To Begin

One of the most important bits of any story is the beginning. The part that convinces a reader to keep reading, or to shut the book and move on with their lives. The blank page that keeps writers trapped in fear. We know beginnings are important, we know they must portray character, setting, plot, and tone all without info dumping, we know that a good beginning will keep readers, a bad beginning will deter them. As writers, we are acutely aware of all of this. And that awareness keeps us frozen, staring at the empty page and waiting for the perfect words to begin our stories.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t laugh, yet. Beginnings have the possibility to be easy. Well, easier anyway. Now, I am no expert on this. On anything to be perfectly honest, but I do have an idea of what a good beginning is, and what a good beginning isn’t.

It all boils down to a couple of questions to ask yourself as you are settling down to begin your epic novel.

What is the most important part of this story?

Don’t tell me the characters. You haven’t thought about it yet. Think about it. What, in your book, is most important? Is it the plot? Is it the setting? Is it the theme? Or is it your characters? When you have answered that question, you know what to showcase in the beginning. If your setting is the most important part of your story, you will most likely want to start with a description of said setting (don’t scoff, many classic novels start out with description). If it is your plot, get that plot started right away!

Cut straight to what is important and leave out the fluff.

Is this story plot driven or character driven?

For the sake of this post, we will not be discussing the differences and potentials of each kind of story here. Suffice to say that plot driven stories rely on the plot to drive them forward, character driven stories, the characters.

If your story is going to be plot driven, you will want the plot to start off with a bang. Plop your reader in the midst of a gun fight, have the inciting event start two pages before the novel begins. However you do it, make sure events are happening from page one. This is a plot story after all, there isn’t time to be introspective.

If you have a character driven story, you will, most likely, start at more of a leisurely pace. Your inciting event can start a few pages down the road. Breath, introduce your readers to the characters they will be hanging out with for a few hundred pages. Don’t worry if things seem a little slow at first. Just worry if they stay slow when they aren’t supposed to be.

Since we are all about to being new projects, I thought it would be worthwhile chatting about beginnings. Don’t stress writers! Your beginning will be awesome. Are you guys ready for Nano yet? I am pretending that I am, also trying not to hyperventilate as November 1st looms ever closer. Eep!

Good luck everyone!

Shaina Merrick

Random History.

Did you know…

Alexander Hamilton drafted George Washingtons’ goodbye speech when he was stepping down from the presidency?

The Irish and Welsh were living in England before the people we now call ‘English’? They were pushed out by others who came to settle there. Namely the Saxons and later the Normans.

Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith Roosevelt were courting before he even met his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt. They had an argument and broke up. Then he met Alice and married her. After Alice died he got back together with Edith and they lived happily ever after.

There was a billboard in the 1960’s that told men to ‘Beautify America, cut your hair’.

People in the medieval era took baths.

A woman named Irene Sendler smuggled over 2,000 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

The French Revolutionaries asked the United States of America for help in their revolution. We said no because they were killing people left and right on their guillotine.

‘Frankenstein’ was written by a 19 year old girl named Mary Shelley.

There was one spot in Italy that was never touched by the Black Plague during the medieval era.

The bodies of Anastasia and Alexie Romanov were found about 11 years ago in a grave of their own near the rest of their family.

I hope you feel a little smarter.

Shaina Merrick

Writing Prompt Contest Winners!

Remember that contest I told you about a while back? You know, the one with writing prompts? Well, the results are in, and I am pleased to announce the winners!

I had a super fun time helping to judge this contest along with Cassandra Hamm. The lovely lady who hosted the contest. We met at the Realm Makers conference a few months ago, and bonded over deep conversations and pizza. She is a great writer, and I loved judging the contest alongside her!

Cassandra Hamm is a writer who has always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. She received her B.S. in psychology and continues to apply her knowledge to her characters. In case the reader is wondering, no, she does not psychoanalyze everyone she meets. One of her passions is helping other writers, and she does so through her work as a Community Assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and a teacher for Young Writer Lessons, both of which are affiliated with The Young Writer. She can be found online at https://cassandrahamm.com, where she posts prompt-based stories meant to entertain, encourage, and inspire; on Instagram at @cassandrahammwrites; and on Facebook as Cassandra Hamm, Author. 

In fact, this contest was to celebrate the fact that one of her own stories got second place in a Story Embers writing contest! Check out ‘The Will of the Sky’ here! It is pretty awesome! *nudge nudge*

It was so cool to see how each person came up with a completely different story for the prompts! No two stories were alike, and I was blown away by the creativity. Let me tell you, it was so hard to choose a winner! Everyone’s stories were so amazing. Decisions decisions…

But we did come to a conclusion, but before I reveal the winners, here are the prompts if you want to go read all the entries for yourself!

