Snippet time! (Into the Flames reborn!)

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I don’t have a lot of time this morning. I want to get a little writing time in before I have to go deal with fixing breakfast. So you get a snippet of a VERY rough draft of the newly reborn version of Into the Flames.

The new blurb (so far – I know it’s long, I’ll shrink it later):

Fifty  years ago, the Core struck the weakened Colonies and won a war that they’d started over their need to conquer. Now, the Colonies were ready to strike back.

The Eleven have decreed they need a spy to watch the Core, to make sure they see nothing as the colonies prepare for a new war, one the Core will never forget. Eire Rezouac, a man born to the Core but now Colony through and through, asks his eldest daughter Fiera to take up the challenge. She agrees.

Given a new name, wealth beyond what she could ever imagine to place her among those who would know the doings of the Assembly, and the chance to go to the most prestigious university in the solar system, she accepts the danger and heads into Bouarus, unaware that she will encounter the person behind the current animosity for the Colonies and have to match wits with her.

Kuen Nakano didn’t want to leave the private academy he was attending, but when his mother called him home, he couldn’t refuse. Born to the wealthiest house in the solar system, he knew nothing of the social caste he was a part of or how to live a life outside the rigid structure of the world he’d existed in since he was three years old.

Thrust into the chaotic world of politics, university life, and social maneuverings, he does not expect to encounter a fiery woman who challenges his beliefs, his intelligence, and his physical prowess. He wants to defeat her in the beginning, but as time goes on, he wants more. When war rears it’s ugly head, and he discovers the truth about the woman he loves, he risks everything to save her and will come face to face with his mother’s obsession.

Fiera sighed. “I don’t know if I can do this. I still have the colony accent. You and Jacin have been pounding that into me for the past month.” Jacin Andreasan, one of her father’s oldest friends and the second most powerful man in the colonies that wasn’t a core worlder, had joined them on Sorus three months earlier just for the sole purpose of making certain Fiera was ready for her mission.

It’s not that pronounced unless you get angry, and you’ve learned to compensate for it even then,” Eire said. “Stop stalling. The Lusitania will be boarding in just a few minutes.”

Fiera rubbed sweaty palms on the elegant lemon colored pantsuit she was wearing. “Are you sending anyone with me? I’m going to look odd without a servant.”

No, I’m not sending you with a servant,” Eire said. “I thought about it, but you don’t need another liability to be used against you. Besides, do you really want to treat another colonist the way you’d be forced to?”

Fiera thought of the way she’d seen the wealthy core worlders act with their servants and shook her head. “I couldn’t do it. The first time I tried hitting one I’d be on the floor next to them asking them if they were okay and telling them I was sorry.”

This is why I decided that going alone was the best option for you,” Eire said. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching them closely and squeezed her hand. “You’ll be fine, Fury.”

Fiera managed a smile at the use of her familiar nickname. It was probably going to be the last time she heard it from her father’s lips. Neither of them spoke of the possibility of Fiera being caught, of her being killed. It was an instant death sentence for a colonist if they were found impersonating a core worlder. They both knew the risk was there and the longer Fiera was on Bouarus, the likelier it was she’d get caught.

Fiera blinked back tears. This was something she’d agreed to knowing full well what her fate was most likely going to be. She reached up and fingered the pendant hanging just above her collarbone. It was the final gift her mother gave her before she left Sorus. “This won’t look out of place, as such exotic treasures are valued in the core,” Alena said as she fastened it around Fiera’s neck. “It is something of home, to remind you of us and to help keep you safe.”

It was a tiny figurine, carved by hand instead of by machine, of a strange bird. Even Fiera hadn’t known what it was until her mother told her it was a raven. “I’ve never heard of those before,” Fiera said as she put her luggage into the skimmer. “What planet are they from?”

It is said they came from our world of origin,” Alena said. “Some people thought of them as ill omens, while others saw them as tricksters. They were intelligent and wise, if you knew how to speak to one in the right fashion. Or so the story goes in my family.”

Your mother and I are very proud of you,” Eire whispered, drawing her attention back to the space station.

First call, all those boarding the G.S.S. Lusitania please make your way to gateway four,” a woman’s voice said over the public address system. A few people broke off from their groups and drifted in the general direction of the named gate.

You need to go,” Eire said. “Be a good girl and don’t look back.” Fiera took hold of the handle on her grav pallet and hesitated. “Don’t look back.”

