Dec 31

2016 Exit Stage Right

2016 Exit Stage Right

Well, here we are at the end of another year.

2016 has been a really, really good year, all told…though if you just read the news and look at all the people who have died this last year, it was pretty rough. I know that more than a few times I heard myself saying, “Badly done, 2016. Badly done indeed.” But for me personally, a lot of amazing things happened that I can reflect back on and be grateful for. And guess what? I’m going to make 2017 even better!

So, since today is the traditional day we look back on the things we have accomplished (or neglected to accomplish) and look forward to all the things we’re going to do better in the coming year, I’ve decided to share with you my 2016 Top Ten Moments, and my 2017 Top Ten Goals.

2016 Top Ten (in no order of awesomeness):

  1. texas_state_guard_logo-svgI joined the Texas State Guard. I got sworn in back in March, and it’s been an amazing adventure ever since. I always had dreams of joining the military but life and other things got in the way, but in the TXSG I have a great opportunity to help out in times of disaster and emergencies. (You can learn more about the TXSG here if you’re interested!)
  2. I started nursing school. Back in May, I started a fast track BSN nursing program that will end this May. It’s been intense, emotional, exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, and always fulfilling. I’ve made some amazing friends, taken care of some wonderful patients, and learned a lot about myself as well as about nursing.
  3. I was able to run two miles for like the first time in my life. (And then I hurt my back. Bleh.)
  4. I was both bridesmaid and choir member in the wedding of one of my very best friends. So much yes.
  5. Worked on an awesome project. Can’t really talk about it, however. Sorry.
  6. Went to Los Angeles (right before nursing school started!) with my amazing sister, S.K. Valenzuela, who won the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest. We had the most epic time ever.
  7. Had a FABULOUS time at Dallas ComicCon, hanging with S. Usher Evans, Julia Byers, Christina McMullen, and S.K. Valenzuela.
  8. Got to see the Tallis Scholars in concert. Renaissance music HEAVEN.
  9. Learned how to navigate using a compass and topographic map. EVEN IN THE DARK. Heck. Yeah.
  10. Cut my hair shorter than it’s ever been…possibly since I was born. It rocked. Then I decided to grow it back out.

2017 Top Ten Goals:

  1. Graduate nursing school! Please dear God let me survive my last semester…. 😉
  2. Once I get my BSN, I should qualify to go to Officer Candidate School for the State Guard. Woohoo!
  3. I’m finally going to get my orange belt in Krav Maga…and, if I work very hard, perhaps my green belt too. Orange belt is long overdue (couldn’t test because of aforementioned back injury. Bleh.)
  4. I’m going to go on a medical mission down on the border with my nursing school. Sweet.
  5. I am going to run in a Spartan race. I am.2e0eb9183e61de18175493bf031215e7
  6. PUBLISH A SEA LIKE GLASS!!!! There, happy? Maybe I’ll be able to finish Perilous too, finally. AND I’m going to do a better job of keeping this blog updated. Yeahhh…that’s the plan.
  7. This year I want to WIN the Writer’s of the Future contest! Made semi-finalist in the last quarter of 2015, so here’s hoping this year will be even bigger.
  8. Get a job. You know, like, a real job. Heh. Preferably in the emergency department. Or PACU. Or OR. Possibly pediatrics? Who knows!
  9. Be able to turn a pirouette in ballet without looking like Mr. Collins. (Yes. I’m starting ballet. Because why not? It goes perfectly with Krav Maga…;-P)
  10. Go to as many cultural events as possible. Got three lined up already. Promise I’ll tell you about them afterwards.

How about you? What were your highlights from 2016? Are you glad the year’s over or sad to see it go? What are your big goals and plans for 2017?

Dec 20

A Dark So Deep, and Other Things

A Dark So Deep

DsD_ebookIn case you missed it, A Dark So Deep is now out. I realized that I never actually posted on my website that the book had been released. Whoops. Sorry.

So, yeah, you can now continue the journey with Hayli and Tarik in Book 2…and if you do, I would (as always) love to hear what you think about it!

Also, because I love you guys, here’s a picture of the crew of The Madness Method:

Here comes trouble

Here comes trouble

Left to right: Scorch, Jig, Anuk, Tarik, Hayli, Coins, Griff, and Shiver.

In other news, starting in 2016 I’m going to steal a really cool idea I saw on another blog, and do an A-Z challenge. Which means that every week I’ll write a blog post dealing with either a theme or a character/place/object from one of my books. Just to give you a hint of what’s to come, I’m going to be kicking off “A” with “Arah Byen.”

Since I’m not likely to post again between now and then, Merry Christmas y’all, and a happy new year!

 

Sep 17

TMP Spoiler-filled Recap – Part One

The Madness Project — Part One Recap

Hayli - The Madness Project

Hayli – The Madness Project

So, as I’m getting ready to release A Dark So Deep, I thought it would be helpful to post a little recap of Book 1 so you can be ready to dive into more madness! Here follows my very helpful summary with some tidbits you might not have known and some Easter Eggs and quite a lot of spoilers, so…read at your own risk if you haven’t actually READ the book.