The Instagram entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

The Facebook entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

And now, for the prompts winners. Drum roll please…

Prompt #1

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘The tormenting heat of the sun beats against the barren kingdom. Thin gusts of wind sweep over the sand of ancient stones, bones of the dead peeking into sulfurous air. The faint thrust of his leathery wings and the shifting of his every bone echoes over the muteness of the ghosts. Slit eyes bore into the souls of every dark crevice, ripping exotic shadows of the past into the foreboding silence of the present. For in the heart of the reapers’ kingdom, memories of life bow to the carcass of death. ‘

~Kaylee Clay

This beautiful entry by Kaylee (@kk_the_bookdragon) is full of scary mystery. I love the descriptions in this story. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘It had been just another noise in the desert, probably a creature dying in unfamiliar, hostile surroundings. But after the bone beast had flown over, no one could unhear that desperate, aching sound. It echoed in the mind, raising memories of sorrows and lost dreams, like spectres called from the beyond. So the towns fled to the deep subterranean caverns in an attempt to dampen the cries and to bury themselves from hauntings created in their heads.

Only little Keili understood the cry, understood why the beast screamed as it flew. It wanted to die but couldn’t.’

~Ariel Jackson

Wow, what a story! Ariel Jackson spins a tale of heartache. A creature who is seeking something it can not find. Death eludes him, and the bone beast’s cry brings others into it’s despair.

Prompt #2

This picture has been used with permission from Purple Dragon Prompts

Our Instagram winner was…

‘ “It’s the center of the universe,” the sage had whispered to me, as he indicated a tattered map of the desert.

Not the literal center, of course. The gravity at the center of one galaxy would instantly crush my frail, mortal body.

Then again, the villagers in this area didn’t understand gravity. They didn’t even understand what it truly was: the place where all worlds converged. From there, I could go anywhere. Find anyone. Find HER.

“It’s the center of the universe,” he had said.

“Perhaps,” I whisper, with a strained, hopeful smile, “it can find the center of mine.” ‘

~Carrie-Anne Thomas

Excuse me while I go blow my nose. How did Carrie-Anne (carrie_anne.thomas) create such sadness in only one hundred words? Even though it is heart breaking, I love this story and the tiny bit of hope at the end. I truly hope that he is able to find the woman he is searching for.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘She could see nothing.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. There was dust. There was wind.

There was more dust.

Senra clutched the gauzy veil closer, her parched breathing shallow through the thin material.

Somewhere, the green lands still existed. Water and grass and men with glittering swords and greedy eyes.

She turned her back to the wind. A slight veiled figure clutched their cave entrance. “M-mother?”

Senra wrapped her daughter in an embrace. “You’re safe here.”

“But…”

“Hush.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair. /You’re the center of everything. And I won’t let them touch you./’

~Hope Ann Schmidt

Such a beautiful depiction of motherly love! This mother will do literally anything for her child, even cross the world to a place where they can be safe. Congrats Hope Ann, this is a lovely story!

Prompt #3

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘Some say it means dire things for any who walk beneath its shadow.

Some say that signs can be read in the cracks of its sun-brittled bones.

Some say it is a gateway to the spirit lands.

But it is none of these; only the lonely remains of a great earth-shaker who lay down and died before my father’s fathers were born. I have seen more like it, in the clefts of the great mountains, and fed them with my hands. Their lips are gentle.

So I listen to the foreigner ramble on and on beside me, and I smile.’

~ Verity A. Buchanan

Verity (@verityb.writes) wrote a vivid tale that leaves me wanting to know more! Earth shakers, legends, and foreigners all come together to create a story world that I would be happy to get lost in! I hope I can learn more about it someday!

Our Facebook winner was…

“Yo yo, gangsta.”

“Yo, wassup.”

“Been a few hundred years. Felt a breeze lately?”

“Nah, this sand hasn’t moved in weeks.”

“You can still see?”

“Sure!”

“Sure. Tell me what’s over the horizon, then.”

“An old man.”

“Out here?”

“Don’t scoff. I see an old man walking in the lightning.”

“Sure, that checks out.”

“Don’t believe me, then.”

“… What else is happening?”

“The bones are shaking off the sand.”

“Ressurectin’?

“‘Course.”

“What about us?”

“We’ll fly again. No more stone birds perched on an old man’s spine.”

~ Hannah Brown

From the first word, this story made me laugh. Hannah did such a great job with the characters voices. The bounce right off the page and into your ears. Those familiar with the Bible may recognize an allusion to Ezekial 37 and the story of dry bones.

Weren’t those stories awesome? This contest was so much fun! If you would like to join in the fun, I am pretty sure Cassie is planning another contest for November 6th-ish. Keep an eye out for that! I hope to see your story!

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: A Foreshadowed Way

Hello hello! The book I have for you today was given to me in exchange for an honest review. May I introduce Jorgan the Sphere by Patrick Lauser. It is a self published novella you can find on Amazon. All opinions on the book are quite mine own.

