Self promotion time!

Hello, everyone! Some of you might be familiar with my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, LIFELINE. Most of it probably consisted of frustration, joy, and glee because of my character’s chosen face and body model.

chris noth 2

Cue the smolder.

Well, I revised the content and have released it as PANDEMONIA on Channillo Right now, I have plans to release chapters on a monthly basis. This could change depending on its popularity. All proceeds are being donated to Grief Haven, which offers services and support to those who have lost a child. Also, special thanks to Joshua Jadon for the awesome cover. Check it out! Link below the image! Hope you enjoy it!

2016-09-09

Pandemonia

Female lead? Check. Strong story? Check. Eventual sexual assault? …wait, what?

This post will contain possible triggers, so be warned.

I was browsing my Twitter feed when I saw a friend of mine had RT’d the following:

The thread included some great links to articles and pages where women discussed the very nature of how rape is presented in SFF. Check out Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF by Sarah Gailey. Another is a 2012 Livejournal post from Seanan McGuire. The fact that this was written four years ago means nothing, for these are ongoing issues. And I hate that it is.

Guys, I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci fi over the years. The fantasy novels I’ve read are almost wholly guilty of including a sexually assaulted female character or one who narrowly escapes an attempt. And why? Plot device, mostly. Female character earns the ire of an enemy? Capture her and lock her in a room with lots of men. Female character leads an army? Better make sure she gets overpowered in a corner. Female character doing some grocery shopping? Best make sure she’s followed back to her car and/or saved by the Dashing Hero. Female character sitting on the subway with headphones on and reading a book? Make sure the guy next to her makes her as uncomfortable as possible, needles her for ‘not smiling’, or follows her home. In other words, if you have a female character, you as the writer are expected, nay, REQUIRED, to make sure her plot arc includes one or all of the above.

What’s that? It’s unrealistic not to include any of the above? Fuck you. None of my female characters are destined for sexual assault. NONE.

Why is this so common? Why is it we read so many books, watch so many shows, or pay to see so many movies, and we’re mentally counting down before a female character gets assaulted/harassed? It’s bad enough we as a society have become so goddamn desensitized to the subject that we can watch/read about it and not bat an eye. This, to me, is an insult to those who experienced it. Don’t add this element to your fantasy world.  Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution. Like Sarah Gailey says: do better.

 

Forever a WIP

RE: my absence. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up: lost my job, went on vacation, now back to writing.

Yesterday, my boyfriend (who composes music) and I were having a discussion about our creative processes. He’s been writing music for nearly as long as I’ve written stories. During that time, he’s gone and re-recorded/remastered older tunes. My version of this is to edit the living hell out of an existing document. Kind of like making a layer cake, but instead of something yummy, half the time I felt I was covering the errors with prettier words. Anyway, I thought, ‘Hey, why not take a scene from an early version of a story and rewrite it?’ For this, I went with my much loved, yet much edited sci-fi RENEGADE. I have always liked how I introduced Simon’s character, even if the original version is pure 80s action movie camp. So here they are for your reading pleasure. Intro to Simon 2005 and Intro to Simon 2016. I am presenting the 2005 version in its original form. This is to better compare the two scenes. Let me tell you, I was damn wordy back in 2005. On with the writing!

Intro to Simon: 2005 version

Autumn reached her car, where she unlocked the back door to place her tote bag on the seat.  She closed it, readying to open the driver’s side door when she heard footsteps behind her.  Autumn glanced over her shoulder, catching sight of three people slowly making their way across the level.  There was something odd about them in spite of the casual way they were dressed.  The one in the middle looked around as if seeking something, while the other two moved in perfect unison.  After a moment Autumn relaxed.  They looked like they had lost track of their car, and were simply looking for it.  She hoped they would find it and turned away.  Just as she went to get inside the car a hand appeared over her arm, placing gentle but firm pressure on the door.  She whirled around, surprised and angry at the intrusion.

“Excuse me, but this is my car,” she said, glancing at the three who now hovered close to her.  Uncomfortably close, actually, and Autumn stepped aside to give herself room.  The man on the left followed her, blocking her way. 

“Autumn Welles,” the man in the middle stated in a crisp yet strangely accented voice.  Autumn held her car keys close to her, silently thanking her sister Samantha for talking her into buying the can of mace that hung from them.  It looked like she was going to need it very soon.

“Yes?” Autumn replied, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt.  The man on the left stepped closer to her, forcing her to retreat until she stood before the driver’s side door again. 

“You must come with us now.  Your presence is immediately required,” the middle man continued, reaching for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way, her hand tightening on the can of mace. 

“Come with you where?” she asked warily. 

“That is unimportant.  If you will just follow us-“

“I don’t think so,” Autumn replied shortly, surprised by her boldness.  The three looked at one another, as if their expressions alone conveyed what was on their minds.  Autumn knew she was trapped, and the need to say such a thing was nothing more than a stall tactic.  If she continued with the ploy, then perhaps she’d find reason to use the mace.  One spray was all it’d take to ward off the three strangers. 

“You can’t expect me to go with you without telling me where we’re going.  There’s also the fact that I don’t know who you are.  And another thing-“ Autumn’s words died in her throat then, for the man on the right leveled a strange-looking weapon in her direction.  She swallowed nervously, fear paralyzing her mind. 

“We are not asking you to come with us.  We are telling you,” the man with the weapon declared calmly.  Autumn shook her head, wanting to speak when the middle man laid a firm hand on her shoulder.  She jumped, suppressing a cry of protest before she was dragged away from the car.  Autumn tried to pull free but to no avail.  The man yanked her forward so that she was walking before him, his hand locked on her shoulder with an unyielding grip.  Her eyes darted to and fro nervously, hoping someone, anyone would see her and come to her aid.  But the parking level was empty. 

The three men led her toward the stairwell, the one holding her forcing her through the doorway as soon as it was opened.  Autumn went inside, nearly tripping when the man hauled her up the stairs.  She was literally dragged the whole way until they reached the top floor.  The man on the left pushed open the door, Autumn’s hair whipping about her face thanks to the wind that passed over her.  Upon scanning the immediate area she saw no waiting car.  In fact she saw nothing but scattered lamp posts and empty spaces. 

“Where are you taking me?” Autumn demanded.  Her captors said nothing; they merely walked across the level in the direction of the far edge.  They had cleared the center when all of a sudden the one on the right stopped, bringing an arm out to halt the others.  He glanced over at his companions, speaking in an odd, guttural language that Autumn could not understand.  It was then she saw what they must have seen materialize across the way.

A tall figure draped in black was casually leaning against a lamp post, his arms crossed over his chest and right leg propped up.  His head was angled down, the shadow of his hair shielding his face from view.  After a moment he lifted his head and slowly turned his gaze toward the men, allowing Autumn to see that he wore a pair of sunglasses. 

“I believe you’ve got something I want,” the man said, his voice also slightly accented but not as mechanical in its delivery.  Two of the men approached the black-clad one slowly, while the third remained behind to keep Autumn still.  Her fear steadily grew as she watched.  Suddenly she wished she had gone home earlier, if only to avoid this strange confrontation.

The black-clad man watched the other two with nonchalant disregard, yet when he uncurled his arm one of the men made an exclamation.  A firearm slid into the black-clad man’s hand, the light from above gleaming off the barrel.  Autumn recognized it as the same as the one that was pulled on her, but she had little time to reflect on the coincidence.  She was shoved to the ground by the one who held her, and as she scrambled to her hands and knees she saw the weapon barrel glow with an eerie yellow light.  What could only be described as a laser beam shot out, catching the man on the right in the shoulder.  As soon as the man dropped in a heap the other two advanced, leaving Autumn alone.  She was too transfixed by what she saw to think to escape.

The stranger darted away from the lamp post in a half-spin, his other hand producing a weapon.  He hoisted both guns up, firing several times.  The lasers burned through the second man, and after his body was sent spinning awkwardly he collapsed.  Autumn felt her stomach heave at seeing the blood pooling around the man, prompting her to cover her mouth to keep from retching. 

In the meantime the third man came at the stranger, an angry cry escaping his lips.  Autumn watched, amazed, as the stranger sheathed both weapons before reaching out to halt the other’s forward progress with the flat side of his palm.  The man staggered back from the hit, yet before he could muster a counter the stranger grabbed his head and slammed it against his upright knee.  When the man fell onto his back his attacker stomped on his neck with such force it severed the head from the rest of the body. 

Autumn cried out and scooted backwards, pushing herself away from the carnage in a frantic attempt to escape.  She kept going until she backed against a wall, causing her to jump to her feet.  The moment she did she found herself face to face with the stranger and screamed.  He brought a gloved hand up to cover her mouth, an expression of distaste coming to his lips.  Autumn watched him with wide eyes, her nostrils flaring as she heaved.  Her hand tightened around the can of mace in spite of the paralysis the situation cast over her mind. 

“If you scream again I will kill you.  Understand?” he said coldly.  Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand from her mouth.  The instant he did she brought the can of mace up, emptying the whole thing right in his face.  She had the sudden urge to smile; this man had single-handedly killed three others only to be felled by a can of pepper spray.  Autumn was on the verge of laughing her triumph when she realized the stranger did not stagger back to wipe at his eyes.  Instead his expression turned more grim as he reached up and slowly lowered the sunglasses so they rested at the end of his nose.  Autumn pulled in a breath at the glowing intensity of his blue eyes.

“I’d appreciate it if you refrained from doing that again.  Your types have no idea how foul this smell is,” he remarked.  Some of Autumn’s fear faded, replaced with annoyance.  It suddenly didn’t matter that he displayed immunity to mace, only that he had insulted her. 

“What do you mean by that?” she demanded angrily.  The stranger dutifully ignored her as he wiped his sunglasses clean of the pepper spray using the sleeve of his coat.  After replacing them he reached for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way. 

“There’s no time for this,” he said in an annoyed tone. 

“I don’t care.  Who the hell are you anyways?” Autumn snapped, moving aside each time he attempted to grab her.  At length he took hold of her forearm, bringing her forward with such strength it caused her to gasp.

“If you don’t keep quiet and come with me, you won’t be alive long enough to learn the answers to those questions.  Now come on,” he insisted. 

***

Intr0 to Simon: 2016 version

The stretch of road featured a fair amount of traffic. Overhead, the stars were blotted out by the distant glow of the city to the north. Autumn picked out a few constellations as she walked, her thoughts drifting to the times her grandfather took her stargazing. He’d taught her how to identify Polaris, Rigel, and Sirius. She knew the best times to view Venus and Mars thanks to him. His desire to see these places was so strong her grandfather reassured her that once he passed, he would use the time to explore the universe. Autumn smiled faintly at the sky, wondering, not for the first time, if her grandfather was still traveling, and what he had seen.

The buildings to either side grew closer together as she walked. Dark, narrow passages marked the boundaries between them. As Autumn passed one, she heard footsteps. She expected to be overtaken by whoever was behind her. But the steps kept time to hers. And they were gaining.

Overcome by a sense of warning, Autumn hurried her pace. The Mexican restaurant was still a few blocks down. Autumn quickly scanned the buildings, hoping to slip into a convenience store or something. It was too dark and quiet for her to feel comfortable. But when she neared the corner, a man appeared in front of her. It was the same one she’d seen at the hotel.

Frightened now, Autumn tried to go around him. He cut off her escape.

 “Autumn Welles,” he said. His pronunciation was strange, as if English was not his primary language.

Autumn gulped. She gripped the purse strap at her shoulder. If he tried anything, she might be able to hit him and run.

“What do you want?”

The man withdrew a black object from his coat. Two more men appeared to either side of her. Autumn flinched at their proximity, but it was the strange handguns each aimed at her that stilled her movements.

“You must come with us now.”

One grabbed her shoulder. Autumn’s panicked cry was muffled when he covered her mouth. Her thoughts frayed, only to reform as the instinct to escape. Despite her efforts to twist free, the man dragged her into the alley. The rancid stench of garbage invaded her nostrils. It was such a sickening scent, she felt momentarily dizzy. Tears burned her eyes. Who were these men? What did they want with her? She hastily looked around, hoping someone, anyone would help her.

And then, almost on cue, a tall figure with long, stringy blond hair and wearing what appeared to be armor inspired by TRON: Legacy appeared at the far side of the alley. His eyes, while a striking shade of blue, were cold as he stared at them. Autumn’s belief he was associated with her kidnappers fled the minute he opened fire.

His using the same gun as her kidnappers was lost as what could only be described as a laser beam shot through the air. It struck the first man in the chest. He screamed in pain and dropped. Autumn cried out as her keeper thrust her toward the wall. She sank to the ground, trembling all over. The scent of rotting food nearly made her pass out. She pressed her hand to her nose to reduce its effects. Fear, however, kept her transfixed on the scene unfolding before her eyes.

