on Inkitt…again

So I did a thing. An indie book author/blogger I’d been in contact with earlier this year recently reached out to me, and I shared my experiences publishing with Inkitt. You can read about it here.

I debated sharing this in my author-sphere because, frankly, I want to move on from Inkitt and everything having to do with them. It’s been a shitty year (and then some), and I just want to get past it all. But I also think the interview is important, because as Inkitt is growing, they’re reaching a wider audience and gaining more and more authors. If you’re considering working with them, I’d give this interview a read first.

Thanks for reading, and stay awesome,

Lauren

Update – March 2019

The discovery draft (ie: the rough draft) of Catalyst Moon #5 is DONE. It needs a lot of work and love, but holy cats…I made it, y’all. My world has changed dramatically since I started writing back in September of 2018, so it’s been quite a journey for me as well as my long-suffering characters. The last 10k words were probably the hardest; there’s a lot of complex stuff happening and I struggled with portraying it “well.” I was worried that my writing was crap, that the story was terrible, etc. The usual bout of writerly self-loathing. But in the end, I gave myself permission to write garbage, which oddly freed me from my hesitation and made me push on. (I also bribed myself with glittery eyeshadow, which worked marvelously.)

If you’re interested, here’s my word count log for this book:

Behold my chicken scratch! But you can see that some days I busted my ass, while other days, I fought for a single sentence. Writing is often a slow, painful grind, but for me, the challenge is its own reward. Plus, you know, it’s nice to have another book under my belt. 🙂 I’m going to sit on this one for a month or so while I address some other outstanding projects (a couple novellas), then do my first read-through and figure out exactly how much of a mess I’ve gotten myself into, and what in Ea’s realm it’s gonna take to fix it.

In other news… The cover for Catalyst Moon: Storm (Book 3) is also DONE, and it’s fabulous. No – it’s AMAZING!!! Fiona Jayde did a fantastic job, and I cannot wait to share it with y’all! My trusty ARC troopers (@ me if you get the reference) are doing a final check, and I anticipate launching the book around the end of this month.

So that’s it for now! Next post will probably be about the cover, and then expect me to ask/beg y’all to share news of Book 3’s release to your social media buddies. [insert hopeful smile]

Until we meet again, stay awesome,

Lauren

PS: On April 3rd, I’ll be doing an AMA on the reddit Fantasy book forum, so come say hi!

 

Update – seeking readers for ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of Book 3

Hiya!

Short post today. I’m working with a cover artist for Catalyst Moon: Storm (Book 3), and am busy prepping for this book’s launch. To that end, I’m seeking anyone who’d like an ARC (advanced reader copy) ahead of the launch. In return, I’m asking for

a) a quick note once your done to let me know of any typos/errors/inconsistencies, etc.

b) an honest, unbiased review once the book launches

What you get:

a) a PDF version of Catalyst Moon: Storm (Book 3) before it’s released!

b) any future Catalyst Moon books prior to their release, as I’m trying to start an exclusive ARC club for my lovely readers. 💜

c) my eternal gratitude

That’s it!😊  If you’ re interested, comment here or drop me a line at lalogareads@gmail.com

Thank you, and stay awesome!

Lauren

 

 

on heart v. brain (or, the everlasting struggle)

Nothing is simple.

So, Catalyst Moon #3 is basically ready to go, I just need cover art. I’m trying to get it out to y’all, I really am, but I’ve discovered a divide within myself, namely between what I know is the “smart,” “marketable” path, and what my heart wants.

Conventional wisdom tells me that my best bet to get folks to read my books is to pick a cover that fits genre conventions. The cover needs to convey not so much what the book is about, but what “categories” it falls into, (ie: fantasy, adventure, romance, etc) so the reader knows more or less what they’re getting. It’s why you see so many shirtless dudes on those romance novels, and why there are SO MANY grim-faced fellas with swords on fantasy novels. (Is no one happy in those books? Ever??)

My issue is that I CANNOT stand the standard cover fare for my genre. I’m sorry, but most of them look boring and ugly, and the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on something I find so distasteful… Well, it sucks.

