YA fantasy fiction, clean books for teens, shape-shifting, magic kingdoms, elemental abilities, indie publication, princesses, fairy tales, nanowrimo winner, desert setting
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Bonus material

Want to know more about the Spectra world? Every month we will release a new article explaining more about some part of the Spectra world or its inhabitants. 

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Keita's rescue

Posted by Christie V Powell on May 11, 2019 at 5:05 PM

This is the opening of "The Spectra United" from Brian's point of view.


Brian's aching back rested against a hard wooden floor. Griffin’s body was draped awkwardly across his chest, unnaturally still. Brian wasn’t sure if his brother was awake or not until he heard his mind-voice. Morning. He’ll be here soon.


‘He’ meant Captain Berk, their Lectran captor. Maybe he won’t talk today, Brian answered.


He always talks.


Brian couldn’t argue. The captain came every morning as their paralysis wore off. He’d let them eat and move around for a few minutes, controlling then with electric shocks, before shoving drugs down their throats. Then he’d sit and gloat. The boys were only alive because they were bait. Sooner or later, the princesses would come for them. The captain detailed the treatment the girls would get when they were caught: drugged, helpless, and immobile in the soldiers' power. No wonder Glen had escaped instead of trying to free the brothers. He had to warn the girls away.


Footsteps interrupted the stillness. They were too soft for Berk, who wore boots. Keita, no! Brian sent her. Who else would enter a splintery attic barefoot? The footsteps didn’t falter. Keita, I mean it! It’s a trap. Get out of here!


She can’t hear you, Griffin sent him, and you’re giving me a headache.


A small hand touched his forehead. His body tingled, and Brian tried to force his voice to work. He couldn’t move yet, but her touch was negating the drugs. Any minute now. Any minute...


A crash broke the stillness. The hand withdrew. “Nice try, Princess,” Captain Berk’s voice said.


Brian forced his eyes open but saw nothing but the dusty rafters—his neck wouldn’t move. The vibrations in the floor beneath him told him she was fighting back. What was she doing?


“Not much of a fighter, are you?” Captain Berk taunted.


Something popped. Keita cried out. Brian thrashed and finally, finally, his body responded. He climbed to his feet. Keita was lying against a broken wall, unmoving. Captain Berk moved toward her, unhurried, confident with every footfall. Brian lunged. Captain Berk was caught off guard. Instinctively he ducked Brian’s charge, but the motion drew him near the hole in the wall. Brian’s shoulder caught the man’s chest. He staggered backward, lost his footing, and fell. They were higher up than Brian realized, for the man’s scream took a long time to cut off.


Keita’s hands twitched. She wasn’t drugged—probably paralyzed by Berk’s lightning. Brian ran to her. Her bright green eyes fixed on his face. He read her emotions: awkward and embarrassed at the situation, but beneath that, quiet confidence. Whatever she was doing, coming alone into their prison, she had a plan and she knew what she was doing. Brian let himself relax. He could trust her plan too.

Castalia Carriage Ride

Posted by Christie V Powell on April 9, 2019 at 3:50 PM

Keita Sage jogged through the strange city, following the gashes in the hard-packed road made by the runaway carriage. Here and there she came across a clothing trunk, burst open and half-empty, its load of gaudy clothing strewn across the dusty street. A young man clambered down from a nearby roof, eyes wide with shock, but he was alive and well enough to move.


She almost passed her guide. Teague Pensier huddled in a gap between two weedy buildings, eyes peering out of his hiding hole as though another carriage was going to squeeze through to hunt him down. Though they were the same age, tears streaked his dirty face and dripped onto a formal embroidered jacket.

 

“I hate carriages,” Teague mumbled.

 

“I was thrown off almost right away,” Keita said. “Did you see anyone hurt?”

 

“I couldn’t see Reid.” This thought seemed to galvanize him. “Have you seen Reid? We have to find him.”

 

He charged out of the murky shadows, his torn slacks flapping a bit at the knee. Keita trailed behind, trying to watch for Teague’s little brother and oncoming traffic at the same time. Half-high brick walls lined the street, leaving little room for escape if another carriage bolted by. Her own kingdom had its share of walls—not of brick and concrete, but sheer cliffs piercing the sky to emphasize their words: “You stay here!” This kingdom, on the other hand, had nothing but walls. Little walls to cage in these tall, cramped houses, bigger ones in the richer neighborhoods, and a huge one of concrete around the largest home of all, the Muse mansion where Teague and his brothers lived.

 

And speaking of Teague’s brothers…

 

“Boo!”

 

Teague yelped. He spun around, jacket edges flapping, and nearly fell over. Reid burst into laughter, leaning against a wall to support himself. His bright clothes, shining face, and the hint of red in his blond hair stood out like a beacon against the gray city street.

 

“Man, I got you that time!”

 

Teague brushed the dust off of his coat and stood tall. “That is not funny.”

 

Reid was still laughing. Keita loved teasing her brother and cousins like that. But they weren’t here. The urge to laugh died, and she turned her back on the boys to examine her surroundings. They’d started out travelling west—that was all she knew, and only because they’d been able to glimpse the Great Mountains behind them, peeking out between the cluttered houses. She couldn’t see them now.

 

Teague’s smile died. Now he peered down the dusty lane as though he could see the carriage ahead. “Anyone hurt?” he asked Reid.

 

“Nah. It stopped not long after I got thrown.”

 

“We can find another,” Teague said, though he turned green at the thought. “Then we can finish our tour and get back home.”

 

Home, Keita thought, with an irritated glance in his direction. This was not home. She studied the crowded street. Half-high brick walls separated the houses. Tall windows gawped at the wide street while hiding their insides behind rough woven cloth. Gaudy flowers of some unknown species lived in pots on the front steps, the only sign of life in sight. How much better the foreign city would look with even a single tree!

 

An explosion of noise rushed up behind her. She turned to look, but another force tugged her backward. She fell sideways, hit the nearest wall, and tumbled headfirst into a patch of gravel on the other side.

 

For a second she lay there, stunned. Then she felt a pair of hands on each of hers. “Oh no. Oh, no. Keita? Keita, you’re okay, right?”

 

If she were injured, Reid’s poking wouldn’t help.

 

“Of course I’m okay.” She clambered to her feet. Nothing seemed broken, though a piercing pain warned that she’d cut her face, and her hands stung where they’d scraped against the gravel.