Fiera closed her eyes for a moment and then took opened them again. She took a single step forward. Then another. Then another. She let herself get caught up in the flow of visitors to the station. She didn’t look back.

 

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Focus on the blood

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“Focus.”

“Focus.”

“Focus.”

I hear that every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. My teachers are forever chastising me for my inability to perform even the simplest spells. They don’t understand me. No one does.

That doesn’t surprise me. My parents and my sisters never understood me either. They considered me less than human because I wasn’t as powerful as them. At least, that’s what they thought. They didn’t know what I could do. But they learned. As my teachers and the students who ridiculed me would learn.

I waited until after the last bed check of the night before I got up and pulled on my clothes. A silence spell, simple and one I was forever pretending to flub, kept the other young men in the dormitory from hearing me. I slid out the door and moved down the corridor. I heard voices and quickly cast an invisibility spell.

Two teachers walked past, discussing their love lives. I had to keep from snickering. Their petty complaints would soon be insignificant to what they were going to face. I let myself out through the kitchen door, ignoring the sleeping cook and her helpers.

I went out to the forest and the makeshift altar I’d set up three days after arriving at school. I shed the spells and used a small fire spell to light the candles and a small blaze under my cauldron.

I summoned a water sprite and made it pour magical water into my cauldron before sending it away. Sprites were difficult to keep bound and I didn’t want to waste any of my power. I was going to need it all for this spell.

I waited for the water to come to a boil. I tossed several roots, insects, and a dried lizard in. I stirred it as the ingredients dissolved. I ground up some desiccated bones and poured that in. There was a puff of acrid smoke and the potion turned blue. I smiled. I only needed one more ingredient. I heard footsteps approaching. My smile got bigger.

“You’re a witch,” someone gasped.

I turned around. My discoverer was one of my worst tormentors. She was the eldest daughter in one of the First Families, and a powerful mage in her own right. “Warlock, actually,” I said calmly. “You chose an interesting time to follow me. May I ask why tonight?”

“I saw you get up. I was going to say something but then I watched you cast the silence spell. And then I saw you do the invisibility spell when the teachers went by. You’ve never been able to perform those so I knew something was different. So I followed you. Now I’m going to tell the headmaster. You’ll be burned at the stake,” she said.

I crooked my finger and she started walking forward. Judging from the shocked look on her face, she hadn’t expected to have the control over her body taken from her. “No, I won’t. And you will disappear, never to be seen again.”

She tried to open her mouth, but my spell bound it shut. I led her to a black stone stained with dried blood. I forced her to lay down on it and strapped her into place. There were grooves in it and it was obvious she’d figured out what I meant to do. I released her from my control spell, but cast another one to keep her from screaming.

“Why are you doing this?” she whispered, though I could tell she wanted to scream.

“Revenge, of course. All of you high and mighty mages, thinking we sorcerers are worth less than the mud on your boots just because we don’t use wands and fancy magic words,” I said. “This will show all of you just what we’re capable of.” I pulled out an obsidian knife. “Of course, you’ll miss the whole show. I hope you’ve made peace with your gods.” I drew the razor sharp blade across her throat.

It was deep enough she died instantly. I hated making my sacrifices suffer. The living deserved it. The dying did not. Her blood filled the channels and I gathered it in a chalice. When I had what I wanted, I went over and poured it into the cauldron.

The potion exploded into a swirling crimson whirlwind with glowing white eyes. “What do you wish of me, Master?” it asked in a grating voice.

I smiled at the blood demon. “Devour this girl’s body, and then spread a blood born pestilence to all who reside in this school but me. Make it something that can kill, but isn’t necessarily fatal. Let it scar those who survive. Steal their ability to father children. Destroy the females’ wombs so they can never pass on their bloodlines. Curse them with the same curse that I felt at the hands of my family.”

The blood demon bowed. “As you wish, Master.” It turned towards my sacrifice’s body and started eating. I turned away to face the school. Retribution would be mine.

Rewrite hell…but I’m having fun!!!

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So…I think I’m making more work for myself with Into the Flames now.

While I was working on baking snickerdoodles this morning (this was at 4:30 AM, mind you) I let my mind wander. I’ve been struggling with the rewrite, finding the characters stiff and not willing to comply with what I’m trying to get them to do. They’re resisting like nothing else and since I’m a pantser, uncooperative characters make it really difficult to do anything.

