Surrounded (Short Story)

Apocalyptic City — found via Pinterest

I’ve made it to week 5, and I have a new short story to share. Yay!

Though, to be honest, between reading every day and a short story per week, I’m falling behind on my novel. I’m trying to be more disciplined about writing every day, but it’s difficult after eight hours of work.

My mom is one of my primary beta readers, and I asked her advice for which story idea I should write about this week. She liked the idea of something post-apocalyptic. This piece isn’t completely out in left field. My NaNoWriMo novel from last year gives the origin of my fantasy world of Dadreon–the death of Earth. This is what happens after…

~ Effy

Surrounded

Malek put his eye to the gun sight and watched the red-skinned demon sniff through the rubble like a search dog. Shooting would draw more. Sam would not survive then. Waiting meant the likely possibility he would be found. Then Sam would be just as dead.

The boy stood below Malek, pressed against the shell of some derelict gasoline machine. He drew measured breaths and resisted the urge to peek around at the snuffling demon, even though it drew closer, perhaps on his scent, perhaps on something else. The belial weren’t the smartest of their kind, but they weren’t to be underestimated. The wingless, ape-faced demons were the smallest of the Erebus, meaning they only stood eight feet tall and weighed merely three times Malek’s slight build.

The sun hid behind a wall of grey-green clouds in the burnt red sky, but Malek knew it was getting late in the afternoon. He had to find a way to get Sam and himself back underground before dark. Nighttime was hunting grounds for the reapers and hellhounds, ronove and naberius as they were called.

Sam brought his hands up from his sides and spoke silently with his fingers. “Just one? Belial?” he asked.

Malek nodded once.

It was then that another belial came from behind the crumbling edge of a building. Malek shook his head and held up two fingers, staying as low to the roof’s crenellation as possible. The two creatures spoke low in their guttural language

Sam nodded.

The scout language had been developed through necessity. To speak above ground was to die. The demons had long ago given up capturing humans for whatever tortures or experiments they performed. Now they were only interested in extermination. Even more important than staying hidden was keeping their home secret. New Detroit was the only home Malek had ever known and one of two remaining holdouts left in what had once been Michigan.

The two belial finished their conversation and began sniffing around again. The first one to appear was getting close to Sam’s hiding place. Malek’s finger hesitated on the trigger. How many more were within earshot?

A flicker above distracted Malek and he looked up. Another flicker of light rippled along the bottoms of the dark clouds. He swore silently.

They didn’t have time.

He lined the sight up to his target and fired. The well-timed shot caught the crouching belial in the eye and he went down like a lead weight. Malek fired again, but the second belial moved at the wrong moment, alerted by the first gunshot, and the bullet skimmed off the demon’s temple, causing it to roar.

Malek snarled a silent profanity.

Sam’s eyes widened, but he stayed frozen in place.

Malek looped the rifle over his head and shoulder and hopped over the roof’s ledge. He bounced off a window sill and to the ground, landing in a crouch several yards from Sam. He sprinted at the boy, pulling a hand pistol. The belial saw him and ran towards him. Malek raised the gun and shot. The pistol’s report was louder and echoed off dilapidated concrete and brick.

The belial fell, the socket of its left eye smoking.

Malek held out a hand to Sam and they ran. The man looked up and saw the lightning quickening on the underside of the sulfuric clouds. There was no time. He readied another bullet in the pistol, hoping he wouldn’t need it.

A howl from behind them curdled the blood in Malek’s veins. It was early for the naberius, but gunshots would bring the whole of them out. As soon as the howl stopped, he heard the heavy padding of feet closing behind them.

Sam gasped, looking back at the beast.

Malek kept running, pushing himself and pulling Sam along behind. By some miracle, the boy kept his footing and matched Malek’s pace. Seeing a collapsed building, Malek ran for it. Somehow he found the adrenaline to push harder.

Steel girders jutted out at odd angles like a giant shattered rib cage, but they both avoided them through practiced movements. At the rubble’s edge, they both had to scramble on all fours and squeeze through a narrow gap on their stomachs. Malek pushed Sam’s small frame through and pulled himself along more slowly.

A snarl and snap of teeth met air, and a renewed howl shook the loose rubble, but Malek and Sam were already through the girder maze. The naberius dug furiously, but the concrete and steel held for now. Malek readied his pistol, aiming for the burning eyes that watched him through the space between the rubble.

Sam touched his shoulder and signed that they should hurry.

They stepped lightly through the dark wreck. Both glanced at the manhole in the center, but walked past it. Malek hoped this might be the day the Erebus thought to find them that way and instead met a painful end when the rigged tunnels collapsed down on their heads.

Patters of rain began on the twisted steel and concrete above. Malek frowned.

“We’ll have to run for it,” he signed to Sam.

Sam nodded.

They squeezed out a small crevasse, coming out opposite the way they had come in and lingered briefly beneath the overhang of crumbling the building above them. The rain came slow and light, but each drop hit the ground with a sizzle and hiss.

The way looked clear.

Malek broke cover and ran. The raindrops fell and each that hit his skin felt like boiling oil and stuck like grease to his skin. He could smell the sulfur and burning hair. He hoped no demons were close enough to smell it as he bit back each cry that threatened, repeating a line of silent curses as he continued to run.

Reaching the shell of another building, he crouched in a small alcove the rain couldn’t reach. He patted at his sleeves and back of his shirt, trying to brush away any lingering rain. It warmed his callused fingers uncomfortably. His hair and clothing smoked.

Sam sprinted through the darkening street, covering his head with his arm. Malek watched the boy’s clothes and skin smoke and heard the nauseating sizzle.

Malek reached a hand forward, waiting to pull Sam to safety.

A snarl echoed through the haze of rain. A naberius, hopefully the same they had left on the other side, came from the rubble pile. Its skin sizzled, but it didn’t seem to notice. It jumped, clearing the distance between Sam and the husk of twisted girders. A whip-like tail flicked behind it and the bleached-skull face growled down at the smaller form of the boy.

Sam exhaled as he hit the ground, but to the boy’s credit, he didn’t utter a word.

Malek flinched and  raised the pistol. Before he could line up a shot, the naberius bit down and tore a chunk of Sam’s neck and shoulder away.

Malek squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. He crawled through the chunks of asphalt and concrete, away from the preoccupied hellhound and his meal. The sound of crunching and tearing followed him even once he was out of range of the naberius.

The sought after manhole cover came into sight. Malek pulled it up and grabbed the corner of a time and moth-eaten blanket. Lowering himself into the hole, he carefully, quietly pulled the cover back into place, covering it as much as possible with the blanket, tucking the scratchy fabric under the edge.

Malek dropped to the damp stone below. He wavered for a second and steadied himself against the wall. He stuffed his fists into his eyes and took several deep breaths.

I can’t stay here, he told himself. I have to move.

Lead-lined legs resisted but began to move slowly. The more steps he took, the quicker Malek convinced them to move. He left the entrance behind him and began to seek out each turn of the path that would take him home.

Malek played through his head how to explain to Sam’s mother. Cerah was a friend to Malek’s older sister, Houda. He tried to figure how best to word Sam’s loss, blinking away the moisture that formed at the corners of his eyes.

A splash and an echoey thump pulled Malek from his thoughts. He measured his breathing and turned his head to listen behind him. The shuffle-drag that came next made the man’s throat tighten. He fingered the pistol in its holster and then moved his hand to his knife instead.

A low moan came from the edge of the darkness.

A set of pale blue glowing orbs appearing, getting closer. More joined them, clamoring up from below, from the stagnant sewage water. The moaning, shuffling creatures came close enough for Malek to smell the wet rot.

He twisted the dagger hilt in nervous fingers and took a step back.

A moan came from just over his shoulder and Malek gasped and spun, throwing his hands up just as an undead face leaned in and snapped together a bared set of moldy teeth. The rest of the undead’s face was covered with oily black tendrils that seemed to be holding the thing’s bones together, functioning in place of long-decayed skin and muscle. Its eye sockets glowed with an unnatural, hollow blue light.

