Catalyst Moon: Exile – new novella

Howdy!

If you’ve been around these parts for a couple years, you might recall me talking about a Catalyst Moon prequel novella. Due to life, Exile has been relegated to the backburner for a while now, and the truth is, even after several rewrites, it still needs a lot of work. Also, I’m not sure when, or even if, I’ll “properly” publish it. I’ve waffled about what to do with it, and have ultimately decided to share it here, as it’s doing no good collecting virtual dust in my hard drive.

I’ll post each section on the blog every week (ish), so stay tuned.

And as always with any fiction I share on this blog, this is still sort of a rough draft, so please excuse any typos. However, please do let me know what you think. All feedback, thoughts, musings, squees, and/or rants are welcome. 😊

Take care and stay awesome,

Lauren

ficlet – Shadow Duty

Hi there!

If you follow me on social media, you might have seen mention of a FREE ficlet. Well, the time has come. This is a little something that popped into my head during my recent re-read of Incursion (Book One in my series, for the uninitiated.)

I hope you enjoy. 🙂

Thanks, and stay awesome,

Lauren


Shadow Duty

            Ganister kept her back straight and her gaze ahead, as sentinel protocol dictated. Her daggers and sword were polished to a sheen, and the hematite inlaid in her cured leather armor was clean enough to eat off of. She stood at attention while her new commanding officer, Captain Jonas, approached.

            “Welcome to Starwatch Bastion, Ser Ganister,” he said, his boots crunching in the snow. Fair haired and blue eyed, he was only a few years her senior—around twenty-eight summers—and his sterling reputation had, in part, drawn her to this remote location.

            Ganister saluted: crossing her arms before her chest and bowing deeply. “Thank you, Captain.”

            When he returned the bow, albeit less deep, Ganister realized that her new posting in Starwatch Province would be less-than-orthodox. In her experience, sentinel officers rarely, if ever, saluted their subordinates. Perhaps he read her surprise, for a small smile crept to his face before he sent it away. “You’ll find we’re not much on protocol up here,” he said, indicating the direction of a large stone building she took to be the mage bastion.

            Ganister fell into step beside him as they crossed the walled compound to the bastion. “I didn’t realize, ser. I’d thought…” She trailed off, biting the inside of her cheek before she said something foolish to her new captain.

            But he’d caught on. “You thought, because I was once in the High Commander’s elite squad, I’d be a stickler for rules and regulations.”

            She flushed, thankful for how her helmet hid most of her face. “Aye, ser.”

            “Sorry to disappoint,” he said, and she couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

            Better to assume not. Ganister inwardly scolded herself for her misstep and tried to salvage the situation. She pointed to the stone buildings they were approaching. “That’s the bastion, ser?”

            “That’s the garrison,” the captain corrected, adding, “And the bastion.”

            It took all her training not to show her surprise. “They’re…”

            “In the same structure, yes.” Captain Jonas gestured to the surrounding, snow-capped mountains that loomed over the gray stone walls of the compound. “Livable space is hard to come by this far north. Close quarters with mages are part of life.” He slanted her with a look she could not read. “Is that a problem?”

            “No, ser,” she replied immediately. “It’s just… I’ve never heard of mages and sentinels living beside one another in this way.”

            “Ah. Well, you get used to it.”

            They reached the building, where two sentinels stood guard on either side of the door. Both snapped to attention at the captain’s approach, and his answering nod of response was completely proper. One of the guards unlocked the door and Ganister followed her new captain inside.

            There was a large main room with several fireplaces, all burning bright. Ganister half-wondered if the fires were mage-made, for the sheer amount of wood to keep such flames constantly burning would consume a forest, especially now that winter was nearly here. Tapestries covered each wall and lanterns hung from the wooden beams, giving the room a cozy feeling despite its size. Now that she was inside, Ganister could see that the interior housed two levels; the top level had a balcony along the interior perimeter, looking down over the main space.

            “The mages sleep up there,” Captain Jonas said, pointing at the upper level. “Our barracks and infirmary are on the ground floor, though we all share the common area.”

            Indeed, there were an assortment of tables, chairs, and benches in the main space that made Ganister think someone had mixed a parlor with a mess-hall. A few mages sat at one of the tables, sipping tea or speaking quietly. A single sentinel sat at another table, cleaning her gear. Both groups ignored one another, though the sentinel offered the captain and Ganister a salute and nod of greeting – respectively.

            The mages did not so much as glance over.

            “There’s our library,” the captain said, pointing to a small bookshelf beside one of the hearths. “And…” He trailed off with a sigh. “Excuse me.” He then strode past Ganister toward the hearth, where she could see a small, stockinged foot sticking out on the bookshelf’s other side. Perhaps it wasn’t protocol, but Ganister needed to observe how the mages were treated here, so she hurried after her new officer. Learn by doing, as the saying went.

            Captain Jonas stood before the foot and stared down at the child attached to it. “Young lady, you’re supposed to be with Mage Riyo, practicing healing.”

            A little girl, no more than eight summers, peered up at the captain through dark bangs. “But I hate healing. I want to read.”

            So she was a mage. Before the captain had spoken, and given how the sentinels and mages lived close together here, Ganister had not been sure this wasn’t a sentinel recruit. The Circle started them so young, after all. But the girl’s handspun clothes and messy braid also labeled her a mage, even if Ganister had not caught sight of the twin crescent moons tattooed on her little wrist.

            “Surely you’ve read that book a thousand times,” the captain replied.

            A grin split the girl’s face. “Aye, but this is a thousand and one.”

            “You must keep up with your lessons.”

            She fluttered the book’s pages, then beamed up at the captain again. “If I go to Riyo now, will you teach me the viol later?”

            “Not until you’re a little older, remember?”

            “But I want to play it now.

            The captain knelt before her and gently pried the book from her hands. “Kali, you must learn to control your magic. Do you understand? The One god has given you great power; you must use it wisely.”

            His tone was, to Gan’s thinking, a little too harsh, but the little girl only nodded. No doubt she’d heard this lecture before. “Yes, Jonas.”

            Jonas, not Captain, Gan thought. Strange.

            “You’re intelligent and strong,” the captain continued. “But you are easily distracted.”

            As if to prove his point, Kali looked over at Gan, and her dark eyes widened. “Who are you?”

            “Ganister,” she said, adding a small bow. “But you may call me Gan, if you like.”

            “I’m Kalinda, but you can call me Kali. I like to read.”

            Charmed by the girl’s enthusiasm, Gan smiled. “I can see that. Do you have a favorite story?”

            “All of them!” Kali considered the shelf beside her. “But I’ve read these over and over. We need more.”

            “I envy you,” Gan replied. “I can’t read proper Aredian like you can. Most sentinels can’t. We only–”

            Captain Jonas cleared his throat and Ganister snapped her mouth shut. He then held out his free hand to Kali, who accepted and allowed him to pull her to her feet. Gan hid her surprise at the captain’s willingness to touch a mage, gloves or not. Although hematite granted sentinels an immunity to magic, most would never lay a hand on a mage unless ordered to do so.

