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.

 

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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!

BwdTPLv

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.”

Preparing for NaNoWriMo 2015

I’m a few months early, but when inspiration strikes, far be it from me to ignore the muse’s insistent whispering. I will be delving into the realm of YA fantasy. The Chronos Connection tells the story of 14 year old Ally White who, upon finding an hourglass pendant, discovers she is descended from Chronos himself, and she must join her family, the Temporal Guardians, in order to stop the Lady in Black from subverting all time. But there’s a catch: the Lady in Black happens to be Ally’s future self from an alternate timeline. I’ve already laid out the basic outline and have the major characters lined up. Plus I love that it has a title already. Most of my stories get one much later. And even then it’ll change for whatever reason. I am very excited to work on it.

Time travel is one of those things that I love in my movies, but I was always hesitant to write about for fear of getting overwhelmed by details. I’ve decided to keep it simple, much like I did with the story I wrote back in high school. Of course, the time traveler in that became obsessed with a woman, kidnapped her, and forced her into a marriage she didn’t want in order to save her life. High school me thought that was the romantic thing to do. I was heavily influenced by my love for Phantom of the Opera. Adult me is so glad I’m a much smarter writer now.

I also watched an informative webinar courtesy of Writer’s Digest. Its host listed the top 20 pitfalls most writers make when they are submitting manuscripts. With some of them, such as the inclusion of prologues, unsympathetic characters, low/lack of stakes, and the reluctance to kill my darlings, I’m guilty as charged. It is comforting that so many others are guilty of it, too. So long as we acknowledge it and can clip it from our manuscripts, it’s not so bad. I save those darlings of mine in separate files. They may never show up in a piece again, but better they exist in some folder I never look at rather than drag my story down. Everything in its place and all that.

NaNo day 19: The Finishing

It pleases me to announce that after nineteen days of writing, I have reached the prestigious 50K mark. This was the fastest I have hit the goal in all my years of participating. And while there is certain to be repetition, sudden name changes and scenes that will need to be reorganized, the plot itself flowed. Any frustration I experienced had more to do with what character to go back to and less with plot elements. Because damn, is there a lot going on in this story. Characters are readying for war, another character is alone in the enemy’s camp, yet another character is trying to distance himself from the plot, while one other is starting to slowly realize that maybe the man he revered isn’t as awesome as he believed. Each storyline is designed to bring them to the same place at roughly the same time. Won’t THAT be fun for me to decide whose head to get into!

I knew that reaching 50K was not the signal of the end of the story. It’s the halfway mark for the characters. The other 50K will involve more discoveries, more surprises and more resolutions. And death. Can’t have a fantasy story without death. I already got upset writing a funeral scene for another character I hadn’t planned to kill. I can only imagine my reaction when the one whose death I DID plan comes to pass.

So write on, my fellow WriMos! I am going to continue the fun into December. Crazy to think that this is the third novel I have written this year, when I used to languish over one or two. It’s a good feeling.

Up Next: #PitMad and CampNaNoWriMo

March 25th will find me joining the #PitMad event on Twitter. Premise is to pitch an unsolicited, completed manuscript in 140 words or less when a participating agent is online. Renegade‘s self-published status renders it ineligible (to me, anyway) and Lifeline is nowhere near ready, so I have chosen my YA fantasy romance, The Shadow Conflict, for this. I admit, pitching anything of mine to non-friends and family is ground I have yet to tread, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. Someone would ask, ‘So, what is this story about?’ I’d get as far as, ‘Uh. Stuff.

rick things

Rick knows what it’s like!

Point here is that summarizing, let alone pitching, was not my strong suit. I’ve spent the past few days checking out websites that provide helpful hints (such as Tips For Pitching and Querying Agents ). I have the first sentence down, and I like it. A lot. As for a closer, ever know what you want to say, but can’t quite figure out how to say it? Yeah, that’s where I am now. In between trying to polish my pitching skills, I’ve been giving the story an editorial facelift. My intent was to use correct forms of punctuation and single space after the periods (I have been double spacing after periods since high school), but I also found a few issues with parts of the narrative and plot. For instance, there’s a scene between the two leads that is just so out of place, I still don’t know why I left it in there. Maybe it was a reluctance to clip a section with nice descriptions, who knows. My sentimental attachments to scenes are spontaneous. Seriously, if you have a manuscript ready, why not pitch? Hope to see some of you there!

