Stella’s Vision

Stella was having a good day, sight wise, and she was grateful for that. How many more times, after all, would she be able to see Coveline rising out of the horizon over the Dragon Tears River? She didn’t know, and it seemed bad luck to try to count them.

The sailors milled around her, preparing to pull the ship into dock. Stella wanted to hide, wanted to make herself small among all these strangers. She didn’t know anyone on board, barely even knew anyone’s name.

Part of her had to admit that she might have known them if she hadn’t been sulking the whole way home. But maybe she deserved to sulk. She was going blind and being shunted home by her teacher.

The ship pulled up to the dock, and Stella saw that almost her whole family was waiting for her there. A ring of citizens stood around them at a respectful distance. The crowd cheered for her and waived. Stella waived back, the soft, gentle smile on her fact that she’d been taught from the cradle.

Her mother, Queen Shori, was a massive dragon whose bright red scales and silver ridges seemed to cast their own light. In front of her stood Stella’s older brother, Sol, and younger brother, Terrae. Terrae had their mother’s red scales, with gold ridges and a thinner form like their Vondrai ancestors. Sol could have been Stella all grown, with a wider, squatter body, bright blue scales and silver ridges. Stella supposed that the only thing that kept them from being identical was his glasses.

The irony of which was just sickening.

“Oh, look at my baby girl!” Queen Shori cried as Stella trotted off the ship and onto the dock. “Travel suits you, daughter. Come here and let me see how much you’ve changed.”

Stella embraced her mother and brothers. “I’ve missed you all so much,” she said, letting her pleasure at seeing them overwhelm her poor feelings for the moment. “I can’t wait to get home and see everyone else. Why didn’t Luna come down to see me arrive?”

This seemed to be just the wrong thing to say, however. Shori glanced at Sol, who grimaced. “Don’t worry about her right now. Tekie and Hiro are so excited to see you. They couldn’t get away from their work this morning, or they would have come as well.” They started for the palace along the wide stone path, waving goodbye to the crowd as they went.

“Luna isn’t living at home anymore,” Terrae blurted.

Shori gave her youngest son an exasperated look. “Can you not tell, my dear child, that maybe this wasn’t the sort of thing we should talk about right this very minute, with Stella just home?” she asked.

Terrae’s eyes grew wide and innocent. “But she’s going to find out anyway, Mamma.”

“How about some better and healthier conversations?” Sol asked. “Stella, wait until you meet the healers we have working on this blindness issue. They are so excited that you’re home.”

So, her education as a seer had been put on hold so she could become a science experiment. That sounded fair.

Since she couldn’t imagine saying that in front of her mother, she said instead, “I hope I have time to see all of you on this visit. I don’t intend to be here very long.”

“No, this will just be a short visit to check in on your vision and hug you exactly one million and twenty-three times,” Shori said. “Then you will have to leave us again and go back to your teacher.”

“That is a lot of hugs, Mamma,” Sol said, giving Stella a wicked look. “You’d better start now if you’re going to get them all in.”

“I think you’re right,” Shori said and scooped her daughter up into another hug.

“Mamma, stop that!” Stella cried.

But she didn’t really mean it.

The one thing that King Devon had impressed upon Stella before letting her on the ship to head home was the vast importance of meditation to her physical and emotional wellbeing.

“I know it feels hard to fit it in some days when you’re so busy,” he’d said. “But your mental health isn’t going to take that as an excuse.”

Stella knew he was right. She didn’t like to admit it to him, but she felt different on days she didn’t make the time.

Not a good different.

And so, as soon as her family left her to settle into her old room, she took out her meditation notebook. Unlike every other thing she owned, it was a mess. There were charcoal and ink stains all over the leather cover. Many pages were stained or torn. When visions came to her, they came as strongly as they wanted. They didn’t seem to care for the preservation of her book. Of course, they were visions, and certainly above such petty concerns as physical things.

Stella sat down at her desk and took out a piece of charcoal. She flipped to a relatively clean page and began drawing slow, steady loops on the page. This, she had found, was the easiest way to corral her visions during meditation. What came out wasn’t always pretty, and sometimes it was impossible to decipher. Sometimes even when she could decipher it, she wished she couldn’t.

And on top of everything else, it was taking her vision. But what could she do? The worst of the whole thing was that she had no control over this at all.

Her hand was moving the entire time she was thinking mutinous thoughts about her visions. She breathed out deeply, trying to control her mind the way Devon had taught her. She thought of nothing, trying to let whatever would come to the page come.

Sometimes she had no visions. Sometimes she came up with nothing but indecipherable scribbles. But this was not one of those times.

Her hand sketched a collection of candles, with thick black smoke pooling down from them like water.

A moment later she was sketching a set of bassinets, without any children inside of them.

Still, her hand moved. She drew an opal, with light shining around it.

Finally, she drew two people that she knew very well. Princess Lenore, her teacher’s older sister, being led to a pole with kindling stacked around it in chains. Next to that was Devon, her teacher, and dearest friend, with broken twisted legs.

“No, oh no,” Stella whispered. She moved away from the desk, nearly knocking it over. Her eyes clouded over, and she couldn’t see anything anymore. “Help, somebody, help me!”

“Stella, Stella what’s wrong?” It was Terrae, she could hear him skittering into the room. He grabbed her arm, and she reached for him.

“Get Mamma, and the Septan ambassador,” she said. “We’ve got to get a letter to the capital right away.”

“Why, what’s going on? Oh, oh I see.” He must have looked at her notebook. “I’ll get Mamma, don’t worry.”

A ship left for from Coveline to Septa at first light. Stella’s letter, hastily written, was in the satchel of a royal messenger. Stella slept peacefully, content that at least she’d been able to give a warning to Devon.

But the ship would never make it to Septa. There was a ship waiting just inside of Septa waters, with a black sail. A ship full of men who would stop at nothing to destroy Devon and his family.

missing stitches-001The city of Septa has barely had a moment of peace since the death of their king, Michael. Lenore, the princess, and heir, hopes that she and her husband, Victor, can bring some stability. Meanwhile, her brother Devon and his wife, Queen Sultiana, come to visit and meet Lenore and Victor’s twin daughters. Sultiana comes with a heavy heart, having just miscarried her own child, and lost her father.

Instead, Lenore finds herself battling against her uncle, Joseph, over her right to the throne. As he stirs the city into civil war, an ancient enemy reveals itself. Brother Brennan, who claims to speak for The Creator, is killing Septa citizens in the streets.

Then, Lenore’s daughters are kidnapped. While Victor and Devon hunt the city in search of the princesses, Lenore and Sultiana must lead her city in a war against her uncle, and a twisted holy man. The canals run red as Lenore fights for her city, her family, and the safety of the world, in the conclusion of Woven.

Find out about Stella’s visions. Get Missing Stitches now for free, until Tuseday February 26th.

The many things that changed while writing Woven

I’ve been writing Woven for a long, long time now. At least, it feels like a long time. I started writing it in July of 2014. And I’ve talked often about how much I’ve changed over the course of the last four and a half years. Like, a lot a lot.

What I haven’t talked a lot about is how Woven itself has changed. The story went through a ton of drafts and evolved with every one of them. So today, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the biggest changes I made to Woven before anyone ever saw it.

Lenore’s Grandmother got put on a bus

When I first wrote Broken Patterns, Lenore and her mom had a great relationship. It was her obnoxious, overbearing grandmother that was the real old pain in the ass. She was rude, demanding and ran the whole castle.