But my brain – my rational side – tells me these ugly covers are the best way to get readers. These are what’s selling now, and if I want to Be Serious about this whole self-publishing gig, then I need to swallow my pride and ignore my desire and go with what objectively works.

But y’all.

I’ve been scouring the interwebs for a cover artist. I’ve talked to a few, but no one’s portfolio has captured my heart. I know how silly and pretentious this all sounds, believe me, (#firstworldproblems), but it’s a truth I can’t ignore. My heart wants a gorgeous “artistic” cover that attempts to convey the story I’m telling, not the categories that Amazon prompts me to select.

This hesitation on my part is for good reason. Waaaaay back when CM 1 came out, my publisher initially took all my crazy notes to heart and commissioned this incredible artwork from Natalya Pushokova:

Stunning. 😍😍😍 I love this so, so, SO much. It’s just…ugh, SO GOOD!!!

But when they tested the cover, no one knew what the book was about. 

So, back to the drawing board. The next version of CM1’s cover is the current one:

Which is fine and seems fairly popular. I’ve gotten a lot of nice comments about it. But it’s a far cry from what the arty gorgeousness my heart wanted. So yeah. Heart v. brain…brain won this round.

Now that I don’t have a publisher to answer to work with, I’m working on finding a way to merge these conflicting desires. The thing is, my “issues” aren’t just about money or art or book sales. They go deeper. Namely: Is what I’m doing worth all this frustration and effort? I consider my writing to be art, but the world is not kind to artists. There are approximately a bajillion other epic fantasy series out there. Is Catalyst Moon really worth all this inner conflict, or would it (and me, by extension) be better served by quietly going along with conventional wisdom in the hope of attracting more readers?

Sorry to be a downer. I’m not looking for a resolution from anyone – that will have to come from within – but if anyone has been in my shoes and can possibly relate, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll try to pull my head out of my own ass and figure this out.

Stay awesome,

Lauren

Many thanks to The Awkward Yeti for perfectly and adorably portraying my inner turmoil.

on discovery drafts (aka: your first draft isn’t “shit,” you just don’t know what your story is about)

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

I’m over this axiom. Not necessarily because of the message it’s trying to get across, but because it does so in a way that’s designed to shock and dishearten. Perhaps for some people this is helpful, but that tactic always rubs me the wrong way. First of all, there’s enough disheartening obstacles in the storyteller’s path, and second, because the first draft ISN’T shit…it’s just not what it could be. It hasn’t reached its full potential. Perspective is key. Sure, a baby bird looks like a piece of used chewing gum stuck with feathers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “shit” bird. It just hasn’t grown up yet.

Stories are the same.

(Caveat: Everyone’s experience is different, so I am only speaking about my own. Perhaps the process will be different for you.)

No matter how much I daydream, brainstorm, plan, and outline, the first/rough draft of any given story emerges as a somewhat different animal than anticipated. For me, stories are like living things: you can give them the best care and nurturing, and they will grow up to be completely different than all of your careful planning. Perhaps other, better authors don’t experience things this way, but I’d reckon that more than a few folks can relate to the feeling of looking at a completed first draft and going, “Huh. Didn’t see that coming.”

I’m here to tell you that is okay. More than okay; it’s normal. Writing a book is really hard. Writing a great book, with a compelling plot, interesting characters, and everything else that readers want, is damn near impossible. But you can do it. You just need to be patient with yourself and with the process.

I don’t write first/rough drafts, though I will sometimes refer to them as such to avoid confusion when talking to others. I write discovery drafts. This is the magical time when I ignore my inner critic/editor and simply play in the sandbox that is my WIP. Yes, I stick to my outline as much as I can (while often changing things around as I come to them), but I don’t edit as I go (aside from a few little bits here and there), and I don’t read over the entire story until after it’s written. I do this because, for me, it’s impossible to know if something is working until I’ve written “the end.” Elements that may seem out of place when I’m halfway in suddenly make sense at 3/4 way in, and I’m able to bring them all together by the ending.

