A sequel to my scifi novel

Hey everyone!

If you’re wondering why I’m suddenly only blogging once a month, I apologize. I should’ve given you guys some notice. I came to the point several months back where I was just really overwhelmed and burned out. With the addition of a newsletter, it just seemed like I was repeating myself a lot and struggling to come up with new material. It doesn’t help that my life has slowed down considerably with the coming of summer. Nothing big and exciting has happened in a while. All I have right now are my new writing projects. So, for those of you still following religiously, expect to hear from me once a month from now on (unless something changes; then I’ll let you guys know what my schedule’s going to look like).

In other news…I FINISHED THE SEQUEL TO MY SCIFI NOVEL! Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal to some but it is to me. I finished this draft in three months; that’s a record. Usually it takes me somewhere between six months to a year. The Andromeda’s Ghost took me a year and four months to complete! I’m not saying this sequel is perfect (it’s a first draft after all) and I know I have days of editing ahead of me, but I’m taking a moment to celebrate. It was so much fun to write, and so easy! I’m thinking this was probably due to the fact that I was writing through the points of view of three different women, all of which had varying personalities, but were still female. I don’t mean to brag but I’m pretty good at writing in girl voices. Finding and sticking with Taren’s voice was a challenge. It also helped that I had an outline and a clear vision of where I wanted this book to go, two things I certainly didn’t have when I started writing it’s predecessor.

Here’s the blurb:

Chaos followed the untimely end of the marriage union between Princess Kylee and Prince Maju. Queen Miyako is too worried about her daughter’s safety to blame the princess, but she can certainly blame Taren Platinum. When a recording device full of diary logs is found in the princess’ room, however, the queen starts to wonder if perhaps she’s been wrong about the couple this whole time.

Jael wants nothing more than to return to her family, but Taren gave her an assignment before he was arrested: “Take care of the kids until I get back.” While babysitting and trying not to think about her feelings for The Andromeda‘s captain, Jael discovers that there might be more to family than blood.

Dr. Ezabrae Mortimer has lived peacefully among the Mirelings for years, despite the fact that she’s human and has glowing ocular implants. Then she’s given a new patient; the fugitive, Taren Platinum. The stories about him circulating the media never made sense to her, but she didn’t care enough to investigate until now. While discovering the truth about him, Ezabrae uncovers secrets from her own past. Can she ever go back to her quiet, ignorant existence on Palnach?

The Andromeda’s Captain is a new adult scifi/fantasy novel with romance, mystery, drama, and a bit of action to liven things up. Told from Queen Miyako, Jael, and Dr. Mortimer’s perspectives, this book answers the following questions: What was going on in Doeline while Taren was on the run? What happened to the kids after he was taken into custody? Was he truly alone during his trial?

Advanced warning: this book ends on a cliffhanger too. Mwahahaha! I know; I’ve become the very thing I once hated. (As a reader, I often cried in anger and distress when I finished a new book on a cliffhanger. I did not enjoy the wait that usually followed.) But, as an author, it’s a lot of fun. Plus, it makes readers keep coming back for more, right? Only problem is that there has to be a third book now and it has to be freakin’ amazing, otherwise you’re all going to hate me (even more than you’re going to when you read that ending! Hehehe. Sorry, I’m really proud of that cliffhanger).

Anyway, I’m taking a break from writing scifi to finish a young adult romance project I started a while back. Don’t worry; I have less than one hundred pages to write before I reach my goal. I’ll be getting back to the The Andromeda’s series as soon as I finish. And if this young adult romance project turns out to be as good as I think it is, I’ll share it with all of you. I promise.

For those of you who have already read The Andromeda’s Ghost, The Andromeda’s Captain is up on my Inkitt profile page. You can read it for free here. Let me know what you think! You can comment on individual chapters if you find typos or have questions about specific things, or you can leave a review at the end and tell me how you liked it overall. This will help me a lot when it’s time to do more edits. I always reply to comments and reviews, so it’s a cool way to connect too. 🙂

The Andromeda’s Ghost update

Hey all!

I’ve been super busy with my science fiction manuscript but it’s finally finished and ready to be viewed. I queried a few agents to see if I would get any bites but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m kind of bummed that this is my fourth manuscript and I still haven’t been able to land an agent or a big house publishing deal. But I don’t stay bummed for long. It’s onward and forward! I believe in this story. I love the characters and I know others will too. I’m excited to show my manuscript to the world!