Jorgan the Sphere: A Foreshadowed Way by [Lauser, Patrick]

It is about a little ball who lived in a flower. (don’t freak out, it is an insanely interesting little ball)

One day he went across the meadow and had many fine adventures. (I wouldn’t call them fine, but they were adventures)

This is not a story for the faint of heart.

A dark fairy-tale, a gray-scale fantasy, a simple, surreal vision. (I have never heard the term gray-scale fantasy before, but it really does fit this little book)

Jorgan the sphere in his hunger follows a shadow into shadows, and seeks an end to his longing in lands full of cruel and indifferent creatures. He meets those who even in the darkest places work goodness, those that are strong, those that are weak, and those that are quite odd. (lots and lots of odd)

From a breathless sky to a bottomless pit he seeks rest, passing through blood and fire, toil and snares, otherworldly wastelands, and the forbidden world of spirits. He finds and loses friends, and makes an enemy that will hunt him through the worlds to draw him lower than death.

Yet in the darkness he finds the shadows of light, and the truth of the hunger that leads him.

First off, let me just say that there had better be a second one. That ending left too many questions for there to be only one! I think there is a second one planned, which makes me feel slightly better. Only slightly.

At first, I thought this book was a picture book. You know, the kind that you find in the children’s section. There were a few words, and then a picture of Jorgan the Sphere. Then a few more words, and another picture. And just as I was thinking how quick and easy this book would be to read, there came a whole page of words. Followed by a few more pages like it. It is not a kids picture book.

Yes, Jorgan is a real sphere. It is not a metaphor. Personally, I tended to think of him as a marble. He rolls through his entire journey and can traverse places others might fear to tread. He also catches things though, and I am thinking it is something like Veggies Tales where things float in the air around them and you just pretend you can see limbs.

I liked the characters, Jorgan was an interesting hero in that he had a very simple goal in the beginning. He is hungry. But that goal, and hunger, morphs into something bigger as the stakes grow larger and larger until they envelop not only him, but his friends and his world.

My favorites were the side characters, the wise hour glass who knows so much but is not allowed to sleep and Sky, the odd bird who always did the opposite of what you expected it to.

Lets talk plot. What started as a simple story about a little sphere builds over the length of the story to a multi faceted story that you begin to realize has a deeper meaning other than a cute story. Okay, cute is the wrong word. But you get the idea.

At first, all Jorgan wants to do is eat. And hey, why not eat that shadow over there? Logical choice. So he follows the shadow into another shadow, a big one. That shadow is hiding a whole world full of strange creatures and people trying to survive.

Creatures that stalk you in the night, birds with maces as heads, and an hour glass that talks, it is all rather odd. Jorgan keeps traveling on, keeps searching for the shadow he followed there.

The search eventually brings him to one of the creepiest characters I have come across yet. The Swan Child. Literally half child and half swan. This particular being claims to heal people, and even be able to raise them from the dead. He does this by sprinkling his own blood on them. Except, there is a catch. And this catch is the death of many.

When Jorgan finally escapes the Swan Child, his search changes. I got the idea that he wanted to go home now, but I was a slight bit confused. I knew he wanted to leave the shadow of the dark side of the sun, but to get there he had to go to the shadow of the dark side of the moon. I think.

He is no longer seeking the shadow, he wants to escape from it. A decision I backed up whole heartedly. Unfortunately, to do so he has to cross even more of this strange and dangerous world.

And that end! Ugh. He gets so close to what he desires, only to realize that he is farther away from it than before he started. And then there is the whole thing about being outside of one shadow, but still inside another… I would have preferred a bit more closure at the end. But I really like tied up endings, where the plot threads are all tied off nicely with nobody missing. It is also a first book so… Other people may like the end. It just was not my favorite.

Also, it would have been nice if a little bit more explanation was offered. There was explanation of what exactly Jorgan was after, and some wise people gave him the way to find it, but much of it was bound up in allegorical riddles, and I am bad at riddles.

However, I did like how the story went from simple to complex in a gradual fashion. There were no sudden jerks or places where the plot dragged. It all went smoothly from one scene to the other with a slow raise in tension and stakes.

What I really liked about this book was the prose. Everything was described beautifully and I especially loved the way he wrote the journey scenes (something I have trouble with). It was almost graceful, the way the prose lilted from sentence to the next. I would pick up the authors next work for the way he wrote alone.

I would hesitate to recommend ‘A Foreshadowed Way’ to any one younger than thirteen because the world that Jorgan passes through is dark. Which you would expect, it being under a shadow and all, buuut. It is definitely a mature book, and I think an older teen and adult would understand the book better and therefore get more enjoyment out of it.

Quick piece of advice, don’t read the part about the Swan Child at night. Just, don’t.

If you like lovely prose and interesting worlds, I would definitely recommend this book. Enjoy your reading!

Shaina Merrick

Writing Contest!

Hello everyone! I hope your creative juices are full, because I am here to announce a contest!