            “Do you need help getting upstairs to Mage Riyo?” Captain Jonas asked. Kali’s face fell and she shook her head. He seemed to debate something, casting Gan another glance she couldn’t read, then nodded to the little mage. “Run along, now, Kali.”

            The girl stepped away from him, and Ganister’s breath caught at the way she limped, as if each step took the greatest effort. “Bye, Jonas,” she said, waving to the captain. “Bye, Gan.”

            The captain watched as Kali reached the stairway and began what was surely a laborious process of clambering up each step. Ganister fought to keep still, following the officer’s lead, until she could tolerate it no more. “Ser,” she whispered to him. “Shouldn’t we help her anyway?”

            “She usually prefers to walk on her own.” The words were terse, but his gaze did not leave the little mage until she was out of sight. At last, he glanced back at Gan. “Right. Let’s finish our tour.”

*

            Four years into her posting at Starwatch, and Ganister was almost used to the winters here. Almost. The cold, she’d learned to tolerate, but she could not abide being snowed in. This winter, in particular, was the worst yet. Snow drifts piled to the bastion’s second story, effectively trapping mages and sentinels alike in their common building. There was only so much patrolling that Ganister could handle—the compound wasn’t that big—so when Captain Jonas had requested volunteers to drop off letters to the nearest fleet rider station, she’d eagerly volunteered.

Perhaps too eagerly. It’d meant a grueling day of slogging through the snow, but she’d finally mastered the snow-shoes and decided that biting wind was a small price to pay for freedom. Even so, by the time she returned late that night, her heart soared at the sight of the compound’s walls. All thoughts turned to shedding her gear and making use of the hot springs – one of the few amenities that little Starwatch Bastion could boast.

When Gan slipped into the bastion, silence met her. It was late enough that only the two gate-guards outside had been awake—huddling by their fires, poor dears—so she tiptoed to her quarters to drop off her gear before making her way to the side building that housed the springs. Divested of all but her soft clothes, Gan slipped out of her room on silent steps. When she entered the common area proper, she paused in the shadows cast by the blazing hearths. She was not alone.

Kali was curled on one of the larger padded chairs, wrapped in a blanket with a book splayed open on her chest. The soft snores the girl emanated made Gan smile, for Kali always insisted that she didn’t snore, and Gan was a sodding liar for saying otherwise.

Just as Gan was about to rouse the girl to send her to her room, she caught a familiar tread. The sound of Jonas—no, she scolded herself, Captain to you—made her pause. The officer emerged from the kitchens, a mug of tea in his hand, then caught sight of the sleeping mage girl. He glanced around; Gan shrank against the wall so he wouldn’t see her, though she couldn’t have said just why. Satisfied that no witnesses were about, the captain set his mug down and went to Kali.

He knelt beside her. The firelight cast his hair in platinum and painted a look of utter longing the stern planes of his face – longing, and love. Gan’s throat tightened. Carefully, the sentinel captain gathered up the mage girl—including her book and blanket—and rose, presumably to return her to her room upstairs.

But doing so would let him pass right beside Ganister. She couldn’t move without giving herself away, so she merely pretended to fiddle with her tunic, praying he wouldn’t notice and knowing it was a foolish hope.

Indeed, his footsteps paused just paces away. A warmth stronger than any hot spring flooded Gan as she reluctantly met her captain’s gaze. But to her shock, there was no reproach in his face, only a surprise that mirrored her own. Surprise, but also…

Fear.

He masked the emotion quickly, though, and frowned at her. “Gan. No one told me you were back.”

She saluted and kept her voice to a whisper. “Just returned, ser. All’s well. There weren’t any letters for us.”

            Despite her attempt not to look at Kali, her eyes slid to the sleeping child, and Jonas—the captain—straightened. “You should get some rest,” he said, his voice low. “You must be exhausted.”

            “I wanted a soak,” Gan admitted. “Does she do this often? Fall asleep with a book on her lap?”

            Whatever he’d thought she was going to ask, this was not it. Jonas’ gaze crept down to the girl in his arms, and Ganister swore his grip tightened a fraction. “Too much. But…” He took a shaking breath. “It’s her way. I don’t mind returning her to her room.”

            “I’m sure she appreciates it,” Ganister replied.

            Jonas’ mouth twisted in a wry smile. “Doubtful.”

            Then, because Gan was tired, and thus, foolish, she said, “She obviously cares for you. And I think you–”

            “Gan.” There was steel in his voice, and in the words he did not say.

            Ganister flushed again, but held his gaze. “I mean no offense, ser. Not that,” she allowed her eyes to flick between him and the sleeping mage in his arms, “there’s anything to be offended at. I see only a mage and sentinel; nothing more. Nothing worth discussing, at any rate.”

            He stared at her a moment longer, then, to her amazement, his shoulders relaxed a fraction and he offered her the tiniest smile. She tried to ignore how the sight sent her heart skipping.

            “Kali is…very dear to me,” he said quietly, almost too soft for Gan to hear. “I’ve known her since she was a babe.”

            It was as much of an admission as Ganister thought she’d get. So she nodded. “She’s a lovely child. You should be proud.”

            “I should be.” He shook his head and moved past Gan, heading for the stairwell. “But I can’t.”

*

            Seven years into Ganister’s posting at Starwatch, and she really should have moved on. She’d never stayed in one place more than a few years—she blamed her Sufani mother for her itchy feet—but Starwatch Bastion had come to hold more of her heart than she’d anticipated.

            It was two days before the midsummer festival, and the bastion buzzed with preparations. The sentinels didn’t bother much with celebrating the solstice, so the mages more than made up for any lack of enthusiasm in their armored guards. Some of Gan’s sentinel brethren grumbled at the fuss, but she loved flowers, mage-grown or not, so she didn’t complain.

            She was not, however, a fan of the dying-cat sounds of Kali’s viol.

            Even outside in the compound outside, engrossed in a sparring session with Taras, one of the newer arrivals, the shrieking sounds of Kali’s “music” assaulted Gan’s ears. Taras had not stopped scowling over at the teenage girl seated on the edge of the well, dragging a bow across the long-suffering viol strings.

            “Ea’s tits, that racket needs to sodding stop,” Taras muttered, wiping sweat from her brow.

            Gan rolled her shoulders, trying not to wince at the wrong notes. Gods above, the girl was either flat or sharp; there was no middle ground with Kali. “She’s gotten much better,” Gan said, adjusting her grip on her weapon and easing into another ready-stance. “Come on. Ignore her and focus on the woman swinging a sword at your head.”

            “I can’t think with that noise. Why doesn’t the captain put a stop to it?”

