Writing Music – Get Up, Get Up, Get Up by Barcelona

This song, you guys. This song gives me some crazy SHUTTERBUG feels. I’ve been doing a lot of climax brainstorming lately–and wrapping up the end of Act 2–so I’m getting all jittery and excited, ready to take the plunge into the good stuff.

On top of that? Midterms end soon, meaning I get three days of my week back, meaning I get three new writing days.

CANNOT. WAIT.

 

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How the Writing Life Really Looks

Little preface note — for those who were following the launch contest, it is officially over. Yayyy! Winners, I’ll be emailing you soon about prizes and such. Thanks to everyone who followed, liked, and supported! I ❤ you guys.

 

So this post is about balancing your writing life. Sort of.

Actually it’s more about how all the balancing is great, and planning is great, but doing what works is better.

I say this because very often there is no perfect balance and no workable solution. (And honestly, sometimes? Those solutions just aren’t worth it. More on that later.)

This past weekend was one such occasion, for me. See, if you follow me on Twitter, you may have heard me mention that I’m modeling a 3D version of Benedict Cumberbatch’s head for my Character Creation Class. *Cough* //geek alert// *Cough*

 

this is an example 3D head modeled by somebody who is not me

 

this is the incredibly perfect Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. I love Robert Downy Jr., but BBC’s is the Best. Version. EVER.

 

I can be an extreme perfectionist when inspired. And oh, Benedict inspires me*. Can you blame me for wanting to get him just right?

But the final version of our model is due this week. And I’m nowhere near done. This despite the fact that for the past seven weeks in a row I have dedicated my Mondays, my Tuesdays, my Wednesdays, and my Saturday afternoons to attending this class and working on the 3D model.

Do you want to take a guess at how much writing I’ve been doing?

Yeah. My writing stats for the month of February were pretty much flatlining.

And that’s okay–I’ve learned being a college student tends to mean huge periods of insanely intense work, and other slow, lazy periods where you can procrastinate if necessary (not that I ever would. COUGH COUGH). And other periods where every moment of every day is scheduled, but if you stick to said schedule, you’ll do okay.

That schedule method has been my life recently. And it hasn’t included writing. Which sucks, because I love writing. But writing has had to take its turn. There have been other times in my life when writing WAS the schedule and everything else had to wait.

Which brings me to my first point.

 

Sometimes the writing life will be strict and scheduled…outwardly very professional.

I think we all feel a little guilty when we compare our writing life to the lives of, oh, I don’t know, those super authors who get up at seven and write until noon and then write again from noon until five, at which point they read all of this year’s new releases and make you feel like even more of a loser.

But you know what? Stop. It’s not a fair comparison. Those authors are writing to deadline, or perhaps they live alone and you have family to take care of, or they don’t work and you do, or they’re not a college student and you are.

Of course their writing life is going to look different than yours. And it will look different again, when they go on book tour. Or it will look different again, when their water pipes bust and they have to jerk around getting the plumbing fixed, or they get sick, or whatever. And then they’ll have to work around that.

 

Because sometimes the writing life will be squeezed in whenever we can manage it.

Like, say, while riding on the subway to work. Or while the baby naps. Or before that three-hour weekend class starts.

And again, it’s so easy to compare and find ourselves lacking by comparison. It’s easy to think, “wow. Look at that person. Look at how hard they’re working to scrape together some writing time, when I have loads of time, and I haven’t even written once today. I need to get more organized–”

NO. Just stop. Don’t use all your free time as an excuse to not write, but simultaneously, don’t let yourself feel like having all this free time is a bad thing, or that you need to schedule it up. Those slow times are priceless. They will go away at some point. (They should come back again, but, you know. Maybe not in the foreseeable future.) Don’t condemn yourself for not being as busy as someone else.

 

Because sometimes the writing life means slowing down. And not writing so much. And watching movies. And cooking dinner. And living a little.

This isn’t called “recharging.” This is called living. This is not trying so desperately to squeeze free the creative juices every single second you possibly can.

Sometimes the creative juices need to be left alone, and sometimes, having a quiet day can be more productive than pounding out a thousand words.

The quiet days and slow times add up. Like I said before, they’re priceless. You can choose to spend them recharging, or catching up on the rest of your life, or planning some measured, quality writing time where there isn’t any pressure or guilt. (AHEM.) Because learning how to write without pressure and guilt is just as important as learning how to write under pressure and commitment. This is important stuff, guys, and none of it is wasted. Later on when life does get crazy again, you’ll be drawing on resources you built up in those quiet times. And if you worked too hard to build anything up, you won’t have resources to draw on.

Life will shift. It will come in seasons. It will get busy and slow and fast. You will need to do stuff you don’t want to do but you have to anyway, and the awful thing is, sometimes (regularly) stuff will be more important than writing.

But.

Sometimes?

 

The writing life means writing what you want, when you want, because you want to.

Like shoving your homework aside for a weekend, as I did. Like skipping laundry and dishes and grocery shopping, because you’re on a marathon writing spree, and you refuse to stop. Like knowing you’re going to have to make up for this later–but that is okay. Because right now you’re writing. And sometimes that’s all that matters.

 

* * *

So, lesson here? There are lots of things I didn’t mention in this post, such as the importance of pushing through bad writing periods and keeping your butt in the chair, of writing every day and getting rid of distractions, but I didn’t mention them because we hear about them all the time. What I wanted to remind everyone is that a realistically balanced writing life just isn’t going to look like that, not always.

Yes you need to be able to write to deadlines. Under pressure. When the plumbing busts. And life is insane. Yes, you need to be able to write doggedly when you have six months of nothing but writing doggedly ahead of you. Those things are SUPER HUGELY IMPORTANT.

But from me to you? I am now behind on my homework, I have a rotten kitchen and no food for the guests coming over this weekend, but I wrote almost 10,000 words in the past four days, and it was amazing. Just what I needed to do.

Do what you need to do, guys. And don’t feel guilty about it.

 

Truly and always,
-Mandy

 

 

 

*I don’t often fangirl, but when I do, it tends to involve extreme geekery. Such as Sherlock. Tee hee.

Happy (Nerdy) Valentines

So I know a lot of people consider Valentines to be a holiday all about romance, but where I come from, it’s just a good day to hang out with the besties and family and anyone else awesome. But because I’m so good at the epic fail, it’s also the day my blog launch contest ends.

Um. Yeah. Planned that one well.

So! Today! Last day to enter the contest! I’m off to hang with one of the aforementioned people of awesome, so check out the contest, and enjoy your Valentines Day!

 

Truly and always,
-Mandy

 

 

The Dragon Knight – Short 2


The day Isabelle met the dragon was the same day she learned, quite by accident, that she was to marry the blacksmith’s son.

Isabelle knew the son well enough. His name was Hob, he could lift a yearling calf in each arm, and he was always sweaty from working in the smithy over the raw coals. He was not Isabelle’s type. She thought him dull and clumsy, and the sweating thing was just gross.