In the end, though, it rendered Lenore’s mother completely useless. Worse, the grandmother wasn’t fun to write. I didn’t feel like she was adding anything positive to the story that Queen Lorna couldn’t bring. So, I cut her. And the scene’s she was now missing from got way tighter.

Elder Marcus was going to try to kill Lenore at the end of part one

The scene where Elder Marcus loses his temper and hits Lenore was way darker the first go round. He was going to try to strangle her to death.

I decided not to do this for a couple of reasons. For one, he would have been killed immediately by Victor, hands down. And I knew I needed him for other books. For another, he was a pretty smart guy. Losing his temper and hitting Lenore was one thing. There’s no way he would have snapped and tried to kill the princess of the kingdom.

Stella was going to go to war with Devon in book two, and get kidnapped

In book two, Devon leaves his dragon student, Stella, in the capital when he and Sultiana go to war.

Originally, I’d planned for her to go along, and be kidnapped by the Kussier during battle. This got cut for a lot of reasons. For one, it was one more storyline in an already large book. For another, it just didn’t make sense for Devon to take her. The dragons are adamantly peaceful, and there’s no reason Devon and Stella’s mother would have still been allies if he’d taken her into a war zone on purpose.

Mergin was going to die in book three

If you haven’t read book three, spoiler. A lot of people die. Mergin, Sultiana’s steadfast assistant, was almost one of them.

Honestly, I decided to not kill her because it was just too much. Too many characters had already died, and I didn’t see a good reason to kill one more person.

Octavian was going to be a bad guy

You know that line about dying a hero or living long enough to become the villain. That was what Octavian was going to do.

I decided instead to kill him because I sort of already knew that Prince Joseph was going to be a bad guy. And, of course, Victor already had his epic battle with Calvin. So I didn’t really think we needed another evil brother. Having a great loss for Lenore and Devon early in the series seemed better.

The other noblemen had a much larger role

The first draft of Broken Patterns had a huge coming of age section where nothing exciting happened, and Devon found out he sucked with a sword. He and the other noble lords attended classes. Lenore went to the temple and worked with the other Daughters in the hospital and kitchens. And that, my friends, went on for chapters. No battles, no fun. Precious little magic.

It was all boring as hell. I’m sure you can see why I cut all of that.

All the noble families had one boy and one girl

This was just bad writing on my part. Every single noble family had a daughter and a son. I don’t think I need to explain why I cut a ton of unnecessary characters. I do feel like I should have some sort of explanation as to why I did that in the first place. Sadly, I have none.

Sultiana was going to have an alternate identity

This is one storyline that I really worked hard until I realized it just didn’t work. Sultiana was going to meet Devon early in book one but as a servant girl. It wasn’t going to be until the end of book one that she revealed herself as the princess.

First off, that’s a dirty and overused cliché. Second off, it was again just more complexity that the already bloated storyline didn’t need.

I do miss some of it, though. There was a cute scene where Sultiana and Devon share a bowl of grapes. Later, when Sultiana’s trying to get his attention, she leaves grapes outside his door. There was another scene where Devon admits to being in love with a servant girl, and his father explodes on him. All this happened in front of Lenore, who then vowed never to tell anyone she was in love with Victor. That scene worked, but it was too much of a storyline to hold up one good point that could be made a different way.

It was only going to be one book

This was the most surprising thing to me at first, because before I wrote Woven I never really had a story long enough to be a full novel. And so when I started writing Broken Patterns, I way overwrote. This is a habit that I haven’t broken yet. (Sometime in 2020 I’ll be putting out a novel that started it’s life as a prolog to book one.) So the whole story was going to get crammed into one book.

Super glad I didn’t do that. That’s one thing about the Woven stories. They just keep on growing and growing.

The city of Septa has barely had a moment of peace since the death of their king, missing stitches-001Michael. Lenore, the princess, and heir, hopes that she and her husband, Victor, can bring some stability. Meanwhile, her brother Devon and his wife, Queen Sultiana, come to visit and meet Lenore and Victor’s twin daughters. Sultiana comes with a heavy heart, having just miscarried her own child, and lost her father.

Instead, Lenore finds herself battling against her uncle, Joseph, over her right to the throne. As he stirs the city into civil war, an ancient enemy reveals itself. Brother Brennan, who claims to speak for The Creator, is killing Septa citizens in the streets.

Then, Lenore’s daughters are kidnapped. While Victor and Devon hunt the city in search of the princesses, Lenore and Sultiana must lead her city in a war against her uncle, and a twisted holy man. The canals run red as Lenore fights for her city, her family, and the safety of the world, in the conclusion of Woven

Get it here now. And, until Tuseday February 26th, you can get it for free.

Missing Stitches preview, Chapter three

Chapter Three

Victor looked down at his breakfast plate. There sat three soft-boiled eggs, sausage, toast with honey and butter. There was a hot cup of rich tea steaming next to his plate. There had been a time, when he was a poor boy growing up in Montelair, that a meal like this would have seemed an incredible feast.

He dug into his food with relish, ignoring the tutting sounds from his mother-in-law.

“I’m surprised that Stella isn’t with you, Sultiana,” Lenore said.

“She’s gone back to Coveline to visit her family,” Sultiana said, glancing up from her plate. “It was long overdue, I think.”

“Lenore,” Devon said, leaning across the table. “Can I ask you something strange?”

“What kind of strange?” Lenore asked, scratching something out on her date book vindictively.

“Well, Sultiana and I have been feeling something since we arrived,” Devon said, “something familiar.”

“You remember that we had a strange black substance attacking our border with Kussier,” Sultiana said.

“Hard thing to forget,” Lenore said.

“Well, whenever we would stand near that Black, we’d feel something,”

“It made me feel, cold. It reminded me of the feeling you get when you wake up from a nightmare that you don’t remember,” Devon said.

Victor sat his fork down. “Almost like you’ve lost someone, but you’re not sure who, and you can’t find them?” he asked.

“Like that, yes,” Devon said.

“I’ve had that feeling,” Victor said. “Usually at night, when I’m preparing for bed, or waking in the morning.”

“I’ve felt that way, too,” Lenore said. “But it’s always gone by the time I dress. I thought it was just the stress of everything going on.”

“It is probably just this whole mess,” Victor said, taking another bite of his eggs. “It’s hard to feel right about anything.”

But Sultiana shook her head. “It’s not that. This is too familiar to discount. I think we should all keep track of when we’re feeling this darkness. Look for patterns.”

“We can do that,” Lenore said.

The dining room door opened and a palace runner slipped in. “Prince Victor,” he said, setting a tightly rolled scroll next to his plate.

“Thank you, Lad,” Victor said, opening it.

Come to my office, soon as you can, it read.

Victor crumpled the paper, shoving it into his pocket.

“Is something wrong?” Lenore asked.

“Nothing,” Victor said, getting to his feet. “Just a note from the gardener. Slugs are getting into the olive trees in the garden, and he needs me to approve something or other to kill them.”

“And you’ve got to run off from breakfast to deal with slugs?” Lorna asked.

“Well, the head gardener is out sick, it’s just his assistant right now,” Victor said. “Anyway, killing slugs sounds like a fun game this morning.”

Lenore arched her eyebrow. The code word game was often used between the two of them. He hoped that it implied that he’d tell her what was going on in truth later. “Oh, go on, Love. The last thing we need is slugs getting into the orchard.”

Victor plucked her hand from the table to kiss her knuckles before leaving.

He made his way to the lower levels of the palace. He hadn’t gone far, though, when he heard raised voices down a hallway that led to servant dormitories. Hoping that whatever the spymaster had for him could wait, he turned to head in the direction of the disturbance.

Much to his surprise, he found Butrus face-to-face with a palace servant, shouting at each other.