It moaned again and leaned forward. Feet shuffled closer and the greasy body pressed against him with more strength than a pile of bones should possess. Creaking and grating against one another, the undead’s bony fingers raised and started to grasp at Malek’s face. He twisted and tried to pull away and saw the other undead getting closer with their stumbling, shuffling gaits.

Malek was surrounded.

He couldn’t bring his knife to bare, couldn’t even pull his hands back from the moaning, snapping undead inches from his face.

Malek pushed away and up. Teeth clacked with growing intensity as the man’s fingers encircled the undead’s face. Malek continued to push. Pops and snaps came from its neck bones as it elongated beyond its natural length. Malek flipped his knife to the ready and jammed it through the bottom of its jaw, before the tendrils could pull its neck back together.

The undead crumpled, the hollow light fading from the eye sockets.

Malek turned just as four more undead came up behind him. He batted two backwards, but the third caught his arm with bony fingers commanded by the oily tendrils. The fourth stumbled forward and grabbed him, biting Malek’s forearm and taking away a chunk of skin.

The man snarled back the pain and stabbed it in the temple. He backpedaled and nearly fell. He ripped his other arm away from grasping, bony fingers and reached for his pistol.

An echoey report blew a chunk of skull from the undead, and its fingers still gripped Malek’s arm as it fell away.

Malek’s pistol still hung half in the holster, and the man flicked a glance behind him.

Two more shots fired, and the other two undead dropped.

Grasping his bleeding arm, Malek gritted his teeth and kicked the second-time dead into the dark sewage water.

A woman with dark eyes and a dark hijab rushed up beside Malek and looked him over. Two others flanked her and looked for additional threats.

He gave his sister a grateful look, but couldn’t form the words.

Houda pressed her hand against her brother’s wound to staunch the blood flow. “Come, we’ll get you home.”

“I need to see Cerah,” Malek insisted, shaky on his feet.

“Your wounds need tending.”

“After I see Cerah,” Malek insisted.

Houda pressed her lips together but nodded. “Let’s go. The mine shaft is up ahead.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

The Paper Dragon Festival (Excerpt)

Original Image: “Ancient Dragon” by Satoshi Kamiya (Japan) 1 uncut square

Around this time last year, I finished my first ever first draft of a novel, Jadeflare. I’ve been overwhelmed with the idea of editing it. So it’s been sitting. Among the numerous chapters already there, it needs some additional scenes added. This is one of the parts I want to add. My goal was to give it a definitive beginning, middle, and end, but it started to get long and rambling. So I cut it off.

A heads up, it gets a little steamy at the end.

Enjoy!

~ Effy

1000 Day MFA — Week 4

The Paper Dragon Festival

As they walked through the tall gates of Farnx, Lakeerae felt as if she walked into the prismatic rays of a rainbow. Shifting colors waved in the wind before her along both sides of the street and she squinted to better identify the objects that swung in the light breeze.

Colored paper, folded into the shapes of small, multicolored dragons.

Paper dragons.

Roidar seemed to recognize them at the same time, but his reaction was much different. He groaned, and as Lakeerae looked over to ask, she saw the deep frown on his face. She had finally started to get used to seeing him without it.

“Excuse me, ma’am druid, but we need to keep the way clear.” The guard averted his eyes as she turned around.

“Forgive me. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful,” Lakeerae said. As she smiled, the guard returned it.

“Yes, ma’am druid, the Paper Dragon Festival is very beautiful.”

Roidar snorted.

The guard’s smile faded as he studied Roidar’s flamboyant clothing and gold chains and hoops. “Watch yourself, gypsy thief,” he snarled.

“Forgive us for dallying, sir,” Lakeerae said, grabbing Roidar’s hand and pulling him along beside her. Once they were out of earshot of the guards, she dropped his hand and spun on the man. “What are you in such a huff about?” she hissed in a whisper.

He did not answer but maintained his disgruntled look.

“Can you at least guide us to someplace we can get supplies? You know your way around much better than I do.” As Lakeerae spoke she tucked her red hair behind both of her ears and tried not to get lost in the fluttering paper dragons.

No answer came, and she finally looked back to Roidar. “Yes,” he said without expanding on it.

“Okay, lead away.” Lakeerae tried to sound cheerful, gesturing widely out before her, but he was good at fouling her mood when he wanted to.

He walked in silence. Lakeerae took the opportunity to take in all of Farnx.

She marvelled at the streets and buildings made all of stone, instead of the dirt and wood nocs, or hill-homes, she had always known among the druids. Even the roofs looked like sheets of stone, instead of the thatch often used on smaller houses. They crowded the street and loomed from five or six times her height, making her feel small.

People walked everywhere. Their clothes were as colorful as the paper dragons. Some people danced in the streets. Others hung out of windows, shouting, singing, or a combination of both. Smiling faces, covered with paint like multicolored scales, greeted her and offered her foods, the scent of them travelled to her on the summer breeze, warm and fried and sugary.

“So many people,” she said, grabbing ahold of Roidar’s sleeve, so to not lose him.

“Stupid people,” he growled and pushed his way through.

Lakeerae frowned. She thought to press him but decided to wait until they were off the street.

Roidar stopped in front of a building. Lakeerae bumped into the back of him and mumbled a flustered apology.

“Damn this town and their stupid festival,” Roidar grumbled.

Lakeerae peeked around his shoulder and saw a hastily written sign: “Closed for the festival! Come see us tomorrow!”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” she said.

“Tomorrow? Just what I want, to stay in this city.” Roidar glanced both directions down the street they stood on. “Come on. We’ll have to find an inn for the night.”

“Oh, we get to stay for the festival!”

Roidar glared at her, but his facade softened under her smile. “Yes, I suppose so.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the time they settled into the inn’s common room, Lakeerae was painted, full, and getting sleepy. Roidar let her rest her head on his shoulder as he sipped his ale. Hers was still half full. Her cloak’s hood slid back from her hair and she caught Roidar studying the green scales painted on her face.

“Why green?” he asked.

“It’s the color of leaves, of course,” she said.

“Of course.” He nodded and went back to his ale.

He had humored her all afternoon and joined her in the festivities, despite his continued annoyance and reserve. She had even forced a smile out of him a few times, but he had not been enjoying himself like her. She tried to experience everything around her.

“What is it about these paper dragons?” she asked. She put her hand on his arm. It looked pale against his darker skin.

“They’re just silly.”

“Like the kind of people who enjoy such things?” she continued with a smile.

Roidar frowned. “Are you referring to yourself?” She nodded. “Your enjoyment is endearing. I have tried to remind myself today that they…” he gestured to the room “…are just as unaware of the true meaning of this festival as you are.”

Lakeerae sat up. She swept the hood back the rest of the way and tucked her hair behind her ears. “What do you mean?”

“This festival. It’s not about dancing or face paint or food. It’s about protection from the terrors the dragons brought with them. The Dragon War was a real thing. Dragons are murderous and destructive. These paper dragons are wards, originally created by the priests before they fell out of favor when the gods disappeared.”

And the druids became the religion of the people, Lakeerae finished silently.

Lakeerae fingered the blue paper dragon on their table, feeling the fibrous smoothness of its wings. “Well, they must work then. No dragon has been seen in the Bracklin Reach in hundreds of years, not since the Dragon War.”

Roidar picked up the paper dragon and held it, staring into its eyeless face. “Not as well as you think,” he replied cryptically.

Lakeerae studied him but didn’t know how to reply.

She didn’t have time to think long on it. A woman holding a lute walked between them and the hearth, catching both of their attention with her dark silhouette against the orange flames.

“As we come to the end of the Paper Dragon Festival, it’s good to remember what we have to celebrate. The Dragon War was a dark time.” She paused, strummed the lute, adjusted it, and then began to sing. The lute harmonised with haunting sobriety.

The bard told how the sky grew dark with great scaled beasts and how they crashed like thunder and lit the sky like lightning. Their battle waged for several fortnights, blocking the sun, blocking the moons. The greenery burned and the animals laid down. The people hid and the people starved.