            “He’s the one who taught her,” Gan replied. “So I’d watch what I said about the girl’s musical abilities.” Or lack thereof, though, to Kali’s credit, she had improved a great deal since she’d started playing a few years ago.

            Taras frowned. “The captain…taught the moon-blood how to play the viol?”

            Gan’s heart seized at the slur and she reacted without thinking. She swept her blade at Taras’ boots, causing the younger sentinel to yelp as she jumped to avoid the blow – and promptly landed on her arse in a patch of mud.

            Ganister stood over Taras, leveling her sword at the burnie’s throat. “Keep a civil tongue in your head,” she growled. “Or else.”

            Taras stared up at her, defiant. “Or else, what?” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you care so much?”

            “What’s going on?”

            Both women glanced over to see Jonas striding over in what Gan affectionately called his “captain’s walk.” But there would be no teasing now, not with his expression so steely. Gan stepped back and Taras scrambled upright, trying to swipe the mud off her gear.

            “Just sparring, ser,” Gan said, squaring her shoulders and willing Taras to keep her foolish mouth shut.

            Alas, no such luck. The burnie scowled at Gan, then jerked her thumb toward Kali. “Ser, how can we be expected to properly train with that din? What’s she even doing out here? Shouldn’t she be hanging flowers with the other moon-bloods?”

            Jonas stiffened at the slur and Gan sighed. Sodding burnies. I tried to warn her.

            “Mage Halcyon lives here,” Jonas said, adding, “And you will not use that foul term again, in my presence or otherwise. Is that clear, burnie?”

            But Taras’ blood still burned from that first big dose of hematite, which Gan supposed accounted for her stupidity. At least, one could hope. “It’s not fair, ser. The moon—the mages—shouldn’t be allowed the same freedoms as us.”

            The dying-cat sounds stopped. Gan risked a look over and realized that Kali, along with every other sentinel in the yard, was paying close attention to this conversation. It stung Gan’s heart more than it should have to realize how many of her fellow sentinels wore similarly annoyed expressions as Taras.

            Jonas must have realized it too, and Gan watched the familiar conflict play across his stern face. Only because she knew him so well did she recognize the dilemma within him, the one he dared not give voice.

            At last, he said, “Life isn’t fair, Taras. Keep your mind where it belongs.” In one fluid motion, he drew his blade and flipped Taras’ sword out of her grip, sending it skittering over the flagstones and into another mud puddle. “On the task at hand. That goes for the rest of you,” he barked, though he did not turn.

            His “captain voice” did the trick, and the others hurried to resume their sparring. As Gan waited for Taras to retrieve her sword, she glimpsed Kali by the well. The girl—well, she was nearing womanhood now—clutched her viol and stared at Jonas, then rushed inside as quickly as her bum knee would allow. Jonas watched her go, hands clenching, before he turned back to Gan and a muddy Taras.

            “Again,” he said to the burnie, holding up his sword. “This time, make it count.”

*

            “Fifteen years.” Gan skimmed her hand along Jonas’ chest.

            One blue eye cracked open to regard her. “Hmm?”

            The fire in her hearth had nearly gone out, so she pulled the blankets farther over her back, effectively shielding them both from the winter’s chill. “I’ve been in Starwatch for fifteen years, today.”

            Now he opened both eyes; her heart sank at the exhaustion in his gaze, and at how it never seemed to go away these days. “Has it been so long?” he murmured, toying with her hair. “Gods above…it feels like you just got here.”

            Gan smiled and leaned up to kiss him. Jonas returned the kiss with his usual enthusiasm…until he broke it off, grimacing, his body wracked with shivers. Every blanket she had was already piled on top of them, so Gan only hugged him close, willing her body heat to mask the incessant chill wrought by hematite.

            At last, his shivering eased and he pressed his lips to her forehead, his breath still short. Gan laid her cheek to his chest and half-listened, half-felt his heartbeat slow from its frantic pace. “Are you all right?” she asked when she thought he could answer.

            “No.”

            She pushed herself up on her elbow to better regard him. Although there were only a few years’ difference between them, he looked about twenty years older than he should. The lines around his face and mouth had deepened, and no amount of rest ever chased away the shadows beneath his eyes. But his eyes themselves were still a blue so clear it was almost painful, and his smiles, still rare, still surprised her.

            “How much longer, do you think?” she asked, her voice hoarse.

            He tucked one of her errant curls behind her ears. “I don’t know. Hopefully a few years, at least. It’s just…” He took a deep breath. “Hematite doesn’t burn like it used to. I need more and more to keep going. It’s not sustainable.”

            Her eyes burned. “You’re no cinder, Jo. You have time.”

            “Not as much as I need.” His hand fell and he stared up into the rafters of her ceiling. “Not as much as she needs.”

            “She’s almost twenty-four,” Gan started, but Jonas shook his head.

            “She’s just a girl.” He hugged Gan closer but she knew his mind was upstairs, at the bunk perpetually cluttered with books and scrolls. “I’ll be in my next life, one day, sooner than any of us would like. Then who will…” He paused. “Who will take over shadow duty for her?”

            Shadow duty; so named because the sentinel tasked with guarding a single mage must stick to that mage closer than any shadow, both to protect the mage from the world, and protect the world from the mage. Whatever the cost to either.

Gan glanced away to swipe at her tears before he saw, silently scolding herself at her lack of control. There would be a time to grieve; but not now. Hopefully not for a long time. She looked back at Jonas. “Here I thought you were smarter than that.”

            A blond eyebrow lifted inquiringly.

            She smiled; it was better than weeping. “I’ll take over when… When you can’t.”

            He stared at her, those blue eyes wide. “Will you?”

            “Do you doubt me?”

            He relaxed into her. “Never.”

            “I never had a daughter,” Gan said. “Not that I could, with the hematite. But I always wanted one. Until I met her. And now…” Flame rose in her cheeks but she pressed on. “Now I feel as though I do have a daughter, in some ways. And glad I am of it, of her. And of you. She’s…”

            He shook his head and pressed a kiss to her mouth. “Don’t,” he whispered when they parted.

            She made a show of looking around her room. “Aye, because we’re obviously surrounded.”

            “Gan.” The blue gaze turned hard, but briefly. “Please.”

            “Fine.” She playfully tweaked his chest, startling him into a laugh. “Have it your way, Captain.

            Strong hands wrapped around her waist, skimmed her up her spine to tangle in her hair. He pressed their foreheads together and stared into her eyes, as if he could will her to know his heart and mind. “Thank you, love.”

*

            Fifteen years, five months, two weeks, three days. Gan had lost track of the hours as she’d stood vigil with the others beside their captain as the hematite had finally claimed its sacrifice. Now Jonas was on his way to his next life, his spirit carried on the flames of his pyre. Tongues of fire leaped into the night sky, driving back the dark and the chill air, bathing the sentinels in warmth.

            Tears pricked Gan’s eyes again. Even in death, Jonas brought comfort however he could.