SERIOUSLY. If you haven’t read the book….this has !!!!!SPOILERS!!!!!! from beginning to end. So consider yourself warned. Adamantly.

GO. AWAY.

Still here? Okay, fine….keep reading…

Ridiculously simplified synopsis:

In a country where magic is outlawed, a prince who can magically change his appearance is sent onto the streets to infiltrate a secret society bent on overthrowing truth, justice, and the Cavnish way.

A street kid who can turn into a crow is being groomed for admission into said secret society with the mission to help overthrow lies, injustice, and the Cavnish nobility’s oppressive ways.

Crime, seditions, evil plots, winding alleys and secret rooms abound.

Recapsizing:

Since this book is a fantastically large beastie of a novel, I’m dividing the recap into four posts corresponding to the four parts of the book.

Thus follows the recap of Part One:

TARIK

  • We start with Prince Tarik as a wee 5 year old lad, complete with adorable sailor suit and hat, visiting the seashore with his royal parents. They’ve gone to gawk at a new steam ship, because STEAM.
  • Tarik is already a naughty boy, and runs away from his nurse to stand on the quay wall. His bodyguard Zagger saves him when he almost gets blown into the ocean by the wind. That’s probably important.
  • Tarik asks his nurse about mages, and almost tells her a secret that his best friend Griff told him about one of his friends. (This should probably be written with big flags and exclamation points around it.)
  • Tarik’s mother takes his hand and he feels a buzz of electricity, and that alarms her because…because OH NOES…the boy is MAGICSY!!! And she knows it because she is, too. Which is important.
  • On the ride home Tarik magically changes his appearance while he’s playing. He proudly shows his parents. His mother is sad, the King gets mad. He slaps Tarik and accuses the queen of lying to him. (Which is also important).
  • He tells Tarik to never use his gift or talk about it to anyone EVER. Then he leaves to smoke a cigar. (That’s not really important, except you might notice that Tarik ever afterwards hates the smell.)
  • Fast forward twelve years, and Tarik is about to turn seventeen (official age of manliness and responsibility and whatnot in Cavnal…which is exciting because I’M A MAN but bad because RESPONSIBILITY.)
  • His father is afraid Tarik will get into trouble so he orders Zagger to keep an eye on him. Zagger: “Yay! Let’s go puttering around the palace grounds in my fantastic new motorcar!” Tarik: Yawn.
  • They meet Tarik’s lifelong friend Samyr outside the palace aerodrome, where they watch Griff flying his steam plane. Tarik lets slip something about climbing bell towers. That’s probably important.
  • It’s yucky and rainy and cold, but hey, that’s Brinmark. Nothing new here. Then Griff’s plane catches fire and starts to crash. That’s new.

HAYLI

  • Meanwhile, shape-shifter mage and street rat Hayli finds herself on top of the Oval Wall that circles the palace. She just Shifted into her crow form successfully for the first time. Hayli: “Yay!” 
  • She and her co-conspirator Jig have a super secret plan about picking rain grate locks, but a fire-wielding mage who was supposed to crash an aeroplane and cause a distraction kind of epically failed to do so. Jig: Growl. 
  • Hayli tells Jig she’s scared of getting caught, and has a flashback about her parents and court rooms which you should probably remember because it will be important later on. She is kind of sad about the plane, but almost gets spotted by a guard so she has to turn into the crow fast.

TARIK

  • It gets really windy at the aerodrome as Tarik realizes his friend is crashing. (*waves flags*) Somehow the plane hits the tarmac without exploding and Griff gets out just before it does explode. He’s really mad and swears a lot, then tries to act cool about it because that’s Griff.
  • A newsman takes a photograph of Tarik and Griff standing there which will probably show up later. Zagger worries that someone sabotaged the plane and might have gone after the car too. Tarik thinks he’s ridiculous.
  • Griff wants to go celebrate Tarik’s birthday at a shady kind of dive but Tarik is afraid of being recognized as a mage, so he acts really uppity and arrogant and refuses to go.
  • Tarik, Griff and Samyr have a chat about magic and the super-secret cult leader Rivano. Zagger warns them to be quiet or the spooky super-secret police will come after them. And suddenly we get the sense that not all is charming and civilized in Cavnal if you have to have the RIGHT OPINIONS or the police will come get you. We also get a hint that not all is right in the Science Ministry. *waves flags* Zagger and Tarik leave in the motorcar.

HAYLI

  • Hayli wakes up all confused, laying on the road while someone shakes her and asks if she’s all right. She realizes she got hit by a motorcar and that makes her understandably cross.
  • But then, hellooooo, sweetie… Tall, elegant, handsome, mysterious boy gets out of the car and comes to help her, and that makes her madder than ever because he=shining god of darkly gorgeous awesomeness, she=filthy street rat laying in the mud. 
  • The boy takes her hand to help her up and it feels like he shocked her. She doesn’t know why. He, on the other hand, seems terrified. Then she realizes he’s the PRINCE and gawks a bit. She gets booted off the palace grounds rather unceremoniously.