The other two advanced. The man in black fired again, hitting one of the two in the neck. Blood spurt forth to coat the wall. Outraged, the remaining man raced toward him. The knife was a flash of silver as he threw it.

Autumn watched, speechless, as the stranger holstered his weapon before extending his hand. The knife collided with an invisible force. It spun away into the distance. The stranger finished his enemy off by shooting him in the head. When he looked down at Autumn, the gleam in his eyes freed her from her paralysis. She screamed and scrambled toward the street.

The man in black caught her by the arm and dragged her back. She struggled against him as he spun her around. His hand was like a lead weight across her mouth.

“Don’t scream again,” he said. His voice was as cold as his eyes.

Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand. The instant he did, she attempted to swat him with her purse. He gestured. The purse was torn from her hands so fast the strap snapped. It landed between a pair of overflowing garbage cans.  

Heart pounding, she stared up at his face, all sharp angles and lined with faint scars. In her terror, she swore she saw another face pass across his.

Her voice shook as she did. “Who are you?”

 

Sample Chapter Sunday: To Be With You

Greetings, all, and welcome to another installment of Sample Chapter Sunday! Cue fanfare, whoo! Today’s offering tells the story of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who, after losing his wife on their wedding night, begs Osiris to reincarnate him in order to find his dead love. I first wrote this back in 2005. It’s my first true attempt at romance. I also owe its creation to both my love for ancient Egypt and Yu-Gi-Oh’s central character, Yami Yugi. Of course, my main character does not resolve differences with card games, have pointy hair, or inhabits the body of a teenager. My lead has enough problems.

So, without further ado, allow me to share chapter one with you all. Please feel free to leave comments if you like what you’ve read and you’d like to see more. Thank you!

***

To Be With You: Chapter One

Memory…

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  The Egyptian king expected to be strolling down the corridor, his new wife on his arm and the cheers of his court echoing at his back as he retired from the wedding ceremony.  Never had he imagined he’d be racing down this same corridor, the joy of having found someone to spend the rest of his life with replaced by terror.

 

He glanced down at the woman in his arms, concern highlighting green eyes outlined in kohl.  Long, reddish brown hair fell past her shoulders, some strands sticking to her pale face due to the perspiration there.  The cool metal of the wesekh at her neck pressed against his chest, severely contrasting to the heat radiating from her skin.  Eyes slowly opened, revealing honey-brown hues dulled with exhaustion.  Her lips moved, as if to speak, when all at once she gave into a severe coughing fit.  After it passed her head drifted to the side, allowing him to see bright drops of blood staining the front of her linen dress.

 

“Aurelia, please, just hold on,” he whispered, bringing her close so he rested his cheek against her head.  Aurelia’s response was a wheezing gasp of his name, then nothing as she slipped into a faint.  New fear swelled within him, and he increased his pace.  He was racing against time now.

 

After passing several astounded palace guards, his grand vizier and hysterical cousin Arsinoe, the king appeared in the doorway of his chambers, bellowing for the court physician.  He then made his way across the spacious, airy room until reaching the bed, where he gently deposited Aurelia.  The frenzied response to his orders went by unnoticed as he settled beside her.  Hunched over, her small hand enclosed within his, his ringed fingers caressing the surface of her skin, he bent his head.  Tears he wanted desperately to fight rolled down his cheeks, splashing onto their joined hands.  He asked the gods again how it had come to this.  One minute she was at his side, her cup raised in mutual toast of their marriage, the next on the floor, coughing and trembling.  His hand tightened on hers.  Please…please don’t take her away from me.

 

Aurelia’s eyes slowly opened then, as if drawn from the darkness by the power of his prayer.  He gazed down into the pained brown hues of her eyes, swallowing past the lump in his throat.  She managed a small smile as she lifted a trembling hand toward him.  He grasped it, holding it against his cheek.

 

“Menmaatre…”

 

“Don’t talk, my love.  Save your strength,” Menmaatre murmured, his voice thick with anguish.  Aurelia’s expression became pained when she suffered through another coughing fit, a long, shuddering sigh following.  By this time the court physician arrived, accompanied by two young apprentices swathed in long, linen skirts.  The physician nodded to his king, then inspected Aurelia.  The sorrow that lit his eyes confirmed Menmaatre’s worst fears, and he turned his attention back to his wife when she gently squeezed his hand.

 

“I’m so…cold,” she said in just above a whisper.  Menmaatre gathered her slight frame in his arms and held her close.  She shivered uncontrollably in his grasp, prompting him to secure her head in the hollow of his shoulder, one arm sliding around her waist while the other kept her upright.  He closed his eyes, his heart feeling as if it were slowly breaking apart.  He could feel death in the air, hovering overhead with the intent on taking his beloved.  Menmaate’s arms tightened around her.  No.  Never.

 

When Aurelia gasped his name Menmaatre pulled away, looking down into her drawn features.  Even though she still shivered the smile returned to her lips.  Her hand extended upward, her fingertips barely grazing his cheek.

 

“All I ever wanted…was to be…with you…”

 

“Aurelia,” Menmaatre choked, fresh tears spilling from his eyes.

 

“Let the last thing…I feel…be you…” she implored softly.  Menmaatre could not deny her, nor the sudden fear he saw come to life in her eyes.  He captured her mouth with his own, willing his breath- his very life– to pass onto her so she would live.  But after a moment her body seized, her head’s sudden shift breaking the kiss.  Menmaatre watched, heartbroken, as Aurelia gave into one last coughing fit before falling slack in his arms.  He stared at her numbly, his eyes tracing the path a tear made as it rolled down her cheek, before gripping her to him.  His chest heaved, his throat tightened just as his arms did around her body, when all at once he threw his head back and released an anguished scream.  It ended with a wounded cry of Aurelia’s name, followed by intense, painful sobbing.  Everything else of consequence faded, dragging Menmaatre into a deep well of despair that greedily seized him up…

***

June, present day…

The sound of the television blaring roused him from the all-too familiar dreams, resulting in his rolling over onto his stomach and groping for the remote control.  Lightly bronzed, tapered fingers met not with the remote but a soft, insistent head pushing against his palm.  He lifted his head and glanced over his shoulder.  An orange tabby cat sat beside him, the remote control tucked at her feet.  She mewed before rubbing against his hand again.  He gave a soft groan.

 

“I’m sorry, Bast.  It’s past your breakfast, isn’t it?” he murmured, reaching over to scratch under her chin.  Bast mewed in response, then turned and leapt off the bed, disappearing around the edge of the door he always left open for her.  Once she was gone he took hold of the remote and switched the television off just as the news announcer began a segment on the weather.  In the silence that followed, twenty-seven-year old Dante Taylor heaved a sigh and tossed the remote aside before rolling onto his back.  As soon as he did that a beam of light blinded him, resulting in an incoherent moan as he laid his hand over his eyes.  Upon hearing Bast’s yowl from the kitchen Dante resolutely climbed out of bed, yawning as he made his way across the floor and out the door.

 

As soon as he entered the living room Dante was again blinded by sunlight that streamed in from between white curtains that swayed gently in the breeze.  Grumbling slightly, he walked past the twin bookcases set facing the window, rounded the ivory couch opposite the flat screen television that had been a gift from his parents, before coming upon the kitchen.  Bast sat on the white linoleum floor, gazing up at him expectantly.  Dante bent over to retrieve her food bowl, placing it in the sink and switching the faucet on.  Bast coiled herself around his legs as he washed it out, and when she stretched up on her hind legs to dig her claws into his calf he knew her patience was running out.  The bowl washed, Dante filled it with a mixture of hard and soft cat food before setting it at her feet.  Bast happily dug in, the sound of her purring indicating she was content.  Dante followed up by giving her fresh water, his stomach’s rumbling testament to his own hunger.  Food could wait.  He was more interested in a cup of coffee.

 

A few moments later he sat at the small round table in the middle of his kitchen, the dark color of the wood a severe contrast to the lighter shades of his countertops and cabinets, a steaming mug of black coffee in his hands.  He stared at his distorted reflection, sighing at what he saw: disheveled black hair, traces of stubble lining his jaw, and green eyes outlined in red thanks to a restless night.  He ran his hand down the length of his face, wincing at the remembered images of the dream.  It had been a very, very long time since he last dreamed of Aurelia’s passing, but given the events that recently transpired it was no wonder all Dante reflected on was death.

 

Memories of the dream brought on memories of a more recent tragedy, one that still left him feeling out of sorts.  It had all happened so fast: the call he received late that night, followed by the rush of finding his suitcase, passport and booking a flight to London practically all in the same day.  He could still hear his mother’s anguished voice over the phone: Your father is dying.  You have to come here now.  It was all he thought about on the flight over, at Heathrow as he waited to pass through customs and collect his baggage, in the cab that took him to his parents’ residence.  The last time he had seen them, which was just this past holiday, Julian Taylor was in perfect health.  Dante was not prepared for the sight of his father lying in bed, all evidence of his former liveliness gone.  And then, just a few days after Dante arrived, Julian died.

 

Dante downed some of the scalding liquid in an attempt to quell the urge to weep.  The doctors later confirmed the cause of death was heart failure.  After the service Dante remained in London, comforting his mother as best he could.  Eventually the overwhelming memories of the townhouse became too much, which in turn resulted in him returning to New York.  Leena herself had no wish to remain in London without Julian, and although she had practically begged Dante to come to Alexandria with her, he insisted he couldn’t.  The only thing he could do was promise Leena he’d visit.  What his mother did not know was that Alexandria was the last place he wanted to be.

 

Dante finished his coffee, leaving the empty mug on the table as he rose and headed toward the bathroom, intent on spending a good, long time underneath the hot water when the intercom buzzed.  Curious, he went to the front door, pressed the green button on the white device and greeted the person below.

 

“I was wondering if you’d ever see fit to rise again,” remarked the softly amused voice of Dante’s uncle.  The sound of that rich Arabic tone immediately lifted Dante’s spirits, and he depressed another button that unlocked the door.  A moment later Tahir Mahmood entered, greeting his nephew with a fond embrace and tender endearments over his loss.  Dante thanked him, then pulled away.

 

Tahir was a few inches taller, possessed of a frame that was thickening due to Tahir’s love for a fine meal, short black hair, and dark brown eyes shaded by thick brows set in a rounded, pleasant face.  He was dressed impeccably in pressed khakis, a white dress shirt and tie, indicating he had spent the morning teaching his class.  A renowned professor of Egyptology at the Institute of Fine Arts, Tahir had enjoyed many years of success.  He was also the only one who knew about what Aurelia meant to Dante.

 

Seven years ago, when Dante was entering his second semester of university in England, he and his class went to the British Museum to participate in seminars that focused on the later dynasties of Egypt.  Some recently discovered artifacts had been on display, one of them being a perfectly preserved cartouche unearthed from a tomb located in the Valley of the Kings.  Dante looked at it, then found himself subjected to a series of imagery that sent him fleeing from the premises.  He managed to make it back to his dorm room, where he sat on his bed and trembled.  Shortly after Tahir entered, looked at his nephew with understanding, before explaining that he had been expecting Dante’s awakening.  He, too, retained his memories of his life in ancient Egypt, and that life had been spent in service of the king.  Ever since then Tahir had been an irreplaceable source of information, comfort and support.  He helped Dante establish his antique store, which was more or less a front in the search for items that pertained to his former life, and transferred to New York so he could be closer to him.  Tahir had also been responsible for obtaining the cartouche from the museum, which Dante kept secured with the rest of his collection in the storage room of his store.

 

“Did you just wake up?” Tahir asked, his eyes raking over Dante’s white boxers and tee shirt.  His nephew nodded, the motion causing a stray hair to fall over his brow.  He stepped back, gesturing for Tahir to enter.  Tahir smiled slightly before placing a hand on Dante’s shoulder.

 

“You have a seat.  Let me prepare breakfast for you.  Or would it be brunch, considering the time of day?” he commented with a wry smile.  Dante didn’t bother hesitating; his own meals weren’t fit for a stray animal, as Bast’s continued indifference indicated.  Tahir, long familiar with the layout of the kitchen, began working as Dante settled back into his chair.  Bast chose that moment to jump onto his lap, Dante absently caressing her as the scent of sizzling bacon wafted into the air.

 

“How was the service?” Tahir asked, setting a glass of orange juice before Dante and taking Bast from his lap in the same instance.  Once deposited on the ground Bast gave Tahir a displeased look before trotting to the couch to assume her normal perch on its back.  Dante folded his arms on the table and heaved a sigh.

 

“Very depressing,” he murmured.

