- Follow the guidelines. I know everyone says this but you would be shocked at how many people submit not double-spaced, not in the right word count, and some with editing marks still in the manuscript. These lead to an automatic rejection.
- Show, not tell. This is another common one but deserves saying again. Look for the filter words that tell you that you need to revisit that sentence or paragraph. Key among those are “felt” and “tried.” If you say the character felt something then you are telling us, not showing us.
- Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and an end. Even flash fiction. Many stories submitted to Fictionmagazines.com fizzle out at the end. It is as if the writers can’t figure out how to finish. The ending needs to be strong.
- Typos in the synopsis. Sometimes writers are rushing to submit and they don’t proofread their synopsis. It is off-putting to a slush reader to see a typo at the outset.
- Make sure your piece has a driving beat. What I mean by that is make sure it moves along. Some stories move slower than others but the story should make you want to keep reading, to turn the page. My main complaint with many of the stories is that they are boring. They drag on and on. I’ll be on page 6 and still have no idea what the story is about. Those get a no from me.
- If you get a rewrite and resubmit, be happy. That’s a win. But, if you get feedback, make sure to take it into consideration before re-submitting. Don’t send us the same stuff without addressing the problems.
Jennifer Estep has a new novella out today. I haven’t read it, but I love that it is from Silvio’s perspective. Enjoy!
NICE GUYS BITE takes place after the events of UNRAVELED (#15). It is told from the point of view of Silvio Sanchez, Gin’s personal assistant.
Working for Gin Blanco (aka the Spider, the assassin who runs the Ashland underworld) doesn’t leave much time for romance, especially with Gin’s holiday party planning in full swing. But when he catches the eye of a charming gentleman, Silvio finds himself going out for coffee.
All’s fair in love and war, though. Just as Silvio is starting to enjoy himself, he realizes he’s being watched. His nice-guy date doesn’t sense the danger, and Silvio wants to keep it that way (and, well, keep the guy alive) so Silvio ends the date early—only to be abducted by some villainous giants.
Will Silvio survive the night and make it back to the Pork Pit in time for Gin’s holiday party? Only if he decks the hall with bodies …
Nate Temple is…or was…a wizard. Now, he’s something more but doesn’t know how to use his powers and everything is going to hell in a hand basket around him.
The women in his life are, shall we say, complicated. Extremely complicated, and his best friend lost an eye because Nate dragged him into a fight. Things are tough. So tough that he does something he never thought he’d do.
I really enjoy the Nate Temple series. It is what you would expect to get if Harry Dresden, the Three Stooges, and John Wayne had a baby. (Don’t think about that too hard. Just read the books. And Shayne gives away FREE BOOKS and this new one is only 99 cents.)
visit www.shaynesilvers.com or Amazon.
In it, one teenage boy watches his best friend die and is stunned by the complicit acceptance shown by his parents and neighbors of the slaughter happening right in front of them. He turns to black magic to exact revenge with an unexpected result.
Click here to buy the book. I hope enjoy it.
This is a different kind of book for those who read Diver’s novels. This is a book that comes from the heart, from the headlines and with the hope that girls learn to speak up for themselves, be heard, be seen, and be proud.
Usually my novels start with a character talking in my head and in order to keep them from chattering aimlessly, I have to build a story line around them. Not so with Faultlines. The idea for Faultlines came up in a most unusual way—I was doing a talk at a school and I didn’t want to use my story lines from the Vamped novels to illustrate plot development, conflict, escalation, climax and denouement. I wanted something more mainstream and accessible to everyone. To my surprise, I came up with something on the fly that I called The Notebook. A girl is dead and her notebook, her journal, contains secrets that keep popping up, causing trouble for people that builds toward a dangerous crescendo.
That was all I had at that point, but I thought hey, that’s pretty good. I should mark that down and use it some time. But I was in the midst of deadlines for the Vamped series and then my agent sold the Latter-Day Olympians series, and so the concept took up space in my back brain, never leaving me but not allowed to come to the fore…until it wouldn’t be denied.