            Pinion, one of the younger lads, hugged her shoulder and she leaned against him, grateful for the solid press of his armored form. Gray and Taras, too, stood around her, close enough to keep the worst of the wind at bay. All of her fellow sentinels had rallied to her side, for they knew how much Jonas had meant to her.

            That was all they knew.

            Gan’s gaze crept to the bastion window. Grief struck her anew at the sight of the pale face peering out into the compound yard. The commander had ordered all the mages locked inside the building for the night, to allow the sentinels a chance to properly mourn their fallen brother-in-sacrifice.

            Around Gan, the others took up the all-too familiar litany: “Nox bring your spirits safely over the river. Tor guide your steps into the next life. The One keep you in all your days.”

            The words would bring comfort to most, but the mention of Tor stuck in Gan’s throat. Tor: the patron god of many sentinels, the god who demanded the utmost adherence to the sentinel oaths of honor, service, and sacrifice.

            Only that last one stung.

            When Gan could bear it no longer, she extricated herself from her brothers and sisters in service, pleading exhaustion, knowing they would stay to keep the night-long vigil as tradition dictated. But she had an oath all her own.

            She slipped inside the bastion. Warmth, light, and laughter met her, the latter jarring after the solemnity outside. The Starwatch mages—though Kali was not among them—had gathered by the hearths and opened several bottles of wine in what Gan tried not to think of as celebration. They did not fall silent when she entered, but the laughter dimmed and she felt their eyes on her as she went to the stairs. Once she was out of their sight, their talk resumed with the same vigor. Bitterness caught in Gan’s throat, but she tried to swallow it down and focus on the task at hand.

            Starwatch Bastion was too small for every mage to have their own room, so Gan went to the bunk that Kali shared with a few others, but it was empty. She considered checking the latrine, but Kali’s cloak hung on its peg by her bed, so Gan thought she was still in the building. The absence of Jonas’ viol confirmed her suspicion; Kali would not have taken it outside tonight.

            After a moment’s consideration, Gan made her way to a small storeroom upstairs, mostly used for spare linens and other assorted items. She listened at the door, hoping but not to hear any noise from within. But she was disappointed again—and again, not surprised—at the soft sniffles. Steeling herself, Gan rapped her knuckles on the door in the pattern that she’d learned from Jonas.

            Kali’s voice emerged somewhat strangled. “Gan?”

            “Aye.”

            Limping footsteps, then the door cracked open. Even the shadows could not conceal Kali’s red-rimmed eyes. How long had she been alone while Jonas succumbed to his chosen fate? None of the other mages knew the truth, either.

“What are you doing here?” Kali asked.

            Gan reached past the door to cover the girl’s trembling hand. “Shadow duty.”

            Kali stared up at her with that same, astonished look Jonas had worn whenever he met kindness where he’d expected cruelty. Her lips compressed and her eyes brightened, but she stepped back, allowing Gan entry. Gan shut the door behind her and took the girl in her arms, pressed Kali’s cheek to her armored chest. Kali hesitated, but only for an instant, only until Gan whispered, “If you know nothing else, know that he loved you.”

            Kali made no reply. Through the small storeroom window, Gan could see the funeral fires climbing higher, though from here they appeared little more than a candle flames. She hugged the weeping girl closer as her own tears formed anew, and they kept their vigil, together.

The End

on Heartfire

Hi there!

One of the best parts of storytelling is crafting worlds to suit your narrative. This doesn’t just apply to speculative fiction; every story is, in a way, its own world. It’s a place your reader can settle into like a favorite chair – or an iron throne, depending on what sort of world you’re building. 😉

Today is the Winter Solstice, ie: Heartfire in the world of Catalyst Moon. This is the longest night of the year, when the darkness is at its strongest. After tonight, though, the balance of light and dark will tip again, and the light will return.

What follows is a deleted scene from Catalyst Moon: Breach featuring the myth of Heartfire. I chose to remove this scene from the final novel in favor of weaving the myth into the narrative at various points, thus allowing the reader to find the story in their own time. But there’s something to be said in seeing it all laid out in one go.

Enjoy, and stay awesome.

Lauren


Kali toyed with the hem of her sweater, trying to remember how exactly the tale went, then took a deep breath and began. “They say the world was new. Back then, the gods walked among the trees like mortal men and women, though they were not mortal, of course. But they existed in much the same way as we do now. They quarreled. They laughed. They loved.

“They say Amaranthea, the goddess of all things bright, loved the god Tor. They say Tor loved her as well, deeply, and without reservation.” Of their own accord, Kali’s eyes flickered to Stonewall. He was watching her. She tried not to think about that and continued. “They say all was well for a long time…until the Laughing God saw Amaranthea’s light and wanted to snuff it out. The Laughing God dwells in darkness, you see, and wanted to shape the One’s world similarly.

“One night, while Amaranthea slept, the Laughing God crept to her bower and covered her. They say–”

“Wait,” Beacon broke in. “Sorry to interrupt, but I never understood that part. ‘Covered her?’”

It was Flint who answered. “He raped her.”

“He?” Milo said, frowning. “I thought the Laughing God was neither a man nor a woman, like the One.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Flint said darkly.

“Doesn’t it?” Beacon asked.

Flint shook her head. “The point is, the Laughing God violated Amaranthea. Her light faded. It doesn’t matter how. Now be quiet, frip, and let the mage finish.”

Kali had followed the exchange, but chose not to comment. “As Flint says, Amaranthea’s light faded after the Laughing God had finished with her. She lay alone in her bower for many days, such that the sky remained dark and the world grew cold. At last, Tor, having returned from a task that had sent him far away, came home to his love and found her in deep despair.

“’What has happened?’ he asked, dropping his traveling pack as he knelt beside her.

“Amaranthea, too stricken with grief and shame, did not reply at first, but his presence soothed her heart, and at last he coaxed the tale from her. Upon hearing her account, Tor’s face grew dark with anger and his fists turned hard, like stone. He rose from her side and strode away.

“’Where do you go?’ she called.

“He did not turn as he said, ‘To avenge you.’

“’I have no need for vengeance,’ she replied. ‘Please, stay.’

“But he left. He picked up his pack and journeyed far, all the way to the entrance to the Shadowlands, where they say the Laughing God lives. There, he–”

“Where’s that?” Milo interrupted. “The ‘Shadowlands?’”

“It’s not a real place,” Kali replied. “I think it’s a metaphor. Probably for the ‘darkness within,’ or some such.” Milo stared at her blankly, so she made a dismissive gesture. “It’s just a story. It’s a made-up place.”

“No, it’s real,” he said. “If it has something to do with the gods, it’s real.”

Kali fought the urge to roll her eyes. She had little desire to poke holes in the younger man’s beliefs. Likely, that would happen without any help from her, probably too soon. “Then it’s somewhere very far away from here,” she said. “May I continue?”