But her twin sister Evangeline thought otherwise. “He’s so strong,” she sighed, picking petals from a daisy and blowing them off her fingertip.

“He smells.” Isabelle shucked her ear of corn with unnecessary vehemence. “He’s always either burning things or sweating, and he never washes.”

“His muscles glisten when he sweats,” Evangeline said dreamily.

“I want someone who has aspirations in life. I want a man who can track a wolf through the mountains and sing like a bard and gamble like a king. I want a man who isn’t content with becoming a blacksmith like his father. Don’t you?”

Evangeline smiled to herself, and said nothing.

Hob wasn’t a bad sort. But he was always coming around their father’s shop, resting his meaty, steaming arm on the counter, and smiling his clunky, red-faced grin at Evangeline. Perhaps that’s why Evangeline never met a dragon. She was always with Hob. And because Evangeline liked Hob, and because Isabelle was twinned with Evangeline, Isabelle put up with his smell and his thick tongue, and she was safe from dragons, too.

Until their sixteenth birthday. When Isabelle ran away from the safety of her family and Evangeline and Hob, into the forest, and met the dragon.

It happened like this. They were celebrating the twin’s birthday as was custom: friends and family gathered around to make merry, wish well, and chase off any evil with song and dance. Hob was there of course. But many others, too, since the girl’s father ran the best shop in the market, and was friendly with many.

Perhaps he should have paid more attention to his daughters and less to his costumers. When Isabelle and Evangeline lined up to greet guests, he insisted on putting Isabelle in the middle. She was forced to accept the well-wishes with Hob grinning stupidly on one side, and Evangeline making eyes at him on her other. It was very distracting.

“May you marry well, and have many children,” an old woman told her.

“We thank you for this blessing.” Isabelle did a little curtsey, rising just in time to catch the next wisher’s words.

“May you remain free from plague, and may your husband prosper.”

Isabelle forced herself to smile. “Much thanks, kind sir.”

The crowd roared with their merrymaking. An old crone caught Isabelle’s hand. Her whole body shook with age, a bobble-headed sort of movement, but her eyes shone with sincerity, and Isabelle had to lean over to hear her.

“Good fortune to you!” she was saying. “And may you marry a man of prosperity!”

“Thank you!” Isabelle shouted in frustration. “Much thanks! Thank you!”

Smiling, bobbing, the old woman doddered away, and Isabelle turned to Evangeline. “Goodness,” she said angrily. “Is that all anyone can think about? Marriage? Am I going to be married off just because I turned sixteen?”

Evangeline blinked at her, but their father laughed from where he stood nearby. “No Isabelle, of course not. There is plenty of time yet to find you a husband.”

And he smiled beneficially at Hob.

Now, this would not have been enough to make most girls realize they’ve been engaged already. Even poor Hob, who was grinning stupidly at Evangeline, didn’t seem to know the man’s intentions. But Isabelle had the gift of perception. She knew the truth of things whether anyone intended her to or not. It was uncanny, sometimes, how much she knew if only she thought about it; the weather for instance, or if an expecting woman was going to bear a boy or a girl.

She could also tell if someone was being truthful.

Right then, when her father assured her she had plenty of time, Isabelle knew right away that he already planned on marrying her off to Hob. He’d been planning it for ages. Hob had been around for ages. He was the blacksmith’s son, which made him well-enough to-do, and he was good at his trade, which made him reliable. And they were always together. It was a perfect match.

Isabelle stared at her father, horror-struck by his assumptions and his naivety. Nobody who knew her would have thought she fancied Hob. Everyone knew she only associated with Hob because Evangeline liked him! It was Evangeline, not her, who should marry the fool!

But their father had never bothered to notice the difference. Isabelle was the oldest, and so Isabelle would marry, and in his mind, that was that.

The crone had been the last of their well-wishers. With a shout, the crowd encircled Isabelle and Evangeline, sweeping them into a center of music and bodies. Evangeline screamed with wild joy. Isabelle just caught a flash of her spinning face, her braids whipping in the air, and then Hob in the crowd, grinning his grin, opening his big fat mouth to yell something Isabelle couldn’t hear. The crowd banged tambourines and clapped their hands and yelled at the top of their lungs. And it was too much. Too many bodies pressing against hers as the floor bucked with too many footfalls and all of them were thinking soon they will marry, well will they marry, marry they will, and well it will be.

It was suffocating. With a wildness of effort Isabelle had never known she possessed, she flung herself through the masses, catching elbows in the ribs and feet that stomped upon hers, and for a terrifying moment she thought she wouldn’t make it, that she’d be trampled here and now. Then she saw the door. She loosed a sob. She burst free of the crowd and ran without looking back.

Perhaps she should have stayed for the rest of the dance. Perhaps, then, her friends would have driven the evil away. For dragons are in fact evil. And whenever they come down from the North, their goal is this: to capture young virgins, and force them to become their brides.

* * *

Isabelle ran through the market. Dogs barked and chased her, chickens scattered, and her own footsteps slapped flat against the dust. Isabelle felt as if the market was reaching out and trying to catch her. There was the smithy, her future home. There were the horses her husband would be shoeing. There was the wagon whose iron rims her husband would bang away at day and night.

No, Isabelle thought frantically. God, no! And she picked up her skirts and ran harder, so that the dogs stopped barking and the market fell behind, and up ahead were fields and the brook and the forest.

The shade soon enveloped her. Isabelle threw herself down by the brook and sobbed as if the sorrow would never cease. But, slowly, it passed. She splashed her face in the shallow water near the bank, and in the silence of her misery, tried to think of what she could say to her father.

Dear father. I don’t love Hob. Please let him marry Evangeline.

Or, Dear father, I hate Hob. I’d rather die than spend the rest of my life with his stink.

But it would be useless. He would have her marry Hob. Her life as she’d dreamt it would end.

Somewhere down the path, someone began to whistle. Isabelle looked up in surprise. Quickly she dried her face and raked fingers through her hair and straightened her skirt. When the dragon knight came around the bend, she was standing and waiting to face him.

He caught sight of her at once. “My lady!” he cried, bowing gallantly. “My fair lady. I am on my way to the town of Eastberth. Would you be so kind as to direct me?”

He was smiling broadly, with a handsome shock of dark hair falling across his forehead, his eyes sparkling, his voice rich with chivalry. He wore a knight’s silver armor that clinked when he straightened up, with red and black silk tied about his waist. Under one arm he held a helmet with a red feather, and his other arm rested lightly on the top of his scabbard. He looked in every way like a knight. But he was a dragon.

Isabelle stood very still. Many times before her skill of perception had surprised her, but never so badly as this. She wondered what on earth a dragon was doing here in Eastberth—for this was Eastberth, and he must already know that. Perhaps he came to claim a bride? She’d heard of evil dragons doing so, much farther North. They changed into human shape and lured young virgins up to their dark kingdoms in the mountains. But it seemed too bizarre that he would pose as a knight, of all things. Knights killed dragons.

