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Torch (Lantern, #3) blurb; cover reveal coming soon!

The next Lantern story is scheduled to release in early September, and I plan to reveal its cover by the end of August! In the meantime, here is the blurb for Torch (Lantern, #3):

Evelyn moves to Pennsylvania where she attends her first lakeside Halloween party. But she misses her brothers and is disturbed by a lantern on the pier that’s burned out.

Graham’s dreams come true in Havenbrim where he is Machin’s newest apprentice. Until he finds himself repeatedly disappointing his master.

Is the solution to their happiness in her world, or in his? Who will light the way to the pull the other through?

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Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Rebecca Hammond Yager

Author Rebecca Hammond Yager received the Literary Classics Words On Wings Book Award for her YA novel, Beauty & the Beast. Words on Wings is one of the contest’s Top Honors awards, given to extraordinary young adult fiction. Beauty & the Beast also won Gold in High School Romance.

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

Thank you! I first started writing around age 8, dipping my toes into poetry first before discovering novel writing at age 11. But I’ve been telling stories pretty much since I learned to speak. My mom always said I was alarmingly quiet at first, not starting off with all the typical baby words, and that when I finally started talking, it was in complete sentences. And once I was forming sentences, I was telling stories.

What’s the target age group for your books?

Beauty & the Beast is… I don’t know…12 and up? I think of it as for all ages really.

My first novel, Winds Cove, a YA mystery published in 2004, was also about the same, maybe for ages 10 and up. I think, or at least I hope, that my books are crafted well enough that they can’t be outgrown. My future books, several in the works but none finished yet, will be for teens and some for perhaps a slightly older audience though not because they’ll be inaccessible to teen audiences, more because the heroines will start to range more in age.

What inspired your award-winning book?

This is perhaps a longer answer than you were looking for, but here goes:

I dine on fairytales almost daily. They are not the only things I read—I love all kinds of Fantasy, Supernatural, Murder Mystery, some Horror, as well as Science Fiction/Science Fantasy—but I obsessively collect fairytales. Fairytales were my introduction to the Fantasy genre, and some of my earliest memories are my mom reading me fairytales before tucking me in at night. I can still hear her voice in the cadence of the words in one particular version of Cinderella, and I’m on the hunt for the particular version of Sleeping Beauty she read to me which I have not ever come across since. That’s a long way of saying fairytales are important to me. They’re literally woven into the fabric of my imagination. So in the midst of all the writing projects I have going, I’ve always wanted to squeeze some fairytale retellings in as well.

I had a vague idea, a lifetime or two ago, about a story centering around a cursed black lion. I knew immediately it was a Beauty and the Beast type of story, although I didn’t know how closely it would mirror its source. And then my ideas regarding the noble, raven-furred lion were lost to my piles and stacks and mountains of notebooks as other story ideas threw themselves in my path. I never forgot him. But his story has been stuck on the back burner ever since. Growing up with Madame Beaumont’s 1756 “Beauty and the Beast” and of course Disney’s enchanted retelling, I was utterly unprepared for Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 140-page original version, The Story of the Beauty and the Beast, published in 1740, sixteen years before Madame Beaumont severely condensed it into the tale commonly found in fairytale collections. Moreover, I didn’t even know Villeneuve’s version existed until I stumbled across it on Amazon and realized Beaumont, so often credited as the inventor of the tale, was in fact only a reinventor like Disney and everyone else. While I completely understand why Beaumont chose to streamline the rambling story so much, I was simultaneously thrilled and dismayed to discover that the version I knew was only half the story. Beauty’s heritage and backstory had been shorn away and have now been all but obliterated from common knowledge. I was mesmerized in particular by Villeneuve’s Fairy Realm, a kingdom in the air belonging to a fairy race with their own laws, their own hierarchy, their own customs, and which fit so seamlessly within a fairytale world I was already constructing involving a Sky Kingdom and a race of Fae creatures. I also immediately felt I owed it to Beauty to finally get her story out there—or at least my version of it. I read and watched every version of BATB I could get my hands on, marinating in the story and seemingly infinite interpretations of it. Villeneuve’s & Beaumont’s versions of BATB, and the Brothers Grimm “Singing, Soaring Lark” were together the wellspring for my own reimagining. The three greatest influences for my inspiration aside from the fairytales themselves would have to be Jean Cocteau’s beguiling and eerie cinematic adaption released in 1946, the 2014 visual feast directed by Christophe Gans, and Hilary Knight’s magnificently illustrated 1990 rendition, all of which had me falling in love with the story over and over again each time I read or watched them. It is my hope, among many other hopes, that someday people will be as swept off their feet by my reimagining as I was about theirs.