 

“It wasn’t crashing too, was it?” Keita peered up the street, but the carriage was long past.

 

“Nah,” Reid said. “They took the corner a bit fast, though, considering somebody might be standing here… which we were.” He smirked in an ‘I think I’m funny’ sort of way, and drooped down again as no one laughed.

 

“I don’t like this,” Teague said. “I vote we get back to the mansion before anything else happens.”

 

Keita forced her voice to keep casual. “Are people often run over in Castalia?”

 

Teague and Reid exchanged glances she couldn’t read. “Bbeing royal can be dangerous,” Reid said finally. “Even for spares.”

 

The two younger boys were spares. Keita, betrothed to their older brother and heir to the throne, wasn’t sure if she counted. No one seemed to give her much notice—though, as she’d been avoiding everyone except these two boys, that didn’t mean much.

 

“We should’ve requested an escort,” Teague said.

 

“You have one,” Keita said. “Me. Now come on.” She turned off of the main road and began striding down it.

 

“One problem there,” Reid called after her. “The mansion’s the other way.”

Donovan's beginning

Posted by Christie V Powell on March 13, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Footsteps in his domain. A stranger in his territory. The beast rose.

 

The locals feared this place. They spoke of a black shadow, like a wolf but broader in face, scrawny as death. Mostly it did no harm, for it was slow and confused, but there were nasty rumors. Sometimes it came to itself, and then it attacked. Not to eat, or to defend, like a real beast. The few survivors spoke of a flash of recognition, of awareness, in its crazed eyes. Then it pounced, and victims had visions of doom and despair that rendered them so helpless that the did not care as jaws slashed, blood flowed, life ebbed. All feared the shadow-beast.

 

The boys in the slums, far from its territory, had little to fear. They had mothers to threaten them into good behavior with its image. Yet, for Mark, the story had a strange allure. As a child he dreamed of taming it. As a youth he dreamed of controlling it. And at last, as a man, he went looking for it.

 

The beast knew the second the man set foot among the hills. Clarity returned to his mind. He remembered, if not who he was, then what. The man's scent was familiar. The physical images of memory were long gone, but he knew that scent. Silent paws made no mark on the mountain earth.

 

Mark knew he was being watched. He saw and heard nothing, but he felt its presence. He felt no fear. Boys who survived the slums learned to conquer fear.

 

A shadow emerged from the brush. At first Mark thought it was a dog. Then he realized it was only a man, crouched on the earth, a man in ragged velvet that might once have been finery. The man stood, and his eyes pierced into Mark. "Who are you?"

 

"Mark, leader of the Shrikes."

 

"A human then?"

 

"As far as I know."

 

"Yes, human. I see it on you." The man straightened, brushed off his clothes, examined the scenery. "I gave up," he muttered. "Perhaps I should have fought on. I did not know the full cost of giving up. Well, I will not forget it now."

 

He faced Mark again. "Take me to your home. I must recover. I must study. Then we will plan."

 

Kieran, the man who had been a beast, fit well in Mark's world. He did not challenge Mark's leadership, but as he became influential in the gang, things changed. The men learned new techniques. They learned how to examine an enemy and find his weakness. They learned control, and subtly, and became the most feared gang of Grayton.

 

Kieran did not remain with them long. He had a land to survey. He changed his name to Donovan and practiced his old skills. His enemies had won, and their descendants reigned. And they did it poorly. The primitive Sprites claimed a space in politics beside the most prestigious Muses. The rulers were weak, pleasure-seeking, powerless. Keiran's kingdom was split in pieces. Two of them had nobodies for rulers, unrelated to any old ruling families. And yet they stood beside the others, and even the old families had gone soft and weak.

 

He would have to fix it. The first step was to clear out these new, weak kings. He would find new leaders—from the old lines, if he could. If not, anyone he could control would do. He must put the kingdom back the way it was supposed to be.

Keita and Drake

Posted by Christie V Powell on June 9, 2017 at 9:30 PM

Bonus story: Keita Sage is being forced into betrothal. After watching her friend Zuri talk her way out of trouble, Keita tries the tactics she observed on her father...


Keita sat silently beside her two friends, looking over the empty fields of the summit: a mass of monocultured grass, dull yellow and topped with weedy plumes. Every year Glen had told her stories of his adventures at the summit: exploring with the other boys, friendships, adventures, traps and nar-row escapes. And there they were, doing nothing.


He father materialized from among the simply thatched huts. A stern look sent her friends scampering. “What do you think of the other heirs?” the Sprite king asked.


“Carli and Zuri and I are friends,” she answered.


“And the boys?”


“I’m not sure. They don’t spend much time with us.”


King Drake nodded. They walked side by side until they reached a corner of the great walls that glowed despite an overcast morning. “The Lectrans and Nomes seem unusually close,” he said. “If they exclude the other clans, they could be plotting against us.” He glanced at her, then away quickly. “The other leaders think an alliance with another clan would help our cause.”


Normally she would have stayed silent, or presented a logical argument, or at least a snappy re-tort. But that’s not how Zuri had won him over. "I feel like a prisoner," she admitted.


His composure dropped. "I'm sorry."


That wasn't the answer she expected.


“This was so easy with Glen. He and Zuri just clicked. And so did your mother and I.”


Keita started. She knew her parents met here, at the Summit. She knew how everyone reacted. She knew about kingdoms and treaties, ceasefires and allegiances, but she did not know how her par-ents felt about it.


"Jasper and Brian are nice enough, but I don't know them, Dad!" She stopped. She hadn't called him that since he'd given her education to her unpleasant cousin Felix.


His eyes narrowed. "The rulers are concerned about recent events. These marriages aren't about limiting your choices. They're about keeping our kingdoms... and you!... safe. You heard of the Mers who were lost at sea? And Brian’s mother? If someone is picking off royals, we need to stand together more than ever."


Picking off royals? A chill travelled down her spine. For a long time she stared at the drifting clouds, planning. "What if..." she began. "What if I went on a trip—an internment, maybe—to the dif-ferent kingdoms? I'd have more time, get to make a better choice, and I'd still be bringing unity—maybe to more kingdoms than just one."


Drake frowned. "What if you ran away?"


"Spritelands means more to me than that."


He hesitated. "The others expect me to make an announcement tonight."


