Saturday, March 25, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Season 2 Part 3: "Swiftly Tilting Odds"

This week, the most-nominated character was
Denahlia Firron, "The Hunter"
Season 2, Part 3
"Swiftly Tilting Odds"

Aurelle fiddled with a series of blue orbs in the darkness. She heard the fanfare, heard Beren's strong voice as he gave his coronation speech. Leaning against the cool surface of the tauranium case, the illusionist reflected over the massive changes that had happened in only the last few hours. On a whim, she splayed her palm, allowing a ream of parchment to unfold in her hands. As she listened to the new king's words, she imagined a pen inscribing them onto the paper. A pen appeared, and the words manifested themselves. She reproduced the entire speech on the parchment.

Beren spoke of his father, King Balwyn, ruling over the Realm fairly and justly; of how he didn't just believe in equal shares to everyone, but an equitable dignity afforded to all, whether Gifted or merely skilled in an area. With strong, ringing confidence, Beren repealed the unjust Outcast Ordinance, declaring all Gifted persons as once again accepted members of society. It was the King's hope, he said, that this balance should be once again restored to the Realm.

"Hello?" A muffled voice bent the silence.
Aurelle gave herself a little shake, smoothing her long white hair. Who had spoken?
A metallic clank resounded from the orb before her. "Is anybody out there?" Damaris yelled.

Aurelle laid a cautious hand on the cool surface. "Damaris?" She called. "Are you..." She almost said "extinguished", but it wasn't quite the right word. She fumbled over a few others.
"The fire is back inside me," Damaris replied. "Does this thing have a door?"
"Yes, hang on." Aurelle reached for the handle on the hatch, and pulled it open.
The young urchin popped out, his bare feet slapping on the cold marble floor. He stopped and stared in astonishment at the blackened remains of the throne room.
"I did all this?" He gasped incredulously.

"How did it start?" Aurelle asked.
Damaris shrugged, picking at the threads of his loose vest. "I was just trying to light the candles in the big—" he gestured upward, but whatever fixture had once graced the vaulted ceilings now lay among the ashes and soot on the floor. "The chandelier," Damaris said instead, "and the fire just kept getting bigger and hotter, and I couldn't stop it—" he stared at his palms and shuddered. "What happened? Is there something wrong with me, you think?"

Aurelle wagged her head. "If that's so, there's something wrong with both of us. I felt the same thing too, probably about the same time your power got out of hand."
"A surge? Really?"
Aurelle shrugged. "I'm an illusionist, Damaris; I've never been able to make my illusions into real things," she gestured to the round case behind them. "So yeah, definitely new."
"But now what is—"
"Shhhh!" Aurelle suddenly shoved him in the chest with a warning.
"Ouch!" Damaris cried, more from surprise than pain. "What was that—"
"I said quiet!" Aurelle hissed.

A spine-chilling screech echoed off the towers of the castle, and the beating of wings shuffled over the turrets.
Damaris instinctively hunched against the protective curve of the tauranium orb. "What is it?" He asked.
The cry rang out again, from somewhere overhead.
Aurelle looked upwards to the massive stained-glass window. "It sounds like a—"

The window shattered, and a large winged creature barreled into the room.
"DRAGON!" Damaris yelped, bursting into flames yet again.

"No!" Aurelle whirled on him. "Get in the orb!"
The flaming boy did just that as the dragon landed on the floor. Aurelle faced it. She would know those yellow eyes, the cool green scales, anywhere.
"Erlis!" She cried.

The dragon opened her claw and dropped a bloodied bundle of robes. A glowing blue talisman tumbled out, and Aurelle caught a glimpse of white hair, matted with blood. Her knees buckled.
"Korsan!" She cried, looking up at the dragon. "What have you done?"

"My dragon did exactly what I wanted it to," said a high-pitched voice.
Aurelle stiffened as Erlis bent her head down to allow Queen Zayra to disembark. The demented woman was still dressed in her gold and white silk, though it hung in soiled tatters around her body now. She pointed at Aurelle.

"KNEEL!" She commanded.
Aurelle's body folded of its own accord.
"That's better," Zayra mused smugly. "Now where are the Princes, and what have you done to MY throne room?"

Aurelle grit her teeth. "This isn't your throne room!" She hissed. "It belongs to King Beren, because he wears the crown of King Balwyn!"
Pain erupted on the side of her face as Zayra struck.

"IT'S MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME?" The Queen screamed. "IT'S ALL MINE! I DESERVE IT! I WANT IT BACK!" She straightened from the outburst and set her sights on the door. "And if those boys think they can keep it from me, they are very much mistaken!"
She swept from the room, leaving Aurelle with the bloodied body and the dragon.


"I've just heard a voice calling for help, and I think it's Erlis!"

Jaran frowned, "What? I thought she turned into a dragon!"
Jade shrugged. "Maybe she looks like one, but she is still herself inside."
Beren still stared at her. "I can't believe I'm seeing this," he muttered. "What did you say you were?"

Jade turned to him. "I am what's called an Abnormal. There are a few of us left. Unlike a Gifted person, who would still be very much human without exhibiting their Gifts, an Abnormal is one who cannot exactly hide what we are." She flexed her shoulders to gently flap her wings. "We also do not have Gifts in the sense that others do; we can mimic them, and affect them, but they do not belong to us like they belong to you."
"So..." Beren stammered. "Why—how did you become a fairy?"

Jade sighed. "That was because of my brother, the one I've come to warn you about. He placed a curse on me when you ran away Beren, that until you returned and took the throne like you were supposed to, I would remain fairy-size and unable to use my full powers."
Jaran huffed. "So you just brought him back to get your powers and your," he gestured to her, "size back, is that it?"
"No!" Jade reached toward them. "I really do want to help! Beren is meant to be king of the Realm, and as king he will—"

"Well, what have we here?"
The cold voice resounded from the doorway. Beren and Jaran whirled around.