Along with #PitMad, I have decided to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this year. I had heard of it in years past, but I never considered joining. This year, I figure what the hell? I love the camaraderie, the idea of a goal, and knowing others have their noses to the grindstone as they feverishly work to give birth to a 50K word baby. Camp is more of a retreat, so there’s less pressure of absolutely having to make a word count goal each day to get to 50K at month’s end. There’s more flexibility, and you have the opportunity to join virtual ‘cabins’ with other writers. The opportunity to get feedback is a big win with me.

As for my project, I have this feeling it’s going to change as April 1st nears. I had previously mentioned wanting to try fleshing out a possible sequel for Lifeline, but being back in my fantasy world has me considering book two for The Shadow Conflict. We’ll see. I could just keep working on Lifeline (getting close to the end!). No matter what I end up focusing on, I know I’ll enjoy it. I thrive on these writer events. I love being a part of the community. I follow many writers on Twitter, but sadly most are only interested in throwing promos at you. Start to feel like this guy.

LOOKATMYBOOK

LOOKATMYBOOK 

Participating in Camp NaNo? You can find me as Jonquil Aries if you’re interested in connecting with me. I’d love to read what you have!

Release the stories!

After some consideration, I have decided to say ‘screw it,’ and am proud to share my epic fantasy, The Last Hero with everyone. If writers have a Magnum Opus, I think this is mine. It took me three years to write, clocks in at over 300K words, features every fantasy element I grew up loving in movies and books (magic, swordplay, mythical creatures, to name a few) and was also the first story I attempted to submit for publishing. I haven’t given it any extensive editing in years. While it’s by no means my best work, it is something I am extremely proud of. The Last Hero represents my dedication and determination to the craft. It’s the trophy on my wall; it deserves better than sitting on my hard drive. I mean, the story didn’t just inspire me, it inspired a good friend of mine to draw the characters. I leave you with some of my favorite pieces she did, circa 2003-2004. Enjoy!

Cover image by Julia Lichty http://ghostfire.net

Cover image by Julia Lichty http://ghostfire.net

Main cast, from left to right: Ikarius, Elgar, Yrauq, Ashe, Acacia. By Julia Lichty

Main cast, from left to right: Ikarius, Elgar, Yrauq, Ashe, Acacia. By Julia Lichty

Elgar vs Menelaus, by Julia Lichty

Elgar vs Menelaus, by Julia Lichty

Other writings

I will be adding a tab dedicated to this subject, but I thought I’d share the link with everyone on my main blog as well. I have a page at Scribd.com where I have posted some of my favorite works. All the stories featured here are projects I hope to return to the near future; of the three available, only The Shadow Conflict: Book One is complete.  Tainted was the subject for my 2011 NaNoWriMo. Enjoy!

The Shadow Conflict: Book One

“She was heiress of Light. No matter where she went, people would love her. He was heir to Shadow. No matter where he went, people would hate him.”

Caeher, a world where the very elements are revered through representatives called elemental tamers, has viewed Shadow with great misgivings. Lady Helena’s rule sees them oppressed, stripped of hope and status, all in her crusade to keep her ancestor Lailie’s decree alive. But the mistreatment fuels Shadow’s cause, thrusting Caeher into another war.

Seventeen year old Harmony, heiress of Light, is sole champion of the shadow people. Defying her mother, she has made it her duty to see the elements reunited. This culminates in her love for Braeden, the heir of Shadow. With the elements banding together against Shadow, the two young people must overcome years’ worth of mistrust if their love is to survive.

Fallen Star

Seventeen-year old Lucas is studying to become an astronomer like his father, but when he and his little sister, Jewel, discover the body of an unconscious girl lying within a crater, everything he knows about stars changes. Charged with protecting Star, the siblings embark on a journey not just beyond their imaginings, but of self discovery as well.

Tainted

“Forsaken and forgotten wife of the liar. The path ahead of you is as twisted as he, and will bring its darkness upon you. Forsaken and forgotten not, but tainted forevermore.”

When Catherine Chandler married Thomas Caine, she had every hope that her life would change for the better. However, tragedy soon strikes: Thomas is murdered, and she succumbs after losing their unborn child.

But this is only the beginning of her plight. For upon her death, she learns she has been sold into eternal servitude to the gods by her own husband, who is revealed to be none other than the trickster god, Loki.

Heartache turns into desperate determination as Catherine seeks to make Loki pay for his deceit, heedless of the cost it will be to her own soul.