As far as I’m concerned, Fury & Co. are sadistic assholes. They’re demanding several new major plot points (and one character is asking me to write her out and put a new character in – she could have her own book in the series, she’s so fascinating to me) which would require so many character changes, plot detail changes, and massive dialogue changes that it would take forever to get it done.

The current rewrite is only 5 chapters in, so it’s not like I’d lose that much – just around 30k words. Given that this thing is over 400k right now, that’s not a bad thing. And if it improves the story, it’s not such a bad idea. But what if it is a bad idea? What if my characters are guiding me down the wrong path?

I save all my drafts. No matter how many I make, I save them. I have emailed copies of each version in my sent folder (I email them to my husband, who stores them in a folder on his email as a form of backup for me) as well as storing them in Google drive. As soon as I figure out where it went (again) I’ll be saving them on a thumb drive too. So if this doesn’t work I won’t lose everything I’ve already done and can pick up where I’m leaving off.

But what if I don’t want to? What if I like the new version? Well then, we’ll go from there. Let’s see what happens. Fury and Kuen haven’t done much to lead me astray so far. We’ve had some instances where I’ve had to pester them until I got the whole situation from them, but we’ll see what happens.

*waves and wanders off to do farm work and some writing*

Ancient drums of war

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Eran Brant stared straight ahead with his whole body rigid. He’d been ordered to stand at attention and that was what he was doing. He was getting very good at following orders. Others around him were whispering or looking around, still rebellious, still angry. But not Eran. He’d learned his lesson after the last attempt at defying the commanding officers. He wasn’t going to do it again.

Lieutenant Nikolic glared at the recruits. “I said be silent and stand at attention. If I hear one more sound or see one more movement, those who are in defiance of my orders will be placed in the chamber.”

Eran shuddered. The chamber was the worst torture imaginable. These recruits who didn’t understand that were in for a horrifying experience. Most of the others fell quiet but there were a few who continued in spite of the threat. These were also the most outspoken against the new law forcing enlistment in the military for all men and women between the ages of twenty and twenty five.

Eran understood in theory. They were at war and it wasn’t going well. The kitathi were more numerous than the humans and their technology was more advanced. They were pounding the hell out of the beleaguered Terran League. People were too scared to join up, not wanting to die. Or worse. The kitathi were fond of taking prisoners and doing horrible things to them. What they returned to the Terran League when they were finished with the prisoners was too horrifying to think about.

“Cadets Lichtenberg, Lacy, Cartwright, and Grosso, step forward,” Lieutenant Nikolic barked.

“Make us,” Cadet Lichtenberg said. Nea Lichtenberg came from one of the most influential families in the Terran League and as such was utterly shocked that the recruitment order included her. She expected to be excluded, as the elite usually were. But the Senate made it clear no one was exempt from this order, which enraged the elite but they couldn’t do anything without running the risk of losing their positions and their wealth.

Lieutenant Nikolic grinned, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. “With pleasure.” He turned to the two stone faced soldiers behind him. “Sergeant Aleshire, Sergeant Ebner, bring those cadets up here. If they resist, use acceptable force.”

“Yes sir.” The two sergeants headed down into the mass of yellow shirted cadets. The rebellious cadets shifted their positions, ready for a fight. Unfortunately for them, the sergeants weren’t going to fight fair.

When the cadets showed they were going to be aggressive, Sergeant Aleshire pulled out a small pistol and shot all three of them. They went down screaming. Eran knew from personal experience that it didn’t shoot regular bullets. What hit you was a condensed electrical charge that momentarily fired off every nerve in your body. It left you paralyzed, barely able to breathe, for a few minutes. More than enough time for the sergeants to drag you to the front.

Which is what the grim faced soldiers did to the limp cadets. Once the three of them recovered enough to be able to stand, Lieutenant Nikolic looked at them coldly. “I think it’s time you three were introduced to the chamber.” He gestured and six other seasoned soldiers stepped forward. These men and women bore the scars of having been on the receiving end of kitathi attentions, though not to the extent of the POWs. They half carried the weakened cadets away. “Now, am I going to have any other insubordination here?” No one moved or spoke. “Good. It’s chow time, cadets. Fall in.”

Eran took up his usual position in the assigned line and waited for the command to march. Following orders was much less painful than being a rebel, and as long as he didn’t get captured by the kitathi his death would be clean and quick. Even if he had to end it himself before they took him. The order was given and he set out at a specific pace, his boots striking the metal floor in a particular rhythm. It matched everyone else’s, echoing through the room like ancient war drums.