"Who are you?" Beren demanded.
"How did you get up here?" Cried Jaran.
Queen Zayra blinked. "Oh, you mean the guards?" She waved a casual hand. "I simply moved them out of the way, of course." Her eyes narrowed. "Just like I am going to move you two out of my way!"
"But I am king!" Beren stammered in protest.
Zayra raised a dubious eyebrow. "Oh? But I am Queen." She sauntered forward till she was nearly in his face. "Kneel before me," she whispered.

Beren felt as if someone kicked his legs out from under him, while a weight bent his shoulders.
"Beren!" Jaran cried, but he saw the pain on his brother's face. Beren was trying to resist, but could not.
"That's better," Zayra murmured. "Now I'm just going to take this crown—"
"Oh no you don't!" Jaran sent a burst of electricity to the metal surface, which in turn repelled Zayra's touch.

"Ouch!" Zayra shrieked, flinching and drawing back. She scowled at Jaran. "HOW DARE YOU! GO TO YOUR ROOM!"
Jaran had walked outside the door and heard it slam behind him before he realized what the mad queen had done. He turned around and pounded on the door.
"Jade!" He yelled, "Do something!"
Zayra, meanwhile, had turned her sights on the Angel.
"You are beautiful," she breathed. "What can you do?"

Jade stayed exactly where she was. She knew Zayra's thrall could not affect her—but she also knew that one wrong move toward the unstable woman could spell danger for the young man currently groveling on the floor.
"I cannot affect you," she said slowly. "I mean you no harm. Please, just leave this man in peace—"

"In peace?" Zayra snorted, beckoning Beren up to his feet again. "This man is in my way! If I can't command you... maybe there are other ways!" She twirled her finger, and Beren turned his back to her. He now faced the balcony outside his room.

Jade recognized what was about to happen. "Beren, no!" She reached for his arm. "Don't do this! You have to fight it!"

He was shaking as he stumbled forward, step by step. Tears coursed from his eyes, but the thrall was too strong. He reached the edge of the stone ledge and spread his arms wide.
"STOP THIS!" Jade screamed at Zayra, but the queen gave a mad cackle.

"This is my Gift," she said sweetly. "I need power, and I must take it from the people around me. I cannot stop who I am." She gestured to the king. "Off you go!"

"NOO!" Jade whirled just in time to see Beren drop into empty space, heading for the ground some twenty yards below. Barreling out of the doorway, she folded her wings for maximum velocity, heading straight for him a three times the speed of his unresisting fall. Finally, she wrapped her arms around him, catching him securely just a few yards from the ground. It was barely enough time to get them both upright again, but she managed it. Beren's head sagged.

"Beren!" Jade gasped, holding him by the shoulders. "Beren, speak to me!"

He blinked, and a fog lifted from his eyes.
"Jade?" He murmured. "What hap—" he finally realized where he was, and frowned in confusion. "How did I get out here?"

Jade pointed up, to where the white-garbed figure stood at the top of the west tower. "She did it," said the Angel quietly. "She threw you out."

Beren blinked, feeling for the crown still on his head. "But why?" He mused.

"I AM QUEEN!" Zayra thundered.


Edri marched next to Justin, wrestling to keep focused on her step. Now that they were reunited, Edri wasn't sure who she should trust or fear more: Justin with his new Gift and dangerous new friends, or the Twin Regents who walked still with serene dignity, even in their chains. As a soldier of the White Castle, her rationale tried to convince her that she still owed her fealty to these two prisoners—but after the horrible things they did, after what they made others do, was that truly the best course of action? Had they not betrayed the very standards they pretended to uphold? Had they not gained their status through trickery and falsehood? Wouldn't it be better if she maintained loyalty to the true King of the Realm—King Beren?

"Yet wasn't Beren the one who got Justin killed, back when he was Harlock, the Castaway?" the small voice in her head observed. "What sort of a leader does that make him?"

Edri glanced at the changed man walking beside her. "Justin isn't dead now," she reminded herself.

"Yes, how convenient," replied the voice. "Just when they need to secure your fealty, they bring back your loved ones. Honestly, do you really think it was done in your best interest?"
Edri stopped and shook her head. This wasn't her own psyche speaking!

"What is it?" Justin asked, seeing the frown on her face.
"I just—" Edri looked around, and there were Lady Javira's eyes fixed on her. She scowled. "Stop it!"

Kaidan came to his sister's defense. "Stop what? What is she doing?"
Now Velora whirled around with a growl. "We need to keep moving! What's the problem?"

Edri pointed at Javira. "She was in my head!"
Javira gaped with wide, innocent eyes. "I was? How is that even possible?"

"Oh, shove it, sweetheart!" Velora seethed at her. "We all know how you and your brother conned the whole Royal Council with your shenanigans—We're all Gifted here!" She tugged at the cloak around her shoulders. "Stop trying to escape. You're going to the Castle and there's precious little that's going to change that outcome!" With that, the Alpha Wolf turned heel and continued marching, dragging the prisoners along with her.

Edri dared not think of anything but exactly what she was doing in the moment, for fear either of the Twins would try to infiltrate her mind again.

Abruptly, Justin stopped in his tracks.
"Wait!" He cried.
Velora held.
"Now what?" Kaidan started to grumble, but just then, a body charged right for Velora. She jumped aside, and Justin stretched out his hand and caught the assailant.

"Rayne?" He gasped. The last time he'd seen the officer, Rayne had been too drunk to comply with an assignment, a sort of self-inflicted forced leave. "What are you doing—"
A movement beside him caused his concentration to falter, letting Rayne dip close to the ground. A black-clothed, pink-haired woman busily dismantled the bonds holding the Twins captive.

"Stop!" Edri yelled.
"HUNTER!" Velora let loose a bestial howl, and lunged at the would-be rescuer.