 

“I wish I could have been there, but I was unable to schedule a flight to London around my classes.  Semester’s end is always a busy time for me.”

 

“Mom called you didn’t she?” Dante interpreted with a small smile.  Tahir bowed his head.  He turned away from the counter, placed Dante’s meal down and eased into the chair across the way.  Dante began cutting up the eggs and mixing them with the bacon as Tahir spoke.

 

“Indeed.  After she blistered my ears about my refusal to join the rest of the family she did mention that she was thankful you had me here.  Will you be returning to work today, or will you wait?” he asked.  Dante took a bite of his meal, chewed, swallowed and downed about half of the orange juice.  When he placed the glass down he glanced over at his uncle.

 

“I’m opening up today.  I can’t sit around and think over what happened,” he replied, then heaved a sigh.  After a moment he added, “I dreamed of her passing again.”  Tahir’s eyes reflected both sympathy and understanding.  Dante fixed his gaze on his plate.

 

“I keep seeing Mom gazing at the chair my father always sat in at dinner, at the empty side of the bed they shared for nearly forty years…it gets harder and harder for me, Tahir.  Sometimes I feel like such a fool,” he sighed.

 

“Osiris did not promise this would be easy for you,” Tahir softly pointed out.  Dante ran his hand through his hair, more a gesture of exasperation than a necessity.

 

“I know, but do you have any idea how disheartening it is? To wake up every day, only to be continuously haunted by her face…” he trailed off with a sad shake of the head.

 

“Your father’s recent passing has deeply saddened you.  It is understandable why you would feel this way,” Tahir said quietly.  Dante sprang to his feet and turned away, folding his arms across his chest.  He stared at the dual calendars on the wall- one in English, the other in Arabic- as he spoke.

 

“This isn’t like when I first found out, Tahir.  Back then I felt a sense of excitement, even a little uncertainty, but I was undaunted.  Watching my mother weep as she did at Father’s service…it made me realize just how much I need Aurelia with me.  I need her now,” Dante added, his voice thick with anguish.  Silence followed his statement, then he heard the sound of the chair scraping against the linoleum floor.  A moment later Tahir’s hand was on his shoulder.

 

“Your happiness is paramount to me, and by the grace of Osiris I was sent here to help guide and advise you.  My advice is this: come with me to Egypt next month.  I am treating a group of my top students to a trip to Cairo and Alexandria.  Seek comfort from your homeland,” Tahir suggested.  Dante bowed his head.

 

“No- you asked me that before…I can’t go back.  It was one of the reasons why I refused Mom,” he rasped.

 

“Would it be better to remain here, unhappy and unsure?” Tahir continued, falling silent when Dante shook his head furiously.

 

“I- I just can’t,” he said, his voice soft and laced with sorrow.  The hand at his shoulder tightened, indicating Tahir’s silent apology.  After a moment Dante sighed and turned to face his uncle.  He implored him with sad, tired eyes.

 

“It hurts so much.  I hurt so much.  I’ve been looking for her for ages…tell me, Tahir- will I ever find her?” he asked, swallowing past the lump in his throat.  In response Tahir drew Dante into a one-armed embrace.  He held fast to him.

 

“Trust in the gods, nephew.  That is all we can do.”

 

****

 

Further down Fifth Avenue, Celia Rourke also questioned whether or not she’d be able to find what she sought.  She sat on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an open book on her lap that she was supposed to be reading, yet she had been unable to focus.  After a moment of realizing she’d read the same sentence three times Celia lifted her head to watch the commotion of the street as she took a sip of water from the bottle at her feet.

 

She was twenty-two years old, with short brown hair that fell to just above her shoulders, and gold-lit brown eyes set in a heart-shaped face.  Freckles dotted her pert nose, especially now during the summer months, contrasting her pale skin and revealing her Irish heritage.  Her clothes were that of a museum employee’s, navy in color with a white undershirt poking out from the v-necked collar of her suit jacket.  The nametag she was supposed to wear around her neck was removed, stuffed into her purse to indicate to any who thought to ask her a question that she was off duty for the moment.

 

Celia’s gaze shifted from the busy streets to the book at her lap once more, then sighed.  While she loved the subject of ancient Egypt, her current mindset was not on timelines or historical records.  Instead she thought about the pharaoh who often visited her dreams, a man whose face she never saw clearly but mere presence comforted her.  A blush tinted her cheeks at remembering what nearly transpired the last time she saw him, and in spite of the adolescent need to hold the man in high regard, something else whispered to her that he was more than he seemed.  What exactly that was had been an ongoing debate with herself, as well as the few friends she told.

 

It was at this time a giggling child ran by her, attracting her attention the moment the little boy managed to knock over her water bottle.  She let out a surprised gasp, reaching over to pick up the bottle before everything inside it spilled over, losing hold of her book in the process.  Another gasp escaped her lips at this, for the book had landed face down.  She hadn’t marked the page she was on.

 

“You really need to learn to read someplace away from the front entrance,” remarked an amused voice behind her, causing Celia to look over her shoulder.  A smile came to Celia’s lips and her dismay over what happened left her.  Behind her stood her longtime friend Adrienne Hayes, whose blue eyes sparkled with excitement.  Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a bun, with some loose strands coming down on either side of her face to give her an impish look.  Adrienne wore a pair of shorts that left nothing to the imagination, and a halter top that accentuated her bosom.  A gold necklace adorned with a cross sparkled at her throat, a gift Celia knew had been given Adrienne as a graduation present.

 

“I was going to read in the cafeteria but it’s such a nice day today I felt like sitting outside.  Besides, it’s not as hot as it was yesterday,” Celia said, scooting over so Adrienne could sit beside her.  After she settled on the step Adrienne laughed.

 

“Are you kidding? It’s hotter today! Honestly, Celia, I sometimes think you don’t live in the same world as the rest of us.”

 

“Well I do, contrary to what you and everyone else believes,” Celia replied softly.  Adrienne leaned in closer, eyeing her friend before understanding lit her gaze.

 

“You dreamed about him again, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes,” Celia admitted, reaching over to pick up her discarded book and place it on her lap.

 

“You’ve been having this dream for what, seven years now right?”

 

“I know what you’re going to say, Adrienne.  ‘Isn’t it time that Celia stop taking a dream so literally?’” she said, self-mockery in her tone.  Adrienne shook her head.

 

“That’s not what I was going to say, and you know it.  So some cute Egyptian pharaoh has haunted your dreams ever since you were fifteen.  In a way, I’m a little jealous.  I didn’t have that kind of inspiration for me,” she went on, smiling devilishly at Celia’s surprised gasp.  After a moment she laughed, thankful for Adrienne’s presence.

 

“Didn’t you tell me that you wanted to also become an Egyptologist because you hoped for the same thing?” she remarked.  Adrienne grinned in response.

 

“Actually I wanted to become one so I wouldn’t miss out on the day when your dream pharaoh walked into your life, and I think it’s about time that’ll happen.  Don’t ask me why I think that, but I do,” she continued.  A small part of Celia hoped that her friend’s gut feeling was true, while the more reasonable part scoffed at such notions.

 

“I guess it’s a good thing we’ll be going to Egypt next month.  Did you tell your parents yet?” Celia asked, turning the topic of conversation to one less personal, and less unrealistic.  Adrienne gave a slight shrug.

 

“I did.  At first they were hesitant, but then they relaxed after I gave them the whole itinerary.  They also like Professor Mahmood, especially since he saw fit to pass me,” she replied, Celia not missing the flash of admiration in her friend’s eyes at the mere mention of him.  Ever since the first day of their senior year Adrienne had become more and more interested in the intelligent, easygoing professor.  Celia knew better than to tease her friend about it, not when she herself crushed on a dream figure, but even if she had Adrienne wouldn’t have minded.  She reveled in the image of her and the professor as more than friends.

 

“My parents were the same way, especially Papa.  After Mom talked some sense into him he relented.  Oh, I meant to ask you- were you going to do the extra credit assignment about art in the Greek Dynasty?”

 

“Had it been during the reign of Nefertiti I might have said yes.  Any luck on finding research material?” Adrienne asked.  Celia shook her head.

 

“None.  I mean, the museum here has a few pieces, but it’s not enough.  I also don’t feel like going to the Brooklyn Museum, and since visiting the British Museum is out of the question I don’t know what to do,” she sighed.  Adrienne tapped her chin in thought before a smile lit up her face.

 

“Wait a minute, didn’t Professor Mahmood say his nephew ran an antique shop on Fifth Avenue?” she said.  Celia thought back to the last day of class, and the professor listing reference books for the various projects being done.  His mention of a nephew was almost an afterthought, something Celia hadn’t really acknowledged since her attention had been divided between him and something Adrienne said.  But he had been smiling in her direction as he spoke.

 

“Yes,” Celia replied.

 

Adrienne beamed. “And most of the antiques are focused on the Greek Dynasty.  I think we need to visit that store after you get off.  What do you say?” It was Celia’s turn to smile.  While she might not have ready answers for her dream, at least she could resolve the issue surrounding her project.

 

“That sounds great.  I’ll have to stop home and get my notebooks.”

 

“I’ll do it right now.  They’re in your room, right?” Adrienne asked.  At Celia’s nod she smiled and clapped her hand on her friend’s arm.

 

“There, see? The professor came through for you again.”

 

“What do you mean again?”

 

“Remember how much trouble you were having in finding information surrounding the Ptolomies that reigned between 100 and 135 B.C.? Didn’t he help you with that?” her friend continued.  Celia was about to speak, then fell silent.  Professor Mahmood had indeed aided her many times.  Suddenly she smiled.

 

“Maybe he’s interested in getting to know me better,” she remarked, grinning when Adrienne made a face.  The two friends shared a laugh, Celia leaning over to give Adrienne a playful nudge.

 

“I hope his nephew isn’t some uppity guy.  I swear, some people think they’re all that just because they have a shop on Fifth Ave,” Adrienne grumbled when their mirth passed.  Celia smiled in understanding.

 

“I don’t think so.  The professor is such a nice, friendly man.  Why would his family be any different? Besides, he’s always telling us that Egyptians are a hospitable people, and not to let the media’s views on Arabs sway our judgment.”

 

“Oh don’t get me started on the American media,” Adrienne muttered, shaking her head.

 

Again, Celia smiled. “You would have made a great political major, too.”

 

“Maybe, but that professor isn’t nearly as handsome as ours,” she replied, giving a start before reaching into her pocket and withdrawing a cell phone.  Celia caught a glimpse of the time before gasping.  She hastily began gathering her things, accidentally elbowing Adrienne as she did so.

 

“Damn! My break’s over.  I hope the gift shop isn’t too busy,” Celia said in a breathless rush, rising to her feet so quickly she ended up dropping her book and purse.  Adrienne smiled as she gathered her friend’s fallen items and handed them back to Celia.

 

“Did you want to meet by the information desk?”

 

“No, we can meet out here.  I’m getting off at five and we have a group coming in at the same time.  They’ll have the whole lobby bottled up,” Celia replied, hooking her purse over her shoulder after digging out her identification badge.  Adrienne nodded, then gave her friend a quick hug before descending the stairs.  Celia turned and darted up them, avoiding the people seated there until passing through the front door.

 

As soon as Celia entered the lobby she shivered due to the change in atmosphere, serving to remind her that it was rather hot today.  She waved to the people seated behind the circular information desk on her way to the gift shop, which was tucked behind the wall across the way.  A table was set up alongside the entrance to the gift shop, where three people sat helping patrons sign up to become members of the museum.  One of the girls there waved toward Celia as she passed by.

 

“Julie’s been looking for you, Celia!”

 

Celia gave her a quick nod of acknowledgment before darting behind the wall, making a quick move to the right, then left until she came upon the main floor of the shop.  It was especially crowded today, and it seemed every station had a customer to tend to.  Celia, who worked in the book section, made her way there as swiftly as she could, nearly colliding with a woman pushing a stroller.

 

As she neared the back she could see Julie at the register, the angled glasses set at her nose reflecting the lights from above as she nodded to whatever her customer was saying.  She was neatly dressed, her dark hair wound in a bun set atop her head that showed off a slender neck accented by a silver choker.  She was only two years older than Celia, but her knowledge and responsible manner earned her a supervisor position, one that Celia felt would be fitting if Julie remembered that people weren’t perfect.  That statement proved itself true when Julie looked her way, displeasure entering her gaze at Celia’s hasty return.  She made a nod of apology as she took her place behind the counter.  After depositing her belongings on the shelf at her feet Celia adjusted her nametag, then called the next customer in line.