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

The Beast – “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

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

I have not. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. Hmmm…

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

Are we talking dream voice castings here? For the Beast it would be Liam McIntyre. I think he’d be smashing in a live action film adaptation too, but the reason I thought of him for the role was first and foremost for his delicious voice. Manu Bennett would be pretty spectacular too. If we’re talking reality then…. I have no idea. I have a friend who’s an actress who I would probably beg and plead to read for Beauty.

Do you illustrate your own books? If not, how did you find your illustrator?

My book doesn’t have illustrations but I did do the cover art myself. All the photography as well as the graphic design to put it all together. I did a fair bit of photography on the side before my allergies to the vulture sun forced me into a more vampiric nocturnal lifestyle.

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

Alexander Key for middle grade/YA. His books were my gateway to science fiction, and he captures a marvelous sense of wonder of the Universe while still seeing it as both broken and beautiful. It doesn’t matter how old I get or how many times I read them, his books haunt me and inspire me and sweep me away to this day.

For children’s books, there are probably too many to name but thinking in terms of picture books I would say Jan Pienkowski, Hilary Knight, the Sisters Johnstone, and Kinuko Craft are the ones I specifically look out for. I’m aware that they are all illustrators but some of them do their own writing, and while Kinuko Craft does not, her paintings make me want to fall inside her stories. In fact, she is one of my writing inspirations even though she’s not a writer—she is a master storyteller through her art, and I like to think of my writing as word painting. Even though I use a different medium, I want to tell stories the way she does. She’s fantastically brilliant.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I don’t know if they’re quirky—they all seem pretty normal to me anyway, lol. I write inside and outside, at the zoo or the lake or the park when I can find a shady spot, but most of the time I’m holed up in my house, surrounded by plants and animals and stacks of books as I write. I stare into space for days, weeks, even years, mulling and meditating over my ideas and letting them marinate in my imagination. I outline my stories usually halfway through writing them, which perhaps is one of my less practical habits. I also tend to write out of order, writing whichever scene overwhelms me when I pick up my pen and then stitching all the scenes together afterward. I’m trying to break myself of that habit actually since it makes for a lot of extra work toward the end.

I like to surround myself with things that inspire me specifically in the tone of whatever it is that I’m writing. For Beauty & the Beast, for example, I bought up every vintage version of Beauty & the Beast I could stretch my tiny paycheck to accommodate as well as a few lion statues, a pewter pegasus, and along with a pewter castle I’ve had for years that inspired the castle in the story, I would literally surround myself with them, the books open to my favorite illustrations and carefully overlapping each other in artistic piles, the lions and castle etc perched all around me while I wrote so that every time I glanced up my eye would fall on something beautiful and magical, my rescued cats and dogs in fuzzy heaps around me, with youtube enchanted forest videos playing in the background. It’s in those quiet, creative moments that I’m overwhelmed by the fact that no matter how little money I’m making, the writer’s life can be intensely beautiful.

Oh, oh! I don’t know if this is a habit exactly, but while I never ever put real people in my stories, myself included, I do give real animals cameos and roles. My stories always have animal characters as well as human ones, and they’re often inspired by or based on specific animals I have known. It’s sort of my way of imparting a slice of immortality on them. Beauty & the Beast contained 4 animal characters inspired by real life animals.

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

Book promotion is brand, spanking new to me so I’ll have to get back to you on that one. As far as the balance in my life between writing and keeping up a home and rescuing as many animals as possible, I’m afraid the housekeeping is what tends to fall by the wayside, lol. I’m still working on finding the right balance to be productive AND healthy AND have a clean house. It’s a challenge. My husband is very patient, although I am frequently banned from the kitchen due to my tendency to novel-plot and wander off to parts unknown while handling knives or using the stove.

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

To writers—just write. The hardest part for me is gluing my rear to a chair long enough to be productive because I’m so easily distracted. So to writers like me, just write.

To my readers—thank you for getting swept away by my story. I hope I can sweep you away many many more times.

To all readers—Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like reading fiction is a waste of time. Fiction and Fantasy and Beauty have tremendous value. Savor beauty. Revel in it. It’s a treasure that can be anywhere and everywhere, and yet we can never have too much of it in our lives.

