Novum II & Other Updates

Hello, Gentle Readers!

As summer slides away into fall, your friendly neighborhood author is cozied up with a cup of tea, writing away!

For news: the first, roughest draft of Novum II (tentatively titled Remnant) is done! Upcoming are a self-edit, replete with wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then beta reading. If you would like to be a beta reader, and think you would be able to work with a 10-day turnaround, feel free to contact me! (I will also send an email to the mailing list shortly!)

What else is in the works? Lots!

  • A co-writing project in Middle Grade fiction, centering around Joan of Arc
  • Novum Pt. 3 (of course)
  • A new book in the Light & Shadow series
  • A prequel to the Novum trilogy
  • A steampunk-y, swords-and-sorcery-ish serialized novel, out next year!
  • A short story to go in a SciFi anthology featuring lots of supercool authors
  • A sequel and prequel to Mahalia

It’s going to be quite a year, gentle readers! Thanks for following!

-M

P.S. If you’re new, I encourage you to sign up for the mailing list – I promise I don’t spam, and there are giveaways, promo codes, all sorts of wonderful things!

 

Bearing Witness

Authors, you came into this world with a spark and a talent. Yours are eyes that see the world from 3 degrees off-kilter, yours are hearts that remember tiny moments of sadness with heartbreaking clarity. Stories build up in your blood until you must write them out or go mad, and the characters you put onto the page are not untruths, but little pieces of your soul, the raw underbelly of the world. You shine a light into the dark places. You bear witness. So I tell you that now, of all times in the world, we have a chance to do so. What is happening in Syria, in Iraq, in Ferguson, in a thousand neighborhoods around the world, is streamed to you, it cannot be hidden.

But you can look away.

You, with your hearts that ache for hours over a lost earring on a sidewalk, over a chipped dish and the slow decay of a neighbor’s garden, who can weave stories of desperate human sadness – you will want to look away now. What is happening in Ferguson is too big for you. You cannot solve it. No one person can solve it. The magnitude of a life snuffed out is too great for you. Children who have seen rockets fly and advancing police with the glare of flash grenades and tear gas, that is too much to fathom. These are images you will not forget, and they will drag you down into darkness and you will wish that you had not seen them at all. You can look away. You have that choice.

But remember who you are. You were not made to cower away in fear, to try to forget and cover your shame at forgetting with apathy and jaded eyes. You were made to stand tall and look, and feel, and spit injustice back at the world. You are not stepping between protesters and rifles, you are not making laws – though you are free to do both, though both are worthwhile, though now is the moment for such courage. Your task, now, is to open your eyes. Do not turn away, but instead remember what you saw. Feel the fury and the injustice and drown in it, see it as you were meant to with those watchful eyes that raw soul, and write it down in words that lash out, so that we do not forget what happened here. So that fifty years from now, we do not say, but we fought this fight before. We thought it was ended. So that we do not say, that cannot happen here.

Authors, you were made to bear witness. Now is the time.

Depression

Dear Readers,

This is a very difficult post to write. I do not often share this part of my life with the world, but I think it is something that needs to be shared just now. You have heard by now that Robin Williams has passed away, and that he struggled with depression – most likely for all of his life. Many of you reading this have struggled with depression, or will struggle with it at some point in your adult lives. You would think that because so many people experience depression, we would be more aware of it as a society, but we don’t seem to talk about it very much, or understand it. Depression can come from many places, often from stress or overwork, poverty, illness, abuse, or traumatic events. It can also come from inside your mind, for no reason you can see. Whatever the case, there is one truth that you need to remember:

Depression lies.

Depression can come into your life so quietly that you don’t even notice it, and use your own voice to lie to you. It steals away all of the happy memories you have and colors them and gives them back, until you are sure that not only does everything hurt now, everything has always hurt, and you are tired, desperately so, and you are very sure that everything will continue to hurt, forever, and nothing will get better. Waking up is hard. Eating is exhausting. You’re not sure you have it in you to keep going.

Depression lies.

Depression is shame. It is feeling like the parts of yourself that might make you happy, that are open and wonderful and creative, are shameful and raw, and need to be hidden away from the world. Depression makes you so desperately ashamed of everything you are that you can’t bear to create anything. You don’t want to speak, because you are so ashamed that someone might hear you. You don’t want to write, because you are so desperately low and base and inadequate that anything you create will be an embarrassment.

Depression lies.

Depression hurts you in little ways you wouldn’t expect. Your joints hurt, your head hurts. You feel like a stranger in your own body, able to feel pain and disconnected from it at the same time. Depression creates intrusive thoughts that show you horrifying things.

But depression lies. It speaks with your voice, but it is not you. It tells you that it is a part of you and you can never get rid of it, but you are free to tell it that it is not welcome. It tells you that you aren’t worth the effort, but it is okay to take care of yourself. It tells you that you should be ashamed to be depressed, but there is no shame in it. If you can trust me, just for long enough to pick up the phone or open a website, please believe this: the depression is wrong about you, and it is wrong about your future, and you don’t have to go through this without help. If you want to talk to someone on the phone, you can find a list of resources here. If you prefer to seek help online, you can go here. If you’re looking for some resources just to make you smile, here’s a good list. If you want to read one of the most accurate descriptions of depression I have ever seen and laugh at the same time because this woman is so amazingly good and unflinching in her descriptions, read Hyperbole and a Half’s Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two.