TARIK

  • Tarik frets that the street kid recognized him as a mage. At first he thinks it might be wonderfully scandalous, because Tarik = rogue and Scandal is his middle name. But not really because that would be lame.
  • He tells Zagger he thinks the kid was a mage, and Zagger worries that she was involved in Griff’s crash, which Tarik thinks is ridiculous. Tarik should really listen to Zagger more often.
  • He goes to see his mother, who seems to know a lot about what’s happened already. That’s a big CLUE about her magic. Tarik finally realizes that her reputation is at stake, not just his, which is a very mature moment for him.
  • Elanar tells him the King wants to speak to him later, which is über scary because Trabin has a penchant for ignoring Tarik unless Tarik gets into mischief. Which is probably a commentary on Tarik’s psychological condition.
  • At dinner Tarik learns he’s supposed to ride in a motorcade around the city in the morning. Tarik: yawn.
  • There’s a lot of talk about magic and Rivano, plus the rumor that Cavnal was responsible for assassinating the Godar of Istia — one of the few countries that actually protects mages.
  • Queen Elanar is calmly upset by this choice of dinner conversation, which should have flags and exclamation points and big flashing SPOILER alerts. There is even some talk about scientists developing plane-mounted machine guns which will be important later.

HAYLI

  • Hayli gets back to the Hole, the underground of a factory complex where a bunch of street kids live. We get to meet the cool and mysterious Derrin, the oldest kid in the Hole, whom Hayli absolutely worships. 
  • Derrin takes her to see the Hole boss, Kantian, and kind of “disappears into the shadows like only he could” which has major epic !!!SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!! written all over it.
  • Hayli gets reprimanded by Kantian, and meets the mysterious Rivano for the first time. He already seems to know who she is. Kantian tells her not to use her magic again until she can control it better.
  • Hayli goes outside to think over her fate, and figure out if she wants to be part of Rivano’s clan. Derrin appears mysteriously beside her (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER). He promises to help her be a better spy, but Hayli thinks she’ll be worthless without magic.
  • Derrin says something about not needing to be a mage to be useful, and Hayli assumes he’s offended because he’s not a mage but he NEVER ADMITS THAT. </spoiler>  
  • Hayli realizes Jig took the blame for their failure and that makes no sense at all because Jig only cares about Jig. Right?

TARIK

  • Tarik goes to see Trabin in some secret-y type of underground palace bunker. They argue a bit about everything because they really have some serious issues seeing eye-to-eye. Then Trabin admits that he needs Tarik’s magical ability. Which is understandably shocking to poor Tarik.
  • Trabin is worried about spies in his Court and fears that Rivano’s Clan has murdered five (Five) people in barbaric fashion this year…plus, you know, anarchists. He needs Tarik to learn the truth because none of his lackeys would be able to get close to the Clan.
  • Tarik meets a loud, intimidating, bear of a man named Kor who is really kind of amazing and needs to be played by Vin Diesel if there’s ever a movie. Kor’s job is to get Tarik ready for life on the streets. Tarik thinks this is all quite ridiculous.
  • Tarik has a nightmare about climbing the bell tower. It has wind in it, which is probably important.
  • Kor and Zagger meet the next morning. They really don’t like each other. Kor is an ass, Zagger gets mad. Tarik second-guesses his agreement to help Trabin, and finally dismisses Kor.

HAYLI

  • Hayli gets woken up by a little red-haired girl named Pika, who has a habit of repeating Hayli’s name. A lot. She wants to go see the prince’s motorcade and says Hayli wants to see the prince, which is a bit odd since Hayli didn’t tell anyone about meeting the prince.  
  • She has a newspaper with the photograph of Tarik and Griff on the front page (see? told you to remember that picture) and a story about the crash. Hayli thinks Griff’s name sounds familiar (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!!) but can’t place why. 
  • She almost runs into Derrin when she gets out of bed but he quickly backs away from her (FLAGS! !!!! !!!!!). Hayli and Pika head out to find the motorcade, which Pika finds with creepy accuracy (*waves tiny flags*). When they see the prince Pika makes a comment that mimics Hayli’s thoughts (*tiny tiny flags*). 
  • Then all hell breaks loose as a shooter(s?) opens fire on the motorcade, killing the driver and wounding the king. Tarik jumps out to hunt down the shooter. It’s really windy (see that? wind again!). 
  • Tarik takes Zagger’s gun and shoots at a dark figure up on a balcony, but the man disappears the way only a mage Ghost can disappear. (Hmm….isn’t that interesting…)

TARIK

  • Tarik waits for word about Trabin’s fate. The Court Ministers tell him he has to go to his public birthday gala, and Tarik surprises them all by asking about the second shooter who killed the driver — who is never identified but by the end of the book you might be piecing together who it might have been.
  • Tarik finally gets to see Trabin, who will survive, and Trabin tells him he has to go find the would-be assassin…find proof of Rivano’s treachery and bring down the organization from the inside. Tarik promises he’ll do it.

