Saturday, August 26, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter L


The List:
-Lorelei, Lexie, Lewis
-last night, long ago, last-minute
-Labyrinth, ledge, lawn
-leather, leash, lion, larch, ladybug, lightning

The Result:

"The Labors of Lorelei"

(This story is a continuation of "Stained-Glass Wings")
 
Lorelei lay where she landed amid shards of broken glass. Slowly, she eased herself up to her feet. Luckily, her wings in stained-glass form were not wholly attached to her body, being representational of her own biological wings—but it would be a while before her own wings grew back to replace the glass ones, so she was bound to be on foot for the foreseeable future.

A small gasp reminded her of the reason for being here and losing her wings in the first place. Lorelei whirled around just in time to see a lithe young woman make a mad dash for the looming walls behind them, disappearing into the mist.
"Oh no you don't!" The archangel muttered, running after the mysterious lady.

She reached all of two steps past the limit of the first wall, when the fog lifted and she learned the location whereupon she had inadvertently stumbled: a gigantic Labyrinth.
She knew, from past experience, that this maze hadn't been there before. It must have been conjured by the lady with the crystal pen.
"Leapin' lizards!" Lorelei groaned.

She did her best to follow the lure of the pen's power. She could feel the latent magic of it, pulling her like a lodestone down one path and then the next.
Lightning crackled somewhere nearby, and Lorelei followed the lead of the pen right into a trap in the middle of the maze.

A lion prowled on the lawn, next to a looming larch, and the lightning she had heard appeared caught in its branches. Every step Lorelei tried to take toward the path she knew she needed to follow to get the pen, the lion would lunge at her.
"Of all the legendary artifacts from other dimensions, it had to be this one!" Lorelei complained, sitting down on the grass to muse over how to get past this challenge. Every moment she spent here was a chance for that pen to get further away, and the fate of more than just this dimension would be at stake!

The young archangel regarded the mass of electricity arcing from the sky.
"I don't want to get the lion struck," she mused, "but I do need to get close enough to the tree to liberate the lightning—I need to get control of the lion somehow!"
She trailed her fingers through the grass as she pondered.
At the sudden movement, a tiny ball of light sprang up and wavered erratically in the air. Lorelei looked toward the tiny glowing pinprick, snatching it out of the air with her hand. It stopped glowing at once, and Lorelei could get a good look at it: a delicate ladybug crawled around her palm. When Lorelei opened her hand, it lit up as it flew away once more, leaving a luminous trail as it lighted through the shadows. Lorelei lurched to her feet and followed the bug down a lane. Part of her concentration remained aware that she was leaving the mysterious lady far behind, but with one last corner, Lorelei knew she had come to the right place:
A bold leather leash hung among the leaves of the labyrinth hedge. Tugging it down, Lorelei affirmed that it was indeed large enough to fit the lion. She could only hope that she would be swift enough to restrain it in a direct confrontation, because she didn't have time for anything less.

"Okay, Conrad," she muttered under her breath as she marched back to the lawn. "You are so going to owe me for this!"

Like it happened before, when Lorelei approached the lion, it roared and lunged for her. This time, instead of retreating, Lorelei leaned forward, slipping the open collar under the luxurious mane and latching it shut. When she darted out of the way, the lion roared and pawed at its neck, well and thoroughly subdued.
"There's a metaphor here somewhere, I know it," muttered Lorelei.
To free the lightning, she used the same matter-manipulation spell that allowed her to pass through things to render the branches of the larch incorporeal. The air around her crackled, and Lorelei leaped out of the vicinity as the lightning bolts dropped all the way to the ground before the cloud dissipated, and the storm ceased. Finally, she could leave the area.
Lorelei once again focused on the location of the pen.
What luck! She gazed intently at a corner of the ledge leading to the rest of the maze.
"All right!" She called. "Party's over; come on out, whoever you are!"
She heard a gasp and a furious rustle.
"Don't even try it!" She growled, folding her arms. "Come here, now!"