I’ve decided to submit this story to Inkitt. For those of you unfamiliar with Inkitt, it’s a publishing company that offers publishing deals based on a book’s popularity. Undiscovered authors can post their finished manuscripts on Inkitt’s website. The more people read their books and vote on them, the higher their chances of getting offered a publishing deal. This is how I Dare You to Love Me was published. Although the process takes time and effort, the results speak for themselves. Out of my three published books, I Dare You to Love Me has done the best review-wise and sales-wise. I believe this was due to Inkitt’s emphasis on reader engagement and voting. They helped establish a fan-base before the book was put on the market.

Now it’s time to develop a fan-base for The Andromeda’s Ghost, and see if it has what it takes to do well as a published book. I need your honest-to-goodness opinions and your help getting the word out! I’ve had two beta readers go through it and I’ve edited it three times myself. The best possible version of this manuscript is available to read for free on Inkitt’s website. If you’re a fan of science fiction, romance, adventure, and survival-like stories with a broken but loveable cast of characters, click on the link below. Once you’re finished reading, leave a short review to tell me what needs improving. Constructive criticism is very helpful to my story crafting process and can only help the manuscript succeed! If science fiction isn’t your cup of tea but you have a friend who loves the genre, tell them about it.

If I could get this book published by sheer force of will, believe me, I would. I hate asking other people for help, especially people who have already done me huge favors by purchasing my other books and supporting my dreams. But I know my limits. I know I can’t do this by myself. And so I leave the fate my little manuscript in your hands.

I hope you guys like it!

https://www.inkitt.com/stories/scifi/229153

Bachelor’s or no

I’ve started my summer reading class, the last requirement before I can get my Academic Certificate in Creative Writing from Phoenix College. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s been a long time coming.

I started going to college after I’d been living on my own for a few months, and a whole year after I’d started working my first full time job. Getting the necessary hours to pay bills while balancing nine credits a semester was difficult, but doable. Getting my associates took longer than I care to admit. Like any other college student, I changed my mind about my major a few times while getting my associates. First I wanted to be a translator, become proficient in as many languages as I could. It turned out becoming a linguist was going to take several years. So I narrowed my focus to one of the languages I was curious about; American Sign Language. Phoenix College was the only college in the area that offered an extensive ASL program so, after completing four courses at Glendale Community College, I transferred over to PC.

It wasn’t until I’d already transferred that I realized what a challenge this ASL program was going to be. They offered the required classes in the morning and at night. Once I chose a schedule, I couldn’t change it mid semester. It was either all morning or all night classes. I couldn’t take the morning courses because I worked from 8AM to 5PM, and I couldn’t take the night courses because it would mean sacrificing the few precious hours I could spend with my husband. (He has to be up at 5AM every morning and goes to sleep early as a result. So he would’ve been going to work before I woke up and I would be coming back from my night classes long after he fell asleep.) Finding a new job with mid-afternoon to early evening hours that paid me what my current job was paying proved to be impossible. Any online jobs I found needed experience that I didn’t have. So I had a choice to make: get certified as a Sign Language Interpreter or see my husband on a daily basis.

But then it wasn’t really a choice.

With the ASL program off my options list, I finally allowed myself to consider my dream. See, my dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams but to also consider other, more practical career paths that would help me support myself and eventually my family. In attempting to heed his advice, I’d chosen career paths that I’d been interested in but that were also practical and in high demand where I lived. But I felt that God orchestrated this path for me, the one where life kept “intervening” and changing my plans. Because, with no practical career to follow, I finally started considering a degree in creative writing.

And Phoenix College just so happened to have a Creative Writing Program.

It’s only a certificate but with it I can transfer to a university and eventually earn a Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing or just a BA in Creative Writing. It was while I was taking these courses that I saw the most growth in my writing. It was during this Creative Writing Program that I got my publishing deals. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I’d never felt more sure about my career path, more confident in my schooling choices. For the first time in a long time, I believed I could make it as an author.

I still believe I can make a living off of my writing, but it’s going to take time. During that time, I’d like to keep learning and growing. I’d like to have options if/when I “retire” from authoring. Furthering my education could potentially get me a job at a literary agency or publishing company. Hearing my dad’s voice at the back of my mind, I realize getting a bachelor’s would be the practical thing to. I did some research and, so long as the writing classes from PC transfer to the university I have in mind, I would only need eleven classes in order to get my Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing. Even with the payment program they offer, I could only afford to take two classes a semester. But if I take a class in one of the summer semesters, it would only take me two years and one summer to complete my degree.