 

The rush took precedence in Celia’s mind, chasing away everything save taking care of one customer after another.  By the time it ended, and the salespeople on the floor drifted around the tables to rearrange the books there the expected confrontation with Julie took place.  Celia had just finished ringing up a customer when Julie approached, beckoning her over with a mere glance.  Celia sighed inwardly and followed.  Julie walked toward the back, where a single employee stood re-shelving books before speaking.

 

“This is the third time this week you’ve returned late from your breaks.  I understand you have a lot to do in preparation for your trip next month, but you also have to remember your responsibilities as an employee of the gift shop” Julie began, her calm disposition only making Celia more nervous.  At length she sighed.

 

“I’m sorry, Julie.  I really am.  I’ll try to manage my time better.”

 

“I certainly hope so.  I would think that someone as intelligent as you would realize that timeliness is important no matter what profession you take,” Julie said, and by the hint in her tone Celia knew better than to say anything.  Instead she nodded.  Satisfied with how their discussion ended, Julie turned and strolled away, vanishing around a table.  Celia leaned against the bookcase at her back, heaving a sigh as she crossed her arms.  She knew she shouldn’t be aggravated at Julie- the woman was her supervisor after all- but she had some nerve insinuating that Celia wouldn’t be responsible.

 

At hearing another’s approach Celia looked, smiling a little at the sight of the dark-haired young man.  He walked with an easy grace, one that displayed his devil-may-care attitude, and his brown eyes gleamed with the promise of mischief.

 

“Got yelled at again by the frau I see,” he remarked humorously.  Celia giggled behind her hand at his usage of the nickname Julie had been given.

 

“There, that’s better.  You shouldn’t look so down and out,” he went on.  Celia looked up at him, seeing more than just concern in his eyes.  She knew he was sweet on her, but he had never asked her out.  It was one of the oddities about his behavior that she found curious, as if he knew she’d say no.  It didn’t stop him from standing up for her, or going out of his way to make her smile.

 

“You try not feeling this way after being treated like a slave,” Celia commented.  David gave a nonchalant shrug.

 

“My people know all about slavery, Celia.  You should follow our example and fight against the oppressors,” he replied, Celia not missing the remark about his being Jewish.  She laughed.

 

“I rather like getting a paycheck, as meager as it is.  Did you hear her though? She basically insulted me,” she said, frowning as she glanced back in the direction Julie disappeared.  David leaned his elbow against the bookcase, his hand angling close to the top of Celia’s head.  She could feel the tips of his fingers brushing the strands and put some distance between them.  He didn’t seem to notice.

 

“People like her believe that everyone should behave in the exact same manner as she would.  They make poor managers, but their ability to kiss ass knows no bounds,” he said thoughtfully, making Celia laugh at the image it painted in her mind.  She turned to face him then, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Are you saying you’d be better?”

 

“Me? No way.  I can’t kiss ass to save my life.”

 

“But you’ll charm them,” Celia deduced, smiling when he gave another shrug that indicated she had been correct.  He leveled his gaze on her.

 

“Charm doesn’t seem to work on you though.”

 

“It depends on who does the charming.  Don’t you have some work to do?” Celia asked in a chiding tone.  He glanced over his shoulder, then turned his attention back to her before giving her a smile that would have made any girl’s heart flutter.

 

“Is that your nice way of telling me to get lost?”  Celia laughed and gave him a playful punch on the arm.  He made a little gasp, then wore an expression of mock sadness as he turned away.  Celia remained there a moment more, shaking her head at him before returning to the front desk.

 

****

 

It was five fifteen by the time Celia and Adrienne left the museum.  Just as Celia had predicted, the lobby was filled with the people scheduled for the tour, and making her way to the front door had been reminiscent of going through a gauntlet.  Now, as she strolled alongside her best friend nibbling at a soft pretzel all the trials of the day went right out of Celia’s head.  She listened to Adrienne’s bubbly recollection of their graduation party- something Celia had very little memory of thanks to someone spiking her fruit punch with vodka- before the antique shop came into view.

 

It was located on the first floor of an old-fashioned two story building, its display window boasting the name of the shop- Recollections of the Past– as well as vases, statuettes and other items that made Celia’s eyes widen in fascination.  The entrance, which was situated on the right hand side, featured the name of the shop done in a font she recognized as Papyrus, along with a cute caricature of Anubis standing over the phrase ‘Beware of Dog’.  The second door, which faced them directly, looked to be an entrance to the second level, and when Celia glanced up she assumed someone lived above the store.

 

“Wow.  You know, as often as I’ve passed by this place I never bothered to look inside,” Adrienne breathed in awe.  Celia agreed with a smile, then pushed open the side door.  A small bell ringing overhead greeted their entrance, but as soon as Celia stepped onto the landing the interior drew her immediate attention.

 

Dark wooden panels that reminded her of a distinguished gentleman’s study lined the walls, while tables of artifacts were set around the room in what could be best described as a maze.  The carpet was dark green and bore swirled patterns, some areas looking more worn than others, and there was a slight incline near the right-hand wall.  Adrienne brushed by her with a soft exclamation, the silver chess set having captured her fancy.  Celia chose the opportunity to step further in, her gaze drawn to every item that spoke of ancient Egypt.  There was a great deal of it, and she wondered how long the professor’s nephew had been collecting them.

 

Once she made it past the scattered tables a counter came into view, a cash register propped on the right hand side.  A portable CD player was on the opposite side, what Celia assumed to be some kind of ambient song playing.  She smiled her approval, for she was a great lover of peaceful music, before the appearance of an orange tabby cat leaping onto the counter drew her attention.  The cat walked three steps before curling up beside the register.  The cat’s swishing tail knocked over a cup that contained a series of pens, Celia bending over to collect them.  As she gathered the pens in one hand a golden one caught her eye.  A smile touched her lips at recognizing it.  The pen was shaped like a pharaoh, and was a favorite among patrons at the gift shop.  She wondered if the professor’s nephew was a regular visitor to the museum when the chime from the front door bell drew her attention.  A cry of glad surprise passed her lips at seeing who it was, and Celia barely remembered to set the cup back on the counter before rushing to greet the man.  Adrienne was there first, having captured him in an embrace that drove the breath from him.

 

“Professor, I didn’t expect to see you here!” Adrienne gushed.  Tahir Mahmood chuckled as he freed himself from Adrienne’s embrace.

 

“I should say the same for you.  Now, Celia here, I expected.  I see you decided to take my advice.  How are you, girls?” he asked, accepting a more normal hug from Celia.  Celia glanced at Adrienne, taking note of her friend’s sunny smile and sparkling eyes, grinned a little before answering.

 

“We’re fine.  This shop really belongs to your nephew? He has such amazing artifacts in here,” Celia remarked, casting another glance around the room.

 

“Indeed it does, but he didn’t get all of them by himself- not that he’ll tell you as much anyways.  Now where is that nephew of mine? Dante! You have customers!” Tahir bellowed, causing the girls to giggle at how much he sounded like a disapproving parent.  A moment later a man dressed in a pair of black pants and a pale golden shirt appeared, looking both apologetic and amused at Tahir’s comment.  The smile from Celia’s face slowly faded, replaced instead with an expression of awe.

 

He was definitely of Tahir’s family, but instead of the characteristic roundness his face was slender, softly accented by a straight nose, green eyes offset by dark, slightly arched eyebrows, and thick, black hair that parted in the middle.  Strands hung over his brow, adding to his unkempt, rushed appearance.  The smile he gave Tahir lit up his entire face, and Celia felt that if he ever looked at her that way she’d melt.

 

“Customers? All I see are two girls on each arm, gazing at you with a great deal of admiration,” he remarked, his voice pleasant to the ear and lightly accented.  Celia shot a look at Adrienne, who turned red to her earlobes and giggled.  Tahir’s nephew approached them, extending his hand for Adrienne.

 

“I’m Dante Taylor,” he introduced.  Adrienne shook it, informing him of her name with amazing aplomb in spite of the redness on her cheeks.  Dante smiled, then turned to Celia.  Celia slid her hand into his, doing her best not to allow the shock of their contact show in her eyes.  She merely told herself it was the warmth of his hand contrasting with the cool air of the shop.  At least that’s what she would have liked to believe, had she not seen a brief expression of confusion enter Dante’s eyes.  After a moment it vanished, and Dante shifted his attention to Tahir.

 

“Adrienne and Celia.  Aren’t they students in your class?”

 

“Yes, and they’re part of the group who will be traveling to Egypt with me,” Tahir replied with fond pride.  Celia saw something else flicker in Dante’s eyes, something she read as sorrow, but just as before it was gone.

 

“It will be an exciting trip for them.  So tell me, what brings you here?” Dante asked, glancing at Adrienne, then Celia.  Was it just her imagination, or did his gaze linger on her far longer than it should? This observation managed to defeat her powers of speech, something Tahir noticed and thus replied in her stead.

 

“They’re here because I told them that this was the best place for artifacts on the Greek Dynasty.  Celia’s something of an expert on the period.  She’s writing a piece on the art from it, and when I heard that I knew that you’d be able to help her,” Tahir explained.  Dante’s expression revealed surprise, followed by interest.  He leveled his gaze on Celia.

 

“Is that true?” he asked in wonder.  Celia nodded, her love for the subject surfacing in her voice and eyes.

 

“Oh yes.  It’s my favorite dynasty.  After all, a great deal of things happened during the reign of the Ptolomies, particularly Cleopatra and the growing influence of the Romans,” she replied cheerfully.  Dante exchanged glances with Tahir, then smiled and gestured for Celia to follow him.

 

“Why don’t you take a look at what I have? If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  I’m something of an expert myself,” he said.  Celia interpreted that as his being a scholar of the time period and nodded, smiling.  She followed him to the left side of the store, which featured an amazing array of artifacts.  Celia gaped at them open-mouthed, sliding a glance Dante’s way.  He stood beside her with his arms crossed, a smile of pride tugging at his lips.  In response Celia turned to face to him, opened up her notebook and steadied her pen over a blank sheet of paper.

 

“Well? Start explaining,” she instructed with a smile, causing him to laugh.  She furiously scribbled as he detailed each item, amazing her anew with his knowledge.  She had filled five pages with information before being forced to give her wrist a break.  At seeing Celia move her wrist to relieve it from pain Dante gave her an understanding smile.

 

“I’m sorry.  Am I going too fast for you?” he asked.  She shook her head.

 

“No.  It’s just been so long since I last handwrote anything.  All during college I typed up my reports,” she replied.  Dante nodded, then took her notebook and pen from her.  He propped the book up, scanning what she already had down before writing.  Nothing but the echo of the pen scratching the paper echoed between them until Dante returned the book to her.

 

“I wrote up explanations about the rest of the items here to give your poor, underused wrist a break,” he said with a smile.  Celia returned it, finding that she enjoyed being in his company.  Aside from his personable manner and good looks, there was something else about him that spoke of familiarity.

 

“How did you manage to obtain so many pieces?” she asked.  Dante shifted his gaze to Tahir, who was immersed in an energetic conversation with Adrienne about the upcoming trip.

 

“Having an uncle who is as respected in the field of Egyptology as mine certainly helps,” he replied.  Celia nodded thoughtfully.

 

“I see.  But some of these are museum quality,” she pointed out.  Dante smiled, the interest she saw in his eyes earlier growing.

 

“You’re very observant, Celia.  They’re on loan from various museums.  A few are for sale, while others are strictly for display,” he replied, reaching for a wedjet eye lying next to a vase.  He stared at it for several moments, the initial cheeriness he demonstrated when they first were introduced fading.

 

“Are you all right?” Celia asked softly.  Dante looked at her, as if remembering she were there, before placing the item on the shelf and shaking his head.

 

“Just remembering how much my father liked that piece,” he replied.  Celia wanted to question him further, simply because he looked so sad, when the front door bell chimed.  Dante looked over, a slight smile tugging at his lips at seeing the stately old man enter.

 

“Ah, the ever impatient Ernest Sellers.  If you’ll excuse me,” Dante said, Celia nodding to him.  She remained where she was, watching him walk away to greet the man, who replied with a disgruntled snort followed by a complaint of his being kept waiting.  Adrienne joined her a moment later, pulling Celia aside so that they were out of sight.  Once they were safely concealed behind a bookcase Adrienne flashed a grin at her friend.

 

“Well?”

 

“Well what?” Celia asked, unable to keep from a nervous chuckle.  Adrienne rolled her eyes.

 

“You know very well what! Dante’s a cutie, isn’t he?” she commented.  Celia peeked around the bookcase, watching Dante listen as Ernest went on about the necessity of the large vase in the display window.  Dante’s green eyes met hers for an instant, causing her cheeks to flush and resulted in her hasty retreat.

 

“I guess so,” was all Celia offered.  Adrienne crossed her arms.