Beyond that, though, it’s impossible for me to do the high-level editing (relating to themes, character arcs, plot, pacing, etc) before I have a sense of what the story is *about.* Not what I think it’s about, (per my outline), but what it IS about: the truths it reveals; the struggles and the triumphs, how they fit together, and what they mean.

The only way I can discover what my story is about is to write it. Hence, discovery draft.

So in the end, my advice to you is to keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t be so hard on yourself if you feel like your first draft is “shit.” Don’t berate your story for not being what you think it should be. Find out what it wants and needs, nurture it, and your words will grow wings.

Take care and stay awesome,

Lauren

 

 

on gratitude (again)

Hi there!

There’s a bunch of negative thoughts in my life right now. Try as I might to overcome them and keep my focus on the positive – and on what I can take control over – the bad shit lingers. So this is a note to myself, (and to you, if you need it), to keep the flame of gratitude alive, because I have so much to be grateful for.

These are songs that both remind me what’s important and allow me to fully process all this shit tumbling around my brain:

Daggers, by Slumberjack & Machine Age (Spotify | YouTube | Soundcloud)

My husband found this song and said my four favorites words: “Listen, you’ll love this.” I did. I made him play it twice, then said, “it’s a Stonewall song.” (Because it 100% is.) And he said, “I know. That’s why I knew you’d love it.”

That’s true love, folks.

Halsey – Without Me, Illenium Remix (Spotify | YouTube | Soundcloud)

You give your all to someone, but maybe your all wasn’t enough. It might never have been. But the other party’s actions doesn’t change yours. If you were your best self, your time was not wasted.

It’s Only (VIP Remix) – ODESZA (Spotify | YouTube | Soundcloud)

This song has always reminded me of Catalyst Moon. When I listen to the album version, I can see characters and scenes in my mind, unfolding like a movie. This song reminds me of the reason I wake up, the reason my heart beats. And this version? Reminds me of what was literally the best hour and a half-ish of my life. There’s nothing like seeing your heart and soul poured onto a stage at your feet. This version is power and pathos. This song reminds me of where I’ve been, and tells me where I’m going.

Until next time, y’all.

Stay awesome,

Lauren

PS: photo credit to redditor mtjodis, though I played around with it on my phone. 🙂

If you’re curious, here’s the full image:

I live for live music.

New content sneak peek!

Hiya!

It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the US, and I have so much to be thankful for. In an effort to give something back, and because I love you, here’s a sneak peek of an upcoming Catalyst Moon novella featuring a character you don’t know, but will meet in Book Four. Atanar was originally in Catalyst Moon: Incursion, but his story, while awesome, didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the narrative. So I removed him from that book with promises that he’d feature in another. He was a bit cross at first, but mollified once he learned he’d get his own novella. 😉

Atanar is a Canderi warrior whose impact on the events of the Catalyst Moon series can’t be overstated. I had a blast fleshing out more of the Canderi culture, language, and history, and I’m excited to share the full story with you soon. Atanar’s novella is written, but needs editing and a beta (or two!), so if you’re interested in taking a look, drop me a line at lalogareads@gmail. 🙂 I hope to have his book out after Book Three and before #4.

So without further adieu, please enjoy this sneak peek from my upcoming novella, Catalyst Moon: Exile.

Thanks for reading, stay awesome, and happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends! 🙂

Lauren


(Disclaimer: As stated, this is a relatively rough draft, so please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors, and anything else that feels “unpolished.”)

Atanar stood at the edge of the kulkri camp, hands bound behind his back while Sivoy and Tikaani argued a few paces away.

“He ruined the ambush,” she was saying. “And tried to strangle me!” 

            “In self-defense,” Atanar could not help but reply. He turned his cheek so that the afternoon sunlight fell upon what would surely be a nasty bruise. “And you–” 

            She cut him off mid-sentence. “He’s dangerous, just like I said. Utu, don’t you see now why we must send him away?”

Tikaani’s reply was quiet. “Atanar, what have you to say for yourself?”