If I’m totally honest with myself, the only thing stopping me is my own specific interests. Looking at the restricted electives list for this degree, it’s obvious I’m going to have to read and dissect Shakespeare.  I’m also going to have to “analyze” other “classic literary works” from the 1800s. (Raise your hand if Shakespeare confuses you, frustrates you, and sometimes puts you to sleep. Raise your hand if the only classic literature books you’ve been able to enjoy are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Raise your hand if you feel physically sick when you hear the words literary analysis. You can’t see me, but I’m raising both hands right now. And hopping up and down because I don’t have an third hand to raise.)

I like modern fiction. You know, books that were written in my life time. Now, I’m a good student. I can put in the effort and skate by with a B if I absolutely have to. And the reading class I took last summer proved that there are teachers in this world that can assign an interesting book from the 1800s. But I don’t want to grow to hate reading or writing. That’s my biggest fear.

The other thing that’s holding me back is the fact that 12 credit hours are required to be taken on campus. Which is thirty minutes away. I’m sure I could space out those credit hours so that I don’t have to spend too much time driving per semester, but I’d still be sacrificing time in the evenings with my husband. So that’s something to consider…

Fortunately, I have until the end of January to make up my mind. The university I’m looking at begins accepting portfolios from Creative Writing students in February. If they decide I’m worthy to enter into their bachelor’s program, then I’ll move forward. If not, then I guess my decision has been made for me. And, of course, I have to consult my husband. We were both pretty psyched about not having to pay for school anymore. (This summer class I’m taking now has already been paid for.) We’re still saving up to replace his truck; having a school payment for the next two years will definitely slow that process down. Also, kids might come in the next two years and I don’t want to be in school while I’m raising kids. My mom did that. I could see how hard it was for her to balance it all. I don’t want to have to make the choice between homework and spending time with my babies.

I’m praying God will show me the way, make it absolutely clear whether this is the right thing for me to do or not. He’s done it in the past. For now, I’ll keep waiting and thinking and doing research.

Life updates

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve given a general life update so here it goes:

  • Recently I stopped posting as much book promotion stuff on Facebook promo pages or my personal Twitter account. I’ve tried to be more relaxed, be more myself and less of a saleswoman. I’ve tried to focus my energies on creating cool Facebook Ads and growing my following through Instagram because I’ve read a few articles that have talked about the wonders of these two. Still not sure I’ve gotten the hang of Facebook Ads. I’ve created three so far and, while they’ve generated some good traffic for my author page, they haven’t been doing much for book sales. Same goes for Instagram. I’ve been visiting the booklovers, bookworms, and amreading “pages” and making some new friends but I haven’t seen a huge leap in followers. Yet again, I’ve only been working at both of these for a little over two weeks so it’s probably too soon to tell. More on that later.

 

  • After finishing the first draft of my first ever science fiction novel, I sent it off to two beta readers and asked for their honest opinions. I also asked each of them to look for specific things to give me feedback on. For example, for my dude friend, I asked him to tell me if there were any parts in the story that didn’t sound manly enough. My main character is a guy but I’m still working on perfecting my “man voice” so I needed him to tell me if my MC was starting to sound like a girl at any point in time. And since the character in the book is very similar to my friend, I wanted to know how close I came to pegging down his personality. Lastly, I asked him if any of the science fictiony parts were too unbelievable. I got his notes today, which was exciting and also nerve-wracking. Turned out, I worried for nothing because he liked the book. He also had some great insights to share! So I got to work on the second…third?…round of edits for The Andromeda’s Ghost. I’m still waiting on the notes from beta reader number two and then I’ll probably be doing a little more editing. Then I’ll read through the whole thing one more time and it should be ready for querying.

 

  • While I’ve been waiting for my beta readers’ notes, I’ve been working on the sequel to this sci-fi book. This is only the second time in my young life that I’ve ever written a story with its sequels already in mind. (The Sentinel’s Trilogy was the first, of course. Sorry, my faerie friends. I will get back to you eventually! I promise!) So this is exciting for me! I’m doing research on the medical field since one of the new characters in the sequel is going to be a doctor. This character’s back story is going to be complicated; I’m mapping it all out before I introduce her to the main character. I’m also going to try modeling her after another friend of mine, just because I don’t want the same personality types to appear in my stories. I’m on the look out for fresh perspectives. I want to continue to challenge myself, to put myself in the mindset of someone who doesn’t think like me. It’s what I did for The Andromeda’s Ghost and it turned out to be a lot of fun. We’ll see how this goes!

 

  • On a more personal note, I saw Infinity War with my husband and our friends last weekend….I’m still recovering.

screaming-screaming-screaming-screaming-avengers-infinity-war-a-summary-follow-31616320

DcD06wzVAAgP7ho b0llo

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Very much looking forward to the next Marvel Avengers movie. Hopefully there’ll be more answers. Until then, I mourn.