 

“Your blush tells me otherwise.”

 

“Oh stop it, before I tell the professor you like him,” Celia threatened.  Adrienne wagged her finger in her friend’s direction.

 

“You’re not going to turn this around on me, Celia.  Come on, tell me what you think!  I saw the way you looked at him,” she said with confidence.  Celia heaved a good-natured sigh, knowing there was no fooling Adrienne and answered.

 

“Fine.  What I think is that he’s very intelligent.  He knows what he’s talking about, and it makes me wonder why he’s not teaching at a college.”

 

“Maybe he likes being surrounded by old things from the past.  If he does then he’s becoming more like you by the minute,” Adrienne remarked.  Celia recalled how her bedroom was decorated and grinned sheepishly.  Tahir approached them a few minutes later, requesting if they’d be interested in a gentleman escorting them home.  Adrienne chuckled, commenting that Tahir only wanted to be seen in the company of attractive ladies.  Tahir winked in response, sending Adrienne into a fit of giggles.

 

“But I wanted to ask Dante some more questions,” Celia said, glancing over at him.  He had his head down as he rang up Ernest, who still complained about the vase in the window.  Tahir gave her a pleasant smile.

 

“Oh, I think you’ll see him again,” he replied simply.  Celia furrowed her brow at his curious remark, but soon she found herself being urged to the front door.  Before she left she managed to catch sight of Dante watching her, his green eyes expressing definitive interest, as well as reluctance to see her go.  The next thing she saw was the door closing, and the caricature of Anubis looking up at her.

 

 

Sample Chapter Sunday: Fallen Star, Ch 2

Greetings, everyone! Here we are again with what I hope to become my blog’s IT thing. In the meantime, I am continuing work on Drew and Cassie’s story. I really need to come up with a title for it. Can’t call it my April Camp draft because I’m no longer participating. Rest assured, I will make a post about a title. It’ll be something worth sharing with the readers. I think we all can relate to the moment when we discover a story’s title.

As today’s sampling concludes what I have available of FALLEN STAR, next Sunday will feature another on my projects. Happy reading!

lucas star jewel

Fallen Star, Chapter Two

The tent looked just as they left it, indicating that their father had not returned yet. Lucas knew from experiences past that whenever he met up with fellow astronomers, the conversation was never lacking. He swept his gaze over the immediate area. The neighboring tents looked empty as well. Checking his watch, Lucas deduced that people had begun making their way to the plain that would offer the best view of the meteor shower. He exhaled in relief. It was better to keep this strange encounter from as many people as possible.

Jewel went ahead first, removing the blocks that held the bottom of the tent in place and unzipping the entrance. She opened it as wide as possible, then moved aside. The armored man approached it and paused. Lucas soon realized that the opening was not large enough to admit him. At a loss, he tried to come up with a secondary method when the man calmly strode in. Those parts of his body that did not fit within the opening passed through the material as if he were a ghost.

“Did you see that?” Jewel whispered, awestruck. Lucas nodded absently, adding the man’s mysterious power to faze through tents to the list of questions he wanted to ask, before motioning her inside. She flashed him an eager grin and entered.

When Lucas stepped in, his guest had just laid the girl down on a blanket. He leaned back on his haunches, looking puzzled over the jacket. At seeing his hands reach for the zipper, Lucas felt his cheeks flush. Clearing his throat, and hoping his voice didn’t betray his embarrassment, he said, “We might have some clothes that will fit her.”

“Your gesture is appreciated, young one. However,” the armored man said, giving a soft exclamation at having figured out how to unzip the jacket. “Starlight will not only sustain her, but shield her as well.” Having undone the jacket, he pulled it open. Lucas quickly averted his gaze. Jewel caught sight of his embarrassment and giggled. He scowled at her. He had never been given the opportunity to become anything more than an object of ridicule to girls his own age.

Movement drew him from his thoughts. Glancing over, glad that the armored man’s bulk shielded the girl from view, Lucas watched him remove two other crystals from his pouch. One he laid on her throat, the other on her abdomen. Lucas frowned thoughtfully. They looked a lot like his own necklace.

The gems merged with the girl, extending over her body like a shimmering, purple cloak. One section spread out at her collarbone, creating an arcing neckline that extended beyond her upper arms. A choker, bisected by a single, thick band formed next, connecting itself to the collar. Armlets appeared from wrist to elbow, calf-length boots covered her feet, and the rest of her was concealed by a full bodysuit. An angled belt adorned with the second crystal formed last. It was the most bizarre clothing Lucas had ever seen, but then again, nothing else would have been appropriate.

“Sir,” he began, a little undone by what he had just witnessed. “Who are you? And who is she?”

“Yes,” the man murmured. “You have earned the right to know.” Turning and assuming a position Lucas believed impossible due to his armor, he beckoned the siblings closer. Lucas took a step, nearly being shoved aside by Jewel as she enthusiastically took a place at the girl’s feet. “First, I would like to know your names.”

Lucas introduced himself, then gestured to Jewel. She smiled when he spoke her name.

“Lucas and Jewel,” the man repeated, as if trying to familiarize himself with them. “You are siblings, correct? I see a resemblance.”

“Yep!” Jewel replied jovially. “He’s seventeen. I’ll be twelve in May,” she added with pride.

The man smiled. “A great age to be,” he said, and Jewel’s face lit up. “You have asked who we are. That in itself is a difficult feat for humans to understand. But I will do my best to explain.” He touched his chest. “I am Rigel, Third of the Celestial Knights. She,” he said, laying a hand on the girl’s forehead. “She is to become the next Sirius.”

Lucas immediately reacted to the names. Rigel and Sirius were two of the brightest stars in the sky. Jewel’s next words indicated she followed his train of thought perfectly. “I know those names,” she exclaimed. She quickly rose to her feet and retrieved Lucas’ textbook. After flipping through some pages, she hurried to Rigel.  “Look,” she instructed, pointing at the page. “There’s Rigel. Do you live there?”

Rigel peered at the book. “A guidebook to the heavens,” he said, surprised. “How did you come across one?”

“It’s Lucas’,” Jewel answered. “He’s studying to be an astronomer just like Daddy. They both taught me things about the stars,” she explained.

Rigel glanced at Lucas with renewed interest. His gaze, he noted, lingered on the necklace. “Fascinating,” he murmured to himself. Turning his attention to Jewel, he smiled. “I do not ‘live there’ as you understand it. I am Rigel.”

Her eyes bulged. “So, the Rigel we see in the sky is really you? Even right now?”

“What you see now is my spirit. My armor”—he touched it with a hand sheathed in a copper gauntlet— “maintains its physical form. The star you see is my body. All stars are made as such.”

Lucas felt his mind reeling. Was it just moments ago he had lamented how his view of stars differed from others? But here, in the flesh, was a man- a being– claiming to be Rigel. The revelation turned all he ever learned about the stars inside out.

Jewel clapped in delight and turned to Lucas. Her eyes were bright. “It’s all true! What you believe and Mama’s stories, they’re real!”

So surprised by what Rigel had said, he just nodded absently to his sister’s words. “What does Sirius have to do with this?” he asked, grasping for something that made some, if not just as incredible, sense.

A dark frown crossed Rigel’s face. His hands curled into fists. “Sirius has betrayed the Celestial Knights. He dishonors the role of First.”

Jewel gave a little gasp. “What did he do?”

Rigel looked down at the sleeping girl. He placed his large hand on her cheek. “I was charged with bringing the new star to Sirius. While we were en route, his minions descended upon us. Most of my power had been focused on keeping her in stasis, so I could not fight them off. They managed to separate us, but lost track of her when she fell to Earth. Only after I had entered the atmosphere could I pinpoint her energy signature.” His eyes softened. “I care not to dwell on what might have happened had she not come across allies.”

There was a short pause. Then, feeling angry and not entirely sure why, Lucas asked, “Why would Sirius try to hurt her?”

“He exhibits a strange reluctance to die,” Rigel answered with a shake of the head. “Star spirits, even the most powerful, burn out, making replacements necessary. To think he’d flout the natural order of things, just for self-preservation, galls me. The Celestial Knights will hear of this,” he growled.

“What will happen now?” Jewel asked, casting a worried glance the girl’s way. “Star isn’t safe here, right?”

“Star?” Rigel repeated, raising a brow.

Jewel blushed slightly. “It’s what I call her.”

“Star,” Rigel said again, this time with an approving smile. “Normally we do not name our new stars, for it may cause confusion in their mind. They are born knowing they are to be the replacement spirit. But in this case, disassociation with Sirius will benefit her,” he added with grim understatement. He nodded and touched her forehead. “Star she will be,” he decreed.

Jewel smiled with pleasure at having her chosen name accepted. Lucas also smiled, finding that it suited her, before giving a start. Something brushed against his ear, like a whisper. It took him a moment to realize that it resonated not without, but from within. Though the words were barely audible, there was no mistaking it. It was his name.

Shifting his gaze to Star, he gasped at seeing her stir. Rigel, too, must have sensed it, for he also glanced down.

Star’s brow furrowed, then her eyes slid open. Rigel expressed relief at seeing her awaken and touched her shoulder. “My Lady Star,” he said with reverence. Star turned her head slightly, recognition entering her eyes. She touched the hand that rested upon her shoulder. Rigel’s face softened with tenderness. “It is good to see you again. Come, meet the one responsible for your salvation,” Rigel said, gesturing toward Lucas.

His heart had already started beating rapidly well before she fixed her gaze on him. The moment she did, the same sensation of time stilling overcame him. She had the most mesmerizing eyes he’d ever seen on a girl despite their light, purple color.  She reached for him. Lucas’ hand moved seemingly of its own accord, his fingers brushing hers. A soft smile touched her lips.

Your name is Lucas, whispered her voice.  It was reminiscent of wind chimes.

Rigel watched their interaction with undisguised amazement. His hushed murmur of, ‘Astounding,’ snapped Lucas back to reality. As he drew back, confused by his reaction to her, Rigel closed his mighty hand over Star’s. She pulled herself up until she rested against his chest. Her eyes closed, and a contented sigh passed her lips.

“She did it again,” Lucas managed. He found it hard to tear his gaze away from her.

“Again, you say,” Rigel repeated. He nodded to himself. “Young stars are capable of telepathic speech, something done only with their chosen guardians. For her to reach out to you is fascinating.” He glanced once more at Lucas’ necklace, but said nothing. His expression, however, spoke volumes. Lucas wondered what Rigel found so intriguing about it.

“Star must like him,” Jewel declared with a smile.

Lucas felt his cheeks heat and shot her a glance, which she ignored. She took a step closer and knelt down, reaching for Star with the hesitation usually reserved for a wild animal. Star touched her palm to Jewel’s. “Hello,” she ventured. “I’m Jewel.  Do you remember me?” When Star bowed her head, Jewel’s smile widened. Looking to Rigel, she asked, “What will you do now?”

“I must go to Polaris. Once there, I will summon the other Celestial Knights. We will not allow Sirius to carry out his dastardly scheme,” Rigel replied. A worried look crossed Star’s face, and she sat up. She stared into Rigel’s white eyes, her small hands pressed against his armor. Rigel’s expression revealed sorrow. “Yes, it is true. Your brother plots against you. Worry not, Lady Star. I will see to it you are protected.”

Star looked relieved at that, but when she glanced over at Lucas, sorrow flashed in her eyes. He swallowed, wishing there was something he could say.

Rigel rose to his feet, taking Star with him. She steadied herself against him and turned to Jewel. She extended her hand, smiling when Jewel placed her palm over it. A mixture of sadness and delight shone on Jewel’s face. “It was nice meeting you, Star. Be careful, okay?”

Star smiled in response, then stepped toward Lucas. He rose to his feet, compelled to do so by the same magnetic attraction that sparked between them. Though he barely knew Star, part of him would miss her very, very much. It seemed she felt the same way, for the next moment she had taken his hand and laid it against her cheek. She closed her eyes, her smile soft, warm. An image of his mother doing the exact same thing to his father came to mind. It was something she always did before she went to sleep or work, and when she came home. Lucas had associated the gesture with how much his parents loved each other. Seeing Star do the same to him only made his heart beat faster.

Rigel touched Star’s shoulder, interrupting the moment. As Star stepped back, Rigel’s helmet manifested in one hand. He placed it over his head before approaching Lucas. “May the stars always light your path,” he said, the words reminiscent of a ritual farewell. He touched Lucas’ chest, his hand grazing the necklace. His brow furrowed. “Could this be—”

Suddenly, a purple-armored figure passed through the tent wall close to where Jewel stood. She cried out and fell onto her backside just it swiped the air with a glowing sword. It repeated the motion, but missed again as Jewel crawled to the opposite corner. Turning on its heel, it zeroed in on the other three. Rigel immediately came to attention, reaching out and grabbing the intruder by the throat.