A foot tentatively emerged from the bush, followed by a leg, then the rest of the body, till a shamefaced young lady stood before Lorelei. She clutched the pen in her left hand, and when she looked up at Lorelei she began trembling. 
“I saw you fall,” she stammered, “Wh-what are you?”
Lorelei crossed her arms and raised a dubious eyebrow. “Name’s Lorelei,” she said. “Who are you?”
The woman brushed her dark locks out of her face. “I’m Lexie; I swear, whatever it is you think I did, it wasn’t me!”
Lorelei choked. “On the contrary, it was most certainly you! Now if you don’t mind, I’d like that pen back.”
Lexie looked down, lifting the pen between them. “What, this?”
Lorelei took a step forward. “Yes, that—“
The lady leaned back, holding the pen just out of her reach. “No! It’s mine!”
“It’s not yours, and I am legally sanctioned to take it from you!”
Lexie lurched out of Lorelei’s grasp and dashed down the lane a little ways. “Stay back!” she shrieked. “I’m the only one allowed to touch it! I swear, it was enchanted expressly for me!”
Lorelei stopped in her tracks. “Whoa, wait, what?” She tilted her head. “You aren’t—you didn’t…” She huffed and thrust out her bottom lip in a pout. “What do you mean, enchanted for you?”
Lexie hung her head and pressed her lips. “I, er, my boyfriend Lewis—he’s been interested in all the mystic arts of long ago, and he recently started researching literomancy.”
Lorelei felt the weight of responsibility weigh on her. “A literomancer with a special crystal magic pen?”
Lexie shrugged. “Well, he needed something to write with, and so one of his friends said they knew a lithomancer who made excellent pens—“
Lithomancer!” Sweet Lucifer on a lance! “All right, let’s get one thing straight before you say another word,” Lorelei shifted to a more aggressive stance. “Your boyfriend, a low-level literomancer, bought a pen from a lithomancer, but he never asked any questions about it? Do you have any idea what he's done? That pen you're holding gives the writer ultimate power beyond the limits of time and space.
Lexie shook her head, a tremor shaking her body. “No—No!” she whimpered.
“Yes, yes!” Lorelei retorted. “There’s a prophecy involved—and the very essence of reality is at stake!”
Lexie’s face faded to a lifeless pallor, and she stared at the implement in her hands. “This? It’s just a pen!”
“Oh really?” Lorelei laced her words with as much sarcasm as she could muster, drawing out the syllables languidly. “Then were did all this,” she gestured to the labyrinth surrounding them, “come from?”
Lexie shrugged. “I don’t know! I was here when I woke up—“
The archangel snorted. “Woke up from what?”
Lexie chewed on her lip again. “Lewis and I—we broke up. He was going crazy—he’d been raving like a madman for a while, I was being lenient with him because I really thought he loved me. But last night—or the last night I can remember—we had a fight, and I blacked out while he was still talking, and when I woke up, I was here among the ruins with the big maze behind me, and he’d left the pen behind with a letter saying how much he loved me but it was too much…“
Lorelei shook her head as she realized that Lexie had plopped onto a nearby rock, and was now poised to drag the pen across its surface. “No, wait, Lexie—don’t!”
Too late; the infernal nib scratched deep into the stone surface, and a wave of darkness snuffed out the light…

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     
-Letter K

 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Reader's Review: "The Seventh Crow" by Sherry D. Ramsey

 
Synopsis from Amazon:
 
When you can’t remember most of your life, you’d better be prepared for anything. The day a talking crow meets her on the way home from school, fourteen-year-old Rosinda is plunged into a forgotten world filled with startling revelations: magic ability flows in her veins, she’s most comfortable with a sword in her hand, and the responsibility for finding a missing prince rests solely with her.

While dark forces hover in the background and four forgotten war gods from Earth’s past plot to reclaim long-lost power, Rosinda struggles with waves of slowly-returning memories as she searches for clues about her past and the true identity of her family; a search that takes her back and forth between two worlds. In a race against time to recover her memory, find the prince, and rescue her loved ones, Rosinda has only her friend Jerrell and an unusual trio of animals as companions. And as the gods prepare to bring her world to war, Rosinda is unaware that the shadow of betrayal lurks within one whom she trusts the most… 
>>>>>>>>>>
 
My Review:
 
I received this book in return for an honest review—so I won't mince my words!

I have read a LOT of books where a young female finds out the existence of a strange world. More often than not, she has to team up with a rather good-looking (sometimes "in-his-own-way") young man to save the world/the realm/the kingdom, and completely sass the pants off anyone who disbelieves her along the way. Being that it's such a common trope, it takes a really good author not to make a complete "Mary-Sue" out of a premise like that. In truth, I almost expected it.

But it never quite happened. 

After reacting quite calmly to a talking crow at the beginning, Rosinda does a fine job of behaving exactly like somebody who isn't at all sure about these magical powers she is supposed to have. I especially appreciated the way Ramsey scattered the return of the memories that had been taken away, so that it's when someone makes a reference, or when they arrive at a location that she comes up with the information they need. (followed immediately by "Wait! But how did I know this??")
 
Most of all, though, I loved all the characters involved. It can be tempting to use peripheral characters for exposition or Plot Device of Total Convenience... but the secondary cast is just as fascinating and dynamic as the main character, and each individual carried their own "voice" very well indeed!
I loved the lore that went into creating this story. It drew me in and held my interest, I never felt bored or that I "knew what was going to happen"... in fact, it almost seemed that every time I tried to predict an outcome, something else would happen and the adventure would bend on a whole new twist! 