I was at a house party, of all places, surrounded by people, and yet I felt the need to sneak away, grab my notebook and pen and start writing. Now, I said my novels usually begin with characters. I like writing strong women, and in both the aforementioned series, my protagonists are bold and snarky, always apt to run headlong into a fight. I have a character like that in the novel that came to be called Faultlines as well. The problem is, she’s dead.
Six months before the start of the novel, Lisa stopped fighting. She pushed everyone away, started dressing to be overlooked rather than looked over, and withdrew into herself. My heroine, Vanessa, was her best friend. The sensible one. The one who did what she was supposed to. But now, Lisa is gone and all Vanessa wants to do is make a scene—yell and scream and demand that someone pay attention, because Lisa could not possibly have killed herself. She couldn’t.
Staying quiet, being good hasn’t worked out very well for her. She feels like she failed her friend and that maybe it’s time to try something different. There are so many points I want to make here that it would probably take a series of blogs, so I’ll try to stick to two. Authors are always doing that—plots can go off in a million different directions, and we have to pick and choose what will make the novel strongest. So, here’s what I most want to say.
I think that young women, in particular, are often taught to be proper. Not to cause a fuss, not to create a stir or draw attention. There’s so much text and subtext out there that implies that if girls or women behave or dress in a way that gets them noticed, they’ve invited harassment, bullying and other grief. And sadly, that’s exactly what a woman often gets for speaking out. Some characters in Faultlines decide not to speak out for this very reason. The problem is, this is how the bad guys win. This is how they get to move on and hurt someone else. If all of the good people spoke up, we could shout down the bad, drown out their voices. We could expose predators to the light to wither rather than thrive in secrets and shadows.
So easy to say. So difficult to do. Trust me, I know. I kick myself for every time I’ve stayed silent, and I’ve smarted from the wounds of every time I’ve spoken up.
Vanessa gets jump-started into various realizations because of Lisa’s death, because here’s another thing I want to say—people will often step up to fill a void. When Vanessa and Lisa were close, Lisa was the ringleader. Vanessa could be daring in her wake. But without Lisa, she has to push herself. She starts by asking herself What Would Lisa Do? but she comes up with her own answers as well.
Do about what? you might ask. Well, Faultlines is about a lot of things, but particularly finding fault and assigning blame. Vanessa blames herself for not being stronger, for letting Lisa push her away. She has no idea what led Lisa to end her life, but together with the boy she secretly loves who was Lisa’s almost-boyfriend and so eternally off limits, she decides she needs to find out. Maybe if she can discover what happened to Lisa, she can start to accept her death. Only, while she’s investigating, someone jumps ahead, attacking people they perceive hurt Lisa. As the former best friend, Vanessa is blamed. Absent any evidence at all, people retaliate against her, starting a circle of escalating violence. It has to stop. Vanessa seems the only one inclined to stop it. And so she must step up.
Faultlines is a novel of so many things, all of them very close to my heart. All of them complex and difficult. I hope I’ve done them justice. I hope I’ve done Vanessa justice the way that she plans to do for Lisa. And I hope that those of you who read Faultlines will let me know and that you’ll reach out if you see yourselves or someone you know in the novel—not necessarily to me, although I’m here if you need me, but to someone trained to help. No one should suffer in silence.
Happy Book Birthday to Faith Hunter! Enjoy this Q&A, excerpt and enter Rafflecopter giveaway…all here on Slippery Words.Faith answers questions from the Beast Claws, her Street Team.Q – How did you design the Unit? Did you start with what the story arc needed, a love interest, a surrogate child, supportive female characters, or did you create the characters and they evolved with the story?Faith – that was soooo much fun! I started out with Rick and Paka because that gives me instant conflict. Then I added Rick’s up-line Supervising Special Agent Soul. Then I needed a person to take over if Rick was disabled, and that gave me JoJo, the unit’s smartest character with the best organizational abilities. Then I needed another were-cat to help Rick with his little shape-changing problem, and instantly Occam stepped onto the page. And I needed a witch to deal with witchy problems. T. Laine (named after my cousin, Tammie Laine) walked right at me, fully formed. We had a nearly perfect pack, but I had a bunch of alphas and betas and nothing else. I needed someone to take both the Zed position in the pack (the Omega position) and also be the one who had be most opportunity to grow or mess up. And that left Tandy. Voila. Unit 18.