“Hey!” Victor bellowed, hoping just to be heard over the men. “What in the view of the Sky do you think you’re doing?”

“Prince, this man just started shoving me!” the guard said. “He’s gabbling away in that foreign language, and I can’t understand a word of it!”

“Prince Victor, this man was screaming at his wife,” Butrus said in Calistarian. “Am I permitted to discipline him, or do you wish to handle it yourself?”

“Do you speak Septan, Butrus?” Victor asked, also speaking in Calistarian.

“A little,” Butrus said.

“And what led you to believe that he was yelling at his wife?” Victor asked.

“I, well I heard shouting, and he was with––”

“So you just barged in on who knows what? Where is this woman, anyway?” he looked past the men, into the room. There was a woman sitting on the bed, someone he recognized.

“Daisy,” Victor said.

The woman was pulling a cotton dress over her petticoats. Once she was dressed, she smiled at him. “How are you? You haven’t come to see me in a long while, Victor.”

“Well, my lady might frown on it,” Victor replied. “Everything all right? My friend seems to think you were in some trouble.”

“No,” Daisy said, “I had a nice time. All that happened was that Jimmy couldn’t find his boots, and he was scared of being late. We stayed up a little late last night. He was being loud, but not at me.”

She came to the doorway and fluttered her eyelashes. “You know none of Lulu’s girls let ourselves get treated wrong,” she said.

“Good girl,” he said, “Sorry your morning was disturbed. Give Lulu and her old man my best, will you?”

“If she won’t spit it back at me,” Daisy replied.

“James, find your damned boots. And let’s have no more scenes on work mornings, all right?”

“Yes, Prince,” James replied before hurrying back into his room, presumably to continue the search for his boots.

“Butrus, come with me,” Victor said. “Right now.”

Butrus followed after Victor as they headed toward the noble visitor’s wing. “You don’t speak Septan, and you thought it all right to barge into a man’s room and start making a fuss,” Victor said.

“The woman seems to be a friend of yours, did you want her ill-treated?” Butrus asked.

“You did not hear her explain that he was not even yelling at her, because you don’t speak Septan!” Victor said. “Butrus, I cannot imagine that Sultiana needed extra muscle, so why did she bring you along?”

“I am to be the new ambassador,” Butrus said, looking defiant.

“Because you are so levelheaded and diplomatic,” Victor snapped. “I will not tell Sultiana and Devon about this, and you will never let it happen again. If you think that a man in my palace is mistreating a girl, get a guard.”

Without another word, he walked away.

* * * *

Talmadge Grace was sitting at her desk, sipping tea while she read over a stack of parchment. The office was barely recognizable since she’d taken it over. The desk was smaller than the old one, painted over with lacquer that made it glow red. The seats were plain but comfortable. The floor was swept clean around a blue rug that lay underfoot. A good lamp lit the room as there were no windows.

Talmadge herself was different. Her hair, which had been held back before in a messy braid had been cut. It was held away from her face with a steel clip in the shape of a bird. She wore breeches and a tunic with a cream vest, and good boots.

The most surprising change, Victor only saw when she looked up from her papers and stood to curtsy to him. After her bow, she stood straight and looked him in the eye.

“I am sorry to have kept you waiting,” Victor said.

“No need to apologize, Prince,” Talmadge said, “This is nothing crucial. I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to you since you’ve returned.”

“My fault as much as anybody’s,” Victor said.

“Well, it’s good that you’re back,” Talmadge said. “Both you and the princess.”

“I have gotten some idea of that, yes,” Victor said. He took a seat at the desk. “What is going on with this noble uprising?”

Talmadge shook her head. “Prince Joseph is the trouble, not anyone else. I know that Lord David is angry about his bastard brother’s lordship, but James has been a lord for quite some time.”

“Since King Lyonal’s days, from what I understand,” Victor said, naming his grandfather-in-law.

“Yes,” Talmadge said. “Lord Constantine siding with the prince is easier to understand. He’s always been one too fond of power, and if his daughter is married to Hank, he’ll have power aplenty. But still, it seems strange that so many of the common people have sided with them.”

“When I hear that someone has gained influence so quickly, I hear the sound of gold clicking,” Victor said.

“Generally I agree,” Talmadge said, “and it’s a possibility. I know that the head of the merchant’s guild is unhappy about the changes Princess Lenore’s been pushing for. The last thing he wants is foreign merchants flooding his markets. He’s not too happy about the women inheriting businesses either. I wouldn’t put it past him to throw some gold at the problem.”

Just then, what had appeared to be a solid wall behind Talmadge opened in the center, revealing a small door. A young boy, a chimney sweep judging by the soot in his hair, popped into the room. He froze when he saw Victor.

“It’s all right, Lad,” Victor said.

The boy hesitated for only another second before saying, “Miss, Prince Joseph’s at the front steps of the palace. He’s wanting an audience with Princess Lenore.”

“Lenore?” Talmadge asked, getting to her feet, “What does he want with her?”

“Perhaps he is going to apologize and swear his fealty,” Victor said, causing Talmadge to release a mirthless laugh.

“You’d better get up there and keep an eye on the princess. She’s bound to be too trusting of her uncle,” she said.

“But, Miss, that’s the other thing,” the boy said, “Princess Lenore and Queen Sultiana left. They went into the city.”

“They did what?” Talmadge cried. “Bobby, why didn’t you tell me?”

“That’s what I’m doing now, Miss,” the boy said, giving her an incredulous look. “I only heard that the other prince was here when I was already on my way.”

“Send someone to tail her,” Talmadge muttered. She was reaching for her cloak.

“I will go meet with Joseph,” Victor said. “I grow tired of this family squabbling.”

He hurried to find the king.

Samuel and Devon were in the family sitting room. “Does anyone know where those girls ran off to?” he asked.

“Lenore got an urgent message from the temple just after you left,” Devon said. “Sultiana went with her.”

“I find myself missing Anthony, just now,” Victor said.

“What do we think Uncle Joe’s here for?” Devon asked.

Samuel laughed. “You know your uncle. He’s probably going to come right in as though nothing was ever wrong.”

A guard came to the door. “Prince Joseph Mestonie,” he said, holding the door open for Victor’s uncle-in-law.

Like his older brothers, Joseph was a big man, with a small goatee and mustache, well-trimmed. He wore his dark hair to his shoulders and was dressed entirely in Mestonie blue, save his boots.

He also wore a sword on his belt. Victor wore no weapons, neither did Samuel. The only blade in the room, aside from Joseph’s, was on Devon’s belt.

“Joe,” Samuel said. “Get in here next to the fire, Man.”

Joseph stayed by the door, with two of his own guards flanking him. They both wore the same red owl on their breasts that Victor had noticed through the city. “Samuel,” Joseph said. “I came to see Lenore, not you.”

“Lenore’s indisposed,” Samuel said.

“You mean you’ve hidden her away,” Joseph replied. “What have you done to that girl, Sam?”

“What in The Creator’s name are you talking about?” Samuel asked. “Come in and say hello to your nephews. Lenore will be here when she can.”

Joseph cast a dark look at Victor and Devon. “These men are not my nephews. If you don’t release her, I’ll turn this palace upside down.”

Victor took a step toward him. “I do not think we have met. I am Victor Mestonie, Lenore is my wife.”

“My niece is not your wife, Peasant,” Joseph spat. “Samuel, I am at the end of my patience. You stand there, with your wife’s bastard son as though he’s yours. You allow this Montelarian commoner to hurt our Lenore. You allowed your true son to die, and for what? Did Octavian find out something you didn’t want him to know? Samuel, what are you hiding?”