He winced. “Aye, of course. Sorry. Here,” he added, holding out the flask. “Your throat must be getting dry.”

She accepted; the whiskey burned her throat, but sent a pleasant warmth through her belly. She took only a small sip, then passed the flask back to him. Milo offered it to Sadira, who refused, though Beacon and Flint each took a drink. Stonewall did, too, after a moment. Rook declined. Milo didn’t drink any, either.

Kali continued the tale. “They say Tor traveled all the way to the Shadowlands alone, on foot, spurred on by the anger in his heart at what had been done to his love. They say he neither ate nor rested, only traveled until he reached the edge of the Laughing God’s home and bellowed a challenge into the black abyss. At first, silence was the only reply, so he called out again, urging the Laughing God to meet him in a fair and honorable fight. At last, a shadow seemed to separate itself from the darkness of the cave, taking the form of a woman with long, dark hair and skin the color of the deepest night.”

“Nox,” Flint whispered. Her blue eyes were very wide and round.

Kali nodded. “Aye. Nox came forth and beckoned Tor with her staff. But he stood his ground and met her eyes and said, ‘Where is your master? Where is the Laughing God?’

“Again, Nox beckoned Tor. Again, Tor demanded to speak with the Laughing God. The goddess beckoned him a third time. Anger had coiled about his heart like a serpent, but he kept his voice from betraying his feelings and instead held Nox’s gaze as he said, ‘I will go no further until I see your master for myself, so that I may avenge what was done to my soul-bonded.’

“He’d supposed that Nox would merely beckon him again, and so prepared to make his way forward without her guidance, but to his surprise, she relented. Nox bowed low and faded into the shadows. They say a voice emerged, then, a voice unlike any he’d ever heard. It filled him from the inside-out, turned his insides into ice and set fire to his blood. It was the Laughing God, whose words are ill luck to repeat and whose language is unknown to us now.

“But Tor heard and understood that the Laughing God had agreed to his challenge. All he had to do was step into the shadows, where the Laughing God promised to meet him in honorable combat. Though Tor had reservations, his conviction was strong as his blade, and he stepped forward until the darkness consumed him, utterly. And he…”

Suddenly it was difficult to speak, for her eyes burned and her throat tightened, and she had to clench her hands into fists to keep them from trembling. Why had this silly story affected her so?

“And he what?” Flint’s voice was soft, her expression rapt. She looked so young. Milo leaned forward intently, gaze fixed on Kali. Beacon watched her, too, as did Sadira. She didn’t look at Stone or Rook.

Instead, she took a deep breath to calm herself. “He was lost.”

Milo sucked in his breath and looked at his sister, who hugged her arms to her armored sides. “What happened, then?” he asked.

“Amaranthea found him, didn’t she?” Flint said, brow furrowing faintly.

Kali nodded. “But not for some time. Tor disappeared for a long while – some say days, others say decades. But eventually, Amaranthea came looking for him. She still grieved, but the thought of losing the one she loved was a worse pain than reliving her own grief in her mind, so she set herself the task of finding Tor. She knew his ways and knew where he had gone, so she journeyed far until she, too, came to the Shadowlands.

“They say she stood at the yawning chasm and looked into the darkness, gathering her courage, before she took a step forward. It was then that Nox appeared, holding her staff across the cave’s entrance as if to block Amaranthea’s passage.

“’Let me pass,’ Amaranthea said.

“Nox only stared at her with eyes like the void, then shook her head, slowly.

“’Please,’ the bright goddess said. ‘I have no quarrel with you. I only seek the man I love – my soul-bonded. Please let me pass.’”

“Again, Nox shook her head.

“Anger bloomed in Amaranthea’s heart. Anger for Tor, at what he’d set out to do so foolishly, so nobly. Anger at Nox, for hindering her path. Anger at herself, for not protesting more when the Laughing God had come to her. But above all of these was anger at the Laughing God, for rending her life so completely. Anger bloomed inside of her heart like the fire before us now, and she felt its power surge through her very bones.

“Amaranthea did not realize the light came from her until Nox reared back in shock, her dark face suddenly illuminated by an unfamiliar glow. Cast in such light, Nox looked older and more frail than Amaranthea had realized, and she felt pity for the other goddess. She glanced down and saw the bright glow burning from her heart – some say the light was gold, others silver, others say pink or red or orange, or all of them together. It matters not. Light poured from Amaranthea, illuminating a path through the Shadowlands. The bright goddess brushed passed Nox and went forward alone and unhindered.

“Time passes differently for the gods than for mortals, so we do not know how long Amaranthea traveled through that shadowed country. But they say it was long enough for her anger to fade; long enough for exhaustion to slow her steps and tug her eyes closed. She found no sign of Tor. She found no one at all–”

“No guards or anything?” Milo broke in. Flint elbowed his side and he winced. “Sorry. Shutting up now.”

Perhaps Kali should have been annoyed, but she could find nothing inside of her but pleasure at the knowledge that the story had captured the audience’s attention so fiercely. It reminded her of playing her viol to an appreciative crowd.

“They say the bright goddess met no others on her travels though the Shadowlands,” Kali went on, giving Milo a warm look to let him know she wasn’t annoyed. “But the longer she traveled, the more tired she became, and her light dimmed. The shadows grew thicker around her. The Laughing God’s desire had come to pass when she’d chosen to descend, for with Amaranthea’s absence from the world, all light faded and the shadows ran rampant.

“They say Amaranthea could feel the despair of Mara, Ea, Llyr, and all of the other gods. She could hear them cry out to her, ‘please return!’ Many times, she made to turn back. But each time, she thought of Tor, her soul-bonded, the love of not just this life, but all lives, and her resolve grew strong again. So she traveled. So her light dimmed and dimmed, and she grew weaker and weaker, until she crawled on hands and knees, groping through the darkness to take her next step.

“They say when her light went out, she collapsed, too heartsick to continue.

“But her hand, which had been extended to feel the way forward, touched something familiar: Tor’s traveling pack. Startled but hopeful, Amaranthea pulled the pack close and began to rummage through, searching for something that she might use. The contents had been crushed, as if under the weight of some heavy stone, so there was nothing but a single candle. It was enough.

“With a final burst of strength, Amaranthea lit the candle. It was a small flame, barely anything at all, but it drove the worst of the shadows back and revealed a trail of blood on the ground, leading further into the darkness. Despair clung to her for a moment, for surely Tor was injured – or worse – but she clutched the candle and began to follow the trail. It led her through the Shadowlands, into they very heart of the Laughing God’s domain. It led her to Tor.

“They say she found him lying at the gates of the Laughing God’s fortress. She thought him dead at first, until she marked the rise and fall of his chest; he was broken, bleeding. But alive. Amaranthea knelt beside Tor and tried to revive him, though she was certain the Laughing God would arrive at any moment and she was not strong enough to fight.