THE SEVENTH CROW earns *****5 STARS***** for Simply Delightful Storytelling! It isn't super-heavy on the feels, nor overly complex, but it's marvelous in its simplicity and the sheer creativity of it all makes this an Upstream Writer Certified TOTALLY RECOMMENDED adventure! 

Further Reading: (Magical Girls Save The World/YA/Middle Grade/Adventures/Talking Animals)

The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
       -Untamed 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight
Spirit Knights--Lee French
       -Girls Can't Be Knights
       -Backyard Dragons  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker
     -Barrow Fiend 
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand
       -Ghost Hold
       -Ghost Heart
       -Ghost Hope
 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Lover's Blog Hop: "Which author would you most want to interview and why?"


Leslie Conzatti (Me!)

I would definitely for sure want to interview either Mark Lawrence or Cornelia Funke. Mark Lawrence because he used to work on like National Security-level stuff (the kind of job, as his bio quotes, where you could actually say, “This isn’t rocket science! Oh wait, yes it is.”) in the scientific field, working with artificial intelligence stuff, but then he quit his job to help his wife care for their daughter who was severely disabled--and he took up writing fantasy--but like, the BEST kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy you will EVER READ. So yeah, definitely want to ask about that!
Cornelia Funke, I would love to talk to because her fantasy work is just so phenomenally above and beyond any kind of fairy-tale fantasy I have ever read, so I want to know what her inspirations were, and how she came up with so many different ways to twist old folk tales into something entirely new and enchanting!


Tabitha Caplinger


Ever since I found out that Keirsten White had been tapped to write the new Buffy spin off I have wanted to meet her, talk to her, ask her all the questions and become best friends with her. Because...Buffy. I know that isn’t very profound but I’m a total fangirl on this one and can’t help it. 



Brandy Potter



For me the clear choice would be Neil Gaiman. The man has such tremendous insight, but also the greatest imagination that I have ever read. I have watched his interviews and I am always taking notes or quoting him. He never has the same answer. He’s sarcastic and witty and just wow! He just seems to be the most amazing teacher for any writer. 




Jo Lindsell

I would love to interview JK Rowling. This woman is so inspiring, and not just as an author. Obviously I’d like to ask her about creating the best selling book series of all time, and a million other questions related to being a novelist, screenwriter, and producer. She’s so much more than that though. From her rags to riches tale to the work she does for charities, I’m sure she’d make for interesting conversation. 
 

V. L. Jennings

As a writer who has been interviewed multiple times, I can’t quite think of any GOOD questions to ask any of my favorite authors. I don’t really think I would like to interview them really. I’d much rather have dinner with them, or just sit and talk about their world and their characters. Brian Jacques is the author that really inspired me to write, but he is unfortunately gone from this earth. I would have loved to spend a day with him!  J.K. Rowling is my next choice.

The only issue with J.K. is that I’m sure she’s already been asked every question under the sun 15 times over. Could her and I just go to the Harry Potter Theme Park for a day and just geek out maybe?



Jebraun Clifford


I would love to sit down with Marissa Meyer and chat about the Lunar Chronicles. Such imagination! Such fun! Such a great fairy-tale retelling. I’d love to know how she came up with the idea, and where her mind might go next.



Skye Hegyes


 There are so many authors I’d love to interview, but I think I’d most like to interview Mercedes Lackey and her husband, who’s also her cover artist, Larry Dixon. They are a brilliant team and know how to bring so many fantastical worlds to life that I feel like a conversation with the two of them would be wonderful and that I might also learn a thing or two.





Kessie Carroll

I’ve wanted to have Jim Butcher over for dinner for ages. Ever since I saw him at a convention panel, I’ve wished we could just sit down and chat about crazy fantasy topics. He’s written high fantasy, urban fantasy, and he’s just started a new, amazing steampunk series. He’s also what I call “a high-functioning introvert”--he’s clearly not comfortable in crowds and would be so fun one-on-one.




How about you? What author would YOU most want to interview? Let us know in the comments! Don't forget, you can always go back to my Introductory Post to check out any questions you may have missed, and feel free to comment with your own answer!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter K

 
The List:
 
Kenzi
Kennia (Kenya)
Kilosecond
Kiss, kelpie, kick, Knowledge, Knights, keg, kiwi, kumquat, kale, kingpin, klaxon, kerfuffle, kibosh

The Result:

"Kenzi and the Kelp Kerfuffle"
 
*(Sequel to "Humanity")
 
In a kilosecond, Denevar had crossed the river, the cave, and now stood beside Kenzi. His gleaming eyes swept over her uniform as he picked up her right hand. 
"Ah, First Officer, I see. Is this your first assignment?"
 