Q – How did Tandy an empath end up in PsyLED? What is his back story? He seems a bit fragile to be in an active unit.Faith – Tandy’s history is only now coming clear to me. I think he was perfectly human until he was struck by lightning. Then everything changed. His gift opened as the electricity zapped through his brain and his glandular system. And yes he is fragile. But his ability to tell when someone is lying or hiding something is invaluable in an interrogation. And he needed protection, which the unite began to give him. Wait till you see what happens in the next book!Q – Can Nell break Paka’s hold on Rick?
Faith – LOL You will have to wait on that one. But it’s a good question. A better one would be – what would be left of Rick if she did?Q – Can Nell sense the unnamed Vampire she rescued and Claimed still?
Faith – it hasn’t come up. And Nell would hate to think about vampires in any capacity. Maggots and all…Q – Is the relationship between Nell and Soulwood edging along a Dryad type relationship in spirit and soul form?
Faith – Not exactly. Dryads are European in origin and Nell is something similar but not spiritual. She is her own creature.Q – Are the gwyllgi naturally evil? Or is it a case of nurture? Will we ever see just how the werewolves of Montana deal with the wayward dogs?
Faith – Both. They are selfish by nature but could have been taught good manners and compassion. As to the Montana wolf question, I have no plans to write that story. But it could happen!
Rick set down the pot and his mug and pulled his cell. He made a note, not asking who I had talked to. I figured he knew, so I didn’t offer, but it would be in my report. What wouldn’t be in the report was the fact that I had told Jane Yellowrock everything about the situation up here, even the classified things that no one was supposed to talk about outside of PsyLED. I had only met Jane twice, but she had a good head on her shoulders and knew a lot about paranormal things and creatures. And she was trustworthy with secrets, maybe because she carried her own.Thomas Jefferson’s quote about lying becoming habitual seemed like a mighty truth, and I was clearly racing down that particular road to hell, myself. But keeping secrets meant lies, and my job meant keeping secrets. I was trapped in a catch twenty-two from which there was no escape except back into the life I had lived before. Alone. Or full speed ahead into the life of a liar, with people I liked. There wasn’t much contest. At all.
Before Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she had no one to rely on, finding strength only in her arcane connection to the dark woods around her. But now she has friends in the newly formed PsyLED team to keep her grounded — even if being part of the agency responsible for policing paranormals comes with dangers of its own…After training at the PsyLED academy, Nell returns home to her woods to find the land feeling sick and restless. And that sickness is spreading. With the help of her team, under the leadership of agent Rick LaFleur, Nell tries to determine the cause. But nothing can prepare them for the evil that awaits: an entity that feeds on death itself. And it wants more….
Faith Hunter, fantasy writer, was born in Louisiana and raised all over the south. She writes three Urban Fantasy series: the Skinwalker series, featuring Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who hunts rogue vampires. The Soulwood series, featuring earth magic user Nell Ingram. And the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban, post-apocalyptic, fantasy series featuring Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage. (There is a role playing game based on the series, ROGUE MAGE.)Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she writes action-adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. As Faith and Gwen, she has 30+ books in print in 29 countries.Hunter writes full-time, tries to keep house, and is a workaholic with a passion for travel, jewelry making, white-water kayaking, and writing. She and her husband love to RV, traveling with their rescued Pomeranians to whitewater rivers all over the Southeast.