She didn’t know what to do, so she spoke, buying time. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, my lord. Eastberth is to the North from where you’ve come.” Then she added, “you will not find what you’re seeking here.”

The dragon knight raised a dark eyebrow. “My dear lady! Are you certain? I was given the most vehement assurances that this was the path to take. I only wonder now, as I have traveled for days without coming across any sign of village or farms.”

He was lying, Isabelle thought. The nearest village was a day by foot on this path, at the most. He couldn’t have missed them. Peevishness got the best of her.

“You must travel awfully slow, my lord. Where is your pack or your provisions for such a journey?” She peered around him. “I see none. Perhaps you have used all your supplies up.”

A little something seemed to slip from the dragon knight’s face. He stopped smiling and gave her a good long look. Isabelle felt as if he’d been acting the part of a charming knight because he’d expected a foolish country girl, and she had deviated from that role, and now she was undergoing a change of status; and Isabelle wasn’t sure where that left her. Perhaps she better leave before he got any ideas about susceptible virgins and brides.

She did a quick curtsey. “Excuse me, my lord. I must be going.”

“Wait. My lady.”

She flinched, rose to meet his eyes. He said, “It’s not safe for a young woman such as yourself, to walk the woods without escort, so far from village and home. Let me guide you.”

Was he serious? Isabelle saw that he was. The mirth was and false charm were gone, leaving sober and sensitive expression beneath. Isabelle found she rather liked him this way, which made her even more nervous.

“I thank you for the concern. But it’s not far.”

“Perhaps I wish your company.”

Isabelle sucked in a breath. “Perhaps I don’t return the sentiment.”

The forest went quiet. Isabelle had never been so rude in her life. If he was a true knight, this was enough to have her put in stocks. If he was a true dragon, the punishment might be even worst. But again he only studied her.

“Then fare well, my lady.” He gave her a brief bow. “Eastberth—to the North you say?”

“To the North,” she repeated, knowing full well it was a lie, and feeling uneasy about it. He must know she was alluding to his identity as a dragon. He could strike her down right now for the insolence of it. Dragons did such things, she’d heard.

But this one was contradicting everything Isabelle thought she knew about dragons. He accepted her lie with a little bow and set off back down the path.

Isabelle exhaled, and turned to go herself. But after just a couple steps she heard him cry, “Oh, my lady!”

She turned back. “My lord?”

“You seem to have guessed what I seek. If you find any, I would be most grateful if you sent a message to me in Eastberth.”

She felt sweat prickle suddenly on her skin. “Find…any? Find any what?”

He grinned at her. “Why, dragons. I’m here to slay dragons.”

She could have sworn he strode off with a new jauntiness to his step.

* * *

Her first thought was that she had to tell Evangeline. Her second thought was that Evangeline would never believe her. A dragon knight? How absurd. He threw that last bit in just to toy with me, she thought. I could swear it.

It was late noon by the time Isabelle trudged back to her father’s shop. Evangeline was tending the counter, humming to herself and hanging up sprigs of rosemary. She paused when Isabelle entered. “Why, Izzy, wherever have you been? You missed the dancing.”

Isabelle trudged to the water bucket, splashed her face, and stayed there, gripping the edges of the bucket. “I went to the forest.”

“Well, that was foolish.”

“I’m aware of that now.”

“What do you mean, aware of that now?” Evangeline turned, eyes narrowing with concern. “Did something happen?”

Isabelle sank down onto the stool beside the bucket, wiped her face, and stared up at her sister. It was strange to look upon Evangeline like this. Like a child to her mother. Flushed from the heat and dancing, hair curling prettily down her cheeks and neck, Evangeline looked like she belonged here, in charge, running the shop. She had become a beauty. Even the dreaminess of her eyes (which Isabelle had always found irritating) lent her a mysterious, seductive allure.

“What?” Evangeline said. “You’re looking at me so.”

“You’re lovely. You’re sixteen and you’re lovely. How have I not noticed before?”

Evangeline blushed, twisted her rosemary, smoothed a hand over her skirt. “Do you mean that, Izzy? I always feel so young compared to you.”

Isabelle dropped her head in her hands and groaned.

Evangeline took a serious look at her sister, than swept her skirts beneath herself and sat down. “What is it, Izzy? You look so strange. And you left without ever telling me. What’s happened?”

Isabelle watched the ripples in the water bucket. She thought about all the things she wanted to tell Evangeline, all the burdens of being the eldest and the more responsible one, how foolish it was that her little Evey should suffer the rest of her life for being born mere hours later than Isabelle herself. And then she said it.

“Father wants me to marry Hob.”

Evangeline laughed.

“I’m serious, Evey.” Isabelle lifted her head up to meet Evangeline’s gaze. “When we were celebrating, I had one of my premonitions—I just knew. Father’s been planning to have me marry Hob for years now. He’s just waiting for Hob’s father to come make the deal.” And she sunk her head back in her hands.

Evangeline had stopped laughing. “But that’s so silly! Hob doesn’t love you.”

“Father doesn’t know that.”

“But…” Evangeline was growing paler. She repeated, “That’s so silly.”

What was there to say? It was true. Isabelle gazed at the floor. “Honestly, I don’t know what got into father’s head. Something about me being the eldest, I think. Which, when you consider it, is absolute foolishness—does it matter that you followed me? Why should mere hours dictate who weds first?”

“I don’t understand,” Evangeline whispered. “You don’t love him. You don’t even like him. I’m the one who loves him!”

Isabelle said, glumly, “Father’s just being traditional, I suppose.”

Evangeline began rocking. Her knuckles had gone white, white as her face.

“Oh Evey,” Isabelle said. “Don’t.” She drew Evangeline to her side and hugged her, stroking her sweet face, which was cold now, and damp with tears. “Don’t despair. We’ll think of something. Between you and me and Hob—”

“But you’re right.” Evangeline spoke in a shrill, mournful whisper. “That sounds exactly like father. To assume Hob was courting you because you’re the oldest. To set his mind on you have marrying first. We won’t be able to say a thing against him.” And she gave a little choked sob.

“Evey!” Isabelle stroked her hair urgently. “Evey, don’t! I won’t marry your Hob. I couldn’t. If I have to live even one minute married to his clumsy smiles I’ll—oh—I’ll run off to the nuns.”

Evangeline’s sob turned into an equally choked laugh. “Would you? Really?”

“Really.”

Evangeline sighed. Isabelle stroked her hair, thinking hard now, taking courage in determination.

“There must be another way. I promise you I’ll find it. Surely father would let you marry Hob if I found myself another, perhaps more promising suitor.”

Evangeline leaned her head against Isabelle’s neck, so that her tears went hot against Isabelle’s collar. “But who?” she said. “I know you, Izzy. There isn’t a boy in this village that you’d condescend to marry.”