 

  • Next weekend is my birthday. Woot woot! I’ve looked pretty much the same since I was fourteen years old but I’m only now feeling like I look my actual age. So I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be turning twenty-four. Praying I’ll stay on this plateau and not start looking any older until I’m sixty. Anywho, I’ll be in Wisconsin visiting my mother-in-law that weekend and attending my first ever writers conference! There won’t be a blog post for that Thursday or Friday, but I’ll include pictures and details of the conference two weeks from today.

 

  • May 29th is my third wedding anniversary. Another woot woot for that one! Since the 29th falls on a Tuesday this year, my husband’s got something planned for the weekend before. That’ll be another Thursday/Friday with no blog post. After that, things are going to be calm and boring again so the schedule will return to normal.

 

As always, thanks for reading, guys! See you next time.

 

 

To write the sequel or not

I was in fifth grade when I watched High School Musical for the first time. My neighbor, who was really into plays and musicals at the time, recorded it and brought it over one day. Personally, I thought all Disney Channel movies were a little corny, and this one was no different. I could acknowledge the talent involved but the story was so-so. Still, I told him that I liked it because I knew it would make him happy.

When High School Musical 2 came out, a friend from school taped it and invited me over to watch it at her house. She was in love with Zac Efron, just like all the other girls in my class, so she was incredibly invested and maybe a little obsessed. I just couldn’t take the movie seriously. It was even cornier than the first one. I snorted and chuckled and rolled my eyes a lot, and she gave me dirty looks every time. At the end, she mourned the fact that she would have to wait so long for the third one and she went on and on about how much she wanted to be Ashley Tisdale when she grew up and wasn’t Zac Efron perfect? “It wasn’t that great,” I told her to which she gasped and declared that we weren’t friends anymore. Well, not really, but she was stunned and disappointed.

I just didn’t get what the hype was all about. I mean, sure, the actors were cute and yeah, it was something that hadn’t been attempted by Disney Channel before. But to me people on the big screen weren’t real people. I was never going to meet them. So why pine after them? It didn’t make any sense to me. I loved the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof. This musical seemed like it was trying a little too hard to be modern and cool.

Needless to say, I didn’t watch the third one. By the time it came out, I wasn’t afraid to tell people what I thought of the franchise. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I was one of the few kids in my grade who were outspoken about their indifference to the series. And ever since then, I’ve gone against the flow when it comes to popular books, movies, and TV shows. I came to the conclusion that hype about any one thing was more than likely just noise. So a bunch of people like this thing. Okay, that doesn’t mean I’ll like it or that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It just means that a lot of people like it.

That’s kind of how I feel about writing sequels. Nowadays it feels like every author has written a series or is in the middle of writing a series or has only ever written books for one series. As a reader, I’ve encountered series that completely blew me away. The Graceling Series, The Lunar Chronicles, the Chaos Walking Trilogy, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and The Heroes of Olympus Series to name a few. These authors did amazing jobs moving their characters and their villains through plot after plot after plot until they reached their ultimate goal and had their final showdown. Then there was that one trilogy that I absolutely loved where the author finished the story off perfectly. The bad guy was gone, the sought-after artifacts were collected, the love triangle was resolved, the conflict was over…and then she decided to write another three books.

The fans were ecstatic. They wanted more and she was giving them more, so why not be happy? But I was skeptical. The ending was so perfect. How could she justify continuing the story? Who would the bad guy be now? What would be the new goal these characters would need to reach? Still, I gave the fourth book a try. While there were parts about it that I liked (the dialogue and the return of certain beloved characters) I was grief stricken. She was putting her characters through more hardship. It was like she just couldn’t let them be happy! The new villain was someone that had been mentioned once in passing in the previous book. It seemed random, not very well thought out at all. So I chose not to read the other two books. And I decided I wasn’t going to write a sequel to any of my stories unless I had the perfect plot.

I’m sure that author had her reasons for continuing that series even after she’d told her fans that she was only going to write three books. And they were her stories so she had every right to keep writing. I’m not condemning her for her choice because it was her choice. I just hate that that one book turned me off to the entire series.

I’ve written a book and then moved onto another project, only to realize that I really missed those other characters. The temptation to throw a plot together just for the sake of being in that world with those particular characters again is a strong one! But I don’t ever want to disappoint my readers the way that fourth book in that one series disappointed me. So even though a few people have expressed an interest in seeing my stories turned into series, I’m holding off on writing sequels. I’ll admit it; I’ve brainstormed some ideas, created some outlines, and written a few chapters for a sequel to all three of my currently published books. But I’m not about to share that with my fans, not until those stories are completed and my beta readers have told me they’re as good as the first books.

