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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 30

Darker Stars Beta CoverSloe hugged Raven goodnight, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Silvie. He envied her ownership of travel objects; first, the baglamas, and now she had a pair of travel glasses like the pair her father, Valcas, used. From what Sloe saw, it could have been the same pair he’d seen Valcas wearing.

He sighed, wishing he could obtain an unofficial travel object for Raven, for her protection. Those without travel talents could at least use unofficial objects. The travel talents he and Silvie had were in addition to the ability to travel through time and space. The TSTA still regulated travel, though its control over unofficial objects had weakened and the line between what was official—such as a commissioned travel vehicle—and what was not, had blurred over time.

Sloe pressed a hand to the exit portal in Aboreal that would take him home to the Clock Tower. A one-way portal that led to a single, specific destination.

If he had a travel object like those Silvie had, he could have gone directly to her by conducting a search. The limits to his Time Keeper portal talent aggravated him. His talent was nothing without the Clock Tower, which acted as a bridge, an in-between. The realization hit him with a force that made him see stars: like his father, he was bound to the Clock Tower.

But those men…the cloaked men. What were they? It was as if their travel talent had mutated, evolved in a surprising new way. They weren’t bound to the Clock Tower. Their portals had a different, sinister quality. Sloe wasn’t sure he could defeat it. At least, not without help.

Sloe arrived at the Clock Tower; he clung to it for the span of a breath before reaching for the portal to Edgar. When the teardrop glowed, he pushed forward and slipped through.

The stars of Edgar gave off a light, a shade of blue so deep it could have been mistaken for black. Yet, the center of each star blazed white. His shoelaces reflected that light, causing them to appear brighter than they should have been.

Expecting Silvie hadn’t gone back to work that night, after her visit to Aboreal, he crept up to the Halls’ home and knocked on the door. He stood in silence, hoping Silvie would open the door so he wouldn’t have to explain his arrival to anyone else. When no one answered, he considered letting himself in.

Sloe reached out a hand, but left it hanging mid-air. I can’t, he thought. Not again.

He didn’t know how late it was, or how long ago everyone had gone to bed. He gave up for the night, mentally scolding himself for traveling there in the first place, and moved toward the hospital, then to the exit portal behind it.

Careful to keep his bright shoelaces hidden beneath the flowers as much as possible, his thoughts shifted back to the idea of travel objects. Silvie and her family could be somewhere else, for all he knew. She could be anywhere.

There were too many doors, too many portals, to step through to reach her.

In his mind, her method of travel was far more direct.

Maybe she’s right about stopping the cloaked men. His lips bowed into a guilty frown. I need her help, even though I betrayed her.


Sloe left the Clock Tower early the next morning. He found Silvie at the hospital making her rounds. The way she whistled and talked to herself and the recovering Lost made him smile. Until she noticed him lurking in a corner and caught his eye.

Her lips dropped open.

He pressed his palms forward. “I’m sure I’m the last person you expected to see here, but I’ve been thinking about what you said before leaving Aboreal. And you’re right. We must stop them.”

Silvie rested both fists on her hips, a motion so slow and cautious, Sloe swallowed several times before continuing. “I’m willing to do my part—whatever it takes to fix what I’ve done.”

“Of course I’m right,” Silvie snapped, spinning the world back to a regular speed.

After a glance down both sides of the hallway, Silvie gripped Sloe’s wrist and pulled him into a broom closet. “We need to talk. Now.”

Sloe caught his breath and forced back an awkward laugh. His forehead nearly touched Silvie’s. He tilted his head back, but it didn’t do much to hide how close they were inside the cramped room. He inhaled. Uncomfortably close.

“I have an idea,” Silvie whispered. “But we’ll have to run it by my father first.”

Sloe raised his eyebrows, then nodded.

“And we’ll need to tell your parents, too.”

“What? No!”

Silvie clamped her hand over his mouth. His eyes widened.

“You said you were willing to do your part, whatever it takes. This is your part, Sloe. You got us into this mess, so you don’t get to be picky about the plans for getting us out.”

“Mmm…kay, fine,” he mumbled beneath her fingers.

She let go as if he’d bit her, then frowned. “I traveled to the past to visit someone I trust, and I told her about our situation.”

“Who? When?”

“Don’t worry about it. She’s a silhouette in the past; she won’t tell anyone. She won’t even remember I went to visit.”

Something in Sloe’s stomach twisted at Silvie’s frown. She rubbed her eyes. One finger grazed the edge of her brow, smudging away its edge.