-M

Indie Author Feature: Tammy Salyer

Gentle Readers -

I have a very exciting feature for you today: today is release day for the Spetras Arise trilogy by Tammy Salyer! I have a little bit about the book below, and hope you will head over to Amazon to check it out!

-M

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Tammy Salyer

About Tammy

Tammy writes a bit, reads a bit, and frequently races cars across intersections from the saddle of her bike. Consequently, you could probably crack walnuts shells on her thighs, but she hopes no one ever tries, because … awkward. Find her on her blog (www.tammysalyer.com) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/tammysalyer), or sign up for her newsletter (http://eepurl.com/Trzh1) to be the first to know of contests, new releases, and special events you might enjoy. She’s currently working on a prequel to the trilogy and another project that has something to do with space Vikings. She hopes you enjoy reading her works and welcomes your reviews.

About the Spectras Arise Trilogy

Contract of Defiance, Contract of Betrayal, and Contract of War follow heroine Aly Erikson and her crew of anti-Admin smugglers through an ever-escalating glut of life-and-death adventures and trials of a living on the side of liberty and freedom—whether they agree with the law or not—in the far future of the Algol star system. As former Corps members, most are no strangers to fighting and dissent, but more than anything, they want to spend their lives flying under the radar without control or interference from the system’s central government, The Political and Capital Administration of the Advanced Worlds. But the Admin’s greed-drenched dualism of power and corruption has other plans, and throughout the series, Aly and her crew are reminded of one lesson time and again: when all other options run out, never let go of your gun.

Contract of War begins in the aftermath of the system-wide war between the Admin and Corp Loyalists and the non-citizen population of the Algols, where everything once resembling order has been leveled. Scattered enclaves of survivors dot the worlds, living, however they can, in snarled lawlessness. Aly and her crew have carved out a niche of relative peace, doing their best to go on with their lives through salvaging, scavenging, and stealing. But with no force left to keep the lid on the pot, the pressures of chaos and discord soon cause conflicts to boil over. As enemies close in from all directions, even, sometimes, from within, the crew once again must fight—not just for survival, not just for their way of life, but this time for a future that can finally lay to rest the system’s bloody and savage past.

To learn more about the series and her other projects, visit former 82nd Airborne paratrooper and author Tammy Salyer at www.tammysalyer.com.

Where to Find the Books

Grab all three novels in the trilogy while they’re on sale for 99 cents each through August at Amazon {amazon.com/author/tammysalyer}, Apple {http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/tammy-salyer/id519481023?mt=11}, Barnes and Noble {http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/tammy-salyer}, Kobo [http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/Search?query=Spectras%20Arise%20Trilogy&fcsearchfield=Series}, Libiro {http://www.libiro.com/}, and PayHip {http://payhip.com/TammySalyer}.

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Comments? Congratulations to Tammy? Leave a comment below!

If you have another author you’d like to see featured, email me at moirakatson at gmail dot com to let me know!

-M

 

Amazon vs. Hachette

Gentle Readers,

You may be aware that there is an ongoing dispute between Amazon and a publisher named Hachette. There is much speculation over the terms of the dispute, and proponents of both sides are claiming that the other is hurting authors.

I want to state my own stance up front:

Hachette Amazon

This means authors, and it also means editors, copy editors, publicists, agents, IP lawyers, cover artists, and many, many more people. If you keep buying books, I promise that the future of publishing is very bright, whether or not it includes either of the two companies involved.

Now, a few points that I don’t see coming up much:

  • Battle lines were already drawn before this dispute, so the waters are not only muddied with preexisting loyalties and dislike, but also with preexisting disputes (treatment of authors, diversity in publishing, quality of books, anything and everything). Publishing today is a web of allegiances, generally with traditionally published authors siding with Hachette and self-published authors siding with Amazon, although there are exceptions.
  • No one knows what this dispute is over except Hachette and Amazon – and both are bound by a confidentiality agreement during this time. While it seems fairly likely that the dispute is at least partially over book pricing, no one who is writing articles has the full details.
  • I personally believe that inefficient distribution channels and outdated stocking methods, among other things, have created a system in which ebook prices are kept artificially high to compensate for other losses – the largest component of a print book price is the cost of printing the book, so ebook prices on par with print prices are a bit weird
  • All evidence is anecdotal (there are a few studies about whether self pubbed or trad pubbed authors are happier with their situation, but nothing definitive), so all I have is my own experience: the disruptive publishing technology harnessed by Amazon and other companies has allowed me to make a budding career doing something I love. Amazon, in particular, has been easy to work with: clear in its terms of agreement, with easy-to-use technology, and comfortable providing me with stats on how my books are selling. (Some of the other systems are a real pain in the butt to use.) If you’re looking for an example of an author who has enjoyed traditional publishing, I would suggest reading John Scalzi’s blog, as he’s quite well-spoken and explains why he feels he’s gotten a good deal.
  • You will see a lot of bandying about royalty rates – some trad publishers arguing that Amazon can’t or won’t continue their high royalty rates, self publishers arguing that traditional publishers don’t give authors enough. The problem is that the dispute over royalty rates is not an exact parallel:
    • Authors who publish via traditional routes are given editing, cover art, distribution, formatting, etc., and the reduced royalty rate reflects the fact that many people are involved in the process
    • Costs for self-published authors are accrued through different channels and are taken outside the mechanism of royalties
    • It seems unlikely to me that traditional publishers set out to screw their authors, and it also seems unlikely that a bargain struck between a new author and a publishing company will be made with both parties on equal footing – generally speaking, the party with hundreds of lawyers has a leg up ;)  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle between “screw over” and “idyllic communal happy times,” just as it is with Amazon. Neither Hachette nor Amazon is in the business solely because they love books or because they want nothing more than to pay authors, but I don’t think the employees of either companies sit about rubbing their hands and cackling over how much they can extort their authors, either.
    • It is highly unlikely that Amazon will ever have the market power to establish itself as the sole publishing vector in the world and then screw over every author and reader – they’ll topple and fall before that happens. I mean, to do that you’d have to control the internet, and the FCC would never allow a company to … hmmm …
    • Seriously, though, Amazon has competitors waiting in the wings, willing and able to take it out at the knees if it becomes some crazy monolith
  • Following from the last point, if you enjoy books by a certain author and are comfortable with the price set on purchasing their work, do so. You are the only person who can make that calculation, and if you enjoy the books produced by Hachette and find the finished product worth the price, then please by all means DO compensate the author, editors, cover artists, formatters, secretaries, interns, and all other involved parties. Likewise with self-published authors and their helpers.
  • Likewise, if you think the price ISN’T worth it, well, don’t spend your money and DO speak up so that the publisher knows why you aren’t buying.