The priests prayed and created wards. One morning the sky cleared and all became quiet. The dragons were gone. The people rejoiced but that winter was a harsh one. More died. The priests begged the gods for help but they were silent. The only magic left to them was their wards–paper dragons, hung from window and door frames. They worked and the dragons never returned.

When the bard finished, the common room erupted in cheers. Lakeerae leaned over, close to Roidar’s ear, and whispered, “She knows.” She took another drink of her ale, watching him over the top of the mug.

Roidar looked at her with the ghost of a smile. Lakeerae returned it but wider.

Then she yawned unexpectedly.

“You should rest. The sooner we get our supplies the quicker we can be on our way again,” Roidar said.

Her eyelids were too heavy for her to argue.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lakeerae stumbled up the stairs, but Roidar caught her before she could go over. He had one arm under each of hers as he hauled her back to her feet, where she wobbled, her face close to his.

“Can you stand?” he asked. His mouth was close enough to hers that she could feel the warmth of his breath and smell the hint of ale still on it. His lips filled her vision.

She nodded, then tripped on the next stair. “Sorry.”

“Here.” He leaned over and lifted her into his arms. He staggered momentarily and Lakeerae’s tired eyes fluttered with concern, her arms clutching his neck. “I’ve got you,” he promised. He ascended the stairs slowly but more steady than she had been on her own. She buried her face in his chest and inhaled his scent, like pine needles.

He didn’t set her down at the top but kept going. The door swung open and shut with hardly her notice. She was too focused on the backs of her eyelids and fingering one of the gold chains that hung around his neck, smooth and warm from being against his skin.

The bed rose up to meet her, or maybe Roidar set her down. Suddenly his arms were gone. The linens felt cold against her skin and she prickled with gooseflesh.

“Will you be okay here?” Roidar asked. He sounded far away.

“I’m cold,” she mumbled.

A weight on the bed brought his smell closer again. He tucked the blanket around her, the scratchy fibers tickling her chin. His hand lingered at her cheek and she sighed and pressed against it.

Silence stretched and Lakeerae opened her eyes with a start. She wondered if she had drifted off. Roidar was still sitting there, a shadow against the darkness. Moonlight streamed unevenly into the room from his left, casting just enough light to create an outline.

“Get some sleep. I’ll come get you in the morning.”

As his weight on the bed shifted, Lakeerae reached out and found his retreating hand. She gripped it and pulled it back. She fought her tired eyes and heavy body as Roidar made a surprised noise.

He chuckled. “You can’t even keep your eyes open. What are you doing?”

Lakeerae sat up, blinking. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand, keeping Roidar’s in her other. They were face to face. “I want to say thank you.”

“For what?”

“For spending the day with me, even though I could tell you wanted to be somewhere else. I enjoyed it.”

She watched his shadowed cheek rise, the moonlight illuminating his teeth as he grinned. He was starkly contrasted in light and dark. “I enjoyed it as well. I’m sorry if I seemed an unwilling participate. I’m actually starting to like your company.”

From anyone else she would have thought it a backhanded compliment. “You’re not quite as bad as I first thought.”

Silence enveloped them until it seemed they and the room and the moons were all of existence.

Lakeerae raised the hand she still held and placed it near the center of her chest. She felt her quickened heartbeat against his similarly racing pulse.

Roidar’s eyes fell to their entwined hands and came back to her face. “You should get some sleep. Remember to shield your mind, like we’ve…”

She silenced him with her lips. There was no hesitation. He leaned into her, tilting his head and kissing her deeper. Their tongues found each other. Lakeerae reminded herself to breathe as she became lightheaded.

She brushed both of her hands back through his hair, tugging his face tighter to hers.

Their knees touching on the bed made them awkward as they tried to press closer. Roidar pivoted and guided her leg out to the side of him, the other still hanging off the bed. He laid her down.

Roidar pressed against her. He kissed from her mouth, along her cheek, and to her ear. His breath was heavy as he kissed her earlobe.

The room grew warmer. Lakeerae pulled on his handfuls of hair as her skin tingled. She felt it grow hot.

Roidar gasped and pulled away.

Lakeerae’s eyes shot open, her breath coming in small pants. He sat straight up, patting his arms and shirt. When she saw his face, she looked down at herself. She was wreathed in a light layer of green flame, an iridescent flicker along her pale skin. She raised her hand before her face and watched the flames lick along her skin for a moment.

She willed the flames to quiet.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked, her voice strained. Her eyes glistened with moisture.

“No, I appear unhurt,” Roidar said, tracing along his arms with his hands and his eyes again. “Are you alright?”

“I think so.” Her voice trembled with emotion.

Roidar stood up and smoothed his shirt and then his hair with his hands. “I should go,” he said, his words slow to form and leaving a palatable discomfort hanging in the air. He leaned forward, paused, and turned toward the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob and said, “I’ll come get you in the morning.” He left, the only sound the click of the door closing behind him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Big Bad (Drabble)

1000 Day MFA -- Week 3

1000 Day MFA — Week 3

I had a rough week. A total lack of energy, ambition, and muse. It’s probably the weather–a week or two of spring followed by cold weather that screwed with my sinuses all over again. I got four sentences over four days and found myself waxing poetic about it in our 1000 Day MFA group. Our advisor replied to me and suggested aiming for just 100 words and gave me permission for it to really suck.

Getting something down on paper, yes, that was what I needed. But 100 words of what?

On my way to work the following day, I heard a song called “Big Bad” by Borgore, and the title stuck in my brain. I wrote (and revised) half of this piece in my head in the car, rushing through the drive thru so fast I didn’t realize I had the wrong size coffee until I got to work and started typing.

So here’s my first drabble. Per Wikipedia:

A drabble is a short work of fiction of around one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.

I edited it to exactly 100 words, which made me pretty proud. This is the shortest piece I’ve ever written.

I hope you enjoy it. (I spent more works talking about it than writing it!) And wish me luck with a longer piece next week.

~ Effy

Big Bad (Drabble)

No one knew his given name. He only answered to Big Bad, and the name fit him.

He looked at me from across the obscenely large oak desk and smiled a smile that made me shiver. It showed his whole sharp set of teeth, complete with overly large canines, bright white from many whitening pastes and strips. It curled his face into a wolf-like semblance that made me second guess all my reasons for being here.

“So, little one,” Big Bad said with a voice like honey, honey lined with razor blades. “What can you do for me in return?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Sabrine (Short Story)

1000daymfa-week2

1000 Day MFA–Week 2.

Here’s a 25-word elevator pitch for my current novel WIP:

screenshot_20170225-111338_1

It needed some back story. So I wrote this piece.

I’m not big on writing in first person, but I had fun getting into the head of my 9-year-old main character.

I hope you enjoy.

~ Effy

Sabrine

“I have seen nine winters and I won’t be treated like a child!” I shouted, stomping my foot for emphasis. When Father said “No” it just meant I had not asked emphatically enough.

“A lady has no purpose in the woods on a hunt,” Father said. He had his stubborn face on and his arms crossed over his chest. I’d have to be more convincing. I was more stubborn than him.

“Nadea will come and the knights will be there to protect me as they always are,” I reasoned. Usually, I detested being followed around, but if it got me my way it was worth it. I did not mention Garren, Sir Edhin’s squire, but thinking of him specifically made me smile despite the serious adult look I was trying to give to Father.

“Take her, Victus,” Mother said, her voice soft and smiling. “Why shouldn’t she learn to hunt?”

Father blinked. He opened his mouth and closed it again. Finally, he replied, “It’s unladylike.”

I crossed my arms, preparing a new argument, but Mother spoke first.

“What about your daughter is ladylike?”

I opened my mouth to correct her. I was wearing a dress, as they insisted, though it was dirty and torn from play with Nadea and her brother.

“She is a lady and she should act the part,” Father said, but his voice held less conviction and I could tell he was close to giving in.

“I’ll be quiet as a mouse, I promise,” I said, giving my most convincing smile.