A mother’s sacrifice will prove in vain

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Phoibe carried Aurore along the path, reveling in the scent of the forest after the rain. The faint sunbeams that got through the canopy of the ancient trees cast pale spotlights onto the two dark skinned faces. Phoibe paused for a moment, letting the light soak into her skin. Faint tendrils of green extended from her hair and rose into the light, but Phoibe shook her head and they quickly withdrew.

“Mama needs sun,” Aurore said, snuggling up closer to her mother’s chest.

“I know, Ro. But Mama and Ro have something to do before mama can have some sun,” Phoibe said.

“Wiff daddy?” Aurore asked, tilting her head so her innocent eyes, the color of sunlit leaves, peered up into Phoibe’s.

Phoibe shook her head. “Daddy won’t be joining us today.” Aurore scowled. “I know, Ro. I’m disappointed too.” Phoibe continued along the mossy track, her bare feet leaving no marks in the soft soil.

She glanced over her shoulder but saw nothing on her trail. She didn’t relax. There were always too many watchers on her and Aurore. It had taken a great deal of effort to steal her little girl away alone like this. Someone might already be trying to find them.

“Mama, thirsty,” Aurore said, pointing to the tiny stream running alongside the path.

Phoibe stopped and knelt beside the trickle. She stuck the tips of two of her fingers in. The water was still pure. “Do not touch the bottom,” she said, setting Aurore next to it. The child stuck her hand in, careful not to stir up the mud. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Her hair, which was already showing signs of drooping, perked up a bit. There was more color in her dark cheeks and her eyes sparkled when she opened them again.

Phoibe helped Aurore dry off her hand, making sure they left no trace of their passing, and lifted her into her arms again. “Where we go?” Aurore asked.

“Some place special, Ro,” Phoibe said, kissing her on her forehead. She felt the tears coming. She blinked them away and moved on.

The sun was getting close to setting, and Phoibe’s strength was almost gone with it, when they reached the clearing. “Mama hard,” Aurore said, poking at her mother’s roughening shoulder. “Need water.”

“I know I do, Ro,” Phoibe said. Her voice was soft, almost all of her strength gone. “But it’s okay. I’m going to be fine.” She set her daughter down. “Do you see that tall tree down there? The one covered with all the vines?” Aurore nodded. Phoibe heard a faint howling. They’d found her trail. “I want you to run as fast as you can and try to touch it, Ro. See if you can get there before I do. Okay?”

Aurore giggled. She loved racing her mother. It was a game they played often, though only under the watchful eye of Phoibe’s husband and his men. “I ready.”

“Three, two, one, go,” Phoibe said. Aurore broke into a dead run, laughing all the way. Phoibe started down the path after her, knowing she would never reach the tree. But a part of her ached to try. She restrained herself, giving her daughter the one chance she had – the one Phoibe herself had thrown away so long ago.

“There’s the mother,” a harsh voice called. Phoibe turned and looked over her shoulder. The humans – strange in their mechanical suits – were at the edge of the clearing. None of them could enter, which meant that Phoibe’s husband and his men weren’t with them yet.

“Keep running, Ro,” Phoibe called.

“I run,” Aurore said.

Phoibe turned to face the interlopers. Veletheria had been a pure world of light, soil, and water until their arrival sixty years earlier. Now the sentient planet – and its children – were dying because of them. Phoibe tapped into the well of power she still had access to, something her people were rapidly losing their connection to, and raised a barrier between them and the heart of the sacred tree.

Phoibe glanced over her shoulder to see Aurore still running at full speed. As she turned she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She looked down. Several barbs poked out of her skin in the areas above and around her heart. She looked back to see her husband – a hideous hybrid of Veletherian and human – standing at the edge of the clearing.

“You can’t win, Bea,” he said, lowering his hand. “Whether you like it or not, Ro – and the others of her generation – are the future of this planet.”

Phoibe dropped to her knees, the poison flooding her already weakened body. In her mind’s eye she saw her mother in the same position, her own father standing over her. His hand was held out to Phoibe, calling her back. Phoibe’s husband moved up next to her, drawing that memory even closer to reality. “Ro, you need to come back,” her father yelled. “Mama’s sick.”

The laughter stopped. The footsteps faltered. “Keep running Ro,” Phoibe called, unable to bear the thought of her daughter’s fate being tied to the monster beside her. She pulled all the energy she dared out of the area and got back to her feet. Her husband’s shocked look made it worth the effort. “I just tripped. I’m coming for you, Ro. You’d better run or I’m going to beat you.”