“’Tor,’ she pleaded, touching his face. ‘Please wake up. We must leave.’

“They say after some time, he opened his eyes and regarded her with wonder. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.

“’I came after you,’ was all she could say before a dark, echoing laughter filled the shadows around them, pressing down upon Amaranthea’s heart with dread. ‘Get up,’ she urged Tor. ‘We have to leave at once.’

“I cannot protect you,’ he said. ‘You should leave this place, alone.’

“But they say the bright goddess grew angry again at these words. ‘Enough of that,’ she said, helping him to his feet. ‘You are mine and I am yours. We leave together, or not at all.’

“He acquiesced and leaned on her shoulder, pressing his weight against her. The warmth of his body comforted her, so when the laughter came again, she was prepared. They say the bright goddess drew strength from herself and from Tor, and her heart blazed like the sun, shining upon the Shadowlands enough to cast them into light. They say she caught a glimpse of the Laughing God, who was not laughing now, in the moments before she and Tor hurried back the way she’d come. They say her candle was still lit, but it was love that showed them the way out of the darkness.”

Silence reigned for some moments until, to Kali’s surprise, Flint sniffed once, then swiped at her eyes, blinking furiously. “Ea’s balls, I love that fucking story.”

deleted scenes, part 1

Hi there! I’m still plugging away at book four, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share this scene from book one. This post’s title is a tad misleading, as the scene wasn’t entirely deleted, just reworked so that the important elements found their way into the final draft. But reading what follows should give some insight into my editing process – and entertain you as well! 🙂 If you’re curious about why I reworked this part, I’ve explained at the end.

 

For reference, these scenes take place in chapters 12 & 13 of Catalyst Moon: Incursion.

Alright, back to book four. 😉

Enjoy!

Lauren


“Stonewall.”

He was upright before his eyes had opened fully. Mage Halcyon still sat by the fire, but her back was straight and her gaze was fixed on some distant point in the darkness, well beyond the spread of light from their camp. Seeing that he was awake, she whispered his name again and gestured to the woods. He rose into a crouch and reached for his daggers.

Stay here, he mouthed to the mage, who nodded once. At first there was no sound, then came snapping twigs and the rustle of dried leaves as something approached. Stonewall tightened his grip on his daggers, though he did not pull them free of their sheaths; he took a calming breath and stepped forward.

Someone was weeping. “That sounds like children crying,” the mage whispered.

“Aye, and they’re close by.”

Halcyon sucked in her breath and darted forward, avoiding his grasp as she hurried to the source of the sound. “They could be injured. Come on, Stonewall!”

Apparently he had no choice but to follow, and drew his daggers. “Right behind you.”

There was no knowing if true danger was present, so normally he would have tried to pitch his voice low to keep his presence stealthy…but she’d pretty much blown that opportunity away. All he could do now was keep up with her and hope that he could strike first if something tried to attack.

Seren hung above the forest, making her way for the horizon’s edge, but even the faint silver light through the trees was welcome. Once they reached a relatively open patch of ground, they came across two brown-haired children: a boy and a girl dressed in soot-stained clothing The moment the children spotted the strangers coming towards them, they froze.

The mage reached them first. Rather than rush up to them, as Stonewall thought she was about to, she paused a few steps away and dropped to a crouch, keeping her bound hands tucked out of sight beneath her cloak. “Hello there,” she said in a warm voice. “You poor things…where are your parents?”

The girl was the taller of the two; she swiped at her runny nose with the back of her woolen sweater and hugged her brother close. “Home,” she whimpered as the little boy pressed his face into her side. “They told us to run away when the bad people came.”

She was probably between nine and ten summers, and the boy perhaps five or six. Stonewall’s stomach plummeted to his knees. What had happened to their parents, to make them send their little ones away in such a desperate act?

He sheathed his blades and stepped beside Mace Halcyon, keeping his voice calm as well. “’Bad people?’ What do you mean?”

The boy cried into his sister’s side and the girl only looked at the sentinel with fear on her face;  Stonewall was at something of a loss. Sentinels were widely recognized as being peacekeepers. He’d rarely met any non-mage who was not pleased to see him, let alone act so frightened in his presence.

Halcyon ignored him and extended one hand. “My name is Kali and this is my friend Stone,” she offered. “I know his armor looks a little scary, but he’s very kind. We both want to help you. What are your names?”

Scary? He bit back his first reaction, which was to object to the description. Perhaps compared to Kalinda’s smaller, unarmed form, he was the more imposing figure.

So he, too, tried to look as friendly as possible. The priority was getting the children to safety and assessing if either was injured, though he had a hope that he could get some more information out of them and maybe see if he could help their parents face “the bad people.” Likely it was brigands or some other cutthroats who preyed on the innocent.

“Coplin,” the boy hiccuped, his face lifting from his sister’s side. She scowled and tried to shush him, but he looked between Kalinda and Stonewall. “My sister is Saph.”

“Cop, you’re not to talk to strangers,” Saph hissed as she took a step backward, further into the darkness of the forest.

“Ma said we had to find help,” the little boy replied. “That man can help Da fight the bad people.”

Despite his fear, Coplin’s voice held nothing but conviction, and Stonewall’s blood beat faster in his veins. That conviction was why he walked this path. Protecting this child was what Tor asked of him.

He nodded to the boy. “I can help, and I will. But we must get you two to safety.”

Mage Halcyon glanced his way, but he could not read her expression in the darkness. The children were silent, then Saph twisted around behind her to look the direction they’d come; her face was pinched with worry. Stonewall couldn’t hear anything, but he kept his hands within reach of his daggers, just to be safe.

Kalinda’s voice was gentle but it nearly startled him into grabbing one of his daggers anyway. “You will both be safe with us. You have my word on that, Saph and Coplin.”

“And mine,” Stonewall added. “In Tor’s name.”

The children exchanged glances, then Saph nodded once and took Coplin’s hand, and the four of them they made their way through the forest to the glow of the campfire. Everything looked as it had when Stonewall had gone to sleep. Stonewall added fuel to the fire while the mage offered the children the blanket, which Saph wrapped around herself and her brother as they sat before the fire.

Once they were settled, Stonewall knelt beside them. “Where is your home?”

Coplin answered. “Over the creek where all the frogs live in summertime.”

Not quite descriptive enough. An urge to be moving, doing something useful other than sitting here, waiting, flooded him, but Stonewall held it in check. However, he could not help but cast a look at Mage Halcyon, who shook her head.

“How long were you traveling before we found you?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Saph said, her lip trembling. “We woke up after Ma put us to bed. It was nighttime, and she told us to run away-”

The mage made a soothing noise and moved to sit beside them; she tried to put an arm around the girl, but her progress was halted by the cuffs. Still, neither child seemed to notice her wrists were bound beneath her cloak.

When Kalinda’s dark eyes met his again, he caught her look of worry. If they wanted to help these children’s parents, they were running out of time, if they hadn’t already.