I know it seems hopelessly naive to cry, “but can’t we all just get along?” But, honestly…we’re all here because we love books: writing them, reading them, editing or advertising them, making art for them. Hachette and Amazon are locked in a battle of wills on a grand scale, but the rest of us have two options:

  1. Make dramatic posts siding with one or the other and decry the future of publishing if the opponent wins
  2. Continue to make rational decisions regarding price and value of books, and consume media accordingly

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got, I’m off to read Ancillary Justice.

-M

P.S. Happy 4th, American readers!

 

Stories from Guan-Yu: Finale!

audiomachine PHENOMENA - Final Large

Welcome to the final day of the Stories from Guan-Yu event – winners will be announced Monday! Today’s track, “Ice of Phoenix” is off Audiomachine’s most recent public release, Phenomena. Composed by Paul Dinletir, Phenomena was brought to life by 180 musicians in the heart of Air Lyndhurst Studio in London, with the powerful beat of 10 concurrent percussionists, a compelling choir of 80 voices and the commanding force of a 90 piece orchestra. Charged with emotional depth, Phenomena will capture the imagination and complement the core of every story.

I did not hear “Ice of Phoenix” until I was done with the edits of Crucible—but as you listen, I’m sure you will understand how it became one of my favorites at once. This is a track of the beautiful things in ourselves we fight to protect, and the aspects of our souls that we most fear—and the inevitable collision of the two. Vasiliy, a Lieutenant Commander within the human fleet, struggles to make sense of the fact that fellow soldiers carried out a massacre on civilians they had sworn to protect. Still unsure of their motivations, he must come to terms with the devastation wreaked on a human colony, by humans, and he will also come face to face with the most terrifying enemy humanity has yet seen.

Vasiliy is a man who will hold the future of the human race in his hands, who will know what it is to fear humanity and yet give up everything to save it…

Vasiliy Crop

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“There’s never a weapon that makes warfare better!” Rossi slammed her hand down on the table. “There are only ones that make it worse.”

“Does it matter how terrible this war is, if we win it?” Finally, Vasiliy shouted back. “Because that is the only way we are going to survive as a species.”

“Yes! Think a moment. What happens after we win? Do you think those experiments, on the very slim chance that they have survived, will be left to their own devices with a thank you and a medal, and we’ll never try to make weapons like that again? No. They’ll be unleashed on us, one way or another.”

“The League would never do that.”

“They would. It would be stupid not to. You take the best weapon the world has ever seen, a weapon that ends wars quickly, and it would be foolish to cast it away. Think of what would have happened in the Atollan War if we’d had soldiers like this, think of the lives that could have been saved by quicker battles, blockades taken out. And in any case, it would be wrong to kill them all once they were made. Immoral, don’t you think? So think a little farther, Commander Chagaev. How do you keep a race of very smart, very savage humans so loyal to you that they walk into danger on your orders without question, but sit quietly and do not interfere with the populace when there’s no enemy to fight? Do we keep them in pens when they’re not savaging our enemies? Do you truly think we can make any cage or argument that will hold them back?”

He knew the answer she wanted, and he knew she was right. He remembered Anatu’s voice: You don’t make any sense. How long until they decided, and perhaps rightly, that the rest of humanity did not have the right to rule themselves? How far—his blood chilled—could one of them get in the halls of parliament, alone, against all of the guards? What would Anatu be capable of when she was old enough to fight?

What would she be capable of now?

“No matter how bad things get now,” Rossi said quietly, “we are still human against human. The world is not just and it is not fair, but we have the chance to make it so. We can still topple unjust governments. We can free political prisoners. We have made the world over in our own image a dozen times, when politics and judges have failed us. If we unleash this on our world, no matter how good the intentions, we will destroy our society. They don’t fit, they rewrite the rules. Society functions as it is because we are who we are. They are not that. They are different.”

“I can’t believe that they are only that.”

“Then let me tell you what I believe, Commander—I believe that if we cannot defeat the Henth without making a mockery of humanity, then we should be proud to lay down our lives and die as we are, for there will be no benefit to us in winning—humanity will already be lost. We are not toys, and we are not machines. You cannot tinker with life and have no harm come of it. I know you cannot look me in the eye and say those children are normal, you know there is something wrong with them.