HAYLI

  • Meanwhile Hayli talks to Derrin about what happened on the street. They argue about whether or not Tarik is really a rogue and a scoundrel, which Derrin says he is but Hayli doesn’t believe because she has an itty bitty secret crush on him. Because he’s the PRINCE. And he’s nothing like she thought he would be. 
  • They go to the gala and see Prince Tarik on the stage, and Hayli thinks he’s wearing his face like a mask which is funny because he is a Mask and…yeah, maybe it’s not that funny, but it seemed really funny to the author at the time. 
  • They listen to Tarik’s little speech where he accidentally rants a little too strongly about going after the would-be assassin. He tells everyone he’s leaving Brinmark for a while and that makes Hayli glum.

TARIK

  • Tarik later gets bored at his private party in the palace and sneaks back to the gala in “disguise” (i.e., he puts on a hat). He sees Hayli arguing with Jig and another Hole rat named Anuk, who want her to share some bread she stole. He steps in nobly to help out, and gets in a fist fight with the two boys that he barely escapes intact.
  • The police finally show up, and get all exasperated when they realize who he is because they deal with him too much already. They march him off and the police sergeant gives him a talking-to, but Tarik acts like a bit of a jerk-off to him because he really does care but doesn’t want to let on to anybody that he does, and that makes him cross. Then he goes to chat with Hayli, and acts like his regular charming, flirtatious self, which totally bewilders her.
  • Zagger shows up, and Hayli disappears as soon as she spots him, but Tarik sees a crow sitting on the wall where Hayli was. This time he actually manages to put two and two together.
  • Tarik wants to tell Zagger about his magic, but he’s afraid Zagger will hate him, turn on him, abandon him. Finally he fesses up, and to his surprise, Zagger is more shocked that Tarik didn’t trust him with that secret than he is about the secret itself.
  • But Zagger lets slip a, “That means, your mother…?” which Tarik doesn’t catch on to, and a “Your father…?” a little later which Tarik also doesn’t catch on to, because he can really be a bit obtuse sometimes. This is probably important.
  • Zagger admits he’s worried about Trabin’s plan…that it could put Tarik’s life in danger. Tarik is oddly unfazed by this notion. Kor arrives and Tarik finds out he’s a mage, and they have a bit of an alpha-male showdown that Tarik barely escapes with his dignity.
  • The next morning Tarik starts training with Kor, as Elanar and Trabin leave for their winter lodge. Kor is an ass, Zagger gets mad, and Tarik has to step up to make them behave themselves. Everyone seems surprised about this, especially Tarik.
  • Kor has very unusual tactics for convincing Tarik that he’s about to play a very dangerous game. This makes Zagger mad, again. Which gets Kor mad. Which makes Tarik have to step in, AGAIN. Boys. Kor teaches Tarik that on the streets, he might have to cheat if he wants to survive…carry a knife up his sleeve.

HAYLI

  • Hayli comes out of her Shifting up on a ceiling beam in an abandoned building. When she manages to get down, she realizes she’s not alone. Two men appear, too well-dressed to be thugs, and they knock her out with chloroform. 
  • She wakes up in a white room tied down onto a metal table. A man comes in to talk to her, but when she refuses to give her name, she is called “Seven.” This is probably a significant number. 
  • The man seems to know she is a mage, and eventually does something terrible that she can’t remember. She wakes up in a gutter with Derrin standing over her. (One might wonder why, or how, and why there aren’t big SPOILER flags waving everywhere.) It feels a little weird when Derrin picks her up but she’s too out of sorts to realize why. (*more flags*)

TARIK

  • Tarik continues to train with Kor. Zagger and Kor continue to man-hate each other, which Tarik finds hilarious. Kor warns Tarik that his particular Gift (Masking his appearance) might make people suspicious. Tarik practices masking to the face he will wear on the streets, and Kor helps him look just right (a little more thug, a little less charming…and a lot more Istian). (*WAVES FLAGS*).
  • Kor tells him he needs a tattoo, and shows him his own clockwork tattoo, which naturally is important. Tarik makes a white tattoo around his eye.
  • Kor takes him out for “tea” which means going to a greasy dive for beer and teaching Tarik how not to be an arrogant, snobbish prince. Kor flirts with the serving girl, Astel, who takes a shine to Tarik. Kor has a heart-to-heart with Tarik about the awfulness of working undercover.
  • Back at the palace, Tarik gets ready for his jaunt on the streets.
  • Thus endeth Part the First.

Jul 10

Reason #214 to Fall in Love With The Madness Method’s Tarik/Shade

As if we needed to count off reasons, right?

Anyway, I was just over enjoying Pinterest…obsessively pinning Doctor Who and Sherlock and Tolkien pins to my geeky fandom boards, when I noticed a trend…

I’ve pinned a lot of Thranduil and Thorin pins. Like, a LOT. Maybe because they’re two of my favorite film characters recently (talking just about the films here, people). They are so different from each other, but they’re both just. so. awesome. And they glory in their awesomeness in a way that is just sublime to watch….

Ahem.

