ya fiction

Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Stephan von Clinkerhoffen

The Hidden City of Chelldrah-ham, by Stephan von Clinkerhoffen, won Gold for Best High School Series in the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest! Stig’s Flight of Encounters, one of the books in the series, also received Gold in the middle school general category.

Congratulations on your achievements! When did you first start writing?

It’s a bit of a long story.

We were quite happily living in Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, when I began writing.  About seven years ago Christchurch was hit by two massive earth quakes which destroyed our city and many thousands of homes. Surrounded by so much hurt and destruction I found it almost impossible to carry on my job as an artist painting beautiful landscapes.

I Googled “volunteering Christchurch” and soon found myself volunteering full time, first for the Civil Defence then for the NZ Red Cross. Assessing the worst hit areas and helping those most in need.

But the artist in me needed an outlet so I started to paint large images of a fantasyland with a few sentences describing each one in a short story, kids loved it. Then the stories grew and in no time at all I had started to write my first book Stig’s Flight of Encounters.  The title of the series comes from the twin cities of my home town Cheltenham in the United Kingdom and an imaginary city Drah-ham hence The Hidden City of Chelldrah-ham. I found I could draw on the experiences that surrounded me; the poor living on a fractured land struggling to survive, and use it in the story of a young lad from a city of riches beyond belief where money was worthless. So the story developed book by book, painting by painting.

What’s the target age group for your books?

My series, The Hidden City of Chelldrah-ham, is in three volumes. When I started to write the first book I was targeting 12 years and upwards but with each new book the age group has matured as have Stig and Meg, my main characters. Many of my readers are adults of fifty plus who like escapism and to take a break from reality. Can I call “young at heart” an age group?

Chess’s ed. note: Young at heart is a most acceptable age group, in my humble opinion.

What inspired your award-winning books?

When I was about nine or ten years old I remember being inspired by a teacher.  He told me to follow my passion, and helped me a lot with my art which I loved more than anything else. He also enabled me to win an award at an art exhibition. I still have the prize, a dinosaur book. He is now a main character in my book, War of Chaos, playing a “Guard of Old”. My art and my writing feed from each other so I’m glad of his encouragement all those years ago.

Describe one of your characters with a cliché or a famous quote.

The main character in the book series is Stig who is a “Reluctant Hero”. I also describe him with an old word from the 16th century: “Younker” denoting a young nobleman. I love that word.

Do you have plans to, or have you already, released audio editions of your books?

This is something I would like to do in the future. Can I put it on the bucket list?

Chess’s ed note: Yes, absolutely!

Who would you cast as the voice actor for your main character?

I think that someone like Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), but in his younger days, would be good as the main character.

Do you illustrate your own books?

Yes, I do all of my own illustrations, to me it’s a major part of my writing, because all of my wildest machines start on a sketch pad, to make sure that they are plausible, and potentially could work. I was in engineering, prior to my career in art and then writing, and because of this I don’t have magic in my books. I like everything to work as it should or could do, even if it is from another planet. I find this inventing of new mechanical wonders very exciting.

I always find myself looking at new machines and studying their mechanisms.

Who are some of your favorite YA and/or children’s book authors?

I never read much at all, for several reasons, I like to be creative all the time, so I would rather be writing a book than reading one. Also, I would not want to plagiarise another author’s work so hopefully I will have a writing style of my own.

But that’s not to say I don’t hear of other authors or appreciate the work taken to write a book. I do love to watch a good sci-fi fantasy movie like Harry Potter, love that sort of thing.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I do like to put onomatopoeic words in italics. It seems to bring the sound of the word you are reading into the imaginative world of what you are seeing, in your mind’s eye. Early on my editors were in two minds about it, but now as it has progressed they have applauded it, many of my adult readers like it too.

There are a few images of my paintings in my books and at times my writing is an expression of these paintings in words.

I paint to music, but I write in silence.

How do you balance writing with book promotion and everything else there is to do in life?

Thank God I have a wife (Sally) who is very computer literate, she was also a sales person for quite a while. She has more experience at marketing etc. which I loathe. We know we need to do more promotions.

Sally is also my first port of call for editing, prior to professional editors, and helps with all those rewrites.

Do you have anything special you’d like to say to your readers or fellow award-winning authors?

To all CLC winners I would like to say a big “Well Done!”

“Hats Off To You”, I know how hard and costly it’s been to get to this stage, so let’s all look to a bright future as authors, and as the ending of my first book says “My your beliefs travel with you wherever you are”.

Author Bio

Award winning author Stephan von Clinkerhoffen grew up close to the English Cotswolds, surrounded by nature and the region’s rich history. An engineer for twenty-five years, he spent ten years in the British aerospace industry.

Clinkerhoffen’s career influenced many of the inventions found in the Chelldrah-ham series, as did his time in New Zealand, where he served as a humanitarian volunteer in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.

An artist for the last thirty years, Clinkerhoffen has returned to England, where he rediscovered his love of local history—a love that permeates Belas Rift.

He has received praise and numerous awards for his writing from Literary Classics Book Awards, Kirkus Reviews, Readers’ Favorite, and ForeWord Clarion.

Follow Stephan von Clinkerhoffen and his writing on Twitter, Facebook, Goodeads, YouTube, Amazon, and his website.

Award-Winning Books

Stig’s Flight of Encounters

Stig is eager to test out his Spiral Drive, a power unit built for his clockwork plane. He’s so eager that he ignores his fellow inventor’s words of warning. It’s a decision that changes his life and tests whether he has enough fortitude and skill to survive.

Stephan von Clinkerhoffen’s City of Chelldrah-ham: Stig’s Flight of Encounters takes readers on a journey to Chelldrah-ham, the city of riches Stig calls home. They travel with him to strange and beautiful lands as his test flight goes astray and crashes into a wooden pod.

Stig’s trip back home isn’t going to be that easy. Soon he discovers bat-like creatures called the Bach that threaten the pod’s homeland. He escapes the encounter but will have plenty more to face.

Stig must rely on what he finds in nature and the help of new friends like Meg, whom he meets on his trek. He’s got his clockwork skills and a map that his father gave him. But is that enough to help him get back home?

War of Chaos

Stig and his friends Arn and Baits head out of the city of Chelldrah-ham on a mission to Polandrea. Their task is to determine whether the battling Bach creatures still pose a threat.

Stig has his own plans to find and rescue his missing friend Meg in Polandrea. Baits, meanwhile, is tasked as a member of the Guard of Old to search for signs of their absent leader, Lillet. Little do they know the danger that awaits them.

Chelldrah-ham prepares for war when the trio finds evidence of recent battles, and Baits learns Lillet’s fate. Stig and his comrades must confront the Bach and learn their mysterious secret if he hopes to rescue Meg.

Stig, Arn, and Baits must rely on their inventions, each other, and their own ingenuity to survive on a harrowing journey through a magical fantasyland fraught with hidden dangers.

Mystical creatures, secret weapons, action, war, and romance—along with author’s own fantastical artwork—await in The Hidden City of Chelldrah-Ham: War of Chaos.

Belas Rift

After the ferocious battle in War of Chaos, Stig and Meg pursue the evil Anet through a swirling interdimensional rift—and straight into new trouble.

On the other side of this portal, the two Manna find themselves in a world of giants and strange, ominous technology—a world that seems as obsessed with greed and gold as Anet herself. They’ve pursued their enemy to her homeland, a country known as England.

Alone and hunted by a terrifying flying machine, Stig and Meg find allies in the unlikeliest places, and they come to realize other Manna have made this trip between worlds before.

When their frantic search leads them to a golden temple hidden deep beneath the earth, Stig learns that fate ties him to this mysterious shrine. Unfortunately, the two Manna have bigger things to worry about. Anet knows Stig and Meg are in England, and she’s using all her resources to hunt them down. Stig’s ability to devise disastrous plans isn’t helping matters, but the Manna can’t afford to give up now. Anet is breeding new creatures to unleash on Chelldrah-ham, and it’s starting to look as if the Manna simply can’t stop her this time.

“Each of the three books in this magical collection are full of wonder and imagination with delightfully multi-faceted characters and a plot which keeps readers enthralled throughout this dynamic series. With a background in engineering and art, author Stephan von Clinkerhoffen lends a unique perspective to this enchanting series which he both wrote and illustrated.” Literary Classics Book Awards

In addition to the above-linked titles, a color edition of Belas Rift is available for purchase on Amazon.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 29 Dialog

Darker Stars Beta CoverMy chest burned while I ran from Aboreal. It took a great deal of focus to search without thinking about Sloe’s betrayal, his girlfriend, the threat on Raven’s life, or all the trouble we’d found.

I needed a comfort like no other, one I hoped would help me find the best way to discuss the situation with Father and give me the strength to protect those who jeopardized all I held dear.

As the white light faded, I entered a room. A glimpse of dark curls and a flash of orange blurred in front of me, before the ground violently trembled. I cradled the travel glasses to my face, cringing when I heard the crash of broken glass. Then, a yelp.

“Who is it? Who’s here?” The voice calling out was familiar, but alarmed.

Since when would she be afraid of the arrival of a traveler? The groaning and unsteadiness of the ground below wasn’t something that would frighten a seasoned traveler. Unless they didn’t want to be found.

When the rumblings subsided, I stood and removed the dark lenses from my eyes.