“Very well, Sabrine, you can come today, but you are not to hold or fire a weapon. You will observe only and no more,” Father said. He voice was still stern, but I was nodding as my smile grew and I ran over to throw my arms around his neck. He hugged me back and snickered into my hair.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Good morning, Garren,” I said, giving him my most charming smile. I’d practiced it in the mirror while getting dressed, much to Nadea’s annoyance. I wore tan my riding pants and a white loose-collared shirt, more comfortable than any stuffy dress.

“Good morning, Lady Sabrine,” Garren replied. He didn’t smile. Garren never smiled. His blue eyes did twinkle from beneath the messy lay of his blonde hair, and I told myself it was at seeing me and not just a trick of the light.

I fidgeted with Gwen’s reins for a moment. He was supposed to ask why I was there and dressed for riding. Was I going out to ride through the fields this morning? No no, silly boy, I’m going hunting with you and Father.

I willed him to ask.

Garren looked uncomfortable under my stare. I grew annoyed, but I practiced patience, I practiced being a lady.

“Are you going for a ride?” he asked.

I beamed. “No!”

He gave me a confused look.

“I’m going hunting!” All wrong, silly, silly girl.

Garren tilted his head slightly. It looked boyish on one always trying to be a man. “Hunting? With us?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to make the words in my head come out of my mouth.

“Oh? Does the duke know?”

“Oh, yes. He said I could go today.”

Garren nodded and glanced in the direction of his master, Sir Edhin, with a frown. The old knight looked meditative, praying. I don’t understand asking someone else for things you can do yourself.

Looking back to me, but avoiding my eyes, he studied my hands. “If you’re going into the forest with us, you should ride your horse properly, starting with how you hold the reins.” He gave Florence a nudge with his heels and she pranced forward. She nuzzled Gwen.

Garren reached over and gently took Gwen’s reins. He sat a full head higher than me but with him bent over my hands I could smell grass and dew on his hair. He’d been in his secret place, reading. One day I would go there because he invited me, instead of sneaking along behind him. He placed the reins in both my hands and positioned it with fingers callused by long hours riding and holding a sword.

If mother or father or anyone else had fussed over me so, I would have complained, but I endured it to have Garren close.

“You hold tight to them. If your horse gets startled, you have to hold on,” he explained. “Horses are easily startled.”

I nodded. I had been riding since I could walk and I already knew what he told me, but he was close enough that I could see the flecks of slate in his piercing blue eyes. I imagined leaning forward and kissing him, him kissing me back. The sun set behind us as day and night and years passed in a blink, all in the span of that one kiss.

“Alright?” Garren asked. He had leaned back in his saddle but Florence paced close. He had a hand out to steady me if needed.

“Yes, now that I know how to hold my reins.” I said, smiling. I felt my face flush with silly girl embarrassment.

Garren nodded and studied me for a moment longer. He always looked like he was trying to read a language he didn’t understand.

“Perhaps later you can give me a private riding lesson?” I suggested.

Garren’s eyes widened, easily the most emotion I had seen him display. “I’m not a royal and hardly proper company or protection for a lady.”

I did not understand and started to ask what he meant.

“Sabrine, where is Nadea?” Father came up to us on his horse, Rasher, as he asked the question.

Garren bowed his head and averted his eyes. I sat up and tried not to look like a swooning little girl.

“She was still in the stable when I saw her last,” I replied.

“Well, go get her. Hurry up now. We’re leaving right away.”

I nodded. I wouldn’t argue with Father in front of Garren or Sir Edhin. Even I knew that was improper. I nudged Gwen’s ribs with my heels and she turned in the direction I indicated with a light movement of the reins.

Nadea was still putting the saddle on Mindalen when I entered the barn. Well, trying to anyway. “Aren’t you ready yet? Everyone else is ready to leave,” I said, annoyed with the whine creeping into my voice. Gwen paced beneath me, as impatient as I was. I watched Nadea struggle with the saddle with growing frustration.

“Sahym left without helping me with this. I don’t know what I’m doing,” she complained, referring to her brother, the stable boy.

“That much is obvious.”

“Hey! This thing is heavy. It’s nearly bigger than I am!”

“You’re a whole two inches taller than me and I got Gwen’s on just fine.”

Nadea stuck her tongue out at me.

I swung my leg over and dropped off Gwen’s side. She looked at me curiously and I patted her nose as I walked past to where Nadea struggled to lift the saddle over her head. I took it from her hands and swung it while stretching to the tips of my toes to put it in place on Mindalen’s back.

“See? Easy,” I said as I did the straps and made sure they were tight. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Yeah, yeah, show off,” Nadea said as her hoisted herself up. “You just want to go ride next to Garren.” She said his name tauntingly and elongated.

“Shh,” I scolded. “Last thing I want is him, or Father, overhearing you.”

Nadea quieted but she grinned at me. The wider her grin became, the hotter my face felt.

“Sabrine!” Father’s voice called.

“Coming!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As the forest enveloped us, I felt at peace. Golden sunlight filtered through emerald leaves, casting a warm friendly glow on people, horses, and groundcover alike. It looked like the background of our family crest, the green and yellow background, the white hart standing proud. The wind was cool and brought the scent of pine needles. Happy bird songs wove in and amongst each other like children singing rounds. I wanted to join in, but I didn’t know the words.

Everyone looked serious, even Nadea. She was always trying to be a serious adult. I wanted to be an adult too, but I also wanted to enjoy myself. What good was it not to? Would Bael turn me away because I smiled or laughed too much?

Sir Edhin and another knight, Sir Jakoen, lead the way, Father followed, then Nadea and I, and lastly Garren and Sir Jakoen’s squire, Anthel, came behind.

The knights carried their swords loosely in their fingers, and I wished I had one. I had been begging Father to let me learn since I could form the words. Apparently, me tagging along on a hunt was more acceptable than a lady with a sword.

What if I needed to protect myself?

I tried not to pout. That wasn’t adultlike.

Father had his pistol tucked into its holster on Rasher’s saddle. I’d never seen the gun up close, Father rarely brought it out of its case. Bullets and gunpowder were hard to come by and only available from one blacksmith far to the west in the kingdom of Raah. He only took it into the forest with him.

I hoped to see him shoot it. But why did he bring his bow as well?

I wanted to ask, but I had promised to be seen and not heard. Later.

A crackling of twigs and dry needles caused all the men to turn their heads to the left. The horses became nervous and quietly I reassured Gwen that it was probably just a deer wandering across our path.

The forest quieted again. It took me a moment to realize it had grown quieter than before. The birds had ceased their songs and even the wind seemed to hold its breath.

“Father?” I asked. He didn’t turn to face me, only held a finger to his lips. His other hand held the bow tightly enough to turn his knuckles white.

I was about to comment on the silliness of being expected to actually keep quiet per my agreement when I heard a noise unfamiliar to me. It was a deep-chested noise, wordless but almost conversational, very inquisitive. On the heels of this indecipherable question appeared a creature I knew only from books. Wide and shaggy, tall as the horses while still on all fours, the bear came forward on heavy paws. It uttered another rumbling query in pleasant tones.

“Stay back, my lord,” Sir Edhin said, his voice barely a whisper as he put himself and his horse between father and the bear. Garren and Florence similarly shielded Nadea and me, Anthel close by.

The creature seemed unhappy with this adjustment and rumbled louder, crinkling its muzzle and showing all its enormous teeth.

I watched Father put away his bow and draw the pistol. The sunlight glinting off the dark metal hypnotised my eyes. The shape of it flowed up through his two hands to a thin, delicate looking barrel, rising and pointing forward.

“Bael, guide my aim,” he whispered.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sound the pistol made. It was like thunder, usually far away and soothing, but banging and echoing through my head. I put my hands to my ears too late, but kept them there, both to ease them and in fear of a second shot. They rang painfully, muffling the rest of the world.

I pried my eyes open. The bear was not dead. It protested loudly, no longer questioning but cursing us in its bear language.

My mouth dropped open in horror at the amount of blood that streamed from the creature’s shoulder, trailing from where it had been to where it stood atop Sir Edhin and his horse.

The horse struggled and shrieked. Sir Edhin was unmoving and quiet.