Devon was on his feet. “What did you just say about me?” he growled. Victor was surprised. He wasn’t accustomed to seeing Devon stirred to anger.

“I said that you are a bastard, the son of some commoner your whore mother entertained,” Joseph said, “Now you’re sitting on the Calistar throne. You’re nothing but a farce. And you,” he turned to Victor. “You animal. I’ll see you gutted for what you’ve done to my niece.”

“You should be glad Lenore is not here,” Victor said. “The things you are saying about her brother may make her forget that she is a noblewoman. Let alone your insinuations about me.”

“You are speaking like a madman,” Samuel said. “Joe, have you been drinking?”

Joseph smirked. Victor felt cold. There was something wrong about Joseph, even more than his actions suggested. There seemed to be a coldness coming from him. Korhzik must have felt it as well, because he clung to Victor’s shoulder, crouched down with his ears laid back.

“If you’ve nothing to hide, let me speak to Lenore. Alone, so that she may speak freely to me.”

“I’m sure Lenore will be happy to speak with you when she is available,” Samuel said.

“No,” Joseph said. He turned from them, his guards hurrying to open the door. “Search the palace,” he said to them, “Everything from the tower to the cellars. I will find her, Samuel. And if you’ve hurt her, I’ll kill you where you stand!”

Victor stormed after them, praying that Lenore was safe at the temple.

Want to read more? Get Missing Stitches now. And, from now until Monday, you can get it for free.

Missing Stitches preview, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Devon leaned over the railing of his ship, the StarS Cobra, watching as the afternoon sun and the Great Gate of Septa drew closer. The wind blew through his dark curly hair, chilling his face. He’d forgotten how cold it could be outside of the desert. The skies were cloudy, and the waters of the Dragon Tears River were choppy.

It had been raining when he’d left Septa, too.

In Calistar, where everything was still new and foreign, it had been easier to set aside his grief for his older brother, Octavian. It hadn’t gone away, not by any means. But there hadn’t been painful memories waiting around every corner.

He and Octavian had come out to the bay to fish when the weather was good. Sometimes they’d caught enough for the whole family to eat dinner. Or, if they didn’t, the servants had slipped a few extra in.

He was relieved when his wife, Sultiana, joined him. She put her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. She was only a bit shorter than him, with dark brown skin and a thick black braid that she coiled around her head like a crown. They both wore white silk, the mark of Calistar nobility.

“You look weary, Honored Husband,” she said. “I thought you’d be happy. We’re going to see your family, our new nieces.”

“I am happy, for the most part,” Devon said. “I’m excited to see my mother and Lenore. Even Victor.”

“And your father?” she asked.

Devon grimaced. “That’s another matter. How did you know?”

“It’s my job to know such things. I’ve never understood your relationship with your father,” Sultiana said.

“Of course not,” Devon said. “Your father was perfect. He accepted my weaving, taught me everything he could. His life obviously revolved around you and your sisters. My own father, well. He’s always been a nobleman first.”

“Your father loves you,” Sultiana said.

“I know he does,” Devon said. He turned around to pull Sultiana against him. Around them, sailors and soldiers from each of the five tribes grinned at their king and queen’s obvious affection for each other.

“What about you, though?” he asked, “You look like you’ve been crying.”

She gave him a sad smile. “My courses came,” she said.

“Oh,” Devon said. “Well, I mean, you couldn’t have been pregnant again.”

“No, I know,” she said, nodding. “It’s just a reminder. I’d have been showing by now.”

“We’ll get a baby,” Devon said. He set his forehead on hers and smiled. “I imagine it’ll be lots of fun trying, too.”

“Lots, yes,” Sultiana said, chuckling. She looked toward the gate. “Do you think Chrissie will be all right back home?”

“She’ll do great,” Devon said, thinking of his assertive and strong-minded sister-in-law. “She’s got Kadar, Gia, Shilom, and Sabre to help her.”

Thinking of the people they’d left behind brought his thoughts to the friends that had come with them.

Saja, Sultiana’s chief adviser, was coaxing her falcon down from a piece of the rigging. She was dressed in Smith Tribe red with newly cropped hair, holding a bit of flatbread for him.

Devon couldn’t see Butrus, the bulking Farmers Tribesman who was to be their new ambassador to Septa. But this wasn’t uncommon. Butrus had spent most of the trip keeping to himself.

Sultiana’s assistant, Mergin, was talking with an uncomfortable looking sailor. She wore Smith red as well, a long skirt and tunic. Her skin was honey colored, her eyes heavy with kohl.

“Will you change into Septan clothing while we’re here?” Sultiana asked.

Devon considered his clothes. He wore a pair of white silk pants and a loose-fitting tunic with a vest over it. A cloth belt wrapped around his waist, into which, he’d tucked his ornate dagger. His leather boots were laced over his pants, reaching halfway to his knees. “I don’t know,” he said. “It might be a little cold, wearing this.”

Mergin, apparently done with the sailor, came to join them. “Sire, I wonder if I could ask you some questions about Septa. I’ve never been there. Actually, I’ve never been outside of Calistar.”

Devon almost laughed. It had taken fighting in a war together for Mergin to feel comfortable talking to him. Even so, she did so only when she thought it necessary.

“I wish our people would travel more,” Devon said. “Not just the Scholars and Traders Tribes. Everyone should see more of the world.”

“Do Septans travel often?” Mergin asked.

“No, as a matter of fact, they don’t,” Devon said. “I wish they did, too. I think we’d all be a lot better off if we saw more of the world than where we were born.”

Trumpets started to blare at the Great Gate, announcing their arrival.

The ship pulled into the dock. Waiting for them were the Lords Monroe and James. They were accompanied by a handful of guards, who were keeping a close eye on the crowds on the boardwalk.

Sultiana shivered. “Something feels strange,” she said, looking up at Devon.

“What in The Creator’s name is this?” Devon whispered, looking around the surrounding docks. They were crowded with people shouting at the Calistarians as they left the ship.

“Prince,” Monroe called, waving for him. Devon walked down the plank to meet him. “No,” he corrected himself. “You’re a king now.”

“It’s still just Devon, please,” he replied, reaching out to shake his hand. He and Monroe had faced the Dragon Plague together. He couldn’t bear such formality from him.

“Of course,” Monroe said, grinning. “My friend, I am so happy to see you.”

“Gladder than the city might be,” James said, clapping Devon on the shoulder. “Keep your bow close, Devon. Ah, Queen Sultiana. It is good to see you again, Your Majesty.”

James bowed to her, and she inclined her head politely. “Where is my Honored Father-in-law? Is he unwell?” she asked.

James grimaced. “I’m afraid he is dealing with a situation that couldn’t wait. He asked me to escort you to the palace.”

“What was so important that he couldn’t come himself?” Devon asked.

“We should talk at the palace,” Monroe said, glancing around.

Two gondolas were waiting for them. Devon, Sultiana, Stella, and Mergin joined James in the first, while the others climbed aboard the second with Monroe.

“I was only making a suggestion,” Devon heard Butrus say to Saja. “You don’t need to scratch my eyes out, Woman.”

“You are not my father, brother, uncle, or even a member of my tribe,” Saja snapped. “You’ve got no right to speak to me about my veil, Herdsman.”

Devon turned back, intending to chide them. As he did, someone in the crowd threw something at Saja. She jumped sideways into the gondola just in time to avoid a rotten egg. “Go home, sand whore!” the thrower yelled.

Devon was on his feet, his bow in his hand. He shot toward the man, catching his jacket sleeve and pinning him to the wall behind. He looked back at the other gondola in time to see Butrus raise an eyebrow at Saja.