She gaped at me as she pulled herself up from behind a lab table covered with tubes and coils. Shards of glass that oozed with a bright, orange liquid littered the floor.

My heart plummeted into my bowels. I knew this room, a laboratory built beneath the home’s lower level; but I’d never seen anyone actually use it before. I attended science classes at the hospital under Father’s instruction and the tutelage of guests.

A trail of orange liquid flowed along the table’s edge and dripped onto the floor. I wrinkled my nose.

“Mother! Is that Edgar’s elixir?”

The woman before me, one I was learning I knew less and less about, wiped her lips.

“Mother?” She shot me a long, hard squint, then looked at the floor as if considering the arrival of a traveler from a different place and time. “Silvie, is that you?”

I exhaled, relieved she understood who I was, until I remembered what I was upset about. The new thing that upset me.

“Yes, here I am, all grown up,” I managed before scowling. “You’ve been making and drinking the youth elixir to extend your life, haven’t you? I thought you and Father had an agreement to live out your natural timelines.” Is that why she was afraid when I arrived—not of the arrival of a traveler, but afraid of being caught?

Her shoulders drooped forward. “This was the only way we could have children” she said, gesturing toward me. “Before I…”

Suddenly, the questions I’d had—and suppressed—about how Javis and I could both exist, and with different ages according to our timelines, began to make sense.

“But,” I sniffled, “using the elixir put you at risk of becoming Lost. Again.”

Mother smiled. “Edgar once told me there are many pathways in life. Some good. Some bad. But only one that will truly be yours.”

“That’s, um, philosophical.”

“I’m sure you’re disappointed in me,” she sighed. “But now that I see you like this, I know I did the right thing.”

Mother pulled a broom from a closet. She collected the glass shards and broken pieces before wiping away the orange liquid from the table and floor. She frowned.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered.

She clapped her hands after a final dab with the cloth. “I can deal with the rest later. Let me have a closer look at you.”

Barely breathing, I stood perfectly still while Mother inspected me.

“You look so much like Valcas.”

My cheeks warmed as her gaze landed at the spaces above my eyes. Her real eyebrows creased.

“Face paint,” I said, knowing her silhouette wouldn’t remember my earlier visit to the past.

“But…why?”

“Everyone else has them,” I admitted. My voice was calm. I’d given this explanation to Father countless times before he’d finally stopped asking. “No use making others feel uncomfortable. It’s not like the hospital gets recovering Lost from Chascadia to help me blend in.”

“You work at the hospital?” She grinned.

“Yes, and I’m a healer. Not that I get to heal much besides calming people down,” I huffed. I almost rolled my eyes at myself. Here I was about to complain about Father when we had far greater problems to deal with.

“Father’s still holding me back,” I said anyway, remembering Mr. Calcott. It was true, and now that the baglamas had been recovered, Father was even more impossible and overprotective.

“Well,” tutted Mother, “for what it’s worth, I’m proud of you.” She opened her arms.

Holding back sobs that seemed to have emerged out of nowhere, I fell into her embrace.

“Oh, it can’t be that bad. I was your age—not long ago, actually. I remember how difficult it was. But things will get better, Silvie.”

“That’s what I thought, until it got worse.”

She pulled back from me and searched my eyes. “What happened?” she breathed.

“I inherited Grandpa Plaka’s baglamas.”

As I explained everything from Sloe’s glance at the funeral to how he ported to Edgar, and how Javis and I retrieved the baglamas from the man in the tunic, I couldn’t help the way my voice rose higher and less controlled. I’d barely finished the part where I’d learned of Sloe’s betrayal when Mother stopped me.

“Silvie, slow down. Sloe and…Javis,” she said, testing out the latter name as if it felt unfamiliar. “From what you’ve told me, they both have remarkable travel talents. Sloe apologized, and he could be helpful.”

My lips pinched together. He and Raven had been so terrified when I spoke to them, by the time I left Aboreal, I’d convinced myself to leave them out of it. We must stop them had become I must stop them in my mind. But Mother was right. I couldn’t do this alone. No one could.

Mother gave me a small smile; her eyes were sad. “I don’t know what I would have done without your father, Ivory, Ray, and their talents to escape the Fire Falls. Or, without them, Nick, and your grandfather Plaka when I needed them the most. In Susana.”

“I get that you want us to combine our talents,” I said. “The tough part will be convincing Father. He’s hard enough on me. He barely lets Javis use his World Building talent at all.”

Mother’s jaw squared beneath eyes that morphed from sad to serious. “Your father sees me in you, Silvie, and in…Javis. But he also knows you must make your own lives, your own contributions to the worlds.”

“So then what do I do?”

She placed her palm beneath my chin. “You’ll need to figure that out. Do what you need to do, but include him in it.”

I swallowed a sigh. Part of me expected Mother would have the answer, a plan that would help me know exactly what to do—how to stop the cloaked men and their master, the man in the tunic. She’d only suggested we combine our abilities. Raven didn’t have any travel talent as far as I knew. Sloe was a Time Keeper, and I was a Remnant Transporter. Father and Javis were both World Builders, though Javis wasn’t often given opportunities to use his talent. Maybe this event would change everything. Unless Father decided Javis wasn’t ready yet and insisted on taking his place. I wasn’t so sure I’d disagree with Father. Given the strange darkness I’d felt in my brother, it was possible he was too sick to help. I certainly didn’t want him to pass out and need to go to the hospital in the middle of our mission.

I squirmed out of Mother’s hold on my chin and exhaled a shaky breath.

“Silvie, what’s wrong?”

“I noticed something odd when reaching out with my healing talent,” I said. “Something I’ve never felt before.”

“Can you describe it?”

“It was a darkness, a cloud that swelled deep inside the person—not attached to a particular organ or body part. But it was there, it was something. I could calm the person and begin healing those parts that were sick, but I couldn’t make the darkness go away. It was, I don’t know…stuck. Have you ever encountered this before?”

Mother paled. “I have, but never at the hospital. It wasn’t something that accompanied the Lost.”

Part of me was relieved this meant Javis was not on his way to becoming Lost. Mother was right. I’d never felt such a phenomenon in any of the recovering Lost. This was new to me.

“What is this darkness, and where did you come across it?” I asked.

“Your Grandpa Plaka called what you’re describing an Occlusion. He studied it for some time, noticing he sensed it in travelers who weren’t exercising the full potential of their talents. If he found a cure for it, he never mentioned it.”

“Oh,” I said, my eyes widening. “So you didn’t feel this in the Lost because they tend to be travelers who overuse their talents rather than underuse them?”

Mother glanced at the table, shaking her head at the remains of Edgar’s youth elixir. “Moderation in all things,” she muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing but an escaped thought.” Her lips formed a tight smile. “Have you been traveling far, Silvie?”

“Not often,” I said. “Other than recent events surrounding the stolen baglamas, I’ve spent most of my time on Edgar.”

Her eyebrows raised. “Then where did you find someone with an Occlusion?”

“At the hospital,” I said.

“But how’s that possible? Who has the Occlusion?”

I sighed. What good would it do to keep the information from her? She’d forget by the time I visited her again, anyway. After a deep breath, I looked into my mother’s eyes.

“Javis,” I said.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 30, to be posted July 8. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 27 Heartbreak

Darker Stars Beta CoverJavis and I stood with our mouths gaping.

I turned to my brother and frowned. “What did the hooded man—the one with eyes like Eurig’s—say to you?” I had trouble getting out the words without shaking.

“He said ‘You can thank the Time Keeper for your pain.’”

My fingers clenched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Javis eyed me warily, then shook his head.

“They came here to make us distrust Sloe,” I said, crossing my arms. “Let’s go to the Clock Tower, the way we’d planned, and we’ll prove they’re wrong.”

He stared, his lips twisted in a frown. Without taking his eyes off me he bent down and fished his travel glasses out of the flowers. He slipped them back inside his pocket and turned toward the house.

“Javis…” I caught up to him in three strides. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not going.”

“Why?”

“Those men came here specifically for the baglamas. If they know Sloe, then Sloe probably knows them, too. They could be working together.”

Tears stung my eyes. I clasped my hand around my own pair of travel glasses. “Then I’ll go alone and find out for myself.”

“Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. “But if you’re not home before I go to bed tonight, I have no choice but to tell Father where you went.”

“You’re going to tell on me? What are you—a child?”

“No, not a child, Silvie,” he said, his eyes warming. “I’m worried you may be falling into a trap.”

My lower lip quivered, more at his accusation than his warmth. He was my brother, but he was abandoning me on my quest to find the truth. I couldn’t help but think this had something to do with the darkness I’d sensed in him. I had no proof, but I wondered whether it was affecting his mind. Yet, he smiled as if he truly cared about me, and with the same cocky confidence I’d always seen in him.

I shoved past Javis and stepped up; my feet stomped against the path. I slipped the travel glasses over my eyes, and ran, ignoring my brother’s cries that I stop, hoping when I removed the dark lenses, I’d have arrived at Sloe’s home, the Clock Tower.

When the white light faded, my gut dropped with the sensation of falling. Haven’t I already arrived? Or am I up in the air? My legs bent at the knees as my feet hit the ground. The crackle and tear of hardened soil was accompanied by a jingling sound that reminded me of bells chiming from the bedroom doors of the recovering Lost. Only, louder.