"Announce Glen and Zuri. You don't need both of us right now." She felt a twinge of unease, sacrificing her friend and brother, but neither seemed to mind.


For several minutes he thought. She hardly dared breathe. At last he nodded.


She forced back stinging tears. "Thank you."



If only it had worked that way.

Keita's Wings

Posted by Christie V Powell on March 17, 2017 at 7:00 PM

The great wall of the Summit, the last place for Spectra royals, filled Keita’s vision. Her feet were numb, worn raw too long for pain. Her legs shook, her lungs shook from the acrid smoke she had left behind, and streaks of green crossed her maple-brown skin. Some of her family and friends were inside those walls. Others, too many, were not. Inside was safety and companionship. Outside, the Stygians were hunting—yet her fear was as numb as her feet and only the fire inside still lived, the fire that said the Stygians must pay for what they had done.


Two hours ago, she had cringed behind a ridge above her valley home. Fire enveloped the trees so that the slopes glowed red. Black dots that were her people ran, their cries piercing the distance. Her siblings were fleeing. Her father could not. Her cousin, once her tutor, now a Stygian, stood silhouetted against the flames, the cause of it all. Maybe she should have challenged him then, but the fire roared toward her and she had forgotten everything, everything but the devouring flames.


Two days ago, she crouched among boulders with the Castalia princes. Two figures broke their conversation, peered into the rocks. “They’ve heard us.”


“I’ll get him.”


“Too late. The word is out. Tell the others to start now.”


They ran. She was in horse form then, better able to carry the boys. Two were communicators—as she ran, their thoughts flew faster, warning their people, their parents, their brothers stationed in the other kingdoms… but they could not contact her home. She left them at the Summit’s doorstep and took off, the two hundred miles separating her from home flying beneath her churning legs.


Two weeks ago, she discovered the princes in their mansion library. “I hope the Stygians aren’t as smart as you are,” she’d said. She’d meant it as a compliment, but none smiled. An open history book lay before them, and they had been debating how five determined, powerful people might take over the continent.


“What I’d do is find a Stygian for each kingdom and attack simultaneously. And I’d assassinate all the royals so no one could fight back.”


Two months ago, she heard the word ‘Stygian’ for the first time. She had sneaked out of a Summit council, determined to leave before her father could betroth her. In kestrel form she flew over the mountain crags, until she saw them. Five dark figures crouched in a ravine. They knew what she was. She barely made it inside the walls. The kings didn’t believe her. Only the princes told her what she ought to have known all along. Stygians were once Spectra, but sinister oaths gave them the abilities of all six Spectra clans. Only the united strengths of the kingdoms could defeat them: a near impossible task among such different people.


Now she stood before the summit walls, chest heaving. She would be the last to arrive. Her anger eased as she remembered she could not defeat the Stygians alone; she must hope that enough royals escaped and waited now behind the walls. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and climbed the wall.

 

"The Spectra Uprooted" sneak peek

Posted by Christie V Powell on February 6, 2017 at 10:00 PM

Keita Sage stood alone among a crowd. Like the other maple-skinned, dark-haired Sprites, she faced the wide wooden stage below. Two men wrestled atop it, arms and legs glistening under the autumn sun as they ducked and dodged. The moves were unfamiliar to her, and her thoughts wandered: to other festivals lost to time, to her friends who must have discovered her absence, to wondering why she felt so out of place among people who looked so much like she did.


The crowd's cheering made her whip around. One of the men had fallen. The other jumped on top of him and wrapped his well-muscled arm around the other's neck. Keita flinched. Before she knew what she was doing, she was pressing through the crowd. The man underneath was squirming, frantic at first but with less and less life, and still the crowd watched and cheered. Keita was a few feet away when the man fell limp against the wood, the sound of his fall hidden in a roar from the crowd. A green cast spread up his skin, and Keita stopped.


Of course. He had gone dormant. He would wake up in less than an hour, embarrassed but unharmed. Keita had been living away from home too long. If the man had not been a Sprite, born into one of the other five clans, he would be dead.


The crowd dispersed and Keita caught only one more glimpse of the hurt man, his skin now bright green, being dragged from the stage. The other Sprites, wearing the pale, yellowish green of the grasslander tribe, strode away in twos and threes, weaving among the huge cottonwoods that lined the bottom of a wide, gentle valley. Keita had seen only the tops of those trees from the prairies, until she came to the edge of the hollow and found the celebrating group. Piping music drifted from the clearing where couples danced, their bare feet thumping the hard earth in enticing patterns. In their speech and movement and in more undefinable ways, the Sprite band showed their allegiance to each other. From babies and childlings, children, adlings like Keita, to full adults, they formed a tight-knit community that she was too obviously not a part of. They couldn't reject her on Equinumn, the autumn equinox, but her strangeness fit her like a garment she could not remove.


This was not what she had expected when she had left the others. They were her friends, but the group was too large, too noisy, too busy to make friends with Keita's home. They weren't interested in celebrating Equinumn, and even her twin brother had ignored her attempts to organize an event or two among their own group. Finding a local village had been her only option.


"Had anything to eat yet?"


Keita jumped. A round, friendly-faced man stood beneath the closest cottonwoods, holding out a turtle-shell bowl of thick brown stew. A refusal was halfway out Keita's mouth when she remembered to bite it back. Not today.


"Thank you," she said. Her hands shook as she took the bowl.


"Name's Bract. I do the cooking for the childlings... and everything else, for my three." He pointed to a trio of youngsters in the branches of the nearest tree. Bract waited, perhaps for Keita to introduce herself, but she said nothing. At last he asked, "This your first meal in a season?"


"Thereabouts," Keita said without looking up. Her last meal had been just like this. The day was cold but crystal clear, and the stew sat warm in her stomach. Trees towered over their valley home, unscathed by the future fire that would roar through weeks later. Her father, strong, busy, alive, threaded through the crowds, while dancers proved that though winter came and Earth slept, life would come again. Now the whole valley slept, and Keita had been gone from it three seasons. Nine months. No food.


The man was still watching. Keita attempted to smile as she scooped a square of root vegetable into her mouth.


Warmth. Crunch. Salt. Savory flavor of summer richness, of festivals gone by, of happy days that would never come back. The bowl slipped from her fingers and thudded to the ground.