Author Bio

Rebecca Hammond Yager grew up in the bewitching realm of Vermont. She has a degree in creative writing and a lifetime love of monsters and beasts. When her nose isn’t in a book, her head is firmly in the clouds where all dreamy heads ought to be. She now lives in South Carolina with a menagerie of beasts and her handsome, longsuffering husband where she obsessively collects fairytales, devours fantasy and science fiction, and rescues animals.

Connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Award-Winning Book

Winner of the 2017 WORDS ON WINGS Award, Literary Classics’ Top Honors Award for Young Adult Fiction

A young woman sacrifices herself to save her father and enters a moonlit kingdom of beasts on the borders of Faerie, overrun by thorns and roses, haunted by memories, and ruled by lions. To have any hope of seeing her family again, Beauty must unravel the riddle of the Beast and dispel the shadows of her own past in this lush and vivid reimagining of the timeless fairytale.

Those who yearn for poignant prose and vibrant imagery will no doubt delight in Yager’s brilliant representation of this timeless classic. Literary Classics Book Awards

This book is available on Amazon.

Read more about the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest winners on my Interviews page and the Literary Classics website.

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Sign up early for an ARC of Darker Stars!

If you missed the announcement at the end of Tuesday’s post, Darker Stars (The Song of Everywhen, #1) is nearing completion, and will be undergoing another round of edits. If you want to be among the first to read the final chapters of Darker Stars, sign up for my Early Reader List here.

Thank you for your patience and continued support during this stage of editing. If you’d rather wait until the book has published, please join my main newsletter to get a message when it releases!

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—”

“No.”

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.

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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 28

Darker Stars Beta Cover“You want the opportunity to explain, after you said you weren’t going to tell me?”

Silvie’s face burned red from the tip of her chin to her forehead.

Sloe withered beneath her stare. He was paler, thinner than when he’d last seen her. He fell back down on the bench and looked up at the girl through his lashes, his stomach twisting with worry.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t want you find out like this. I was going to tell you…eventually. I wasn’t sure when, exactly, or how.”

“I’m here now. Explain.”

“I never would have considered stealing anything, from anybody—especially you or your family, Silvie. But it was to protect a life.”

Emerald eyes softened enough to widen. “Those men were going to kill you?”

“No.” Sloe’s gaze shifted to Raven, who swallowed hard beneath eyes that shined with tears.

“Oh. They threatened her life,” Silvie whispered.

He nodded, seemingly occupied with how Silvie’s eyebrow pointed in a perfect arc above her left eye. It had seemed thicker, blurrier the last time he’d seen her.

He looked away. “We were attacked while out…”

“Where?”

“On a date,” filled in Raven.

“I see.” The tip of Silvie’s shoe, the smaller one, fluttered against the ground. “How’d they know you knew about the baglamas?” she added, her voice tart but under such control that Sloe squirmed beneath her words.

He sighed and squared his jaw. “It was the night of your grandfather’s funeral. Afterward, I told Raven about the healer and how you’d inherited the baglamas. They must have overheard us.”

“Before grabbing us.” Raven sniffled. Her tears ran freely, staining the length of her cheeks.

Something in Silvie’s gaze softened. She lowered her head and rubbed the back of her neck.

“Sloe, why didn’t you tell me what happened? I’m sure Father could have—”

“Done what? Stopped them? If I hadn’t brought them the baglamas, Raven would be dead. That would have only bought time, and I wasn’t crazy about the price!”

“The scenario’s no different than where we are now, though, is it? These men want the instrument back, and now it’s hidden. I’m not giving it to them—or you—not after all Javis and I went through to get it back!”

Sloe’s head snapped toward Raven whose shoulders shook. “I understand.”

“We didn’t tell our parents about it, either,” Raven sputtered. “We were too afraid. I—I’m sorry.”

“Why should you be sorry?” Silvie growled, her face pinched.

“It’s all my fault. I wanted to visit a new world—one I hadn’t seen before. I chose the portal at the Clock Tower that led to the cloaked men.”

“You can’t take the blame for this,” said Sloe; his usually deep voice ran an octave higher.

Ignoring him, Raven spoke to Silvie with pleading eyes and a trembling lower lip. “I wanted him to tell you about this earlier, because I know he felt really bad about it. I do, too. But please, please don’t turn me over to them.”

Silvie frowned. “Handing you over to the cloaked men will do nothing to solve this situation. They’ll still want the baglamas, and so will the man they’re working for.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’ll come after Sloe, and me, and my family—anything they need to get what they want.”

“So, what do we do?”

