young adult

Cover Reveal for Darker Stars

So excited to share the cover of Darker Stars with you! Didn’t L.J. Anderson of Mayhem Cover Creations do an amazing job?

Here’s what the book is about:

Travel talents have evolved far past what the Time and Space Travel Agency imagined, leaving it unable to keep travelers under its control.

Silvie Hall is a descendant of Chascadia, Aboreal, and an ancient Earth. The Remnant Transporter talent flows through her blood, giving her the ability to transport silhouettes from different times and places to help heal lost loved ones.

But will it be enough to stop the darker talents that threaten her legacy and her home?

Don’t miss this book release! Sign up for my newsletter to get an email when Darker Stars is available!

Add my upcoming releases to your TBR list on Goodreads:

Lantern: The Complete Collection

Darker Stars (The Song of Everywhen, #1)

Teardrop Moons (The Song of Everywhen, #2)

Many thanks to Promo Stars for organizing a gorgeous cover reveal and setting up a giveaway (see below)!

  Title: Darker Stars

Series: The Song of Everywhen #1

By: Chess Desalls

Publication Date: January 2018

Publisher: Czidor Lore, LLC

Genre: YA Sci Fi Fantasy

Cover Designer: Mayhem Cover Creations

#darkerstarsreveal

Interested in receiving an ARC in exchange for an honest review?

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Release Day: Torch (Lantern, #3)

My third Lantern story is now available. The special release day price is only $0.99 and will last for a limited time!

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 pull the other through?

Download for Kindle, Kobo, and more!

Cover Reveal for Torch (Lantern, #3)

Paper and Sage Design has done it again. ❤ This cover is swoon-worthy, and I can’t wait to share my new Lantern story with you.

What’s Torch about?

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 pull the other through?

Don’t miss the release of the last of the Lantern novellas! Sign up for my newsletter to get an email when Torch is available!

Interview: Literary Classics Award Winner, Jacqui Letran

Jacqui Letran is the author of 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness!the Gold winner in the Young Adult Self-Help category of the 2017 Literary Classics Book Awards contest.

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

Thank you so much! It is truly an honor to be recognized by such a reputable company as Children Literary Classics. I started writing professionally in 2014.

What’s the target age group for your books?

Although the content in my book applies to anyone, whether young or old, I wrote this book specifically for readers aged from 12 to their early 20’s. While writing, I imagine my readers reading the book in hope of discovering ways to let go of their emotional burdens, feel good about themselves, and trying to create better, more connected relationships. I wanted readers to be able to apply the content they are learning immediately so I wrote it in an easy to understand style, and included exercises through out the book to help readers work out some of their own concerns. I hope my books help readers gain insights, feel more in control of their feelings, and have the courage to let go of their pain and choose happiness instead.

What inspired your award-winning book?

I never entertained the idea of being an author until my clients kept requesting that I share my work in writing. I am blessed to have a private practice helping people take control of their lives by taking control of their thoughts and feelings.  I believe in helping people overcome their problems and giving them the tools to be their own source of strength and power. So with each client, I would teach them about their mind and how to take control of it to create the happiness and successes they deserve.  I provide a lot of new information to digest so my clients would ask for a written summary.  After repeatedly hearing this request, the most logical thing to do was write a book.  As the book evolved, I became more excited. I realized how important books were to me when I was a teen in need of help, and here was my chance to pay it forward.

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

This is not about one of the characters in my book, but about the book itself.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Buddha

I know it’s a bit dramatic, but when you think about it that way, it becomes silly to hang onto anger or other toxic emotions, when you can choose happiness instead.

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

5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness! is the first of three books in the “Words of Wisdom for Teens” series. It is not available as an audio book yet, but that is in the works.  The second book in the series, I would, but my DAMN MIND won’t let me! won Literary Classics’ Top Honor Award for Young Adult Non-Fiction as well as a Gold Medal in 2016.  This book is available in eBook, paperback, and audio.

Who would you cast as the voice actor to narrate your book? 

If I could cast anyone to narrate my book, I would choose Emma Watson.  She is a beautiful, strong, and talented young woman with a lovely voice.  I admire her acting, and her activism for gender equality.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I’m not sure if this is a quirk, but I have to write my books by hand.  I discovered early in my writing attempts that if I typed my book, I would spend too much time editing as I wrote, instead of just allowing the concept to flow freely into form. By writing it out by hand, my ideas are able to flow freely and the process is much more enjoyable.

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

Book promotion is a must if you want to have success as a writer.  I schedule time for interviews, workshops, and other book promotion activities just as I would schedule time to see clients or work on other aspects of my business.

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

To my readers, even though it might not feel like it at times, the struggles you’re currently going through will pass.  You are stronger than you know and you have everything within you to overcome your challenges and become an even stronger person.  Believe in yourself.  Be true to yourself.  You deserve a happy, successful life.