Warm gravy spattered her toes. The children gasped, and Bract's eyes widened. Waste of food was sin. Keita ducked to rescue what she could, lost her balance, and found herself on hands and knees in leaf litter. Her head spun, and her stomach contracted with pain. She heaved, heaved again, Someone's hands had her shoulders, raised her to a sitting position, let her back rest on rough bark. She took a deep breath, and as the pain ebbed a fraction, looked up into Bract's face.


"We eat at each festival for a reason, adling," he said. "We can't hold off eating more than a season or so."


Had she known that? Eating a meal was an important part of the season transitions. It showed that they could not escape their connection to the world, that even Earth's people depended on the web that connected all life. Apparently the meal was more than symbolic. She ought to have known, but she ought to have known a lot of things. Knowledge was scarce when your childhood tutor worked for the enemy.

Journey to the Summit

Posted by Christie V Powell on December 8, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Two seasons before 'The Spectra Unearthed' opens, Keita Sage went with her father to meet the other rulers to prepare for an arranged marriage. On the journey she decided to slip away...

 

 

Keita Sage crept through the underbrush of the forest, ears alert for any sign of followers. The sunlight sneaked passed the pine branches overhead and set a dappled web of shadow across her path. She placed each step with care. Her father could command someone with a tracking talent to find her, and she needed to avoid leaving a single clue. Going back was not an option.

 

The trail led to the bank of the raging Silver River and continued up a steep trail crossed by rocky ledges. A shiver, half of anticipation, half of excitement, traveled down her spine. She'd been here once before, when she'd sneaked out of the Inner Vale to explore, but she wasn't allowed so far from home without an escort--someone who was sure to be dull and unpleasant, like her useless cousin Felix. Her father's camp was out of her sensing range, at least a mile behind. Home was a three-day journey south--although she could have made it in one if she tried.

 

Home. They couldn't exile her from her own kingdom, and she wasn't about to stick around and find out which horrible foreign kingdom she'd be sent to.

 

The trail smoothed and widened as she climbed, but she hardly noticed until she heard voices ahead. She swore under her breath. She could climb either cliff, but not without notice, especially when Sprites could sense as well as she. She reached out with her mind to sense them and then blanched. No Sprites, but humans, a pair of the unnaturally large creatures, astride even bigger horses. She glanced at the river below--could she climb down the cliff before they noticed?

 

They rounded the corner in an instant, a forest of knobbly legs and boots. Both were male, maybe a foot or two taller than she, but on the horses they seemed gigantic. Long frizzled hair hung past their shoulders, and bundles of all shapes and sizes dangled from their saddles, giving off such a disgusting mix of stenches that Keita stumbled as they drew near.

 

"Hullo!" one boomed. "What have we got here?" The voice might have been kind, but it was so rough and thick with accent that she couldn’t be sure.

 

Her mind went blank. She was so fast at thinking up excuses for her father and tutor--why didn't the thoughts come now? "I...I got lost," she choked out.

 

"You must have wandered a ways."

 

Before she could think of the answer, the second man leaned forward to study the trail behind her. “You came up through there? That valley looks like a good place for trapping but we’ve yet to find a way down.”

 

“There’s nothing you’d want down there,” Keita said quickly. Her father and his escort were still camped in the valley below.

 

The second man’s grin grew. “Humans,” he repeated. “You’re not human?”

 

She gulped as everything she’d ever heard about humans flashed through her brain. Dangerous, especially in mobs. No abilities, but fearsome weapons to make up for it. Her kind had hidden from them after their first bloody encounters 200 years ago, and few still believed in them.

 

She had to escape. “I don’t know what you mean. I’ve got to go.” She edged toward the cliff.

 

A hand gripped her wrist. Keita forced herself not to panic. She couldn't show them what she was--but how could she escape? And the humans were heading toward her father's camp. She couldn't go back and warn them. Her father, King of Spritelands, had ignored her plenty but until now she'd never known how little he cared. In front of everyone, without the slightest warning, he announced that she, not her twin brother Glen, would attend this year's summit council. Not because she might enjoy the journey or want to meet people from other clans, but because he wanted the other kings to look her over and decide which of their sons she would marry. Quite beside the fact that she knew no one outside of her own kingdom, Spritelands, the marriage would mean she would leave home forever. She would leave the mountains, the trees, the great river below. Even the sky, if she moved to a kingdom where the people lived underground. How could she live without seeing the sky?

 

She couldn't let them find out about Sprites. Images flashed through her mind: gathering at the Autumn Festival, all united, a hundred strong. Training with her favorite cousin Hunter under the great trees. No, she couldn't let these humans discover them. Spritelands was worth saving.

 

The group was passing a pine growing just uphill. One of the pine branches grew across the path, high enough to block horses but easy for the humans to duck under. Keita focused, sending her energy into the tree. The branch expanded, reaching downward, pointy needles sticking into the path. She smiled. Wood bending and plant growth were talents of hers—though undeveloped, of course.

 

“Hey! What's that?”

 

The two men were standing on the other side of it, staring with open mouths at the tree branch that had been growing before their eyes. Keita let go of the tree, but the damage had been done.

 

“Natives, I've heard of,” one muttered. “Talking bears, giant cats, people with wolf heads... but never, in any legend, have I heard of living trees.”

 

Living trees? What a stupid thing to disbelieve. But Keita thought she knew what he meant, and it gave her an idea. Keita pressed her energy into the tree. Its branches began to wave. Then she stepped out, where they could see her, and screamed.

 

Both of them whirled around. "Miss?" one called uncertainly.

 

Keita backed toward the tree while its limbs flailed around her. "Help! It's going to eat me!"

 

A human took a tentative step forward. She took another step back and felt rough bark against her back. She leaned into it and the wood swelled, growing outward around her. The men screamed. From her hiding place, Keita heard them thundering away. She felt them reach their horses and stampede eastward.

 

The men faded from her senses. She grinned and pushed her way out of the bark that shrank back to make room for her.

 

She wasn't going to run away.

 

She knew it was true before she knew where the thought came from. The humans had known she wasn't one of them in a second. She couldn't hide among them without risking her entire kingdom. The risk wasn't worth it. Too many Sprites knew her by feel for her to hide among the other tribes or live alone. They would find her, they would send her home. And strange though home had become recently, she suddenly knew that home meant too much for her to risk, even if she had to leave to protect it. She sighed and turned back the way she had come.