“I fear their brutality because I fear even the brutality of other humans. My father went away to war and his body returned to us, but his soul never came back. And that was humans like us, Chagaev! Humans who feel. What horrors do you think we will make with humans that cannot empathize? They won’t even understand what they’re doing—you’re giving guns to children, who cannot understand life and death, and you tell me how that will end. You do not breed a weapon with a human face. It is wrong. And it is wrong to make a human with a twisted mind and no soul. It cannot be, I will not allow it. It has been given into my hands to decide, and if it is my lot to go to my grave with the deaths of two children on my hands, then so be it. I will do it. Because the alternative is immeasurably worse. It is a light burden after the one Sandoval took.

“So do you want me to fight the Henth? I will. I will sacrifice myself for it, I will sacrifice any person on this ship, but I will not—I will not—sacrifice what we are! It showed me the depths of my own darkness and I will never let it turn me into that! I believe that we can defeat it without taking innocent children and turning them into soldiers, and I believe we can do it without creating a monster that we cannot control. That is no more a weapon than a wild dog.

“I believe that the time is long past for you to believe in fairy tales, and so help me God, if you do not agree with me, you have two choices: turn me in and let me hang for it when we reach port, or keep your peace, for I swear to you, if you try to keep me from doing what I must, I will airlock you with them. Do you understand me?”

Vasiliy stumbled out of the room, leaned against the wall, and shook. The blackness was there. It was waiting for him.

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Author’s note:

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Crucible, and enjoyed Audiomachine’s beautiful track! To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of the album, as well as a signed copy of Crucible, leave a comment below! Today is your last day to enter, and winners will be announced Monday, June 16!

You can find Phenomena HERE on iTunes, and Crucible HERE on Amazon.

Juuuuust in case you missed the free download from kickoff day, click HERE to download Solace and Brain Mismatch, two of Audiomachine’s industry releases, for free!

-M

A Rafflecopter giveaway!

Stories from Guan-Yu: Day 5

Existence_CDBaby_art_1400x1400

Welcome to Day 5 of the Stories from Guan-Yu event! Today we are featuring music from Existence, pairing the track “100 Years War” with a character named Daniya. A royal servant, Daniya alone knows the truth of the experiments on the colonists, and she has been tasked with protecting those secrets. Grieving and angry, Daniya makes desperate choices to save humanity’s greatest weapon—and hide the truth from the ones who must give their lives in its defense.

Existence is a sweepingly epic album, calling to the greatness living in all of us–the seed of every story planted firmly in the soul of the notes. Of the album, composer Kevin Rix has says, “When I first started composing EXISTENCE, my goal was to tell a story with music. After almost two years in the making, I’m excited to share EXISTENCE with you.  I hope you experience as much enjoyment immersing yourself in the music as I did in creating it.”

“100 Years War” captures Daniya’s resolve, and the bitter knowledge that her life is no longer her own. Daniya, as all of the characters in Crucible, must choose how much she can sacrifice for her people, and must struggle to find the path of right action. Daniya, a character who has tried very hard to forget how to feel, finds herself struggling with her own moral awakening, and with a quest for redemption…

Daniya crop

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The ground seemed to have disappeared from under her feet—she could feel nothing at all. Where there should be anger, or perhaps horror, there was only silence and emptiness. The bodies lay before her on tables, faces she knew, but lifeless—not people at all. They had heartbeats, but what did that mean? She really should feel something. She clenched her fingers on the railing, trying to feel something, anything, but there was nothing at all. It was strange, how the tables seemed to be sliding in and out of focus. She heard an exclamation from Efthalum.

“Daniya! Are you well?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you need medicine?” At last—emotion, in a wave so savage that Daniya shook with. She felt the cry of no freeze in her throat. Medicine: syringes and droplets of chemicals, things in her blood—as if she would ever trust Efthalum to break her skin with metal, as if what was wrong with Daniya in this moment was a sickness.

Oh, gods, what if there was something in her blood already? What if there was a copy of her? Her hands were moving, sliding over her neck, trying to push her sleeves out of the way. She had to see if her skin was broken, her blood felt like it was burning, her fingers wouldn’t work to lift her sleeves.

“Daniya!”

“I can’t breathe,” Daniya choked out. What did you do to me? She did not feel her knees strike the floor, but she knew her arms did not come up in time. The world was sideways now.

At least she couldn’t see the tables.

“You must listen to me.” Efthalum’s face was close, its fingers reaching out and halting when Daniya scrambled away. “It is not safe here, you have to take the documents and go.”

“What—“ Her words broke off, but the question was enough.

“The genetic information,” Efthalum said. “It will tell others how we bred the royals, and how to breed future generations. Mind-scans, read-outs from their panels, everything. We were so close…” It stood and went to the edge of the platform, to the documents, and Daniya saw that it was limping. She thought how easy it would be if she had a gun, a bow. Hadn’t she watched enough of the training? You should never turn your back on an enemy.

Efthalum did not think Daniya was an enemy. What did that mean?

There was a crash from above, a rumbling noise. Then silence; at last, a faint creak in the walls.

“You must go.” Efthalum coughed, and its hand went to its side. “Take the cask, quickly.”

“Is the Great Evil real?” Daniya had pushed herself up. She had isolated the one question that mattered. “Can you swear to that?”

“It is real. I promise you that it is real. Do you want to know where the lie is, Daniya?”

“Yes.” The word came to her lips at once.

“We did not defeat it.” Efthalum stared at her steadily. “We ran from it.”