Sivoy crossed her arms before her chest with huff, but her grandfather ignored her and kept his gaze upon Atanar. It was tempting to lower his gaze, to sink into that shame, but Atanar kept his chin high. “I will tell you what I told Sivoy,” he said slowly, carefully. “Hunting Aredian merchants is a coward’s ploy. They are little more than children; no doubt young Corvac could best any of them in a fair fight.”

“Hunting as we do is the way of our people,” Sivoy replied.

Atanar shook his head. “Not my people. Not Canderi. We abandoned those ways many generations ago. There is no strength needed to snap twigs and saplings. A true warrior, a true Canderi, only faces foes who are an even match.”

“By that logic, you would not hunt deer or rabbits,” Sivoy shot back. “Are you ‘true Canderi’ cannibals, then?”

Heat flooded Atanar’s face, causing his bruised cheek to burn. “Hunting as you do is lazy and cruel. You may as well steal milk from the mouths of babes. What sort of example are you setting for Corvac and the other young men and women? What kind of pride can you lay claim to when your lives are full of theft and trickery?”

She snorted. “Says the man who lays snares for rabbits and deer!”

“It’s not the same thing.”

“Isn’t it?”

Tikaani raised his hand in a plea for silence. When Atanar and Sivoy looked at him, he rubbed the bridge of his nose before glancing at Atanar. “You laid hands on my granddaughter, on our leader. Some of the others are calling for your death.” Atanar opened his mouth to reply, but the elderly man cut him off with a glare reminiscent of Sivoy’s. “Your own family has cast you aside. While you live among our family, you must act appropriately. You must follow the lead of our samaat, or you will be tossed back into the storm.

“And you,” Tikaani said to his granddaughter, who flinched. “You retaliated in anger. You acted violently and without judgment – do not try to argue, child. That is not the way of a proper samaat.

While Atanar would have liked to take pleasure in Sivoy’s visible discomfort at Tikaani’s reprimand, he could only hear Tikaani’s words echoing in his mind. “Your own family has cast you aside.

The elderly man sighed deeply. “Sivoy is our samaat, but as the clan elder, I have some measure of authority. And I have claimed responsibility for you, Atanar. So, then, Sivoy,” she looked up at her name, “if you wish to kill Atanar for his transgression, you must kill me as well.”

She blanched, then glared at Atanar. “You know I won’t do that, Utu.

“So what will you do?”

She was silent.

Tikaani sighed again before withdrawing a small knife from a sheathe at his waist. With one deft move, he cut through Atanar’s bonds. Blood prickled Atanar’s hands and forearms to life as the elderly kulkri replaced his knife and looked between the two younger folks.

“If we are to be a strong clan,” Tikaani said. “We must learn to work together for the greater good. Atanar is strange to our ways, Sivoy, but he has much to offer us – and you. Atanar, you have no other option than to remain with us; you must learn to appreciate our way of life. I think the two of you together would be like the strongest steel: able to withstand any foe. But you each must take care not to cut each other to pieces.” He straightened. “You are not to return to the main camp until you have reached an accord. Is that clear?”

Atanar shot Sivoy a sideways glance. Surely as samaat, she would object to being ordered? But she only offered a quick bow in the Aredian fashion and a quiet, “Yes, Utu.

Tikaani turned his pale eyes to Atanar, who spread his palms out to his sides in a proper Canderi gesture of assent. Tikaani nodded once before making his way back to the main body of the camp.

Atanar and Sivoy were alone.

The moment her grandfather was out of earshot, Sivoy muttered, “Ea’s tits!”

“At least swear like a Canderi,” Atanar grumbled, rubbing feeling back into his wrists.

“I’ll swear however I choose, vorunn.” She glared at him again, but it was short-lived, for she sighed deeply and slumped against a nearby tree.

Having nothing better to do at the moment, Atanar joined her. “What, exactly, does he expect us to do?”

She startled him with a laugh. “Wed.”

Pride and anger fled. Atanar gaped at her. “Wed? Us? Are you mad? Is he?”

“That’s what he meant with all that ‘the two of you together’ talk,” Sivoy said. “Didn’t you understand?”