My friend Cassie Hamm has created a desert theme writing prompt contest! Every two days she will post a prompt on her Facebook and Instagram pages. In those two days you have the chance to post a 100 word or less piece of flash fiction (aka a teeny tiny story).

The contest starts tomorrow on the 11th! It goes through the weekend and ends October 16th. The first day she will post a prompt, and then you will have that day and the 12th to think up a little story and post it in the comments! The next prompt will go up on the 13th and you will have till the 14th to come up with a story. And then the last prompt will be posted the 15th and you will have that day and the 16th to come up with one last story. You can choose to use Facebook or Instagram to post your story in the comments, depending on which platform you like best. 😉

The semi illustrious me will be joining the very illustrious Cassie in judging the contests. No, I will not be taking bribes. (unless they are in chocolate of course) This is Cassies third story prompt contest, so this one promises to be a great one!

I hope to see your stories there!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Link Up Part One

The wonderful Christine Smith has created a writerly link up for Nanowrimo! Yay! Which is next month guys. (I’m not thinking about it, I’m not thinking about it) Anyway. Her link up is all about the beautiful stories we are all writing, or attempting to write as in my case.

It is a three part link up series, the first part is the introduction. Where I get to introduce you to my royal mess of a novel and all of its poor characters. Fun! Prepare to scratch your head and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I started this project. I don’t have an answer for you. Let me know if you come up with one!

Without further ado… Onto the questions!

1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?

Wellll, a long time ago, when I was younger than I am now and when I still had dreams of being rich and famous, I had a scene in my head. The scene was all about a girl who had been hurt by magic and was struggling to heal. I wrote the scene down, and the next one that had the same characters. At that time I didn’t feel up to doing the novel. But I wrote down each scene as it came to me in a notebook. And then eventually I got around to figuring out what happened around those scenes.

2. Share a blurb!

One night changed the future of Valai. A night of betrayal and soaked in blood. The youngest prince alone escapes the rebellion, and he is forced to run to the mountains.

Terrence vows to take back his throne and defeat the usurper who killed his family. But planning a war is harder than it seems. Terrence needs an army at his back, and the only one to be found is in Trium. A country wracked with its own change as a new king takes the throne. A king unwilling to help in another countries civil war.

The only bright spot in Terrence’s journeying is Kerina. The niece of a forester who knows the mountains of Valai like the back of his hand. She waltzes her way through life, bringing sunshine into Terrence’s plots plans. Yet like all things, she is more than she appears to be. And she may be the only thing standing between Terrence and his enemy. Behind the throne is a shadow, a shadow who has placed a price on Terrence’s head.

3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?

Most of the story takes place in Valai, with a jaunt or to outside to other countries. Valai is known by its wide stretching plains that threaten to swallow you up if you aren’t careful. On one side the plains are bordered by a ridge of mountains that hold secrets. Or so the rumors say.

Yes, there are elves. When I first began this novel there wasn’t a story I wrote without ’em. However these elves are nomads, wandering the plains in gypsy like caravans. If you search for them, you will only find them if they want you to.

I think the most interesting part about this particular setting is the magic system. It is all within the mind. Almost everyone in Valai can talk to each other in their minds. Some can only speak with immediate family members, other can speak with family and close friends. The most powerful mind speakers are the wizards, they not only can speak with a complete stranger, but can make you fall asleep. Or perhaps see things that aren’t there. They can do anything within the limits of the mind. Things like changing dirt to a flower don’t work too well.

Of course, then there are the ones born with immunity to magic. But no one talks about those people.

4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).

Let me introduce you to Terrence, my poor displaced prince who has been hiding out in the mountains with his small band of men. He is the last royal in Valai, and as such the full weight of taking back his kingdom has fallen onto his shoulders.

Prince Kai from the Lunar Chronicles

This guy, he tries so hard to help everyone and shoulder the responsibility alone. And yet, it doesn’t work. He can’t do it all, and things keep falling apart. Which isn’t all his fault, but he never sees it that way. He blames himself for not paying more attention in class, but why did he need to when he wasn’t supposed to be king anyway? Yep, a second son forced into becoming the royal heir.

In his head Terrence holds up his elder brother and father as the perfect standards for kingship. Every decision he makes is held up to that standard, and every time he fails he thinks of how they would do it better. And it all get worse when he meets Kerina.

Kerina is an artist. She enjoys painting sunsets and forests and would prefer not to get mixed up with the displaced prince thank you very much. But her uncle thinks otherwise, and she is forced to go on with them.

Kerina

Generally a cheerful person, Kerina does things like skip through camp, sing in the top of a tree, and paint the back of her hands when she runs out of paper. She likes to make up stories about her paintings, and tends to hide elves and fairies within her drawings, if you know where to look.

However to get past her cheerful veneer and to the Kerina underneath is something that many have tried and none have succeeded in doing. She has no wish to let people see what is inside and then laugh at her for it. Until, of course, she meets a friend that she would rather not lose, and then has to find out how much exactly she trusts Prince Terrence.