Anyway, that’s when I realized it. If you needed one more reason to love Tarik/Shade in The Madness Method, it’s that he is like the perfect blend of Thorin badassery and Thranduil fabulosity. Sure, the hair colors are backwards, and Thorin/Thranduil are like…hundreds or thousands of years too old…and Thranduil is a bit colder than Tarik…and Thorin is a bit….shorter…than Shade…;-) But still, there are some qualities they share which may explain why I’m so in love with Th/Th…and why, if you love Th/Th, you may just love Tarik/Shade too.

So, what are the common qualities?

Tarik

Let’s take Prince Tarik. He’s kind of a bit like this:

He’s elegant…

thranduil_what

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s also suave and a bit of a heartthrob…the Cavnish ladies all love him or love to hate him, and the Cavnish gents all wish they were him…

fabulous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s a bit of a rogue…

thranduil_rogue2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And he knows it.

thranduil_fabulous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s also just a bit arrogant, but who can blame him?

thranduil_oh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a bit of a sass…

Thranduil_sword2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But behind the arrogance, behind the rogue, he’s really hiding a deep loneliness that he can’t let the world see…

thranduil_sad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And despite being all elegant and royal, he’s really not a wimp…

thranduil_fight2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And he would do anything for the people he loves.

thranduil_stride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shade

Then we have Shade, who is kind of Tarik’s Thorin-esque alter-ego…

Shade has his own kind of untouchable pride.

thorin_attitude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you’re never quite sure what he’s thinking…

thorin_look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But he’s the king of badassery, and you kind of want to follow him just to see where he goes.

thorin_badass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s also the fiercer fighter.

Thorin_fight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even when his reality falls apart around him, he’s a survivor.

thorin_majestic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you know that once he sets his mind on something, he’ll never stop,

thorin_deathwish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s stern and fierce, but when you can get a smile out of him, it could turn the rain to sun.

thorin_smile 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But he’s got a terrible burden of his own. The fate of a kingdom…and the fate of his friends…depends on him.

thorin_Sad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it. If you like the strong, fierce, proud, stubborn warrior Thorin and the elegant, aloof, silently-suffering Thranduil, you will probably also fall in love with Shade/Tarik.

The End.

Okay, maybe this blog post was mostly an excuse to put a whole lot of Thorin/Thranduil gifs together in one place, but hey, it wasn’t just an excuse…;-)

Apr 15

Perilous – Sneak Peek

Introducing Perilous

So, I promised a sneak peek at Perilous, my new fantasy WIP….. Because I’m feeling so generous, here is a glimpse at all three of the main POV characters…..plus a first look at the potential cover design!

 


 

perilous2

 

In the end, it was always the same. The Plague, the Madness, and the Death — the Three Heralds of the Cataclysm. Time and again they brought humanity to its knees. Time and again, only a handful escaped. Time and again, we picked ourselves up, and built civilizations like towers that we believed could withstand the devastation.

Time and again, we failed.

We have watched the cycle of the years so long that now we can see the Heralds of the Cataclysm coming from afar. The last time the Heralds came, we built no mighty civilization, raised no banners in defiance of the skies. We fled to the mountains and built tombs for the living in cold stone, and watched the world fall apart at our feet.

But even that was not enough to save us.

— The Annals of Keridan Vae

Corbran

On the day the boy came into the world, the midwife who caught him cried out corbran the moment she saw him. Years later the Elders told the boy the story, but no one ever bothered to explain why, or why that word had become his name. He learned that the word used to mean “night raven” in the old language of his people. When he was still young he assumed it referred to his hair, which was much too dark, and his eyes, which even in those first moments were much too gold, like a bird’s.

It wasn’t until many years later that he learned that corbran meant something new to the elders and the soothsayers and the readers of herbs and stars.

To them it meant, Herald Death. 

His midwife died two years after his birth, so he never had the chance to ask her if the name was old or new, if the meaning was black the way night is black, or black in the way that Death is black. But whatever she meant by it, that word had been his from the moment he drew his first screaming breath.

His mother was the first to call him Bran, as if that could somehow shatter the link that bound him to Herald Death. If anyone else knew the meaning besides the Elders who locked themselves in the inner Sanctum, at least they did him the kindness of never showing it in his presence.

But when Corbran turned twelve, Elder Matron Daria took him from his class and led him into the Sanctum, and whispered that Chaos was upon them.

And when he turned fourteen, Elder Father Weyman brought him out of the tunnels of the under-mountain city they had built, and on the cusp of a high cliff had shown him the stars and murmured that Darkness was coming.

So as the day marking his eighteenth year approached, a disquiet began gnawing at his mind, troubling his sleep with nightmares of fire and ash and wind, so violent that not even the Wards inked on his shoulder blades and across his heart could drive them away. He told no one about the dreams. He didn’t need to.

The night before his Advancement, his scream told his entire cohort.

When it woke him he lay perfectly still, wondering for one breathless moment if he had actually screamed out loud. His throat burned as if he had, but the stone walls and stone halls persisted in silence for so long that he was sure he’d dreamed it. Then came the flicker of light beyond his curtain, the cold, pale blue shimmer of a weyr lantern. He stiffened, pressing his forehead against the crisp contour of his pillow, praying to whatever gods might be that whoever stood beyond the curtain would think they’d imagined the sound, and go back to bed.