I placed a hand to my forehead and looked up. A mangled mess of clockwork and timepieces towered above me, swaying and banging together. I expected gears and flecks of paint to spray down at me, but they didn’t.

I stayed low to the ground until the rumblings subsided, then removed my travel glasses. I stood and brushed a velvety gray-brown soil from my legs before stepping forward, toward the tower.

“So, this is where Sloe lives,” I murmured.

The mossy scent of soil was not unpleasant, but it didn’t embrace the comfort and cheerfulness of the flowers at home. While the Clock Tower itself was impressive, the grounds around it, even the purple sky, were lonely and barren.

As I wandered, absorbing my new surroundings, curious how the portals on the Clock Tower worked, a door creaked open from the base of the tower.

“Hello?” called out a familiar voice.

“Ivory! Hi!”

The woman with white hair tilted her head to the side. Her eyes widened. “Silvie Hall?”

“Sorry for dropping by uninvited, but I was wondering…” Warmth filled my cheeks. “Is Sloe here?”

I expected Ivory to chuckle at my embarrassment, or at least ask questions about why I would want to see her son. But the tightness in her lips and the wariness in her eyes suggested something else.

“I’m sorry, hon, but he’s not here right now. I came out here thinking he’d returned early.”

“Oh,” I exhaled, my gut twisting. “Is he all right?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “There’s no need to worry. Would you like to come inside for something warm to drink?”

I looked down; I hadn’t realized I’d been rubbing my palms across my arms. Edgar’s golden suns, along with their warmth, were missing in Sloe’s world.

“Thank you, but I should get going. It was nice to see you.”

Ivory creased a brow. “Are you sure? I don’t know how long he’ll be gone, but you’re welcome to stay here and wait for him, if you like.”

I blinked. “Did he go out for a quick errand?”

“Not exactly. Honestly, I’m not sure how long he’ll be gone, but you’re welcome anyway.”

I smiled at that. “Thanks again for your kindness. I should go.”

“I’ll tell him you stopped by.”

“Um, okay.”

“Safe travels, Silvie. Send your father my best.”

“I will.”

Ivory nodded before closing the Clock Tower door.

More nervous to find and see Sloe than when I’d left Edgar, I slipped on the travel glasses. This time, before running, I didn’t focus on Sloe’s home. I thought of his dark hair and purple eyes, and the way he smiled at me when I last saw him.

I searched specifically for him, regardless of where and when he was.

***

I caught a glimpse of violet-blue sky before grounding. Blades of grass tickled my nose while I waited for the rumblings to subside.

The air sang to me. I knew this place, and I’d visited before.

I felt the world’s history in my blood and in my bones.

Aboreal.

What is Sloe doing in Aboreal?

I pushed up from the ground and shrugged. My grandmother Sable was gone, but it was possible Sloe had grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who still lived here. I wondered whether I had cousins in Aboreal, too.

My feet padded across a thick lawn. I’d traveled directly to Sloe, so I knew he must be close. What I didn’t know was whether he was alone.

Heat flooded my cheeks. How am I supposed to explain to his family why I’m here? The questions I needed to ask Sloe were personal. I hadn’t worked out exactly what I was going to say. Hey, Sloe, how’s it going? Did you, um, steal my baglamas and hand it over to creepy men wearing cloaks who gave it to an even creepier guy in a tunic? It sounded ridiculous.

And, then, what if he answered yes?

I paused mid-step to breathe, hoping it would loosen the twisting in my stomach. If Mother or Grandpa Plaka were alive, they could have calmed me instantly. But who heals the healer when you’re the only one left?

Shaking my head, I stepped forward and bit back additional self-pity. This was something I needed to face, alone. I would simply ask Sloe to step away for a moment while I asked him my questions. If he appeared genuinely confused, then I could believe he had nothing to do with it. If he admitted to taking the baglamas and being involved with the cloaked men, that’s something I would deal with when the time came.

I wandered onto a street, lined with houses on both sides. As I approached a home of brick and stone, the hairs at the back of my neck lifted. The male voice that swept through the air belonged to Sloe. I couldn’t make out individual words, but the tone in his voice cautioned me that he was speaking to someone else.

I crept along the side of the house, to where I imagined there would be a backyard.

“I don’t know, Raven,” said Sloe. His voice was low and cracked on the last word. Raven?

Frowning, I leaned forward and peered around the wall’s corner.

Sloe sat on a bench, his shoulders hunched over and elbows resting on his knees. Dark locks fell across his cheekbones. And a hand rested on his shoulder.

Lumps formed in my throat.

A young woman sat across from him. Her black hair twisted in a loop above her head, but she was bowed forward so her forehead rested against his. Certain there was an explanation for this, I wondered whether she was a healer, too.

Sloe was thinner than when I’d last seen him, his cheeks more hollow, like he’d been sick. Reaching out, I could feel hurt there, pain. Was that why he hadn’t visited me again—because he was sick? I could have helped him. He knew I was a healer. Why was he visiting her, Raven, instead?

I leaned forward, wondering what could have happened to make Sloe seem so broken, then nearly jolted out of my skin when Raven placed her hand in his.

“I still think you should tell Silvie,” she said, looking up.

My mouth dropped open at the sound of my name. There was a brightness in her eyes, a kindness there buried in the darkness. How did she know about me? Tell me what?

“I can’t tell her I took the baglamas.”

“Why haven’t you done that yet? What are you waiting for? Unless—” Raven’s face crumpled, though I couldn’t imagine why. He’d betrayed me. I waited for his reason.

“She’d never forgive me—not only for what I’ve done, but for what I’ll need to do again.”

Something rubbed against my leg and mewed. I yelped, and glared at a feline creature, white as snow, before looking up and pressing my hand to my mouth.

Two pairs of eyes darted in my direction.

There was no going back. I crossed my arms and stepped forward from my hiding space in the shadows.

“It was you?” I spat.

Shock sizzled in Sloe’s eyes. His lips began to tremble. “Silvie, I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”

“From the sound of it, you didn’t want me to find out in any way.”

Raven’s lips were pulled back from her teeth. Her scowl was one of horror and embarrassment instead of shock.

She narrowed her eyes. “You were eavesdropping on us!” she said, finally, after a thorough inspection of my outfit and hair.

“I was looking for Sloe,” I explained. “I traveled here to find him, and I found way more than I expected.”

I shook so badly, I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or wring his neck. He helped the man in the tunic? He stole the baglamas? And he planned to help them take it from me again?

I wanted an explanation, but I was so disgusted I couldn’t look at him. The rip in my heart tore through my trust more than anything. And to top it off, here he was on a date with some Aborelian who seemed to know all about it! Someone he’d never mentioned to me.

But I had a surprise for him, too.

“I got it back the first time,” I said. “The baglamas has been hidden somewhere that cannot be easily accessed, so don’t bother trying to steal it again. The man in the tunic is not happy. I imagine he’ll be looking for you, so expect to refund whatever he gave you.”

Sloe raised his palms and yanked himself up from the bench. This earned a grump from Raven whose hand he’d dropped in order to do that.

“Silvie, let me explain.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 28, to be posted July 1. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 25 Suspicion

Darker Stars Beta CoverJavis and I completed our late shift at the same time. Fortunately, my foot wasn’t broken or sprained. My toes had swollen to the point where I couldn’t fit into my right shoe, but after a few days of rest, I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

“Thanks for helping me with my rounds, Javis.”

“Don’t worry about it. I know you’ll help me with the toilets when the time comes.”

I wrinkled my nose, my mind occupied with more than bathroom cleaning. Father had been cold with me when I’d asked him to hide the baglamas. And we still hadn’t figured out who’d locked the recovering Lost out of the hospital. Though, we suspected it had something to do with the portals to and from Edgar that Sloe had shown me.

I frowned as I listened to Javis’s attempts at solving the puzzle, wishing my oversized hospital boot thudded more loudly to drown out his droning.

“I still say Sloe has something to do with it,” he said. “No one else knows about the portals, much less uses them.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” I said, surprised by the tartness in my voice. But I didn’t let it stop me from continuing. I inhaled deeply. “Nothing about Sloe suggests he’s capable of such a mean trick. He’s kind, Javis. You’ll understand once you get to know him better.”

He sniffed. “The only way to find out is to get to know him better, which means being around him more.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“We have the travel glasses. Why not stop in at the Clock Tower for a visit?”

“I’d rather not show up uninvited.”

“Why not? That’s how he showed up here.”

A rush of warmth filled my cheeks as I considered the possibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sloe again. But as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I didn’t know him well. As far as I was concerned, he was a good person. He hadn’t done anything to suggest otherwise. But I didn’t know where I stood as far as friendship, either. He hadn’t visited Edgar since the day the baglamas was stolen.

“Okay, perhaps we should visit the Clock Tower,” I said, hesitating. “What will Sloe need to do to convince you that you’re wrong about him?”

Javis shoved a hand in his pocket. He pulled out a pair of travel glasses. “I don’t have anything specific in mind; but I’m willing to feel him out a bit. Are you ready to go now, or would you like to freshen up first?”

I winced. “Freshen up?”

“Put on more makeup or change out of your scrubs…whatever girls spend so much time on before going basically anywhere.”