“Yes,” Isabelle murmured, her hand trailing down Evangeline’s hair. “There’s no boy.”

She was thinking dangerous things. She was wondering, if the dragon had kidnapped her, would her father have let Evangeline marry?

How about if it had been a knight?

“Evangeline. There’s something I must confess.”  She hesitated, bit her lip. Began again. “After the celebration upset me so, I ran to the forest, and I met someone—I met a knight.”

“A knight!”

“Just dressed like one,” Isabelle added hastily. “I think it was really a dragon. No. I know it was. It was a dragon.”

Evangeline stared at her.

“He asked me how to get to the village. He told me it was dangerous to travel alone. He said he was here to slay dragons!

Evangeline continued to stare at her.  “Izzy,” she said, “he’s here to claim a bride. And nobody knows but us.”

She rose. She peeked over the counter to check that the shop was empty, and quickly closed all the shutters and bolted the door. She came and knelt back in front of Isabelle.
“You told no one else?”

“No one.”

They looked at each other. Isabelle felt a vague dread creeping over her, like a shadow crossing the threshold, before you’ve had a chance to turn around. It was something in Evangeline’s eyes. Something that harkened of deeds executed in desperation and blood.

“What are you planning?” Isabelle whispered.

Evangeline squeezed her hands. She was desperate and grim.

“We need to marry you off.”

“No,” Isabelle said, understanding at once. “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t dare! He’s a dragon, Evey!”

“He’s a dragon masquerading as a knight, looking to steal a bride. Father won’t be able to refuse him. You’ll acquiesce, and Hob will be left to me. We’ll marry fast as we can. Three days should be enough, I think. And then you can escape and come back to us. You’ll say your knight was slain by a dragon or something. Everyone will be happy.”

Her lip trembled on the last word. Isabelle pulled her hands away, put them to her face, helplessly to her sides.

“But he already suspects me. What if I were to fail? Only kings make such gambles with dragons. Oh, Evangeline,” she whispered fervently. “Do I dare trick a dragon?”

The two sisters were very close. Isabelle could see her own fear reflected in Evangeline’s eyes.

Evangeline said, “You must.”

And there was nothing left to say. The only matter now was finding the dragon.

* * *

As it turned out, the dragon knight solved that problem for them.

Right as dinner was ending and Isabelle was rising to clear the table, there came a knock upon the door. It had a strange sort of clank to it.

Their father sighed. “Never known a blacksmith with this much persistence.”

Isabelle and Evangeline shot each other startled glances. Evangeline wasn’t expecting a visit from Hob. But there was too little time to do anything. Already their father had reached the door, and swung it open.

“My good sir,” said a rich voice that sent hot and cold shivers down Isabelle’s spine, and was most certainly not Hob’s the thick drawl. “Is this by chance the house of Isaac shopkeeper?”

“Why—yes—my lord! Isaac the shopkeeper is none other than I. Forgive me my lord, I was not prepared…”

“Peace,” the dragon knight said. “All is well. I have come in search of your daughter, who met me in the forest this very day—” and Isabelle looked up to see him smiling at her over her father’s shoulder—“for I have heard she knows where to find dragons.”

If I fainted right now, Isabelle thought, nobody could blame me.

“Dragons!” her father echoed blankly. Evangeline’s eyes were like saucers.

“Yes,” said the dragon knight smoothly. “Furthermore—”

“Furthermore,” her father echoed, like one in a dream.

“—She rendered a great service to me earlier this day when I wandered lost in the forest, by pointing me to your charming town of Eastberth, a service of which I never properly thanked her.” He was speaking directly to her now, and gave one of his chivalrous bows. “My lady.”

“My lord,” Isabelle said, dazed.

She realized a couple things. One, she had somehow gone from sitting at the table to standing by the door without making a conscious decision to do so. Two, the knight had come precisely when she needed him, which was suspicious. And three, her father had the strangest look on his face, almost as if—

He opened the door wide. “Would you come in, my lord?”

The dragon knight tore his eyes away from Isabelle’s. “Nay, though I thank you. I have come with a clear purpose, so let me be clear in stating it. Is your daughter now engaged to any other?”

Isaac seemed to be thinking fast. “Not at the present.”

“Splendid. Then may I ask your permission, good sir, to take your daughter as my wife?” And his gaze returned to Isabelle’s.

Though he was putting on the knightly act for her father, as he’d done for her in the forest, he allowed Isabelle just one glance of that serious side. The look that told her he saw her for who and what she was, knew that she knew. And he still wanted her to be his wife.

Of course he did, Isabelle thought, dazed but a little irritated. He was a dragon. Of course he wanted a wife. Did he think her swayed by the pretense of honesty?

Even her father’s swift merchant’s mind couldn’t keep up with this twist. His jaw worked hard and managed to throw out a sputtered phrase or two. “My—Isabelle—good sir—if you truly—”

“All you have to do,” the dragon knight said helpfully, “is say yes.”

“I—of course—yes. I mean.” He turned to Isabelle, all out of sorts. “Do you have any objections?”

Isabelle looked at the dragon knight. He gave her a soft smile. It made her feel odd in the knees. She looked back over her shoulder at Evangeline, whose face was torn with so many pulls of emotion, she’d frozen half in and half out of her seat. Isabelle thought of Hob, grinning his stupid grin. She imagined his meaty hands taking one of hers. Then she imagined the dragon knight, reaching out with one of his own armored gloves, one of his soft smiles. Her stomach flipped like a wet fish.

“I consent.”

“Splendid,” the dragon knight murmured. “Splendid.”

And despite herself, Isabelle blushed.

* * *

The dragon knight returned for her that next morning. It was possibly the strangest thing Isabelle had ever done, hugging her sister goodbye and wishing her—rather loudly, for their father’s benefit—the best of happiness with Hob. Then she had to turn and go. In the background she heard her father mutter to Evangeline, “What did she mean about you and the blacksmith’s son?”

And that was that. Their voices faded. Isabelle was on the road alone with her dragon knight.

They traveled North. From the first moment the entered the trees, Isabelle was waiting for him to reveal himself as a dragon, but he never did. They just walked in silence. It seemed to weigh heavily on the knight. Isabelle began to anticipate what she called their Daily Conversations.

Day one, the dragon knight began,

“My lady, I must confess…”

And Isabelle snorted, “I bet you must.”

“…That I never did learn your name.”

And she had said, “Oh.”

Day two, the dragon knight tried again.

“There is a town up ahead, about another hour’s walk. If you are in need of any provisions—”

“I thought you said you walked this path for days without seeing another town.”

He seemed to struggle for patience. “Maybe I did.”

“And maybe I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and start laying golden eggs.”

He shut his eyes. “I would rather not.”

And once, when they stopped at an inn, and Isabelle was lying awake in bed, listening to the sound of his breathing from the floor, irritated that he could fall asleep down there when she couldn’t even sleep up here, she started her own Daily Conversation by muttering,

“You’re such a liar.”