Some of the blood belonged to the knight. Some to the horse. Some to the bear. It all ran together like streams into a wider river, pooling and swirling. I had never seen so much blood. I imaged all of that blood gushing forth from my knee when I had scraped it falling from the garden’s apple tree. It made my stomach churn.

Sir Jakoen’s horse was on its side, unmoving, a trail of claw marks across its stomach split wide, and the knight struggling feebly underneath it. His sword lay several feet away, half-hidden in the grass.

Garren stayed close, but I could see the conflict in his eyes. My heart broke for him as he watched the bear trample his mentor. It rose up and crashed its giant forepaws down over and again until the horse too quieted.

Father fiddled with the pistol. I waited for him to fire it again, to finish off the bear, but he opened and tapped and shook it instead.

The bear lost interest in the unmoving heap beneath him and turned to roar at Father, who still jiggled and slapped the pistol with growing frustration. Rasher neighed and pranced backwards, his eyes wide and rolling. The bear loped forward then rose onto its rear legs, towering over people and horses alike. Giant paws crossed its chest, trailing claws that looked longer than my hand and dripped with red.

It was huge, like a furry oak tree.

Garren pulled a knife from his saddle. I saw what he intended and thought to cry him off. I could not bare to watch the bear stomp the life from him as it had Sir Edhin, but Father was in danger as well. I tangled my fingers in Gwen’s mane and huddled against her neck, peering over her head.

Frozen, I watched as Garren lead Florence forward and shouted taunting words at the bear. I could not make out the words, his voice sounded muffled like he was underwater. Or maybe I was.

I wanted to close my eyes but they were riveted to Garren. The bear’s followed him too. It roared a challenge that made Florence hesitate, but Garren kept her steady.

A giant paw shot forward faster than looked possible from the cumbersome beast. Garren was unflinching and met the paw with his knife. The bear roared again, saliva rolling off snarling, rippling lips.

Garren eased Florence forward, and the bear took a step back, uncertain.

My heart hammered in my chest, a mixture of fear and pride. I had never seen anyone so brave as Garren. No shining armor or flashing sword, yet he still faced the bear fearlessly.

That’s when another crash of thunder tore through my head. My already ringing ears muffled it but not enough to dull the pain of it. I massaged my ears, trying to ease the ringing.

I willed my eyes back open, fearing for Garren. He still brandished the knife in a bloodless knuckled hand, but the bear retreated into the shadowy trees. A trail of red followed it into the darkness beyond my sight.

Father sat in his saddle, the pistol gripped in both hands. The tip of the barrel smoked, curling and twitching with Father’s sharp breaths.

Garren turned. “Are you alright, my lord?”

“Yes, Garren. I am unhurt. Thank you.” Father’s words came out in between pants.

Garren slid off Florence’s back and hurried to Sir Edhin’s side. I tried to sniffle back my emotion but I felt the moisture collecting in my eyes, stinging them. I wanted to go to him and comfort him, but it seemed improper to intrude upon his grief. He looked very much a boy, crying over the old knight who had raised him.

“Are you and Nadea alright?” I had not even heard Father approach, but he was beside me, his hand on my shoulder.

I nodded, unable to form words. Despite how hard I tried to hold them back, how desperately I wanted to be grown up, I began to cry. The sobs echoed in my head, the underwater sounds being replaced by a soft ringing. Father’s arms enveloped me and I collapsed against him, wetting his shirt with my tears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I doodled with the pencil and paper Father forced me to use during council meetings, slumped down low in my chair. It was the most boring part of trying to be an adult. Serious-faced adults sitting around a table discussing how many chickens Farmer Henrik had lost to foxes this week and whether Merchant Yedra was paying her taxes in the proper amount.

“One last item.” I silently cheered as Father said it. “The matter of the squire Garren.” I dropped my pencil and sat up straighter.

“Garren recently lost his sponsor, Sir Edhin, in a hunting accident.” The table erupted in murmured prayers for Bael to grant him entrance to Elysium. “In the process, he saved my life and that of my daughter. For this, I would usually seek the council’s approval in granting him knighthood, but Garren is not royal, has no lineage or land, and therefore cannot be knighted. Sir Edhin knew this when he took Garren as his squire.” Father paused and let the council absorb his words.

“The boy is eighteen,” Merchant Findlay said. “That makes him too old for another sponsorship, even if he were a royal.”

Father nodded. “But he saved my life. He saved Sabrine’s. There must be something we can do.”

Everyone began talking at once, and Father patted the air with his hands until they quieted.

“If land is what Garren needs to be knighted, Father, then grant him land. We owe him at least that much,” I said. As every eye at the table fell upon me, I wanted to shrink lower into my chair, but I stayed straight and hoped it made me look confident.

“It’s not that simple, Sabrine,” Father replied.

“Why not?”

Father looked down at his hands. When he looked back up at me, the others at the table silent, he replied, “There are royals and there are commoners. A person is born as one or the other. Garren cannot become a royal just as you cannot become a commoner.”

His words pierced my heart more than he could have known.

“These are extreme circumstances, my lord,” Councilor Reedus said. “A grant of land seems an appropriate reward for saving you and Lady Sabrine.”

Father put on his stubborn face. “It would set an unsustainable precedent.”

“We would not be here without Garren, Father,” I said, giving him my most convincing smile. I was more stubborn than him. “And I know the perfect plot.” I thought of a secret place, where Garren disappeared to read often, where I had followed him several times. A shady bank at the edge of where the river met the forest.

I put my hand on his much larger one.

Father looked at it, pale and smooth and small next to his. He nodded once and looked up, meeting the eyes of each member of the council individually. “What say you? Let us vote. Those in favor of granting Garren land and title of knighthood, say aye.”

The response was unanimous. My heart hammered in my chest and my smile felt unable to be contained by the boundaries of my face. I hoped Father would let me tell Garren first.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Blues (Short Story)

1000 Day MFA -- Week 1

1000 Day MFA — Week 1

As part of my keeping myself accountable in writing and expanding my reading horizons, I joined a Facebook group run by the same lady that runs my Ninja Writers group for a 1000 Day MFA. Basically, we are committing to reading and writing a lot:

  • Daily: Reading (1) poem, (1) essay, and (1) short story.
  • Weekly: Writing (1) short story. Watching (3) movies.
  • Monthly: Reading (1) novel and (1) book on writing craft.
  • Yearly: Writing (1) novel.

1000 days is a huge commitment, but I have a group to keep me accountable.

Here’s my first week’s accomplishments (above), followed by my first short story. I plan to share many more in a near future, but I suppose it will depend on how complete I feel they are at the end of the week.

~ Effy

Blues

Demithyra’s great blue bulk shifted as she roused and she made a mental count out of habit. Seven. No wait, she only counted six. She counted again. Six. Six sleeping dragonettes curled beneath her. No dragonette at her left forearm.

Lazheward was missing. Again.

Demithyra let out a quiet squawk. Edarmos did not reply. He must already be out hunting. She lifted her head and scanned the dim cave. Sometimes little Laz would sneak off and occupy himself with a stone or cavern critter or stalactite puddle, but he did not respond to her soft noises either.

Had he followed his father?

She could only hope that they both returned soon. Six other dreaming dragonettes still demanded her protection.

Demithyra resettled herself, resting her scaled head in the crook of her forearm, but she did not sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lazheward splashed at the edge of the water and did not see the approach of a furred creature on four hooved legs. The creature approached from the other side of the river, leading toward the grassy plains. It got to the edge, a mere ten paces from the dragonette and gave the oblivious dragonette a cherubic grin. It looked like a human child in the face, except for the small horns and pointed ears that came from a head covered more with fur than hair.

The young dragonette heard a splashing that came from elsewhere and looked up to see the smiling child, his four legs curled beneath him like a gazelle. Surprise was quickly replaced by joy at a playmate other than his clutch-mates. Lazheward squawked, and it was a small bleeting noise. The child giggled and waved a chubby hand.

The water flowed slowly, it being the dry season at this border between the plains and the desert, and Lazheward had no problem loping on all four taloned feet through the low water to the other side.