To my fellow award-winning authors, it is such an honor to be among a group of truly talented writers.

Author Bio

Jacqui Letran is a Multi-Award Winning Author, International Speaker, Nurse Practitioner, and Founder of Teen Confidence Academy and Healing Minds. She is passionate about her commitment to guiding her clients to achieve remarkable success in their academic, personal, and professional lives. Through private sessions, group workshops, and keynote engagements, Jacqui teaches that success and happiness are achievable by all, regardless of current struggles and circumstances. A gifted and energetic leader, Jacqui dedicates her life’s work to helping her clients and students transform into happy, confident, and successful people.

She is also the winner of the:
2017 Literary Classics’ Gold Medal for Young Adult Self-Help Books
2016 Literary Classics’ Lumen Award for Literary Excellence
2016 Literary Classics’ Gold Medal for Youth Adult Non-Fiction
2016 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Award for Young Adult Non-Fiction

When not working with clients or writing, you can find her traveling in her RV, hiking with her dog or spoiling her three cats. She currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Connect with her on Facebook and on Instagram at Instagram.com/WOW4Teens and Instagram.com/MsLetran.

Award-Winning Book

Winner of the 2017 Literary Classics’ International Book Award’s Gold Medal for Best Young-Adult Self-Help book.

Are you tired of endless fights and misunderstandings between you and the people you care about? Do you feel like no matter what you say or do, you just can’t get anyone to understand you? Do you feel powerless, or as though it is easier hanging on to grudges and negativity than to continue struggling?

In this powerful book, Award-Winning Author and Teen Confidence Expert, Jacqui Letran, teaches you how to use five simple questions to transform your relationships from those filled with tension and frustration to those complete with trust and acceptance.

In this book, you will discover:

• How to identify your feelings
• How to understand why you feel as you do
• How to let go of your unwanted emotion
• How to create win-win situations, enhance and rebuild your relationships, and much more!

If you want to be in control of your feelings, and to let go of things easily, this book is for you. This compact guide is filled with simple tips and easy-to-follow techniques.

Get your copy today and get ready to reclaim your happiness and create amazing relationships for life!

“Valuable insight and unique perspectives allow readers to approach their concerns from a profound new angle in an effort to resolve issues and pave the way for a happier and more fulfilling life.” Literary Classics Book Awards

This book is available on Amazon.

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have!

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

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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 24

Darker Stars Beta CoverThe hooded man returned to the woods, and fell to his knees.

His companion exhaled and paused in his tending of the fire. “Are you in pain?”

“No. Only relieved.”

“Then it worked?”

“He kept his word.” The hooded man stood and cracked his knuckles. “The curse has been lifted. We are free.”

“Where will you go from here?”

“I will find my way.”

The cloaked man lifted a bucket and spilled water across the fire. Flames crackled and sizzled before burning out.

“Have you anywhere to go?” garbled the hooded man.

“For now it is enough to be free to go where and when I please.”

Both men stood in awkward silence; neither turned to move. Then, as if pulled by the hand of a giant, they walked in unison toward a portal.

“Where do you two think you’re going?” A voice called out at the same time a face and an outstretched arm appeared through the world’s entrance.

The man in the tunic grabbed the hooded man, digging fingernails into his gullet.

Gagging, the hooded man pulled back the cowl that covered his face. His eyes glowed white with the glow of the moon. With a piercing gaze, he locked eyes with the man who held his throat.

“I will not listen to your pathetic pleas.” The man in the tunic stepped forward and smiled as he averted his eyes, breaking the connection. “I asked you to do something and it has not yet been finished.”

“We’ve done everything you’ve asked,” said the cloaked man. “Which is why the curse has been lifted. We are free men. We no longer work for you, and we are not in your debt.”

“Oh, but you are. You see, I am no longer in possession of the instrument.”

“That is none of our concern. We are not responsible for your inability to keep it.”

“I would still have the baglamas if you would have explained how to use it. In that you have failed, and you will not be free until you get it back for me—and this time with instructions! Consider your freedom revoked.”

The smile that burned across his lips caused both of the cloaked men to pale. Seemingly satisfied, he dropped his hand, careful to avoid the glowing white eyes. He pulled the hood over the man’s face. The hooded man became hooded once again.

“When did you last see the baglamas?” said the hooded man, rubbing his throat.

“It was stolen from me,” he snapped. “By children.”

The cloaked man snorted. “You were fooled by children?”

“They were vile creatures trained by Evil itself.”

“Describe them.”

“A girl and a boy, both in their adolescent years. She had black hair and emerald green eyes. She played the idiot—pretending not to know how to play the instrument.”

“And the boy?”

“Dark curls and matching dark eyes. He seemed the more even-tempered of the two. Cautious. Quiet.”

“Their names?”

I didn’t bother learning their names because they were my prisoners!

The cloaked men exchanged a cough resembling joyless laughter.