Sloe winced. His fingers twitched to smooth the edge of her opposite eyebrow to see if that would disappear, too.

“Anyway,” she said, redirecting his thoughts. “Moth—um, she suggested we combine our travel talents to stop the cloaked men. All last night and this morning, I’ve been thinking about how to do that. We’ll need to trap them. I have some ideas for how each of us can help, but we need more input, from my father and your parents to form a plan.”

Sloe clenched and unclenched his jaw, biting back another plea to keep his parents out of the matter. But he’d promised, and Silvie was right. Things had gone too far. They were in too deep. And, yet, hope shined in Silvie’s eyes, a hope that there was a way out.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s hear what your father has to say.”


Sloe lowered his head, his chin brushing against arms crushed against his chest. He was certain he wouldn’t have his bedroom door back anytime soon, not as long as he lived at the Clock Tower.

“So what you and your friends are saying, Son, is that the dreadful man who showed up here uninvited—the one in the cloak—was someone you’d met before?”

Nick towered over Sloe, next to the invisible portal behind their home. The talk with Valcas at the hospital had gone more smoothly than Sloe expected. Filling his parents in on the situation, on the other hand, was as nightmarish as he thought it would be.

Sloe swallowed. “Yes, I knew who he was.”

“And you didn’t think it wise to mention this before now?”

Valcas kicked up dust as he moved from his inspection of the ground where the portal sat and placed a hand on Sloe’s shoulder. “I expect he didn’t want to worry you or your family if he thought he had everything under control.”

“But he didn’t have everything under control, Valcas!” Ivory scowled. “Our son stole from your family and put both of your children in danger. They could have been killed. Raven could have died. Do you know what the death of an Aborealian would have meant for us?”

“We would have been ruined,” Nick added in a chilled voice. His gaze fell on Sloe. “We should have dealt with this when you and Raven first returned with your injuries.”

“It’s too late for that,” said Valcas. “You are welcome to discipline your son as you see fit, later. For now we must deal with what we have before us. The cloaked men will not be able to recover the baglamas where it’s currently hidden, but they will destroy us and our children in their race to find it. Should they fail, the man for whom they’re retrieving the instrument will either send someone else or come after it himself.”

Silvie grimaced each time the adults used the word children.

“How do we catch them first?” she asked.

“Yeah, and assuming we caught them, how do we keep them from escaping?” Sloe looked from his father to Valcas. “The cloaked men have travel talents different than what we’ve seen before; it’s as if the Time Keeper’s ability to open and unlock portals has evolved or mutated. These men can build portals as well as World Builders can build worlds. That means they can build their own escape.”

Valcas brought a fist to his lips and murmured something to himself. When he exhaled, his lips quirked to the side, forming a smirk. He answered loud enough for all to hear. “The trap need not be too big. It could be a small world just starting out. We’ll need to find something to lure them there, and only leave enough room for them and the world’s inherent entrance and exit portals—both of which could be locked by a Time Keeper.”

Ivory shrugged. “I supposed that could work. Could we put them in a cage or something to make it a little less difficult to squeeze in one of their own portal creations?”

“It will depend on how much time we have, but a trap could be built within the trap.”

“That’s so meta.” Ivory grinned, causing Sloe and Silvie to share the slightest of eye rolls.

“What do we use as bait?” asked Nick. “How exactly do we lure them to this new world?”

Silvie took a long look at Raven before answering. “I was thinking we show them what they want. Plant what we want to lead them there.”

Shivering, Raven shrunk into Sloe’s open arm.

“Not you, Raven,” said Silvie. “The baglamas.”

Ivory shook her head. “That’s sweet, hon, but Plaka left that for you. The baglamas should be kept safely locked away.”

Silvie sighed and turned to her brother, her lips already parted as if she were about to say something.

“Javis!” she gasped. “What’s wrong?”

He stood with one hand pressed against the tower, his other hand clutched at his chest. His knees shook and sagged beneath him.

“The white… I don’t… I don’t know.”

Valcas’s face paled to a sickening shade of white. In a swift motion he lunged forward and caught Javis as he collapsed, his hands cradling the young man’s head an inch above the ground. He exhaled. “Silvie?”

“I’m already here.”

“Oh, Valcas, will he be okay?”

Valcas squinted up at Ivory and the group of faces surrounding him and his family. “We need to get Javis home—to the hospital right away,” he answered. “We’ll continue our discussion later. I’ll be in contact soon.”