The two younglings could not speak to one another, but it did not matter. Language was no barrier for play. They splashed and formed shapes from the sandy mud. Together they mounded it together and formed a mud hill, laughing and smiling.

As the two played, a shadow crept. Tawny fur blended into the sandy dunes and pale stripes hid it against the waving grass. It smelled the children before it saw them. Keeping low to the ground, but poised to run, the sand cat moved silently closer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Edarmos scanned the burning desert sands. He had left again as soon as Demithyra had told him Lazheward was missing. An adult blue dragon feared little but a dragonette of less than one cycle of seasons had many possible predators in the desert.

He glided low over the sands, the heat of the climbing sun reflecting back up from each glinting grain and warming his underside. He needed to find Lazheward before the day got too late and the sun too hot. His scales could handle the heat but Lazheward’s were thinner.

Edarmos smelled the river and shortly after he caught the scent of his missing dragonette. A blue speck appeared along the sparkle of the flowing water and Edarmos bugled a call.

Lazheward made a faint happy noise in return.

Edarmos saw a centaur child sat in the mud beside the dragonette and sighed in a mixture of frustration and relief. He caught movement nearby and recognized the sinuous form of a sand cat mostly camouflaged by the sand and grass. He willed his wings to get him to his little one faster.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vol’zan returned to the centaur camp early in the day, a gazelle with half an arrow still in its heart slung over his shoulder. He acknowledged his clan members with silent nods. His lifemate, Asa’fre, greeted him with a kiss and took the gazelle to clean it.

Settling himself in the shade of their tent flap, Vol’zan looked around the camp and settled his eyes on his youngling, Cer’ah, playing quietly with her doll just inside the family’s tent.

“Where is Mi’an?” Vol’zan asked.

“Playing with his sister,” Asa’fre replied, not looking up from the delicate cuts she made with her knife.

“Cer’ah, where is your brother?”

Cer’ah shrugged and did not look up from her doll. “Probably playing in the mud. He’s always getting dirty and trying to get my Kie’lee dirty.”

Asa’fre met Vol’zan’s concerned gaze.

They heard the bugle of a dragon and Vol’zan took off, his limbs a flurry of movement, his bow clutched tightly in his hand, and his quiver slapping against his shoulder. He saw the great gliding blue wings and ran with a stomach heavy with dread like rock.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Edarmos watched the sand cat until he saw another flash of movement coming from the plains side of the river. A full grown centaur galloped through the golden scrub, bow at the ready, heading straight toward Lazheward and his playmate. The blue hesitated, scaly lips peeling back from his teeth, and almost adjusted his descent, but the sand cat must have seen the centaur as well and broke into a sprint.

Fearing he would reach them too late, Edarmos flapped his great wings harder, though he knew each flap made him less able to stop himself. He braced for hitting the grassy sands with all four claws out before him.

He hit the ground. The sand cat screamed. Edarmos felt only sand and scrub grass in his claws, but squeezed anyway. He felt the burning pain of talons along his belly, death throes as the sand cat was crushed beneath him. Then nothing.

Edarmos slid to a stop and his chin fell to the sand with a thump. The form of the sand cat and its claws, along with a thousand tiny pieces of hot sand, all burned his underside. He expelled a great breath that shot a spray of sand into the air before him.

Lazheward was at his nose, tugging a tooth and a nostril playfully.

“Mi’an!” the centaur cried and swept up the child with one arm, the other still holding tight to the bow. He set the child on his back and drew and cocked an arrow in one motion. The centaur held it ready, trembling but his face a menacing growl.

Edarmos rose with an effort, pulling Lazheward upwards with his snout and bouncing the dragonette onto his nose. The babe squawked and grinned. The sand cat still clung to his belly, already growing rigid, and Edarmos flinched as he plucked the talons from the raw, dirty wounds.

The stiffening cat hit the ground and sent up a cloud of golden dust.

Edarmos lowered himself back to the ground, both to protect his vulnerable belly and to make himself less threatening. The sand stung and blood oozed but he fought to ignore it. He tilted his snout in a way that protected Lazheward were an arrow to fly but relaxed the snarl on his face despite the throbbing pain.

The centaur hesitated. His face and arms relaxed. He too positioned himself in a way the child remained hidden from Edarmos’s view. He lowered the bow and the readied arrow a few inches.

The two fathers faced off for several breaths, neither moving.

Then the centaur backed several steps away. When Edarmos did not move, he backed off a few more. Then he turned and galloped away, glancing backwards several times.

When the centaur was out of view, Edarmos plucked Lazheward from his nose and tucked him into his forepaw. The dragonette squirmed but stayed put.

Making a noise deep in his throat, the blue dragon spat at the sand beneath him. Blue and white lightning crackled and melted the sand into hot red balls of molten glass. In his free forepaw, taking a deep breath to steady himself, Edarmos picked up the glass while it was still malleable and spread it across the dripping wounds of his chest and belly. The liquid did not burn his hands, but it stung the wounds, raw and open as they were. He smoothed it around until the wounds stopped bleeding and the glass had formed a tight but effective covering.

Picking up the sand cat by the scruff of its rigid neck, Edarmos sprang into the air to take his dragonette home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“My precious Mi’an,” Asa’fre wept, holding their child against her.

Mi’an fidgeted and squirmed. Finally she let him down and he rushed off to play. She watched him even as she spoke, not willing to let him out of her sight again. “The dragon just let you leave?” she asked as she wiped her wet eyes.

Vol’zan nodded.

“What was Mi’an doing?”

“Just playing with the dragon youngling in the mud.”

“I don’t understand. They’ve never thought twice about eating our kind. It’s why we follow the herds east in the wet season, to avoid them when they’re more active.” Asa’fre’s face crinkled in confusion as she looked to her mate for answers.

“I don’t know, perhaps it didn’t want to hurt Mi’an. It never made a move at us, just the sand cat. It seemed more concerned with protecting its youngling then with us.” Her mate paused. “I did not see the sand cat in time to stop it before it ran at the little ones. I wouldn’t have been able to save them.”

“Then we will thank Suriya the dragon arrived when it did.” Asa’fre hugged her mate, Mi’an still at the edge of her vision. It was the strangest prayer she ever made to the sun goddess, but watching her child pester his sister when he might have never come home made it the most heartfelt too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Demithyra nuzzled her precious and frustrating dragonette, making noises that were almost purrs at tiny Lazheward.

“I couldn’t think to harm the child,” Edarmos confessed. “Nor will I hunt when not for food.” He absently shredded the sand cat into the pieces their dragonettes could manage. It pulled at glass protecting his tender chest, but it did not tear the wounds open again.

Lazheward squeezed out of his mother’s reach and grabbed the first piece. His clutch-mates followed after him, but he was munching away on a second piece before they even started.

“Maybe we should go farther into the desert,” Demithyra said. “Somewhere we won’t run into the centaurs. Family is all that matters now.”

Edarmos nodded. “We’ll have to go farther to hunt, but perhaps it’s for the best.”

“I want no more conflict. I just want to raise our family where no one, dragon, centaur, or otherwise, will trouble us.” Demithyra corralled her dragonettes with her tail and put a foreclaw on her mate’s. The two dragons nuzzled and looked down gratefully on their dragonettes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

I Didn’t Win at NaNoWriMo… or Did I?

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant

Welcome to December 1st and the first day after National Novel Writing Month!

I hope if you participated, you achieved your big WIN and have the euphoric ambition to continue with your novel into December and beyond. Even if you didn’t get a NaNo-defined win, I hope you were able to make some solid forward progress and accomplish some personal goals.

Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is really about as far as I’m concerned–making us into more productive, more consistent, more successful writers.

I haven’t had much success at NaNoWriMo previously. Last year, I created an account, wrote one day, and then fell off the wagon. Then for Camp NaNoWriMo, I got through about half of the month before I burned out and spent the next several months not writing and in a state of self-loathing for not writing.