5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?

Torroc is the man who now sits on the throne of Valai. He is a paranoid man who sees enemies in every shadow and conspiracies in every whisper. It is soon known that coming to his court is like signing your death sentence. It is not a question of if you will be accused of treason, but when.

Torroc

He has good reason to be paranoid, he did take over a county loyal to the king, and spilled a lot of blood to do it. But his paranoia reaches new levels with every passing month, and recently they have come with hallucinations as well. Which may be the work of a wizard, except he has locked them all up.

He took the throne that he believes should be rightfully his anyway. It would have been, if his father had not descended into madness and was forced to surrender the throne to his younger brother, King Rond, Terrences father.

Yet his greatest fear is that he is descending into madness as well.

There are some who question how he gained the power to take the throne, and those ones will be the first ones to fall to the what lurks in the shadows behind the throne.

6. What excites you the most about this novel?

To be able to finish it! I have been working on this book for years. In fact a few Nanos ago I tried to write it. (don’t kill me for doing the same novel twice, please) However the ending, and to be honest the middle too, has eluded me. This year I will finish it! Even if it takes 100k and all nighters! (okay lets be honest, I probably won’t pull an all nighter, I do have a day job after all)

Seriously though, I am excited to get back to my characters. Terrence and Kerina have been strolling around in my head for so long, I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. They feel like home I guess, they are what I always come back to after the first thrill of another novel has worn off, when I finish a book and wonder what to write next I always think of them. This story is destined to be written, and I hope this year is the year their story will be completed.

7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?

*glares at novel*

You will stay put as a novel. Got it?

Glad we understand each other.

8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?

Plotting aaall the way. This particular novel has gone through extensive world building, character mapping, and plotting. It also has two half drafts to its name. I will brush everything up before I start, but I can say right now that this novel is about as plotted out as it gets.

I am still planning on being surprised by something though. Something always happens that I don’t expect. Always.

9. Name a few things that makes this story unique.

The magic system is one that I personally think is unique. It is all within the mind, and everyone can mind speak. Well, almost every one… It might be hard to juggle mind conversations and real conversations, but I want to try!

Other than that, it is a standard tale of epic journeys, battles, dangerous mountains, and displaced royalty.

Oh, and King Nerl. I can’t forget him. Not that I could if I wanted to.

Nerl

Let me introduce you to the bratty king of the neighboring country of Trium. Terrence and Kerina travel to the kingdom of Trium to ask for help. He and Terrence are old friends, well, that is stretching it a bit. They knew each other when they were kids. They may have also hated each other. So it may not be too much of a surprise for them to realize that Nerl doesn’t exactly want to entangle himself with the civil war of another country.

He also might, might, have a crush on Kerina. But he would kill me for saying that. So don’t tell.

10. Share a fun “extra” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).

For once, I do actually have a pintrest board! Enjoy!

Welp. That is my story. My hope is that I will finish the story, and it won’t finish me. Here we go to Nano!

Shaina Merrick

Battles End, Battles Begin

Tada! After long hours of writing and editing (though I do apologize for any missed typos), I give you the first story of Lunnoor. For a tiny bit of preface, this is the story arc that will be the backbone of it all. Most of the Lunnoor stories will feature Lannie and co.. Though a few of them may have other characters and other plot lines. However, they will all tie back into Lannies stories, and the story of the war for Lunnoor. Enjoy!

Image result for public domain silhouettes of a flower

Lannie slammed her sword back into its sheath. The clang resounded over the muddy battlefield. Part of her winced; she was putting a dirty sword away, but there was not a speck of grass not trampled and every a rag of her own clothes was covered in filth. At least it wasn’t her messenger garb that was ruined. Rain cleansed everything except the battlefield.

Trying not to see the carnage of the battle, she hunted for her dagger. The churned up mud threatened to devour the dead men and weapons scattered on the ground, but she searched anyway. It was right where she had left it, sticking out of a blue-cloaked rebel. Lannie wrenched it out of him, then threw up on his boots. She wiped her mouth and peered at the wounded around her, but they cared only for the approaching medics. Medics who didn’t have time to give her a second glance. The sun was going down, and they had to find as many of the wounded as they could before nightfall.

The sun was low enough in the sky for its rays to be tinged in red, covering dead and living men alike in scarlet. Scarlet like the blood Lannie had just spilled. Her stomach heaved again at the memory of it.

“This isn’t winning,” she spat as she sheathed her dagger. “I defy any man who says such a thing.”

The medic closest to her shrugged but didn’t look up from the soldier he was giving a drink of water. The soldier had a spear sticking out of his side. It was going to be the last drink he ever had. “I think the official verdict was a stalemate.”

“That’s even worse,” Lannie snapped. All these men dead, and for nothing. They hadn’t gained a foot towards the capital. Another day they were stuck in the foothills with the faeries, another day their people languished underneath the rule of a madman. Another battle like this and the rebellion against the King would turn into a civil war.