A moment later the curtain twitched aside, letting in a flood of the weird bluish light. Curiosity got the better of him, and he slanted one eye open to peer at the entryway. Idrasi stood there silhouetted by the light—Bran would have recognized his wild halo of pale hair anywhere.

“Bran?” Idrasi hissed. His voice cut in a harsh whisper over the night silence.

“What?” Bran asked, loud and cross.

Idrasi hesitated, then came into the room, holding the lantern up by Bran’s face to see him better. Bran squinted at the light and batted his hand back.

“What do you want?”

“Was that you who nearly cracked the vault just now?” Idrasi asked, ignoring Bran’s discomfort and swinging the lantern up to his face again. “I thought someone was trying to murder you.”

Murder. Death.

Bran suppressed a shudder.

“No,” he said. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”

Idrasi arched a brow. “You woke up everyone. They were all just too scared to come and see if you were still alive. I think Dash was hoping you’d died, so he would have a chance at your title for these last few hours.”

Bran groaned and pushed himself up, wiping a hand over his face. It came away damp with sweat. The rest of his year-mates bunked in a common room just outside his own, and if he listened carefully, he could hear the faint murmur of half a dozen other voices. No laughter.

He let out a thin sigh. At least that.

Perhaps he should have been more concerned about the meaning of his nightmare than whether or not his peers were mocking his terror, but, curse his pride, he couldn’t.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Obviously I’m not murdered. Tell them to go back to sleep.”

Idrasi set the lantern down on Bran’s bedside table and folded his arms on his bare chest, the light and shadows deepening the scowl on his face. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Bran picked up the lantern and shoved it back at him, disturbing the magic enough to make the light flicker.

“Take the damn light out of here and let me go back to sleep. Muster is only a few hours away.” He eyed his friend darkly. “That’s an order.”

Idrasi sighed but gave him a feeble salute. “Yes, Degan.”

Bran couldn’t suppress a triumphant smile as Idrasi turned away. Advancement was tomorrow; Idrasi would never risk earning a rebuke from him tonight.

Advancement. He sighed and laid back down, tucking his hands behind his head and staring up at the rough stone ceiling arching overhead. Every year he and his year-mates celebrated a common birthday, but Advancement was so much more than that. This year Bran’s cohort would finally be leaving their studies at the College. Some of them would become teachers in their own right. Some would train to be guards and wardens, while others would devote themselves to the perfection of their magic and healing arts.

Some, of course, would take up political positions in the Assembly. Everyone assumed that was where Bran would end up — his father had ranked quite high in the Assembly before his untimely death, and his mother had served a long tenure in the Chamber before stepping down a few years ago. Bran imagined that was why his peers had elected him Degan for the last several years of their education. Family history. He certainly hadn’t asked for it. Deep down, he had no desire for it. He didn’t want to be a politician. He didn’t want to squabble and bicker over rules and forms and edicts — he didn’t even want to be governed by them, much less be the author of them.

A dark and wild corner of his mind whispered that there was no point to all their politicking, because Chaos was coming.

Fire, and ash, and wind.

The stuff of nightmares.

 

Zari

In the old library of the capitol city of Vestyg, in the farthest, deepest alcove she’d been able to find, Zari was lost in the chaos of an ancient battle. Victory hung in the balance, fickle as a girl in the blush of Spring, and the dauntless hero Kol had just begun his final charge when—

“Azari!” someone cried, slapping her hard on the shoulder. “What’re you still doing here?”

She jumped clear out of her seat, sweeping the tattered book off the desk and behind her back in the same motion. Her breath rushed out in a sigh that would have sounded like relief if it hadn’t felt so much like despair. In the mercurial candlelight, her headmistress Tola Bayza stood peering up her thick nose at her, squinting her pale grey eyes as if that could help her see better.

“Just studying, Tola,” Zari said, avoiding her gaze.

Tola Bayza craned her neck like a dog to see the tome behind Zari’s back and shook her head. “What use does a girl like you have for reading those old fables? There are better things to fill your head with.”

“You’re the only one who says that,” Zari muttered, setting the book down. “Most people say I shouldn’t be bothering with my head at all.”

Tola Bayza snorted. “Fools, the lot of them. But come now, Zari, why not botany?” She tucked her hand in the crook of Zari’s elbow, leading her out of the library whether Zari wanted to go or not. “You’ve got a knack for the practical disciplines. Always have. Facts and details, that’s what you do well.”

Zari wrinkled her nose, only daring to because Tola Bayza couldn’t see her in the shadows. They’d had this conversation before. The headmistress knew perfectly well that Zari would rather stack bricks than label plants all day. In fact, she’d rather make bricks than label plants all day. But it was a game they played. Tola Bayza liked to feel important, and Zari liked to be left alone. So the headmistress would lecture Zari with unflagging enthusiasm, and Zari would listen in silence…and then keep doing what she’d been doing before.