My jaw slackened at his teasing grin. “I’m ready now,” I said through clamped teeth. “Let’s go.”

We stepped toward a long stretch of pathway. I held out my hand. Still grinning, Javis slipped the dark glasses over his eyes.

I exhaled, shaking my head as I took a long look at the field of flowers—to where Sloe had entered Edgar the first time I’d met him.

His features were burned in my mind.

Dark hair. Eyes of pale lavender roses. A grin that tilted to the left. There was no doubt I could do a better search for Sloe to get us to the Clock Tower. I’d had a lot of time to think about him during my days off.

But this was Javis’s idea. Sighing, I decided to let him drive. Since I wasn’t a silhouette from the past, Javis could transport me. I prepared to run by pressing my weight to the back of my heels, trying not to hurt myself while he focused on our search.

“On three,” Javis said. “One. Two. Thr—”

“No, wait!” Instead of running forward, I squeezed my hand more tightly and pulled him back. He fell backward and I fell forward. Our hands separated, and we toppled to the ground. Pain prickled across my kneecaps.

“What are you doing, Silvie?”

“I saw something.”

I stuck out my finger and pointed to a space in distance. “Hands and shoes. Sloe may be coming here to visit us.”

The legs and torso of a person began to emerge from Edgar’s entrance portal.

I scrambled to my feet. “Come on, Javis. Let’s see who it is.”

My heart zoomed as I half bounded, half clomped across the flowers, hoping Sloe had come to visit us. Then I could prove to Javis what a nice guy he was.

I stopped, my heart sinking. A man stepped through the portal, his cloak flapping around him, followed by another figure whose face was covered to his lips with a hood.

Javis’s breath came out in ragged gasps from somewhere on my right. “Who are you?” he called out.

The men didn’t answer; they didn’t have to. I knew they had something to do with the man in the tunic from the world we’d escaped with the baglamas. They were dressed like the cell guards.

I pressed my fingertips to my ears and screamed. Until a hand covered my lips.

“Save your breath, girl. We have questions for you.”

Unable to turn my head, my eyes darted to the left and right, searching for my brother.

Javis writhed against the bulkier man’s grasp. “What do you want from us?” My heart pounded at the panic in my brother’s voice.

“The baglamas.” The words that escaped the lips pressed at my ear were warbled and strange. “We’ve come to take it back.”

“I don’t have it,” I growled.

The man holding back Javis’s arms pressed his brows together. “Where is it?”

“Hidden. I wouldn’t be able to tell you where it was if I tried.” I bit at the hand that half covered my lips. “Let. Me. Go.”

“Not until you tell us who knows where the instrument is.”

I clenched my jaw. There was no way I was going to implicate Father.

Javis strained against the cloaked man who wasn’t wearing a hood. Both stared up over my forehead, presumably at the hooded man who held me.

Javis’s eyes opened wide as he began to shudder.

“What’s wrong?” I yelled out. “Javis, what’s happening?”

“His eyes…they’re like the dog’s eyes. He’s putting words in my head.”

I twisted until I felt my neck would break. The hood was pulled back from my attacker’s face. His eyes glowed white and burned of moonlight.

“Stop looking into his eyes, Javis! He can’t talk to you if you look away.”

Arms around me tightened.

Then, suddenly, the vise of pressure disappeared. Both cloaked men slackened and fell to their knees.

The man who’d held Javis moved for the portal—the invisible space where they’d entered Edgar. “We’ve stayed too long,” he said, his voice thin and choked.

I bit my lip to keep from asking what he meant by that.

The hooded man held out his hand.

“But that’s not the exit port—” I gulped and pressed my hands to my lips, feeling like an idiot for what I’d revealed.

I took a few step backward and reached for Javis.

Both of the cloaked men were in pain. I could sense it—feel it—with my healing talent. As much as I felt the pull to comfort them, I resisted. This pain was foreign to me. I had no idea what it was or where it came from. And I wasn’t about to escort them to the rear of the hospital where I knew the exit portal was located. I didn’t what them anywhere near Father or the recovering Lost.

I set my jaw, watching the hooded man’s hand pass through air. He and his companion crawled across the space where they’d entered; where I imagined the entrance portal would be. Flowers crunched beneath their knees and hands.

Both strained to stand upright, before they turned and walked backwards into the space they’d passed.

And disappeared.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 26, to be posted June 24. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 18

Darker Stars Beta CoverSloe paced, shivering each time he passed the hole where his bedroom door used to be. His parents were in the upper rooms discussing what had happened and considered him not adult enough to be much help. So, he’d left.

He couldn’t shake the dread he’d felt when his father had wanted him to test the portal—to see where it went. Sloe had never been so grateful for his mother’s interference on his behalf. He almost didn’t care how much of a coward it made him feel.

He was more concerned for Raven. If the hooded man showed up here at the Clock Tower, does that mean he could also visit Raven’s home? Convinced the hooded man’s appearance was a warning, he knew he had to speed up the process. He had to find the baglamas and give it to the cloaked men.

It hadn’t been long since he’d left Silvie’s world of Edgar. Their timelines weren’t as different as the Clock Tower was with other worlds. He needed to go back—as soon as possible.

“If caught,” he murmured, “I’ll say I wanted to see how Javis and Silvie were doing after everything that happened during the hospital tour.” He pressed his lips together tightly. If I’m not caught, then I’ll do some exploring on my own.

With his mind made up, he exited the Clock Tower and climbed to the portal to Edgar.

A quiet calm enveloped him as he slipped through the portal. He stepped over flowers and navigated the path to the Halls’ front door. Building Number One, he thought, smiling. He was sure the baglamas would be kept somewhere in Silvie’s home. And he hoped she, her father, and Javis hadn’t left the hospital.

Sloe knocked on the door. He waited, inwardly reciting the lines intended to explain why he was there.

When no answer came, he twisted the doorknob. He caught his breath when he realized the door wasn’t locked.

His stomach churned with disappointment at himself as his feet crossed the threshold of the Halls’ home. But the hooded man’s warning and concerned for Raven compelled him forward.

He sucked in a breath while attempting to absorb what he found inside the house. The front room was larger than the Clock Tower’s upper rooms put together. There was a sculpture, with a plaque, like dedications he’d seen at museums on other worlds. He considered taking a closer look before giving himself a sharp reminder that he had little time.

Instead of one staircase leading to the next floor, there were two. One led to the left, and the other to the right. He gritted his teeth. This will take forever.

Muttering excuses to himself, he searched the first floor. After ruling out the kitchen, and an adjacent dining room, he found himself standing in a library with a fireplace. The shelves held books and globes. A grand piano sat wedged against a window that was barely visible behind layers of curtains.

Sloe flipped through pages of sheet music, all written for the piano. Glancing around the room, he tried to picture Silvie sitting before the fireplace, strumming the baglamas. He remembered how closely she’d held the instrument to herself at the funeral.

“She wouldn’t play it here,” he whispered aloud. If I had an instrument like that, I’d hang out in my bedroom all day and practice. His eyes widened.

He held his breath as he reentered the front room. His heartbeat pulsed, reminding him of the passing time. One of the Halls could show up at any moment. After snapping his head back and forth between the two staircases, he ascended the stairs to the left.

Sloe swabbed beads of perspiration from his forehead. He kept his steps light as he wandered through the hallway, testing doorknobs as he went.

The first unlocked door creaked open. He flipped a switch along the wall and the room brightened. Squinting, he focused on a stack of shirts, a comb, and a bottle of cologne on top of a dresser. The shirts were dark blue, the same color as Javis’s uniform. I doubt they’d keep the baglamas in here, thought Sloe. He gave the rest of the room little thought before concluding it was Javis’s bedroom and turning off the light switch. The next door opened into a closet with shelves filled with towels and soaps. Next was a bathroom, then a second closet.

Sloe opened a door that led to another bedroom. He flipped a light switch and exhaled. A smile lit his face as he focused on an object that made him lose interest in everything else. On top of a bed, resting against a pillow was a stringed instrument. The baglamas.

He removed his jacket and stuffed the instrument inside, tucking the ends and tying the sleeves into a handle. Despite all the excuses he’d invented to explain his presence there, he didn’t know how to explain why he’d taken the baglamas and hoped no one would ask what was wrapped inside his jacket.

With his heart in his throat, Sloe closed the door to Silvie’s bedroom; he tiptoed down the stairs and out of the house. Outside, the flowers’ scent had faded. He sighed, grateful for a clear path between the house and the exit portal. As quickly as his feet could carry him without crushing petals and leaves, he marched to the exit portal.

He was within three feet of his goal when the ground began to tremble. He sharply released a breath. Someone was coming, or was already there, but not from the hospital or from the house. Another traveler would reach him before he reached the portal with enough time to open it and travel through.

With clenched teeth, Sloe grounded, burying the wrapped baglamas and himself in the flowers.

When he looked up, he saw another figure crouched along the ground, not far from him—someone wearing dark glasses.

“Sorry!” a voice called out a female voice.

Sloe brought himself to his feet at the same time she did, and pressed a hand to his lips.

Silvie had removed the sunglasses from her eyes and was walking toward him, smiling.

He cleared his throat and waved. His foot caught the bundle containing the baglamas, which he attempted to shift to a space further behind him.

Silvie glanced at the space behind him. “Leaving already?”