Fairies in the Glade
By J.D. Blackrose
The child ran through the woods, slightly ahead of her father. She had long, rich chocolate hair that glinted slightly red in the sunshine. Her little legs churned with excitement and she let out a glorious tinkle of laughter as she ran. She brimmed with innocence and joy, and the glade welcomed her without hesitation.
The child stepped into the glade and stopped, staring around her with amazement. Her gorgeous green eyes appeared even greener with the reflection of the grass. She hopped up and down with excitement, ran to the stream and without stopping, jumped into it to splash and try to catch the tiny silver fish that congregated at her feet.
Butterflies circled her head and the trees bent down just a little bit so they could brush her shoulders with their branches. She was exactly who the glade was for.
The glade fairies were fascinated. The child shone like a diamond to anyone who could see. She glowed with an internal light and the fairies watched her from in between the flowers, peeking out from behind the petals.
After splashing in the water, the child seemed tired and the glade soothed her to sleep. She lay curled up on the soft grass with thick moss as a pillow and dreamt of magical trees and tiny little people with wings.
The fairies came out in full force once she was asleep. They circled her, and eventually landed on her, dripping fairy dust as they went. The child’s skin absorbed the dust with ease, marking her forevermore as one fairy-touched. They smelled her, petted her and then, using tiny little swords the size of toothpicks, pricked her cheeks and arms to taste her blood, reveling in it like a fine wine or perhaps, a deep sipping whiskey, such was their intoxication.
The child squirmed a little in her sleep as the fairies took her blood, trying to cry out, but the trees hummed a lullaby, muffled her screams, and led her deeper into slumber.
Her father panicked since he could not find her no matter where he looked or how loudly he called. The day’s picnic was ruined. The beautiful sun seemed dim, as he frantically ran, shouting her name.
He finally took a deep breath and calmed down. There was no one else around. She most likely got tired and took a nap, he thought, which was actually fairly close to the truth. He would look for her in a strategic manner, viewing the wooded area as a clock. He started at twelve o’clock and walked counter-clockwise, making an assumption about how far she may have proceeded ahead, keeping the radius of the circle constant.
Maybe it was walking widdershins that opened the door to the glade, or maybe it was just his genuine fear and love for the girl, but the door did open, and the father slipped into this magical place without even knowing he had done so. All he knew was that his daughter was asleep and safe.
He ran to her and cradled her in his arms, trying to wake her. The trees and the fairies were not quite ready to let the child go yet, and so the girl slept on.
The father became increasingly worried. Maybe, he thought, she ate something that had poisoned her and caused this coma-like state? He had no idea what was wrong, why she wouldn’t wake, or, as he looked around, where he was. The glade was different than the woods. There was a glow in this spot that he had was sure he had never seen before, and yet, was so familiar. There was a luminosity to each leaf and branch, each rock and flower that made this place different than any other he had visited in the past, but still, it plucked at a memory in a way he could not completely ignore.
And just like that, he saw it. A flit in the corner of his eye, there but not there, something he could perceive but not really see. He saw the flash of brightness coming from within a large blueberry bush, and walked over to it to search for the cause, but saw nothing. He saw it again from behind the largest tree next to the stream, and ran over there to find the reason, and once again, found nothing. He chased the flicker everywhere he saw it, always just out of reach, a sparkle in his peripheral vision.
The tricksy fairies thought this was a funny game and drew him into a merry chase. They worked together to pull him from one side of the glade to the other, back and forth like a ping pong ball, all the while his eyes got wilder and his breath shorter. He put his head in his hands and closed his eyes against the flashes that taunted him. He could have sworn he heard giggling but allowed the pull of the glade to rock him to sleep beside his daughter.
Once again the fairies emerged and this time, they tasted the man. His blood was sour, poisoned by the years in the real world. Underneath they could taste a sweetness, similar to the girl’s sweetness, which had once belonged to him when he was young. They tasted yearning for a time lost, innocence forgotten and magic once known, now vanished. They tasted regret.