They passed beneath the library’s glass dome, the tall central pillars gleaming like bone specters in the moonlight. During the day, the sunlight cast the pillars’ carvings in sharp relief, but under the moon they looked smooth as glass. Zari had always liked the library best at night, when there was nothing but silence and dust and the deep shadows where heroes could battle in peace. But Tola Bayza didn’t like visitors in her library when she couldn’t keep an eye on them. Sometimes Zari managed to hide, but usually the headmistress managed to find her. Like tonight.

The small woman marched her through the ring of pillars and all the way to the tall double-doors, her booted heels clacking on the green and rose marble floor. Zari was over a head taller than her but she almost had to run to keep up.

“Go on home now, Zari,” the headmistress said, shoving her out the doors and into the street. “Or, wasn’t there a dance tonight you should be attending?”

Zari grimaced. “Was that tonight?” she asked, but she knew she couldn’t dissemble with Tola Bayza.

The headmistress clucked her tongue and scowled.

Tola,” Zari said, and held her hands out in appeal. “When you were my age, wouldn’t you have rather been in the library?”

Her scowl deepened. “Maybe, but maybe I regret that now. Do you want to end up like me?”

“I’m a Cradaggi girl stuck in Vestyg, and a student on top of it,” Zari said. “Do I have a choice?”

Tola Bayza jabbed a finger into her shoulder. “You always do. Now go on, get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”

Zari’s spirits brightened. “What work?”

“Go!”

She slammed the door in Zari’s face, turning the bolt with a sharp click. Zari turned, facing the street like it was her executioner. At this hour it was quite empty; everyone would either be at the Gardens for the dance or home asleep like normal humans. Zari had no desire for either. But home was less terrifying than the Gardens, and besides, she still wore her lecture robes. She already got mocked enough on a daily basis for being a student, not to mention the sometimes curious, sometimes suspicious glances she received on account of her dark complexion. The last thing she needed to do was show up at one of the grandest social event of the season in a plain brown smock instead of a jewel-encrusted gown.

When people said dances were for making an appearance, she really didn’t think that was the kind of appearance they had in mind.

Zari sighed and headed for home. Her mother was still awake when she arrived, just as Zari expected. She had a habit of staying up for her daughter, even when Zari convinced her she was only going to be three streets down at somewhere as safe as a library. Zari didn’t like the worry in her eyes when she opened the door, but the look faded quickly enough when her mother realized she was actually alive and not mortally wounded.

“There you are, Zari. Did you have a nice time…? Oh.” Her gaze drifted over Zari, and she gave a small sigh. “You didn’t go to the dance.”

Zari sat down on the low bench by the fire and tugged off her ankle boots, curling her toes appreciatively toward the warmth.

“Bardrew was going to be there,” she said. “I don’t like him.”

Her mother propped her hands on her hips, dark eyes reproachful. “Oh, and you wouldn’t have known anyone else there to talk to.”

Zari leaned onto her knees so her thick black hair hid her face and didn’t answer. Her mother knew she didn’t have many friends; most of her friends would have been hiding in the library with her if they’d been allowed.

“You were at the library, I suppose,” her mother said, leaning over her and brushing back her hair. “You study too much.”

Zari snorted. In most cities, having the chance to study at all would be considered a luxury. In Vestyg, they had one of the greatest libraries in the world and the most renowned university, and still the people thought learning was a nuisance and a waste. Sometimes the world made no sense.

She had always thought she was one of the lucky ones, being sent to school as a child and then the university when she’d turned sixteen last year, but lately she’d come to realize that in Vestyg, advanced schooling was reserved for the children the city considered unimportant, useless…in the way. Most children grew up in a trade, or in the military, or in the courts where they could parade and prance and wait to be admired. Only the ones without potential or talent or sufficient charm were sent to school. At least, that’s what society made everyone believe.

But the revelation didn’t bother Zari; she knew she wasn’t suited for their guilds and trades, and certainly not for making a spectacle of herself. She liked learning, and she really didn’t care if it made her peculiar.

 

Killean

The first thing he knew was the darkness. The second was the pain.

Pain raced down the nerves from his face, hot as rage, burning and stinging until he screamed through his teeth. Somewhere nearby he heard movement, and all at once the memories came rushing back. The guards, the chains, the long blackness. The accusations, the trial, the mockery of justice. The branding.

The pain.

He tried to lift his hand to his face but his arms were bound at his sides, restraining him against a narrow, hard bed. Another scream tore from his throat, but this time it was anger, not pain, that ripped it free.

“Calm down,” someone said, in Vestich.

The voice came from close by his head—too close. He thrashed, then something cold and damp pressed over his mouth with the sharp stench of ryumik leaf. The fear and anger flickered and faded, and slowly, little by little, he grew still.

“Now then, I’m going to let you see, but if you start yelling at me again I’ll put you under faster than you can twitch, understood?” the voice asked.

Again? he wondered. When was the first time?