In October, I made myself join and participate in a few Facebook writing groups, namely Ninja Writers and Your Write Dream. I cannot stress how helpful these two groups were for me to get the kick in the butt I needed to start writing again. So much so that I got the bug to try NaNoWriMo again.

In fact, I wrote a post about it here.

1667 words per day sounded like a good way for me to reach the dreaded burnout followed by self-loathing. So I decided to up my normal word per day goal of 300 to 500. I knew going in this wouldn’t get me to 50,000 by November 30th, and I was okay with that.

I pre-planned. It was a truncated pre-plan, because I made the decision to participate in NaNoWriMo literally less than a week before November 1st. I had a solid idea of the beginning, middle, and ending. I wrote about half of the outline. I bought a new set of pens–I decided to try the Papermate Inkjoy pens and found an 8-pack of assorted colors. I bought a new full-size 5-subject notebook–I decided to write my entire first draft longhand. I bought a new half-size notebook–my standard for note-taking.

On November 1st, I started writing. I wrote every day for 30 days straight. A few days, I only managed a few sentences, but I still added to my word count. I aimed for 500 words per day and accomplished that all but three days. I participated in writing sprints with the Ninja Writers group every Sunday–several times during the day we would write as much as possible for thirty minutes and then report back. They were my most successful writing days in all the time I’ve been writing.

NaNoWriMo Ending

On November 30th, I had over 33,000 and a daily average over twice my goal. It wasn’t 50,000, but that hadn’t been my goal. My goal for November had been to write and write every day.

Goal accomplished.

I may not have won in the definition NaNoWriMo uses, but I feel I won because I made a writing habit and I didn’t burn myself out.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tracker

My goal for December is to continue writing every day and to finish my first draft. I’ll also be working through pre-planning another novel in the Plotting Workshop.

The premise for this novel?

A chivalrous knight has his black and white world turned upside down when his lord and lady are murdered and their daughter disappears.

Between that and writing a book for work (among other projects), I think I’ll have a fairly busy winter.

~ Effy

End Note: I’m not impressed with the Papermate Inkjoy pens. They write nice and even but I don’t think they lasted as long as they should. About 130 pages in and five of the eight are already dead, with two more close behind. Some quick math and I estimate each pen only wrote about 20 pages each.

A Series-ous Problem

sprouts

I had an epiphany while getting ready for work.

I’ve been trying to plot out book 2 of my series with little luck. It has a plot of its own—Lakeerae is trying to learn more about her Jadeflare, but an assassin amongst the Avar is complicating things and now wants her out of the way.

However, I can’t seem to form that into a coherent outline. In fact, I can’t even get myself to start. I keep distracting myself with other things—like maps, or blog posts. 🙂

Then I realized why.

Book 1 of my series was super easy to outline. It’s basically the Hero’s Journey, which worked great to give it a clear cut beginning-middle-end path. I meander along the way, no doubt, but it’s a nice, organized 3 Act play at the heart. Yay, organized.

Book 2 won’t conform to that. Now Lakeerae is between her initial journey and the overarching goal of the series which is only just becoming clear to her. So now I have to rethink my strategy, and it seems I’m being lazy.

I have to wonder if this is why the second book/movie in a series is usually less spectacular than the first. Often, the second seems to just be a means to an end. It’s not our introduction to the character, and it’s not him/her reaching their ultimate goal. It’s just some of the stuff that happens in between.

I had this epiphany after reading an article from Ink and Quills about book series. It wasn’t directly related to my problem, but it got me thinking enough to get me here.

Her suggestions for making a series that works:

  1. Make sure you have enough story. I know I have enough story. I’ve actually expanded from 3 books to 4. We’ll see if I can fill all that space, though. But from what I’ve planned currently, I think I can.
  2. Plan it out. Yes, yes, I need to plan. Apparently I need to plot all three of the remaining books, not just because of this advice, but to make myself feel better too.
  3. Don’t add filler. I don’t plan to. My goal is about 90k words per book, but if I end up under that with a story that’s satisfying, I’m okay with that.
  4. Don’t rush the ending. This is what editing is for! Currently, book 1 feels like I rushed to the end and half of the book exists in the last handful of chapters. All will be fixed soon.
  5. Focus, focus, focus. Yes, this is the goal. Unlike the original incarnation of this novel, which accomplished the goal about halfway through and then wandered through Neverland for the remainder, I have an overarching goal and an individual goal for each book. I just have to outline and plan and stay on target!

This makes me feel a little more confident about getting back to it.

My plan now is to just start outlining book 2. If I hit a snag, I’ll have to figure something else out, but for now, I’m going to plot out the chapters the way I did for book 1. I found this great group of videos from Autumn Writing, and using the Three Act Structure, it’s fairly easy to plot out chapters. It’s what I did for book 1. We’ll see if it works as well for book 2! I’ll let you know!

~ Effy

Three-Act-Structure-780x400

It Only Took Me 20 Years

finish-line

My May update is a little bit early, because…

Drumroll please…

I finished the first draft of my novel!

May Flowers Tally

May-Writing Tracking

The numbers:

  • Starting May 1st: 29,773 words
  • Ending May 19th: 41,496 words
  • April Total: 11,723 words
  • Average: 651 words/day

It’s pretty amazing to think that I wrote more words in the first three weeks of May then I did in all of April. But as hard as it was to get to the finish line—it sure seemed to go real, real slow at the end—I was sucked into the story at this point. Similar to when you get near the end of a book you’re reading, I kept at it and I kept coming back. I was able to sit down nearly every night and squeeze a few words out.

The end even took a slightly different turn than I expected it to, which was a pleasant surprise. Though, it will probably mean more editing in the second draft.

What This Means

As crazy as it is to think about, I started writing this novel in middle school. That means this novel is over 20 years in the making! It’s an incredible feeling to be at this point. I’m not finished, but this is the furthest I’ve ever been with anything more than a few thousand words.

To think that I’ve had these characters in my head for that long. To think I got the crazy idea in my head back in January—after months of looking at houses and going through a huge move—to pull out my old, original manuscript (hand-written by a pre-teen) and reread it. To think I started pre-writing with no idea what I was doing with a novel, because I’ve only ever finished short stories. To think I just started writing it in February. To think that now, in May, it’s a start-to-finish piece of writing—rough, but finished.

I’ve gone through a name change of my main character’s magical power—from Magefire to Jadeflare. This came about in large part because of the suggestion of Philip Athans, whose Worldbuilding class I took. He mentioned it seemed a little overused, and though I couldn’t find it used exactly anywhere, I knew it was a good suggestion if it even felt generic.

I’ve spent the last year and a half or so reworking and improving the way my world’s past and present fit together, how magic works, and the magical creatures that roam there.

I’ve worked through the ups and downs of weaving a story that makes sense plot-wise and within the confines of my world’s perimeters—sometimes tearing my hair in frustration and sometimes squeeing in delight at my lightbulb moments.

What Now?

Everywhere I’ve read, it’s been suggested to set aside my manuscript for a few weeks before I start editing it. It is proving very difficult to stay away, I’m very invested in my story at this point, but I’m trying.

This weekend, I wanted to start pre-writing the second book in my series. I quickly realized that it was going to be difficult to pre-write book 2 when I’m not entirely set on how book 1 is going to end up when I’m all said and done. (I still have a lot of editing, including major structural and plot pieces, to do yet.) So I spent some time fiddling with maps and writing down as much as I know so far about books 2, 3, and 4.

If I can at least get down a good idea of what my final plot structure for book 1 will be, I think I can feel more confident about starting book 2.

I’ve thought about working on some short stories or other little ideas I have, but I can’t seem to pull myself away from Jadeflare. As much as I want to put together an ebook of short stories, origin stories, and dragons, I can’t seem to pull myself out of Lakeerae’s head.

So I guess I’m stuck, and you’re all stuck with me talking about my process some more. 🙂

~ Effy

Confessions of an eBook Reader

ebook

Over recent months, I’ve been trying to read more, and more importantly, I’ve been trying to expand my book bubble outside of my comfort zone. Not necessarily out of my fantasy comfort zone, but at least out of my current favorite authors comfort zone. To help with this, I’ve signed up for a few daily ebook emails—eReader News Today, Book Barbarian, Book Bub, and Book Shout. These newsletters bring me a daily dose of new authors, usually the first book of a series, for cheap or free. It’s given me the courage to expand.