“You ran? You wanted us to fight your battle for you?” You told us that every race must defeat the Great Evil themselves.

“Not just for us. For every race. Daniya, it was not only the Aireni who failed to stand against the Great Evil. No race ever has. We first knew them as the Henth, and the race that gave them the name is gone now, and a dozen more with it. We watched it destroy everything in its path and we ran, and that was when we found you. We lied to give you hope.”

“If you could not defeat it…” How can we? Efthalum smiled at that, finally. She thought she could see blood at its lips, a strange bluish color.

“Do not be afraid,” it told her. “We believe—“ Another crash, this one directly above. “Run,” Efthalum told her. It shoved the cask into her hands. “Go! They’re coming.” Daniya did not question this time. She took the box and sprinted between the tables, trying not to look, making for the back of the room and safety. The door was open, a portal she only had to reach before they came. Bullets could cross any distance faster than she could.

She heard an explosion behind her just as she reached the door, and flung herself to the ground. Pushing the box ahead of her, she crawled around the corner, and paused. Was it an enemy? There were shouts of alarm behind her, and the chatter of gunfire. Efthalum did not even cry out. A woman said something, crisp and harsh, a voice responded, disbelieving. And then another, and Daniya did not need to know the words to know that this was an order for destruction.

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Author’s note:

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Crucible, and enjoyed Audiomachine’s beautiful track! To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of the album, as well as a signed copy of Crucible, leave a comment below! You can enter once a day!

You can find Existence HERE on iTunes, and Crucible HERE on Amazon.

Juuuuust in case you missed the free download from kickoff day, click HERE to download Solace and Brain Mismatch, two of Audiomachine’s industry releases, for free!

-M

A Rafflecopter giveaway!

Stories from Guan-Yu: Day 4

AM-TOL-1400

Welcome to Day 4 of the Stories from Guan-Yu event! Today we are featuring music from Tree of Life - perhaps my favorite of Audiomachine’s albums – pairing the track “Life Chronicles” with Menuha, a woman who was chosen to be a royal consort. Tree of Life is a quiet album that packs a punch, and “Life Chronicles” embodies this: it is a slow unfolding of grief and hope, and it was impossible for me to hear the track without thinking of Menuha. Saved from the destruction of Guan-Yu by chance alone, Menuha must choose between looking back, uncovering the truth of the attack on her home, and looking forward, to a new beginning for her people.

Menuha Crop

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But this was a vigil for a world she had never truly known. Menuha had been a child of the fields, dancing in the dust and playing at dama or tops, making skipping games with the few children who lived on the outskirts of Airennen. The first time she had seen the city had been when she came to be counted with the other children, offering her blood up to the magics of the Aireni and been chosen—it was unbelievable, it was incredible—for the greatest honor a commoner could attain. The second time, she had been leaving her family behind, traveling to the palace that lay behind high walls and sent shining minarets to the sky—and she had not left the palace until the night before, running with desperate speed through the silent corridors, hauled into a barge and sent away as the stones fell around them.

She would never know the city now, not as it had been. Even the palace was gone. Had she not wished for that? In her heart of hearts, deep below any desire she would speak aloud, had she not wished for the royal line to fall and return her to her home? Menuha knew that was betrayal, selfishness of the worst kind. It was to put herself before humanity and let them burn for her own foolish wishes. She had wanted it anyway.

At her side, the woman was silent, and Menuha looked over—and up, for the woman was taller, her silhouette proud against the night sky—and asked:

“Who was it for you?”

The silence lasted so long that she thought the woman had not heard her, and just as Menuha’s branch guttered low, towards her fingers, she heard a voice say into the night, “My son.”

The words struck with the force of a blow, whispered harshly into the darkness. There were tears gleaming on her cheeks now, and the voice sounded of glaring sunlight, baking fields, the sweep of the plains; it was as if this woman was one with the land, she had wrapped the spread of the hills and sky around her like a blanket and the whole of it echoed back her grief a thousand-fold. “I do not know if he lives or dies,” the woman said, “and I do not think I shall ever know.”

What was his name? Menuha wanted to ask. She wanted to say, I grieve with you. She wanted to thank this woman for sharing her vigil. But she did not know what to say. And so she only kept silence as the stars began to flicker in the night sky. The blaze of the beast at their side guttered low, smoke drifting low to sting their eyes, and as darkness enfolded them, the woman said,

“Grief today will cleanse you. Grief tomorrow will destroy you.” She reached out and placed her hand over Menuha’s briefly. “We move out as soon as the barges are loaded,” she said simply, and then she stood and walked back to the camp alone.

At once, Menuha knew who this was. She dropped to her knees and bowed her head, and the princess paused and looked back at her.

“Do not do that,” she said, and then she turned and kept walking.

Menuha scrambled to her feet and turned to watch the princess walk away. We move out. She did not need to be told that they were continuing east, to the mountains. This vigil had been a goodbye—the princess did not expect, ever, to go back. Menuha ran through the darkness, twisting her ankle on an uneven patch of ground, until she reached the princess’s side.

“Please,” she said. “Are we not going back?”

“No.” There was no apology in the voice, there was not even grief. She had shut it all away.

“But what about survivors?” Menuha asked, pointing back to the city.

“There are none.”

“You cannot know that.”