I’ve heard that publishing a book every year until a series is done will garner more fans and do wonders for book sales. While that does sound great to me, I’m going to take my time with these ideas of mine. I figure, if people love my books enough, they’ll be excited about the sequel even if it comes out two or three years from now. What my fans think means more to me than sales. If/when I finish a sequel, I will let everyone know. Trust me! But in the mean time, I’m just going to keep writing as inspiration strikes. I hope my fans can be patient with me and be satisfied with the books I publish in the mean time.

Something I’ve learned about book marketing

I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life.

Waiting until I was old enough to drive. Waiting until I was old enough to date. Waiting until I was old enough to go somewhere on my own and not have to take my sister or my brother with me. Waiting until I was old enough to live on my own. Waiting until I was done with school. Waiting until I could get a job and earn my own money. Waiting until I could buy my own car. Waiting until I could get married. Waiting to hear back from agents. Waiting to get that publishing deal. Waiting for children. Waiting to be able to make a living as an author.

You’d think I’d be an expert at waiting right about now. But I’m not. Whenever I have to wait for anything, I fill the time with whatever I can in the hopes of distracting myself. I wrack my brains for things that I can do to speed the process along (whatever the ‘process’ might be). But most of the time, there isn’t much to do. And so I pace and growl and sometimes cry and pace some more.

My husband teases me all the time because I made the mistake of telling him that I once asked God to give me patience. “Are you really so surprised that He’s making you wait for everything? You asked for patience. This is the way to get it.”

I was fourteen when I prayed that prayer. I had hoped God would just grant me patience. You know, sprinkle some dust over my head, flood me with peace so that I wouldn’t feel so antsy and helpless. And sometimes He does do that for me. (Not so much the dust sprinkling, but the peace flooding part.) Sometimes I’m honestly okay with waiting. But once I’ve waited for a certain amount of time, I think, “I should’ve gotten what I was waiting for by now.” Aaaaaaand cue the pacing and growling and crying.

This has been especially true concerning my book sales.

You guys who visit my blog, who like my author Facebook page, who agree to read ARCs for me, who sign up for my newsletter, who follow me on Twitter or Instagram: thank you! You make my day every day. Seriously. I’m over the moon that anyone reads my books and likes them.

But considering the time and energy I’ve been pouring into book marketing, I was expecting to see a significant rise in sales. When I wasn’t seeing it, I tried to be patient. After all, it’s a big world and the internet is even bigger. I know it takes time for people to find things, no matter how much I post on social media. So I pressed onward, continuing what I was doing in the hopes that I would see results eventually.

Months went by and still no giant leaps in book sales. Before I could start pacing and growling and crying, I decided to try a different approach. I read more articles and watched YouTube videos and asked the advice of more seasoned authors, all so that I could get some insight on what I was doing wrong. And it turns out, my whole book selling mentality was wrong. I kept hearing that authors aren’t just selling their books; they’re selling themselves. But I was so determined that people wouldn’t want to know more about me. Let’s be honest. I’m boring. My books are much more interesting. I was putting the spotlight on them instead of me, so sure that once people started reading, they’d come to love these stories as much as I did. And then tell their friends about them. That worked but only to a certain extent.

One particular interview with a book marketing specialist had me realizing that people will take a chance on pretty much anything an author writes so long as they like the author. Building a relationship, securing a foundation, creating an expectation in the reader; these create life-long fans and friends. This was eye-opening to learn but also discouraging. If you’ve read even one of my previous blog posts, you know that I struggle with making friends. But I determined to try.

For the past week and a half, instead of mass-posting on Facebook book promotion sites, I’ve just posted random stuff on my author and personal pages. I created a Facebook video ad for the first time. That was fun! I have been ignoring Instagram this whole time (which was a HUGE mistake apparently) so I started being more active on that. I posted a few book marketing pics but I mostly just liked other people’s stuff and followed more bookworms and authors. Concerning Twitter, I shifted the focus from my books to the books of other authors. And you know what? I’m a lot happier. Because I don’t feel like I’m selling anything anymore. I’m just another person online, sharing little pieces of me with a like here, a comment there, and a random post all the way over there.

I’ve stopped obsessing about numbers and it’s so freeing! Plus, I realized something; I’ve only been a published author for six and a half months. It takes a lot longer for people to discover a new book to love than just six and a half months. My books aren’t best sellers yet. Let’s be honest. The best sellers get most of the attention. And maybe I’m not ready to get that much attention. Maybe this time of being a semi-known author will prepare me for the day when I’m well-known.