“Oh don’t say a word. They’d have thrown that whether I’d had my veil on or not,” Saja snapped.

Devon remained standing as the gondola starting moving, his bow in his hand. James did the same. People along the boardwalks shouted obscenities at the Calistarians. He heard a few Sapphic slurs as well, causing him to glance toward Monroe when their gondolas pulled next to each other.

“My secret’s out, yes,” Monroe said. “My dear mother let it slip before she left the court.”

“Your mother?” Devon asked.

“Yes,” Monroe said with a sigh. “I suppose now that Larissa has made such a fine marriage, she no longer saw a reason to hide me away. It’s made getting around town problematic.”

“Honored Husband,” Sultiana said, “I don’t understand this welcome. It’s dishonorable of your father not to meet us himself. And even more so to greet us with a city in such uproar.”

“I agree,” Devon said.

“You haven’t seen the worst of it,” James said, softly. When Devon gave him a questioning look, he added, “You’ll see when we arrive. But Devon, I think Lenore is going to need your help.”

Suddenly a crossbow bolt shot across the front of the gondola, nearly cutting Sultiana’s face. James turned, bow in hand, but Sultiana was already on her feet. She pulled a throwing knife from her sleeve and, with a flick of her wrist, buried it into the forehead of the shooter. “Can a guard retrieve that for me?” she asked. “It was a gift from a friend.”

* * * *

Devon was thankful that they reached the palace with no more incidents. The public lawn was sparsely populated with minor nobility and palace guards.

At the foot of the stairs waited Lady Hannah and Devon’s brother-in-law, Victor. Hannah was dressed all in black. The sight of her was a knife in Devon’s heart. She should have been his sister-in-law. Octavian should be there, meeting them at the dock and furious at the angry crowds.

“Devon,” Victor said. “I am glad to see you. And, um, is it permitted that I speak with the Calistar queen now?”

“It is,” Sultiana said. “We’re working to change our laws back home. Even if we weren’t, you’re family now.”

“Then I am happy to see you as well, Sister,” Victor said. “It is good for Lenore that you are here, I think.” His Montelarian accent was thicker since his visit.

“Victor, what’s happening here?” Devon asked.

“I only know what Lenore tells me,” Victor said, as they headed up the stairs into the palace. “I have been spending much of my time with Queen Lorna, learning how to keep the palace. It is a lot more work than I realized, keeping house. Lenore is with the king right now. We’ll take you to your rooms so that you can settle in. Then, would you like to see the girls?”

Devon realized with a jolt that he wasn’t heading toward the suit of rooms that he’d grown up in. They were going, instead, to the rooms designed for Calistar dignitaries. He was also surprised the first time a guard bowed to Victor in the hall. It was just another reminder that he wasn’t a Septa prince anymore, Victor was. It was a strange thing, he thought, being a guest in what had been his home.

The Calistar rooms were designed to be as close to their own palace as possible. The carpets were made of red, green, orange, yellow, and blue for the five tribes. An altar to the gods and goddesses was tucked into one corner. When Devon went into the bedroom, he found a mattress on the floor, rather than one that was propped up on a stand as was customary in Septa.

“I will let you settle yourselves in,” Victor said.

“Thanks,” Devon said, looking around.

Victor turned to leave but stopped. “Devon,” he said, “are you all right?”

“I feel strange,” he said.

Victor nodded. “I think I may understand. When I went home to Montelair, I felt as though everything I had known, everything I remembered, was different. Places I’d known my whole childhood were alien to me.”

“That sounds just like how I feel,” Devon said.

Once Devon and Sultiana had gotten their things put away and changed, they left the others to settle into their rooms and headed to the family sitting room.

“I didn’t realize this would be so hard on you,” Sultiana said.

“I don’t think it’s just coming home, and everything being strange the way Victor was describing,” Devon said. “There’s something strange here, something wrong. I feel like there’s a shadow over everything.”

“You feel it, too?” Sultiana asked, “I thought I was imagining it. Devon, I feel the same as I did when I stood next to the Black.”

“It does feel that way, now that you mention it,” Devon said.

They entered the sitting room to find Victor sitting with Queen Lorna. An air of uncomfortable silence permeated the air.

“Oh, Devon!” Lorna cried. She stood, rustling her great silk gown. She looked just as she ever had, her thick hair coiled in a neat bun, her clothes impeccable.

“And, Sultiana. I’m so sorry I wasn’t at the dock to meet you.”

“Yes, why weren’t you there?” Sultiana asked, coolly. “It almost felt like a snub. I understand that my brother-in-law is a prince and a great noble, but even he only met us at the door.”

“I am sorry, Dear, but there was quite a lot of activity in the streets today,” Lorna said.

“We did notice that. Someone took a shot at us on the way here,” Sultiana said, “It seems that, if my honored father-in-law knew that this was going on, he should have warned us. We still would have come.”

Lorna looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, Sultiana, dear. You’ll have to speak to Samuel about that. He and Lenore are in a meeting right now with the city guards.”

At that moment, the sound of porcelain shattering came from the room next to them. It was followed almost instantly by Lenore’s screaming.

“Oh, already?” Devon cried. He hurried next door, Sultiana right behind him.

When they entered the meeting hall, they saw Robert Carr, the general of army recruiting, was holding his hands up to protect himself. A puddle of porcelain and tea was on the floor next to him. Lenore was on her feet, facing him.

“I have had it to the top with your condescending tone, Sir! I’m not some girl in two tails who’s never seen a battle before. And if you don’t watch yourself, I’ll show you some things I learned in Montelair!”

Samuel sat back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Maybe it’s best that we leave it there for now. In fact, I think a good rule should be that once cups start flying the meeting is over. Can I trust you to stop by tomorrow, General?”

“Of…of course,” Robert said, giving Lenore a wary look. Carr, a man who had been involved in every altercation Septa had taken part in since he’d come of age, nearly ran from the room in his haste to get away from Lenore. From the look on her face, Devon didn’t blame him.

“Devon,” Samuel said, getting to his feet and coming to greet them. “It’s so good to see you, Son.”

“It’s good to see you too, Papa,” Devon said. “Seems like things are a little tense.”

“A temporary nonsense,” Samuel said.

“Bosh,” Lenore said. “We can’t get through the damned streets without someone spitting on my children. Devon, Sultiana, I’m happy to see you. I’ve missed you horribly. Go home tomorrow.”

“Why?” Sultiana asked.

“Because Septa is one misstep away from being a war zone,” she replied. “And the last thing we need right now is more noble targets.”

“It isn’t as bad as all that, Bug,” Samuel said.

Victor snorted. “Sire, I am well aware what an angry populace looks like. In Montelair, they were just hungry. These people think that you’re endangering their immortal souls.”

“Let’s go into the sitting room, and have something to eat,” Samuel said, “Devon and Sultiana just got here. They don’t need to hear all of this now.”

“I’m all right,” Sultiana said. “I’m feeling very alert, actually. Someone tried to kill me on the way here, after all.”

“Which is why I want you to go home,” Lenore said.

“Nonsense,” Sultiana said. She pulled out a chair from the table and sat down.

“Sultiana, please understand that it’s highly improper for us to discuss matters of state with a foreign noblewoman,” Samuel said. “Even if you are my daughter-in-law.”

“Bullshit,” Lenore muttered. “Sultiana, our noblemen are in near open rebellion.”

The king gave Lenore a stern look that she either didn’t notice or ignored. “Lords Constantine and David left for Uncle Joseph’s country estate. Since then, we believe that they’ve been encouraging rebellion within the city.”