She gritted her teeth and turned on her heel. Striding towards their side of the field where colorful tents housed the officers, and her father. Known to others as the King. She needed answers, and there was one place where she was going to find them.

Lannie stepped over a half-buried shield that was still attached to its owner, trying not to look into the mans empty eyes. She did, of course, no matter what she told herself, she always did. Those eyes haunted her dreams, but she had to look every single time. And if she looked, she had to shut them. Gritting her teeth she used her grimy glove to close his vacant eyes. Giving a dead man respect was the least she could do.

A few steps later a rebel lifted his hand to her, “Water.” He whispered, “Please.” His shoulder had been pierced with an arrow. His face was tense with pain, but he would live. Lannie stepped past him. He had killed how many of her people today? And yet…

She was scowling as she gave it to him, but he didn’t seem to care as he lifted her canteen to his mouth. Without bothering to wait for him to give it back Lannie strode forward.

The sun was halfway set, the angry clouds around it flamed orange and red as it sent out its last rays of light. Blasted rain. Lannies first battle in months, and she had fought enemies and the fear that she wouldn’t be able to distinguish friend from foe in the downpour.

Yet another reason why I should not be on the battlefield. Messengers should see people receive their letters and commands. Not have to kill them in hopes that the message gets across.

She clenched her fists, she was supposed to be the one who brought letters from home with a bright smile, or carried the Kings commands from legion to legion. The messenger legion was called to battle only as a last resort. When the battle was in danger of being lost. Which had been three times in the last two weeks. Chance had sent her away giving reports for the battles before this. Chance could bring her only so far, and being the Kings adopted daughter did not keep her from the field.

A medic cart passed her as she left the battlefield. The man pushing the over sized wheelbarrow fumbled for his handkerchief.

“You’ll get used to the smell,” Lannie said.

“I don’t think I ever want to,” the medic groaned. He glanced at her, then looked again. “Messenger Lannie?”

Lannie nodded, he was one of the only ones today who had recognized her without the soft clothes of her messenger garb.

“Was the battle so close then?” The medic asked.

“Yes,” Lannie replied and kept walking. He would find out soon enough. When he saw the amount of men that could not be saved.

She savagely kicked a clod of dirt that turned out to be a boulder. Groaning she bent down to rub her bruised toes. Her sword clanged against the side of her leg as she did. Another reason to hate swords and stick with daggers.

A short walk took her to the creek that separated the battlefield from the camp. The one way over it without getting wet was a rickety bridge. One you walked across as fast as you could and hope that it didn’t collapse. Emmy and Lannie had chosen it for that purpose. To keep people from peering into the dryad infested waters.

Emmy had taken to shooting the soulless things on sight with her bow. Lannie smirked as she crossed the bridge. She was a good influence on her friend after all. For her part Lannie skewered every naiad in and around camp with her dagger. She didn’t lose as many when she threw them at trees. But she did dump salt into every dryad haunt she found. Keeping the camp free from the faeries who wandered in looking for victims and finding an implacable enemy instead.

Her feet touched the ground on the other side of the creek as a whisper tickled her ears. She whipped her heard around and snatched her dagger out of its sheath. A few paces away a young soldier knelt on the ground by the stream. Fumbling with the straps to his helmet. Faerie bait. As if the battle had not claimed enough lives already.

“You look so tired,” a voice from the water sighed. “Aren’t you tired?” A hand rose from the stream and beckoned to the soldier. His helmet was on the ground and he reached out to touch the dryad.

Lannie snorted as she knelt to snag a rock, “You need to change your tune.” Her arm complained as she threw the rock at the slender hand. “Don’t you ever feel the need to say anything else?”

Her throw was true. The rock hit the dryad with a gentle thud. Her hand jerked back into the water and she stood up with a dangerous hiss. The soldier stumbled back from her sharp teeth.

“Get out of here!” Lannie screamed at the dryad. Raising her dagger as if she was going to throw it.

The dryad hissed again, but retreated back into the water. Lannie half heard muttered curses at the ‘faerie slayer’ but ignored them.

“Get your helmet back on soldier,” she barked.

The soldier looked up at her, eyes still clouded by the faeries spell. Growling under her breath Lannie scooped up his helmet and smacked it back onto his head.

“Keep it on until you know you’re safe,” she grumbled.

The soldier glared at her, rubbing the top of his head. “What happened?” he muttered.

Lannie raised an eyebrow, ungrateful and stupid then. Maybe I should have left him to the dryad. “You,” she poked his chest. “were just faerie bait.”

He had the decency to look stricken at least.

“When was the last time you spoke to the King?”

He shrugged and looked back at the stream. “I had never seen a dryad before.”

Lannie barked a laugh, “You had a happy childhood. Talk to the King as soon as you can. Or be lost to the faeries.”