Both women crashed to the ground. Velora bared her claws, and the Hunter clenched her fist, driving for the sensitive parts where the armor didn't quite cover.
"Edri!" Justin cried.
She looked up. He had Rayne in the air again. Justin nodded to the Twins. "Watch them, and don't let them try anything!"
Edri nodded. She knew her duty, and she would perform it faithfully.

Velora and the Hunter fought long and hard. Velora was fast, and she had tough armor and claws on her side, but the Hunter was nimble, and had much experience with defending herself in tense situations. Plus, Velora realized that there was some other mysterious advantage the woman had, for as they fought, she could feel blows landing where an average assailant wouldn't think to strike. The Hunter could exploit the least little crack, the smallest hesitation. Velora threw all her strength into marking the Hunter with her claws—only for those small, nimble fingers to connect at the clasps, and by the time Velora jerked her hands back, the claws remained in the Hunter's hands. She cast them aside.
"Now we're more even!" She panted, gearing up for more fighting.

Velora snarled and bolted up a tree, using the slight advantage of height to launch an attack on a weak angle she'd identified in the Hunter's defenses. Her fist connected with the rib cage, just below the shoulder blade, and the Hunter reeled with a pained cry.

"That's fine," she sneered, yanking a narrow dagger out of its sheath on her thigh. "I didn't need my claws anyway!" She slashed at the Hunter's exposed side as she whirled away.

The Hunter came around with a dagger of her own, holding it in a ready grip that worked for both defense and provided excellent offense as well. She ignored the bleeding wound and took a stab at Velora's side. The Wolf arced, and the blade glanced off the side of the breastplate. She bared her teeth. "You'll have to do better than—"

The Hunter didn't give her a chance to finish. The blade continued around to the other side, slashing at her ankle in a steep angle that slid right under the armor plates protecting her shins. Velora roared and slashed at the arm holding the knife—only for her target to shift yet again while she was mid-movement and catch her unawares on an opposing side. This time, the blade sunk deep into Velora's torso, and the breastplate flopped loose, not doing much of anything.

The Hunter grinned. "Consider this payback for all the times you made a fool out of me in these very woods!" She clouted Velora over the head, sending her reeling and bleeding.
Velora struggled to breathe after that last blow. It had traveled so deep, she couldn't wonder but it had probably hit something important. Her ears rang and her vision faded temporarily as she sank to her knees.

When she recovered, she lay on the ground, her armor removed and Justin leaning over her. Edri watched, sulking, from afar.
"... Sorry, Velora," Justin was saying.
She frowned and blinked. "What?"

The three of them were alone in the forest. Their prisoners, Rayne, the Hunter—had vanished.
"I tried to stop them," Justin explained. "The Hunter was doing something weird to you when you looked into her eyes. She took your armor off while you just stood there, and then she knocked you out and made Edri and I stand still or something while she released the Twins and made off with them and Rayne. All we heard was a ringing noise while they ran away, and when it stopped, they were already long gone." He hung his head. "I'm sorry."

"Whi..." Velora could feel the air rushing out of her with every sound. Her body was shutting down from the devastation of her wounds. "Which... way?" She gasped.

Justin glanced deeper into the forest, the way he had seen their enemies go. "West, I think," he said. "So, to the harbor." He paused to consider, "Do you think they would try to flee the Realm?"
Velora had to pant three times to get enough breath to say, "Yes."

She saw Justin look down at his hand. She hadn't felt it, but there could be no doubt that the blood dripping down his wrist from his palm was most assuredly hers. She could feel the hollowness of her chest, the cold of her extremities that bespoke her impending death.
"Can you move?" Justin asked, his voice sounding garbled and far away.
Velora stared at him, struggling to understand and reply.

"Velora!" Justin glanced up at Edri. "Edri, you're a healer, right?"

Edri balked, her mind filling with memories of how carefully she worked to hide her Gift from Justin and the others in her unit. "I don't know what you're talking about," she responded coldly.

"Yes you do!" Justin snapped. "You're Gifted, I've known that ever since we first met in the barracks! You saved that Gifted man from the lion because you could heal his wounds! Well," he pointed to Velora, "she is dying, and she needs a healer! Please, Edri!" He added begging to his request.

Edri saw how desperate he was; she also saw her chance at doing what she had been trying to do all along. If the Twins were headed to the harbor, it was no use following them anymore.

"Fine, I'll do it," she agreed slowly, "but on one condition!"
Justin's face creased with concern and agitation. "What is it?"

Edri stood her ground. "First you must bring me to the White Castle where I can reunite with Queen Zayra. Then I will heal your friend."

The Clan of Outcasts Series:
Episode 1: "Upgrades"  
Episode 2: "Strategic Maneuvers" 
#4: "Legends"  (Korsan)
#13: "Trust Me" (Jade and Troy)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reader's Review: "A Spell In The Country" by Morgan Smith

Synopsis from Amazon:
What if you weren’t what heroes are made of? What if your life was an open book? What if you were just an ordinary soldier, with ordinary skills and ordinary goals? What if you weren’t “The Chosen One” but still had to try to save the world? “A Spell in the Country” is the story of that soldier – a young woman driven not by prophesy, but by circumstances and coincidence, and by the strengths and weaknesses that anyone might possess. Lured into treason and only narrowly escaping the gallows, Keridwen was desperate to build some kind of life for herself. But between demons bent on death and mayhem, treachery at the very heart of the kingdom, and a prince who had every right to nurse a grudge against her, what were the odds that she could stay out of trouble for long?
My Review:
It's a high-fantasy adventure full of medieval kingdoms at war, and the narrator is the spunky-yet-perfectly-ordinary young daughter of a high-ranking nobleman. What more do you want?