“Take her and go!” he shouted, shoving Star against Lucas.

“But Jewel!!” he protested fearfully, watching his sister cower in the corner when three more beings appeared.

“I will see to her safety. You must not let Lady Star fall into their hands!” Rigel instructed. The being swiped at him, narrowly missing his throat. “Go, now!”

Star tugged on Lucas’ arm, silently insisting they hurry. Lucas cast a final glance at his sister, grit his teeth at his helplessness, before grasping Star’s hand and rushing out.

Cold air slammed into him, a firm reminder of his lack of proper outerwear. Ignoring his discomfort, he hurried for the large snow mound a short distance away. After managing to scale the surface, almost on all fours, he slipped past and turned. Star followed him and lay down when he instructed her to. Making sure she stayed out of sight, he crawled to the top on his elbows and peered over.

At least ten figures swarmed on the campsite, the snow turning to slush at their feet. Those that made it inside were immediately flung out. The upper half of Rigel’s halberd poked through, its blade pierced through an enemy. It disappeared in a flash of white light, and the halberd retracted. The front flaps of the tent fluttered wildly, giving Lucas glimpses of the interior. All he could identify were flashes of purple and copper. His heart pounded. Where was Jewel?

A foot came down directly in front of him, giving Lucas a start. His eyes flew up in time to see the leering smile of an armored enemy before it brought its light blade down. A pair of hands latched onto Lucas’ sweater, pulling him back just as the weapon made impact. Snow exploded into moist pieces, some landing on Lucas’ shoulders and head. Scrambling to his feet, for he had landed beside Star, he took her hand and ran off. The echo of frantic footsteps indicated pursuit. Lucas glanced around. All that lay beyond were snow banks, and the occasional tree. Hoping they couldn’t climb trees, he headed for it.

The footsteps increased. Lucas risked a glance over his shoulder, and immediately regretted it. The being leapt into the air, weapon poised to strike. Just as it prepared to come down, a halberd burst through its body like an arrow piercing a heart on a Valentine. It gave a strangled cry as it fell forward. Lucas grabbed Star and dropped to the ground, rolling aside as the body hit. It exploded in a flash of blinding white light.

Once it dimmed, Lucas could see a large silhouette coming toward him, a smaller one perched on the shoulder. Star gave a happy cry as she rose to her feet, one hand outstretched to welcome Rigel back. The Celestial Knight skidded to a halt, let Jewel down in time to clasp Star’s hand.

Lucas dropped to his knees in front of Jewel and gripped her shoulders. “Are you hurt?”

Jewel’s blue eyes sparkled with excitement. “You should’ve seen Rigel in action, Lucas! It was so cool!” she gushed. Her reaction was pure Jewel, and Lucas found himself smiling in spite of the situation.

“We must away,” Rigel reminded them gruffly. “The pathway to Polaris does not lie far from here.” Looking at the siblings, he nodded. “Your shelter is safe now. You can return to it.”

“No,” Lucas said. He could feel Jewel’s eyes on him as he rose to his feet. Turning to face Rigel, he said, “We’ll come with you as far as there. We won’t leave until you and Star are safe.”

Admiration flashed in Rigel’s eyes. “I extend my gratitude to you, young Lucas.” He frowned darkly as the now-familiar hiss of melting snow echoed. Star pressed close to Rigel. Jewel glanced about worriedly. “Sirius’ minions draw close. This way!” Rigel cried, gesturing north.

The four fled, Rigel in the lead, Star and Jewel between while Lucas brought up the rear. They cleared several snow banks before finding themselves running alongside a flat plain. Lucas spotted several people huddled before telescopes in the distance. How the rest of the world could carry on while he found himself in the midst of something extraordinary was strangely unsettling.

The banks eventually grew to drift-size, creating shining valleys of white. About halfway across one, Rigel thrust his hand forward. A circle of light appeared, swirling like mist before a column sprouted from the center. It seemed to stretch into infinity.

They stopped a few short paces away. Lucas glanced first to Rigel, then Star. He knew that this time, the goodbyes would be permanent. He reminded himself that this was to save Star’s life, and refused to feel sorrow. Laying his hand on Jewel’s shoulder to keep her still, Lucas waved to the celestial pair. Rigel pressed his hand over his chest. Star did the same.

It was then Lucas saw something appear in the light behind them. At first he couldn’t tell what it was until the unmistakable shape of a sword appeared. Lucas cried out and stepped forward, all it seemed in slow motion.

Star, expressing confusion by his reaction, glanced over her shoulder. Her hands flew up to her face, purple eyes wide with shock. Rigel whirled around, his movements fast while everything else slowed. His hand clamped down on Star’s shoulder, pushing her aside as he stepped forward. The sword pierced him on the right, passing through his armor and appearing beneath his shoulder. White energy flared from the wound.

Rigel, staggering a little, still had enough strength to summon his halberd and reciprocate. The purple-armored minion released a shrill cry before exploding into light. Rigel dropped his weapon, then went to a knee. Jewel broke away from Lucas, crying out his name. Lucas was right on her heels.

Star, already kneeling beside him, wrapped her hands around the hilt of the weapon. “No,” he rasped when Jewel went to help her. “If you remove it, my energy will deplete.” His once thunderous voice was now reduced to a pained whisper. He turned to Star. “Forgive me, Lady Star, for I cannot fulfill my duty as guardian…”

“Rigel, you can’t die,” Jewel said, tears in her eyes.

“It is inevitable,” he replied softly.

“What about Star?” Lucas demanded, angry that Rigel could give up so easily. “You would leave her to whatever Sirius planned?”

“Certainly not,” Rigel replied, sounding more like his old self. “But I can be of no aid to her in this state. Unless…” he paused, glancing at Lucas thoughtfully. “Yes, that is what must be done. It is why she chose you.”

“What?” Jewel asked. Lucas only stared.

Rigel leaned back on his haunches, then laid his hand over his right armlet. It came away like melted gum, pulling itself into a shapeless ball before coalescing back into an armlet. He handed it to Star. She met his gaze, her head tilted. After a moment, she gave a nod of understanding. Once she had the armlet in hand, she closed her eyes. Purple-hued light surrounded the armlet, which sapped it of color.

When she presented the gray armlet to Lucas, he gave a start. “What are you doing?”

“Place it upon your arm,” Rigel instructed. “Do not fear: you have the power to use it.”

“But I don’t understand,” Lucas protested.

Rigel’s next words came out in a hiss of pain. “In time you will.”

Lucas hesitated, gripped by the sense that once he accepted this armlet, his life as he knew it would change. What little he had experienced thus far would be nothing compared to what lay ahead. He glanced at Jewel, who nodded encouragement. When he looked to Star, her voice whispering, Please help me, his decision made itself.

Taking the armlet, he drew a deep breath before snapping it around his wrist. The instant he did, it came alive. Bands of white light sprang from its surface, reaching outward to coil around Lucas’ body. It spread across his chest and arms, down his legs, before it flashed in a single burst. Lucas stared down at himself in awe. White armor, more simplistic than Rigel’s, had replaced his clothing. He lifted his arms, finding the armor to be surprisingly lightweight.

“Wow,” Jewel breathed. Lucas shared her sentiment. Star did as well, given the smile on her face. It sent Lucas’ heart racing.

Rigel nodded. “Since you have accepted this sacred duty, I hereby request that you deliver Lady Star to Polaris. This light will take you there.”

“What about you?” Jewel asked.

Rigel slowly rose to his feet. His wound continued to emit white light, making his face more ashen by the second. “I must return to my body to heal. You will be safe on Polaris, for it is among the Celestial Knights. Lady Star knows the way,” Rigel added, indicating Star. She asserted this with a nod.

Lucas looked to Star, then offered his hand. “All right. Let’s go.”

“Wait a minute!” Jewel cried as Lucas began walking. Both he and Star stopped. When Lucas turned round, he beheld Jewel’s scowl. “You’re not going to leave me behind, are you?”

“I don’t think you should go. Who knows what’s out there,” Lucas pointed out.

“And you do?” Jewel countered. She turned to Rigel. “Isn’t there some way I can go too? I want to help Star.”

“Jewel,” Lucas began, falling silent when Rigel lifted his hand.

“Come to me, little one,” he instructed. Jewel did so without haste, standing with head raised and shoulders squared. Rigel knelt before her, tilting his head as he regarded her. After a moment, he sought and found her necklace. “Yes, you may accompany Lucas,” he confirmed.

She beamed in delight, then watched as he removed his other armlet. Star took it in hand, sapping it of color before presenting it to Jewel. She wasted no time in putting it on. Lucas watched, torn between wanting to keep her safe and wanting her beside him, as white light surrounded her. When it faded, she stood clad in an outfit similar to Star’s, except Jewel’s collar sloped at a downward angle across her chest. Ankle boots adorned her feet, armlets upon her wrists, and there, centered in between her choker and collar, lay the necklace. It shone brightly against the white armor.

“Now you are ready,” Rigel said to her.

“We won’t let you down,” she promised.

Rigel smiled and rose to his feet. He approached Star, who reached out to take his hand. She pressed her cheek against it, looking as sorrowful as when she had done it to Lucas. Rigel let the contact linger for a moment, a soft yet sad smile on his face, before eventually fading from sight. Star’s hand remained in midair, as if reluctant to acknowledge his disappearance. She bowed her head. Lucas swallowed, wanting to comfort her but too shy to do so.

Jewel strode for Lucas. He touched her shoulder, to which she replied with a carefree smile. He envied her ready acceptance of it all. “Come on, let’s go!”

“Yes,” a new voice added, shocking Jewel but not Lucas. He spun round. Star met his questioning gaze; after a moment a small smile touched her lips. His stomach did a flip-flop, reminding him of a roller coaster ride. “Jewel is right. We must go.”

She greeted Star’s words with an excited gasp. “Wow, you can talk now!”

“I learned how when I connected with Lucas,” she said, smiling over at him and making him blush. Jewel did not miss this and eyed her brother knowingly. He frowned at her, then suggested (in a somewhat high-pitched voice Jewel chuckled at) they get going. Jewel took Star’s hand, who in turn touched Lucas’. Their eyes met for a moment, but before he could do more than smile, she led them toward the column.

Its surface gleamed like sunlight, yet moved with the consistency of a backwards waterfall. His intention had been for all three to go in as one, but Jewel pulled free and leapt in. Her body blurred, then shifted upward. Not wanting to let her get too far ahead, Lucas took a deep breath and plunged in alongside Star. At the first sign of his body lifting, he experienced a rush of panic, resulting in him squeezing Star’s hand. When she returned it, he felt his fears subside, and simply let himself go.

Sample Chapter Sunday: Fallen Star

As I am notorious for letting this blog fall off my radar (a lot- I am forgetful at worst, scatterbrained at best), I thought to start a weekly thing. Give myself something to stick to schedule-wise, and possibly provide readers with some stories. So welcome to Sample Chapter Sundays, friends!

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Today’s sample chapter comes from my incomplete YA fantasy titled FALLEN STAR. It follows the adventures of siblings Lucas and Jewel, who are tasked with bringing Star to the Celestial Knights to protect her from the machinations of her brother, Lord Sirius. I had plans to tweak it a bit to make it MG instead, but I haven’t gotten around to it just yet. In the meantime, allow me to present the first chapter for your reading pleasure. Hope everyone enjoys!

lucas star jewel

Star and Lucas in the back, with Jewel in the foreground. Art by my sister.

FALLEN STAR: Chapter One

“Jewel! Don’t go ahead so fast!”

Jewel waited until she crested the snow bank before turning and beckoning her father. Gradually he appeared, a heavy pack slung over his shoulders. He gripped the tightly wound tent against his side, both ends drooping so low they nearly touched the ground. His other hand held a medium sized electric generator. Upon reaching her side, he dropped his burden with an audible sigh, then placed his hands on the small of his back and stretched.

“Hurry, Daddy,” Jewel insisted, taking hold of his sleeve and tugging it. “We won’t be able to get a good spot!”

“Yes, yes, I know,” he said, smiling indulgently. “But we must wait. Can’t watch the meteor shower without my telescope, can we?”

“Why didn’t you let me carry it? I can set it up and everything!” Jewel reminded him, scowling.

“Because it’s twice your size and weight,” her father reminded her, and she pursed her lips. He chucked her on the chin. “Don’t worry, you can help set it up. I’m sure Lucas won’t mind.”