“I can whip up a batch of healing broth—”


Valcas swallowed. In a tone less harsh he added, “Thank you, Ivory, but that won’t be necessary. Once Silvie gets him in a slightly better state, we’re traveling home.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 31, to be posted July 11. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.



The Solid Rock—Blog Tour and Excerpt!

TSR Release Banner FB and Blog

I am excited to be part of this blog tour for a new Christian Western! Faith Blum joins us today to talk about her new release, The Solid Rock. It is about a talented detective with a mission to find his kidnapped colleague who finds himself working undercover with a heinous outlaw who has more plans than first meet the eye.

About the Book

3D The Solid RockJoshua woke with a quiet groan. As his senses woke up one at a time, he cracked his eyelids open. Sure enough, there was a silhouetted form standing at the foot of the bed. From the smell, the person was either from the brothel down the street or had recently left one.

He forced himself to breathe evenly and reached for the knife in his thigh holster. With as tough and evil a voice as he could imitate, he spoke, “State your intentions.”

Pinkerton detective, Joshua Brookings, is sent on a job that seems simple on the surface. His fellow detective has been kidnapped and his boss, William Pinkerton senses foul play. Joshua is sent to investigate Edward’s case in hopes of finding the kidnapped detective and helping solve the case that has taken over ten years to investigate.

Arriving in Cheyenne, Joshua finds much more than a simple kidnapping. Yet again, he must go undercover, something he made his boss promise never to make him do again. The only Christian in the outlaw group, Joshua falters and almost loses faith in God’s providence. Will he stand on the solid Rock or drown in the sinking sand? (more…)

Cora and the Nurse Dragon

Today I get to share an excerpt from a new book, as well as a giveaway, by author H. L. Burke. If that’s not enticing enough, guess what? She writes about dragons!

Cora and the Nurse Dragon is a new middle grade fantasy adventure by author H. L. Burke. It follows the adventures of Cora Harrison in a world where Dragons no longer live in nature but are a resource exploited by humans.
Ages 9 and Up.

The book releases January 31st and is available for pre-order at the special price of 99 cents.

Cora’s a young girl with two dreams: to be a dragon jockey when she grows up and to own a pet dragon now. She constantly buys “egg packs” at the dragon emporium in hopes that one will hatch into a rare pet-sized dragon, but only gets short-lived mayflies. However, when an unexpected egg does develop into something new, Cora may be over her head.

Read on to learn how to enter to win a paperback copy of the book!

Chapter Two

The Dragon Emporium

The girls stopped outside the shining windows of the Dragon Emporium. A line of little children had their faces pressed against the glass.

“Do you think they got something new in?” Abry whispered.

Cora eased forward. She was small for her age, an advantage if she did manage to become a jockey. The little kids wouldn’t move out of her way like they would for a full-sized kid, so Abry, all arms and legs, slipped through them, pulling Cora along.

On the other side of the window were cages of hatched dragons, mostly butterfly-sized mayflies. They darted about, fluttering their green wings and hovering over the fresh flowers the shop keepers gave them to feast on. A kid could buy five mayflies for a penny, making them the most popular purchases, even though they only lived for a couple of months.

Cora caught sight of what had drawn the kids’ attention: a red-scaled striker, in a tin-wire cage. It perched on a balance beam, tearing chunks of meat from a chicken leg clutched in its tiny front talons.

“Oh, he’s a beauty.” Abry’s eyes twinkled. “Imagine if you got him, then he and Neptune could play together. A striker and a steamer? So much fun.”

Cora nodded absently. Neptune was a steamer: a blue, cat-sized dragon who breathed hot water vapor. Abry’s parents had saved for months to get it for her on her tenth birthday. Cora’s dad would never be able to afford a steamer or a striker or anything but silly mayflies. Still, Abry was always coming up with schemes to save or make money so Cora could purchase her own pet. Their lemonade stand and dragon walking businesses, though, had both been dismal failures. She’d have to be satisfied with her mayflies and her father’s cat for now.

She stuck her hand in her pocket. She had a few pennies. Maybe she could buy some mayflies.

The bell gave a cheerful ding as she stepped in. The shopkeeper wore a pinstriped vest and crisp white sleeves with red garters. He leaned over the counter, showing a collection of egg boxes to a young man with greased back brown hair wearing a blue sailor suit. Cora winced.