Silvie puckered her lips. “Like your boyfriend almost admitted earlier, we must stop them.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 29, to be posted July 4. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 26

Darker Stars Beta CoverSparks of purple and blue crackled through the tunnel of time and space.

The cloaked man held on to the ankle of his companion.

“The curse must be stronger now, our time shorter.”

“Yannan must be desperate to get his hands on the instrument.”

Struggling against the current of wind and flash of electricity, the hooded man pulled his cowl more tightly over his face.

“We must work faster.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 27, to be posted June 27. Yes, I’m totally serious. 😉 That was it for Chapter 26. Right now, it’s the shortest chapter in the book.

New to the story? Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Read with your ears! The audio edition of Beacon has released!

This has truly been a busy week, but in a good way. Beacon, a second story set in Havenbrim, Llum (and in our world) is now available as an audiobook. Those who listened to my Wrapped in the Past novella will recognize the narrator, Janine Haynes. She does an excellent voicing of Serah Kettel and the other characters, and I can’t wait for you to hear it!

Download on Audible

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When Serah’s life in Havenbrim becomes unbearable, she accepts an apprenticeship with a celestial mechanic and glazier. Her master assigns her the task of opening a globe framed in copper. But the glass and seal are unbreakable. The solution to the puzzle traps Serah inside the globe and transports her to a world where she longs for home.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 23 Discord

Darker Stars Beta CoverFootsteps jolted me awake.

I bolted to a sitting position and stretched against the cramping in my back and neck.

My eyes focused on a face grinning down at me, through the bars of my cell. The man in the tunic patted Eurig’s head. His smile was upside down from my viewpoint. Drowsily, I goggled for clues as to what made him so pleased with himself.

Pain flashed across my cheeks along with a scowl I couldn’t hold back. Tucked beneath the folds of his opposite sleeve was my baglamas.

“Good morning, children,” he said, glancing back and forth between my cell and Javis’s. “I was hoping we could get along better today.”

He pulled the instrument from his arm and held it out to me. “I brought entertainment.”

Then, as if he couldn’t get any creepier, he slipped the baglamas through the bars of my cell. His grin widened. “Do you play?”

I cradled the baglamas in my hands and stared at it. I wanted to crush it against my chest, to play music, and to travel…to a place far away from here. I wanted to go home and journey the worlds with Javis and Sloe and Father. And then travel back in time to visit Mother—to tell her about our adventures, to see her smile when she learned how happy we were, even though we missed her and wished she’d been with us during each and every moment.

But I couldn’t.

The man in the tunic looked at me expectantly, the same way I must have appeared to one of the recovering Lost when I couldn’t quite figure out what they were thinking or needed in a given moment.

He curled his fingers around the cell bars. “Play the instrument.”

I continued to hold the baglamas, stupidly, as if I didn’t know what it was, then trailed a finger across its strings. My touch made the strings buzz with a soft, tinkling sound, nothing fancy, but it sounded better than what I’d heard the man in the tunic play. Unfortunately, this made him grin again.

Play ugly music, ugly notes, I thought to myself. After taking into consideration his thick, stubby fingers, I plucked a string with two of mine. The string responded with a tart, sassy plink. Motivated to continue, I set aside everything I’d learned about music—all my training—and threw it out the window. I told my fingers to forget, to be temporary idiots attached to my hands. Then cringed at the resulting chaos.

I might have been better at making the baglamas sound bad than the man in the tunic did. Grandpa Plaka was probably rolling in his grave, or at least pressing his hands to his ears. I could only imagine what Javis was thinking in the next cell over.

“Stop,” said the man in the tunic, clearly convinced I had no idea what I was doing.

That’s when he realized his mistake.

I sat in my cell. He stood on the other side, with the bars between us. And I was left holding the baglamas.

He reach out a hand. “Return the instrument to me.”

I shook my head, and pressed the baglamas to my chest. I was trying to look stubborn, but I wasn’t sure he understood. So, I started playing again, this time as if I were truly enjoying making all the horrible sounds with the strings.

“I said stop,” he growled.

My fingers paused above the strings.

As much as I wanted to gage Eurig’s reaction, I did my best to avoid looking at her for fear of meeting her glowing eyes. I didn’t want the dog’s words in my head. She probably would have told me to hand over the baglamas, too.

But now that I’d laid my hands on it, I couldn’t give it up. The man in the tunic wasn’t going to get it back without a fight.

I stood up from my seated position and raised my knee. With both hands, I held the baglamas in front of me and pulled it down, quickly, pretending I intended to break it in half.

“No!”