The giggles and footsteps started again. Phoibe’s vision faded, but she was sure she saw her daughter headed towards the World Tree. She opened herself to the forest and let it swallow her, seeing everything for a split second. Smiling smugly at her body as it turned to ash, her husband held Aurore’s hand in his own. The tiny girl stared in horror at the incandescent figure her mother had become. Phoibe’s screams became wind in the trees as her spirit joined those of her ancestors.

 

Aurore looked up at her father. “Mama dead?”

The man nodded solemnly. “She got very sick. It made her mind go. That’s why she brought you here. Only bad things happen when you come here, Ro. Don’t you ever forget that. Never come here again, Ro.”

Aurore looked down at the tiny flowers that were growing where her mother had just been. She surreptitiously reached down and picked one. She tucked it in her pocket, smiling up at her father. “I won’t.”

An Esper’s gift

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Edgar leaned on his stick and watched his grandchildren play. The light breeze made the summer heat bearable. The river was running swiftly, a testament to the large amount of rain they’d gotten that spring. It was an abnormality he’d seen before, though his daughter and her husband claimed it was because of a change in the climate of the planet.

He sighed. They were right, of course. It was. But it wasn’t entirely man made, as they were quick to say. The planet had a lifespan, like so many other living creatures, and it was reaching another milestone in it. Of course, the results of this milestone would bring mass extinctions, natural disasters, and a large decrease in the human population, but that was something you came to expect when you got as old as he was.

He thought for a moment. It would be this planet’s second cycle. The last world he’d lived on had gone through eleven before it became unlivable. He missed that world. He lost his beloved Anyalisi in the destruction. He’d been chosen to leave on the colony ships. She was forced to remain behind.

Senalimaa was a good wife, and she’d provided him with five beautiful children, but Anyalisi had been with him for far longer than any other wife he’d had. It still hurt as he thought of watching her sapphire eyes watching him, full of tears, as he was forced at gunpoint onto the ship.

His musings were interrupted by screams. He looked over where his granddaughters had been playing. Velamara was at the edge of the river, shrieking and pointing. He saw a white haired head bobbing in the middle of the water as it was swept along. Belaminari was being carried away by the torrents.

Edgar grounded his stick and closed his eyes. He located his youngest granddaughter’s life energy and wrapped his mind around it. He stopped her momentum and lifted her from the water with the energy he drew from the world around him. He carried her back to the shore and set her down next to her sister.

He opened his eyes. “You two, get back from the river. Right now,” he snapped.

“Yes Elder,” Velamara said. She took her sister’s hand and dragged the soaking wet girl into the house.

A few minutes later, Edgar’s daughter Gemisidara and her husband Hamunixaru stomped out. “Father, what did you do?” Gemisidara asked, her voice high and frightened. “You know the Visionnari have forbidden the use of such powers.”

“Would you have had me let Belaminari drown?” Edgar asked, not turning around. “If I can save a life, I will.”

“I’m going to have to turn you in,” Hamunixaru said, not sounding sorry at all.

“Do what you must,” Edgar said. “It’ll do you little good. The Visionnari won’t do anything against me.”

“We shall see,” Hamunixaru said. He stalked off, followed a moment later by Gemisidara.

Three hours later, he heard the familiar booted footsteps. “Edgar, we were told you used forbidden powers to save your granddaughter,” one of the Visionnari said in a monotone voice.

“I did,” Edgar said, again without turning around.

“How many lives saved does that make?” another Visionnari asked.

“Since we got here? Five hundred and seventy three, unless you want me to count the infants I’ve helped deliver and kept alive,” Edgar said. “If you do, that puts it at well over a thousand.”

There was silence. In unison, the Visionnari behind him spoke. “Then we find no crime has been committed here.”

There was a muffled gasp. “How can you say that?” Hamunixaru asked. “He used forbidden powers?”

“For Edgar, there are no forbidden powers. He is Father to All Worlds,” the first Visionnari said. “It is to him we owe our existence. It is he who found this planet for us. It is he who granted us life. We honor him by granting him the ability to live his life as he sees fit.” The booted feet marched off, the sound dwindling into nothing.

“Father, what did they mean that you are the Father to All Worlds?” Gemisidara asked.

“Did you pay attention in your history classes? About how humans came from a planet called Earth?” Edgar asked.

“That old story?” Hamunixaru asked. “You don’t believe it, do you?”