Though close to her age, Xavian didn’t go to her school. Most of the year he was traveling with his mother, private tutors, piano instructors, and bootlickers–all the entourage of a tycoon’s only son. When he was home, however, he loved to follow her around and point out that his father was her father’s boss. She ducked behind a display of dragon eggs and pretended not to see him.

The shop bell rang again. Cora dared to peek out and wave Abry over.

Abry’s nose wrinkled. “What’s Xavian doing here? His daddy buys him everything he wants.”

“Who knows?” Cora shrugged. Do kids like Xavian even have pocket money? Or do they just take what they want and tell people to send the bill to their mansions?

Abry picked a box off the display. Like all the others, it was made of balsa wood with a window on top allowing customers a glimpse of the eggs. All dragon eggs were essentially the same, pearly white and perfectly round, about the size of marbles, the bowler type, not the little ones. However, in these packages they came wrapped in shiny, colored foil, like a box of bonbons. It was both pretty and functional, because it kept the eggs from hatching prematurely. Eggs wouldn’t hatch until exposed to light. In darkness, they could be stored for months.

Cora fingered the price tag: 15 cents. She bit her lip. It was reachable, if she saved up for a month or so, but in her experience, eggs only hatched into mayflies. Every so often, someone found a striker or a sparker egg in their kit, but it was pretty rare. She could buy seventy-five mayflies for the same price as this kit of two dozen eggs.

Slipping the kit back onto the shelf, Cora retreated to the window. A child and his mother were the only observers on this side of the glass. Another salesman lingered at her elbow. The mother had a cameo necklace and glittering rhinestone earrings. Her t-strapped shoes gleamed in the store lights.

For fear of attracting attention, either from Xavian or a salesman, Cora hung back.

“I’m not really sure Geoffrey is old enough for such a demanding pet.” The mother tilted her head to one side. “Do they make much of a mess?”

“Not at all. Less so than birds or puppies. Would you like to hold him, Geoffrey?” The salesman reached for the cage door, and Cora’s stomach tightened in jealousy.

She turned away. Maybe she would buy a kit. The six egg kits were only a nickel. Fishing in her pocket, she found four cents. A penny short.

“If you need a little more, I have a dime.” Abry held up the shiny coin. “I was going to save up for a big kit, but if we raise a small kit together, it’ll be much more fun.”

Cora shook her head. She couldn’t let Abry do that. “I have enough mayflies for now. That’s all they ever hatch into anyway.”

She wandered down the back aisle to where the various dragon-care items were kept: large glass terrariums for mayflies, wire-cages for cat-sized ones, and even harnesses for those lucky kids whose parents could afford to buy them racers–like Xavian.

Abry fingered a leather collar. “I don’t think Neptune likes collars. I used to walk him on a ribbon; he always twisted it and made a fuss.”

Cora eyed the door. “Do you think we can slip out without Xavian noticing?”

“He seems pretty wrapped up in whatever he’s buying … probably the whole store.” Abry sniffed. The girls started forward.

“That’ll be all, Master Algernon?” the clerk asked, handing a white paper package to Xavian. Cora couldn’t help it, she paused to see what he’d bought.

“Yes. Just the collar.” The boy tucked it under his arm and turned. His eyes met Cora’s, and her face burned.

Great, he caught me looking. Next thing he’ll think I’m jealous of his stupid money.

He smirked, taking a step towards her. She made for the door.

“Wait!” the clerk called out.

The girls froze and glanced back.

The clerk stepped around the counter and held out a small box to Xavian. “Free with every purchase. A starter pack of dragon eggs.”

Xavian crossed his arms and sneered. “I don’t need a silly starter pack.”

The clerk cleared his throat then glanced up at the girls. “Well, it’s free. If you don’t want it, maybe the young ladies will.”

Cora’s heart quickened. She tried not to look too eager, not to look at the tiny box in the clerk’s hand at all. How many eggs in a starter pack? Six? Probably all mayflies but always a chance, however small, at something more.

Xavian snatched the pack from the clerk’s hand and pushed his way past the girls. The door clanged shut behind him.

Abry huffed. “Didn’t the little beast’s mother teach him to hold the door for ladies?”

“Who needs manners when you have money?” the clerk said. He returned to his place behind the counter.

Abry sniffed. “Come on, Cor. Let’s get home.”


Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Scholar and the Dragon”, featuring the books Dragon’s Curse, Dragon’s Debt, Dragon’s Rival, and Dragon’s Bride as well as the YA/Fantasy Beggar Magic. Her current projects are a young adult steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.

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