“Their descriptions do not match the boy and girl who arrived here,” said the hooded man. “The boy who retrieved the baglamas had black hair and purple eyes. The girl’s eyes were not green.”

“But the boy,” added his companion. “You said he had dark curls. Did he have an aquiline nose?”

The man in the tunic seemed to consider the question for a moment before throwing his arms in the air. “Yes, but why would that matter?”

“The Healer matched that description. Perhaps they are Basileios Plaka’s descendants. The rightful owners of the baglamas.”

The man in the tunic clutched at his chest. He tried to picture the Healer in his mind, the way he was on the night they’d trapped him and found that the baglamas was not on his person. The children—the boy in particular—looked much like the Healer, only younger and with dark eyes instead of blue-green. He gritted his teeth at his own lack of observation.

“I had them…within my grasp,” he choked. “But… They… They pretended not to know how the instrument worked.”

“So you’ve mentioned.”

The cloaked men looked down at the ground, not bothering to mask the smirks that formed across their faces.

“We will help,” said the hooded man. “But you will pay us more than our freedom. This task will be costly.”

“What is it that you want?”

“You will return my dog to me.”

“Eurig is mine.”

“Only because you stole her from me,” growled the hooded man. “You forced her into service. You stole her voice.”

The man in the tunic laughed. “I hear her voice in my head each day.”

“You hear only want you want to hear.” The hooded man pulled back his cowl; his eyes glowed bright in the darkness.

With a mocking sneer, the man in the tunic looked away.

***

“We can learn from the Time Keeper who Plaka’s descendants are and where they live. But how do we discover how the baglamas works?”

The cloaked man dragged a stick across a new fire pit and stirred the embers. “Perhaps the Time Keeper has learned that as well. If not, we ask the children to tell us.”

“Why should they tell us?”

“We will make them a promise.”

“What could they want from us?” the hooded man’s voice rasped, tilting to a shriek by the end of the question.

“We will explain who sent us to them.”

“But they’ve already encountered and escaped Yannan—slipped like fish through his fat fingers.”

“We will not mention him. We’ll send the children off course, all while telling the truth.”

“The truth?”

“That it was the Time Keeper who stole the baglamas, and that it was he who sent us to them.”

“How can you be sure that is what they’ll want?”

“They will be curious about how Yannan retrieved the instrument to begin with, and they will be afraid. They’re children. If they are anything like we were growing up, or anything like we are now, they’ll want their revenge.”

The hooded man sniffed. “And we will promise that revenge? In their fight against another child?”

“Yes. But only if they demonstrate how the baglamas makes one travel through time.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 25, to be posted June 20. 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.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 17 Memories

Darker Stars Beta CoverWhen the last of Sloe’s form vanished through the exit portal, I squeezed my arms across my ribs, feeling anxious and, strangely, alone.

Sighing, I peered up at the sky. The brightness of the day stars had faded enough for the light of the night stars to begin to shine through. Starlight mixed with the brown and gold shadows of midday.

I turned around and stepped toward the hospital’s rear entrance, then made my way to the area where we kept short-term residents. I expected that’s where Javis was being monitored before going home.

I poked my head through a couple doorways before finding him, then immediately wished I’d brought food with me. He looked up at me, pale and slightly on edge.

“How are you doing?” I said.

One foot kicked at a blanket bunched at the bottom of his bed. I grinned. He was still wearing his work uniform pants, but the orderlies had managed to remove his shoes and cover his top half with a hospital gown.

“I’d be better if Father would let me go home,” he said. “I have to wait until he approves.”

“Makes sense.” Javis and I weren’t legal adults yet, so Father got to make the final decision on such things.

I wasn’t sure what else to say. There was an awkwardness between us that had never been there before. I wondered if he knew how involved I’d been in his healing—that I’d sensed the weakness, the darkness, inside of him. I wasn’t sure how to bring that up without sounding invasive or creepy.

“I’m glad to see you’re all right,” I said, meaning every word of it. “I don’t understand how this happened. How did you fall over in the ladies’ room?”

He dipped his head and rubbed his palm across his forehead and eyes. “I’m not sure.”

“Do you remember a sudden pain, or tripping over something?”

“No. Everything disappeared into whiteness.” He coughed. “Like my body was empty and weak.”

My shoulders tensed. Was that the same weakness I’d felt while healing him, or something else? I wanted Javis to say more, to see if we were talking about the same thing, if the two were connected. I opened my lips to speak, then hesitated.

“Silvie.”

I twisted my head to the door, to who’d spoken my name. I hadn’t heard anyone approach.

“Father,” I said.

He looked at me as if he intended for me to say something more. I had no idea what. I swallowed.

“Yes?”

He glanced at Javis, then back to me, and frowned. “While you were showing Sloe out, I asked someone to cover your rounds.”

“Oh,” I said, my heart sinking. The day was half over, and with all the excitement and drama, I hadn’t finished my early shift. I hadn’t started it, either, seeing as I’d been showing Sloe around the hospital.