Kenzi sneered and pulled her hand away. "No, I have had other assignments."
 
Denevar slipped between Kenzi and waved with a frown at Latisha. The young mermaid slipped back under the water as if he had pushed her.
"You'll have to forgive the little fish-girl for frightening you. She was just kidding about everything. I am not a wizard; I am only a hermit. Latisha just likes to frighten new guests." He gestured to a well-lit hallway leading back further into the mountain. "Shall we retire into the kitchen?"
 
Kenzi took one last glance at the terrified mermaid in the pool, and followed her host.
 
"So," Denevar continued casually, "What brings you to Kennia, First Officer..."
 
"Kenzi," she answered automatically. "And I didn't mean to land here. The navigation globe on my ship got damaged, and I have to wait seventy-two hours for the repair cycle." She checked her chrono; there were thirty hours left.  She looked around as they entered a cavern full of the same multicolored quartz casting a kaleidoscope of colors over the dark stone. "Where did you say this was?"
 
Denevar sat with a sigh at a small table. With a wave of his hand, he invited Kenzi to join him. "The Ancient People called it Kennia, or somesuch. Apparently in their day it was nothing but a bare desert place," he gestured toward the outside access, where Kenzi remembered seeing large trees and verdant undergrowth.
 
"Hang on," she waved a hand. "Ancient People?"
 
Denevar nodded. "Yes; you know, our ancestors?"
 
Kenzi blinked. She recalled the lessons on ancient history mentioning something about the first Settlers who made their home among the stars, having traveled across the galaxy to escape their polluted home planet.
"This is Earth?" She asked incredulously, looking back the way they had come.
 
"Of course it is," Denevar nodded, reaching for a bowl where strange green and yellow bits peeked out from among small, deep-green shreds. "May I offer you a salad? It's kale, kumquats, and kiwi."
 
Kenzi frowned at the jumble of strange foods, but if it was from Earth, like the whole human population of the Galactic Settlement, then it couldn't actually be harmful, could it?
She tried a bite, letting the intense flavor and the sharp tang envelope her tastebuds. 
"This is amazing!" She scarfed down more salad. "We don't have anything like this back on the Settlement!"
 
Denevar chuckled. "Tell you what, in return for spending time with me while you wait for the chrono to mend, I'd like to send you back with cargo your kin will appreciate." He paused, "That is, if you have room in your hull."
 
Kenzi tensed. What was he getting at? "That depends on what it is," she hedged.
 
Denevar chuckled. "Oh, it's nothing dangerous, trust me! Let me show you."
 
He reached toward the counter beside the ice box and selected a small box. Kenzi watched him lift the lid carefully, then wrinkled her nose at the musty, tangy kind of smell she almost didn't recognize. 
 
"What is that?" She choked, waving her hand to activate her armor's built-in air filter.
 
"It's called kelp." Denevar selected a flat, semi-transparent leaf and took a deep whiff. "You might recognize the scent if you've ever been anywhere around the smoking clubs, if the GPF still allows those."
 
Now that the heavy aroma had subsided, Kenzi tried to place that smell in her memory and nodded. "Now that you mention it, I do remember something like it got into the air ducts once, and caused no end of trouble till we could get it out, find the leak, and keep that terrible odor in its own closed filtration system." She eyed the box dubiously as the hermit slid it toward her. "Kelp, you say?" She grimaced. "To be perfectly honest, I would rather bring back some of the other things, the ones in your salad."
 
Denevar nodded. "That's fair. I'll have them delivered to your ship in a few hours." He gave the box a little nudge. "Just do me a favor and take at least this little sample of kelp back with you. I have a friend in the Settlement who would very much appreciate such kindness."
 
Kenzi shrugged and accepted the box. "Very well, but how will I find this friend of yours?"
 
Denevar waved his hand. "Don't worry about that; he'll find you."

Kenzi stood stiffly, as a soft klaxon from her ship alerted her that she needed to report in. "I need to return to my ship," she explained to Denevar. "I'll await your delivery."
 
The hermit nodded. "I shall send it out directly. I only ask," he continued as the officer turned to take her leave, "that you avoid the pool with the mermaid. She seems very agitated by your presence, and I don't want to stress her further by continued interaction."
 
Kenzi glanced over to regard his face, but she found no guile. "I will do so," she assured him.

She could hear Latisha calling after her as she made her way out of the crystal cavern, but Kenzi ignored the mermaid's cries. If Denevar had said she was crazy—well, so much of what Kenzi had been told contrasted so much with what she had experienced that she found it easier to believe that Latisha lied, or at least embellished the truth.