So to all of my fellow authors who are struggling with book sales; take a breather. Give yourself a big heap of grace and a little more time. I’m not saying you should give up on book marketing completely. That won’t do anything for your sales obviously. But try not to stress about it too much. Pick two platforms that work the best for you and stick with them. In the meantime, learn everything you possibly can about book marketing and focus your energies on becoming the best writer and friend you possibly can be. I think you and your readers will appreciate it in the end.

A second look at Asta and the Barbarians

We’re a little less than two weeks away from the publication date of my new adult fantasy, Asta and the Barbarians! You’re probably not nearly as stoked as I am but that’s okay. You just need another excerpt to get you interested. *wink wink* Here’s chapter two! Links to preorder will be available at the bottom of the page for anyone who’s interested. Thanks for stopping by!

 


 

Chapter Two

They came for me at dusk. I hadn’t attended the beginners’ classes as I was instructed. I had been warned of the consequences. Now, they were going to deliver. I had cried so much that day. I didn’t have the strength to be afraid. My guards watched the two members of the academy’s security team escort me down the hall. Heads poked out of the rooms. Soon we had a group of followers, students anxious to witness the first whipping of the general’s precious miracle. Down the stairs, out of the building, across the square, to the whipping post we went. They chained my hands to the post and retreated. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the young warriors gather. Some cheered. Some sneered insults my way.

Viggo stood at the front and smirked, arms crossed. And some simply peeked out of their bedroom windows. I recognized the sensible friend of that damned Viggo, watching from a second-story window. He was lean but strong, with a bushel of curly black hair. He leaned forward with his palms against his writing desk and looked down at me, brow furrowed in anxiety.

The director walked into my line of sight, dragging a cat-of-nine-tails behind him. Nails, bits of broken glass, jagged blades, and fish hooks had been attached to the ends of each tail. I stared at the thick splintery post before me and braced myself. There was a crack and then I was struck. The impact sent me to my knees. Countless bites of pain sank into my flesh. I grunted but didn’t cry out. Shutting my eyes, I leaned my forehead against the wood and took a deep breath. Then the director jerked the whip back. The tearing of clothing, skin, and muscle was audible.

The pain was excruciating. I screamed loud enough to sear my throat. Blood poured
down my backside and splashed against my calves. It was not so dissimilar from the blood that ran while the general tortured me. Instead of imagining I was in a different place as I did back then, I allowed the pain to rob me of my will to live. There was a second crack of the whip. Now that my nerves were exposed, the sharp ends sank in and took hold. I couldn’t breathe. The director tugged three times before the whip came free.

I trembled and let out a sob. The shouts and laughter of the spectators were blotted out by my heartbeat, pounding loudly in my sensitive ears. My vision began to fade. The third time those tails bit into my flesh, a sharp piece of something embedded itself at the nape of my neck. When the whip was pulled back, I felt the piece scrape against bone. I leaned heavily against the post, the splinters biting into my face. It didn’t matter. My back…

I’m coming, Mother, Father, Sylvi…

But death didn’t come. The whip didn’t strike a fourth time. The director shouted at the crowd to go back inside. My guards were given permission to unchain me. They carried me to my room and tossed me onto the bed, jarring every bone in my back. I pressed my face into the pillow and screamed.

“Let that be a lesson to you,” one of my guards said over my yells. “The number of lashes will increase if you decide to skip your classes a second time—and don’t think we’ve forgotten to tell the director about your death wish. He has half of the security team watching this building, your window especially.”

The door slammed shut and I was left to bleed alone.

“Father,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

My father seethed. “Sorry? The groundskeeper caught you in the cemetery with the stable boy, and you’re sorry?”

I rolled my eyes. “It was just a dare. Nothing happened.”

“You know it hasn’t been easy to arrange a suitable marriage for you,” my father growled as he paced the length of his study. “And now that I’ve finally found an honorable man who is willing to take you…” He rounded on me, dark eyes narrowed. “Do you think Kustaav will still want you after this story gets out?”

I leapt from the chair. “I don’t care if Kustaav still wants me! I’m not property to be signed and shaken hands over. I should have an opinion as to who I spend the rest of my life with.”

My father rose to his full height. “Your mother was married to me on her father’s command. Your friend Irma was married to that blacksmith one town over. Your sister is to be married to Torsten in three weeks. Every woman in this county marries who their fathers choose. What is so special about you that you alone are allowed an opinion in this matter?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued before I could reply.