I lowered my eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You’ve done enough healing for one day. Thank you for using your talent to help your brother.”

I raised my eyes to his, this time recognizing Father showed no signs of being upset, at least not with me. His face was drawn in a way that suggested he was tired, and sad.

Stepping closer, he reached inside his jacket pocket and placed something in Javis’s hands, then mine. My jaw dropped as I stared at a pair of dark glasses.

“This is your pair,” I whispered.

“Yes, and now Javis has Calla’s. I recommend that you not use them to travel, given the effects they have on one’s eyes. But they’re yours now, and it’s up to you as far as what to do with them.”

I frowned. At one time, Father’s eyes were as green as mine, and Mother’s were as dark as Javis’s.

“If we’re not supposed to use the travel glasses to travel, then why do you want us to have them?” Father was offering us a precious gift, wrapped with memories of his life with Mother.

“I won’t be with you forever,” he said. “I want our memories to be your memories. You will be able to visit past versions of us, as needed.”

“How are you going to travel without these?”

“Perhaps it’s time I obtained a commissioned TSTA vehicle.”

Javis and I wrinkled our noses at each other. He reached out in an attempt to return his pair to Father.

“I don’t understand,” said Javis. “All we ever heard growing up is how much you hate the TSTA and its rules. Why give up now?”

“In a matter of years, I’ve lost my mother, my wife, and my healer. I’ve made peace with the fact that no matter what I do, the worlds will move on without me.”

A lump formed in my throat. “But you still have us.”

Father’s lips rose at their corners. “I can’t keep you here forever, Silvie. I saw you with Sloe and how you work with the recovering Lost. You’re growing up. You’ve inherited Plaka’s baglamas. The worlds are yours to explore now.”

“Are you hinting that it’s time for Silvie to leave Edgar?” Javis’s face paled. I wasn’t as concerned with that being the issue as what Father saw when he saw me with Sloe? I knew Father wanted us to stay as long as possible. But what did he mean about Sloe? Was it that obvious?

“No, you can come and go as you please. Both of you.”

I squirmed at Javis’s defeated look. We loved Edgar, the world—and life—Father had built for Mother. We didn’t want to leave. Or, was it that Father wanted to be alone?

I turned the pair of travel glasses in my hands. It had dark frames and equally dark lenses. I’d seen Father wear them so many times, they looked like an ordinary accessory. Memories. I could search Father’s memories—those he’d burned inside the glasses.

I could see pictures of Mother…and hear her voice. Something I’d wanted to hear for so long. Tears filled my eyes. It was an amazing gift. But that didn’t make me feel any less worried about Father, or Javis.

***

Loneliness lingered as I left the hospital. Father decided to keep Javis there overnight, just in case. I expected he would stay with him until the early hours of the morning. Javis was his favorite, and I was okay with that.

I patted the pair of sunglasses in my pocket. I had Mother with me.

As soon as I grabbed a snack, I headed up to my bedroom. Even though I usually accompanied Mother when we’d traveled with the travel glasses, Father had explained to me how to search, and had let me practice with his pair several times.

There were different types of searches. A traveler could search to travel somewhere by focusing on a person, place, time, or some combination of the three. This, I could already do with Grandpa Plaka’s baglamas.

The travel glasses offered something more. They could be used to communicate. Two people wearing the travel glasses at the same time could see and speak to each other.

But that wasn’t the best part.

Father had burned his memories of Mother inside the glasses. Mother had recorded her memories inside the pair that was now Javis’s pair. At some point, I learned Father had copied memories, a form of data, from one pair to another. Mother had taken his original pair, and he’d had a backup pair. But parts were missing. I had no idea how often they synced the recordings inside the glasses, or whether Father had synced the pairs before giving them to us.

Father had lived longer than Mother, so it was possible his pair had later recordings of me and Javis. It didn’t matter to me whether I had Father’s pair or Mother’s pair. I was sure there were more than enough memories of Mother burned into both.

Retrieving the recordings—the memories—burned inside the glasses required a special bond between the person who was searching for the memories, and the person who’d recorded them. Obviously, this worked if the same person recorded and searched. But when the recorder and searcher were two different people, the bond had to be strong.

I relied on my bond with my Father, who’d recorded memories of Mother, as I searched for pictures of her inside the travel glasses.

Still shots of her face appeared, followed by moving pictures with sound. My heart leapt at the sound of her voice.

Mother smiled or scowled at the recorder, from various points of her life. The scowling ones made me laugh. There must have been times that Father frustrated her as much as he frustrated me. Her eyes changed color from a dark, rich brown to a pale shade of gray. The travel glasses had affected her eyes, just like Father said.

It felt like scanning through a digital photo album that showed only pictures and movies I wanted to see. The brighter, more vivid, recordings, I knew, were taken of persons who were real and living at the time they were recorded. Recordings of past versions, from having traveled to their past, were washed out; they seemed illusory because they were recordings of silhouettes.