Sloe felt the heat creeping up his neck and face. “I, um—I wanted to check in on how you and Javis were doing, but you weren’t here,” he lied. “So I figured I’d go home and come back at a later time.”

“You didn’t go in the hospital? It’s right behind you.”

“No, not without you. I knocked at the front door to your house, but nobody answered so I figured I’d try later. I don’t want to bother anyone.”

Silvie smiled brightly. “Not at all! Javis is staying at the hospital overnight. He probably doesn’t need to stay there at all, but Father insists as a precaution.”

“So he’s fine, then?”

She scrunched her nose. “I hope so.”

“Stressful day,” he said with an awkward chuckle.

“Yes.” Silvie blinked, then smiled again. “Well, since you’re here, why don’t you come inside for a snack?”

Sloe winced, searching for an answer.

“I distinctly remember you saying that you came here to check in on me, too, not just Javis.”

“Oh, yeah.” His eyes flickered to the baglamas hidden in the flowers. When Silvie’s smile began to fade, he quickly added, “I can’t stay long, and I’m really not hungry.”

“A quick tour, then? I promise I won’t keep you long. I feel bad about how the earlier tour went, and that you came out here twice today for nothing.”

“Sure, thanks,” he said, caught by his own excuses.

Silvie all but skipped back to the house. “I just came back from traveling, too,” she said, indicating the travel glasses. Sloe wanted to ask why she didn’t use the baglamas, then mentally kicked himself in the head. This was not the time to bring up the instrument he’d nearly gotten away with stealing before her arrival.

He cringed as Silvie slipped a key into the lock, then frowned.

“That’s funny,” she said. “The door’s already opened.”

Sloe attempted to mimic her confusion.

“I was in such a hurry to travel, I must have forgotten to lock the door.” She added in a lower voice, “Please don’t say anything about this to Father. He would not be pleased.”

“Of course.”

Sloe tried to keep himself from suffocating with guilt as he reentered the Halls’ home; but more than that he worried about whether the baglamas would still be near the exit portal to retrieve on his way home. Worse yet, it was wrapped in his jacket—a glaring clue as to who had taken it.

Silvie led Sloe through the entryway and library he’d already seen. He wiped his palms across his dark pants and pretended to admire the room with the fireplace all over again. After he politely declined food a second time, he followed her upstairs.

“Father’s room is farther down the hallway, where the hall dead ends,” she said. “And here is my room.”

Sloe swallowed a lump in his throat. What if she sees the gaping hole on her bed where the baglamas used to be? He attempted to show appreciation, meanwhile trying to find something to talk about—to draw her attention to other things in the room. His gaze fell on the photograph propped on her nightstand.

“Is that your mother?” he said. He instantly regretted it, knowing her mother was no longer living. But as bad as he felt, he hoped it would distract Silvie from seeing what was missing on her bed.

“Yes. That’s who I was visiting before I found you.”

Sloe’s eyes widened.

“Father recently gifted me his pair of travel glasses, and I used them to travel to the past to visit my mother.”

“You traveled to a past version of her? A silhouette?”

Silvie nodded.

He tried not to cringe as she began describing how she’d found her mother’s silhouette in the library. Silvie blinked back tears. “Even though I was away, I really wasn’t that far from here at all…”

That’s where she was while I wandered through her house and stole the baglamas? What am I doing to this family? Silvie’s father rescued me from Aboreal when I first traveled alone. But I’m in too deep. I have to keep my promise to the cloaked men. I’ll need to find some way to make it up to Silvie and the Halls later.

“I, um, Silvie. I really should go.”

“I’m sorry for being depressing.”

He shrugged. “Really, it’s getting late, and my parents didn’t know I left to come back here and—”

“I understand. We can meet up again later.”

The sincerity in her voice cut him like a knife.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, angry with himself that he was lying again, knowing he wouldn’t be able to face her again after today.

Silvie moved to walk him outside.

“No, it’s all right,” he said. “You’ve had a rough day. I can find my way out.” He ignored the crinkling of her nose, unable to breathe again until she stopped at the Halls’ front door and locked it behind him.

When his foot found the baglamas wrapped in his jacket, hidden beneath the flowers, Sloe almost sighed in relief. He slipped his arm through the handle of the bundle and propped it over his shoulder. Then he brought the exit portal to life with his hands and mind.

Moments later, he clung to the Clock Tower. His knee hit hard against a cogwheel, tearing a gash in his pants, when he reached for the sundial portal to make it glow. The air popped and sizzled with purple and blue. He surged forward and pushed through before the impact of his arrival hit and anyone noticed the trembling from the inside of the tower.

The tang of smoke from a campfire reached his nostrils at the same time a high-pitched gurgling reached his ears. He squinted, adjusting to the lack of light.

The hooded man sat laughing. He and his companion were bent over a fire.

“I could taste their terror,” said the hooded man. “I expect the baglamas will arrive soon.”

Sloe sucked in a breath, his veins surging with anger. They were talking about his family, laughing at his fear. He unwrapped the baglamas and pulled on his jacket.

He stalked toward the men, intending each crunch from the ground below him so that their heads turned toward him.

“Here,” he said, thrusting the baglamas forward. “Take it.”

The hooded man gargled laughter as his scarred hands closed around the instrument. He slid a thumb across its strings. “Well done.”

“Now promise you’ll leave us alone.”

“That will require the appropriate confirmation,” said the man who wore no hood.

“What are you talking about?”

“These orders come from powers higher than ours. We will first need to guarantee that this is exactly what we asked for, and that you haven’t given us an imitation, something other than the Healer’s baglamas.”

Sloe’s blood turned to ice in his veins. For the first time he questioned the authenticity of the instrument. Had Silvie had a copy made, just in case someone tried to take the real travel object? His hands shook involuntarily.

“How soon will you know?” he said.

“Soon enough,” said the hooded man. “And if we find out it’s a counterfeit, you and your family can expect another visit from me. Only, this time, I might not be as gracious a guest.”

Sloe clenched and unclenched his hands. “But you’ll let Raven alone.”

“We won’t promise that.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 19. >>>

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 15 Calling

Darker Stars Beta CoverOnce we were in the hallway, Javis snapped the edge of his rubber glove and offered Sloe and me a sad smirk. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

Sloe waved a hand. “Have fun.”

“Yeah,” chuckled Javis. “Fun.”

I shook my head. “He likes his work more than he lets on,” I said, keeping my voice low. “He’s rather popular here.”

“Popular?” The scrunching of his face made me laugh.

“The female residents love him. Some more than others.”

I blanched at narrowed eyes.

“He keeps it professional, though,” I said, raising my palms. “And his presence here seems to make people happy.”

Sloe didn’t say anything. He stared across the hallway, his brow furrowed and eyes alert, as if he were searching for something.

“So, you’re here now. What would you like to see?”

His lower lip puckered, and he passed a hand through his dark hair.

“Whatever you’re willing to show me, I guess.” He said this with what seemed like a forced calm. Was he nervous, too?

I didn’t think it appropriate to take Sloe into the residents’ rooms, to have him shadow me on my rounds. But the kitchens weren’t exactly interesting. Neither was the gym.

“Let’s walk around the perimeter of the building and poke our heads into some of the common areas,” I said. “That shouldn’t take long, and if we get bored, I can show you the house, where Father, Javis, and I live.”

He smiled.

Taking that as my cue to begin what would likely be the most boring, and awkward, tour in the worlds, I stepped forward and gestured for him to follow. He walked as if stepping too loudly would wake up the recovering Lost.

“We don’t have to be so quiet,” I said. “The days here tend to be calm and uneventful. Twice a day, I go from room to room to check in on the residents. And then—”

As if catching me in a lie, someone wailed a high-pitched scream.

Sloe looked at me, worried and visibly puzzled.

“This is unusual,” I breathed.

I ran forward, following the screaming, and stopped when I reached a bathroom situated in the hallway. I turned to Sloe who’d caught up with me and asked him to wait outside. It was a ladies’ room.

My heart thudded against the insides of my chest as I pushed the door open.

Past the stalls, a young woman alternated between sobbing and screaming. Her back was turned away from me, and her shoulders shook the braid that trailed across her back.

As I approached, I reached out with my palm.

“You’re safe, Carmen” I whispered. My fingers curled around her shoulder. “Catch your breath, and tell me what’s happened.”

She turned and looked at me over her shoulder, with watery eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “No, no, it’s not me.”

“If it’s not you, then who is it?”

She wiped a trail of tears and pointed to a stall.

The stall door was wedged open. A bundle of ropes fanned across the floor. It looked like the bottom of a mop. My heartbeat rose into my throat as I pushed the door further.

Next to the mop’s pole was a shoe. I had trouble swallowing a scream of my own. Draped over the toilet was the body of my brother.

“Javis! What happened?”

He didn’t respond, but Carmen murmured at my shoulder. “I was in one of the other stalls when he came in to clean the bathroom. He mustn’t have known I was here.” Her eyes darted to the mop. “I heard something fall.”

I tried to lift Javis, then thought better of it. There was no way Carmen and I could carry him out of here.

I stepped into the hallway. Sloe stood, hunched over with his hands in his pockets. He stared at me wide-eyed. “Silvie, what happened?”

“It’s Javis. He fell over in one of the stalls.”

His cheeks paled and slackened. “Can I help?”