Edgar finally turned to face his daughter and son-in-law. He pushed back his sleeve and showed them the tattoo on his forearm. There, in all its pulsing glory, was the mark of the Esper. It was the mark given to those who’d been genetically engineered to have some kind of extra sensory powers. Those like him had been the reason Earth was abandoned. “I am one of the last Espers in existence. Most have committed suicide or been killed by those who don’t understand us. I continue to live, to spread my DNA in the hopes that someday those like me will be welcomed again once more.” He turned and, pressing his stick into the soft dirt as he walked, headed towards town.

A hero’s flame

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It was eerily quiet. The sirens had stopped some time ago, and the bombs no longer shook the bunker. Brava clung to her daughter as the toddler whimpered in the dark.

“Brava, hush that brat before she gets us captured,” someone hissed. Brava couldn’t tell who it was.

“Have you ever tried to quiet a frightened child this young?” Brava snapped back, her voice a mere whisper. “It’s nearly impossible.”

“She’s not loud enough for the sniffers to find us anyway,” someone else whispered. “Leave Kayin alone.”

Someone grumbled but no one spoke again. Kayin soon went limp, a sign she’d cried herself to sleep. Brava pulled her closer, resting her chin on the top of Kayin’s head. A few people shifted in the dark, easing the awkwardness and pain of the positions they’d held for the past 24 hours.

Finally, Brava heard a peculiar sound and then the snap of a match striking something. Two lamps flashed into light. People cried out softly as their eyes, accustomed to the dark, were burned by the dim light.

Durai, the old man who’d hustled the townies into the bunker, looked solemnly at the group. “I think we can all accept the fact that our homes have been destroyed.” He paused. “I also think the bombs have stopped because there is no one left to drop them.”

“What do you mean?” someone asked. It was still dark enough Brava couldn’t see the speaker.

“I recognized the sound of the final bomb. It was the same type that destroyed my homeworld when I was a young man,” Durai said. “It is what drove me to this land. Now I feel it too has been devastated.”

“What do we do now?” someone else asked. Brava recognized this person. It was Rin, a young man who’d made several passes at Brava in the past. She didn’t like him but had to admit he’d been a brave soldier until a mine took out his leg.

“We check the air scan and then, if it is as I fear, we work on turning this network of rooms and tunnels into our new home. We will be here – not for a few years – but for a few generations,” Durai said.

“So long?” This was Leilani, a young woman who was in the early months of an unexpected pregnancy. She’d gotten pregnant just before her husband left to fight the Kilkani. He’d been killed and she’d never gotten a chance to tell him.

“Only if the air is as I suspect,” Durai said.

Borivoj, another soldier who’d returned too injured to continue fighting, went to the device next to the door. He started swearing. “The air is one thousand parts calinaris radiation.”

“That would be lethal within three seconds if we opened the door even half an inch,” Rin said. He looked ill.

Durai sighed. “It is as I thought. Riya, Gili, bring your soft lights. We need to map out these tunnels and bunkers. Brava, lay Kayin on my pallet and start cataloging how much food we have. Laird, check the seed collection. See what’s food and what’s ornamental.”

Brava set her daughter down and got to work. She wiped tears from her cheeks. Dieter, Kayin’s father and the man Brava planned to marry though she wasn’t sure she loved him, was dead. With the kind of radiation in the air outside there was no way he could have survived. Kayin would be devastated to learn her beloved “dada” was gone for good.

She closed her eyes for a moment before diving into the sorting. She wouldn’t betray his memory by being weak. She would be strong for Dieter, be strong for Kayin. She would be a hero for those she loved and those she now stood beside. It was the least she could do for all of them.

A roll of the dice

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Onni laid down his cards. “Tescanto. I think I win again.”

His table mates groaned. “That’s the sixth game, Human,” the dark skinned Kishnari said with a growl. His wire like hair stood on end. “Are you sure you’re not cheating?”

“He’s not,” the psionic Aladon said. “I’ve been watching him for the past hour. He’s really this good.”

“His luck has to change. No Human can play Tescanto so well and keep winning,” the red skinned Valenian said with a grimace.

“My father won his fortune playing Tescanto and winning almost all of his games,” Onni said, grinning. “It seems I’ve inherited his luck and skill.”

The Kishnari said something in his own language that Onni took to be unflattering, though he didn’t yet know enough of the other race’s language to be sure. “I’m not going to sit here and be beaten by a lesser life form.” He uncoiled himself from the pillar he’d wrapped his serpent’s tail around and slithered away.