Atanar groaned and closed his eyes. “Must have missed that.”

“Well, I didn’t,” she said grimly. “He’s been after me to wed for years. I got him off my back for a while, but I knew, the minute you came to us, he’d bring it up again.”

“Is that why he was so…eager to have me stay?”

She sighed again. “Aye. Well, one of the reasons – at least the only obvious one to me. I can’t see that you’d have any other uses besides fathering fat, blond babies.”

It was Atanar’s turn to laugh, and laugh he did. Unexpected, it bubbled up from some place within his belly and leaped out of his mouth, startling a pair of crows from their roost in the tree. When he glanced at Sivoy, she was frowning at him.

“Why is that so funny?” she demanded.

“Perhaps I could father babies,” he replied, still chuckling. “And in truth, I think I would like to be a father – one day, a very long time from now. But the act of fathering is not one I’m interested in…” He cleared his throat. “Well, with a woman.”

Understanding flashed in her eyes, and a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You prefer the company of men?”

“Very much so.” He considered her again. “Not that you’re–”

“Oh, shut up,” she replied, waving her hand. “Don’t pretend you like me or care what I think.”

“I have no wish to insult you as a woman.”

“Only as a hunter, a warrior, and leader.”

Atanar sighed. “There are many reasons I would not be a good husband to you.” Or to anyone. He kept that thought to himself.

She leaned her head back against the pine. When she spoke again, her voice was soft. “I would be a terrible wife to you.”

“No doubt.”

He’d said the words without thinking and expected a retaliatory remark, at least a glare, but she only stared up at the needles of the pine tree they rested against. “Though I would like children, too, I have no wish for a husband.”

The tone of her voice gave her away; within it, Atanar heard his own experience echoed. “You prefer women,” he said.

She nodded. “Utu has said it is a feeling that will pass, but it’s not passed after eighteen summers. I see no signs of change.” She sighed again, heavily. “He only wants me to bear children and continue our clan. But…”

The words died in the air between them, but Atanar understood. Too well, perhaps. His reply was slow and halting. “My mother felt the same way.” When Sivoy glanced at him in surprise, he grimaced. “She was the samaat of my clan. She is the one who named me voruun.

Sivoy’s face drained of all color. “But you said–”

“Yes, I murdered innocents,” he said. “But I broke her heart long before that night.” Not until the words left his mouth did he realize their truth, nor the way they cut him to the quick.

Neither spoke for several long moments until Sivoy exhaled and glanced back at him. “Corvac told me how he found you on the cliff. Did you want me to have you killed today?”

No trouble to meet her gaze now; no difficulty to speak the truth. “There is nothing left for me in this world, Sivoy.”

She looked away again. “And you call us cowards,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“I never said I wasn’t one,” he replied.

She grunted in what he imagined was reluctant humor before she turned so that she faced him, leaning her shoulder against the tree and crossing her arms before her chest. “So what happens now?”

“You ask as if I have the answer.” When she did not reply, Atanar glanced away from her, letting his gaze fall across the bustling camp. More than a few kulkri looked away quickly, though a few continued to stare openly. No doubt word of the foiled hunt had spread like fractures on a frozen lake.

Atanar considered a pair of kulkri tending to the horses before looking back at Sivoy. “You know,” he said carefully. “The Aredians do not share our people’s distaste for preferences such as yours and mine.”

Her pale brows arched in surprise, though she schooled her face to disinterest almost immediately. “Why should I care what Aredians think about anything?”

“There was a pair of traders my mother used to favor,” Atanar went on as if she’d not spoken. “Two women. They were married – to one another.” Sivoy sucked in a breath and Atanar felt a smile tug at his mouth. “They brought us some of the finest leather I’ve ever seen; soft as butter. Not to mention the chocolate…”

“Shock-ah-latt?” Sivoy stumbled over the foreign word.

Atanar nodded. “It’s food. I think. Well, it tastes wonderful. It’s made from some sort of bean the Aredians grow in the southern province.”

“A bean?” Sivoy pulled a face. “We have no use for those here.”

“Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But Aredians are quite inventive – as you’ve seen.” He gestured to the kulkri camp. “And many of them are eager to trade with us. Our steel is worth a great deal to them, as are the furs and meat we can easily hunt here.”

She frowned. “Surely even Aredians can hunt for those things.”

“Some of the hardier ones, perhaps. But most of them won’t travel this far north. And none of them would know what to do with an atsuula or caradoc.” He took a deep breath. “Have you ever considered trying to trade with them?” When she did not answer, he added, “Your family has much to offer.”

“None of us can speak proper Aredian,” she said at last, waving a hand in dismissal. “Besides, it’s too much trouble to gather items to trade when we can simply take what we wish.”

“I can speak enough Aredian to trade,” he replied. “My mother often called upon me to take on that responsibility. And as to your sort of hunting…”

He fought back a surge of anger at the notion of the kulkri‘s methods; even so, he felt the stirrings of vorunn within his heart. To counteract the feeling, he laced his hands together and dug his nails into his skin, letting the pain redirect his focus away from thoughts of violence. “How long can you sustain such a practice? Even Aredians have their limits. Eventually, they will come looking for the ones who’ve broken the Avalanche Truce.”

“I’m not afraid of their paltry armies.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have the numbers necessary to face an army, even an Aredian one.”

“Many other kulkri clans hunt as we do.”

“I know,” he said. “And you are all Canderi in the eyes of the Aredians. If one clan brings the branch down upon its own head, the rest of the tree will surely follow; the damage will spread to the rest of your people.” He allowed his words to sink in before adding, “My mother used to tell me that the most effective leaders often choose not to fight. They put their clan’s well-being above their pride.”

Given Sivoy’s attitude toward him so far, such words were a gamble, but he didn’t have much to lose. If she ignored his counsel – as he expected she would – he would be no worse off. But if she listened, he could save her people a great deal of trouble.

My people, too, he thought, but shook the notion away. He had no clan, nor family. Only vorunn. 

            She was quiet for several heartbeats, her gaze resting on the other kulkri who milled about the camp. Just when Atanar could stand the silence no longer, she sighed. “How would we go about trading with the Aredians? They all but piss themselves when they see us coming.”

He was startled at the strength of his relief, but tried – again – to keep his feelings from bleeding into his voice. “Gather items you wish to trade. Scout along the main roads until you see a caravan, then meet them in the open, with your swords thrust in the ground behind you and your goods spread on the ground at your feet. If they are willing to trade, they will approach. If not,” he could not suppress a smirk, “they will likely flee like rabbits.”

She straightened. “You wish us to meet them unarmed?”

“Not unarmed, just not actively armed,” he said. “Your claymore should be within easy reach, but you should not meet them as if in combat. Such a tradition is passed down from the Avalanche Truce.”

Sivoy shook her head. “What does that mean? What truce do you speak of?”

Now he could not help his surprise, though he tried to conceal it when her eyes narrowed. “The Avalanche Truce is the reason your people are no longer at war with the Aredians. Nearly fifteen generations ago, the Aredians and the Canderi warred constantly – fighting over territory. One such battle took place,” he nodded toward the mountain peaks in the distance, “in the Argus Mountains, at the end of a very harsh winter. Both armies gave their fiercest battle cries, meant to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies and to show their own strength, and the very mountains trembled.

“The leaders of each group – the general of the Aredian army and the samaat of the Canderi – rushed to face each other. When the two women met in the middle, the great battle ensued. But so fierce was the fighting that the mountains could not withstand the force of it, and began to collapse – an avalanche. Both leaders were injured and separated from their armies, and had to rely on each other to survive. During this – and no one knows the truth of how it played out – they managed to form a truce, though they resolved to kill each other when they returned to their armies.”

As he spoke, Atanar noticed how a few of the kulkri, including Corvac and some of the other children, had crept closer to listen. He pretended not to see them and kept speaking.