To be honest, I did assume the story would be generic, with the old-man advisors and the horses and the soldiers and the royals who get to do whatever they want. What I did not expect was the story to begin with our narrator being tried for treason and very nearly executed for her crimes against the crown, however inadvertent—

But that's what I got, and THEN the adventure began! 
Keridwen is a noble's daughter, but she has been trained as a soldier from a young age. She gets posted to lead a troop in guarding the most remote, backwater outpost in the realm—but if there is any significant reoccurring theme in this book, I would have to say that it is "Nothing is ever what it seems." A nobleman's daughter is a capable military captain, a backwater outpost hides a terrible secret with implications that could very well mean the destruction of the entire continent, and magic comes into play where you least expect it.

I loved it, once I got past the confusion and politics of the first few chapters! Once I really got to know the characters, once I was oriented with the lay of the land, I was deeply hooked into the story and there was nothing else for it. Smith really makes the ordinary something extraordinary! Kerri makes a pretty entertaining narrator, with the scrapes she and her brusque, impulsive manner get her into! The cast of characters she encounters prove wonderfully diverse: from Sorcha, the "large and in charge" woman who basically runs the town of Penvarron, while the Duke who actually holds the position loves to dispense orders under the illusion that he's having any kind of effect at all; Prince Tirais, a young man full of his own importance and constantly at odds with Keridwen, since his mother wore the crown her superior had committed treason against; Cioren, a mysterious man from a bygone age who is on a first-name basis with the queen—and so many others. I enjoyed getting to know them, I was delighted with the story that unfolded, and I am definitely eager to explore more of the Averraine Cycle!
It is with great pleasure that I bestow upon this wonderful, unassuming book a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and add that it comes Upstream Writer Certified Highly Recommended as well! If you enjoy unexpected tales of twists and turns you don't see coming, with characters in circumstances ranging from dumb luck to very-near-prophetic predestination, and a heartfelt cast of characters that will burst to life in your imagination, you just might consider spending A SPELL IN THE COUNTRY.
Further Reading: (Medieval Fantasy/Ordinary Heroes/Female Leaders)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse  
  -Puck's Choice--Skye Hegyes
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Clan of Outcasts," Season 2 Part 2: "Strategic Maneuvers"

And the character with the most nominations for the week is...
Aurelle Divir, "The Illusionist"
 Season 2, Part 2
"Strategic Maneuvers"
"Beren!" Aurelle cried, "Help!"

 Beren sent a blast of water to engulf the white-haired woman. Her panic dissipated, sending the books and scrolls crashing to the floor.
Aurelle spluttered and wiped the water from her face. Beren hesitated at her new, regal look. The long blue coat she had been wearing before was simple enough to make her easily overlooked. In this new dress, with items shining bodice and the silver circlet around her head, she commanded attention by her very bearing.
"Sorry," he blurted when she stared at him.
She shook her head, surveying with disappointment the mess she had made. "Don't be; I couldn't have stopped that on my own."
"What was it?" Beren glanced at the scroll piled at his feet. Words filled it from edge to edge. He recognized some as quotes from books he had read—but what were the others? Where did the scroll come from?
Aurelle slipped it from his hands, an expression of consternation on her face. "I don't know; one moment I was reading, and the next—" she shuddered. "It felt like one who expects to sip from a goblet suddenly falling into the ocean."
"Like a power surge in your Gift?" Beren guessed.
Aurelle frowned and reached up to touch the circlet on her head. She winced and dropped her hand. "I have never heard of such a thing—and are you saying that this new outfit is part of my Gift?"
Beren shrugged. "Try using your Gift now. Do you remember any of the books you were reading?" He bent down and picked up the scroll at their feet. 
Aurelle snorted. "You mean the ones that were flying at my head?" She groused. "A little. Here, let me—" She opened her hand, the way she did when making her illusions. In a flash of brilliance, the words themselves appeared in the air before them, and Aurelle began speaking them aloud. 
Beren referred to the scroll. He could instantly see each passage illuminated on the paper as Aurelle read it. When she stopped, the ink on the scroll faded till it was blank again. He stared at her in wide-eyes astonishment. 
"You got all that in an instant?" He gasped.
Aurelle shrugged. "It's there in my head, like something I know—but I didn't even really read it. I guess I sort of absorbed it."
Beren nodded. "Like the incidents you would observe that would prompt your stories; you see something and it comes out in an illusion." He glanced around the massive library. "Do you think you could do that with all the information from these books?"
Aurelle followed his gaze, a bit more wistful than the prince. "I don't know how much information I can hold without taxing myself; this is all very new to me."
Beren grinned and handed her the scroll, "If you could, it would make you my most invaluable counselor, since you wouldn't need to be carrying tomes and parchments with you all the time."
Aurelle bowed low. "I will do my best, your Highness."

An explosion in the eastern wing shook the ground, and both the prince and the illusionist hastened to investigate.

The throne room lay in ruins. Black soot coated the marble, and all that remained of the wooden furniture and fixings were charred heaps.
At the center, a glowing figure huddled, his light increasing by the moment.
Damaris raised his head, though his skin shone so brightly that it was hard to distinguish his face. 
"Help!" A voice rasped from the man-shaped inferno. "I can't stop it!"
Beren let loose a torrent of ice and water from his hands, but the minute it reached the flames, every last drop evaporated into steam. Soon, the smoke and steam clouded the whole room—and Damaris still glowed at its center. Beren could see the cracks in the marble floor glowing molten-hot.
"Tauranium!" Aurelle cried, producing an image of it in her hands. "It's strong enough to resist the most extreme temperatures. We could enclose him in a case of tauranium!"
Beren coughed. "But Aurelle, where are we going to get—"
"Augh!" Aurelle suddenly flailed her arms, and the round projection giving above her hands congealed into a shining, silvery color and rolled away from her, toward the boy. A hatch flopped open. 
Beren didn't stop to think about it. "Damaris!" He cried as the smoke burned his throat and the floor buckled and swayed beneath him. "Get inside!"
Damaris flung his burning body through the hole, and instantly, the room plunged into darkness without the brilliant light to illuminate it. The marble floor faded back to cold stone, and Beren and Aurelle both sighed with relief.
Approaching the round fixture, Beren could feel the heat radiating off it—but, true to what Aurelle had said, the metal didn't melt or warp.
Beren coated the ground around it with ice, cooling the room further, and after many minutes, he could cause a layer of frost to form on parts of the orb, save the areas where Damaris moved. At last, it was cool enough to draw near.
"Damaris?" Beren called, but neither of them heard any reply.
Footsteps echoed down the hallway outside. "Beren?" Jaran called. "Are you—WHAT THE BLAZES???"
Beren glanced at Aurelle. "Watch over Damaris, will you?"
She nodded. "I suppose this means you're moving the coronation to the courtyard," noted the illusionist with some of her old, wry demeanor.
Jaran still stood stunned in the doorway, gazing around the pitch-black interior. "What happened here?" He squawked.
Beren patted him on the back. "I'll explain everything, just let the servants know that we're moving out-of-doors."
Jaran blinked several times before he could coax his body into movement. "H-h-how.... What—Where is Damaris?" He followed his brother automatically. 
"I said I would tell you later," Beren stated. "Now we need to find the Chief Steward and—" he stopped as he arrived at the outer gate. 

