Every writer knows the phrase. I’ve generally taken it to mean, “only include stuff that serves the story in some way,” but many folks have their own interpretations. I’m not going to dissect the axiom here; instead, I’d like to share some of my murdered darlings. These are the story snippets that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the final cut. But I still love them, so I think they deserve a chance to see the light of day. (Plus I’ll do anything to help distract from the relentless parade of anxiety that is the news these days. 🙃) I found quite a few, so expect more similar snippets in the future.
So here they are, in no particular order. 😁
Keep calm and read often,
“What’s your name?” Kali asked the priestess.
The former thrall—was it really so? Had the mages indeed cured a thrall?—blinked up into the trees, tears streaming down the sides of her face. “Natanaree.”
Kali leaned over her shoulder, gently urging Flint out of the way. Sadira did the same on the priestess’ other side, though Rook gave the mage a wary look before moving. “Natanaree,” Kali said as she placed her hands over the young woman’s bent forearm. “I’m so sorry, but you’ll have to bear just a little more. But I promise, the pain will be gone, soon.”
Natanaree bit her lip and closed her eyes. “Mara, protect me.”
“She will, serla,” Milo said, soft but with certainty. “And we will, too.”
Talon studied him a moment, searching his eyes for something familiar. She found it. She recognized it because it was mirrored in her own eyes, though it was not a perfect reflection. It was a feeling that swelled within her; it was equal parts regret and fear and love churning together, pressing against her heart and weighing upon her shoulders. No armor would protect her from this burden. No sword could cut away the pain.
More than almost anything in the world, she wanted to be somewhere she could not. Instead, she chose to be alone.
The forest held its breath. The light snowfall that had begun only minutes ago thickened; the first snow of the year. By now, the energy from the fight had waned from Stonewall’s blood, leaving him shivering. But he dared not move from Kali’s side.
The woman, Spar, who’d mocked Flint earlier had perked up at Rook’s approach. “That one’s Flint?” she said as Rook came to stand beside her. Rook said nothing, but Spar grinned beneath her helmet. “That’s the burnie Dev was plowing, then? I heard he’d gotten a new toy. That sod always liked ’em young and spry.”
“That’s enough, Vesper.” Argent sounded almost bored, but he held himself in a ready position and his hand hovered near one of his daggers. Was he afraid? Surely not. But then, they were only six, while Stonewall had nearly twice that number at his back, and a number of them powerful mages.
Maybe we aren’t completely fucked.
“The gate’s locked, Drake,” Eris said.
“Leave the gate key to me and Edel,” Drake whispered as their group paused about twenty paces from Silver Squad. “You and yours just stick to the plan.”
Before Stonewall could stop Flint’s inevitable attack, Milo had grabbed her with his left hand. She tried to pull free, but he hissed in pain, which snapped her out of her ire. She drew back, casting a nervous look his way.
“Mi, are you–”
“Don’t bother with that rat, relah,” Milo whispered to his twin. “She’s just saying whatever she knows will upset you.”
“The lad’s right,” Drake murmured. “We’ve still got the better numbers, and magic on our side. Stick to the plan. Eris?”
Eris stood with Kali and Sadira, both of whom were wholly engrossed in their magical preparations, hands clasped, eyes closed. “Soon, I think, “ Eris said. “But it’s difficult to say. Neither seems to hear me.” She gave Drake a meaningful look. “Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve?”
Drake’s mouth was a grim line, but he said nothing. Stonewall tried to reach out to Kali through their bond; he found her utterly absorbed in her magic’s thrall. Probably best not to disturb her. He took another deep breath and looked back at Argent. “This is your last chance, ser. Let us pass, or else.”
Argent chuckled. “Very well. I choose, ‘or else.’” As if on some silent command, Silver Squad also drew their swords and slid into ready stances, all in perfect unison. Cobalt hesitated, then drew both daggers. Rook drew her bow and an arrow, but kept her gaze on the ground a few steps from where she stood.