“I know what I saw.” At last the princess stopped and turned to face Menuha, who ducked her head once more rather than meet a royal’s eyes. “Don’t do that,” the woman repeated. She looked down into Menuha’s eyes, and the firelight of the nearby camp illuminated the planes of her face. “There is no one left. The earth around the city is scorched, the palace is destroyed. Those who tried to follow us on foot were burned where they stood. Who do you think has survived, consort?”

So she knew. Everyone knew on sight. Even now, Menuha’s head jerked at the sound of the words, as a slap. Her hand came up out of habit to cover the tattoo, but it lay already beneath her shirt. How had the woman known? She looked up at last, anger overcoming her.

“We can’t know who might have survived. But we have to go back, we have to help them.” A little farm on the outskirts, the aqueduct catching the dawn light. Her father singing as he worked, her mother humming the same tune to herself as she drew water and fed goats. The children running in the fields and orchards, picking sorghum, olives, figs, waving to the barges that left them loaded with food for the city.

“No, we don’t. Think for a moment, consort—”

“My name is Menuha.” An unthinkable breach of etiquette, but she was too angry to care. The woman paused, and then said, surprisingly,

“And mine is Layla. But names change nothing. If we go back, we use another day’s worth of supplies, perhaps two. We risk our people in rescue efforts that are likely useless, and if there are survivors, what then? Then we have more than we can support, likely injured beyond our capabilities. If we go back, what we gain is nothing but hunger and strife, and what we risk is the lives of the five hundred here.”

“How can you think like that?”

“What would you rather, that I risk you for the chance to save someone else? Everyone in this party is here for a reason, none can be spared.”

“I’m not supposed to be here,” Menuha said, lifting her chin. “I wasn’t picked. I came on the caravan by chance in the palace.” The princess went still, looked over at her.

“You are not Elyakim’s consort? Then whose?” There was a pause. “Whose?” Layla asked again, and Menuha bowed her head.

“I don’t know.” As if by not knowing, she might be spared. One of a thousand bargains she had tried to make with the world. None had worked.

“Show me your arm,” the princess ordered. Menuha clenched her hands, then pushed her sleeve up. The woman bent her head to read in the failing light; her own tattoo, the sigil of the royal lotus on the side of her neck, gleamed faintly against her tanned skin. “Ah,” she said softly. “And tell me, how did you come on the caravan by chance?” Her eyes were as cold and hard as the prince’s.

“I woke up and it was quiet. The palace was deserted. I wanted to know why, so I went out into the halls—and I came on the caravan then.” As her brother had, Layla seemed to approve of this. She nodded.

“You did not stop to wake the other consorts, though,” she observed. Menuha said nothing. “So you know the value of survival—and what it is to save your life before another’s. To value your life over another’s.”

“I didn’t know there was danger until it was upon me,” Menuha shot back. “I don’t value my life over anyone’s.” Layla shook her head.

“You are a liar or a fool,” she said, as if she did not care much either way. “You should value your life over others. You’re a consort, Menuha. That means something. That means you’re a part of the fight against the Great Evil.” Menuha looked down. She wanted to speak, and keep silent, all at once. The words came out as a whisper:

“I didn’t ever ask to be.”

“That doesn’t matter. No one asks to be. Would you see all of humanity fall into darkness?” She took Menuha by the shoulders. “Your family is dead. Everyone we left behind us is dead. You alone, of all of them, have the chance to live—I suggest you take it.”

 *******

Author’s note:

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Crucible, and enjoyed Audiomachine’s beautiful track! To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of the album, as well as a signed copy of Crucible, leave a comment below! You can enter once a day!

You can find Tree of Life HERE on iTunes, and Crucible HERE on Amazon.

Juuuuust in case you missed the free download from kickoff day, click HERE to download Solace and Brain Mismatch, two of Audiomachine’s industry releases, for free!

-M

A Rafflecopter giveaway!

Stories from Guan-Yu: Day 3

 chronicles iTunes

Welcome to Day 3 of the Stories from Guan-Yu event! Today we are featuring music from Chronicles, Audiomachine’s first public release, which includes 28 of their most identifiable songs from several of the high profile blockbuster movie advertising campaigns they’ve been involved in including Avatar, The Fighter, Pirates of the Caribbean, The King’s Speech, Hugo, Harry Potter and many more.

From Chronicles, I wanted to pair the track “Army of Kings” with Yehoram – a character you met in Iliana’s excerpt yesterday. “Army of Kings” showcases duty and honor, love and obligation. Yehoram is fast, strong, cunning—and terrified. He has spent the last two years crippled by grief, and in the attack on Guan-Yu he finds both a reason to live again, and a reason to fear what he was made to be. As the lies he was told unravel, Yehoram must ask whether he is humanity’s greatest asset, or the greatest threat to its survival.

yehoram crop

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It was fully dark when he levered himself out of bed. The first moon had waned, the second hid herself behind the horizon, and even the light of the stars was covered by bands of clouds. He felt the strange sensation of moving without will, as if he might be blown about by the wind.

His quarry was at the far east of the camp, closest to the city and soundly asleep. Yehoram crouched down into the grass and considered his options. He knew his sister was there before he saw her. There was the faintest rustle, as wind in the tall grass, and Inanna settled herself down at his side.

She smiled at him, and he saw her teeth flash in the faint light, but his heart sank. Her presence lent an unsavory reality to the process.

“What are we doing?” he asked her, and she smiled at him again, feral.

“Ending this.”

“Have you thought about it?”