Servants were already hard at work, cleaning and decorating the courtyard fit for a coronation. 

"No need to order anyone," laughed a voice. "I have it all under control."
Beren stared dumbfounded at the young woman standing in the doorway. Finally stripped of her finery and dressed in simple fabrics, Azelie looked no less stunning—even more so, since her natural beauty was not over-glossed with glittering shams. 
She watched the tableau before her with a calculating eye.
"Everything will be in readiness by the time the sun reaches the horizon, your highness."
Beren gave himself a little shake and muttered, "Ah, er, thank you, Azelie. I'll, um, go prepare my, ah, coronation speech, I guess..."

Jaran whistled when they reached the steps of the west tower. "Wow!" He cried. "I wonder how long it took her to get all that together?"
Beren wagged his head. "Probably she noticed Damaris was having a problem and figured it out while I was still dealing with—" he stopped talking and stopped moving as the notion slammed into his brain. Aurelle, Damaris, and Azelie, all having surges roughly at the same time; it fit! But what did it mean? Why weren't he and Jaran affected? What caused it? Beren shook his head and forced himself to write a speech worthy of a king of the Realm.

These questions bothered him all through the coronation gala, all through the ceremony at the nadir of sunset, and into his speech, so carefully prepared. Azelie helped by reminding him of what he planned to say, and he was met with applause, but the questions still returned as he walked with Jaran to their rooms in the west tower.

"Um... Beren?" Jaran had stepped ahead of him and now called back to him. Beren ascended the last few steps to join his brother.
His bedroom door swung gently in the breeze from his window.
Beren shared a glance with Jaran. "I closed this door when I left, didn't I?"
The two brothers crept forward cautiously. Beren flexed his hand, and a thin sheen of frost spread over his skin. Jaran did the same, and a glowing arc of light spanned his fingers. 
At a nod from Beren, the two crashed through the door, Gifts at the ready.
A whirl of white unfurled before them, and a voice cried, "No, wait!"

Jaran regarded the intruder dubiously. She dressed all in white, with golden hair, and had a pair of white wings attached at her shoulders.
Beren, however, looked like he'd just had the shock of his life. Horror and surprise laced his features.
"JAY?!?!" He coughed hoarsely.
She smiled. "Hello, Harlock," she used his false name. "Or should I say," she swept her wings aside in a reverent bow, "your highness, King Beren. That was a good speech, by the way."
Beren remained exactly as he was. "B-but... but you—" he spluttered. "Jay, I thought you were a fairy!" A red flush flamed across his features as he said it.
She chuckled and shrugged. "I was," she acknowledged, "for a time. Actually, I am an Angel. And my name is Jade, not Jay."
"Your Gift is wings?" Jaran queried skeptically, still standing behind his brother.
Jade flexed her wings. "Not in the sense you understand, Jaran. I'm not Gifted, I'm—"
"Sorry to interrupt," said Azelie's voice. "But I've just heard a voice calling for help, and I think it's Erlis!"

Inky blackness, everywhere. It filled his mouth, blocked his eyes and ears—Rayne had just made up his mind to struggle when he found solid ground under his feet and stumbled forward, gasping real air as he fought to get his bearings.
Beside him, the Hunter flopped on the ground much like him, and the strange man who had laid claim on his life stepped out of thin air as if walking through a doorway. Outcast prick! Rayne struggled to his feet. The sun, at the full brightness of midday, shone bleakly through thin clouds. The city-bred soldier took one look at the rocky crags around them knew exactly where they stood: the Wilderness, the naked expanse along the eastern border of the Realm.
The trouble was, he had been standing on the complete opposite end of the Realm only moments ago. How did this happen?