This was nice for a while, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed to go back in time to visit Mother, the same way she used to travel to the past to ask questions of her mentor, Edgar Hall.

The women at the hospital were friends, but they were not family. I had to speak to a woman, someone I knew well. The men didn’t get me. Father, Javis, probably even Sloe. I couldn’t talk to them the way I needed to. It was too difficult, and awkward.

More than anything, I wanted Mother to be in front of me, hearing my words and giving me words of her own, words not intended for whomever was recording, but words and a message meant for me.

I ran downstairs and outside the house to where I stood at the beginning of the path that led to the hospital. I slipped the travel glasses on my face and searched for a memory, one of my mother—the way I remembered her best from when I was younger. The way I’ll always picture her. With dark curly hair streaked with white, and eyes as gray as Earth’s sky before a storm’s first raindrops. The way she smiled at me and at Father.

She was a young woman when she gave birth to me. But after Javis was born, Mother aged rapidly. Or maybe I was just more aware of it.

And then, suddenly, she was gone.

I pressed my lips together to still their trembling and continued to focus on this version of Mother. I pictured her here in Edgar, relaxing in front of the fireplace after a day of work at the hospital.

My feet pounded against the ground to gain speed for the transport. My lips pursed in concentration. The path, the flowers, the house, the hospital—all of it disappeared, bleached out by a white, blinding light.

The white light faded, replaced by a yellow-orange glow and a warmth that comforted me and made me suddenly sleepy.

Flames from a fireplace flickered before me. I was in the family room, in our home in Edgar. In the past.

A woman sat in my favorite reading chair, holding a mug. Her large gray eyes were opened wide, her lips caught mid-sip.

My breath hitched as a lump formed in my throat, bringing along with it tears that stung my eyes.

The woman, Mother, rose from her chair. She took another look at the mug before her eyes darted to the fire.

“Quickly,” she said. “To the ground.”

My heart pounded, guiltily, for having landed somewhere where grounding would bring a danger to my family and home.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I lowered myself into a grounding stance. I should have searched for her outside, but I couldn’t get the homey image of Mother out of my mind during travel. This is where and when I wanted to be.

Mother emptied the contents of the mug into the fire before pulling a screen across the fireplace. She held the mug to her chest, protecting it as she pressed an arm and knee to the ground.

The ground quaked, as if angry that I’d created a tear to enter this time and place. Like it knew I’d made a poor choice. I cringed, feeling as if I deserved every bit of it.

Out of the side of my vision, I stole a glance at the fireplace. The flames spewed sparks that didn’t quite reach the screen Mother had closed, but the wood that fueled the fire bounced, creating an ominous cloud of smoke.

I held my palm to my nose and mouth to fend off the stench and the urge to cough.

When the rumblings subsided, Mother opened windows. She frowned in the direction of the couch, and the blankets and pillows there I expected would smell like smoke for a long time afterwards.

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

At least nothing had caught fire as a result of my carelessness.

Mother turned to face me. Her gazed followed the travel glasses as I removed them from my eyes and propped them on the top of my head. Afterwards, she looked me up and down suspiciously, as if she knew me from somewhere but couldn’t quite place it.

My fingers shook as I waited for her to recognize me, to remember. Even though she’d never seen me at my present age, part of me expected her to know me anyway. That the bond between mother and daughter would have meant more than logic.

If anything, given her role as a healer, and her work at the hospital, I thought she might ask if I needed help. That she would reach out and see if I was well.

But her body language held the opposite. I hadn’t expected her to be guarded.

“Are you from the future or the past?” she said, finally. Hearing her voice again should have warmed me, but the tone was so full of worry. Her eyebrows twisted in a puzzled expression as she took a step backward.

“The future,” I admitted.

She shuddered. “Then I’m a silhouette?”

I blinked. “Yes.”

Mother crossed her arms. “I would have guessed you to be a younger version of my mother-in-law, Sable Hall. You have her eyes, her hair… But if you’re from the future—” Her eyes flickered to the pair of travel glasses on my head.

Her frown deepened. “Who are you?”

“You don’t know me?”

Mother opened her mouth and shut it again. She did that twice more before taking a step forward.

My lips twisted in an involuntary pout.

Her eyes widened slightly before they shot up to a place above my eyes, in the spaces where my eyebrows should be, and that I’d drawn in with paint.

Mother reached out a hand. “May I?”

I nodded, expecting her to rest her hand on my shoulder, the way she would to sense a person’s wellness or calm the recovering Lost when they were upset. But, instead, she pressed a thumb to my left brow bone.

I sucked in a breath when she smeared the face paint upward.

“No!” My hand reflexively moved to cover the ruined brow. I couldn’t see the result, but I imagined part of it was missing.