But he thirsted for light, for sight, so he only bit his tongue and nodded mutely. He felt hands tugging at a knot near his right temple, then the darkness fell away and cold, pale light washed over him. Squinting, he tried to make out the details of the room around him, but everything swayed in darkish blurs. After a moment he was able to distinguish two tall shapes beside him, one in an obvious military hat, the other a little shorter, bare-headed. He ignored the shorter one and tried to glare at the officer, inexplicable rage beating at the back of his mind.

“You!” he shouted—or tried to shout. The word escaped in a high rasp, in a voice that he almost didn’t recognize. “What the hell did you do to me? Where am I?”

The man leaned forward, one hand lashing out to push his shoulder back onto the bed. “I wasn’t talking just to hear my own voice, man. Scream at me again, and we start this all over again.”

Panic laced into his thoughts. What did the officer mean, again? Twice now he’d said it. But did this man expect him to be rational? He couldn’t even see his face. How was he supposed to know if he was friend or enemy?

“Keep me awake long enough,” he gritted, “and let me get my sight back, and maybe I’ll stop.”

The officer straightened up, turning to the shorter man beside him. “You didn’t say he wasn’t able to see.”

“I didn’t know,” the other man said, apologetic. “You, what’s your name?”

He hesitated, the terror threatening to surge up again. But a name came quickly to his tongue: “Killean.”

“Killean, how long have you not been able to see?”

“Gods, man!” he shouted. “I don’t remember! Since…” His voice trailed off, and he struggled again at his bonds. “How long have I been here? Why don’t I remember either of you?”

“Please tell me you were aware of that,” the officer said to the shorter man.

“Short-term amnesia? No, I—”

“Have I talked to you before?” Killean demanded.

A brief pause. “Yes.”

“What did I say then?”

The officer cleared his throat. “You swore to rip my guts out through my navel and feed them back to me.”

Killean froze, but something like horror, tinged with macabre approval, snickered in the back of his mind. “Why…why did I say that?”

“You tell me,” the man said. “You certainly didn’t seem happy to see me again just now.”

That much was true, but Killean wasn’t sure he understood why. Something about the officer’s silhouette just demanded his rage…but the more he heard him speak, the more he realized this man was a stranger.

“I think you remind me of someone,” he muttered. “Don’t ask who; I don’t remember.”

He twisted his head to scan the room again. The pale light had begun to harden into shapes he could identify—metal bars spanning floor to ceiling, a narrow desk, a small table by his bedside. A chair in the corner. The two men’s faces came into eventual focus, revealing a man of middling years with copper epaulets on his shoulders, and a physic who looked much younger. They both stood studying him gravely.

“I recognize you,” Killean said to the military man. “Are you the one who marked me? You are, aren’t you? Why? I told them everything I knew! You soddy bastard! Did you like it?”

He was screaming again, he realized—too late. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the physic reach for an amber phial and a piece of white cloth.

“Wait, wait!” he cried, thrashing to try to escape the drug. “Wait, please. I’m sorry. Listen, I’m all right now. Please just don’t…don’t do that to me again.”

The physic and the officer exchanged a long look, then the physic slowly placed the phial back on the table.

“That was your warning,” the officer said. “Now. My name is Dason Frey. You probably recognize me because I’m one of the men who found you on the road.”

“On the road…?”

“Yes. We found you on the road in Vestyg, near the Abarok border. Your brand was red then, like they’d just given it to you. You were delirious too, and near dead. We brought you here but you haven’t exactly helped us to save your life.”

“What is the brand?” Killean asked, his voice almost a whisper.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. In the vague corners of his memory, he realized that he had wanted to die on the road into Vestyg. He’d never wanted to see the brand, the mark that would scar his face and ostracize him from every human community. If only he could remember why he’d received it.

Dason Frey didn’t answer him. He turned away, moving to stand by the lone narrow window in the room, one hand held lightly behind his back.

“Why were you coming into Vestyg?” he asked. “Our nations may be at peace, but we don’t encourage travel between our lands.”

“What,” Killean asked, feeling his mouth tug into a vicious smile. “You don’t think they sent me here as an assassin, do you?”

He saw Frey catch his breath, just barely, then turn back to face him. “Did they?”

Killean snorted. “No. I escaped.”

Escaped? From what? 

“So you say.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Killean growled. “And why can’t I remember anything? Did you do something to me after you found me? How do I know you aren’t lying? You could be anyone, saying anything!”

“I told you, I found you on the road—“

“Right. Because so many people travel the road into Vestyg these days. Did they send you after me? Send you to finish the job? Feels like you only got one side of my face. Are you here to brand the other?”

“Calm down, Killean. We’re trying to help you, really we are.”

“Like hell you are!”

“I did not have to put my career on the line to bring you here for medical help!” Frey hissed, bringing his face close to Killean’s.

“You’re a knave and a coward and your career isn’t worth the dirt you walk on! Keep your face away from me or I’ll give you a scar to match mine!”

He didn’t have time to flinch before the physic clapped the white linen cloth back over his mouth. Killean held his breath and fought against his bonds, struggling to escape the muffling cloth. But already the darkness was closing in…already…

 


So, there you have it! Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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