An animal shriek tore him from his musings. The Hunter sailed through the air, her body slamming into Troy, flattening him against the cliffside. 
"YOU SCUM!" She screamed, knife clenched in her fist. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
A curious thing happened. One moment, it looked as if the shadows around Troy deepened, till he was almost shrouded in black. Then the Hunter dropped to the ground, slumping against bare rock as she did.
Troy faded back into existence, standing just behind her, brushing a bit of rock dust off his cape.
"Now then, Miss Firron," he mused calmly. "Let's not get too—" 
She sprang at him again, and once more, he propelled himself backward in a wisp of black smoke. 
"Calm dow—"
Again, lunge and dodge. 
"Miss Fi—"
Around and around they went, Troy doing his utmost to remain out of reach, but still very much present. Denahlia wasn't having any of it, though. She leaped and bounded tirelessly, twisting and watching carefully, till at last, Troy made one jump too many—and this time, when he appeared, Denahlia had her pistol out, and pulled the trigger the instant he appeared.
A glistening, black wound unfolded on Troy's forehead, and he staggered back, shock frozen on his features. He gasped, gurgled, flopped back—and regained his footing with a hearty laugh. Denahlia still held the pistol's trigger down, so tight was her grip, and she stared as the "wound" vanished, leaving whole skin, as Troy—the stranger she had shot at point-blank range—smiled at her. Laughed in her face.
"I must say, you are nothing if not tenacious!" He declared with admiration, as if she had just given a stunning performance. Hardly the demeanor of a man toward the person who tried to kill him.
"WHAT THE BLAZES ARE YOU?" She shrieked, tossing away her gun in disgust. "You cannot be human. I saw that." She scowled at him. "You're not Gifted; no Gift can do what we have seen you do."
Rayne glanced down at the Hunter's empty gun at his feet. She had tried bullets and Troy had evaded each one.
The stranger himself gave a flourishing, theatrical bow. "You are right," he admitted, "I am not Gifted, though my abilities are tied to the Gifts. I am what is called an Abnormal; I am a Shadow. I can blend in to my surroundings and travel anywhere I want in the Realm, via the shadows I draw to myself."
Rayne stared at Troy. Abnormal? First there were the Gifted humans, and now there were Abnormals who weren't human at all? Where did they come from, then?
Troy went on. "Nice to see you've calmed down a bit. Now, let me explain the upgrades I've given you. You can see through most materials, no matter how thick. That's x-ray vision."
Denahlia blinked three times and squinted. Rayne heard her gasp. 
Troy nodded, "Also, I have given you magnification."
"Huh?" Denahlia blinked again, and Rayne could see her lips moving as if reading something. She raised a finger in front of her face and made a tapping motion. Suddenly, Denahlia flung her body prone with a yelp. Dust kicked up around her as she threw her arms up protectively and thrashed to avoid some invisible peril.
"Denahlia, stop!" Troy barked at her. "Blink again!"
The Hunter ignored the fact that he'd used her first name and blinked, allowing her hands to flop against the ground as she panted heavily.
"I saw... I s-s-saw... I saw—"
"Grains of sand," Troy supplied calmly. "Magnified a thousand times."
"Sand?" The Hunter picked a tiny grain off her sleeve. 
"It'll take some getting used to," Troy mused. "Anyway, there's more. I've also given you a few other tricks..."
A ringing developed in Rayne's ears, a high-pitched whine that drowned out the Shadow's voice. He winced and clamped his eyes shut, but the squeal only intensified. He felt his hand clamp on the hilt of his sword. Rayne opened his eyes to see if either of his companions noticed—almost immediately, he locked eyes with the Hunter. Her glowing turquoise gaze held him, as the whine only subsided a very little. He stood just behind Troy, so she could be possibly looking at the arrogant Abnormal when she really wasn't. Rayne could see his lips still moving. He had no idea—for that matter, neither did Rayne. What was the female doing?

As abruptly as it began, the ringing stopped. Rayne blinked. Denahlia had stood, brushing the dust off herself. Troy was no longer babbling—in fact, he was choking on his own blood as Rayne's sword protruded from his torso. Rayne cursed and released the bloody hilt, letting the body slump to its knees. 
Troy stared at the Hunter. She smiled.
"You think we are just toys to play with?" She growled, "Mechanisms for you to tinker and reprogram?" She reached over his head and grabbed the sword, doing even more damage as she yanked it out. "Think again."
Troy's body didn't dematerialize like it had before. Rayne stared at it, unmoving as Denahlia offered the bloody sword to him.
"Let's go," she said.
"Go where?" Rayne stammered, wiping the sword on the ragged edge of his tunic. He would need water and clean rags to get it ready for use again.
Denahlia shrugged and gestured to the forest. "Back to the harbor, I guess. Anywhere but with him and his kind—and I definitely have no interest in chasing down a dragon, of all things!"
Rayne stumbled after the lithe woman, still glancing over his shoulder and expecting to see a black cloud rise up and chase after them. "Do you think he's really dead?" He asked.
Denahlia scowled. "I don't doubt it, but I am done caring, either. He used us, Rayne—"
"You used me," he pointed out.
Denahlia shook her head. "Whatever; we get back, we part ways, and we can forget this whole thing ever happened."
Rayne snorted. "Well, except that now you have amazing things that your Gift can do. I will only need a few tankards of the strongest ale to wash my conscience clean."
Denahlia didn't reply.

Justin sighed and reached out his hand as they passed under some wild apple trees. He chuckled to himself as the smooth skin of a ripe apple slapped against his palm.
Velora sighed behind him. Justin ignored her. The truce between them was an uneasy one. He knew full well that she wasn't happy about his presence, but when an Angel speaks, there isn't much one can do. He liked Korsan, though. He'd heard stories of the King's Mage back in the heyday of King Balwyn, of the incredible feats of magic this young man was able to perform in service to his King and the Realm. He wasn't so young now, but his power surely had waxed rather than waned. Still, he maintained an honest and approachable air about him, unassuming and deeply connected to the world around him. Justin could feel the Mage watching him, and dared not turn around, lest he make eye contact and allow the Mage to read his mind, as magic users were wont to do. 
The branches overhead rustled with a light breeze. Justin glanced up in time to see two objects descend from the canopy.
"Ow!" Velora snarled as an apple thunked her on the armor-plated shoulder. She glared at Korsan, and Justin welcomed the response. Apparently the young Alpha Wolf harbored resentment toward just about everybody, not just him.
"What was that for?" She seethed as Korsan calmly picked up the bruised apple and offered her his unblemished one.
"If you spent less time nursing your wounded pride and focused more on your surroundings," the Mage advised, "you would find the journey that much more pleasant."
She snatched the apple from him, slicing it into perfect sections with a rake of her savage claws. "I don't have much use for pleasant journeys or a comfortable life," she grumbled. "We need to get to the castle and warn the others about this shadow-being." Her body tensed as soon as she finished speaking, and she whirled to her left. "Look out!"