Kenzi followed the rippling creek back toward her ship. A large splash and a silent alarm from her armor alerted her to an unexpected approach behind her. She stopped and faced the water.
 
A massive body took shape out of the water, similar to the holographic projections she interacted with on the settlement—except that this shape bore tactile responsiveness, much like touching Latisha's hand had almost convinced Kenzi that she was actually real. This shape, though, wasn't human. Her visual scanner identified it as a horse, with the exception of the fins and tail at the lower half of its body. This creature was just as much a horse as Latisha was human—so had they both been other creatures before some horrible experiment changed them into water creatures?
 
Kenzi shook her head. She shouldn't believe things she couldn't prove! The horse-fish creature seemed very adamant about something on her person; it took Kenzi a few minutes to realize that it was the box of kelp that offended the animal so. She snorted and turned her back on it. She would report in, wait for Denevar's delivery, and she would leave Kennia forever.
 
[...] 

Kenzi slid the heavy keg into place and wiped the sweat off her brow. Three down, two to go. She clomped down the plank to get another barrel, but an alarming sight gave her pause. She arrived on the ground just in time to see the horse-fish creature kick one of her precious kegs into the water!

"No, you stupid animal!" Kenzi roared, running toward the river and diving after the irreplaceable cargo. 
 
A furious keening in her ears and a heavy weight on one side soon alerted her to what a mistake that was. Her armor was not water-resistant, and the systems were shutting down, still attached to her body. Without the use of her right side, Kenzi began to sink and drown.

A flash of movement above her, and the press of a body against her side, and Kenzi felt something soft press against her mouth, opening an air pocket just in front of her. She welcomed the rush of breath, and saw the large, worried eyes just inches from her. Latisha gripped her in a tight embrace, swimming upward with powerful strokes of her tail, while giving Kenzi breath from her own lungs.
Their heads broke the surface, and Kenzi turned aside with a spluttering gasp, tucking her knees up toward her chest to push Latisha away. Her left hand flailed until her fingers gripped the bank, and she hauled herself out of the water.
 
"What was that?" She spluttered, wiping her mouth. 
 
The mermaid pursed her lips in a frown. "I saw Wenmar causing trouble and I rushed over to save you," she retorted.
 
"By kissing me?" Kenzi shot back. She tried to move her right side, but all the servos in her armor had seized, and she still couldn't move it.
 
"I could have just as easily let you drown," Latisha stated primly, crossing her arms. 
 
Wenmar keened beside her, flopping and splashing. Kenzi snorted. "What, is that thing like your horse or something?"
 
Latisha wrapped one arm over the animal's neck. "Wenmar was my horse, before Denevar changed him into a kelpie, just like he changed me into a mermaid."
 
Kenzi shook her head. "You're delusional. Denevar's not a wizard; he doesn't even have any magical powers."
 
"And what about you?" Latisha challenged, swimming forward. "Some would say that armor gives you magical powers, or that your ship that takes you far away to other worlds is magic!"
 
"That's not magic, it's science!"
 
"Well, so is Denevar!" The mermaid swirled in the river. "He used his knowledge of science to change my form and that of my horse, to keep us here—and he's even tricked you into doing his bidding!"
 
Kenzi staggered to her feet, leaning against the keg to keep from keeling over. "What, this? There is nothing tricky about it. It's just food—"
 
"What about the kelp?" Latisha cut in. "Do you have any idea what it is? Did he tell you who his friends are?"
 
Kenzi scowled. "As if you knew!"
 
"I do!" She stated. "I know because my kingdom struggled against their influence as well!"
 
"All right then," Kenzi glared at the mermaid. "Who are they?"
 
Latisha calmed, and her eyes took on a keen glow. "Have you heard of the Knights Unknown?"
 
Cold realization courses through Kenzi's system. "The drug cartel? You're kidding! The GPF has been trying to put the kibosh on that ever since the Settlement was founded!"
 
"I'm not," Latisha affirmed. "Denevar's so-called friend is the kingpin of the whole operation. He's their dealer, and he's made you his errand boy."
>>>>>>>
 
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     
 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter J (Part 2)


The List:

-Jade, Juros, Jasper
-Justicia, Jungle, jail, jurisdiction
-Judgment Day
-Jaybird, Job, jackal, jackrabbit, juniper, Jack, Justify

The Result:

"The Justification of Jade" (Part 2)
 [Previously, in Part 1]
Jade’s concentration wavered, and her right wing picked up a stray wind that nearly jerked her off course. “You jacked her?"