Sterling Smelt

Posted by Christie V Powell on October 19, 2016 at 1:25 PM

A year after "The Spectra Unearthed" ends, Sterling Smelt is still feeling its effects... 


Sterling endured an hour of the celebration marking the anniversary of his brother’ s death. Crowds thronged around the storytellers, begging to be told how the evil tyrant Jasper was overthrown by his valiant cousin, our beloved king. The story unfurled in all its splendor, with great battles and contests of bravery, every stitch of evidence unearthed that would fit into the proper form. The children gasped and cheered in all the right places, the adults nodded and told each other that was exactly how it was. But they were wrong. The storytellers told no falsehoods, and yet somehow in their simplified story, they missed everything.


A spear of black obsidian pierced the sky above their heads, its glossy side scarred by the names of Jasper’ s victims. Despite its demanding presence, none of the happy crowd even glanced upward. Sterling ran a rough hand over the rock as he found the names of people he knew. Like Eben Finix, not quite sixteen, proud of the wispy beard that made him look older. Or Bruno Pierce, quiet but occasionally making some dry remark that would send his companions into gales of laughter.


Real people. Real personalities, real stories, real potential for everything wonderful in life. All gone.


Cheery music wafted from a nearby bandstand, and many of the children were dancing, free and safe and alive, while their carefree feet crushed flowers that the families of victims had planted that morning. Orange daylily flowers. Blooming one day and gone the next. They were Jasper’ s favorite, but no one knew that. No one knew he might have been up on that bandstand with his banjo, given enough encouragement. No one knew.

Keita and her mother

Posted by Christie V Powell on August 31, 2016 at 11:20 PM

This is a deleted scene from the prequel-- Keita has been summoned by her mother, queen of the Sprites, to learn more about a queen's job. --CVP 


Keita always paused when she entered the courtyard. Rows of silver flowers grew against the dark green hedges, and mosses of all shades covering the ground. Keita’s eye was drawn to her mother, who sat in an ornate wooden throne at the front of the room. With long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a sparkling silver dress, she stood out like a beacon in the dark green room.


Rushing footsteps interrupted. Keita looked up as a bony Lectran woman ran into the courtyard. “Amber! How good to see you!” she gushed.


Keita rolled her eyes at the woman’s exuberance, but her mother didn’t seem to mind. “Hello, Poppy. How are you today?”


As the woman and her mother gabbed on, Keita forced her face into an interested expression and stopped listening. She hardly noticed as the woman left and another took her place. From that moment on, the courtyard was never empty. As soon as one person left, another took their place. Some just wanted to talk, some asked questions, and a few brought disagreements for the queen to solve. Keita’s mother talked and joked with them, and none seemed to leave unhappy.


Finally a group of Mer girls left, and the courtyard was quiet again. Keita looked at her mother. “So queens talk to people all day?”


Her mother grinned. “It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it.”

The Sick Camp: "The Spectra United" sneak peak

Posted by Christie V Powell on August 8, 2016 at 12:25 PM

The smell hit her first, rank with decay and death. A man with no foot sprawled across the ground in front of them, changing his own bandages. Two children were lying a few feet away, wrapped in blankets, their faces covered in red marks. Keita scanned the camp for a sign of a well person—surely someone was taking care of these people. She saw no one.


“Keita, wait.”


She hadn’t realized she’d moved until she heard Brian’s warning. She bit her lip. He was right—if she healed these people, they’d join the other camp, and stories about inhuman healers would spread like wildfire. Humans couldn't know about Spectra, she knew that, but how could she just stand here when she had the power to heal them?


Amala charged into the crowd, searching for her father. Across the camp, a boy staggered in, pulling a cart. He stopped, dropped the crosspiece, and helped a frail old man out of the cart. Next he lifted out a small child, and another… how many people fit in there?


The older boy looked up. “Did you come back to help?”


Keita couldn’t speak.


“Some people come help. But they get sick too. I’ve lasted longer than most. That’s my dad. My mom caught the fever, and then my brothers, and my sister’s got it…”


The little girl in his arms was listless, her face red under the dirt. Her eyes were open, though, and when her brother stopped talking she focused on Keita, as though the girl knew she could make a difference. How could Keita not help?


Suddenly Brian whipped the pack off of his back and began digging through it. He pulled out the ragged toy Lucy had given to Keita. “You see this?” he asked.


The girl and her brother nodded.


“Well, this ball is magic. If you touch it, the magic can make you better.”


Keita stared. “What are you talking about?”


Better to have them believing in magic toys than people, right? he asked silently.


Oh. Right.


She held the ball out to the girl. “Try it.” Weak fingers stretched out, and as they brushed the worn fabric they bumped Keita’s hand.


The suppressed power burst from her. The boy cried out and leapt back. His sister dropped from his arms. She yelped, but it was a strong cry. Then, her eyes full of wonder, she climbed to her feet. Her face was not so red, and her gaunt cheeks had filled in. Her brother stood. “It works,” he breathed.


Before Keita could blink twice she was surrounded. The people pushed and shoved and clung to each other, and her energy jumped from contact to contact. The camp was no longer silent. It rang with shouts and cries and laughter.


The sun was sinking. Keita had not realized how long she had been working. The last drop of sunlight disappeared and she sank to her knees. “Thank you,” she told Brian. “I think… I will be happy later. Right now a rest might be nice.” And she dropped.

The Legend of Aiyana

Posted by Christie V Powell on July 13, 2016 at 10:25 PM

This is a legend told in Spritelands to warn young Sprites of the dangers of humans.


Once upon a time, a young Sprite girl called Aiyana lived with her family on the coast of what is now Lectranis. She was a natural healer, and her parents did everything to get her the very best trainers. However, her training was halted when her parents died in a winter storm. A neighboring Lectran family took her in, and though they were not cruel they did not love her. Though Sprites do not usually eat, she was required to find food for her new family.

 

One day Aiyana spied a dark shape out at sea. She had not heard of the humans, who had arrived on a similar vessel years earlier and built a small settlement further north. This ship had blown off course and landed far from the others. Aiyana watched the strange, Spectra-like creatures land, but because her village insisted that the humans be left alone, she did not approach. Still, she often stopped on her daily forages by the sea to look at them.