Rook saluted and slipped into the forest, Flint at her heels. Away from the fire, the chill night air seemed to gnaw through Rook’s gear, numbing her nose and cheeks within moments. The moon, Atal, was only a thin crescent tonight, and Seren’s face was hidden. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out stars through the branches, glittering quietly in the inky sky. Eyes that burn like stars. It was not the cold that made her shiver.
“You don’t really expect to find anything out here, do you?” Flint asked after a few minutes.
“It’s worth a try.”
“I’d think the thrall would have scared away all the game.”
“Maybe.” Rook paused, listened. Finding nothing of note, she continued walking. “Maybe not.”
The younger woman stuck close to Rook’s side, and kept her hands on her daggers as they picked their way through the forest.
“If he doesn’t want to lead us,” Flint muttered, “he should just leave. Why in Tor’s name is he even still here?”
Rook stopped short as understanding swept across her. “Oh, Flint…”
“I know that tone,” the younger woman hissed, but her voice shook. “I know what you’re going to say. Don’t.”
“Dev was very wise.” Rook risked a touch to Flint’s shoulder. “He liked to say that sentinels are stronger together than alone. We’re all from different places, but we must work together, as best we can.”
“Aye, that’s what all the trainers practically beat into our brains when me and Mi were Initiates,” Flint said. “A sentinel is nothing without her brothers and sisters. We must trust each other, no matter what. So when the sergeant acted alone…” Flint spread her hands. “Maybe he doesn’t know how to trust anyone. But he should at least try. The fact that he’s not trying means he can’t or he won’t. Either way, that’s not the sort of leader I want.”
Rook awoke to the sound of footsteps. Instinct urged her eyes to open, but experience kept them closed and her breathing steady. The steps were light but uncertain. Stonewall was on watch; the horses were quiet. No assassin had come for her. No thrall had blundered up. The next breath brought Beacon’s question and the mage’s soft reply, and Rook relaxed a fraction. Surely the mender would send the mage back to the tent. But, no.
It took every bit of training for Rook to keep her expression slack with sleep as she strained to follow the mage’s footsteps. She heard Halcyon go to the horses, then she heard Stonewall’s steady tread against the hard ground. Rook’s heart sped as they spoke. She could not catch much of what they said, but she caught enough. Too much.
No. Her stomach sank and had her eyes been open, she would have closed them in weariness. Not this, again.
The sergeant’s voice was rough. “I would if I could. I want to.”
“That’s not enough,” the mage replied. “Not for me. Good night, Sergeant.” She passed by Rook a moment later and slipped back into the tent. The sergeant stood for a moment before the sound of his bootsteps faded away.
It was not until then that Rook opened her eyes and looked at the mage’s moon. He would want to know. She was beholden to tell. Already, she had so much to report and it had been so long since she’d written. She squeezed her eyes shut again, willing sleep to return, and promised herself, Tomorrow.
He had a wild urge to go to Kali’s room and fall asleep in her arms, but that was foolish. He would see her when he could, as he’d promised her…was it only last night? So much had happened since. For now, memory would have to sustain him.
Kali glanced up at Stonewall, who had been sitting between her and Natanaree, though his honey-brown gaze was not on the priestess, but on Kali. Their eyes met and she inclined her head to the priestess in silent query. Will you help me?
Stonewall would never pass up an opportunity to help anyone. He removed his helmet and pitched his deep voice to be gentle, his southern accent adding a calming lilt to his words. “I know you’re afraid. We are, too. No one knows exactly what’s going on, but you have more knowledge than any of us. Serla, it is your duty as a member of the Circle to tell us what you remember, so that we may prevent any more suffering.”
That last was said with more firmness than Kali thought necessary, but the words struck true. Natanaree looked up, hazel eyes red-rimmed, and swiped away her tears with her hand. “Aye, Sentinel…?” Color rose in her cheeks. “I never asked your name.
“Stonewall,” he said, placing a hand on his chest before introducing the others.