Troy spoke as if he didn’t notice the worry lacing her voice. “I needed to, Jade. This girl, she’s destined for greatness and she wasn’t going to get it, not where we left her—“
Jade broke off and scanned the city till she sensed the girl by her Gift. As they neared, she sensed something else: tragedy.
“Troy…” she murmured to her brother as they approached the house. “What have you done?”

Even from that height, she could see the effect of Troy’s jack. Crowds lined the streets, all converging on one location. As Jade watched, it became clear that some of the people weren’t moving at all. These were carried out of the way by their neighbors.
“I WANT IT!” screamed a high-pitched voice. “GIVE IT TO ME!”
A small explosion rocked the building, and the surrounding people jumped into action. Several of them went inside, and very soon emerged, carrying a young girl on what seemed to be a litter. The building teetered on the verge of collapse, but the girl still writhed. “I NEED IT!” she squealed. “BRING ME ANOTHER!”
Jade watched the people carrying the litter set it down on the ground, as a Gifted young boy raced forward and threw himself on the ground at her feet. The young girl bent down and grasped the boy’s arms. His Gift became apparent as a flurry of vines seemed to wrap themselves around the girl, completely covering her in greenery till she looked like a living plant in the shape of a small person. The boy collapsed on the ground, and the girl gave a little quiver, and the vines receded.
Jade ignored Troy’s warning and flew down to peek into the window of the small room recently vacated. He found her staring at a scene of utter devastation.
“Her family,” she murmured. “They’re all dead…”
“Hm,” Troy sighed. “Guess it was an unforeseen side effect of the jack.”
Jade turned on her brother in that moment. “Unforeseen side effect?” She cried. “Is that what you think this is? Troy, this is a direct consequence of your meddling, and you know that Juros isn’t going to stand for it much longer—“

Jade and Troy! Come out!”

They knew better than to ignore Juros when he decided to enter the Realm. Angel and Shadow meekly exited the building. Juros had supplied a pocket dimension for them to converse in, shielding all of them from detection by the surrounding crowd. The juvenile victim of an untempered jack lay unconscious at his feet.

Juros folded his arms and frowned at Troy. “You would toy with these Gifted, turn the abilities we provide into godlike powers to be worshiped? You would twist and warp the good things we intend for your own perverse pleasure?”
Troy only shrugged. “I can’t help what these humans do with the powers we give them, nor how people respond—“
You are out of line, Shadow!” Juros roared. “I cannot allow you to jeopardize the Realm further by your interference. As punishment—“ Juros extended his hand.
Troy gave a jerk, and Jade watched as his body seemed to divide, or fade into the shadows surrounding him.
“What are you doing?” Troy cried, but Juros was stronger. In one powerful twist, he separated Troy from the shadows he used, and two Angels came forward to catch the limp physical form. Jade stared at the body sagging between them. It looked like Troy, but not quite; it was a smaller, more delicate-looking thing. The Angels flew with it back to Justicia, leaving Jade hovering next to a pool of dark shadow.

“Umm, what just happened?” Troy’s voice emanated from the darkness beside her.
Jade flinched, but the shadow itself coalesced into a form she recognized, though this one seemed less corporeal, more like a copy of the brother she once knew.
“I have delivered your sentence,” Juros said. “Your physical body has been remanded to a cell in Justicia. The sum total of your existence in the Realm is now no more than the shadows that were once your vehicle.”
Troy coughed. “You mean… I’m not real?” He looked down and waved his hands, wafting forward without moving his legs at all.
Juros shook his head. “As for the poor young girl you have blighted in your foolishness…” He bent down and laid a hand on her head. “I cannot undo what has been done, but I can perhaps salvage the person she should have become. I will erase her memory of all that has transpired today, and Jade?”
The Angel broke off from staring at her brother’s new form and focused on her mentor. “Yes?”
“You will take the child to the castle, and see that she is taken in by the royal medical staff there. Perhaps they will be able to find a cure for her.”
Jade nodded. “There is one with the Gift of Healing, and another with the Gift of Magic there—I believe she will be well taken care of.”
Juros glanced down at the small form as Jade lifted the child in her arms. “See that it is done.”
Jade departed about her business, alone for possibly the first time since Juros allowed her and Troy to begin Gifting the Realm. She tried not to think of what would happen to Troy now; he had to face the consequences for his own choices.
She laid the child on the steps of the castle, calling forth the governess she knew lived there. Jade waited around the corner as she heard two people approach.
“Oh gracious!”
“What is it, Peraven?”
“Why… it’s a child! I wonder where she came from?”
“Hmm, we must bring her to the Infirmary immediately!”
She nodded and flew back to Justicia, satisfied that she had completed her mission.