 

Aiyana soon discovered that the humans were doing poorly. Ill equipped for surviving alone, many caught diseases and perished. When winter approached, Aiyana knew they would not survive. She abandoned the laws of her village and offered her assistance to the humans. The humans were amazed as she healed them, one by one. She taught them to feed themselves by gathering food from the sea, as she had done for her Lectran family. The human colony survived, and in gratitude gave their settlement their version of her name, Hanan. Eventually Aiyana moved in with them, using a small abandoned cabin as her own.

 

The news of Hanan's magical healer spread. Many sick people visited, and she healed them all. Even today, the poor and ill are treated well in Hanan, now a bustling human city. But one group of men saw opportunity while others saw healing. They laid in wait, deciding to catch the young Sprite and take her overseas, perhaps collecting money for her healing in the land over the water. They tangled her in immense nets and threw her into a cage with mesh bars so tiny that she could not escape. She called for help, but her human friends, those neighbors she trusted and healed, served and protected, would not hear. Her captors took her aboard a ship and she was never seen again.

 

After her abduction, and many other attacks, the Sprites abandoned humans completely, disappearing into their forests with strict rules to avoid all human contact. The other clans followed, until today when few humans know that Spectra exist. But take caution, for their cages and their ships are still ready.

Lectran Pox Defeated

Posted by Christie V Powell on April 9, 2016 at 5:20 PM

8 August 209

Queen Taima arose from her bed and greeted the public this morning for the first time in several months. Tears streaked her scarred cheeks as she expressed her appreciation for the concern and well-wishes of her people. Earlier that day, the first healers from Spritelands had arrived, but they came too late for many of us.


Amber Sage, niece of our good king Antony, married the Sprite prince and heir Drake Sage three years ago. When Prince Leon and his wife, Valerie, caught the dreaded pox, they sent messengers to her, begging for help.


“We came as soon as we heard the news,” said Sprite healer Merle Arden. “I brought my entire family and we intend to stay as long as we are needed.”


But Arden and the twenty other Sprite healers came too late. Leon, his wife Valerie, and his twin sister Luna join the list of those killed by the disease. King Quentin appeared in his second official ceremony as king for their funeral. His wife and baby daughter Viviana survived, though scarred. Hundreds of others did not.

 

The Unshod Professor

Posted by Christie V Powell on March 5, 2016 at 2:30 AM

 

Professor Brand Flinten arrived for the opening of the Stienfry Institute of Science with bare feet beneath his proper scholar’s uniform. The fashion statement brought curious looks from students and professional scientists alike; Professor Flinten is well-known for his professionalism and neat demeanor. Curious glances from the bright hope-filled faces of future students did not ruffle his calm demeanor.

 

After the ceremony, Flinten explained, “I wanted to recognize the impact that crossovers like myself have had on our culture, to expose anti-crossover persecution across the country, and to give hope to others like me.” Many know of Flinten’s contributions to the field of science and the hundreds of students he has inspired, but few know of the difficulties that have shrouded his past.

 

Brand Flinten was born in the year 216, ten years before the Crossover Protection Act that forbade the abandonment or killing of crossover children. At the age of six, he came into his abilities and his parents discovered that he was a Cole. Like many others of the time, they abandoned him in the desert rather than admit that they had produced a non-Nome child. He was picked up by a sympathetic family and sent to live at the Colony, a safe haven for unwanted children. His advisors, Sterling Smelt and Jewel Stienfry, noticed his intellect and questioning mind and gave him the best educational opportunities available in their humble colony. He kept a garden despite the harsh desert conditions, even developing several new varieties of corn.

 

As a young man, Flinten attempted to attain an education, but was denied at every institute because of his clan. He earned money by painting houses, doing laundry, and any menial task he could find, but even with the money in hand he was unaccepted at every college. At last he moved to the Cole Kingdom and found a college that was glad to take him. He graduated with the highest honors available and returned to the Nomelands to teach his fellow crossovers.

 

Flinten retained his thirst for knowledge. He continued studying out of the royal library and conducted interviews and experiments on his own. His hard work eventually paid off and he is regarded today as the father of modern agriculture.

 

Kings and councilors alike have praised him, and letters arrive from across the continent demanding advice. He was the natural choice for headmaster of the new Steinfry Institute of Science. Yet, despite the temptation to turn his back on his troubled past, his first steps over the threshold of the first Nome school to accept him were taken in dusty, well-worn feet.

 


'The Spectra United' sneak peak: Keita and Savanna

Posted by Christie V Powell on February 10, 2016 at 1:15 PM

Keita Sage, main character of The Spectra books, is reunited with her little sister Savanna (Avie for short) who has found a new home in the urban kingdom of Lectranis.



Avie’s smile was sad, but her eyes were blazing with the same zealous light that had shown when she’d first brought Keita to Lectranis. Keita and the other royal remnants had lived like frightened mice, huddled behind stone walls, ignorant of the fates of their families, drowning in their loss. Avie’s appearance had been a lifeline. Though the innocence in her face had died, her eyes shone with the enthusiasm and energy of someone who had found their life’s work. She begged Keita and her friends to help her restore Lectranis, and Keita had jumped at the chance to escape. The only hard part had been leaving their brother Glen behind.


Keita sighed. “I don’t want to leave you again.”


For a moment her sister only looked at her. Then, softly, she said, “Maybe you don’t have to.”


Keita blinked. “But the letters, and the true heir…”


“The others are going. You don’t have to go with them. You could stay here with me.”


For a moment Keita could only stare as thoughts swiveled around her mind. Could she leave Carli, Zuri, and Sienna? She’d been friends with Carli and Zuri since before the takeover, and looked on Sienna almost as another sister. Back in Nomelands, she’d chosen to help Sienna instead of hurrying back to her sister. Did that mean she owed Avie now, or did it prove that her sister could manage without her? And the Pensier boys—would leaving them be a good thing or a bad one?


“You don’t have to decide right now,” Avie said. “Your friends will be talking strategy for hours.”


Keita chuckled. “True enough.”


“Well, come on then.” Without another word, Avie turned around and began weaving through the sharp metal shards. Before Keita could ask where they were going Avie stopped again, this time in front of a storage building that was mostly still intact. She tugged the door open and gestured for Keita to enter.