The tang of regret alarmed the fairies, who buzzed about in a tizzy of concern. Regret was the most dangerous of emotions, for opening the well of regret to the possibility of satisfaction, the possibility of contentedness, could only create more heartbreak. It was like tearing off a scab and forcing it to re-heal. It would always leave a scar.
The fairies’ activity roused the Queen Dryad from her tree. She emerged, yawning, asking what was wrong and what these two humans were doing in the glade. The fairies explained the beauty of the child, and the pull of the father’s love for her, and the regret in his blood. The Dryad ordered their immediate removal and permanent barring from the glade. The fairies did as they were told, but were sad to the child leave so soon. For them, she had the gravitational pull of the sun.
The father and daughter awoke together in the woods. The girl was confused. She had experienced an odd dream that left her both happy and sad. She could not explain it, but she knew that something wonderful had happened, but that it came with a scary part. A part she wanted to forget. She described her memories as bright yellow tinged with red at the edges.
The father knew he had seen something, too. He was a little bit angry, not knowing exactly why, but feeling that he had been manipulated. That he had been toyed with. That something glorious was taken away from him, something he once knew and loved, and now was gone, gone yet again.
He led his unusually solemn daughter out of the woods, picked up their blanket and basket, and drove home. He spent that evening and the next day mulling over this troubling experience. Then he spent the next week. Thoughts of the glade interfered with his work and his sleep. He tried to explain it to his wife and his best friend, but they couldn’t understand his obsession. They urged him to put it behind him.
Instead, he decided to go back.
He packed for a full camping trip this time, not just a little picnic. Backpack, sleeping bag, knife, matches, compass, headlamp, camp stove and pup tent. He wore his hiking pants, a long-sleeved wicking shirt, and well-worn boots. The food supply was simple: granola bars, peanut butter, trail mix, oatmeal packets, and one spoon. Two large water bottles made up the rest of his pack.
He walked much farther than he had intended but that is what his legs wanted to do, so he followed instinct. He made camp in a deserted spot with an old stone circle for a fire, which he promptly put to use. Soon he had a roaring blaze going and a nice set-up for a solo camping trip. What he didn’t have was a plan for how to get into wherever he had been before. He didn’t know where there was and he certainly didn’t know had he gotten into it. He meditated in front of the fire, trying to pull any memories out that he could. Nothing came to him. Sleep came, but it was a restless sleep with images of stars winking in and out, a tall thin lady urging him to go home, and tiny people with tiny knives poking him repeatedly. The pain was like being bitten by a thousand ants. When he woke at three in the morning, he packed his stuff, and sprinted down the hill and drove home.
His wife and best friend teased him about his vision quest and thought he would settle again into a normal routine. The only one who seemed to understand was his daughter, who would hug him and say, “Daddy, it is beautiful there, but something there stings you. It is pretty, but it hurts too. Let’s just forget it, Daddy. Let’s find another place to play.”
Like a rose with a thorn, the beauty and magic attracted him and scared him at the same time. He felt like he was treading water with jellyfish he couldn’t see just below the surface and a rip tide sweeping him along.
And, of course, he went back.
He carried the same equipment as before, stopped at the same campground, and made yet another fire. Over the months, his appearance had changed. His hair was longer. His nails and beard were untrimmed, and his shirt had sweat stains under the arms. His wife was fed up with his obsession and had told him to go out into the woods until he could figure out his problem. She told him not to come back unless he was whole again. There was an itch in his brain that had rubbed raw and he wasn’t sure he could be whole.
He sat in front of the fire watching the perimeter for any signs of a flutter or flicker in the corner of his eye. He meditated, and fasted, sitting there unmoving for the entire night. He didn’t sleep. He just focused inward and then pushed his consciousness outward, listening for any sense of what he had felt before.
He stayed that way for three days. He drank a little water, but ate nothing. He walked the perimeter counter-clockwise as before, calling out to the forest. He knew it was there, just out of reach and the feeling of it bowed his shoulders low and tightened his neck muscles. So close. So close.