“They didn’t leave quietly, either,” Victor said, “David tried to force Hannah to come with him. She scratched up his face.”

“Hannah is David’s daughter?” Sultiana asked.

“Yes, and Daniel is his son,” Samuel said, apparently giving up. “They’ve stayed to serve the court. But they, Lewis, Howard, and Harper are all that we have left.”

“And Joan,” Lenore said. “Which surprised me, to tell you the truth.”

“Our cousin, Joan?” Devon asked, “Joseph’s own daughter stayed?”

“Yes, but Hank and Larissa left,” Samuel said.

Victor took a seat at the table, sighing. “If it were only some nobles in a huff, this would not be a bad situation. But it is more than that. The people are angry as I am sure you saw.”

“What are they so angry about?” Devon asked.

“Sapphic’s rights,” Lenore said, glaring at her father. “Most of the city seems to think that being Sapphic is a sin. Of course, it didn’t help that Papa made it illegal for them to be married.”

“They’re mad about more than just Sapphics,” Samuel said. “They’re mad about the way the war ended. They’re mad about the inheritance laws changing.”

“They’re mad about me,” Lenore said.

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Missing Stitches preview, chapter one


Since, the moment that these creeping things started to crawl upon their earth, I have hated them. Slow, stupid, bumbling things. Always at war with each other, always hating their own kind for the shallowest of reasons. Even the ones directly touched by their Creator are gray, drab things.

My own children would have shined, would have dominated the universe.

But, as they’re already bent on self-destruction, I’ll make use of them.

Possessing these creatures turned out to be a far simpler task than I ever anticipated, which opened my mind to all sorts of new possibilities. If I can possess one, perhaps I can gift one, the way their Creator does.

I’ve watched this one for a while. The third brother, not gifted like the two that came before him. His pride has been hurt, and he’s angry. He’s angry that his brother died, angry that his country was invaded. There are more selfish angers. And, of course, there is fear. I can always rely on fear. And so, when I began to whisper to him, he was ready to listen.

“If Samuel had no male heir, you should have been the one to inherit. Instead, he snubbed you and chose his daughter. What right does Samuel have to pass you up? It’s only because she is a mage. She and her common born, Montelarian husband, are more worthy in Samuel’s eyes than you. And now, they’re going to outrank you. That filth, the brother of the man who killed Issac, will be your king. You’ll be expected to bow to him, and his daughters.”

“This is the way of things,” I told him, “in a world run by mages.”

He’s been good enough to remove himself from his family. He’s gone to his country estate on his own lands. This is where I want him, sitting by the fire, sipping brandy, and going over financial records for his lands. Brooding, telling himself what a good landlord he is.

I slipped inside of him. It caused him some pain, I suppose, enough that he dropped his glass and cried out.

“Hush,” I whispered, “you’ll be glad I’m here.”

“What?” he cried.

“I’m going to help you. All of your life you’ve been neglected. Your brothers have always been favored because they were mages.”

“What’s happening?” he screamed.

“I’m helping you,” I said. “They were gifted, not because they’re better, or more worthy than you, but because the one you call your Creator is cruel. Picking and choosing people to bless at random, setting them above His other creations. You’re going to help me fix all of that. And in return, you’ll have power above all, more than you could possibly imagine.”

“Power,” he whispered. He was calm, then. He rose to his feet and nodded. Like a good little puppet.

“Yes,” I answered him. “We must start by killing your brother, and his daughter.”

Part One

Chapter One

Lenore Mestonie stood at the prow of her Uncle Lewis’s ship, the SOS Albatross. It was the flagship of her country, made of dark stained wood with billowing blue sails. It was a fantastic ship, the pride of her uncle. But she wasn’t interested in it.

She was looking for the silver gate, the Great Gate. The gate that led to her city, Septa. She felt as though she was starving, so desperate was she for the sight of it.

In her arms was her firstborn daughter, Eleanor. They shared the same blue eyes and cream-colored skin. But while Lenore had the dark curly hair that was a recognizable Mestonie trait, Eleanor had the light blonde hair of her father.

“Keep looking, little princess,” Lenore said, pointing toward the horizon. “We’ll be home soon. Not soon enough, but soon.”

A chorus of yipping alerted her to the arrival of her hound, Shepard, and her puppies. The baby dogs had inherited much from their wolf father and bore no resemblance to their mother’s brown fur and floppy ears. Instead, their gray coat was darker but not by much. Their ears would likely perk up over time, but for now, they flopped down comically as they bounced around in play with each other.

Shepard came to her master’s side and leaned against her. “Oh, are the babies tiring you out?” Lenore asked, scratching her ear.

“They are certainly tiring me out,” said her husband, Victor, as he joined her. “Worse than our two, these dogs.” He was holding Eleanor’s twin sister, Loralie, upside down to make her giggle. She looked even smaller than she was when her father held her. He was a large man, taller than any other on the ship. He’d allowed his blond hair to grow while they’d visited Montelair, and even now it flopped over his face. Loralie more closely resembled Lenore, with the same curly hair and button nose.

On Victor’s shoulder was a brown rat they called Korzhik. He had recently suffered a bath from Ramona, the family nurse. He looked much fluffier but seemed obsessed with washing the scent of soap out of his fur.

“You have been standing here all morning,” Victor chuckled. “You know you can’t get us there any faster by staring.”

“I know,” Lenore replied, “I’m just eager to be home.” She set a hand on her belly. She hadn’t yet started showing, but she knew it wouldn’t be long. “I can’t wait to tell everyone that we’re expecting another baby.”

Victor grinned. He pulled her and Eleanor close with one arm and kissed her. “And we won’t be on the run, with this pregnancy. We have peace with Montelair, and we will be home. I won’t have to worry every second that you’re in danger, for once.” He glanced around the deck, and added, “I do notice, however, that Anthony seems to have abandoned you.”

“I sent him below deck to pack,” Lenore replied. “I can’t imagine I need to be guarded while aboard the ship.”

A flash of silver caught her attention in the distance. “There it is,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. In the crow’s nest, a sailor was shouting the news. Soon Captain Lewis and his daughter, Lady Harper, were on the deck.

Lewis, Lenore’s uncle on her mother’s side, was a barrel-chested man who looked more like an old sea captain than a nobleman. His beard was trimmed but longer than Septan fashion. He wore cotton to keep him warm at sea. His face showed the wear of years in the ocean winds. His daughter, Harper, was taller than him by a hand, with a messy bun and a thick wool coat over her shoulders. She wore breeches, unlike any of the other women aboard. She seemed to be in the process of scolding her father.

“No, I don’t think it was warranted at all,” she said. “That woman devoted her life to The Creator, and you bloody well made her cry.”

“I wouldn’t have had to if she’d listened when I asked her to stop fussing over me,” Lewis said. “Daughter Coriander looked over me, and she didn’t fuss.”

“That’s Elder Sister Coriander now. I’m sure she’s going to have something to say to you when she finds out about your behavior. In fact, I imagine she’s going to kick your bum up beside your ears.”

“I am your papa!” Lewis said, “And you’ll not be telling the Elder anything. Unless you want your mama to hear about your pants wearing ways.”

“Uncle,” Lenore said, “we’re nearly home. Are you excited?”

“Not particularly,” Lewis said. “I’ve come home to the Great Gate hundreds of times, Niece. Mostly what I do when I get there is find a new reason to get back on my ship.”

“He’s not allowed fatty meat anymore,” Harper said. “He’s replacing it with being a prat at everyone.”