Not only has it sparked some ideas for my own stories by pushing me to think outside of where I’ve gone so far with my fantasy world and my current novel, but it’s made me realize a few things about what catches my interest as a reader. In turn, this has helped change some of my ideas of what’s important for marketing a book.

Here’s a few of the things I’ve realized through the process of finding and reading ebooks.

Judging a Book by its Cover

We’re told all our lives that “judging a book by its cover” is a bad thing. With people, I totally agree. But with books, there might be something to it at least I unconsciously seem to think so. I’m definitely drawn to a book cover that capture my attention. When I’m quickly scanning these daily ebook newsletters, there’s only a few factors I have to go by—cover image, title, book blurb, and price. Sometimes there’s a rating too, which I also find helpful. But like with scanning anything, the most attractive cover image is going to catch the eye first.

This is what started me reading the last series I started. Eleanor, by S.F. Burgess, has a simple yet beautiful cover. As it turns out, it was so good, I bought the second book.

So whatever lies between the covers of the book, the cover has to be the first thing to captivate the reader’s attention.

A Captivating Beginning

One thing that getting a handful of books per week for cheap or free means is that I have the ability to scan the first half dozen pages (or maybe not even that far) to see if a book feels worthy of my time and attention. If it doesn’t suck me in right away—either because of a lack of action, uninteresting characters, or difficult to read prose (either because of language or typos)—then it’s on to the next book. Some of these free books I’ve downloaded will probably never be read because of this.

Getting PoV Right

Maybe it’s the control freak in me, but I’ve realized I’m a bit particular about point of view, almost as much as I am about a book being polished of typos.

I prefer the same point of view to read as I do write—third person limited.

The book I’m currently reading is Born of Water, by Autumn M. Birt. I’m greatly enjoying the characters and story, but the point of view is distracting. It’s written in third person, kind of half limited, half omniscient. The person’s head it’s in changes within the same scene, sometimes it stays the same for a few paragraphs, sometimes a few pages. Sometimes I have to double back to see who was thinking what. Amazingly, the rest of the story’s elements somehow override everything else and I’m almost through book one.

For my own writing, I’ve become fond of the third person limited, and changing the point of view at scene changes. To note whose point of view the scene takes place, I always start with the first sentence naming the PoV character. ie. “Lakeerae sat down beside the crackling fire.” It allows me to get deeply into the character’s point of view, and it is important to me to know what the character is thinking and why they think they and others do what they do.

How to Write a Series

The sticky part of writing a series is making it work both as individual books and as a whole. Each book should be able to stand on its own and contribute to and move forward the series. I’m very particular about reading books in order, but it’s also important for a reader to be able to pick up the series from any point and know who’s who and what’s going on.

There’s nothing worse than a series cliffhanger that makes you feel like the author is trying to con you into reading their next book.

Book Hangover

One problem I discovered with my current way of finding books is that I haven’t been paying adequate attention to how many books might be in the series I’m starting. Or whether all of those books have been published yet.

It results in a wicked book hangover and makes it difficult to start a new book series.

I’m also not the most patient person, particularly when it comes to reading part of a series and then having to wait for the later books. I’ve been burned with this a few times, some series longer than others. I got really into the Cinder series, by Marissa Meyer. Three books in, I discovered the fourth book wasn’t published yet. Thankfully, I only had to wait a few months. I’ve waited much longer for book five and now book six of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin.

I’m always worried I’ll lose track or interest in a series if I don’t read them consecutively.

This has made me wondering if I should reconsider how I plan to release my novels when they’re edited and ready for publishing. Should I spare my (future) readers the frustration of waiting for unknown periods of time for the rest of the series? Should I wait and release them all together?

It’s an appealing idea. I don’t need the money. I have a job I don’t plan to leave anytime in the foreseeable future. I know it would push back the timetables, but it might be less stressful—once I release one, I’d feel pressured and obligated to write the others as quickly as possible.

Conclusion: Publishing Ideas

I know I’ve got some time to consider how I want to go about publishing and marketing my books, but it’s never too early to start thinking about these things. So what have I learned that can help me?

  1. I need a great cover and book blurb to convince readers to buy my book.
  2. I need a captivating beginning that makes sure my reader doesn’t put it down.
  3. I need a well-edited book that is as error-free as possible.
  4. I need to write in a good and deep point of view for my book.
  5. I need a complete series that is satisfying both individually and as a whole.
  6. I need to decide whether I’ll release my books one at a time or all together.

I think these are good things to consider as I write and edit.

Speaking of a good book blurb, I have a first draft of it for my first book:

Jadeflare—an uncommon magic fed by the elements themselves.

Now it is in the hands of a stubborn, reluctant young druid fleeing from a dark creature that is killing others of her kind. With the help of her loyal wolf companion, an aloof hawk, and a sharp-tongued gypsy, Lakeerae must stop the dark creature before it hunts her down. Her journey will take her from the safety of her home to black places ruled by her nightmares.

Will she be strong enough to bring light back to the darkness?

Please let me know what you think. Too much? Interesting enough? Suggestions?

~ Effy

April Showers Writing Update

writing-goal-success-april

I decided to continue on the heels of March’s success and continue to aim for 300 words per day in April.

The Tally

First the numbers:

  • Starting April 1st: 18,770 words
  • Ending April 30th: 29,773 words
  • April Total: 11,003 words
  • Average: 367 words/day

The numbers are pretty close to March’s, but that’s only because the beginning of April went great. The second week of April, I had my best writing week, over 4500 words, averaging more than twice my goal, 654 words/day.

Then, for almost two weeks, I found myself gripped tightly in the claws of the dreaded writer’s block. Writer’s block wasn’t the only issue either. It was a maddening combination of being tired, not feeling good, and lacking motivation. I have to wonder if it was also partly because I’d been pushing myself so hard and had written so much the week before. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting so close to completing my first draft.

I tried to combat my writer’s block with other forms of self-motivation: reading, drawing maps, and playing with typography and calligraphy pens. In the end, the only thing that really worked was forcing myself to sit down and write.

Trying Out Scrivener

Early in the month, I decided to give in to writer peer pressure and try out Scrivener. I moved over fifteen or so chapters, including my notes, just those attached to specific scenes and lines and words that had been scattered throughout the Google Doc I was writing in originally.

I’m not completely sold yet, because I’m far too fond of having all my documents available in Google Drive for easy access from anywhere—work, my phone, my tablet. I’m the queen of multiple tabs, and I usually have two instances of Chrome (with my two Google accounts) open, both with 5+ tabs. So I only have my actual novel and its in-document notes in Scrivener.

However, if Scrivener makes it easier to turn my novel into an ebook, it will all be worth it.

Nearing the Finish Line

I surpassed 30k words, and I estimate I’m about 80% of the way through my first draft for Book 1. This worries me to a point, because it means my story will need some serious beefing up to make the epic fantasy goal of 90k+ words. Luckily, I found an article that helped me feel a little bit better about this, and it has fueled me with some ideas of what I can do to lengthen it already.

Now, the difficult part has become pushing myself forward to complete the first draft before I start editing what’s already there. I think this is slowing me down from getting to the finish line, as my notebook fills with these many little ideas.

In fact, brainstorming to finish book 1 led to trying to better flesh out books 2 and 3, which led to changing my mind about the titles for all three books, which led to changing how I originally thought book 1 would end, which led to changing this from a trilogy to a four book series. All of this is leading to more edits once I finish the first draft of book 1.

All good changes, changes that excite me because I know they’ll make the whole story more coherent and stronger, but still frustrate me because I keep feeling I’m slowing myself down. I really can’t fault ideas that will make it better in the long run though.

Closing Out April

I’ve had some stumbling points, but I met my goals for April.

I think May might be the month that I finish my first draft, if I can keep up my 300 words per day. I hope for that to be the update I give in a few more weeks.

~ Effy