By day six, he had forgotten who he was, but not why he was there. The magic, he realized. It was magic, and it was here, there, just within his grasp. If he could not find it again, he would die, such was the pull. He yelled his frustration to the woods, grasped a branch, stuck in in the flames of his campfire, and roared his defiance.
He promised to burn the woods to the ground if the magic did not reveal itself.
The woodland creatures called to the Dryad Queen to intercede on their behalf and on behalf of the woods. She relented, reversing the block on his return to glade. As he cried out and bounced from tree-to-tree, he slipped inside.
All at once, he stopped. A part of his brain cleared. This is what he had been looking for. The magic of the glade poured forth and bathed him in its warmth. He sunk down on the grass, grateful. As he lay down, he whispered his thanks and finally rested.
The glade let him rest, but only because he was now an object of study. The fairies stayed out of sight. The Queen Dryad watched silently, considering her options. The trees neither leaned in nor leaned back. They stood straight, tall and unmoving. The threat of fire had not been received well in the glade. The magic was banked, but roiling underneath the surface.
When the man woke, he smiled in relief at still being there. He leaned into the stream to drink and was surprised to see that no matter how he stretched, he could not reach the water. His thirst grew. He tried to eat berries off of the bushes, but the bushes pulled back and tucked the fruit away, revealing thorns that scratched his hands. The very grass he sat in became irritating and uncomfortable. He had to stand with the frustration of it.
He cried out for relief. He just wanted the magic, he sobbed. The magic tore at him, he explained. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he needed the magic.
The Queen listened. She did recall a time when the man was a boy, a sapling, and had been welcomed to the glade, but, as humans do, he aged, and his innocent link to the magic went with it, only to show up again in the form of his daughter. But, the fact remained. What he wished for he could not have.
The man stood silently, waiting for some reply, any reply. He saw the glimmer of wings out of the corner of his eye and smiled. They heard him. They were coming. He tried to look directly at the light but was blinded. He closed his eyes and waited.
He didn’t wait long. The fairies attacked, swords pulled. They jabbed at him with thousands of tiny knives, making cut after cut. His blood poured into the earth, mixing with the magic of the glade, absorbed instantly by the grass and the moss. He wept, but at the same time exulted in the pleasure/pain of this release. He collapsed to the ground, life draining from him.
The Queen stopped the onslaught and stepped out of her tree. She approached the man, feeling an unexpected softness for him, and decided his fate. She reached one arm out, and touched him. He opened his eyes and whispered only one word, “please.” She smiled and granted his wish. His body straightened up, his feet sunk into the ground and in a matter of moments, his skin turned to bark, his arms to branches, and his head disappeared into the body of a newly formed tree. As he grew toward the sky, a newborn Dryad was formed and stepped within him, claiming her home.
He could not have the magic, but he could become it. And the tree stood, waiting for his daughter to find him once again.
I asked Shayne Silvers, author of the Nate Temple series, to talk to us about how he created his character. If Batman and Harry Dresden had a baby, it would be Nate. I recently discovered the series and have loved all three books. Shayne also is generous to his readers with free books available. Go and visit here: http://www.shaynesilvers.com/
There is a pulpy sarcastic humor, mystery, suspense, nerdy, fast-paced action, loving, emotionally conflicting element here, with a splash of philosophy. Which is similar to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and many other successful authors. Shayne says, “Jim Butcher has long since been a Titan in the fantasy world, and I would love to someday meet the man, but I’ll settle with standing in his shadow. My characters and stories seem to strongly resonate with his readers, which makes me deliriously happy, but anyone looking for a quick romp through a brave new world will get their kicks satisfied by peeping through the looking glass with Nate Temple’s Supernatural Thrillers.”
I agree. Recommend if you like stories penned by Patricia Briggs, Kevin Hearne, Faith Hunter, or Jim Butcher. Without further ado…Shayne Silvers.
SW Question: I would love it if you could do a post on how your character, who is a cross between Harry Dresden and Batman, is both an homage to those iconic characters, but also original and how you did that.