Lenore stifled a laugh. “I’m going to go check on Tabitha and Lucy,” she said. Leaving Eleanor with Harper, she headed below deck.

Her room on the ship was small, but space on board was always at a premium. The bed was made already, with a thick blue comforter and white satin pillows. Tabitha and Lucy were packing Victor and Lenore’s belongings from the built-in drawers into a trunk.

Tabitha quick eyes darted over to Lenore when she entered the room, not bothering to bow. Years of friendship had put an end to such things. Her wife, Lucy, was a good head taller than her, with a sharp nose. She as well didn’t bow but gave Lenore a quick nod.

Sitting with them was the Montelarian Princess, Victor’s niece, Anna. Several weeks of good meals and good care had been enough to put some weight on the child. It hadn’t yet taken away the haunted look in her eyes. After the childhood the girl had, Lenore wasn’t sure it would ever go away.

From the open doorway, leading into the next room, Lenore could see Anthony, her bodyguard. His long, curly hair was pulled back into a ponytail, leaving his scarred neck exposed. He was going over his bags and gave her a brief nod when he saw her.

“I didn’t think we had that much to pack,” Lenore said. “Didn’t most of our things burn up in the explosion?”

“We’ve only just started,” Tabitha said.

“I’m packed,” Anna said.

“Good,” Lenore said. “Thank you, Anna.”

Ramona, the royal nurse, came bustling in just then. She was a portly woman, dressed plainly in a cotton gown and simple shoes. “Where are the babies?” she asked.

“On deck with Victor,” Lenore said.

Ramona threw her hands up. “I’ve got to get them dressed!” she cried. “Does no one think to tell me these things?”

She hurried out of the room again.

“We’re about to go through the Great Gate,” Lenore said. “Anna, would you like to come see?”

“Are we?” Lucy asked, getting to her feet. “Great, I can’t wait to get off this ship.”

“Oh no, you’re staying here,” Lenore said, “Anna’s already packed.”

Lenore took Anna’s hand and led her upstairs, leaving Tabitha and Lucy to mutter over the packing.

Back on deck, Ramona was fussing over the cotton dresses the girls were wearing. “I can’t believe this is how we’re presenting them to their grandparents,” she said. “Lenore, you and your brothers never wore cotton.”

“We were in a war in Montelair,” Lenore said. “I think Mama and Papa will understand.”

“Well, maybe the king will,” Victor said, “Her Grace might not be as understanding when she sees her granddaughters in common cotton.”

Anna looked startled. “Is cotton not all right? What about wool?” She was dressed in a dark red wool gown, with silver buttons down the front. Her boots were Montelarian leather with fur lining. She wore a rabbit furred hat now that they were out on the deck.

“You look perfect, Dear,” Lenore said, putting a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder. “You’re a princess. Anything you do is noble.”

Monroe, the chief of Septa’s ambassadors, joined them on deck. He looked flustered, which turned to irritation when he caught sight of Anna. “Princess,” Monroe said. “Your brother and uncle tasked me with looking after you. How am I to do that if you don’t stay where you tell me you’re going to be?”

Anna put her hands behind her back. “But I was with Mistress Tabitha,” she said.

“Yes, but I didn’t know that, did I,” Monroe stated. He sighed and looked up at Lenore. “How will you ever look after three of these?”

Victor, who was wiping dirt from Eleanor’s nose, said, “We employ a nursemaid. We also live in a palace full of servants, with my in-laws. I am sure we will manage as many babies as Lenore and I can have.”

As they pulled into Septan waters, the naval fleet came into view. Uncle Lewis, as commander of the navy, moved to the prow of the ship to greet them. Lenore stood beside him after setting Eleanor on her hip.

Lewis gave her a proud smile. “Look at you. The first female heir to the throne, coming home to the city that loves her.”

“I don’t know if my city loves me,” Lenore said, “but I sure love her.”

“I have missed Septa as well,” Victor said, pulling her close.

“Really? You didn’t want to stay in Montelair?” Lenore asked.

“No,” Victor replied, “It was good to visit my motherland, but this is my home.”

The ship pulled into the dock. Sailors hurried to set up a plank for them to disembark. Lenore’s father, King Samuel Mestonie, waited for them. He was a tall man, with no more than a dusting of gray in his dark hair. He was dressed plainly, in black breeches and a blue jacket with embroidery at the hems. But for the silver crown on his head, he might have been any Septan man.

Lenore wanted desperately to run to her father and throw her arms around his shoulders. Since the last time she’d seen him, she’d fought in a war, commanded a military hospital and nearly been blown to pieces several times. She wanted to be a child again, with her father there to watch after her.

Too much time had passed since she was a little girl though. Too many things had been said, and not said between them, for her to run to him like that again.

Instead, she walked to the end of the plank and bowed to him.

“What’s this?” Samuel asked, “Bug, I haven’t seen you in months! Come here.” He reached out for her and pulled her into a tight hug. “I was starting to get worried I wasn’t ever going to see you again,” he whispered.

“I’m fine,” Lenore said, a little stiffer than she meant to. “I’ve missed you too, Papa.”

Eleanor, caught between the two of them, started fussing. This caught Samuel’s attention. “I have missed you as well, my tiny darling,” he said, taking her.

Victor came to the end of the plank with Loralie. “There’s little Lori,” Samuel said, reaching out for her. “Victor, you look well, son. Come, let’s get home so that we can catch up.”

They boarded the waiting gondola. Lord James, the founder of the Dead Eye archers, stood next to the poler. His broad shoulders fit strangely over an otherwise narrow frame. He gave Lenore and Victor a nod, but then returned to scanning the crowd with wary eyes.

It was common practice for commoners to collect to see members of the royal family return home. Lenore had expected it.

What she hadn’t expected was for the people to be angry to see her.

All along the boardwalks, people jostled to see the gondolas and shouted insults. Some people waved greetings, but this seemed to infuriate the others. Several fights broke out as Lenore watched.

“What is this?” Lenore asked.

“There’s been a bit of trouble,” Samuel said. “We’ll talk at the palace.”

“I thought you said things had calmed down,” Victor said. Someone threw something at the gondola. Victor clenched his fist, bringing up a magical shield. A rotten egg hit it, breaking and falling into the canal waters.

“This is calmer,” Samuel said, grimacing.

Their gondola pulled up to the front of the palace. Anthony stepped onto the dock to assist Lenore. Just then, a young man ran from the crowd toward him. His hair was a mess, and his clothes were stained and rumpled as though he’d been wearing them for days. A guard grabbed his arm, but Anthony yelled, “Let him go, I know him.”

The boy stumbled toward him. Lenore had hopped from the gondola herself. “Anthony, who is this?” she asked.

“Princess, this is Heath. He is my son’s lover,” Anthony said.

“I tried to get a letter to you,” Heath sobbed, “but I couldn’t. I’m sorry, Anthony, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry for what, Boy?” Anthony asked. “Stand up straight and stop babbling in front of the nobility. What’s going on?”

It’s Adam,” Heath sobbed. “The Underground Path got him!” He broke into sobs and fell to his knees in front of them. “They tore out his guts in the middle of the square!

If you’re ready for more of the story, click here now to get Missing Stitches.

Starting Chains, Chapter Three

Paper Beats World

Here is Chapter Three of Starting Chains. If you missed Chapters One or Two, here are some links for you



Victor was hiding a yawn behind his fist when Talmadge came into his office. His eyes were burning from lack of sleep.

She was a short girl with a neat gown and the sloppiest braid in Septa. She looked around the room, terror written on her face.

“Sorry,” Victor said as he stood to greet her. “I haven’t gotten an hour sleep at a time in a few days now. Our nurse tells me that’s common, with infants. Have a seat.”