“Pardon?” the knight mumbled sleepily.

“I said, you’re such a liar.”

Silence from the knight.

“You said you were here to slay dragons. You said I knew where to find dragons. You said you didn’t know where Eastberth was. Do I need to continue?”

“I never said I didn’t know where Eastberth was,” he replied stiffly. “I just asked for guidance. I have never once lied to you, my lady.”

Isabelle clenched her fists. “You’re here to claim yourself a bride!”

“I’m here to win a bride. There’s a difference.” He paused. “Wouldn’t you agree, my lady?”

Isabelle rolled to face the wall. “Don’t call me your lady.”

In short, by the morning of the third day, Isabelle was ready to go back home.

The dragon knight seemed almost of the same sentiment. He was polite as always, but curt in his replies. She didn’t think he’d even bother stopping her if she tried to flee. Surely Evangeline and Hob were wed by now? Surely she should leave while she could?

The problem was the dragon knight. The infuriating, silent, secretive dragon knight. Isabelle was still waiting for him to reveal himself. She was almost desperate for it. Why continue the farce of knighthood? Why pretend he was here to slay dragons when, clearly, he was after a bride? If he was after a bride, and he’d claimed his bride, why not just come out and say he was a dragon?

As they left the inn the third morning and continued traveling North, Isabelle felt almost feverish with wondering. Perhaps that is why she didn’t turn for home when she should have. Perhaps that is why, when the dragon knight spoke to her at midmorning, she didn’t snap back at him, but listened.

“My lady. There is something I must confess—something else I must confess.” He spoke stiffly. Their bickering over the past two days hadn’t made them friends. “You must be warned I am expecting an attack this day.”

That was…not what she’d hoped to hear.

Isabelle sighed. “May I inquire by whom?”

The dragon knight hesitated for the first time. “By my half-brother, Gorgon.”

“Who I suppose is also a knight.” She rolled her eyes.

But her dragon knight only looked at her, the way he had in the forest, like she was too smart to go on pretending to be foolish. He said, “No.”

“Why would your half-brother attack you?”

“Because we both have an equal claim to the throne. Because Gorgon is foul. Because he has been waiting these long years for his chance, and now it has come.” He glanced at her, just a little apologetically. “Because I have a bride, and he has failed to win his own.”

That’s when the forest rumbled. The air seemed to reek with a sudden stench of molten stone and smoke.

Isabelle’s dragon knight shoved her behind him. He unsheathed his sword with the clear ringing of steel, and held it in front of him at the ready.

There was another rumble. Except it was more like a laugh. And then a horrifically dark spade-shaped thing nosed its way out from the shadows of the trees.

“Failed?” it rumbled. “Failed? Is it failure when you have brought her to me, Renfell? And what a lovely one she is.”

The great head was extending now on the curve of what seemed like an endless scaly neck, so that Isabelle choked down a whimper and clutched at the hand of her dragon knight. The dragon was, she realized with horror, talking about her.

“Do not mock the lady in her presence,” the dragon knight warned.

“I do not mock.” Jets of smoke blew from Gorgon’s nostrils, and his serpent’s eyes glistened greedily. “I admire.”

“She is not yours to admire.”

Gorgon seemed to grin—could dragons grin? “Ah, but there you are wrong. You have brought her to me. She is mine. Her gift of foresight will be a great asset in establishing my kingdom, brother.”

Isabelle felt her chest spark with anger. She shoved her way forward and shouted, “You will never be king!”

For a brief moment, like the pause of a leaf fluttering to the ground, everyone was too stunned to move. Her words rang through the forest with the truth of foresight. Or perception. Or whatever they wanted to call it. She’d spoken the truth.

Gorgon would never be king.

He roared, a terrible fierce thing that knocked her flat on her back, and his enormous spade-head lunged. Isabelle couldn’t do a thing. She was lying paralyzed on her back, staring into his gaping mouth as it came closer and closer, a red hot fireball rolling up his throat, and she was going to die. She was going to burn. She was going to writhe and shrivel and burn.

She screamed.

The dragon knight leapt over her. Terrible heat flooded across them, making the world sway a thousand shades of flame as the grass sizzled and the dirt began to puddle into itself and Isabelle could hear the tips of her own hair crackling, but the dragon knight was crouched over her with his shield on his back—when did he get a shield?—their faces inches apart, their gazes locked and holding. It was a strange, terrible, surreal moment, but for the first time there were no accusations between them. Just the truth in his eyes. He would protect her. He would not let Gorgon take her away.

Then the fire stopped, and the dragon knight rolled aside to launch himself at Gorgon. And the real battle began.

Isabelle managed to crawl behind some rocks, but she could not hide. The fighting thundered all around. It seemed to her that the dragon knight was changing—was stretching out and blurring—twisting around Gorgon so that the black and silver and crimson were all mixed—and trees were just toppling over, and flames were everywhere.

And then there was an earthquake. The ground seemed to shudder and come apart. It is a terrible feeling, to have the ground come apart beneath your feet, and start dropping with great jerks and sliding. Isabelle screamed and clung to her rock. But she didn’t slide far. The rumblings stilled, the slide of dirt shifted and slowed, and Isabelle was lying half on top of her rock, panting as she stared into the depression below her. A huge form lay at the bottom. A dragon’s form.

A dead dragon.

Thud, went the sky. Thud, thud, thud, like it was so very tired.

Isabelle scrambled backward and faced the sound. The smoke roiled overhead. Something big and dark began amassing in the cloud, taking shape as it grew nearer and larger, and then it churned to a landing nearby. It was, of course, a dragon. The neck began searching back and forth at once. Crimson patterns swirled down his silver neck to spill like a crest over his shoulders and wings. It was a stunning design. Elegant, bold. Nothing like Gorgon’s blunt ugliness.

Isabelle stared up at the dragon. “Renfell?”

The weary head turned, searching, and then the long neck extended toward her.

“My lady,” the dragon rumbled. He seemed—Isabelle wasn’t sure what he seemed like. He was so tired and blood-streaked and big that it would be strange to imagine he could sound relieved, or glad, or surprised. “I thought you had fled.”

They were face to face again. Like they’d been under his shield. Or his wing. Whichever it had been. She didn’t care. She wanted—she didn’t know what she wanted—to tell him she was sorry for calling him a liar, for accusing him of being here to claim a bride, for being rude when he was nothing but kind.

What she said was, “You killed him.”

The deep golden eyes never left hers. They were sad. “Yes.”

“You’re king, then.” And Isabelle found herself thinking, only kings gamble with dragons. She betted he could track a wolf through the mountains, too, and sing like a bard, and oh, she didn’t care. He didn’t need to prove anything to her.

But he exhaled like a roll of thunder and said, “I have won the kingdom. To be king, I need also to win myself a bride.”