“It appears that, unless we can coax someone else away from their drinking, our match is over,” the Aladon said. She folded her six arms across her abdomen. “Perhaps you should allow yourself to lose once in a while, Human. It would make you a more popular guest at our tables.”

“Maybe,” Onni said. He stood and stretched. “Thank you for the match. I very much appreciate the honor of playing with all three of you, though he did not wait to hear my thanks.” He bowed to the two remaining beings and headed off.

Onni sighed. The Aladon was right. He needed to remember to lose once in a while. That was why his father became so popular. He didn’t always sweep the table. But it was so hard not to get caught up in the game.

As Onni made his way towards the door, a shadowy figure beckoned to him. Onni, ever curious, walked over to see what it was. He didn’t recognize the being in front of him. It was black, with eyes the color of jade and a mouth full of jagged teeth. It had four long arms that ended in three fingered hands and eight long legs. It reminded Onni a little of a spider. He shuddered.

“I hear you like games of chance,” it said, it’s voice neither masculine nor feminine.

“Sometimes,” Onni said warily.

The being pulled out four blood colored dice. “Care to make a wager?”

“What’s the bet?” Onni asked.

The being showed him an absolutely exquisite ring that would be the perfect size for Onni’s fiancee Xiang. “This ring for you, if I lose.”

“And if I lose?” Onni asked.

The being’s mouth stretched in what Onni could only guess was a smile. “Your left hand.”

That gave Onni a moment’s pause. “Let me see the dice.” The being willingly handed them over. Onni shook them, weighing them. He held them up to the light. They weren’t weighted and there was no sign of tampering. It would be a game of pure chance. He smiled. These kinds of games he never lost. “All right. I’ll take your bet. What are the winning conditions?”

The being hissed and expressed some pleasure. “You must get at least two sixes to win.” Onni nodded his acceptance of the rule. They went over to an alcove where private wagers were often made and dealt with. “Do you wish to roll the dice? Or shall I?”

“I’ll roll,” Onni said. He still held the dice. He ran them through his fingers a few times before casting them onto the table. They bounced several times before landing. He stared at the pips. One six. He turned white.

The being hissed again. “I win.” He drew out a long, curved knife. The edge was crusted in blood. Onni tried to run, but a quick motion from the being held him in place. “You lost in a fair toss. It’s time to pay your debt.” Onni whimpered as the knife descended towards his wrist.

Excerpt from the NEW Chapter 1 of Into the Flames

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I’ve been working on a major rewrite for Into the Flames because I wanted to try something different with it. Here’s a sneak peek at the newly rewritten chapter one. Enjoy!

Do you have everything?” Eire asked.

As far as I know, Dad. You’re the one who knows better about the core than me.” Fiera ran her fingers through her hair, making the spikes worse. “You supervised my packing so if I’m missing anything it’s because you forgot about it.”

True,” Eire said. He pulled her into a rough hug. “Call me as soon as you reach Bouarus, no matter what time it is. I’ll answer.”

It always felt odd hugging her parents. She was a few centimeters taller than them, standing at just over a meter and a half. She was also slender where the rest of her family was stocky. Her mother Alena called her a throwback to an earlier genetic ancestor.

It wasn’t only her height that she’d inherited. Her face was narrow and angular where theirs was round. Her nose was pointed where the rest of her siblings, other than her twin, had snub noses. Only the shape of her eyes, wide and almond shaped, matched theirs. Eire teased Alena often that Fiera and Phelix couldn’t be his because of their appearance. No one took that seriously of course. Alena and Eire were faithful to each other and everyone knew it.

Fiera drew several deep breaths, cementing in her mind the scent of her father’s clean linen shirt and the spiciness of the chemicals all the farmers used to keep the bugs off. “What if you’re asleep?” Fiera asked.

Then keep calling until someone wakes up and can get me.”

That’ll irritate mom.”

Yeah, well, she can just deal with it.”

Fiera snickered. “You know, the way you two act towards each other sometimes looks more like teenagers dating than adults who’ve been married for, what, over thirty years now?”

About that, yes.” Eire laughed, a deep hearty laugh that made everyone around them smile. “We were married six months before Keoni was born.”

I remember hearing the stories from Gma and Gpa,” Fiera said.

Yes, and they thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen, your mom and me racing to the courthouse when we found out she was pregnant,” Eire said.

Fiera chuckled. “I still don’t know how you two have managed not to kill each other all these years, not to mention how many of us there are now.”