“Through their combined strength, they found their way back to the others and emerged on a peak high above the battleground. Looking down, they both saw how blood marred the snow, how the bodies of their people lay dead and dying. They realized they could not continue this war. Together, they went down to their armies, who paused their fighting to allow their leaders passage. When the two reached the center, they thrust their blades into the snow behind them, and faced one another in peace – if not quite friendship – and the truce was made.”

Sivoy had been glancing between the others and Atanar, but when the tale ended, she frowned at him in earnest. “Is that true?”

He spread his hands. “That is how it was told to me.”

“Will it work?” Corvac spoke up from amidst a group of boys and girls about his age. “Will the Aredians understand we wish to trade?”

“Surely they’ll just run away,” Kiluan said. Like the others, she’d come closer to hear the story, though Atanar did not miss how she sidled up to Sivoy.

He shrugged. “That is how my clan traded with them in the past. I have seen some Aredians quail at the sight of us, but most are brave enough to at least approach.”

Kiluan glanced at Sivoy. “This tactic would bring them within easy reach. We could–”

“No,” Atanar snarled, causing both women to start. Vorunn clawed at his will, urging for blood, but he fought the feeling back and spoke with more control. “Attacking them after making an overture of peaceful trade would be an act of war.”

“Assuming we left anyone alive to tell their little queen,” Sivoy replied.

Atanar balled his hands into fists. Why could they not see the folly of such actions? “Yes, and so you lure a merchant with the promise of peaceful trade, and kill him. Then you do the same again, and again, and again. But word will spread – you know it will, Sivoy – and the Aredians will come for you. All of you.”

“How long would that take?” Kiluan shot back. “In the meantime, we’d have easy hunting. Winter will come eventually,” she added to Sivoy, who looked troubled.

“It might take weeks, or months, or even longer,” Atanar replied. “But eventually, the Aredians will seek retribution for those you’ve killed.”

Corvac gnawed on his lip. “I heard Aredians lock up their own people for no reason other than they have magic. I’ve heard they even kill those who bears a certain mark on their hand – they call it a ‘mage-mark.’”

A few of the others murmured assent, but Sivoy rolled her eyes. “Those are just stories, Cor. There’s no such thing as magic.”

Atanar had heard otherwise, but kept that thought to himself. Such stories were rumors, unsubstantiated and probably exaggerations from Aredians wishing to appear stronger to the Canderi, who had no magic among their kind.

Sivoy frowned at her brother. “What are you doing eavesdropping, anyway? Get out of here, all of you,” she added, shooing them away. Kiluan gave her a questioning look; Sivoy hesitated, glanced at Atanar, then jerked her chin to the dark-haired woman in a silent order. When they were alone again, Sivoy faced Atanar once more. “Very well. We shall try to trade with them – once. You will speak for us. But do not forget that you are acting under my authority.”

He spread his palms. “I understand, Samaat Sivoy.

Her brows knit as she tried to find sarcasm in his reply, but he only regarded her without expression. It was a trick his mother had taught him well. Too well, perhaps, for Sivoy rolled her eyes and muttered something unflattering about him beneath her breath. Well. That was as good a dismissal as any, so Atanar turned to leave. However, she halted him in his tracks with his name. His name.

When he turned, she was studying him. “Before,” she said quietly. “When you grabbed my neck…”

He grimaced. “I am sorry if I hurt you, but you–”

“No, not that.” She hesitated, then dropped her pitch again. “Your eyes were…strange.”

Something cold formed in his guts. “Strange, how?”

“It might’ve been a trick of the sun,” she said, brows knitted. “But I swear they…shone. Like stars. Just for a moment. Just when you were looking at me, with your hands at my throat.”

Just when you tried to kill me. She didn’t have to say it out loud; they both knew. Atanar felt as though he stood naked on the tundra, in the first moments before a blizzard descended. “You’re certain?”

“I know what I saw.”

Vorunn. He didn’t know how, why, or what it meant, but he knew the two were related. “If you see it again,” his eyes darted to her claymore but he only said, “let me know.”

Sivoy nodded again, then turned away from him. Atanar remained beneath the tree, alone, and did not return to the main camp until dusk.