Unbeknownst to the Angel, a small, dark shadow flitted around the windows of the Laboratory tower, where the royal scientists gathered, speaking in hushed whispers about the growing threat they were beginning to see in the Realm: mysterious powers and superhuman abilities distributed seemingly at random. When a young stranger arrived in the Infirmary whose blood contained evidence of yet another one of these “anomalies”, it stood to reason, said one of the scientists—a dark-haired fellow whose face no one could quite remember—that she should be the one they experimented on, since no one knew who she was or where she came from. Everyone agreed, though no one could quite identify this man, either—and no one seemed to notice or care when he suddenly vanished from their midst as they conducted their experiments.

[…]

Being an Angel without a Shadow was difficult, but Jade managed it as she always had: doing the best she could by the people of the Realm. Since becoming fully Shadow, Troy had ceased to work alongside her—and indeed, it felt, sometimes, like perhaps he might be working against her, using his jack to cause division between Gifted and UnGifted, or pitting the Gifted against one another. Jade countered it as best she could, but she knew from her time with Mother that building and cultivating something was naturally a slower, more arduous process than simply destroying it.

Some time later, Juros called her into his jungle.
“Sir?” She landed amid the foliage and waited for him to speak.
“Jade, what was the extent of the task I gave you regarding the Realm, the first time you approached me about your brother’s misdemeanors?”
Jade swallowed. “You instructed me to influence King Balwyn to integrate the Gifted, to call for more acceptance, and to keep the Seramis line on the throne.”
Juros lifted his head, but he still did not turn to face Jade. “And how has that fared?”
Jade felt her heart sink. “Not well, sir.” She didn’t need to say more; Juros already knew. He knew that the merchant she had Gifted with Charisma had been motivated to use it to warp the Gifts of his twin children; he knew that one twin in particular would be the one to used the twisted Charisma to remove the Crown Prince from the Realm entirely, thus exposing the younger brother to the insatiable power-addiction of the innocent jacked girl, now risen to be the Council-appointed queen of the now-derelict Realm.
“You know what this means, don’t you, Jade?” Juros asked quietly.
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Finally, Juros stood and faced her. “I cannot dismiss these allegations, that an Angel continues to fail in the tasks I give to her, that the more Jade is allowed to Gift the Realm, the more fragmented it becomes—not with Judgment Day drawing ever closer.” He sighed and pronounced those fateful words: “Here now is my justice.”

Jade stumbled, sprawling forward on her hands and knees as the Angel escorts tossed her into the jail cell. Her resolve crumbled, and she lay on the ground, weeping for all that she could have done.
“Don’t be scared,” said a familiar voice, one that she used to love—one that now sent chills down her spine. “Literally nothing happens down here. I should know.”
Jade looked up, and her eyes went immediately toward the limp, pale form sprawled on the floor of the next cell.
“Nope, not over there,” the voice came from the other side. Shadow-Troy materialized on the ground outside her cell. He sneered at his own body locked in the cage. “Don’t know why Juros assumed this would be any sort of punishment; I’m freer now than I ever was.”  To illustrate, he walked right through the bars of her cell to join her.
“Troy…” Jade shrank back from him. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled and winked at her from under the dark locks of hair hanging in his face. “I’ve come to jailbreak you, sister.”
Jade watched her brother carefully. “Why me, though? Why couldn’t you just…” she faltered and gestured to his body next door.
Troy sneered. “And risk Juros destroying me completely? No thanks! He thinks he has leverage as long as he holds my body…” Troy stepped out of the cell and laughed. “Why should I care what Juros thinks?” He turned back to face his sister. “As for why I chose you—well, you do want to get back into Juros’ good graces, don’t you? I know you, Jade; it burns you to leave a job undone.”
The Angel leaned forward and grasped the bars of her cell. “I do!” She cried. “I can do it! I know I can! All I need is just one more chance!”
Troy steepled his fingers. “And if I help you,” he continued slowly, “You’ll let Juros know, and I won’t be persona non grata anymore?”
Jade blinked at the request. “I thought you didn’t mind being separated from your body.”
“I don’t, it’s just…” Troy waved a hand. “I don’t want anything to happen to it, you know? I don’t like this sneaking around business—but in my current position, I don’t have a choice. I’d at least like that back!” He folded his arms and regarded her. “So, I help you out, you’ll help me?”
Jade didn’t even need to think twice. “I’ll do it!” she declared, holding out her hand to shake on the deal.
Troy slipped his ethereal hand into a leather glove, grasping Jade’s hand with it and covering her hand with the ungloved Shadow. Jade felt her head begin to spin, spiraling down until she came to rest on a massive black surface. Troy’s face loomed large over her as he drew his hand out from between the bars of the giant cell.
“What happened to me?” Jade cried, hearing her own voice jingling in the high-pitched knell of many bells. “What have you done?”
Troy snorted as he lifted the Angel—now no bigger than a fairy—before his face. “Well, I couldn’t very well get you out when you were your normal size!” He scoffed. “I mean, really!
Jade folded her arms. She even glowed like a fairy when she fluttered her wings. “Well?” she challenged him. “I’m out now. Change me back!”
Troy threw back his head and laughed. “Not so fast!” He dropped his gloved hand, forcing Jade to take flight to stay in the air. “I’m not going to let you fly about as an Angel, winning people over like you always do. No, I’m making this fair!”
Fair!?” Jade squealed.
“Yes,” declared Troy. “I had to deal with a new form, so now you will, also.” He turned and began walking out of the cell. “Here’s how it’s going to be, dear sister: I got Prince Beren out of the Realm—if you want to be an Angel again, you’ve got to find him, convince him to return, and get him onto the throne like Juros wants. If you can manage that, the change I’ve made will wear off and you’ll be an Angel again. If not, I win, and Juros will probably crush you under his so-called ‘justice.’” They reached the entrance to the dungeons, at the very edge of Justicia. All the Realm lay spread before them.
Troy paused to wink at Jade one last time. “Let the games begin, little Jaybird!” he said, and disappeared into the darkness.
Jade felt the burden of her mission weigh heavy on her, but she squared her delicate shoulders resolutely. She would bring Prince Beren back to the White Castle, and Troy would answer for all that he’d done. There would be no more mistakes this time.
>>>>>>>>>>