Mother studied the paint print on her thumb. She looked up, her real eyebrows furrowed.

“Silvie?”

Warmth and relief swelled in my chest. I smiled. “Mother.”

“I can’t believe it,” she said, pulling me to her and squeezing me to her chest. “I know you as the small child I just put to bed,” she laughed. “And, now, here you are, all grown up.”

Her eyes filled with tears. She let go of me and swiped a hand across her face. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you like this.”

Her expression went somber once again. “And I’ll never remember it. Are you visiting me from the future to warn me of something? Because, I won’t remember without you creating a Daily Reminder that will change the past.”

“No, don’t worry. It’s nothing like that. Father drilled the not changing the past rule into me and Javis. I don’t think I could—”

“Javis?” Her hand pressed lightly to her lower stomach. She didn’t look pregnant, at least it wasn’t showing.

“My brother,” I said, unable to pull my eyes from where she rested her hand.

Tears filled her eyes. “Are you both well?”

I nodded, but even I wasn’t convinced by my response.

“Silvie, what’s wrong? Do you need help?”

“Not in the way you think. I’m healthy.” My lower lip trembled. “It’s just tough sometimes without another female to talk to, and I needed to see you.”

This version of Mother didn’t know Javis yet, and I wasn’t sure how to bring up the weakness I’d felt in him. I would need to visit a later version of her, and to learn whether she’d ever encountered such a thing, in Javis or in someone else, with her own healing talent.

She tilted her head to the side, studying me. “I left you too soon, I must have. I’m so sorry. But I see that you have the travel glasses now,” she said, gesturing. “Is Valcas…?”

“Dead? No, no. He recently gifted his pair of travel glasses to me.”

Her lips pulled into a wide grin. “So now you can visit me any time you like.”

I smiled. Her words of welcome were good to hear, even though I knew I’d have to reintroduce myself each time. At least now I knew what her reaction might be.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 18. >>>

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 16

Darker Stars Beta CoverSloe returned to the Clock Tower, his thoughts filled with Silvie, her family, and what he’d seen of her healing talent. She’d helped her brother Javis and the girl Madeline without hesitation, almost without fear. The hint of fear she had shown, he assumed, was due to seeing her family member unwell.

He shivered as he opened the door to the tower, wishing he could take back his promise to the cloaked men. He didn’t want to betray Silvie anymore than he wanted to endanger Raven.

When he reached the top of the stairs, he found his parents talking, their shoulders hunched over plates of food. Ivory turned and squinted.

“You look serious tonight. What’s on your mind, kid?”

Sloe sat near his mother and exhaled. “I’m thinking about travel talents, mostly.”

Nick snorted. Ivory’s arm jerked as if trying to elbow him in the ribs, but he was too far away.

Ignoring his father’s jest, Sloe replied in a slow, measured tone. “Even though we can do amazing things, I’m beginning to understand how dangerous our talents are—how they lead to difficult situations as much as they are necessary to help with difficult situations.”

Ivory and Nick exchanged a glance.

“Is this your way of leading to an apology? Or are you trying to tell us you’re in trouble you cannot handle alone?”

“I’m sorry for worrying you, Dad.” He thought about how Nick had been in hiding since before Sloe was born. “But there must have been times you felt lost and helpless about something you didn’t want all the worlds to know.”

“What are you getting at, son?”

Sloe bristled. “Take for instance when we first discovered I was a Time Keeper and ended up in Aboreal. You weren’t who brought me home. Another man did.”

Nick’s eyes softened. “You’d suddenly slipped from my hands. You’d fallen on top of an Aborealian hourglass and disappeared.” He looked away, his mind somewhere else. “Your mother and I were stunned.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Ivory. “One moment you were there and then poof gone! I’ve never been so scared in my life, and trust me, kid, I’ve seen some things.”

Nick sipped at his tea before sitting further back into his chair. “I knew I couldn’t follow you through the portal to Aboreal. The society had rejected me and I was still in hiding. I’d grown complacent now that I was confident the TSTA would never find me here—that they were locked out and unable to enter without my permission.”

He sighed. “He could still return through Aboreal’s exit portal, back here to the Clock Tower, is what I told your mother, not realizing how stupid I sounded in that moment.”

Sloe’s attention switched to Ivory’s frowning face.

“I told your father he was crazy if he thought you were going to wander over to the exit portal,” she said. “You were so small, and I had no idea how far away the exit portal would be from where you entered. It’s not like I’d ever seen or sensed it.”

Nick pointed his chin toward his wife and smiled. “But thank goodness for old friends.”

“I immediately thought of Calla and Valcas,” said Ivory. “Your father scrambled along the tower, reading faster than I’d ever seen him, trying to find the world of Edgar that Valcas built. Timepieces glowed left and right.”

“Once I’d arrived in Edgar and found Valcas, he agreed to retrieve you for us—using his travel glasses. He knew Aboreal well, so I had no worries there. More than anything, we were concerned for your safety and didn’t know what you would think or do once you realized you were in a new world, alone.”