He looked infinitely sad and worn and vulnerable when he said this. Isabelle swallowed. She got up, though her legs were shaking and raw with burns, and she picked her way over the loose ground until she was looking right up into his eyes.

“I consent,” she said, quietly.

Miles away it seemed, his enormous chest tightened, as if he was holding a breath. He rumbled, “My lady?”

“I said…well…I think you’ve already won your bride.” She placed her hand against his nose. It radiated warmth. Then she looked up, trying not to blush. “King Renfell.”

He grinned. So dragons could grin. He bowed his head and touched it to hers, so they were forehead to forehead, breath to breath, and rumbled, “My Queen.”

Which, despite herself, made Isabelle blush.

* * *


© Amanda Smith, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Your Heart

I looked
On your nightstand
Beneath your pillow,
The dresser drawer
I opened boxes in your closet
Parted the leaves
Of your white lily
Ran an arm
Beneath your bed ruffle

And still, I couldn’t find it
Found your diary
Your lost earring
Your high-school yearbook
But I couldn’t
Find your heart

So I got sneaky, I began looking
In those places where people hide
Things they don’t want others
To realize is important
Like the un-dusted shelf
In the guest room
Like the cracked pages
Of a forgettable book
I searched
The box marked “scrap cloth”
In your attic
But I didn’t
Find your heart

Then I realized, how could I find
Something I didn’t know
Something I didn’t understand
What was its shape, its texture
Did it shift in tides
Or flutter like a moth to the flame?
I could have passed it already
It could be in plain sight
I was doing this all wrong

So instead I became
A student of you
I learned the face
You make in your sleep
And how you always
Kick off your shoes
When you’re ready for supper, but
You don’t take off your socks
Until it’s time for bed
I learned that you like
Coming unexpectedly on a rainbow
And that you cry
Over your bathroom sink

And I learned
You never sing
In the shower

And still
I almost missed it
One day, on the streets
Where it lay pressed against the gutter
Plastered with old news
Grit, cigarette butts
A sad matted thing
That only caught my eye
Because it wilted when my shadow
Passed over its form
I turned back
Shocked, ashamed
To see it so helpless
To feel it shiver in my palms
This
This was yours?

You deserved better

I took your heart home with me
Wrapped in my jacket
Whispering, soothing
I dabbed away the crusts
Of blood and tears
Of scabs and scars
The shedding layers of dreams
I cradled and smoothed it
Late at night against my chest
Changing the bandages
Under weak shadows from the moon
I held it all night long
All night long

I have found you
And I will keep you safe
I will hold your heart

© Amanda Smith, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

To Lock And Release – Short 1

Hey everybody, kicking off week 2 of the blog launch party with the first short story. (Yayy!) I have one more story and one other mystery post (oooh intrigue) planned for this week. Also, don’t forget the contest ends this Thursday! Not a lot of entrants at the moment so your chances of winning a prize pack are real good. Hint hint, nudge nudge.

Okay. Moving on. Short story. Enjoy!

* * *

 

The forest leaves shush and crunch underfoot as the flashlight catches bare branches in the act of fingering the moon. The lantern makes a muted squeal as it swings from my hand.

“Leslie, what are we doing here?” I hiss in the dark. My socks are thick with the wet grime of leaves and mulch.

Leslie pauses, flashing her light this way, that. “I’m here because there’s a door that needs to be locked. And you’re here because I’m too scared to do this alone. ”

“A door you need to lock on a Wednesday. At midnight.”

“Well actually, it’s more like one thirty.”

“Les.” I lower my voice. “What are we doing here?”

Silver light bleeds through the forest and glints off the key hanging down Leslie’s collarbone. Her breath makes clouds that come quick, faster than mine.

“You can go back, Aimee. Don’t come if you don’t want to.”

“It’s pretty creepy out here alone.”

“I’ll be fine,” Leslie snaps.

“I meant me.”

Leslie looks over, incredulous, and then bursts out laughing. “Oh, Aimes. I really am sorry I dragged you into this. I just thought…” she flicks her light back out into the deep forest. I try to see past the night, past the restless hush of wind in distant treetops. “I thought I could do this,” Leslie says.

I shiver and rub the goosebumps out of my arms. “Why are we looking for a door?”

Leslie sighs and begins walking forward again. Together we share the guiding hotspot of her light.

Leslie says, “Did I ever tell you why my dad left us? He was really rich, from this big family in Connecticut, and I guess he couldn’t give it all up to live with a backwoods gypsy like my mom. So he left. I got birthday cards from him sometimes. Really generic, with a hundred dollar bill stuffed inside.”

“Holy crap.” I think of the times Leslie and I would walk up and down the concrete sidewalks looking for the glint of loose change, just so we could buy fifteen cents-worth of sour gummies from the penny candy store. “Could you imagine slapping a hundred dollar bill in front of Mr. Deeks and asking for its worth in candy?”

Lelise laughs again, jittery through her chattering teeth. “No such luck. Mom always made me put it in a college fund.”

All of the sudden my jeans catch on something sharp and branchy in the darkness, and I trip. The lantern goes clattering.

“Aimee, you okay?” Leslie scurries over.

I rise painfully, and hiss cusswords at my skinned palms. They’re caked with mud.  “Ugh.”

Leslie inspects my hands with the flashlight, and then wipes dirt off using wet leaves. I rub the slime on my jeans and go retrieve the lantern. We walk on, me poking a foot out before each reluctant step.

“So anyway,” Leslie says. “My dad. A few years ago the cards stopped coming. Then mom started getting these phone calls. She’d be furious, go out for a smoke, come back and dig out the ice cream or a bag of stale York Mints. That’s when she started asking about the key.”

I don’t think Leslie knows she does this, but when she’s talking, she often drops a hand down to touch the key and rub its odd edges between her fingers. Even in the dark I can tell she’s doing it.

“Why did your mom give you that key, anyway?”

“I don’t know.” Leslie drops the key and walks with renewed vigor. “She always said it was so I could have something from both her and dad, close to my heart. I needed that.”

Leslie stops again. The landscape is about to fork. On one side, rocks cling to deep shadows, and on the other, the trees thicken. Mist weaves between the trunks.

Leslie mutters. “Dang it Aimee. I know we came the right way.”

“You’ve been here before?” We’re standing close. Both hesitant, both too aware of the little shuffling sounds and faint cries that could be animals, or wood bending, or childhood monsters avenging us for their banishment.

“I followed my mom once.” Leslie’s breath puffs. “Like, last month. I’d heard her talk about this little shack in the woods that she used to go to as a teen, kind of a gypsy hangout where everyone smoked pot except for her because, you know, I’m her daughter and you can’t tell your daughter that you smoked pot.”

“Your mom is hilarious.”

Leslie snorts.  “Yeah. Right. She’s been worse than usual since the phone calls started. She keeps asking for the key. Tells me not to lose it. And I’m like, something’s wrong you know? Something’s happened.” We take a few shuffling steps forward, not committing to either trail in our uncertainty.