She turned away before he could reply and marched towards the tents. He’d better listen. Or he would disappear without a trace. Just like all the others. Soul eating faeries or speaking with the King. Was it that hard of a choice?

The medic tents were a bustle of people and torches. The sun was barely a crescent above the mountain, and the medics work was just begun. Lannie resisted the urge to plug her ears against the screams and pleas of the wounded and dying men as she hurried past the tents. The trees began just beyond those tents, small things that stretched to be taller than the tents, but trees just the same. Lannie hefted the dagger in her hand and peered at each tree she passed. Any could hide a naiad. Even this close to the King.

The only tree that held a grinning face also boasted of an arrow that had sprouted in the middle of its forehead. I will have to remember to congratulate Emmy later. Though when did she find the time to shoot naiads in the middle of a battle?

Her path took her to the center of camp and straight to the large golden tent. The torches were just being lit as Lannie walked up to the tent. Illuminating the lions embroidered on its sides that tread upon the faerie folk and who men bowed to. The colors were washed in the lamp glow, one blending into the other. But in the light of day the rich colors would inspire awe. A fitting tent for the King.

The guards on either side of the tent entrance were as mud splattered as the line of soldiers and officers in front of them. Did the King join the battle? I don’t remember. Though surely the tide would have changed if he had.

Lannie walked straight past the line of tired soldiers and brightly dressed nobles. She pressed down a sneer for the latter. The only reward that should be given to those who let their soldiers fight for them.

There were a few mutters as she stepped to the front of the line. Yet another reason to keep to her messenger clothes. It kept the complaints to a minimum. The guards took one look at her face and lifted their spears to let her through.

There were more nobles and officers in the front room of the tent. More than usual, even after a battle. Well, they had never come so close to losing before. The flickering candle light cast shadows on their faces, adding years to every one of them. Though I would guess the battle added those, not the just the candles.

Silence prevailed as each sect tried to ignore the other. More guards inside kept careful watch on the men waiting to speak to the King. Lannie ignored them all and marched straight towards the inner door. The guards of this door were also mud splattered. Perhaps the King had come to the battle. I don’t remember hearing his call. Or a surge as the soldiers went to join him. He could not have been where I was. Lannie shrugged off the memories of the shouts to hold the line. Shouts that were accompanied by the screams of the dying.

Lannie strode up to the inner guards, they moved their spears for her without a second glance. Indignant shouts from the nobles were quickly hushed by the officers. They knew who she was, armor or no armor. If they had any complaints they were wise enough to keep them quiet.

“Why was I in the battle?” Lannie asked before she was all the way through the doorway. A young man in armor spun on his heel to face her, dark eyes blazing with fury. Lannie blinked, I don’t recognize this one. His armor is clean, I hope he is put on guard duty tonight.

She unbuckled her helmet and slid it off, “The whole messenger legion was hardly enough to keep the line, and…”

“Lannie,” A rich, gentle voice interrupted her. The source of the voice was hidden by the young knight. “I am glad you have come daughter of mine.”

The knight was on his knees in an instant before her. “Your majesty.”

Lannie looked up at the King, allowing her shoulders to relax for the first time since she had received the order to go to battle. His blue eyes radiated calm that seeped into her bones. The armor that covered his broad shoulders was as mud splattered as her own. Lannies heart sank, the King himself had joined the battle, and the best they had done was a stalemate?

He smiled down at her, but made no move to come down off his throne. “How went the battle for you?”

“Terrible,” Lannie snapped. “I don’t understand why I had to be there.”

“It is my fault your majesty,” the knight said. Lannie frowned at him. His fault? The King gave the order. “I was en-route to the battle but was unable to make it on time.”

“The reason?” The King asked, his kind gaze shifting to the knight.

The knight shifted on his knees, “Faeries.”

“Did they attack you or did you fall prey to them?” Lannie demanded. I can understand many things, but if he was late because he listened to a faerie…

“Both,” The knight bowed his head a little lower. “My men were caught in the snare and by the time I found out about it…”

“To your feet soldier,” Lannie sighed. “The faeries have trapped better men.”

“This is Lord Beldon,” the King said as the soldier warily got to his feet. Should I have said something else? Something more tactful? “He took command when his father died on the battlefield. You know his sister, Lady Belissa.”

“Ah,” should I tell him that she is irretrievable faerie bait now? Or let the King do it?

“I will speak to you later Lord Beldon,” the King said. Lord Beldon bowed, then backed out of the tent.

Lannie waited until he was out of sight before exploding, “Why was my legion on the battlefield? We were unprepared and separated. How did we do any good?” She rubbed shaking hands over her eyes. “I don’t even know who all survived, and for what, another stalemate?”

The King got down from his throne and enfolded her in an embrace. He said nothing, just held her. Lannie let the long held back tears fall onto his shoulder.

“The field is covered with the dead and dying,” she whispered. “Their cries ring my ears.”

