise Diamond Eyes if the city’s ruler had memorized the words written in those letters.
The city of Saltavatn has suffered a grievous slight. A treasured artifact of our people has been taken from us, stolen away from a people who need it. We have traced our artifact to Mocu’Opthir and there the trail went cold. You have stolen from us an object most precious and we now return the favor. Return what was stolen or your people will continue to vanish without a trace.
Shastara set the letter back down on the table, smoothing it a few times before withdrawing her hands into her lap. “To my knowledge, and to the knowledge of many others, you have been the only person from Saltavatn in Mocu’Opthir for decades. I do not need to remind you, but your people are reclusive at best, and emotions have always been tense between our two peoples. You may be the only person in Mocu’Opthir who knows anything about this artifact and how we might find it.”
His stomach had abandoned him to burrow into the floor during the Diasta’s revelation. Giant’s carcass. This isn’t good.
Panic flared hot in his chest. Diamond Eyes tamped it down before the panic worked its way onto his face for all to see. What artifact could have been taken from Saltavatn that would elicit such a dramatic response? Of those few objects that immediately came to mind, none seemed likely. The most precious artifacts of Saltavatn were nigh impossible to remove from the city, Diamond Eyes would have bet his life on it. There was simply no way any of them could be taken. And he sincerely doubted the theft of any number of Tears would result in this chaos.
“I see,” he managed to say aloud.
Mouth dry and unfortunately still tasting faintly of bile, Diamond Eyes desperately wanted water. A numbness washed up from his spine and filled his head with cotton. It presaged a wicked headache waiting for him later. Or he was going to pass out. Either were likely at the rate things were going. And never having been prone to fainting spells before, he was not sure he would be able to tell the difference.
The magical hold granting him shared vision guttered fitfully before his head began to feel too heavy for his shoulders. Diamond Eyes lowered his head into his hands, massaging his scalp with fingers feeling too clunky for even such a simple task. A spasm crawled up and down his back.
Reluctantly Diamond Eyes released his connection to the guard’s soul and his vision went dark once more. His body continued to tremble, but the intensity of the tremors did not escalate further.
From her position by the door, the gaoler cleared her throat. “I’m not sure he is in any position to discuss this further. He is clearly not doing well.”
Diamond Eyes held up one hand to cut her off.
“Let me make one thing clear,” he pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to clear his head, then sat up straight. “I do not want to be here, and that is a powerful motivator. I have been away from Saltavatn for over seven years. If you are assuming I have any idea of what is going on, don’t. A lot can change and, since the letters were rude enough to be vague, I cannot guarantee I will be able to find this artifact. There is not much to go on and that puts me at a severe disadvantage in this situation. But I have no choice in the matter, do I? Either I find this stolen artifact, disadvantaged as I may be, or I go back to that little bottle and suffer endless torment. The choice is simple then, isn’t it? I accept.”
His proud declaration was marred by a choked urp as his empty stomach rocketed back into his body and tried to shove itself up into his throat.
“You have given us your acceptance,” Shastara’s voice felt too loud in his ears. “We can continue this conversation tomorrow morning. A room was prepared in advance in anticipation of a positive outcome to this meeting, and an escort will take you there to recover. I will send for you come dawn and we will discuss terms then.”
With that, the Diasta rose and exited the room with swift strides. Her gaggle of councilors hurried after her. A soft murmur of voices started up as soon as the door clicked shut on their heels.
Diamond Eyes slowly got to his feet, using the table as leverage. Despite his lack of vision, he recalled the room well enough. There had been little else in the room aside from human bodies, the single table, and the chairs. And the odd light-giving fungus on the walls. Miraculously there was little in the room for him to trip on. With luck he wouldn’t even trod in his own vomit.
He felt it immediately when the two guards moved in close. A hand brushed his elbow, hesitating in a way that seemed to ask permission. A look of honest confusion crossed his face as he instinctually jerked his arm away. The guard muttered under his breath and kept his hands to himself.
“Having a cane or walking stick would make it easier for me to get around on my own,” Diamond Eyes addressed the last few people left in the room—the two guards and, he suspected, the gaoler.
He had owned a cane once, before the arrest. A nice one of imported wood—a rare enough resource in Mocu’Opthir. Like all his personal effects—except the iron necklace—it had been taken from him when he had gone through processing at the Soul Prison. The cane either ended up tucked away in a room somewhere, lost to storage, or some selfish carcass had taken it for themselves.
That would not have surprised Diamond Eyes in the least.
“I will see what can be done about procuring a cane for you,” The gaoler replied. “They won’t want you tripping over yourself while you search for that artifact. You would be more hinderance than help.”
The inflection of her voice questioned if he would be any help regardless. Or perhaps Diamond Eyes read too much into her voice. Not likely, but perhaps.
“Follow me please,” the gaoler left the room at a brisk pace.
Diamond Eyes hurried after her footsteps, the guards filing out of the room after him.
Your first line has so much impact, especially with the way it sits there in its own paragraph space! Such a fantastic formatting choice with that! It really lets your reader stop for a second to take that line in, and also gives the intrigue to keep reading and find out why! (Your second line is also fantastic, but has "log" instead of "long.") I love your writing style and how well you emote the feelings of your main character for the reader to feel highly invested in! This is such an exciting read! I hope the editing stage goes well for you and best of luck with your publishing goals!
Everyone had gathered around a table, playing uno, one of the few games everyone could agree on.
“UNO UNO UNO” Aaron started to scream.
“Dude are you blind? The card you put down is red, not yellow” Pheonnix, who had somewhat taken role as the ‘leader’ of the group replied back to him.
“Um actually I am, thank you for noticing.”
Suddenly everyone stopped. It went dark. But not a normal kind of dark.
I didn't know what was happening, although I almost never do. But today, something will happen that I’ll never forget.
-Main story line-
The black began to sort of.. fade, into white. Not a blinding white, but a comforting white. Very comforting. The the 6 it felt like home. Soon they would find out why.
“Welcome”, said a booming voice that seemed to come from behind them.
Nikki whipped around, and saw something she never expected.
“Ah, Nikki, I see you found the rest, although you would have no idea what I'm talking about.”
Soon, Pheonix, followed by the other 4 whipped around.
In front of them was what they soon learned to be called The Order of Elements. But they called it Theo for short
3 women, 3 men. But they looked.. unnatural.
“We don't have a lot of time, but we need to tell you. GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE AGENCY!”
Pheonix interrupted, “Look, we figured that out without your help, so if this is so important use your time to tell us what this is and why we need to get out.”
“Look, we will talk about that later, but for now, stick together. No matter what happens, because it will be hard.
-Back to uno-
“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT” Chris started screaming.
“Chris, stop, be quiet, we will discuss this later. Right now, we need to blend in. End of conversation.” Pheonix replied, as if she was every other typical leader. But in reality, she knew some of what was going on, and she wasn't a leader at all.