I nodded, hating the lump in my throat that kept me from replying with words. It was then that I noticed Javis’s cleaning bin parked against the wall. I’d completely missed it on my way to find out the source of the screaming.

When we reached the stall, Sloe propped Javis up over his shoulder and backed out of the stall. He had more strength than I gave his thin and gangly body credit for.

“Wrap your arm around his side,” he said.

As I did, I heard the whisper of Javis’s breathing, for which I gave a silent thanks.

“Help me get him out to the hallway.”

Gently, we helped Javis onto the floor. He fluttered his eyelids. Through them, I could see recognition in his eyes before he closed them again.

“It’s okay, Javis,” I said, wrapping my hands around his shoulders. “Breathe.”

Sloe stood and took a step backward, then leaned against the wall. I could feel his lavender eyes staring at me. I fought the urge to look up and measure his reaction, and focused on Javis, instead.

I reached out with my healing talent. In my brother, I felt weakness—something dark and sweet that was different from the pain of external wounds, of bleeding. I’d expected there to be pain since he’d fallen over and landed on a toilet. But there was something else, something I didn’t recognize because I’d never felt it in the injured or the Lost.

I pulled Javis’s shirt back and frowned. A bruise across his stomach was already beginning to turn purple.

“Will he be all right?”

I looked up and blinked. I’d almost forgotten Sloe was there.

“Yes,” I said sharply. There was no way I wasn’t going to let Javis be all right.

I reached again with my healing talent, finding the strength within my brother and pulled at it, stretching and spreading the life in him across whatever internal and external pain I could sense. The darkness within began to fade, along with pain and injury. It was as if two forces were at play, and both were at war with my brother. Pain and injury continued to subside.

Beads of sweat formed along my temples and in the space between my brow bones. The life and strength within Javis was stuck, unable to extinguish the darkness or push it out.

I sucked in a breath and pressed harder.

Javis shook with my efforts, his eyes still closed.

Then he bolted upward and yelped.

Sloe and I gasped at the same time.

“Javis!” I called out, hugging my brother to me. I cringed. The darkness was still there, inside of him.

I pulled back, holding him at arms-distance. His eyes were bloodshot, his lids half-closed.

“What happened?”

He frowned. “I don’t know.”

I propped him up to where he could lean against the wall, then pressed my finger along the handrail until I found an emergency button. I was certain Javis could walk, but it was good practice to call for a gurney anyway, to have someone else look him over and to convince him to rest before going home.

Footsteps sounded from down the hall, earlier than expected.

I turned my head, doubtful that the orderlies were already here with the gurney.

“Madeline,” I said under my breath. My heart twisted. She rarely left her room.

The Detail Technician stared directly at me as she approached, her bright orange hair curling around her face and fanning across her shoulders.

“I thought I heard screaming,” she said softly.

I frowned as she looked down.

A look of pain clouded her face when she saw Javis on the ground.

Sloe dipped his arms forward to catch Madeline’s thin frame before she fell.

I clasped my hand across my mouth when I caught a glimpse of Javis’s reaction. The look on his face was not good. I couldn’t tell whether he was jealous of Sloe’s arms around her or upset with himself for having been weak in that moment and unable to help Madeline. I knew it wasn’t pain that I’d already helped him take away.

After a deep breath, I sighed and reached out a hand, ready to start the healing process all over again. I touched my palm to Madeline’s shoulder, searching for the calm within—her own tranquility and peacefulness and pulled it forward, growing it inside her until the anxiety melted away.

This type of healing I was more used to—an overwhelming of emotion. There was no physical injury or pain. And none of the darkness I’d felt earlier from healing Javis. By the time I was done, all trace of worry melted away and vanished from her face. But her eyes sagged with exhaustion.

Footsteps, followed by more footsteps and the rolling of wheels, rumbled across the floor. I turned, wishing I’d ordered two gurneys, one for Javis and one for Madeline.

My breath caught. Father stalked with purpose toward me, with two orderlies and a gurney behind him.

Father pressed his hand to his chest as he took in Javis on the floor, and then Madeline who still dangled from Sloe’s arms.

“What happened here?”

“Javis fell in the bathroom,” Sloe said, surprising me. “After we pulled him out here, this girl saw him and passed out. Silvie helped them both. She was…amazing.”

I found it difficult to keep my expression professional and serious. Instead, I gave Father a meaningful look, as if to say, See, I am ready for this!

His jaw tightened.

My jaw tightened, too. But then I let my lips curl upward into the smirk I’d tried to suppress—a shadow of Father’s own smirk that I’d seen on many occasions.

As we squared off, the orderlies scrambled to lift Javis onto the gurney. Flashes of the teardrop emblem of Edgar from the patches on their uniform sleeves blurred past me.

Father squeezed his forehead with his hand. “I’m sorry you had to see this, Sloe.”

“It’s a hospital.” Sloe shrugged. “I understand.”

After responding with a slight nod, Father turned to me. “I’ll take over from here. Make sure our guest departs safely.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 16. >>>

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 11 Travel

After the huge blowup with Father, I went outside to cool off. How dare he replace my shift—replace me with someone else?

I pulled at the opening to my jacket and pulled it tightly around me as I wandered down the path from the house to the hospital. I inhaled deeply, attempting to pull in the scent of the flowers that calmed me the most: lavender and rose, and chamomile.

I counted under my breath as I exhaled, and I closed my eyes during each inhale.

One moment my eyes were open, and the flowers in front of me swayed in the night sky, some of their petals already tucked in for the night.

On my next breath, when I opened my eyes, a figure appeared at the edge of the path. The person appeared to be male, with dark hair. And he was walking toward the hospital.

Frowning, I changed direction, and began walking across the flowers, careful not to crush their delicate stems and leaves. But the ground was thick with them, and bunches flattened beneath my feet as I walked.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, trying to fluff as many back up along the way.

I stopped where the path curved and stepped onto its solid layout of bricks. With my hands resting at the back of my hips, I stopped there and waited. Could it be one of the recovering Lost who’d wandered off while I wasn’t working? How did they get out here without someone accompanying them? If it was one of the Lost, Father would surely hear about it. Part of me couldn’t wait to complain to him about what happened. He needed to know the seriousness of what could go wrong when he pulled me off a shift.

As the person neared, his features became clearer. His dark hair wasn’t just black; it was the flat, even black of Aboreal. My jaw tightened when he finally noticed me and stopped walking.

His eyes opened into round circles before narrowing. Irises of purple ice glared at me. I’d seen his face before, only it had been smiling at me from across the room in Chascadia, at Grandpa Plaka’s funeral.

The way he looked at me now made me feel as if I should apologize for intruding, even though I lived here, not him. My lips twisted to the side as I continued to study him. This was my world, not his.

“Hello?” I called out. Maybe he was in trouble. What I took to be an unfriendly gaze could be one of pain. He certainly didn’t look happy to be here. But I had trouble believing that he’d somehow gotten lost. Entering Edgar required the ability to travel through time and space, and from what I could see, he wore no visible object of travel.

He pulled back the foot he’d been in the process of stepping forward with when he froze. I thought I saw a slight tinge to his cheeks. Like he’d been caught.

“Can I help you with something?” I said, hoping it didn’t come across as too smug.

He suddenly seemed interested in his feet. “I, um.”

His discomfort relaxed me. Maybe he had a friend or family member in the hospital. I couldn’t think of any recovering Lost who were expecting a visitor, but then Father’s interference with my later shift could have prevented me from learning about it.

I forced a smile that I hoped was welcoming. “Are you here to visit someone at the hospital? Because if you are, I’m happy to escort you there.”

He frowned at the building at the far end of the path. “No, I don’t know anyone there, I’m sorry.” He exhaled. “The hospital…”

“Who are you, and why are you here?”

His body physically jerked backward from me. I narrowed my eyes.

“Yeah, sorry. My name’s Sloe.”

I crossed my arms and waited for him to answer the second half of my question.

He stared at me, his face stricken. Yep, definitely pain.

I approached Sloe to get a better look at him and to see if I could figure out how he’d arrived. I’d figure it out one way or another, even if he refused to tell me.

Directly behind where he stood on the path, lay a trail of trampled flowers. I wrinkled my nose.

“Sorry,” he said, following my gaze. “I came through over there. Unfortunately, the entrance portal isn’t on the path.”

“What entrance portal?” I passed by him, struggling to avoid the flowers he’d smashed with his feet. He followed me, but stepped carefully, mimicking my steps.

I’d never seen a portal on Edgar. My family and I always traveled with either the baglamas or a pair of travel glasses.

The trail of trampled flowers stopped, suddenly, as if he’d fallen from the sky and landed in the spot where I stood now. No larger than the rest of the path, it just ended.

“From the size of this space, it doesn’t even look like you’ve grounded.” I turned to face him. “How did you get here, Sloe?” I said, my voice low.

He gulped. “Through the portal.”

“What portal?” I said, waving an arm at the empty space. “There’s nothing here.”

He gaped, visibly panicked. I’d seen the expression before, on the faces of the recovering Lost who’d been caught wandering the halls during quiet hours when they were supposed to be in bed, with no explanation of how they got there.

“Do you need help?” I cringed at the tinge of condescension in my voice.

He shook his head. “You can’t see the portal because it’s invisible to you. The entrance portal, and also this world’s exit portal, can only be read or unlocked by a Time Keeper.”