“I know,” the Kings voice rumbled. He stepped back and smiled at Lannie, a smile that belied the pain in his eyes. “I know the name of every man who died today. Their deaths were not in vain.”

She sighed, “Even though we were not victorious?”

“Even then,” was the quiet reply. “Is there anything else?”

Lannie shrugged, “There was a dryad near the bridge after the battle. The seventh one this week.” She released a frustrated sigh. “Add that to the two naiads Emmy and I killed today and that is the thirtieth faerie we have battled with since camping here.” Scowling she added, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see pixies show up too. And a brownie with the ways things are going.”

The King placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You are fighting well, but it will get worse before it gets better.”

Lannies scowl became deeper. Of course, it would.

“Perhaps you should ask Lord Beldon to join your battle against the faeries,” the King added as he sat back on the wooden chair that served as his throne. “He has cause enough to hate them, as he will soon learn.”

Lannie nodded, “Emmy and I could use the extra help.” For the first time since the battle began, she smiled. “Thank you father, for everything.”

“Of course my dear.”

Lannie spun on her heel and skipped out of the tent, flashing a smirk at the waiting nobles and soldiers. With all the men speaking to the King today the faeries would be kept at bay for a while. She would have time to regather her legion and speak with Lord Beldon before they struck again.

Outside of the tent an arm threaded through hers. Lannie grinned at the dirt smeared face of her best friend.

“I saw the arrow,” she told Emmy. “Great work.”

Emmy flashed a gap tooth smile, her eyes dancing in the torchlight. The sun was completely set now, all sane people would be in bed soon if they had not already done so.

“I found the thing just before orders came, how many does that make this week?”

“Seven,” Lannies scowl returned. “If more people would speak with the King…”

“The faeries would stay away,” Emmy finished for her. “Say it often enough and someone might believe you.”

“Thanks,” Lannie grumbled. She dragged them both to a halt when she caught sight of Lord Beldon in the shadows of a tree. He was talking with another messenger, and from the way he was rubbing his eyes Lannie had a good idea of what the message was.

“Wait here,” she told Emmy and jogged towards the young lord.

“Why?” Emmy called after her, but she stayed put.

Lannie’s armor clinked together as she ran, but her approach still went unnoticed by the two men.

“How long ago did this happen?” Lord Beldon asked, his voice rough with emotion.

“Not more than a week ago,” the messenger replied. “We dispatched a message to her kin, but it was never received.”

“I was on the road by then,” Lord Beldon said. He dragged his hands over his face, it was too dark to see his expression. “Are you sure it was the faeries?”

“I was the one who searched for her,” Lannie said in as gentle of a voice as she could muster. “I found her armor and her sword deep in pixie territory. There is a known faerie gate there.”

Lord Beldon slammed a fist into his leg, “Father always disbelieved the stories, but I knew better, Belissa knew better…” He trailed off with a shake of his head.

“When you are ready to hear it, I have a proposition for you,” Lannie said quietly. “A way for you to strike at the ones who took your sister.”

“I can hear it now!” Lord Beldon growled.

Lannie gestured for Emmy to come, and as her friend walked closer she dismissed the messenger. “My friend and I have declared war on the faeries, especially the ones who dare to enter the camp. There are those who think our war is a waste of time.”

“You mean those who say that we are fools,” Emmy interrupted and folded her arms. “The ones who turn a blind eye to the ones who disappear every day.”

“But it is important nonetheless,” Lannie said quickly. “In the last few weeks the faeries have become more numerous, and it is almost beyond our abilities to control.”

“She means we are scrambling around trying to kill as many as possible in-between our other duties and even then more pop up every day.” Emmy interrupted again. “I think she is trying to say that we are losing this personal war and would like to ask you to be our ally.”

Lannie glared at her, “I was getting to that!” She turned back to Lord Beldon and wished very hard that she had brought a torch. It would have been nice to see the expression on his face.

“I understand if you think you will have too many other duties,” she added. “Or if you would like to think about it and reply another time. It is late and…”

“Yes,” Lord Beldon said. “I will gladly join your war against the faeries.”

“I am so glad,” Emmy said with a sigh of relief. “I am running out of arrows.”

“We will fill you in on the details tomorrow, along with what we have found out about the faeries in our battles,” Lannie said all in a rush before Emmy could interrupt her again. “Say midday meal?”

“I will look forward to it,” Lord Beldon said with a fluid bow. As he walked past them the light of a passing torch touched his features. His face was set like granite. The faeries would have another slayer to fear.

“That went well,” Emmy said cheerily. “Whatever gave you the idea of asking him?”

“It was fathers idea,” Lannie replied with a shrug. “And he just lost his sister to the faeries.”

“Ah,” Emmy was mercifully silent for a moment. “Should we go clean up? The dirt is making me itch.”

Lannie smiled through the sudden wave of exhaustion, “That is a great plan.”

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Shaina Merrick