“I was fine,” said Sloe, remembering. “I met a boy there. We talked until a man arrived—a man in dark clothing who wore sunglasses.”

The Clock Tower shook softly on the inside as if struck by a heavy wind. Timepieces clanged and chimed.

Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Someone’s here.”

“But who?” muttered Sloe as the family scrambled downstairs.

“Maybe it’s Valcas,” Ivory offered. Her words were light and carefree, but her forehead was wrinkled in waves. “It could be his ears were burning from us talking about him. Or Silvie? Her grandfather Plaka was able to get here using his baglamas.”

Sloe cringed at his mother’s mentioning of the instrument.

They opened the door.

A cloaked man was crouched outside, grounding. He turned around. A hood covered his eyes and nose, leaving only his lips exposed.

Sloe sucked in a short breath, his limbs suddenly rigid and difficult to move as he and Ivory followed Nick outside.

“How did you get here, friend?”

The hooded man grinned in the direction of the greeting, where Nick stood with his thin arms overlapped in front of his chest.

“You tell me, friend,” he laughed, his voice warbling between high and low-pitched tones.

“This is our home,” said Nick, offering nothing further, no details about the Clock Tower or what it was. “Which means we are entitled to know why you are here,” he added, this time subtly leaving off the word friend.

“I’m exploring,” said the man. “Finding my way around the worlds. Keeping track of my debts and debtors.” He laughed again, a sickening shriek of hiccuping tones.

Ivory caught up to Nick and stood at his side. “What’s going on?” she said under her breath. “I’ve never seen anything like this… At least not with a stranger.”

“Don’t worry love,” he responded. His tone was soft but prickly. “Please, go upstairs, and take Sloe with you.”

She nodded and attempted to catch Sloe’s arm on her way to the door. He was frozen so solid, he didn’t budge, causing Ivory to bounce backward. “Come on, kid. Let your father deal with this.”

Slowly, painfully, Sloe shook his head.

Ivory screwed up her face and huffed before turning sharply about-face. “Then, I’m not leaving either,” she whispered.

Nick stepped toward the man. “Are you lost?”

The hooded man sucked in a breath and fell to the ground, hard on his knees. He writhed and moaned, until the sounds tapered off into a series of gagging sounds. His hands squeezed at his face before wrapping around his throat. “No. Not. Lost,” he sputtered.

Nick approached the man, his hand raised as if intending to free him of his hood. “Are you hurt, friend?” he said, his glance filled with caution.

The hooded man laughed again. “Only temporarily,” he said, sucking in an extended, rattling breath. “Only…temporarily.”

Nick’s stuck out his chin and frowned. He offered his hand to help the man up, which the man accepted. “Unless you can explain why I should let you stay, I think it best you leave now. Do you need me to help you exit this world? To take you home?”

Sloe wiped his sleeves across his brow, mopping a trail of sweat beads. His palm shook as he lowered his hand. If he asks to return through the sundial, it’s over for me. Dad might find out where I was the night Raven got attacked. Nausea overwhelmed his stomach, increasing the clamminess of his hands and forehead.

“No,” said the hooded man. He looked up at the Clock Tower, curiosity barely visible beneath his hood and gurgles of pain. “I’ve stayed too long.”

He let go of Nick’s hand and reached out with both of his own.

Sloe cringed as one of his hands reached up toward the Clock Tower. No. No, no, no. Please don’t go up there. He exhaled as the man dropped his hands and walked around the west side of the tower, along its base.

Nick, Ivory, and Sloe followed him to the rear of the tower, the opposite side of where the door was that led to the tower’s interior.

Sloe and Nick drew identical intakes of breath.

“What is it?” whispered Ivory, squinting.

“There’s a portal here,” said Nick. His fingers were curled forward, reaching toward something. “A new one. Not a timepiece like those on the tower, but one like those Sloe and I use to return to the tower from other worlds.”

“You can see it, too?” Ivory said, catching a glimpse of Sloe’s scowl.

“Not see. I can feel it. How is this possible?” But then he remembered the hooded man’s words, from the night of the attack: We see the portals, not because we feel them, like you. We see them because we build them.

As much as he wanted to call out to the hooded man, to ask if this was one of the portals he built, he knew he couldn’t reveal having met the man previously. There’d be too many questions asked, questions he didn’t want to answer. His insides shook. What if that portal takes the man back to the river, and what if Dad decides to follow the man there?

He watched as the hooded man circled the new portal, trailing his fingers along its edges. The man’s lips and jaw were clenched tightly. Sloe expected that it would work like any other exit portal—that the hooded man would walk through and return home. But instead of walking forward, the hooded man turned his back on the portal. Then walked through it, in reverse.

“What was that?” Ivory sputtered, her words cutting through inhales and gasps. “Did he just walk backwards into mid-air and disappear?”