“You’re a Time Keeper?” I couldn’t believe it. Faced with such an extraordinary talent, I almost forgot how annoyed I was with him. “Where’s the exit portal?”

“I haven’t found it yet,” he admitted. “But I’m happy to search for it now and get out of your way.”

I winced. “I’m sorry. I haven’t given you much of a welcome. But you showed up unannounced, and it surprised me.”

“I can see that.”

We stood there, sizing each other up for a moment. The only Time Keeper I’d heard of was Ivory’s husband, Nick. And that he was the only one, having taken over when the prior Time Keeper moved on.

I cracked a smile that was only minimally haughty. “So, let me guess, you were portal hopping for fun and decided to show up here and see what was on the other side?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes I do that.”

“You do?” Okay, I hadn’t expected my joke scenario to be on point.

His face relaxed into a smile. “Do you mind if I take a look around for the exit portal?”

“No, but—” I took another look at where the trampled trail stopped. I bent down, inspecting both sides of it. “Didn’t you have to ground here?”

“Grounding isn’t necessary upon arrival when going outbound from the Clock Tower.”

I felt my eyes widen. Mother had told me about the Clock Tower—stories about how she and Father, Ivory, Nick, Grandpa Plaka, and Ray had used the Clock Tower for the most massive rescue of the Lost in history.

The Clock Tower?”

“Yeah, that Clock Tower.”

“You’re Ivory and Nick’s son?”

“Yes.”

I grinned. “Ivory of Aboreal. And Nick of Time? So, that would make you…”

He rolled his eyes. “Sloe of Time. Yeah, that’s what they call me. Terrible, I know.”

I pressed both hands to my mouth. I didn’t like that I felt sorry. Nor did I want to apologize for something that wasn’t my fault.

The skin above my left eye pinched and twisted. Who he was also didn’t make up for, much less explain, what he was doing here. But maybe he had only been exploring. I couldn’t blame him for that. I liked traveling, too, and I couldn’t imagine having all the worlds at my fingertips in quite the same the way he and Nick had—the ability to read and unlock portals unseen by others, all without the need for a travel object.

I lifted a hand toward him. “I guess I should officially introduce myself, if it’s not too late. I’m Silvie Hall.”

“I know.” He smiled, gathering my hand in his for a quick shake. “I remember you from your grandfather’s funeral, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to you there.”

I pulled my jacket more tightly around me, noticing the drop in temperature now that the suns had faded. “I need to go soon,” I said, glancing at the house. “I have to work in the morning, at the hospital. If you come back tomorrow, I can show you around.”

“Thanks.” He smiled again. “As soon as I finish my morning lessons, I will.”

“Great.” I cringed at the trampled flowers. “You’re sure you can’t land on the path?”

“This is the only entrance portal to this world,” he said, gesturing toward an empty space above the flowers. “I can’t fly, but I can promise to step more carefully.”

I squinted past where he indicated with his hands, but there wasn’t anything there. Nothing I could see. Not the tiniest glimmer or ripple in the air.

“Thank you, Sloe,” I said, wishing my grin wasn’t so wide. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, unsure whether I should go inside or wait to see him home. I was curious to watch him disappear from the exit portal, and also wanted to see where it was.

He treaded carefully across the flowers this time, possibly for my benefit; either way, his consideration warmed me. Maybe he wasn’t so bad, after all.

“Do you mind me following you?” I said, shadowing his steps across the expanse of flowers toward the back of our house.

“No, it’s your place anyway.” He managed to shrug with both arms raised in the air. He wriggled his fingers and waved his hands around, like he was feeling for something.

Sloe of Time paused and closed his eyes. I bit my lip to keep a straight face. His actions were amusing to me, and I still couldn’t get past his goofy name. Javis would have been spellbound by this if he were here, and would likely tease me later about the smirk on my face—a look I’d inherited from Father.

I crossed my arms and exhaled, allowing Sloe what I figured would be the appropriate seriousness for the occasion, though at the moment he was parting the flowers like he was looking for bugs or something, and pressing his hands to the ground.

“What are you looking for?” I whispered. I couldn’t help it. He’d come through an invisible portal in the air. What business did he have rustling up our flowers and palpating the ground?

“I can sense the pulse of electricity in the air. The portal’s calling to me, but I can’t see it yet. Sometimes it helps if I feel along the ground, where its energy spreads out like roots or tentacles that lead to its center.”

“Interesting,” I said.

Though I didn’t have his Time Keeper talent, something about Sloe’s explanation calmed me. There was something identifiable in his words. There was truth. The pulse and energy he spoke of sounded similar. Like waves of music, of song. I thought of Grandpa Plaka’s baglamas sitting in my room, nestled against the pillows on a chair near my bed.

Sloe smiled slightly, still squatting forward, as he made a half-turn to the right. “This way,” he said.

I followed him across the rear of our house. My eyes bulged open. We were headed toward the hospital’s rear entrance.

I shivered. “Sloe, is it possible for someone to step through one of these invisible portals by accident?”

He shook his head. “Anyone else will walk through it as if nothing were there, they wouldn’t feel it and they wouldn’t be transported. Even if the person could see the portal, it would still need to be unlocked before he or she could enter and pass through.”

I released a breath, grateful that none of the recovering Lost were Time Keepers who could wander through a portal located behind the hospital’s back door.

He looked over and up at the building next to us. “Concerned for your residents?”

“Yes.”

“Well, don’t worry. The exit portal is right here.” Again, he pointed to something I couldn’t see. “And I doubt anyone has noticed it.”

I squinted, then blinked. “Can we install an alarm on it, one that can be connected to the hospital, just in case?”

His lips pulled up in shy grin. “I don’t think so, but it’s not a bad idea.”

“Well, if you think of anything, let me know. I wouldn’t mind having something similar—at least a doorbell—for our entrance portal.” I smirked.

His entire body stiffened as he caught a sharp breath. I couldn’t help wondering whether he was impressed by my idea, or if it frightened him. The poor Time Keeper wouldn’t be able to slip inside others’ worlds like a spy if the portal contained a mechanism that announced his arrival.

Sloe pressed his hand to the air and looked over his shoulder at me with narrowed eyes. “A portal bell?”

His jawline clenched and sharpened as he stared at me.

My eyes locked with his. “Exactly.”

“Hmm.” His features softened, but he still didn’t seem either impressed or excited about my idea.

“Is there a problem with the portal?” I asked, waiting.

“No, I—” He dropped his hands and turned to me. His eyes glanced slowly back and forth between the house and the hospital, as if he were trying to memorize their positions.

He shrugged. “Thanks for inviting me to visit again tomorrow, Silvie. Sorry for dropping by so late. And, um, have a goodnight.”

I tilted my head, absorbing his words, trying to figure him out. Sure, he was nice enough and kind of cute, but there was something I couldn’t lay a finger on. Something he wasn’t telling me. He’d admitted that others who couldn’t unlock the portals couldn’t travel through by accident. He’d slipped into our world, which obviously meant he’d unlocked our portal. Who does that without it being on purpose? Even if he truly was exploring at random, as he’d suggested, he hadn’t stayed long to explore. Had he already seen enough of Edgar to satisfy his curiosity?

I needed to find out.

“Goodnight to you too, Sloe,” I said through a smile I hoped radiated warmth rather than suspicion. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He furrowed his brow as he nodded and pressed his hand to the empty space in the air. His body stiffened and trembled slightly with an energy or force I could imagine but couldn’t see. Then, he stepped forward into an invisible wall, into nothingness, and disappeared.

I touched the space where Sloe disappeared, reaching for the pulse and the song, sensations similar to traveling with the baglamas. My fingertips quavered through the empty air. A slight tingle spread across the palms of my hands, vanishing as quickly as it came.

I was left wondering whether I’d felt anything, or whether it was only in my mind.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 12. >>>

Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 10

Sloe returned to the Clock Tower breathless and panting. He’d run the whole way from Raven’s doorstep to Aboreal’s exit portal.

That was some seriously good healing balm. He grinned as he coiled his arms and legs, and then sprang forward from the tower, soaring into a double front flip and landing deftly on the balls of his feet.

So much faster than climbing back down, he thought, still too winded to mutter the words aloud. But that didn’t stop him from sprinting up the stairs to the tower’s upper rooms.

Ivory’s eyes widened when the door sprang open.

“Looks like someone’s feeling better,” she laughed. “Here, eat this.” She passed him a plate filled with slices of meat, fruits, and bread, along with a mug of hot liquid.

He picked up a slice of meat with his fingers and tore off a bite.

“Mom?”

“Yes, my sweet?”

“That funeral we went to earlier,” he began, not believing that it was still the same day. It seemed a lifetime ago since he’d carried a broken Raven back through the Clock Tower portal.

“Yeah?”

“If Silvie Hall, the girl who inherited the healer’s legacy, isn’t from Chascadia, where is she from?”

Ivory chuckled. “After everything that’s happened tonight, you want to know about a girl? And not even the one you took home?” She gave him a mock serious look. “Haven’t you already had one bad date tonight?”

“I can’t believe you said that,” Sloe groaned.

“Good backup plan, though.” Ivory smirked. “Valcas’s daughter is a cutie.”

“Mom!”