“Is it because your foolish father overlooked tradition and allowed you to attend school after the age of sixteen? Is it because your father looked the other way when you secretly began taking fencing lessons? Could it be that, by ignoring your lack of propriety, I made you believe you would be exempt from every rule of society?” My father snorted. “Well, I’m sorry but you are gravely mistaken.”

I clenched my jaw when my world grew misty.

My father ran a hand through his thinning hair and took a deep breath. “I’m going to speak to the stable boy tomorrow. He will no longer be a member of our household staff. He is never to talk to you again and you are never to seek him out.”

“His name is Fiske,” I said. “And he’s my friend.”

“I will smother any rumors that spread because of your thoughtlessness and beg Kustaav to take you,” my father said as if I hadn’t spoken. “You will personally apologize and assure him that you are still a virgin. You two will be married by next spring and you will no longer be my burden.”

I reared back as if I’d been slapped. “Is that all I am to you? A burden?”

The church bells tolled. My innards tightened. My father walked around his desk, eyes dark with worry. He yanked the curtains of the window aside and looked out. The study door burst open to reveal Sylvi and my mother.

“It’s happened, Canute,” my mother said, her voice choked by fear. “Heaven help
us!”

My father ambled toward them. “You know the plan. Pack only the essentials and head for the capitol.” My mother and sister made way for him to pass. He fetched the crossbow from its hooks on the wall and turned to give us a grim look. “Ride hard.”

Mother threw her arms around him. “Take care of yourself!”

“I will. I love you, Aulin.” He gave Sylvi a kiss on the forehead. “Be strong and take care of your mother.”

“Yes, Father,” she whimpered.

He turned to me but I refused to meet his gaze. “We will meet again.” Then he was gone.

 

My mother sobbed in the seat across from mine, red-brown curls bouncing over her shoulder slightly with every hiccup. Sylvi patted her back and murmured that Father would be all right. I leaned against the carriage’s small window, hoping to catch a glimpse of our home. I could hear the screams of panic as we thundered down the street. Our coachmen shouted at the horses. My town…I wanted to look away, but all I could do was gawk. Kenshore was being pillaged and burned. My people fled, taking only what they could carry with them. Some galloped beside us on horses. Some clutched their children to their chests and ran. And still the barbarian raiders gained on them.

The men of our town had been training since word of the crusade reached us five years ago. Traps had been set, weapons had been distributed, plans had been made. How were these foreign warriors already running rampant through our streets? Could it be that the rumors of their invincibility were true? Buildings burned. Swords sliced the air. Men were slaughtered in the streets. Women were dragged by their hair behind houses and into dark corners. Children were cut down where they stood without hesitation. I slapped a hand over my mouth to keep from vomiting.

Something struck the side of our carriage. The door I leaned against was thrown open and I was ejected into the horde of people with a shout. 

 

Men with eyes that glowed like liquid copper surrounded me when I woke. Men dressed in strange, form-fitting armor and carrying all manner of sharp weapons. I scrambled to my feet, tripping on the frayed trim of my dress and hastily brushing the hair out of my face. Their looks of hunger and vicious glee were replaced by shock and surprise.

“Gosta,” one murmured to his neighbor. “Look at her eyes.”

“You can still have her, Gosta,” another jeered. “The general need not know.”

My heart hammered painfully against my ribs. Were brown eyes special on their island? Could my eyes somehow save me?

The one called Gosta grimaced in disappointment. “The general always knows. Grab her.”

“It’s called medicine,” said a sarcastic voice from the other side of my door. “It will help dull the pain. It might even help her heal faster. I’m sure my father wants her in class as soon as possible. How do you think he’ll react when he hears you turned me away?”

“She’ll heal quickly enough,” one of my guards grunted. “She doesn’t need your medicine.”

“And if she has broken bones? If there has been lasting damage done to her spine? If an infection has spread? We’re impervious to most illnesses, but we aren’t completely immune. A physician has never set foot on the academy grounds. My father isn’t going to call one now, not even for Dotharr’s Miracle. I’ve helped numerous other warriors-in-training who have faced the whipping post. I’m the closest thing to a doctor she’s ever going to see.”

There was a moment of silence while the guards deliberated.

“The director already gave us permission,” another voice muttered.

The door opened.

I bolted upright in bed only to crumple back against the bloody sheets with a cry of agony.

Viggo and his sensible friend entered the room. I didn’t have the energy to be surprised, much less speak.

“I was handling it,” the young man whose name I didn’t know said under his breath.

“You were taking too long,” Viggo retorted.