With love, respect, and a healthy sense of humor.” Eire smacked her lightly upside the head. “Get moving or you’ll miss the shuttle up. If you do, I’ll be really put out. What I’ve set up isn’t cheap.”

Fiera rolled her eyes. “So you keep telling me.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll call when I get there.”

Eire hugged her again, hauling her head down and pressing his lips to her cheek. “Remember: blend in.”

Not all mist conceals

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Photo via VisualHunt

Diyar waited impatiently for his twin. “If you keep dragging your feet, I’m leaving you behind. You made me miss it last time. I’m not taking that chance this year,” he shouted.

Sivan staggered out of the decontamination chamber. His long black hair was a mess, sticking out from his head like the tentacles of a partunial lagoniva. “I don’t know why you’re so excited about this. You’ve seen it before,” he grumbled.

“When we were children,” Diyar said. “We were barely old enough to remember. And when it came around again when we were teenagers, our parents wouldn’t go without you. What was it you told me when I tried to get you to move faster?”

Sivan sighed. “I told you the only way I was going to see some shelling sunrise was if you drugged me and stuffed me in the cargo shell of the hover.”

Diyar nodded. “Now, you have five minutes. I’d rather have you with me, especially since you promised Briska and Sirin you’d be there.” He grinned as his brother spluttered. The twin sisters who dated the two brothers interchangeably were hard to please, and if Sivan went back on his word, the two of them would make him pay for it for a long time.

Five minutes later, the black haired and brown eyed twins left their underground apartment and went through a series of tunnels lined with electromagnets that granted their vehicle the ability to fly until they reached the main landing bay of the Geliyen settlement on Protoxia VII. It was kept sealed and guarded against the residents most of the time. Only once every fifteen years was it opened to the public, and the huge ships stored inside prepped for flight once more.

Briska must have been watching for them because she appeared shortly after they parked their hover. “You two were almost late,” she said, her charcoal colored eyes flashing angrily.

“My fault, Bris,” Sivan said. “I worked late and overslept.”

Briska snorted. “You ‘worked late,'” she said, making a motion with her hand to show she didn’t believe him. “You were out at the bar again.”

“No Bris,” Diyar said. “He really was working late. I had to go pick him up because the public transit stopped running two hours before he got off.”

Briska opened her mouth. Sirin appeared and elbowed her. “Bris, I work for the same company as Sivan, remember? He was still there after I left, and I caught the last public transport,” she said.

“Let’s go,” Sivan said, catching hold of Sirin’s hand. “We’re going to miss the transport, and I want to make sure we can all sit together.” He dragged Sirin along. Diyar and Briska followed. Diyar glanced at Briska out of the corner of his eye. She was not one for unwanted physical touch, and right now it looked like she wasn’t interested in taking his arm.

They got to the massive ship and climbed aboard. They found a long bench that seated four and settled in. They fastened their harnesses and waited for the ship to fill up. It did and about an hour after they arrived it lifted off.

Diyar watched as the dark browns, grays, and reds of the stone surrounding the city passed the windows. There was an excited buzz in the conversations going on around him. He saw several young children tugging on their parents’ arms and asking what they were going to see. The parents just told them to be quiet and they’d find out soon enough.

Eventually the ship broke through the crust of the planet. On the surface, as if preserved in some giant museum, stood the ancient cities that had once held Diyar’s ancestors. The first residents of Protoxia VII built the towering structures they now saw, drawing on their memories of their homeworld. But something went terribly wrong and they’d been driven  underground. That had been nearly a thousand years earlier, and their descendants still lived in the subterranean territories carved out a millennium ago.

“Look,” Briska said, her breath catching in her throat. Light flickered off the shimmering powder on her olive skin.

Everyone peered out the windows. The cloud cover that was a perpetual drain on the solar generators was parting even as they watched. The glorious golden sun poured light down on the mist shrouded ghost city. No pictures were taken. It was forbidden. No drawings were made. Again, it was forbidden. All you were allowed to have were your memories, and Diyar stored his against the coming gray time.

Too soon the clouds covered the shining orb and the ships made their way back underground. “Do you think we’ll ever see it again?” Sirin asked wistfully.

“I don’t know about you two,” Diyar said. “I know I won’t. I’m 34. I’ve only got eleven years left.”

“Can’t you file for an extension?” Briska asked.

“I’m not a good enough candidate for that,” Diyar said. “I’m just going to enjoy the years I have left and let my life end when they say it does.”