“Okay, okay, so here’s the story. Her mother, Calla Winston, was born on Earth and was also half Chascadian. Silvie’s grandfather was Calla’s father, both of which were Remnant Transports with healing abilities. Silvie’s father, Valcas Hall, was born at the White Tower, a world his parents—both World Builders—designed and built. Valcas’s father was from Earth and his mother was from Aboreal. Silvie, however, was born in a new world created by Valcas—he inherited the travel talent of world building, which was not much of a shocker given both of his parents had the trait.”

Sloe raised his eyebrows while sipping hot liquid from the mug.

“Anyway,” Ivory continued, “Valcas being the big, lovey softy we all suspected he was beneath the rough, unapproachable exterior, eventually decided he couldn’t live without Calla, and he built her a whole new world as a gift. It’s where the hospital is now, the one for the recovering Lost. Calla named the world after her time travel mentor, Edgar Hall. So, we all know it as the world of Edgar.”

That’s all I need to know, Sloe thought, smiling to himself. Edgar. He decided against digging for hints as to what the portal for Edgar looked like on the Clock Tower—what the timepiece for the world was. No reason to raise suspicion, even though it was a nice break from being asked what happened during his date with Raven.

“Interesting,” was all he said.

“So, Silvie Hall, huh? I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you to her earlier. We’ll need to go visit Valcas sometime.” She sniffed. “It seems we only see each other after someone has died. He has a son, too, a bit younger than you. But I didn’t see him at the funeral.”

“I think I did, but not until the reception. He sat next to Silvie.”

Ivory smiled. “Yeah? What did he look like?”

Sloe shrugged. “I don’t know…like any guy, I guess.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that, kid. Come on, give me the deets—hair color, eye color, something! I haven’t seen any of them since Calla’s funeral, and Javis was so young.”

He scrunched his face and frowned. “I honestly wasn’t looking at him all that much, Mom. Curly hair…brown, I think. Dark eyes.”

Ivory’s lips widened in a huge smile. “I’ll bet he looked like Calla did as a teenager. I should have gone inside to pay my respects, but I was just… I felt I should say something to Plaka, and—”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Mom.” He really hoped they, as a family, would not be visiting Edgar together anytime soon. Guilt twisted at the insides of his chest for what he had to do in Silvie’s world of Edgar, alone. And soon.

Ivory nodded and turned, suddenly absorbed in wiping something from her eye. She grabbed his mug and refilled it.

He’d slipped into a comfortable calm when Nick entered the room from his parents’ bedroom. The tall, gangly man sauntered over casually, placed a book on the table, and sat down. He cast a severe glance in his son’s direction as Sloe shoveled more food in his mouth.

Nick passed clenched fingers through his snow-white hair, the back of which was gathered in a tail.

“I take it your friend has made it safely home, son?”

“Yes,” Sloe mumbled through a mouthful of food. He washed it down with a long draft of liquid, the same broth Ivory had served Raven.

“Good.” He tilted his chin upward and waited, as if expecting an answer, though he hadn’t asked a question.

Sloe looked down at his food and then back up again. “What?”

Nick sat back in his chair; the blue sleeves of his shirt scraped the armrests along the way. He cleared his throat. “I’m waiting to find out whether your memory has healed as well as your bruises.”

Sloe exchanged a glance with Ivory.

“Oh no,” Ivory whispered under her breath. Her eyes rolled toward Nick.

“I was hoping your trip to Aboreal, and a dose of fresh air, would help you remember what world you traveled to, or at least which portal.” He sniffed. “Seeing as that was not the case, I’m simply waiting to learn whether your memory will have a remarkable return once the broth takes effect. So far I guess it hasn’t.”

Sloe chewed slowly before swallowing. “Dad…”

“No, really. It’s not a problem. I can wait. Don’t let my curiosity ruin your dinner. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” He brought his book to his face and pointedly turned a page. “In the meantime, I’ll be content with my reading.”

Ivory scowled at her husband. “Passive aggressive much?”

She sighed. “Sloe, just tell us what happened. I mean, could you describe the two beings that attacked you? Were they animals? People? Was there anyone else there who saw what happened?”

The food inside Sloe’s stomach churned. He dropped the piece of fruit he’d touched to his lips. Sloe had never seen anyone turn green before; but in that moment, he was sure his face matched the color of the fruit.

“See, Nick, he’s still scared from being attacked. I’ve never seen him like this before.” She placed a hand to Sloe’s forehead, then wiped off the clammy moisture stuck to her hand. “I think you should go to bed, kid. Sleep this off, if you can.”

Sloe nodded. Unable to look at his dinner without wincing, he pressed his plate forward. He rose from the table and pressed his hands to his stomach.

“Not a bad idea. Goodnight.”

Nick frowned as he watched Sloe leave the room. Before his son stepped through the doorway, he called out, “I think you look quite well. But don’t lock your door tonight, just in case.”

Sloe ground his teeth together, angry at the dig that Nick had accented with a wink. He was tempted to turn around and say something, but he didn’t know whether his mother knew about the bedroom portal-door Nick gifted him to begin with. He was in enough trouble as it was.

He trudged downstairs, passed the shower closet and tore back the sheet that hung across his bedroom doorway. He muttered to himself as he paced.

“I absolutely have to go to Edgar tonight, if only to scope it out for when I go back. Then, figure out where both portals are located, gain my bearings, and come up with a plan. Soon. I have no idea where Silvie lives or where she keeps the baglamas.”

Sloe fell backward and landed on his bed. He stared up at the ceiling, frustrated. I’m not much of a spy, and I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off. Raven’s smiling face filled his mind. I have no choice.

He lay like that until he no longer heard footsteps or chatter from the upper rooms. He tiptoed out of his bedroom, sighing when he stopped in the doorway. Now that his door was gone, it would be absolutely obvious, now, to his mother that he was not in his room. He squeezed his forehead with his hands. Think. Think.

“The shower closet has a door,” he muttered. He opened the door and flipped the light switch. The overhead lamp glowed orange. “If they come down to check on me, maybe they’ll think I’m in there.”

He stepped lightly past the staircase that led to the upper rooms and stepped outside.

The sooner I have the baglamas, the sooner I can get the cloaked men off my back, and life will go on. Hopefully, a life with Raven still in it.

Sloe ground his teeth, resisting the urge to rush. He climbed the Clock Tower with the lightest and slowest of steps.

His hands passed along the portals, gliding along Aboreal’s hourglass and Chascadia’s clepsydra, a type of water clock with a funnel through which water droplets dripped into a lower chamber. Neither timepiece responded to his touch; neither sang to him.

He continued reading the portals, searching for the one that represented Silvie’s world of Edgar.

A low hum trailed across the fingers of his left hand.

Sloe turned his head.

A glass timepiece, the shape of a teardrop, warmed and glowed beneath his touch. Sparks of rainbow light showered up from the center of the timepiece and veined outward, touching and trailing along its beveled edges.

Sloe sucked in a breath. This has to be the one. His stomach twisted with the knowledge that Silvie was only a portal’s breadth away. He’d already unlocked it. All he had to do was step through.

He sickened at the thought of arriving unannounced. But as long as the hooded man was out there, there was a threat on Raven’s life. His friend was not safe.

He was not safe.

If the cloaked men were able to build and destroy portals, then perhaps they could also destroy the Clock Tower’s timepieces, maybe even his home. The image of how easily his own father had erased the portal used as a bedroom door came to mind.

A chill ran along his fingertips and extended up along his arms to his elbows. He sucked in a breath and pushed his hands forward, and stepped through.

Bolts of electric sparks in blues and purples pulled and twisted and hummed, singing to him as he traveled from one world to the next.

Sparks faded, replaced by a warm glow. Three suns shone in the sky. Behind them sparkled silhouettes of smaller stars. Sloe rubbed his eyes, then squinted against the brightness of yellow and gold.

A blanket of flowers spread along the ground, surrounding him on all sides. He caught a breath of the fragrance that stung his nose, and paused to take it all in. Red, lavender, white, and blue flowers welcomed him. He smiled.

Two buildings, both with multiple stories, stood up against the golden backdrop of the horizon. One of the buildings gave off an industrial vibe, constructed in blues and grays, whereas the other looked like it could be someone’s home.

A healer, thought Sloe. And a Remnant Transporter. Could this be the hospital for the recovering Lost? The thought didn’t make him feel any better about the reasons why he was there. But, still, he was curious.

He plodded toward the house before changing his mind and turning to the right, in the direction of the hospital. His foot landed on something hard before he looked down to see what it was. The soft crunching of flowers beneath his feet gave way to something more solid. A path. He followed the path, lined on both sides with the sea of flowers, to the hospital.

Ice filled his veins when a person came into view, someone standing in the distance, staring back at him. A young woman with jet black hair and thin eyebrows raised up high—the girl he’d been searching for while reading the teardrop portal.

He stopped with a one foot slightly raised, his toe brushing the ground, wondering what he could possibly state as a reason for his appearance.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 11. >>>

Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Spooky tales unleashed!

Be ready for chillsToday’s the release day for Darkness Echoes, a YA spooky short story collection. Grab your copy at Amazon, iTunes or Barnes & Noble and settle in with a pumpkin latte for some Halloween fun. Hang out with all the authors at our online launch party, and don’t forget about the Kindle fire giveaway!