I stopped, with the instrument just barely brushing my kneecap. Despite myself, I smirked. He’d understood my message: If I couldn’t keep the baglamas, then he wasn’t going to get it either. What he didn’t know was that, in my opinion, the worlds would be better off without such a powerful instrument in his hands.

“Come, Eurig. Let’s have her keep it for a while. She’ll eventually grow tired of the toy.”

He turned to the guard. “I’ll send other men, to take the instrument from her and to bring the boy to me. We may have better luck with the boy, alone.”

The guard nodded without taking his eyes off me.

I sniffed at him and retreated to the back corner in the cell, then slipped the travel glasses over my eyes. “Javis,” I whispered.

His face appeared against the all-white background. He said nothing, but his eyebrows were raised.

“The hallway that runs along the cells is long enough for us to gain enough momentum to travel.”

I detected the slightest nod from him. I interpreted his silence to mean his guard was keeping a close watch on him.

Coughing to disguise some of my words, I added, “When our cells are opened, we’ll need to run. But we’ll need to split up. I’ll run to the left with my travel glasses, and you’ll need to go to the right, with yours.”

Javis’s lips tightened; he released a breath. “Okay,” he coughed.

We sat in silence, staring at each other. His face was pinched, reflecting the same tension I was certain he saw in me. Sorry for having dragged him into this mess, I longed to reach out, into our connection through the travel glasses, and calm him.

Instead, I flexed, loosening my ankles and knees, ready to pounce when the cell door opened.

The cloaked men announced their arrival with the clack of boot heels and the rattling of metal, like chains being dragged across the floor. My back and shoulders trembled.

“Ready?” I whispered.

“Yes.”

I closed my eyes and shook the image of Javis from my mind.

Peering up over the glasses, to where I could better see in the dim light, I glared at a cloaked man who was already twisting a key inside the lock. I stretched my neck, searching for the man in the tunic, but he and Eurig were not there.

Another man passed by my cell; with him, the grating of metal intensified. My gaze lowered to his shoes. One of his ankles was cuffed. A chain of iron spheres and bells that didn’t ring dangled from the cuff and scratched along the floor.

I noticed a similar cuff attached to the man who’d unlocked my door and was walking toward me. Even the guards are prisoners here, I worried. Then smiled. The cuff added a limp to the man’s gait that slowed him down almost as much as the man in the tunic.

I squeezed the baglamas to me and focused on home, on Edgar, opening a search using the travel glasses. The baglamas would have taken too long to ready for travel. I also didn’t want the guards to know how it worked.

The guard sneered and reached for me. I dodged his arm and twisted past him to where I could see the metal tails of his ankle cuff. I gave the chains a sharp kick. Pain pulsed through my foot as he wobbled and spun around. His lips opened as the realization set in as to what I’d done.

He was off balance. I didn’t wait to see whether he would topple over.

I burst through the cell door. Tensing at the crashing thud behind me, I caught a glimpse of Javis running down the other side of the hallway.

I set my jaw against the pain and sprinted in the opposite direction.

***

Tears stung my eyes when the bright light faded. I coughed a lungful of air. I’d been breathing so hard the flowers’ fragrance had overwhelmed me.

“Javis?” I wheezed.

“Over here.”

I steadied my palms and grounded without looking up. I breathed evenly, allowing my heartbeat to slow and throb in sync with the pain in my foot. Javis was with me and the baglamas was safe, for now.

“We’ll need to tell Father,” I said, my voice barely audible over the rumbling. “The man in the tunic will be back for the baglamas. He’ll track us down—he probably already knows where we live.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. “We’ll need to hide it someplace safe.”

Gritting my teeth, I tested my foot’s ability to bear my weight. The pain hit so sharply I couldn’t bite back a groan. I fell to the ground.

“What happened to you?”

“I wasn’t sure I could outrun the guard, even with the cuff,” I said. “So I kicked his chain.”

Javis shook his head and snorted. With both hands, he pulled me up and slung my arm over his shoulders.

“Thanks. The chain was heavier…and harder…than I thought it would be.” I rolled my eyes as I tried to explain myself.

“Running on the injured foot probably didn’t help,” he said. “Let’s get you to the hospital. We can talk to Father about the baglamas while we find out whether you broke anything.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 24, to be posted June 17. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 21 Capture

Darker Stars Beta CoverWe grounded to the soothing fragrance of flowers. It would have been difficult not to, seeing as our arms, legs, and faces were buried in them.

“What was that?” Javis was wild-eyed as he brushed pollen from the legs of his pants.