Mention of her older brother brought a smile to Jewel’s face. Just then she heard the crunching of boots on the snow and looked past her father. A hooded figure appeared behind them, his steps slower. Tall but skinny for a seventeen year old, Lucas looked like he was about to fall over because of the telescope. Jewel raced down the snow bank to Lucas’ side, reaching out to take hold of the folded stand clutched under his arm.

“Jewel, don’t do that,” Lucas admonished, his voice muffled from the scarf wrapped around his lower face.

“I wasn’t going to break it,” she informed him tartly before taking it off his hands. He released it with a sigh. Falling into step beside him, careful not to let the legs drag in the snow, she asked, “Will the meteors hurt anyone when they fall?”

“No. They’ll burn up in the atmosphere way before they reach the surface. It’s actually what we’ll be seeing.”

“Oh,” Jewel said, relieved. She stared at the snow, thinking how it sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight. “What time will it happen?”

“Late tonight,” Lucas replied after a moment. “Hmm, I think we’ll see the Northern Lights, too.”

“Really?” Jewel cried excitedly.

“Yep,” he confirmed, looking down on her and smiling. All she could see were his cheeks rising to make his eyes appear smaller. “That’s why there’s so many people here.  See?” Lucas gestured around them. Jewel followed his motion, seeing that a crowd had begun gathering. Many had already set up camp, and stood clustered together talking.

“Lucas, Jewel! Over here!” called their father. He stood just beyond the snow bank, the pack once again resting on his shoulders and tent tucked beneath his hand. “I found an excellent site.”

Lucas surged forward, his longer legs giving him an unfair advantage over Jewel as she struggled to keep up. After a moment he paused and turned, offering his gloved hand. She took it, laughing as he half dragged, half carried her away.

***

Once they had erected the tent and the siblings arranged the telescope outside, their father went to visit neighboring camps. As for Jewel, she looked forward to the time she’d spend with her big brother. But Lucas hooked up the radio, opened a book and began doing homework. She remembered he was studying to take the entrance exams into a top astronomy school, so, a bit crestfallen, sat just outside the tent to stare at the sky.

Dozens upon dozens of stars streaked across it, and for a time Jewel amused herself with trying to count them. She had reached forty when the tent flaps shifted. Lucas plopped down onto the snow beside her, his head hung low. Strands of his tousled, light brown hair fell over his brow.

“I didn’t make too much noise,” she protested, thinking that maybe her counting out loud had disturbed him.

“What?” Lucas said, somewhat surprised. The way he looked at her, it seemed he had forgotten she was sitting there. “No, it’s not your fault,” he sighed, reaching to push up his glasses further onto his nose. Jewel prodded him in the arm with her finger. When he didn’t react, she did it three more times.

“Hey, stop that,” he groused, attempting to mimic their father’s sternest glare.  Jewel ignored it. She jabbed him in the side, once, then, at seeing a smile winning its way on his face, began tickling him with reckless abandon. Lucas latched onto her, his exclamation of, ‘That’s it!’ a half growl, half hiss. He overpowered her, leaving Jewel laughing and breathless in his arms.

They sat in silence for some time, Jewel happy that she had made him smile. She gazed up at the stars, thoughts of their mother, gone seven years now, abruptly entering her mind. Jewel’s memories of her were fairly dim, but Lucas remembered her so vividly Jewel sometimes believed she existed in him. Aside from that, her only link to their mother was the necklace she wore. Lucas had one just like it, and more than once Jewel had seen him toy with it when he was worried. At feeling his arm shift, she rolled over onto her back, and, sure enough, his hand had strayed to the necklace.

“Why aren’t you studying?” she asked.

Lucas’ chest heaved against her as he exhaled. “Father has such high hopes for me getting into this school,” he murmured. “I’m afraid I’ll disappoint him.”

“Why? You’re as smart as he is when it comes to stars.”

“I know,” Lucas replied, though he didn’t sound convinced. He bowed his head. “But I don’t think he looks at them the way I do.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

Lucas’ hand stroked the long crystal on his necklace, then coiled around it. “Mom used to tell me stories about stars when I was young. She made it sound like she believed every word. I wanted to learn astronomy in the hope that I’d find out if they were true.”

“I remember those stories,” Jewel said. “You told them to me all the time when I was little. I really liked the one about the star visiting Earth and finding a new family.”

A wisp of a smile appeared on Lucas’ face, but it quickly faded. His hand fell away from his throat, coming to a rest on his knee. “I want to tell Dad about how I feel, but he’d probably think I was being silly.”

“Nuh-uh,” Jewel said, shaking her head. “He likes stars, too.” She brightened. “Maybe he believes and can’t tell anyone cause he’s a grown up.”

Lucas gave her a wan smile and ruffled her hair. She giggled, swatting his hand away. “I doubt that. Anyway, thanks for trying to cheer me up. But,” he sighed, his eyes drifting skyward. “Mom’s stories were just that. As much as I like to believe them, they’re not real. Stars are just massive bodies of energy millions of miles away. Nothing romantic about them at all…”

Jewel watched him, unsure of why he said that. She didn’t remember ever seeing him look so…so sad before.

His brow furrowed. “What the…?” he murmured. He shot to his feet, sending Jewel sprawling in the snow. Pushing herself to her elbows, she glanced over her shoulder. Lucas stood totally still, his eyes narrowed as he stared ahead.

“Lucas? What’s wrong?”

“I just saw something streaking toward the ground,” he answered after a long pause.

“The meteors?” she asked. Their father would be disappointed if he missed them.

“No. It’s too soon,” Lucas told her. Turning and ducking into the tent, he soon returned with a pair of binoculars. He peered through them, his expression turning grim. “Kinda hard to tell what it was from here,” he muttered. He lowered the binoculars swiftly and glanced down at his sister. “I’m going to check it out.”

“Not without me!” Jewel exclaimed, following him into the tent. She grabbed her goggles and scarf from the suspended net to her right. After donning them, she took her gloves off the table set before the generator.

So busy gathering his own things, he did not realize her intentions until she stood ready. “Jewel, you can’t go,” Lucas said, doing his best to sound firm.

“Daddy wouldn’t want you to leave me here alone,” she countered. He looked as if he wanted to protest, but after a moment he sighed in resignation.

“Get the flashlights.”

Jewel hurried to the toolbox. After taking the larger one, she grabbed the maglite for herself. She turned in time to watch Lucas bring the telescope inside. She handed him the larger light, then shadowed him as he left the tent. He zipped the entrance shut, checked to make sure the supports were secure before nodding to her. “Let’s go.”

***

Darkness had settled around them, broken only by the narrow cone generated from Lucas’ light. He made certain to walk slowly, not about to challenge whatever dangers lurked beyond. This he had to remind Jewel of, for more than once she had tried to venture ahead. Her enthusiasm was typical Jewel, but Lucas, feeling the weight of responsibility upon his shoulders, did not want to think of something terrible happening to her. If only she’d waited at the tent!

But, if she had, she would have followed him anyway. Better to have her on hand than wandering somewhere alone.

Seeing that his sister had finally decided to heed his warnings, Lucas focused on what the object could have been. Speculations ran rampant in his mind- a felled satellite? Debris from a piece of spacecraft? He searched his memory for recent happenings that could lend credence to his ideas, but he drew a blank. He just hoped whatever it was, it didn’t bring trouble with it.

“Lucas, look there!” Jewel cried, halting in her tracks. She thrust her arm forward. Lucas lifted the flashlight higher, seeing first the chunks of snow, then the hole. Clamping a hand on her shoulder to prevent her from tumbling headfirst into the crater, Lucas had her switch her light on to better illuminate it.

“Careful, now,” he advised.

She nodded, and together they made their way toward the edge.

Standing over it now, Lucas could see the heat of the impact managed to penetrate the ice, revealing the scarred earth below. He trained his light along the corner closest him, studying the ground intently when Jewel gave an astonished cry. Fearing she might have seen a wild animal, Lucas drew her closer as he turned on his heel. The light arced wildly in the air.

“Look in the hole!” Jewel urged. “There’s someone in it!”

“No, there isn’t,” he said as he glanced around. “You’re letting your imagination get away with you.”

“Am not!” Jewel snapped. Then, taking firm hold of the hand that held the flashlight, she forced it down. Lucas nearly lost his balance due to how ruthless her movement was. But sure enough, his light passed over a figure almost completely hidden by long, dark hair. He stared, dumbfounded, before realizing that the person was naked.

“Hold this,” he said, thrusting his flashlight at Jewel. Once his hands were free, he unzipped his heavy coat, then dropped down. Twin lights followed him as he knelt and wrapped the body- an adolescent girl’s, he noted with sudden embarrassment- in his coat. Gathering her slight frame in his arms, Lucas arranged her so that her head lay against his shoulder. Strands of her hair hid her face from view, making it difficult to identify her.

“Is it an alien?” Jewel called excitedly.

Typical for her to latch onto the fantastical. But Lucas could hardly fault her for that, not when he himself secretly believed stars were like people. “I don’t think so,” he replied, rising to his feet. The woman weighed no more than Jewel did, despite the fact she was twice her size. As soon as he climbed out, she was beside him, her curiosity having gotten the best of her.

“She’s pretty,” his sister acknowledged. She leaned closer, her eyes widening. “I think she’s waking up!”

Lucas quickly looked down, his eyes meeting hers the moment they opened. His breath stilled at how time seemed to slow, then eventually stop under the power of her gaze.

The girl studied him, her brow furrowing in confusion. No, not confusion, Lucas realized. She was concentrating.  But on what?

…gel…

Lucas blinked and looked down. “Did you say something?”

“No,” Jewel said, staring at him quizzically.

The girl weakly reached for Lucas’ collar. Her bare fingertips brushed the spot of his neck that wasn’t concealed by the scarf, and his necklace. A spark seemed to come alive between them, though he wasn’t sure. Her fingers were ice cold.

…Ri…gel…?

Lucas gaped at her, unbelieving what was happening. However, before he could officially declare that she was telepathic, she fell slack in his arms.

“What’d you do?” Jewel asked worriedly.

“Nothing,” he answered, hearing the quiver in his voice. He paused to gather his thoughts, still unable to comprehend what happened. “But I think she tried speaking to me telepathically.”

“Really?” Jewel asked. When Lucas nodded, she spared the unconscious girl a fascinated glance. “Wow.”

“Come on, we need to get back to the tent,” Lucas stated before walking away. Jewel trailed after him, dutifully lighting the way back. It was a good thing she did, for much of Lucas’ attention was fixed on the girl.

Just who was she?

***

They had been walking for some time when Jewel stopped. She squinted ahead, unsure of what she saw. Something, or someone, had moved just beyond the light surrounding them.

Lucas went past, causing her to reach for his sleeve. “We have to keep moving,” he reminded her, pulling away. Warily, she started walking again. Their trek took them past a sparse collection of trees. Jewel glanced around, relieved that the trunks were much too thin for a person to hide behind.

Until she saw someone peer from around a tree.

She yelped and dropped back, her hand going to Lucas’ sleeve once again. “There’s someone hiding over there,” she whispered.

“Where?” Lucas asked, then looked over. “The trees?” Jewel nodded furiously. Dropping to a knee, he gently laid the girl down. After zipping the jacket up, he then touched her throat and nodded to himself. Jewel couldn’t help but notice the way his hand lingered there before he rose to his full height. “Keep the light on me,” he instructed as he walked away. She watched, tense, when he came upon the tree she’d seen the person hiding behind.

After a moment he rounded it. He spread his arms to either side. “There’s nothing here.”

“Look again,” Jewel insisted.

“I don’t really think there’s-” He paused, his head jerking to the right. Jewel went to ask what he heard when a figure appeared behind Lucas and grabbed him.

“Lucas!” Jewel shrieked, taking a step forward.

Lucas’ shout for her to stay back was cut off when his captor clamped a hand over his mouth. Five others manifested seemingly from mid-air, three taking positions near Lucas while the other two advanced for Jewel. Their movements were jerky, like robots with stiff joints. Each time they took a step, the snow melted around their feet. Jewel’s attention was momentarily drawn to this when she realized they were practically on top of her. Now that they were so close, she could see their faces. Oval-shaped with wide, round eyes and sharply angled brows, both leered at her with disturbing grins. They wore dark purple, form-fitting armor, their surfaces so shiny she could see her distorted reflection on their chests. The first one reached for her.

Suddenly a bright, white column shot down from the sky, spreading bands of light overhead. Distracted by this, the one holding Lucas eased his grip just enough to allow him to escape. He pulled free, shoved the nearest one aside before rushing for Jewel. She called his name as he dropped to his knees and swept her up in a tight hug.

“Are you all right?” he asked breathlessly. When she nodded, he positioned himself in front of both she and the unconscious girl. Peering over his shoulder, Jewel watched what happened next.