He took a deep breath. “I want to help your mother and father, but first I must find them.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us about where your home is?” the mage added. “Do you have neighbors, or livestock of any kind?”

Saph shook her head but Coplin looked up at Stonewall, his eyes streaming with tears but alert and hopeful. “The goats,” he hiccuped, blinking at the sentinel. “Ma raises ’em.”

“They never shut up.” Saph sat up and hugged her brother close. “Them and the bees. And Da’s got his turpentine ‘still. It stinks.”

Again, Stonewall glanced at the mage, who gave him a look that held a trace of amusement, though her words were serious. “Follow the sound of bees and goats, and the smell of turpentine. Do you think you can find it?”

He considered the landmarks he remembered from this area; there wasn’t much out here, save a few humble villages and farming communities. By his reckoning, the closest township of any true size was Fash, and that was leagues away. Given the direction the children had been traveling from, he thought he could find their home – eventually.

Hopefully there would be something left to find.

“I’ll do my best,” he said, rising from his crouch and hurrying to the horse. “Stay here and keep them out of any more trouble,” he added to Mage Halcyon as he slung the saddle and bridle over the dapple gray, forgoing the saddlebags for now.

He stopped again at the sound of name. She’d risen to follow him. At his look she twitched back the cloak and presented her wrists; she said nothing, but he knew what she asked.

His mouth opened, but no sound came out.

She shook her head once. “I can do nothing for them while bound. You know that.”

She was right. Damn her. Tor help me. As quickly as he could, Stonewall freed her from the cuffs and stowed them on his belt, then turned his attention to the saddle. When he looked up again, he was startled to see something glowing close by. Kalinda held a small branch that held a crackling flame at its tip; the fire’s reflection illuminated her dark eyes.

“You shouldn’t be running around in the dark,” she said as he tightened the saddle’s girth. “This will last for a few hours.”

Mage-fire. Of course. Gods above and beyond, she was quick. Another time and place, he would have spared himself the notion of how unsettling such speed could be. But now, he was glad to have a source of light, so he accepted the branch. Behind her, the children were huddled together by the fire and he fought back a flare of worry. Would they be safe here, without his daggers to protect them? Would Kalinda’s magic keep herself and the children from harm? He had to trust that it would, so he looked into her eyes again and willed his worry to go away because it would only distract him.

“Be careful,” Kalinda said quietly.

Nodding again in acknowledgment, he made one final check of the girth, then mounted the gray in one fluid motion. “I’ll return as soon as I can,” he said to her as he guided the horse beyond the shelter of the oak trees. “Tor protect you.”

He may have been mistaken, but as he urged his mount forward into the darkness he could have sworn he heard her add: “You too.”

*

            Even guided by mage-fire’s glow and the eventual, acrid scent of turpentine carried by the wind, the journey through the dark forest was treacherous. Stonewall pushed the mare as much as he dared, but lives were at stake. At one point they came across a winding path that threaded through the forest, and he prayed it led to the farm.

By Stonewall’s estimation, it was about three-quarters of an hour into his journey when he came upon the silent, smoking farmhouse.

Please, Mara…let them be alive. Please let at least one of them be alive.

Until this moment, he’d not felt the chill in the air, but as he pulled the mare to a halt and scanned the area, he noticed how her breath blew from her nose in little eddies of steam. There had been a fence at one point; now, it was little more than kindling. The farmhouse was charred in sections but he hoped the structure would be salvageable.

But it was so silent. He raised the torch, hoping to make himself appear as a viable target, should anything in the area still be looking for a fight. As he moved the horse closer to the farmhouse, the sound of weeping tricked through the darkness. It was a female voice, likely the mother of Saph and Coplin, and his throat went tight. 

            “Hello?” Stonewall glanced around, searching for the source of the noise. “Is there someone here? I mean you no harm; I’m a sentinel. I’ve come to help.”

“Here,” came a muffled sob.

Stonewall urged the horse to the source of the voice; to the right of the farmhouse there was a wooden barn that was mostly unscathed. The barn was dark and quiet, and every battle-honed instinct advised caution, so he paused the mare before the wooden double doors.

“I’ve news of your children,” he said.

“Saph? Coplin?” One of the doors slid open and a woman stuck her head out, her eyes huge and dark in the shadows cast by the torch. Even she took in the distinctive appearance of his armor, she did not approach. “Oh, Ser Sentinel…you’ve seen them? Please tell me they’re safe!”

“Yes, your children are safe. They’re with a friend of mine, not far from here. Are you or your husband injured?”

At this, her face fell and his whole body felt heavier. If he’d only moved faster, if he’d not shown so much damn caution–

“He’s alive, but I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night.” The woman hugged her arms to her sides and ducked her head. “There’s so much blood. But he’s alive. For now.”

Something in Stonewall’s chest lifted. There was hope. “My friend has a gift for healing. If you don’t need my sword, I’ll bring her here right away.”

“Those monsters are gone. They didn’t stay long, but it was enough. Please, ser, if you can help at all…”

It would not be an easy – or quick – journey back here with one horse, but he was not about to leave the children unguarded, and he certainly wasn’t comfortable with letting Kalinda set off on her own, especially since he more or less knew the way here by now.

“Do you have another horse?” he asked.

Thank the One, she did – of a sort. Several minutes later, Stonewall led a lanky brown mule away from the farm, with promises to return as soon as possible. It occurred to him that she was placing a great deal of trust in him, a stranger, but she seemed too shaken up to care.

In any case, it didn’t matter. He would abide by his oath.

Honor. Service. Sacrifice.

*

            Kali didn’t believe in miracles, but both Saph and Coplin were, for the most part, physically unharmed, so she decided to just be grateful for the fact and worry about the semantics later. Between them, the children had a few cuts, bruises and scrapes, probably from their trek through the dark forest, but nothing worse. Nothing that needed to be healed with magic, though Kali itched to be of more use.

Once she’d cleaned them up, she gave them some bread and cheese, hoping to provide a sense of normalcy. It seemed to work. About fifteen minutes after Stonewall had left, Coplin and Saph were seated before the fire, clutching the blanket around their shoulders and enthusiastically working their way through Kali and Stonewall’s supplies.

Well, Coplin was more enthusiastic than his sister, who picked at her bread with only mild interest, her watchful gaze set on Kali as the mage tended the fire. Aware of her audience, Kali only dared to bolster the flames a little bit, just so they would last as long as it needed to without her having to collect more fuel. Hopefully that would be until Stonewall returned, which she told herself would be very, very soon.

“Is your friend really a sentinel?” Saph’s voice broke Kali out of her thoughts.

Glancing up, she blinked at the brown-haired girl who regarded her with red-rimmed eyes. Coplin looked up as well, a few crumbs of bread clinging to his lips from his meal. “He is.” Kali tried to appear as calm as possible and not like her stomach was twisting in knots for fear of what Stone would come across. “He’s quite skilled, too.”