“I don’t know, but we have to go back. Let’s give it a day or two,” I said, pacing. “I need to think this through.”

“A day or two? I don’t trust that man, and we have no idea what type of time scheme his world has.”

“Okay, fine. We’ll go back tomorrow, the same time we left today, if possible. That will give us some idea of the day cycle there; and if it’s around the same time when we get there, we may get to see him outside again. Maybe one of us can distract him long enough to leave behind the baglamas, and the other can grab it. Then we can both transport home using our own pairs of travel glasses.”

“That plan makes more sense than anything else I’ve seen today.” Javis tapped at his head with a fist. “Or heard. How do we get past the dog?”

“You heard it, too? The voice telling us to leave?”

His scowl was replaced with an expression that reeked of I told you so. “That man was talking to the dog, responding to her whimpers and the words she put inside his head. I knew it!”

I huffed, leaving him standing there, ankle-deep in flowers, as I stepped up onto the path. He followed me, mumbling about how smart he was or something. I didn’t know because I’d stopped paying attention.

There was a group of people standing in front of the hospital. I pushed through to find two of the recovering Lost, with tears streaming down their faces, pounding at the door.

I pulled the nearest recovering Lost, a girl named Maya, into my arm as I rifled through my pockets for my key. She yelped when she recognized me, and then fell into a fit of loud, wet sobs.

“What happened?”

“He pushed us out. He—he said we should wait until you return.”

The lock clicked when I turned the key. I held the door open. Javis caught up to me once everyone had scrambled inside.

“Who said that, Maya? Who can’t deal with you anymore?”

“Valcas, I mean…Mr. Hall.”

The spaces behind my eyes burned with the information. How could he?

I placed my hands on the girl’s shoulders and held her out at arms-length. “Explain.”

“Curt and I had scheduled visitors…”

I nodded, acknowledging that the visitors must be the other people who’d been standing outside with the recovering Lost.

“You and Javis weren’t here, so we went to Mr. Hall’s office to check in our visitors. He sent us outside and told us to wait for you.”

Javis and I exchanged a glance.

“But afterwards, I remembered I left my sketchpad in my room, and I wanted to show my drawings to my brother. I tried to go back in to get it.” Her lower lip quivered. “But the door was locked.”

With the baglamas momentarily forgotten, I stormed through the hallway, with Javis at my heels. Father’s door was closed. I peppered the door with loud, angry knocks.

“Come in,” he called from inside the room.

I threw open the door and placed a hand on my hip. “Why did you send two of the recovering Lost and their visitors outside?”

He didn’t bother looking up from his papers. “I was busy, and it is a beautiful day. The flowers and suns help your mood, Silvie. Why shouldn’t they help theirs too?”

I hadn’t expected such a reasonable answer. He didn’t seem upset at all. If anything, he was eerily calm, and his words disarmed me. I dropped my hand from my hip and looked to Javis for help.

“After everyone went outside, one of the recovering Lost tried to get back inside, but she couldn’t.” Javis worked his jaw, as if he wasn’t sure how to raise such a serious accusation against Father. “The door was locked.”

Father looked up from his papers, finally, and gave Javis his full attention. “What do you mean the door was locked?”

“Silvie used her key to let everyone back inside. So, you mean you didn’t do it?”

I winced at Father’s tightly set lips. His eyes were filled with astonishment and pain.

“Of course not,” he said.

“Oh,” Javis said, his voice weak. I would have to thank him for putting himself out there, later. “Then that means…”

Father sat back in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “The hospital’s security has been breached.”

Javis and I checked in on each of the residents while Father initiated a flurry of activity, which involved inspections of both the house and the hospital and the installation of replacement locks on the doors.

When no one suspicious was found on the premises, Father handed me and Javis new keys. I bit my lip, unable to handle the disappointed look he gave us. I couldn’t believe I’d thought Father had locked out the recovering Lost. I’d been so taken back by what we found when we returned to Edgar. Not to mention my state of mind after our attempt to find my baglamas. Still, I was ashamed I’d let these events make me mistrust Father. He’d done nothing to deserve that.

***

Javis and I attempted to retrieve the baglamas the next day, before my morning shift.

I removed the travel glasses from my face to better see our surroundings. I couldn’t decipher any noise over the rumblings that announced our arrival. But by the time we’d finished grounding, a shriek erupted that made my skin crawl and tingle all over.

My gut reaction was to help someone who was in pain.

Javis held me back. “Silvie, no. Remember what the man in the tunic said about no one coming to visit him.”