“What is there to think about? He’s a madman.” She had leaned close, and her voice was hardly a breath. Nearby, the man slept soundly. He had not woken at the footsteps in the grass or their faint whispers, and Yehoram fought back contempt. Weak, foolish, unguarded—this man deserved to die, if he would open confrontation so unprepared.

This is how other humans are. It was an unbidden thought. He pulled at Inanna’s sleeve and drew her away.

“What is it?” She frowned at him, and Yehoram felt every bit the younger brother.

“What are we?” he asked, and she tilted her head to the side, wordless, not ready to answer the sentiment. “He said we were wrong somehow.”

“He was speaking nonsense. You know that. We don’t even know who he is.”

“He knows who we are. What if he’s right, Inanna? I nearly just committed murder. If you hadn’t come, I would have. I was trying to think about it and decide, and I couldn’t.”

“What was there to think about?” Inanna asked again. “I came to help you because you were doing the right thing.”

“Killing him,” Yehoram said flatly.

“Do you disagree?”

“No!” To let a madman live, a man who made threats, was itself mad.

“Then what’s the problem?” She shook her head. In her hand, a knife caught the moonlight.

“He would disagree.” Yehoram jerked his head to where the man lay, still asleep, still unknowing.

“No one wants to be murdered,” Inanna pointed out.

“Not like that, not because I’d kill him specifically. Because he would think it was the wrong thing to do. He never even thought that we would come for him tonight.”

“Then he deserves to die,” Inanna said promptly.

“No—that would be if he knew he was being stupid and he did it anyway.”

“Wrong.” Inanna spoke unequivocally. “If he does not even know, he is no credit to humanity.”

“What if we aren’t a credit to humanity?” Yehoram looked down at the sandy earth. His mind was whirling.

“What?” Inanna asked, finally, and Yehoram struggled to find words.

“We don’t think like them” He held up a hand to forestall Inanna’s response. He knew what she would say: we’re better. “It’s like the woman at the farm all over again. We know we’re different, and we know the Aireni had secrets they never told us. You’ve wondered, too, I know you have—what if it’s more than just training, what if they made us different somehow?”

“So?” He could not put words to it. He had spent weeks trying to put words to it.

“So we’re supposed to face an enemy for the good of humanity. We are, because we’re different. To serve humanity.” He shook his head. “But we are different. We aren’t like the rest of humanity. What happens when the battle’s over? What do we do then? We don’t…fit.”

“Humanity needs us,” Inanna said after a moment, but her voice was uncertain.

“While there are enemies,” Yehoram shot back. “What happens when there aren’t any more? Then we’re…”

“You think there’s something wrong with us,” Inanna said slowly.

“Don’t you? Hasn’t it occurred to you, too, that maybe it isn’t good that we’re different?”

“We’re faster.” She leaned forward, her jaw set. “We’re smarter. How can that be bad?”

“Because we kill people in the middle of the night!” He wanted to shout the words.

“You agreed it was the right thing to do! Why are we still discussing this?”

“Because none of them would agree!” Yehoram flung out his arm, pointing to the camp. “What don’t we know? When do we start thinking that maybe they’re better? Lives are in the balance, you can’t tell me it doesn’t matter!”

“Yes!” Inanna flared up. “Lives are in the balance, all of their lives, and our lives, too. If we die, humanity is lost. We were made to fight humanity’s enemies—“

“We weren’t.” Yehoram cut her off, shaking his head. Certainty came down like a weight, suffocating him. “We were made to fight any enemies. Any. And when there aren’t others, we turn on our own. We’re supposed to be protecting these people, Inanna, and we’re killing them for things they don’t even think are wrong.”

*******

Author’s note:

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Crucible, and enjoyed Audiomachine’s beautiful track! To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of the album, as well as a signed copy of Crucible, leave a comment below! You can enter once a day!

You can find Chronicles HERE on iTunes, and Crucible HERE on Amazon.

Juuuuust in case you missed the free download from kickoff day, click HERE to download Solace and Brain Mismatch, two of Audiomachine’s industry releases, for free!

-M

A Rafflecopter giveaway!

Stories from Guan-Yu: Day 2

Epica_cover_1000px

Welcome to Day 2 of the Stories from Guan-Yu event! Today’s excerpt focuses on Iliana, and pairs her story with “Transcendence,” a track from Audiomachine’s album Epica. Audiomachine’s first entry in their “Artist Series,” Epica showcases the expansive talent of prolific composer Paul Dinletir, featuring music heard on a variety of movie trailers including The Artist, The Iron Lady, The Grey, Prometheus and Life of Pi.

For a character whose violence and mercy would both echo for centuries after her death, “Transcendence” was a fitting track: peaceful but stirring, at once meditative and epic. Kind, young—the baby sister of the family—and also incredibly lethal, Iliana was one of the first voices to come to life in the world of Crucible, and I am glad to share a piece of her story with you today.

Iliana comforts a dying Fleet pilot

Iliana comforts a dying Fleet pilot

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The group moved quietly, for all their armor, and they held weapons out in front of themselves, dark and ugly-looking, their fingers curled around triggers. They moved with precision, they moved behind statues and plinths to take cover as they made their way across the receiving chamber. These were trained soldiers.

But they were afraid. Iliana could not have said how she knew it, only that she did—she could fairly smell it off them, and it set her heart to pounding, and gave her only one thought:

This is prey.

Easy, pathetically easy, to step behind one of the men and twist his neck sharply, lowering him to the floor and launching upwards again in one clean movement, the point of her blade burying itself deep into his partner’s neck. The second man fell without a cry, and Iliana was already spinning, the bloodied knife biting into the flesh of a third, one leg planted on the floor and the other lashing out for the fourth; for him, she threw the knife.