A long, barbed tail snaked out from behind a screen of trees, knocking down half a dozen in one blow. In the clearing now exposed to them sat a dragon. On the dragon's back, two women sat, one in a tattered silk dress, the other in armor bearing the crest of the White Castle. Both had three scars on the right temple, and bright-crimson hair swept over to one side.
Justin raised his hand and squinted. "Edri!" He called.
The woman in armor leaned over the dragon's shoulder to peer at him. "Justin?"
"Well, well!" Cried the other woman. "If it isn't the Banished Heretic who got himself exiled for his foolish ravings!"
Korsan stood firm and merely gave a courteous nod. "Greetings to the false Queen Zayra. I did not recognize your appearance."
She did not seem to catch the slight, but stroked her scarlet hair with a self-conscious smile. "You like it?" She asked shyly. "I wanted to look just like my Guardian."
Two more figures emerged from the trees behind the dragon.
"So!" cried Kaidan, eyeing the trio, "We meet again, Mage!"
Korsan's expression hardened. "So it would seem, young Kaidan."
Javira sidled forward, and Justin saw Velora tense. She turned her strange gaze on him, though, and he felt his thoughts scramble over in his head. "What might you three be doing in the woods just now?" She asked innocently.
Justin knew that these two were responsible for oppressing the Gifted population after the death of King Balwyn. The fact that they were here in the forest instead of the castle meant that, possibly, they had been overthrown. If there really was a King Beren now, perhaps the Crown Prince had really returned, and things were finally okay.
Justin felt his thoughts aligning. He was going to tell these newcomers about their mission, about their friends, about everything—but just then, he felt Korsan move to stand beside him, and the compulsion broke.
"Javira," the Mage warned softly, "leave the poor boy alone. One might also ask what you are doing so far from the castle."
"Don't remind me!" Zayra snapped as Edri slipped off the dragon's back. "My castle was stolen from me, and I want to get it back!" She jerked on the dragon's neck, and its head swung around to stare at the three. "Don't even think about getting in my way!"

Edri reached Justin and threw her arms around him. He welcomed the embrace. 
"When you were summoned to work in the castle, I never thought I'd see you again," he whispered. 
"They told me your entire unit was slaughtered by the Outcasts," she murmured. "I lost all hope after that!"
Justin drew back to look at the earnest face before him. "They weren't completely wrong, but Edri, so much has happened since then! And these Outcasts, these Gifted ones, they are friends, not threats. Why, even I have a Gift now!"
The former captain blinked. "You what?"
Justin stretched out his hand to gently pluck a flower from a nearby plant. Edri watched in astonishment as the flower floated toward her—only to shrivel and die just inches from her hand.
Zayra glared at them. "I have had enough of you three. We are leaving and you cannot stop us. Come, Edri!"
The captain felt the familiar pull of the Queen's thrall. It tugged her away from Justin, but she kept a hold on his hand. "Your Majesty," she begged. "These are friends. They are not the enemy we thought! At least let us bring Justin along—"
Dragon and rider whirled upon her suddenly. "HOW DARE YOU DEFY ME!" Zayra screamed. "THEY HAVE INSINUATED THEMSELVES BETWEEN US, AND TURNED YOU AGAINST ME!"
Edri shook her head, dropping Justin's hand. "No, I am not against you—"

"Awooooo!!" A long howl split the air, and suddenly, Velora bounded over the heads of those in front of her, to land, claws flexed, in front of the Queen riding the Dragon.
"Of course we're going to stop you!" She snarled. "You're not fit to rule! Your reign has ended!"
"NOOO!" Zayra pounded the dragon scales in front of her with a delicate white fist. The scaled tail whipped around, smacking into Velora and sending her flying. "YOU WILL ALL DIE!!"
Korsan focused on his staff, muttering a spell and increasing it's power. 
"No, wait!" Edri yelled at him. "Don't hurt the dragon, it's Erlis!"
Justin grabbed for Edri's hand again, but Velora had just recovered from smashing into the tree, and once again launched herself at the dragon. It growled a warning, and smoke issued out of its nostrils. Fire would soon follow.
Justin saw the smiles worn by the Twins. Somehow, they were responsible for the mayhem; he had to stop them. But how?
"Hey, ginger!" He shouted, charging toward Kaidan.
The dragon lifted a claw and smacked Velora against the ground, causing a tremor that made Justin stumble a bit.
"Kaidan!" Javira cried. "She's wearing my armor!"
Justin watched Velora cough a bit, and slowly struggle to her feet. Just then, the dragon sent a jet of flame over her head, igniting the tree behind her. Korsan shouted a spell, and a fluffy blue cloud enveloped the blaze, extinguishing the fire before it had much time to spread.
Zayra wailed as the dragon reared, and when it came down, a claw wrapped around Korsan, trapping him.
"I CAN'T!" Zayra gripped her head with both hands as the dragon spread its wings and prepared to lift off. "MY HEAD! IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN! MAKE IT STOP!"
"My Queen!" Edri cried, whipping off her glove and running toward the dragon, but it was too late. The dragon ascended into the deepening night, the Mage in its claws and the suffering Queen on its back. 
Edri dropped to her knees, tears welling in her eyes. "She left me..." she whimpered. "How could she leave me behind?"
Justin stepped forward to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder, but Captain Edri smacked it away as she stood. "No!" She snapped, whirling on him. "This is your fault! You drove her away!"
"Edri, I'm sorry!"
Movement in the bushes caused him to stop and stretch out his hand. Kaidan and Javira bobbed up into the air, in the very act of sneaking away while no one watched them. "And just where do you think you're going?" Justin demanded.
Javira fixed her weird gaze on him again. "Let us go, good knight," she cajoled him. "Our quarrel is not with you."
Justin shook his head. He wasn't about to fall for whatever trick she tried on him a second time. 
"No, but I am sure the King would be very anxious to have the two of you back in custody—especially with a mad Queen hell-bent on attacking the castle with a dragon. You're coming with us." He used his free hand to draw thick vines out of the trees, and wrap them tightly around the two siblings. A swath of fabric from the edge of his tunic served as gags for the pair.
"You are under arrest, in the name of King Beren of the White Castle," Justin announced. 
Kaidan and Javira squirmed against their bonds, but they could do nothing. Satisfied, Justin turned back to check on Velora. She was still breathing, the armor had at least preserved her life, but the pressure and the blows definitely left their mark. Justin glanced back to Edri, standing with her glove clutched in her right hand, while her left glowed faintly in the moonlight.
"Edri," he said softly. "Will you help me?"
She scowled and did not move. "I don't want to," she answered flatly.
Justin stared until she met his gaze. "Please?" He begged.
Edri let out a deep sigh, but pressed her healing hand against Velora's neck. Seconds later, Velora gasped and coughed as her body righted itself. Justin helped her to her feet. 
The Wolf glanced at the two prisoners, and the young captain glaring at her as she slipped her glove back on her glowing hand.
Velora turned to Justin with a raised eyebrow. "Aren't you going to arrest her too, for treason and conspiracy against the crown?"
Edri sniffed and her lips tightened.
Justin shook his head. "That's no way to treat somebody who just saved your life, Velora." He gave her a significant nod. "We have more important things to worry about, remember?"
The Wolf nodded. "Let's get to that castle before it's too late!"