Coplin looked up at his sister. “See? We did right.” His eyes fell on a chunk of bread that lay in her lap. “D’you want that?”

As her brother tore into the bread, Saph glanced back at the mage. “Da says sentinels are good fighters. But the bad people were,” she shivered and closed her eyes, “strong.”

“And funny lookin’,” Coplin broke in. “Their eyes were real funny.”

This made Kali sit up, though she tried to keep her words steady. “What do you mean?”

The brown-haired boy spoke through a mouthful of bread. “They were real bright. Like stars.” A chill passed through Kali and he continued. “Wasn’t they, sis?”

“They was. Just like stars.” Saph swiped at her runny nose with a trembling hand. “I saw them run up through my flower garden. They moved strange. Like…wolves or somethin’.”

“They moved like wolves?” Kali asked.

Saph nodded again. “There was only three, but they moved all together, all at once. Never seen no people move like that.”

Apprehension coiled within Kali, tighter than before, but she tried to keep it at bay. “You also said they were…strong?”

“Aye,” Saph said. “Saw one of ’em tear right through the gate like it was made of grass.”

Coplin had finished the bread; at this, his eyes widened and his lips began to quiver. “And Da…Da’s tough, but they got him, didn’t they?”

Saph made a soothing noise, but it was too late and he began to sob again. The girl wrapped her arms around her brother and he wept, while dread rushed through Kali’s veins as the words of the Sufani leader came back to her: Rumors of packs of them moving like lycanthra, hunting their prey with the same ruthlessness as those creatures. Rumors of men and women with eyes that burn like stars, who bring terror and death wherever they go. 

            And Stonewall was out there alone. Hopefully his gods would protect him better than they had Saph and Coplin’s parents.

In the meantime, she had two frightened children to care for, so she tried to push the worry for Stonewall out of her mind and focus on the little ones. “It will be all right,” she said, somewhat lamely. “Even if it may not seem that way, now.”

Hollow words of comfort; she’d repeated them to herself a hundred times, and they never felt any less hollow. But something seemed to resonate with Saph, for the girl gave her a look that was far too discerning for a child of ten summers.

“Are you a glimmer?”

Kali blinked at her. “What?”

“A glimmer.” Saph stretched out the word. “One of them fairies.”

“Fairies…?” It took a moment’s thought, but at last Kali recalled where she’d heard that term before. “You mean one of the Fata?”

Saph’s brows knit, but she nodded. Coplin, red-eyed and sniffling, looked at Kali as well. “What’s a glimmer?”

“It’s a nickname for the Fata,” Kali replied. “The mythology around them indicates that they  were the first inhabitants of this world, long before we humans ever came around. It’s difficult to say exactly what they could do, as there are only a few references to them outside of folklore. There are a few accounts from the first pioneers who settled Aredia many centuries ago–”

Saph sighed loudly, cutting her off. “They have powers to heal any hurt,” she said to her brother. “They can’t touch metal, but can make flowers grow anywhere.”

“Can you do that?” Coplin’s eyes were round as saucers as he looked between his sister and Kali.

Kali shook her head. “I’m no Fata. I’m just…” Her hands weren’t bound, but the memory of the hematite cuffs made her wrists heavy, and she tucked them within her cloak. “Just me,” she finished.

But Saph, it seemed, did not miss much. “But you did magic. You made a fire out of nothing, So…if you’re not a glimmer, then you’re one of them mages.”

Rather than answer immediately, Kali studied the girl. There was no way of knowing how pious her parents were, or what kinds of things she’d heard about mages. Well, this was Kali’s chance to educate them.

“You’re half right. I am a mage, but magic can’t exist in a void.” She was met with frowns and furrowed brows, so she tried to clarify. “Mages can’t make something from nothing. It’d be like trying to grow a flower from a handful of empty air.”

Saph’s face scrunched up in thought. “Is your magic the same as the glimmers’?”

“That’s an excellent question.” Kali’s words were slow but her mind raced ahead. Folklore and fairy-stories; none of this was anything to take seriously. But perhaps that had been an oversight.  Assuming the Fata’s existence had some basis in reality, what if the mages and the Fata had different kinds of magic? Had anyone really studied either?

Someone should. Mythical or not, the Fata were the only other beings in Aredia’s history who could use magic. Perhaps there was a connection, though unsought. Surely not, though. Surely this was not a unique concept.

But what if…?

Through her correspondence with her friend, Eris, Kali had learned that Whitewater Bastion was home to a great library, full to bursting with research and information on magic, written by mages and non-mages alike. Perhaps there was something more to be found in that city than a healed knee. Kali’s blood quickened at the possibility.

“I wish I knew the answer,” she said at last.

Both children looked disappointed, but it faded quickly in light of Coplin’s next question. “Will you do magic for us?”

Saph brightened. “Can you turn Cop into a frog?”

“She should turn you into a goat,” Coplin said, pulling a face.

“Hush.” Saph’s eyes were still on the mage. “Could you, though?”

Kali tried to keep her expression neutral while she cursed inwardly. Of course they’d want to see some “real” magic, but she was reluctant to expend her energy on anything trivial in case her healing skills were needed when Stonewall returned. Besides, she’d never been much good with plants.

She was about to disappoint them when there was a snapping sound, like something huge moving towards them through the forest. Saph shrieked, but Kali caught sight of Stonewall’s torch approaching through the darkness.

“There’s nothing to fear,” she told the children as she got to her feet. “It’s Stonewall.”

“Kali’s right,” came his voice, just before he stepped into the circle of light cast by the fire. He led their gray mare and a brown mule; he was whole and unharmed, and Kali’s foolish heart lifted.

“Biscuit!” Coplin jumped to his feet and hugged the mule’s chest, though his arms barely reached across. Saph said nothing, just buried her face in the mule’s neck.

Stonewall dismounted and skimmed his gaze across Kali as he approached. “Whoever attacked the farm is gone, and their mother is waiting for them.” Once he was at her side, his voice dropped in pitch so that the children couldn’t hear. “Their father is gravely injured. Can you help him?”

Eyes the color of honey regarded her; where wariness had once been when he spoke of her magic, now there was only hope. Kali nodded once. “If it’s within my power, I’ll help him.”


The reason I reworked this scene is mainly that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I needed to get Kali and Stonewall to the Bywater’s homestead, but so many aspects here didn’t work: Stonewall’s back and forth trips, the farm being on fire (?), the lack of “real” directions or guidance to the Bywater’s home, the clunky “as you know, Bob” dialog, etc. The final draft features Kali and Stonewall meeting Jennet (the kids’ mom) on her way to get help for her injured husband; she brings our heroes back to her home. It’s much more streamlined and sensible.

But Kali’s convo with the kiddos is pretty cute, so now it’s immortalized online. Technology at its finest. 😉 Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!