The room inside was dark and dusty. Avie’s feet echoed through a large space. A lightning box flared into life in her hands, revealing a lane of shelves stretching as far as she could see, burdened with bundles and boxes of all sizes. “What on earth is this?” Keita whispered. It seemed the sort of place for whispering.


Avie chose a shelf and began sorting through packs. “The other kingdoms keep supplies at the summit, in case of danger. The Tesla family—well, probably their councilors—kept this place instead. There’s all kinds of gear, food… whatever they might have needed to stay alive.”


But they failed, Keita thought, trying to peer through specks of dust in the beam of Avie’s light. Quentin and Taima Tesla were dead, and the rulers they’d snubbed with them. What would they think of Avie’s rummaging?


“Is this how you’ve been feeding everyone?” Keita asked.


“Yup.” Avie lined her chosen packs across the floor and began rummaging through the the other shelves, occasionally tossing a bundle into one of them. “This stuff’s not helping the last rulers, but it’s sure being useful for their subjects. Can you look through these for me?”


Keita reached without looking, and then yelped and jumped back. She had grabbed an open box of shiny knives. As she watched, a bead of blood arose from a cut on her finger, and faded away again.


“Sorry! I’m sorry!” Avie cried. “I should have warned you.”


“No problem.” Keita looked into the box again. “What on earth do you want knives for?”


Avie’s voice quivered. “Camping. They make a good camping tool.”


Keita wanted to argue, but her sister’s eyes were big and frightened, so she bent over the box without a word. How was she supposed to judge? By size? Sharpness? Handle color? In the end she grabbed five at random and dropped one into each sack. Her sister was already there, dropping an innocent-looking black stone into each pack. “Fire starter,” she explained.


Flinching, Keita looked away. “What are these for anyway?”


“Your friends, on their journey. They’ll be in the cities for a lot of it, of course, but there’s also the farmlands and the prairie, and I don’t know how much money they’ve got for inns…”


Your friends, Keita noticed. Not you. That explained why Avie had grabbed only five packs, and why she was now stuffing a little first-aid kit into each one. “Avie…” she began.


Her sister whirled around. “What? Don’t you want to stay with me?” She stood there among the dust and the old supplies, and somehow she looked more at home than she ever did in Spritelands. No longer would she linger in Keita’s shadow, peering into the trees and hills of the Spriteland mountains as though something would swoop down and carry her away.


“I don’t think you need me anymore,” Keita said.


Avie scowled and threw a tight-folded blanket toward the packs. She missed by several feet. “I like Lectranis,” she said, “but I don’t want to forget home… or you. You’re like a piece of home.”

 

Letter from Amber Sage to her grandfather Ambrose Tesla, year 213

Posted by Christie V Powell on January 19, 2016 at 1:30 PM

Dear Grandpa,

 

Remember when you would tease me for saying I was going to be queen? I got so mad when Dad told me about fifty people were ahead of me in line for the Lectran throne. Well, it turns out I was right, just not in the way I thought. I am now the Sprite queen. It still doesn’t seem real. I never met the last Sprite queen, but people say she was very imposing. I am not imposing. The Sprites still aren’t really comfortable around me, being from a different clan and everything, and I don’t know what to do to change their minds.

 

Drake and I didn’t know for sure until the very end he’d be the new king. King Talon just died in a sprite tribe skirmish (they are ALWAYS fighting). They wanted a new king right away, before the other tribes caused trouble. Talon’s grandson Felix would have been a better choice, but he’s only thirteen. Drake is Talon’s adopted son, you know, and the other children are all girls.

 

So they’ve decided now, and the coronation will be coming up as soon as they’re ready, which doesn’t seem to take them nearly so long as I’d expect. Back home they’d spend weeks getting ready, with the invitations and the party and the so many hundreds of things the people here just don’t think of. I doubt this letter will arrive before it takes place, but I wish you could come. If nothing else, so you could watch the twins. Drake’s sisters are supposed to watch them but they have their own families, and I just know they’re going to cause a fuss.

Well, the messengers are leaving so I need to finish. Tell our family I love them and miss them. We’ll have to meet soon.

 

Love, Amber

 

From the History Books: The Great Stygian war

Posted by Christie V Powell on December 27, 2015 at 2:00 AM

Kieran Sclera was a counselor to the Muse king, Cato Pensier. In the year 145 he married the king’s young daughter Tracy. After a few months, Tracy disappeared into the neighboring kingdom of Merlandia. Driven by anger, Kieran joined forces with a Stygian called Adrian Blake. Under Adrian Blake’s tutelage, Kieran became a Stygian and killed his brother-in-law Crowther Pensier.

 

Two years later, the two Stygians attacked. Kieran killed the rest of the Muse royal family, eliminating that line. The next year, Kieran left the Muse kingdom and attacked Spritelands, where he believed Tracy had gone. He destroyed the royal family and claimed that crown. At the same time, Adrian killed the Lectran royal family, except for the two youngest, Ambrose and Antony. Those two boys escaped to the central summit where Stygians cannot enter. Adrian took control of the Lectran army and sent it to battle the Nomes. The Nome queen was killed, but the king Clayton VI escaped to the summit with his infant son, Clayton VII. He also sent messengers to the other clans.

 

While the Stygians overtook the other clans, the other royals were able to escape: the young Cole king Brand and his sister Embry, and King Seward Neried of Merlandia, and his family. Two clans were lacking: Sprites and Muses, and without them the royals could not create a full spectrum, with all six clans represented, in order to defeat the Stygians. In the year 148, the two kings, Seward and Clayton VI, left the summit and entered the Spriteland mountains. Seward was killed, but the king Clayton VI was rescued by a Sprite boy called Orson Sage, who helped him return to the summit.

 

The royals still lacked a Muse, but they all knew that entering Castalia would be fatal. Instead, they entered Merlandia and enlisted the help of a Mer guard named Dorian Fiske. Out of duty, the Cole princess Embry agreed to marry him, knowing that their children would be Muses. She bore a daughter and called her Brynna. In the year 150, Orson Sage joined the others at the summit, bringing his new wife and infant son, who he wanted to keep safe from the searching Stygian soldiers. Over the years, some of the more impetuous royals left the summit, but eventually all returned safely.