I writhed in pain for a moment and curled up in a ball. “Go away.”

“As you wish,” Viggo said, stepping back.

His friend gave him a look of disapproval before smiling at me. “My name is Bryn. I’m an aspiring doctor, despite my glowing eyes. I can help you if you let me.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I sobbed. “I just want to die.”

Viggo rolled his eyes, but received an elbow to the gut before he could comment.

“Nobody is dying,” Bryn said. “At least not today.”

“It reeks in here,” Viggo grumbled. He stalked over to the window and yanked it open.

Bryn sat beside me on the bed and opened his satchel. “If it bothers you so much, why don’t you track down someone from Housekeeping and request some fresh bed sheets?”

“I’m not your errand boy!” Viggo snapped.

Bryn produced a rag, then continued rummaging through his bag. “Or you can stay here and breathe in the lovely smell of blood and oozing wounds. Do what you wish.”

Viggo simmered while Bryn selected a bottle and set his satchel aside. The aspiring doctor poured green liquid from the bottle over the rag before turning to me. “I need you to turn onto your stomach if you’re able.”

“It hurts to move,” I said with a sniffle.

Viggo threw his hands in the air and marched out of the room, grumbling under his breath.

“I’ll do what I can from this angle then,” Bryn said, then gently pressed the damp rag into my shoulder.

I bit my lips but still let out a whimper.

“I’m sorry. This will sting initially, but it will kick in after a few minutes.”

I shut my eyes and let the darkness take me.

 

I woke to an exasperated grunt. “You think your father will let you become a doctor after all our hard work?”

“All of my hard work, you mean?” It sounded as if Bryn were fighting a smile.

“Yes, of course, your hard work. You could graduate in six months’ time if you did as you were told and dedicated yourself to your courses. Is that not what you want? To be rid of this place?” Viggo asked.

There was no more pain. I opened my eyes to find myself facing the legs of my writing desk. I lay on my stomach on the floor, in nothing but my undergarments. My cheek was pressed against a blanket. Bryn worked somewhere behind me. I could feel the warmth of him against my sensitive back.

“I want the freedom to make my own future.” A substance of some kind crinkled like paper pinched or rubbed between two fingers. Something clinked against glass. Maybe a spoon stirring a liquid mixture in a bottle? “Once the stamp of this academy is added to my record, the only occupation I will ever be considered for is that of a soldier,” Bryn continued. “I can’t be admitted into Ishem’s School of Science until my father expels me.”

“So the past month of training was for nothing?”

“It appears that way, yes.”

Viggo sighed in frustration, but there was sadness in his voice when he spoke. “Why are you so intent on ending our friendship?”

Bryn laughed. “Your friendship I will keep until death, but this isn’t my calling. I know where I truly belong.”

“Blasphemer,” Viggo said, although the insult sounded half-hearted.

“Puritan,” Bryn shot back.

Viggo chuckled, but it was cut off. “What was Dotharr thinking, sending a woman to the general? Warriors are always men.”

Liquid was poured out of something. I could hear the rush of water as it slid through a funnel. Then the squishing of wet fabric and the dripping of excess water. The smell of herbs drifted through the air. “Now who is the blasphemer? Maybe that’s why Dotharr chose her. The best warrior is the one no one expects.”

Viggo scoffed. “She won’t last three days here.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Bryn said. “A day on the grounds and she’s already broken the rules. She has more spirit than you give her credit for.”

“Says the man tending so dutifully to her wounds,” Viggo said. “Having spirit does not mean she’s capable of completing the courses.”

“We’ll see.” A shuffle of movement, a shadow on the floor beside me, drawing
near.

I lifted my head and turned to face him.

“Hello,” he said, perking up in surprise. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m awake.”

“Yes,” he said with a nod. “That’s something. You slept through the night and most of today. Your wounds have sealed. You should be developing scabs by tomorrow evening.”

“Why did you help me?” I asked. “I have nothing to give in return. You must have known that.”

Bryn smiled softly. “A very wise woman once said, ‘A world without kindness is a dark and hopeless place.’ And that isn’t the kind of world I wish to live in.”

My eyes stung with the coming of new tears.

Viggo rolled his eyes and turned to leave. “I’ll see you at dinner, Bryn.”

“Until then,” Bryn said over his shoulder. His glowing eyes fell on my face again. “What’s your name?”

“Asta.”

“I would like to hear your story, if you are willing and able to tell it, Asta.”

I rubbed my face against the blanket. “You won’t like it.”

“We are rarely fond of the truth,” Bryn said with a shrug. “Tell me anyway.”

 

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