They had cried out, and she had expected it. Two was fair to get silently, four was an honorable number to take down on one’s own. There were six left, six of them and she had no partner. A challenge, and one she would not have chosen.

But she hadn’t chosen—and she could not seem to stop. These were enemies, they were, she knew it, and they were scared, and she was faster than they were—

The thought was gone, and she was launching herself at the fifth of the men. He had hesitated when he saw her. Iliana thought she saw horror in his face, but that mattered less, for this one moment, than the fact that he had brought his weapon up and not fired. It was twisted away from him, her left hand slamming into his exposed nose, and Iliana realized that she had never heard that sound before, the sound of bone splintering as the shards sank into his brain. The life was draining from his eyes as she turned, swinging his weapon like a mace, and it knocked the sixth man off balance, enough for her to grab his knife and jam it, awkwardly, into that same area of exposed flesh below his chin, even as she staggered and cast away the strange weapon.

There were still four, and they would not be hesitating for long. On instinct, Iliana dragged one of the bodies in front of her as the marble around her exploded in a shower of stone chips and sound. One of the men must have found the trigger.

A line of pain streaked across her thigh, and Iliana did not bother to look. Skin, perhaps a little deeper; she could cope with that. She pushed the body up and forward, watching with amusement as the seventh man stumbled back. Superstition; humans did not like dead bodies. It was the man’s undoing, and the new knife—a knife she wanted for herself, a weapon she admired—was gone, her enemy’s blood spilling from his throat just as a blow caught Iliana from behind.

Seven before a hit. If this were the trials, Iliana would be congratulated. Only weeks ago, she had been lauded for less: You got through six of them before you went down!Layla and Shilad clapping and Yehoram’s hand squeezing her shoulder, Elyakim’s solemn nod of approval. Even Fateen had almost smiled.

Now, for the first time, Iliana was profoundly scared. She was turning as the second blow came, sending her sprawling onto the floor.

That blow was stronger than any she had taken before. Her eyes caught the glint of metal on the man’s hand, the structure built around his arm. She dragged herself up, shaking from the adrenaline, and looked around at the last three men.

They had surrounded her, finally, their weapons up. As Iliana pushed herself to her feet, she could see shock in their eyes; she never should have gotten up after that blow. None of them would have. But it was not enough to keep their fingers from the trigger. Game over. Unless…

A figure in the darkness. The faintest sound, breath and padded footsteps. Hope swelled.

“Why are you here?” Iliana asked them. “Who are you?” She frightened them, she knew she did—the very sight of her was terrifying to them. When she looked them in the eyes, they flinched. If she could make enough of that fact, there would be time.

Something whispered softly in her mind: was this the sort of soldier the Great Evil sent? Was this the great trial the Aireni had told them of, these scared men? Could that possibly be the truth?

There was no time to think. A figure hurtled out of the blackness, crashing into one of the three; Iliana heard bones break as Yehoram’s hands found the man’s head and turned. Her own hand lashed out, dragging one man forward by his weapon as she slid out of the way, her knee slamming into his sternum, her elbow crushing his throat.

The weapon was hers, and she turned, of a single mind with Yehoram, towards the tenth man. He died in a spray of gunshots, and Iliana was already turning back to her brother, his features picked out in the fall of moonlight.

“How did you find me?” He was hardly listening. He had come to her side the moment the last man lay still.

“Oh, gods, you’re alive. Thank the gods.” He was urgent, his hands touching her face, her shoulders, squeezing her hands. “You’re alive. I made it in time.” It was when his relief faded, his face stricken, that Iliana knew to ask. She felt a curl of dread in her stomach.

“Who?” She forced the words out. Her hands slid back to the weapon. It was comfort, of a sort. “Who did they kill?”

“They took down David.” Yehoram’s eyes were closed. “Ten, like this. He got six and I took the rest, but it was too late. Then I heard your fight.”

Iliana’s heart squeezed. “David?” she echoed. In her relief to be alive, she realized, it had begun to feel like a game once more. They were a team, they had won. It had never occurred to her that others were playing, too. In the fight, there was only you, only your opponents.

And David, David… Born so close they might have been twins, always her match in classes, always the one who found her at banquets and shared her sense of the ridiculous. It was David she sought out when she had nightmares, and she was the one David had sought out when he did not want to do his duty to produce an heir. They would stay up far into the night, laughing quietly from the shadows of the gardens as they watched the Aireni search for them.

“David is dead?” Iliana heard herself say. Her hands were still clenched around the weapon, she could not make them work. David could not possibly be dead. Not a man like that. He had been the best of them in the arena—everyone had gathered to watch him go through. He was so clever, always the best in strategy, and the best in a fight. And it was more than that: he was such a joy to watch in motion, he always had been. There had been a beauty to his strikes, pure and deadly.

Had been. How could he be dead? David could not be dead.

“There were too many of them. I’m sorry, Iliana.” Yehoram’s voice seemed to be coming from very far away, as Iliana turned and unleashed a hail of bullets into the body of the last man. She flung the weapon away from herself with a cry, pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.

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Author’s note:

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Crucible, and enjoyed Audiomachine’s beautiful track! To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of the album, as well as a signed copy of Crucible, leave a comment below!

You can find Epica HERE on iTunes, and Crucible HERE on Amazon.

-M

A Rafflecopter giveaway!