The Clan of Outcasts Series

Episode 1: "Upgrades" 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

WIP of the Month: March-ing On!

C'est Fini!!!

Well, friends, I have done it! February, in spite of being the shortest month, was a rousing success! I finished my Wattpad-exclusive story, "The Water-Man", with a week to spare, and that left me free and clear to take a little "get caught up on reading library books" break before starting into my next WIP-of-the-month!
And I must say, what a relief it is. The characters all cooperated with what they should be doing in the story, I was able to take the time to get things set up in conversation, rather than having to shoe-horn some on-the-nose exposition to get everybody into position and where they needed to be, along with what they needed to say.

Reading it aloud to my writing buddy was an excellent opportunity to test if I had written well. Especially when the way I wrote garnered a reaction in all the right places. Tugging at the heartstrings of a particular Wattpad reader gave me great joy. Most of all, I am glad to finally be able to draw the two parts of the story together. For so long, it had to be two separate parts, and they seemed to be completely unrelated—but all the hemming and hawing I went through over Mollie and her descent into murderous madness was worth it when I figured out how exactly to bring the final mystery to light without being too obvious or requiring anybody to act out-of-character just for this one scene.

Now it is over, I can chalk that up to a successful attempt and use it as motivation to fuel many more successes in the months to come!

What's Upcoming for March?


March's little WIP! A mock cover I designed myself; Isn't it pretty??
This month, it's going to be a short story I am writing for a tribute anthology in honor of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. The story I am writing is called "The Starborn Legacy", and it's sort of a combination "love child" of two stories I wrote for my NaNo project of 2013—the one based on my first-ever attempt at the Suggestion Box series

The basic plot came from the story "The Legacy", about a mother who grew up feeling abandoned by her own mother, a famous explorer, so she reacts by doting on her own daughter. The daughter discovers a secret that the grandmother left behind, and the two of them finally work things out to be able to follow the clues to a discovery the grandmother had saved for her descendants to find. 

Since this is more of a sci-fi/fantasy theme, though—I thought I might borrow from the setting and the concepts used in "The Vega Effect", except without the creepy, horror-like ending. 

Hence the mother and daughter live comfortably in a colony on the other side of the galaxy, and the scorned grandmother is a famous terraformer and galactic explorer. Much of the story is going to follow "The Legacy"... except one key event that is central to the plot, a device lifted straight from "The Vega Effect," with dire consequences for many characters. You'll have to wait and see... or meanwhile, read those two stories on Wattpad (if you like; the blog posts linked above are merely excerpts, not the complete story) for a bit of an inkling as to what might happen! 

Possibly the biggest challenge for this project ISN'T that it's going to drag on and on till I burn out... but that I am going to have to work at keeping the story under eight thousand words. Considering "The Legacy" itself was just over ten thousand... I've got my work cut out for me! The good news is that it shouldn't take me very long to write, and then I can get it beta-read and polished before submitting it in April!

In addition to that story, I am also working at making progress on The Clan of Outcasts! After delaying it a week because of lack of input, a small group of reader-friends I'm in on Facebook came through this week, and I got enough character nominations to put together a plan for a new episode coming on Saturday! (I also tried making a poll here on GooglePlus, but that didn't go over so well...) All that to say--If you really like the Clan of Outcasts, literally the only way I can keep it going is if you comment on a post or somehow let me know that you would like to nominate certain characters! I think I'm going to stick with doing it bi-weekly, since it usually takes about a week to get people to nominate characters. It's not restricted to only one character, and it's not limited to just one day, either. I'm going to keep it wide open and guideline-free until it gets so far out of hand that I have to create parameters and stipulations--but right now, I'm getting so few responses that there is really no need! The more nominations I get, the more I can do with (and to!) these characters! Don't hesitate, nominate!

My goal is still to read at least 2 indie books and feature their reviews this month! I'm about halfway through the first book, A Spell in the Country by Morgan Smith--and it's getting pretty exciting, so it shouldn't be long till I've finished that one!
Meanwhile, I've finally pulled my new books off the shelf (Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers and The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss) and started reading! I have so many ebooks to read, it's going to be a looong time before I find myself in a library again, I think. 
Not only indie ebooks, but there is also a lot of Wattpad reading to catch up on! I start following authors whose stories sound really cool... and then I never quite get around to reading the works of these authors I'm following. No more! I am just going to keep plugging away till I've covered them all!

So that's what I'm up to this month! How about you? What are you reading or writing? Do you have any other goals that you've set this month? Tell me about them!
Catch You Further Upstream!