Nate Temple – Billionaire heir, playboy, in-the-closet-wizard, and all around good guy.
Typical stories take a character who is average, normal, or unnoticeable, and build him up to be a hero throughout a series of novels. He or she has big problems – they are poor, hate their job, are emotionally mangled in some way, etc., but they are also uniquely special. Special enough to save us all. This Hero’s Journey outline has worked for many thousands of years. It’s practically a Bible. A checklist of what works…
Silly me, I thought I was special and could turn that checklist on its head.
So I went into my series with the thought: What if my protagonist ‘Had it all,’ so to speak? What if he was already rich, and powerful, and whatever else people see as ‘Flashy.’ A Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark type character.
What if I began stripping away those strengths? His money. His friends. His reputation. His magic. Little by little, remove his armor. Bring him from Great to something Less. Still powerful, but back down to earth. Take away everything he has relied upon his entire life and make him struggle to not only save his city, but to find out what is truly important to him. Make him psychoanalyze himself and learn what truly makes him tick. And how he can get back to the top, to be strong enough to protect his city again. A Fallen Angel storyline.
This adds another dimension to his personal struggle. He’s always remembering what he was. And hungering to get back there. But at what cost? He’s always been a good guy, wanting to protect innocent people and to hurt bad people. But now he’s got to figure out how to do it without all of his resources. And what he’s willing to sacrifice to claw his way back.
I thought it sounded interesting. And apparently many readers did too, which is pretty humbling to me.
Thanks for being on SlipperyWords, Shayne. Here’s Shayne’s Amazon page. Go buy his stuff.
Wow! Hey kids, I got really lucky and was offered a chance to post an excerpt from David B. Coe’s Children of the Amarid to follow yesterday’s post. Enjoy!
Baden lay down beside the fire, and Jaryd did the same, not bothering this night to pull out his sleeping roll. The Owl-Master’s breathing soon slipped into a slow, even rhythm, but Jaryd lay awake for a long time. He thought about Amarid and Theron; about spirits and what it meant to be condemned to eternal unrest; and about the depths of emotion that could drive two friends to do such things to each other and to the Order they had created. Gradually the flames died out, leaving a bed of glowing coals that settled noisily. In the darkness, Jaryd could make out the bright stars overhead, and he picked out the constellations he knew: Duclea, weeping on her knees for her sons, and for her husband’s fury; Leora in her ceaseless dance; and Arick, lower in the sky and to the west, his fist poised to smite the land he had created for Tobyn and Lon.
When finally Jaryd drifted into a fitful, uneasy sleep, he dreamed of a mage. At first he thought he was seeing himself as he would be someday. But this mage carried a ceryll of deep red and a dark bird with strange, bright eyes. The mage moved toward him, extending a hand in which he carried a slender black object. He remained hooded, his face shrouded in shadow and unrecognizable. But as he drew near, Jaryd recognized the offered object as a black feather. When Jaryd took it in his hand, the feather flared brightly and turned to gray ash.
He awoke to find Baden shaking him gently, the mage’s lean face somber in the silver light of dawn.
“A strange vision came to me last night,” Baden said. “I don’t know what it means, but I think we should be on our way.”
Jaryd tried to force himself awake. Baden offered him the last of the dried fruit and some water, both of which helped, and soon they had broken camp and started down the trail toward the town. They walked as quickly as the steep descent would allow. Baden, who seemed impatient to reach Taima, said little, and Jaryd spent much of his time on the trail reflecting on the story he had heard the night before. They stopped at midday by a small spring. They refilled their water skins, ate what was left of the dried meat, and continued down the mountain.
The acrid smell of charred wood and grain reached them a short while later, and from a small clearing near the base of the mountain, they caught their first glimpse of Taima. A haze of dark smoke hung over the town, and the blackened frames of several buildings stood like skeletons in the town center.
“Fist of the God!” Baden said, exhaling the words as if he’d taken a punch to the gut. “We’re too late.”