I shiver all over. It’s cold. I’m cold, thinking of bad things happening in a shack in the woods.

“So,” Leslie says. Her voice sounds strained. “So my dad is dead.”

I stop for a moment. I can feel Leslie’s shoulders bending and tightening under me, and she’s crying, Leslie who never cries.

“Oh Les. Come here.” The flashlight does a crazy dance as Les turns and I hug her, stroking her warm hair and chilly ears. “I’m so sorry.”

She leans into me for a minute and lets it out as I hold her. Then she sighs.

“Yeah. Well.” She snuffles and tries to smudge the tears away. “That’s not even the worst part. Now they’re trying to say I’m not actually his kid.”

“Wouldn’t a DNA test take care of that?”

Leslie takes a few steps toward the rocky patch.  “My mom is refusing to let them take one. She doesn’t believe in the system. Doesn’t want there to be records floating around of my DNA.”

I stomp up the slope toward Les, rubbing my hands, stuffing them in my pockets. They still smell of dead leaves and loam. “Okay. But I don’t get what the big deal is. Why are they so set on proving you’re not his daughter?”

Leslie doesn’t look at me. As if summoned, she turns and walks away from the rocks, toward a slender path that opened up now that we’re close enough to see it.

I stare after her a moment. Then, hurry to catch up. “Wait. Leslie. You’re not telling me you’re like, his heir or something. Are you? Les?”

Her voice is clipped. “He was too rich and important to marry anyone.”

“Holy crap.”

“If they can prove I’m not his, then the money goes to the rest of his family, all split up into twenty seven different directions so everyone gets their share. Mom was telling Grams this. I’m not even supposed to know.”

“You could be a millionaire. You could go to Stanford. Buy an island on the lake. You’re rich, Les!”

“Not,” Leslie points out, “if we can’t prove I’m really his.” Then she inhales fast. “Look.”

In the distant, wavering beam of her flashlight, an old shack slumps against the base of a rocky rise. The door is open and the roof caving in. Beams splay out of the mess, and the whole building has the look of a grasping hand.

Leslie walks with new purpose. I hurry to keep up with her.

“So that’s why we’re here? You’ve got proof of your legitimacy or something?”

Leslie sounds grim. “My mom might sing to our flowers and wear dead butterflies in her hair, but she’s not an idiot. When she found out she was pregnant, she literally went to Connecticut and got my dad to sign this paper. They made a deal that my mom would never ask him for money and we would never bother him during his lifetime. In return, he legalized me as his successor. Mom knew he wouldn’t care about what happened to the money after his death. Probably thought he would outlive her, and I would never know. It was an easy way to get rid of us.”

We reach the shack. The slumping part must have been a porch, once, and the rest of the building still stands behind it. Leslie takes a breath and looks at me.

“Got the lantern?”

I swing it.

“Okay, come on.” Leslie does an about-face and ducks under the sinking beams of the porch, her flashlight glow thickening as it hits thatch, and then cutting away as Leslie steps up, disappearing into the shack.

For one brief second I’m alone. The wind is high off, sighing. The moon moves in and out a bank of clouds. It’s almost peaceful.

“You coming, Aimes?”

I bend and scramble in after Leslie.

It’s hard to tell what it looks like, in here; the flashlight shines all crazy off the enclosed space. Leslie and I grope together.

“Here,” Leslie says, fumbling with a match. There’s a sharp snick and a hot gust as the flame gasps into existence. Leslie brings her match to the lantern’s wick. The light grows, expands. And suddenly I can see.

We’re in a small room, with an old heap of blankets and mattresses in one corner, shoes and papers scattered around the others. Dusty windows stare balefully in on us. Up in wooden beams, dead spiders cling to their empty webs.

“Some shack.” I lift the lantern higher and see that the walls in here are made of crumbling brick.   “More like a cabin.”

“For your info, a shack is a ‘roughly built hut or cabin.’ They’re synonymous.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

Leslie is digging around the base of an enormous wooden chest. “Help me Aimes. Look for a keyhole. It might be under this thing.”

“Here, I’ll push.” I set the lantern up on a warped windowsill. Together, Leslie and I heave at the chest, inching it with a high-pitched screech across the floor. I gasp in effort and rub sweat from my eyes.

“Wait,” Leslie pants. “Look!”

I squat back and catch my breath. We’ve uncovered a niche in the wall, and tucked up in it, covered in mortar and brick dust, is an old cast iron safe. Leslie brushes her thumb across the front. There are two keyholes.

“Wow.” I lean my head back and inhale the musty air. “I have to admit Les, this is one of the coolest things I’ve done in the history of summers.”

Leslie isn’t listening. She’s on her knees in the dust, digging her fingertips into cracks between the safe and the brick. She coaxes it out with tugs right, tugs left.

“That looks heavy.”

The thing drops with a thunk on the floor.

Leslie raises an eyebrow at me. “Profound, Aimes.” She sticks her key in one of the holes and turns it. There’s an emphatic click.

I open my mouth to give a smart comeback, when Leslie does something that makes no sense to me. She shoves the safe into its niche. Nudging me out of the way, she leans her body weight against the trunk, and pushes it back into place. The trunk stops with a groan.

Leslie smacks the dust off her hands. “Okay. Grab the lantern.”

“What? Les—what about the safe?”

“Grab the lantern, Aimee. We’re going.”

She ducks out of the shack.

“But the safe,” I whisper, staring after her. Had I missed something? Why would we come all this way just to lock a safe that was already locked?

Two keyholes.

I grab the lantern and batter my way out into the fresh air, cold and crisp, still filled with night. Leslie is already tramping away.

“Hey. Wait, I’m coming!” She pauses a brief moment while I catch up. “Les, I don’t understand what’s going on. I thought you wanted that paper. Wasn’t it in the safe?”

“Yeah. It was in the safe.” She’s looking down, not at me.

“So what?” For the first time this whole night, I feel myself actually getting angry. I grab Leslie’s shoulder. “So we came all this way for nothing. Just to look at a stupid safe. What did we come for? You can tell me. What?”

Leslie is silent a long moment. A wet trail glistens on her cheek in the glow of my lantern. She’s crying. She started crying again, and I didn’t even notice.

I feel bad. Shuffle my feet in the leaves.

“Don’t even you want the money?”

Leslie rubs a shoulder across her nose. “No.”

“You don’t want your dad’s money.”

She whispers, “No.”

I lean back. “And there were two keys. One for your dad, one for your mom. Except now your dad is dead and you have the other key…”

Leslie sighs, a cloud of breath rising to be tattered by the breeze.

“Mom never locked her side of the safe. So I had to.”

We stand there for another long moment. The wind swings my lantern, and I blow out the wick, not wanting to fall again and spill burning oil. The cold seems to revel around us in the sudden dark.