“It would appear so, love.” Nick glanced down at Sloe who stood there slack jawed and still shaking. “It would appear so.”

“Take a look at it, Nick,” Ivory said, her voice growing higher. “I would, but as you both know I can’t see the portal, or feel it, or whatever it is you Time Keepers do. Read it, Nick. Tell me where it goes! And…and find some way to lock it so he doesn’t come through there again.”

Nick took her hand in his and pressed it lightly. “I was about to do that, love.”

He cast a questioning glance toward Sloe’s still, barely breathing form before approaching the portal and reaching toward it with both hands. “Interesting,” he murmured, looking back and forth between it and the Clock Tower.

“I feel nothing, but here, our home, the Clock Tower.”

“Can you go through it anyway? Forwards, backwards, something?”

Nick trailed his fingers along the portal’s edges, letting the thin branches of electric charge flicker and flow over his hands. “I’ve never tried going through a portal backwards,” he said. “Perhaps I should try your other suggestion, first.”

He pressed his hands forward until everything up to his elbows disappeared. The portal crackled and popped and buzzed, causing loose strands of his white hair to stand on end. After a deep breath, he pushed, and then was gone.

Ivory and Sloe looked at each other.

“No,” said Ivory as Sloe reached out to touch the portal’s edges.

“He’s right,” said Sloe. “Reading it is weird. I don’t feel or hear anything other than…here.”

The ground trembled and quaked, resulting in the Clock Tower’s familiar jingling and clanging of timepieces.

The skin of Ivory’s jaws slackened. Shadows cast across her face made her wrinkles look deeper and more pronounced. “Now what?” she said, looking around.

She and Sloe lowered themselves to the ground until the rumbling subsided.

Something similar to a heavy sack of flower smacked against the ground, from the other side of the Clock Tower.

Ivory and Sloe scrambled to their feet to explore the other side.

“Nick!” Ivory shrieked. “Are you okay? Say something.”

He lay on the ground; his hair and the edges of his clothing were blackened, scorched. More of his hair stuck out from his head, as if caught in the midst of an electric shock.

“That was new,” he said. Coughing, he sat up.

Ivory lay her hand against his cheek. “Were did you go?”

“Nowhere. I stepped through the portal, and it brought me back here.”

Ivory scowled. “What does this mean?”

“I don’t know, love. I’m still working that out.” He rose from the ground.

Sloe followed Nick around the other side of the Clock Tower. “What are you doing, Dad?”

“This time, I’m going to try what that odd fellow did—enter the portal backwards.”

Ivory grabbed his arm. “Are you sure about this?”

He nodded and held up a hand.

Sloe’s heartbeat thudded in his ears. He wanted to scream out, to tell his father not to attempt to go through the portal. But to do so would reveal that he was worried about more than Nick’s health. He’d reveal his connection with the hooded man and possibly the world where he and Raven had been attacked. He clenched his hands, his nails digging into his palms as he watched, helplessly.

Mimicking the hooded man’s method, Nick stood at the rear of the portal and turned his back on it. And stepped backwards. His feet slid through the air, and the portal, as if nothing were there.

Sloe’s hands relaxed, his limbs loosened, and he began to breathe again. It didn’t work.

Nick turned to his wife and son, frowning. He rubbed his chin and stepped around the space in front of him.

He attempted to access the portal, backwards, once more. He stepped through and landed on the gray-brown soil that surrounded the Clock Tower.

Nick gritted his teeth, and pressed his hands forward, facing the rear of the portal head-on. Instead of the familiar crackling and popping sounds there was silence. “I can’t read it,” he said, finally. “But, maybe…”

After stepping through, forward instead of backward this time, and with no change in the result, he exhaled. “I hate to ask this, son, but—”

“Absolutely not,” croaked Ivory. “You’re not sending Sloe through that…thing. Who knows where it leads? I’m freaking out enough as it is wondering what will happen if you port through. And how you would make it back to us. You can’t possibly think having our only son try this is a good idea.”

Nick sniffed. He paced back and forth. “Perhaps not. But there is something I can do.”

He changed positions again until he stood at the front of the portal—the side that sent him back to the Clock Tower. He pressed his hand to it and closed his fingers, making a fist. A crackling sheet of current from the outer edges of the portal peeled back and then folded in on itself with a sharp sucking sound.

Ivory brought her hands to her ears. “What was that awful sound?”

“I’ve locked the portal.”

“But what about the other side, Nick?”

He threw up his hands. “I cannot read the other side, but I’m not as concerned with it if it’s an exit as opposed to the entrance I’ve locked. All this time, I’ve been using separate doors. What is this new form of portal? This new talent? And where did it come from?”

“I don’t know,” Ivory admitted. “But I don’t like it.”

“Me either, love. And I’m not sure if it would be more comforting to know whether the TSTA regulated it, or not.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 17. >>>

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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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