“I know but—”

“Let’s check it out, carefully. Maybe he’s out for a walk…” He frowned. “In the dark with his creepy dog.”

“Then why would he be screaming?”

My question was answered a moment later when Javis and I stumbled upon the man and his dog. We’d been circling backwards, staying covered behind trees and looking through them, instead of behind us. When we backed up, something caught my foot and I flew backwards, landing on my butt.

The shrieking started again, only now it was right in front of me.

Javis ran to my side and pulled me up and away from the man in the tunic who was lying on his back. He rocked back and forth and pushed at the ground with his arms, struggling to get up. His feet wobbled up and down in front of him, without bending at the knees.

Eurig, his dog, sat at his side. She turned to Javis and me, catching both of us with her glowing eyes, and whimpered.

Your earthquake made him fall. You should not have returned.

She broke eye contact with us more quickly than she had during our last visit. As soon as I regained my wits, I pulled Javis out to an open space where we could run.

“Our earthquake?” I mumbled. “She must mean the impact of our arrival.”

“Yup, let’s bail. We’ll come back at a better time, if such a thing exists.”

“Call for help, Eurig!” the man yelled. “Make sure someone catches them!”

I shuddered at the wolfish howl that followed, a deep grow that swelled an octave higher before scooping back down again.

“Okay, here,” I said, indicating the open space before us with plenty of room to gain momentum for travel.

I slipped on the travel glasses and squeezed Javis’s hand.

We made it three steps before a half dozen men wearing tunics closed in on us and pulled us to the ground. I clawed at them with my fingernails, kicking at them as they tied my hands behind my back. Pain flashed behind my eyes. They’d nearly dislocated my shoulders in the process.

Three of the men dragged me and three dragged Javis through the gate and into the house. Without the brightness of the world’s moon, it took me a moment to adjust to the lack of light inside the house. Flames from torches flickered along the walls, mingling with the light from above—chandeliers filled with lit candles.

The men said nothing to us the entire time, even when they dropped us on the floor in front of a chaise lounge. I wriggled my shoulders to relieve the stiffness that had set in since my hands had been tied. I looked up and scowled. The man in the tunic lifted his head from a pillow and rolled to his side, resting his weight on a propped up arm.

Eurig sat next to him, curled up in a sleeping position, her eyes closed.

“Thank you, men,” said the man in the tunic. “I have something to say to our visitors, and then you will move them to a cell.”

The men grunted and stepped backward in a single file behind us, blocking the only exit I could find in the room.

I pulled at the binding around my hands, a material that had the silkiness of ribbon and the strength of rope. A cell?

The man in the tunic grinned at us. “My home has experienced unlikely weather conditions as of late. I felt the rumblings of an earthquake yesterday evening. Eurig and I went out for a walk this evening to be nearer, should the phenomenon repeat itself.” He grinned widely, showing us his full set of teeth. “And sure enough, it did.”

I bit my lip, frantically trying to figure how to get out of there. He hadn’t asked us a question, and I had nothing to say to him, so I kept my mouth shut. Javis sat with his legs crossed next to me, shaking.

“How did you arrive here?” the man in the tunic said, his eyes pinning me to the ground.

“We traveled,” I choked out.

A flicker of surprise shone in his eyes. “Using what method?”

Javis shot me a pointed look, but it wasn’t necessary. I had no intention of telling our captor about the travel glasses. Or that I knew anything about the baglamas.

“My men have ways of making you answer, children,” he warned. He shifted his weight back slightly.

I glared at him.

“Surely you two are able to speak. Eurig, we heard them outside when the girl tripped over me, didn’t we?”

The dog opened her eyes and tilted her head toward him. I couldn’t see the moon-glow in her eyes from where I sat when she let out a soft whimper.

“Eurig agrees with me, children. She says you can speak.”

My lips pulled into a frown. I hadn’t heard Eurig say anything. I hadn’t heard her words inside my head. But I had heard her whimper. Did Eurig have to be looking at a specific person, capturing them with her eyes, to be able to drop words in their head?

Javis and I exchanged a worried glance.

“I tire of waiting. Take them away.”

The men along the wall rushed forward, breaking out of their single file like marching band members scattering in different directions. Half of the men surrounded me, while the other half surrounded Javis. I don’t know why so many of them were necessary given our hands were tied behind our backs.

One of the men lifted me up in his arms and slung me over his back, with his companions flanking his sides. The more I kicked, the more he pinned my legs to his chest. But I didn’t yell out. I bit my tongue. The man in the tunic did not deserve my words.