Leslie fingers her necklace, flashlight pointing at the ground, eyes up at the high branches and moon far beyond.

“I think it’s true. That I’m not actually his daughter. There’s a reason my mom tricked him into signing the paper, why she won’t let them test my DNA. I don’t want to know that reason. I like my life. I don’t want to know, one way or the other.”

I shiver, and put an arm around my friend. “You know…they could just cut it open.”

“It’s a thick safe, Aimee, and a very thin piece of paper.”

It seems to take a much shorter time to get back out of the woods then it did going in. When we finally stumble out onto the far end of our street, caught in the full light of the moon, Leslie hugs me. Her fingers are burning with cold.

“Thanks Aimee. You’re a good friend.”

“If I’m dead at work tomorrow, I blame you.”

She laughs and lets me go. We split and head to our own backyards, then stop at our fences, and pause to wave across the street. Leslie is lit up in raspberry blue moonlight. It’s then that I see. Her collarbone, shimmering bare and white.

The key is gone.

 

* * *

 

© Amanda Smith, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Contest Extension

Hey y’all.

So this announcement is pretty self-explanatory, I think, but I’m going to elaborate upon it because, well, explanations always make me feel better. So the deal is this: my brain has been pretty absent lately. This semester is insane, not necessarily in difficulty level, but in the level of busyness and distraction. I keep forgetting which day it is. I’m behind on homework. I’ve been canceling things left and right just to keep up with the scramble. So it sort of occurred to me that Thursday is a terrible day for me to end the contest as I’m away from home all day that day. Unfortunately that didn’t occur to me until now, because I’ve been so brainless.

snailed it

So! Good news is, I’m extending the contest until next Thursday (the 14th) because, hopefully, I’ll be a little more sane by then. (Hah. Hah. Hah.) I will continue to post fun content during the length of the contest and you guys can continue to rack up more entries and hopefully we can all find our brains somewhere in the middle of it. Full Contest Details Here!

Okay. That’s all I got. I leave you now with the Credible Hulk. Happy Tuesday!

the credible hulk

Mirrorpass Excerpt 1

In this scene, Aria is on the run from a group of men who’ve cornered her against a window overlooking a hanger. If Aria can get into the hanger, she might be able to get away. Unfortunately, her two friends (Samma and Takkie) are trapped below. More about MIRRORPASS here.

 

* * *

 

“It’s time to give this up,” the watcher said. “You have a choice here. Don’t be a fool.”

Aria flushed. She thought about everything Samma and Takkie had done for her, how Takkie had tried to warn her that day by the watercourse, how they’d never escape without her help. She would not give up on them. Not now. Not let it end this way.

Quickly she placed both hands up to the glass and vibed a single, rebellious emotion. “No.”

It was foolish; it was freedom. She could risk being a fool, but never, never a prisoner. She refused.

The vibrations filled her skull and chest and teeth, until it felt like her skin was peeling off the bone and her bones were melting. The glass popped, splintering in a million lightning-patterns away from her hands.

“What are you doing?” The watcher’s voice rose with suspicion. “Stop. Stop it now.”

Aria ignored him. She dredged up images of the mutated Sphereside crewman, thought of becoming his haunted shell of a body, of staying in that limbo forever. She thought of the breeze she wouldn’t feel, the night sky that she wouldn’t see; stars leaving her, never to return.

She thought of Zaire.

You left me behind. I won’t be left again.

Her eyes burned with tears.

Not again.

Not. This. Time.

The glass hissed, spiderweb filaments appearing as long as her arm, longer, crackling white until the lines from both palms met, and a sliver of glass exploded free. Aria recoiled. Her ears rang, and her teeth burned, but she’d broken the glass.

She arched her wings.

“No.” The watcher advanced. “I said stop!”

Aria whirled, beating her wings in a great arc that forced everyone back against the wall. Quickly she turned to the window. Swiveling the blade of her scales outward, she reared back, and hit the glass. Throb. The window swayed, cracks spreading, a few more chunks of crystal falling outward. Again. THROB. She sliced down this time, and huge lines of glass crumbled free, while the window swayed like a thick curtain in its frame.

An escort darted. She sidestepped, knocked him off his feet with a swinging strut. Aria sucked in a breath, faced the window, and swung once more.

The whole window shattered outward, leaving her standing in the middle of a void. Far below, glass hit the hanger floor and disintegrated in a beautiful spray. Everyone below recoiled in delayed time. Aria looked for Todd, and couldn’t find him. But the hanger door was wide open.

“Thank you Todd,” she whispered. “I’ll always remember you.”

In her peripheral, she saw the watcher lunge.

Aria pointed her wings, tucked up her legs, and dove.

 

* * *

 

© Amanda Smith, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Welcome Vlog and Launch Contest!

It’s finally live! Yay!

Due to the awesomeness that is my old, slow laptop, I had some issues rendering out the video and was therefore a little late to my own launch party (ahem.) But it’s done and rendered and we’re all good. So go ahead, check out the video, then scroll down for contest details.

Yay!

Prizes!

– There will be three winners/prize packs, and each prize pack will contain three books. Breakdown below.

Prize1

Prize Pack #1

  • Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
  • The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
  • The Line by Teri Hall (ARC)

Prize2

Prize Pack #2 (isn’t it so pretty?)

  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis (original hardcover)
  • Wings by Aprilynne Pike (paperback)

Prize3

Prize Pack #3

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
  • Perception by Kim Harrington (ARC)

How to enter:

– First, comment below to let me know which prize packs you want most, in the order you’d like to win them.

Example:

  • First choice: Pack 2
  • Second choice: Pack 1
  • Third choice: Pack 3

As I attempted to explain in the video, the first winner will get their first choice; after that I’ll do my best to get the second and third winners their top choices in prize packs.

– Get extra entries by following/promoting the contest.

  • Subscribe/follow the new blog +3
  • Blog about the contest +2
  • Follow me on Twitter +2
  • Retweet the contest +1
  • Share a link on Facebook +1

Essentially, any way you can think of spreading word about the contest that you can provide an actual link to will count as an extra entry 🙂

– Finally, make sure to include your email address in your comment entry.

Entries will NOT be considered valid unless you include the email! So make sure to do that. And don’t forget to include your links, let me know if you followed/subscribed, and what your entry tally is.

Other Details

– There will be three winners, one for each of the three prize packs.
– The contest will run until Thursday February 14th. (I announced the contest extension here.) from the time of this post until noon Thursday February 8th (EST)
– Contest open only to the consecutive US states. (Sorry guys!)
– The winning entry will be chosen using a random number generator, and within a few days of the contest close, I’ll be announcing winners and emailing them about their prizes.

So that’s it for contest details. Over the rest of the week I’ll be posting some of the content I mentioned in the video, like short stories and excerpts and such, so have fun in the contest, and don’t forget to check back for the rest of the blog launch celebration. Good luck!

Truly and always,
-Mandy