She looked at the chair he’d indicated, a heavy wooden one with a cushioned seat, as though it must surely be a trick. Finally, though, she sat.

“Do you like the new office?” Victor asked as he took his seat behind the desk. It was…

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Starting Chains, Chapter Two

Paper Beats World

If you missed last week, I shared the first chapter of Starting Chains. Now, here is Chapter Two.



Sultiana tilted her head back to feel the sun on her bare face. It was the first time she’d felt it without her veil since she’d come of age. She exulted in knowing that she would never wear one again.

She looked down from the sky, and smiled at the scene before her. She stood in the tile covered courtyard in front of the palace of Calistar, her home. Great clay basins overflowing with desert flowers spotted the area. The tiles and fountain were covered in a thick carpet of cherry blossoms, sent as a gift from Queen Shori of Coveline.

Her Father, King Omar, stood in front of the fountain. He was a huge man with a bald head and a neatly trimmed beard. Like all royalty in…

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The best characters who look human (but aren’t)

Spoiler warning for Strange the Dreamer!

Some of my favorite characters in fantasy and science fiction are the ones that appear human. Characters that you might pass on the street without another thought. The ones that look just like all the other people. But they’re not.

For this list, I’ve included eight of my favorite not human characters from tv and books. It’s weird, I don’t think I’ve written a single character like this. Guess I’ll have to fix.

Monroe from Grimm

Monroe is a blutbad (think werewolf). But he would hate to be pigeonholed into that. He’s also a indexclockmaker, a historian, and a great guy all around. He’s also vegetarian because he’s decided he doesn’t want to be a hunter and killer anymore.

I love that about him. Not because I have any trouble with eating meat. I really love meat, actually. But it’s part of what makes Monroe a perfect blend of modern and traditional. He’s his own whole person and being a blutbad is just part of the bigger picture.

Wolf from 10th Kingdom

Kind of the polar opposite of Monroe, Wolf is a big bad wolf, and he remains a big bad wolf right up until the end.

That isn’t to say that his character doesn’t evolve and change as the book goes on. He falls in love with the main character, Virginia, and wants to be a better person because of that. Through the course of the story, they find instead that they’re compromising on what a better person looks like for both of them.

If I just went a little into new age philosophy, that wasn’t by accident. At some point early in the book, Wolf meets a psychologist, who recommends a series of books to help him. He proceeds to cart an armful of self-help books through the nine kingdoms while on their quests.

The entire Other cast from Coraline

I love how these characters could have been just props. But it’s just not Gaiman’s style to do anything by halves. So the Other characters are mirrors of their real-world examples, but better. They all seem to be exactly what a little girl Coraline’s age would want; completely focused on her. That age is a selfish age, no judgments.

Later, the Others become mirrors of their real-world examples, but worse. So, so much worse. They become what we warn children strangers might become, monsters bent on hurting little children.

The True Knot from Doctor Sleep

Much like the Other’s from Coraline, the True Knot preys on children. That’s enough to put them at the top of a nightmare list. But the really scary thing about them, that is made clear through the book, is that you could walk right past these people, and probably have, and never know they were there.

They look like RV people. Boring people, retirees, and free spirits. People wouldn’t look at twice. Unless you happen to be a child with the shining. Then you’ll see more of them than you want.

Lazlo from Strange the Dreamer

I have to admit, I kind of didn’t see this ending coming. I just figured he was from Weep and didn’t remember. But it goes so much deeper than that.

I love that he was just this amazing, mythical figure, and he didn’t know it. He’s just going about his business, as a librarian in love with Weep, until he meets Sarai.

I love that even though he has the physical build of a bruiser, he’s a sensitive and genuinely kind man. I love that the other characters are just baffled that he helps people without expecting anything in return.

blog pic 2The Doctor from Doctor Who

Another great character, who is great because of his goodness. The Doctor doesn’t carry a gun, he carries a screwdriver to fix instead of destroying. He has two hearts, and it shows, in the genuine care he feels for every single creature in the universe. He will live forever, and he feels the honest and painful weight of that.

But he never, no matter how much it hurts, stops caring about people. Can you imagine the weight of that? How many people he’s lost, how many worlds he’s seen the end of. And he keeps seeking out companions, keeps seeking out love. Even though he knows how it will end, he keeps on loving.

Doyle from Angel

I was a kid the first time I saw Angel, and I had no experience with a main freaking character being just blog pickilled off in the first season. So, when Doyle died (The good fight, yeah?) I wept. Literally, my eyes stung when I typed that.

Doyle was half demon, half human. Most of the time he looked like a normal person, and he acted like he was running from something dark in his past. We don’t really ever find out what darkness he was running from, but it’s there.

Doyle is funny. He’s a screwup, and he’s not much of a fighter at first. But he has a calling, to help Angel save people, and he commits himself to that. He becomes brave, and he gives his life to save people who would likely kill him if they knew who he was. There’s a nobility there, and I don’t know many people equal to it. (Side note, characters like him are why I love Joss Whedon so very, very much.)

So that’s it. What do you think? Did I miss a character you think should have been on the list? Let us know in the comments below.

The city of Septa has barely had a moment of peace since the death of their king, missing stitches-001Michael. Lenore, the princess, and heir, hopes that she and her husband, Victor, can bring some stability. Meanwhile, her brother Devon and his wife, Queen Sultiana, come to visit and meet Lenore and Victor’s twin daughters. Sultiana comes with a heavy heart, having just miscarried her own child, and lost her father.

Instead, Lenore finds herself battling against her uncle, Joseph, over her right to the throne. As he stirs the city into civil war, an ancient enemy reveals itself. Brother Brennan, who claims to speak for The Creator, is killing Septa citizens in the streets.

Then, Lenore’s daughters are kidnapped. While Victor and Devon hunt the city in search of the princesses, Lenore and Sultiana must lead her city in a war against her uncle, and a twisted holy man. The canals run red as Lenore fights for her city, her family, and the safety of the world, in the conclusion of Woven.

Get it here now.

Starting Chains, Chapter One

Reposting Chapter one of Starting Chains, with some gorgeous art done by a buddy of mine.

Paper Beats World

Today, just for my PBW followers, I’m presenting the prolouge and first chapter of Starting Chains. I hope you enjoy it.


You think you know anger, you silly thing. You think you understand fury, betrayal. It’s hilarious when you little nothings think you have an understanding of those emotions.

Your hero failed you, didn’t he? The Great Calvin, who everyone thought would be the champion for the common man. They all fail, after a while. Heroes are just people, after all, and people fail. Certainly, your hero failed me. The greatest fault of the males of your species is always your obsession with the females.

But it is not as though he was important. Not so important that he cannot be replaced by a hundred others. After all, you’re hearing me now.

Your new hero will arrive soon, and he will fail you, too. The difference is, this…

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Broken Patterns Preview, Part Three

The whole trilogy is now available.

Paper Beats World

Broken Patterns is now available! Click here to order.

Chapter Two

Devon Mestonie had lived in the palace of his uncle the king for most of his life. His father had a castle and lands of his own, of course. But in all of his fourteen years Devon didn’t think he’d spent more than a handful of months there. His papa said it was because there was a lot of work to do in the capital, and he was needed. His mamma, Lorna, said it was because Samuel and Issac were too close to stand being parted for very long.

In all that time, Devon and his brother Octavian had shared a room in their cousin Michael’s suite of rooms, as royal cousins and first in his court. Now, Octavian was being moved into Michael’s room. But he wasn’t going without making noise.

“Michael’s been dead for only two weeks…

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