Javis appeared not to be doing much better than I was. He was younger than me, but larger and stronger. Two of the men, both a head taller than him, had grabbed him beneath his armpits and were dragging him so that when he kicked, they lifted him up higher, leaving his legs to flail in the air.

Before we left the room, Eurig’s glowing eyes locked with mine. Her whimper was low and gritty, more of a growl.

I told you to leave. You should not have returned.

The man in the tunic stroked her head. “What’s wrong, my pet?”

She broke her gaze from mine and leaned into his petting before curling back into her sleeping position.

The men dragged Javis and me to separate cells, instead of the one cell the man in the tunic had warned us about.

“We’ll untie you,” one of the men said, his lips close to my ear. “But you should fear no less. We can rewrap your wrist as quickly as we did the last time,” he warned.

I twisted my face in horror at the sound of his voice. It was as if he literally gargled broken glass. I’d heard that expression before and thought I had an idea of what it meant, but now I had a real life audio-visual. His words undulated between low and high-pitched sounds, with the awful texture of sandpaper.

He stepped back and laughed at my reaction. “The punishments here are cruel,” he said, rubbing a hand across his throat. Then he clenched his jaw and sneered, as if he didn’t find the joke funny anymore.

His companion kept his strong grip around me while the man with the garbled voice untied and pulled at my bindings. The third man stood guard near the cell’s door, careful to allow himself and his companions to exit while leaving me trapped inside. The guard stayed behind and pressed his back against the opposite wall.

I shook out my arms and rubbed my wrists as I paced back and forth along the cell floor.

I looked out through the bars of the left front corner of my cell, noticing a man in a tunic who stood watching roughly ten feet away from where my guard stood across the wall in front of me.

I took this to mean that our cells were side by side. But I couldn’t see Javis because of the heavy wall between us. I also guessed his cell had metal bars in front like mine.

My teeth gnashed together.

The men had deprived us of being able to communicate in whispers, gestures, and glances. If we had something to say, we had to speak loudly enough for everyone to hear us, including those men who’d stayed behind and stood guard outside our cells.

I blinked at my guard.

He locked his gaze on me. This turned into a staring contest that continued until I began to feel uncomfortable. I switched to averting my eyes every time he caught me looking at him.

I slipped the travel glasses over my eyes and snickered, knowing the lenses were so dark the guard wouldn’t be able to tell whether I was looking at him or not.

“Silvie?”

I blinked and the guard faded from view, replaced by an all-white background. Javis’s face appeared like a cardboard cutout against it.

“Silvie,” he whispered.

“Excellent idea to call me using your pair of travel glasses,” I said, keeping my voice level at a low murmur.

“You too,” he said. “I was hoping you’d think of this, eventually.”

My lips pressed into a guilty grin. I shrugged. I didn’t want to tell him the real reason I was wearing the travel glasses, and the fewer words the guard overheard the better.

I retreated to the deepest corner of the cell and pressed my back to the wall and rested my cheek on my hand so the guard no longer had a head-on view of my lips moving. I hoped he’d think I was sick of our awkward staring contest. I leaned back slightly in an attempt to look like I was trying to get into a comfortable enough position to fall asleep.

“There isn’t enough room in my cell to gain the momentum needed for travel,” said Javis, his lips barely moving.

I peered up, over the glasses, briefly, to gain a sense of how high the cell was—to judge whether we could gain vertical momentum as opposed to running horizontally. The ceiling was no higher than the track on the upper level gymnasium. Even that wasn’t high enough for me to risk dropping to my death before the travel glasses ported me home.

“It’s not high enough, either,” I said. “Not that there’s anything in here I could use to get up there.”

“So what do we do? How do we get out of here?”

“We’ll have to wait until the doors open. Maybe then we’ll figure something out.”

“But we’ll be outnumbered.”

I cringed. He was right. The man in the tunic had too many of his lackeys on us. There was no use trying to mess with the cell door with our guards staring at us, either.

My guard cleared his throat.

“We should stop now, before they suspect something,” I said.

Javis tilted his head in a barely perceptible nod before letting out a huge yawn.

The skin above my eyes twisted. Oh shoot. My painted on eyebrows were probably smeared off by now. I rubbed my eyes anyway, taking Javis’s hint that we should look like we were falling asleep. He didn’t have to be so obvious, though.

He and the white background faded, leaving my cell feeling darker than before.

I left the travel glasses on my face and closed my eyes.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 22, to be posted June 10. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.