A large, armored figure emerged from the light, what looked to be a spear in his hand. Four of their attackers reacted with shrill cries and advanced, only to be sent sprawling by a single, mighty swing. The lone one emitted what sounded like an aggravated hiss before flinging its arms down. A pair of glowing, sword-like weapons instantly replaced its hands, and it spun round. Jewel cried out. Lucas, however, jumped to his feet. He ducked and jammed his shoulder against the other’s chest. It was sufficient enough to knock it back; as it did, arms flailing, a spear pierced its chest. White energy flared in brilliant flashes before the body faded.

“Toss me the halberd!” the man shouted, his deep voice like thunder.

Lucas quickly did so. He lobbed the weapon with all his strength- so much in fact he stumbled forward the instant he released it. The man caught it effortlessly, set it in his hand and aimed the end at the closest of the remaining enemies.

There was a tense moment before they pounced. Jewel didn’t get the chance to gasp in shock; the man stabbed each one in the chest well before they reached him. The final one faded in a blast of white light, leaving the man standing alone. He glanced around once, then, shouldering his halberd, turned on his heel and approached them. Jewel stared at him in awe. He was easily the tallest man she’d ever seen. When he passed into the ring of light from her felled maglite, his armor gleamed bright copper. It reminded her of a new penny.

“Has harm befallen the new star?” he demanded.

“You mean her?” Jewel said, looking down at the girl. “Do you know who she is?”

“Yes,” he answered briskly. He dropped to a knee before her, closing his hands over her shoulders. “I ask for silence now,” he requested, though it sounded more like an order due to his tone. Jewel had heard it often enough from their father when he felt she was being too noisy. She glanced at Lucas, but her brother’s attention was solely fixed on the girl. He swallowed uneasily, as if something bothered him. Jewel could not place what it could be.

The man cupped the girl’s face, turning it this way and that. He mumbled to himself, seemingly upset over something when the girl’s hand moved. He reached for the pouch attached to his belt and removed what looked like a crystal fragment. Jewel gasped. It looked a lot like her necklace!

Holding it close to the girl’s face, he waited. A moment passed before she leaned forward. The crystal came into contact with her forehead, flashed, and faded.

“She is safe,” he said, relieved. Leaning back, he removed his helmet and looked over at the two. He had straight copper hair pinned back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck, like the man in the Revolutionary War picture at school. His eyes were bright white, deep set in a stern face with a strong, square jaw. When he smiled, it softened his entire face. “I thank you for looking after her, and for your aid in battle.”

“Were those men after her?” Lucas asked, sounding angry.

“Indeed they were,” the other sighed. He gestured; the helmet in hand trembled, then looked to melt into his forearm. The halberd also disappeared the same way. Afterward, he gathered the girl in his arms and stood, towering over the siblings. “We must go. Sirius’ minions will return, and most likely in bigger numbers.”

“Sirius?” Jewel echoed in surprise.  “But who’s-”

“There is no time to explain now, little one,” the man interrupted. “If you can provide us with sanctuary, we will be on our way.”

Lucas gestured for Jewel to start walking. “Come with us to our tent. It’s not far from here.”

The armored man nodded. “Then I shall follow you.”

Back to basics

Sixteen days into April’s Camp, and I have handwritten 50 pages. Quite the accomplishment, if I say so myself. I’m not bothering with a daily word count. In fact, I’m not really considering myself an active participant in Camp. I don’t do word sprints, word wars, or the writing challenges. To be perfectly honest, I think they’re pointless. I see the challenges suggesting the writer insert something completely random and I can’t help but wonder, How the hell does doing that improve on the narrative? If anything, won’t it just make things more complicated during the revision process? I look on these exercises with a critical eye because that’s not how I do things. Others, however, do, and that’s okay.

I’m simply writing. Like I’ve always done since I first thought to put pen to paper. I can’t remember the last time I worked on something that felt so natural. No strings attached, no preset goals other than that of finishing a draft, and no distractions. NaNo has sadly become a distraction. I was more focused on matching the word count than on writing. It became a competition with myself and other writers. Writing should never be a competition. And that is why I’m no longer going to participate.

Part of me feels a sense of betrayal since I do love the atmosphere NaNo creates for writers. I appreciate the community feel it fosters. Writing itself is a solitary craft, and people are social creatures by nature. Just knowing so many others are sitting at their computers (or at a desk with a notebook) plugging away at a first draft was enough for others to push forward. It was never about finishing, but starting something you may not have if left to your own devices. Some writers need this. I’m not one of them. I don’t think I ever was. I wrote my epic fantasy back in the early 2000s with nothing driving me onward but pure love of what I was doing. I want to recapture that feeling. The result is a draft I’m truly enjoying. The pacing is what it should be. I’m taking my time with introducing my characters and their world. I’m getting to know them. It’s like I rediscovered the joy of writing.

I understand this approach isn’t for everyone. I’m not knocking those who embrace the community feel to better help themselves. I think it’s like how some writers are pantsers, others are plotters, some outline while others don’t, some use Word, some use Scrivener, etc. etc. In the end, it’s all about the story. Because ultimately that’s what readers will care about.

 

 

Updates for Camp NaNo

Sometime last week, I determined that I wanted to try handwriting my draft. The prospect of finding a new notebook and pens got me super excited to begin, so I thought why not run with it? I’ve written eight pages so far. It’s my goal to add many more as the month progresses. It’s my desperate hope that I can translate what I wrote when the time comes to transfer it to a Word doc. I have a habit of writing really fast when I get into a scene. I’ve lost count of how often I end up confusing myself when I go back to re-read the previous page.

IMG_2360

My Andrew Luck Pop makes a return engagement as my writing mascot.

Why handwrite when I have a perfectly good iPad? Simple. I was looking to shake things up a bit as far as the process goes. I don’t want to suffer another ‘failure’ for this Camp outing. I also like what I’ve written tons better. This is key. The relaxed atmosphere of Camp prevents me from filling pages with words just to say I’ve produced something. Now I am being more conscious of what I want to say. It just reinforces my decision to skip November’s NaNo this year. It pains me to do it since I love participating. But after two years of producing effectively useless drafts and spending the winter recovering from writer burnout, I think it’s the best course of action. My other stories were written at my own pace. Time to go back to it.

Hope my fellow Campers are enjoying success!

Getting ready for Camp

Despite a low success rate with my previous Camp experiences, I decided to give it another shot. It pleases me to announce I have begun work 0n the outline for this year’s project. It’s the hard rewrite of my untitled NaNo 2015. I’m not quite done with Cassie and Drew yet. I also think entering football’s off-season will help sharpen my focus. Drew’s face and body model is pretty damn distracting.

andrew-luck-portrait-800-2

The Chiefs and Patriots fan in me writhes with such shame, but I also don’t care.

I also crafted an updated synopsis. Have a gander!

Earth, 2202. Ten years ago, the New Frontier Corporation’s attempt to sustain the world’s first colony die when Bright Hope is ravaged by a solar flare. Its survivors, mostly young children and adolescents, are left to fend for themselves when the company abandons the colony. Enter the League, the newly-formed intergalactic arm of the North American Football Association. The League takes over the remains to promote lucrative football games using the survivors as players. But it is not without cost, for soon Bright Hope becomes nothing more than a subsidiary of the League.

Cassiopeia Tennant, like the other survivors, is considered a ‘burnt colony kid’, her social status that of a second-class citizen, her prospects no higher than just above poverty. With everyone she ever knew dead and left with less than nothing, Cassie works to find a way off the colony.

Like Cassie, Drew Thomas lost all he knew in the flare. In the years since, he has experienced nothing but success, popularity, and pride as the quarterback of the immensely popular Central Sector Spartans. Yet when he comes across vital information that reveals the League plans to replace all players with more durable clones, he runs.

A chance encounter with Cassie prevents the League from taking action against Drew, but his appearance draws her into a world she has no knowledge of or great admiration for. Along with the help of a reluctant geneticist formerly of the League’s clone project, Drew and Cassie take a stand against the very company that saved them.

It’s my hope that the draft that results from April’s Camp proves more substantial than what was born from November’s frenzy. I’m also debating on not participating this year. I noticed that the pacing from my previous two drafts was set to ludicrous speed. How can I expect readers to develop connections to characters if there’s no time to get to know them outside of their roles in the plot? The reverse is just as bad. Too slow a start can result in bored readers. The best example I can come up with is LOST VOICES by Sarah Porter. I was fascinated by the premise- a lonely and forgotten girl who becomes a mermaid- but the pacing killed it for me. I read up to chapter four before putting it aside. All events these chapters focused on seemed to have little to do with the plot other than worsening the MC’s already shitty situation. It was overkill. Not even the passages describing the girl’s transformation into a mermaid was enough to hold my interest. And they were among the best.

However, Peter Liney’s THE DETAINEE- a sci-fi featuring an older male character exiled to an island with other 60+ people for the crime of being old- kept me engaged despite a similarly slow start. The reader is fully aware of the MC’s shitty situation, one that’s complicated by groups of crazed, drugged-up teenagers slaughtering the people he lives with. An offhand observation about the MC feeling he was being watched turned out to be a direct link to events to come. I think the difference here is I established a connection to the lead in THE DETAINEE, while the girl in LOST VOICES didn’t jump out at me at all. Every reader’s experience is different. I’m sure there are those out there who sympathized more with the girl and sympathized less with the older man.

Bottom line: pacing is something I think depends more on the story rather than the writer. But it must be balanced. That is my personal challenge to myself. For those of you participating in Camp or just writing, I wish you good luck in whatever challenges you set for yourself. They will make us all better writers.

Crushing Self Doubt

Oh, hey there. Forgive my consistent inconsistency with this thing. But there is a legit reason as to why I’ve been away. And since it directly ties in with my entry into the Positive Writer’s Writers Crushing Doubt contest, I thought it was the best way to bring my blog- and my confidence- back from the dead.

This past month or so has been trying for me. Why? I’ve spent all this time trapped in that oh-so-dreadful state of mind that befalls even the best of us: extreme self-doubt. I’m not talking about the kind that results from a scene you have been debating on eliminating and trying to convince yourself why you should keep it. This is the kind that encompasses your whole identity as a writer. Nagging questions start rearing their ugly little heads:

Is what I’m writing even any good?

Does anyone outside of the three or four people I know even want to read this?

Who the hell am I kidding? I’m not cut out for this.

I keep getting rejected. Maybe I’m not that good of a writer as I think I am.

Fraud.

Untalented hack.

Unoriginal.

Might as well quit.

I couldn’t tell you why I started feeling such incredible dissatisfaction. It doesn’t really matter what set it off. When you’re in the grip of self-doubt, everything looks bleak. For me, characters that jumped off the page now appear lifeless. Words lost their punch. Plot lines started looking worn and cliche. I couldn’t bring myself to look at anything I’ve written. It all looked the same to me: bad. Uninspired. Insipid. Worthless. I had seriously considered abandoning all attempts to revise or complete projects. I had hit a struggling writer’s rock bottom.

So what did I do? I cried. A lot. I tried to rediscover my passion through fanfic. When that didn’t pan out, I pushed all writing to the wayside. I turned to books and video games in the hope that something, anything, would break me out of this funk. I read and finished two awesome books, I advanced in the latest Batman game. But still I couldn’t seem to shake the darkness of self-doubt. This went on for weeks. And then, oddly enough, playing Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits proved to be the catalyst. For those not in the know, it’s a JRPG released on the PS2 back in 2003. What was it about this old PS2 game, you may ask? The realization that it was chock-full of every bad trope you could imagine. It didn’t do anything new or earth shattering. It took what was familiar, gave it a new name and look, and ran with it. The end result? A mostly forgettable JRPG in an era that was replete with them. The only reason this particular title got any notice was because of its association with the Arc the Lad series.

I put the game controller down and took a long, hard look at my current project. New thoughts started coming to my mind:

You are better than you think.

This is not going to be just another manuscript condemned to someone’s slush pile.

You CAN do this.

You WILL do this.

You are a writer.

Embrace it.

Never quit.

And, just like that, the elusive spark to ignite my creativity was back. I’m ecstatic about getting back to work. The steps I’ve taken are small, but they are meaningful. And it’s all thanks to some JRPG nostalgia wanted me to revisit. So, thanks, Arc the Lad, for providing me with an example of what I don’t want to become. Thanks for being the splash of ice water I needed to free me from this most dreadful of emotions.

If you ever find yourself in the stranglehold of self-doubt, just remember, fellow writers: you ARE better than you think. You CAN do this. You’re NOT going to quit. And, most importantly, you’re not alone. You have legions cheering you on. I’m one of them. So crush that writer’s doubt and keep going.