This story (and next week's installment) is a continuation of my previous series, "The Clan of Outcasts". If you've been following the series, you may have recognized some of the characters referenced here--did you? Follow the hyperlinked text earlier to read more of the series!








Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Lover's Blog Hop: "Who is Your Favorite Author?"




Question: "Who is Your favorite Author?"

Leslie Conzatti (Me!)

Can I say “too many to count”? Particularly since I started featuring/curating indie book reviews on my blog, it only increased the number of authors I adore, tenfold! I love J. K. Rowling for her quaint and colorful descriptions. I love Mark Lawrence for his mind-meltingly AWESOME prose, David Baldacci writes amazing thrillers with characters that are easy to adore; R. R. Virdi writes paranormal crime novels that are absolutely hilarious and definitely on par with Jim Butcher (another favorite!); Jeffrey Cook writes amazing steampunk and urban fantasy; I love the books by Cornelia Funke, Marissa Meyer, and Kerstin Gier. I could go on, but I’ll just leave it at that.


Jo Lindsell

There are so many authors that I love. It’s hard to pick just one. For children’s picture books I’d say Julia Donaldson. For older children’s books JK Rowling and CS Lewis. For romance Susan Hatler, Sophie Kinsella, and Freya North. For thrillers Ethan Cross. It really depends on the genre. 



Tabitha Caplinger
www.tabithacaplinger.com

Hands Down it’s C.S. Lewis. I love that his writing covers multiple genres, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Mere Christianity, and the way he can not only be direct with his faith journey when it’s called for but can also weave it so subtly but beautifully between the lines of his stories. 






 Just B. Jordan
www.JustBJordan.com

Brandon Sanderson. Most of his books are in the genre I love, but even his YA trilogy… He adds a depth to his stories that I just adore.




Skye Hegyes
www.skyehegyes.com

Hands down, my favorite author is Mercedes Lackey, although there are a lot of authors getting on up there in the favorites category nowadays. I love her worldbuilding and the characters. They are so many types of people in her worlds, it’s amazing. (Can I be here when I grow up?) 





Belinda Bekkers
www.belindabekkers.com

How do you pick just one author? That’s like trying to pick a favourite cake flavour. It depends on which day of the week it is, the weather, and what stage of the cycle the moon is in. For fiction, I enjoy John Steinbeck, Rainbow Rowell, Larry Watson, Russell Andrews, Andy Weir, John Green, and Bae Suah. Poetry is Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas. Elizabeth Gilbert, Rebecca Solnit, Leslie Jamison, and Alexis Coe.





Brian Jacques has always been my absolute favorite author. I love his descriptions and how he makes you forget where you are and drops you right into his fantasy world. I’ve read almost all of his Redwall books and MADE my children sit with me to watch the animated series. I still struggle to find a sci fi author that I really enjoy, though, as I said earlier this month- Karina Fabian’s Mind Over series was awesome. Most of the sci-fi series I have dived into have multiple authors so it is sorta hard to develop favorites.





Jebraun Clifford
www.jebraunclifford.com

Madeleine L’Engle hands down! I devoured her books as a child and teenager, and still enjoy her work today. Such an imagination, and she covers so many themes!







Jas T. Ward.




How about you? Who is YOUR favorite author? Let us know in the comments!