 

In 156, young Princess Brynna gained full control of her Muse abilities. The royals emerged from the summit. They travelled in secret to the Lectran capital, Telosa, and killed the Stygian Adrian, setting King Antony on the throne. From there they moved on to battle the other kingdoms. In the Battle of Gadwall Hills, Kieran was defeated and replaced by young Brynna, watched over by her father Dorian. Osron Sage took the Sprite crown, beginning the Sage dynasty, and young Torrent became king of Merlandia.

 

 

An interview with Keita Sage

Posted by Christie V Powell on November 17, 2015 at 3:10 PM

I’ve invited Keita to my living room for a character interview. I wait for her to sit down so I can start asking questions, but she’s walking around the room and I’m not sure I should interrupt. At last she stops, to examine the leopard geckos in their tanks, and I look up from my desk and grab my list of questions.

“So,” I begin, “What do you consider your greatest achievement?”

She looks at me blankly for a moment. Then her face lights up, and she says, “Beating my brother in a tree-climbing contest!”

“Really? After everything you did to help…”

“Yes.” Her tone makes it clear she’s not going to answer any further.

“Okay, great. Um… What is your idea of perfect happiness?”

She doesn’t answer. At first I think she’s pondering the question. Then I see that my three-year-old has entered the room. “This is my alligator toy,” he says.

“I like it,” Keita says.

“Don’t encourage him,” I say, but it’s too late. Soon both boys are running back and forth, bringing whatever they can grab and presenting it like it’s their most precious possession. Ah, that reminds me…

“What is your most treasured possession?”

She looks up from the dishrag the boys are holding up. “You’re asking me?”

Yes, I know perfectly well she’s not very materialistic. I drop the list of questions, but the boys have given me an idea. “What was your favorite toy as a kid?”

Now we’re getting somewhere. “I had a few I really loved. My dad gave me this shirt once—just an ordinary shirt, but made out of cotton. I can manipulate plants, you know. I had so much fun shaping that thing! Every time my sister wanted me to play dolls, or whatever, I could get it out, change its shape, and I could join in her game.”

“So what was your favorite shape to keep it in? When you weren’t with Avie, I mean, so you could pick whatever you wanted?”

Keita shrugs. “Some sort of animal. I changed my mind every few weeks.”

“All right, thanks. What other toy did you really love?”

“My other favorite was a stone duck carving my mom gave me,” Keita answers. “It’s kind of the opposite of the cotton fibers. It’s one thing I couldn’t change. I loved the detail of it, how you could see the individual feathers. A stone carver made it in Lectranis, and she bought it there.” She thinks a minute, and adds quickly, “It was a carving. It wasn’t a real duck that a Nome petrified.” The thought makes her look physically sick.

“Yeah, that would be awkward. So, if you got to choose your occupation… or your niche, I guess you Sprites call it… what would it be?”

“I have a Quiet Book. Look! I see a horsie!” My two-year-old yells.

“Hey, that’s pretty neat.”

Keita crosses the room to look over my son’s shoulder. He’s naming shapes. “That one’s a rectangle. A oval. A triangle!”

“We’re supposed to be learning about you, not the kids,” I remind her, as my older son pops out of a cupboard, trying to surprise us.

“Oh, right. You were asking about my niche?” She thinks a moment. “I guess it would depend on my abilities. I always thought it would be something with trees… my uncle Corbin does that. He takes his family and travels all over the Sprite kingdom, helping sprout seedlings, making sure there’s a good balance of species…”

“You like travel?”

“Yeah, I like seeing new things. Why is that surprising?”

“Because we’re a lot alike, and I don’t—or at least, I like staying home better.”

“Staying home,” she says, with a note of real longing in her voice. “I do wish I could… I mean, home’s not home anymore…” She stops to frown at me. “So, yes, I like staying home, and someday I’ll have a really nice one I won’t want to leave, but I’ll still want to go see other things, sometimes.” A thought strikes her, and she leans over my shoulder to look at the computer. “Can you see my future on that thing?”

I slam the lid down on my laptop. “What makes you say that?”

“You do then. Can I see? Even a little?”

“Oh, look at the boys. They’re pretending to call a dragon on the phone…”

“That won’t work. I want to see what’s on your computer.”

I sigh. “Sorry. It’s against the rules. Anyway I might change it. You wouldn’t want to think you know what’s coming, only to have me change it, would you?”

She nods, but I can tell she’s hurt. I figure I’d better wrap up before she convinces me and I get in trouble. “So,” I say, “how do you feel about Brian?”

For a moment she just looks at me. Then she scowls, whirls around, and charges through my front door.

Drat. I hope my husband can help me put the hinge back together.

 

A Meeting: the Rives and the Overground

Posted by Christie V Powell on October 31, 2015 at 2:20 AM

Nomelands, near Misia village, year 223



Four pairs of already gritty hands thrust into the sand as their owners giggled and told stories. Ruby was the first to discover that the sand could be shaped, and so, naturally, she was in charge. Lucy, deemed old enough to help shape the castle, was doing most of the giggling and story-telling, while Ruby’s little sister Amber was relegating to moat digging. Her clever hands scooped and piled, creating bridges and lookouts, wide ponds for fishing and narrow channels that would have held the water, if they had any to spare on these things. Clarence was not invited to help, but he was more interested in dumping sand on his own head, where his blonde curls clung to it and refused to let go.


Under the shade of a nearby cottonwood tree, two mothers kept watch. Opal, too young to be their mother but trying anyway, scanned the empty desert for tale-tell dust plumes that would give away enemy patrols. This was second nature to the 16-year-old, so much so that she could keep watch for enemies and observe the children at the same time. Ruby and Amber had had few enough joyful moments, as Opal and her friends sought some way to keep them and other abandoned children safe.


Helena, once princess of Lectranis, leaned against the tree’s trunk, her eyes fastened on her children as she and Opal talked about nothing in particular. Hands that had once been fair were spattered with calluses and small burns and scrapes, yet they waved with enthusiasm as she spoke. Her homespun trousers and short hairstyle would have shocked her parents, but Helena was always good at doing things her own way.


A step further away, where distance muted the shrieks and laughter of the children, two men conducted business. Sandy, barely out of boyhood, wiped unkempt hair from eyes that shone with newborn hope. Luke Rives smiled with his whole face, a perfect match to his little daughter Lucy, now adding a creosote stick for a castle flag. The men shook hands, Sandy with a hand brown and leathery from exposure to the harsh desert sun, Luke’s broad with crescents of dirt under each nail.


A scream louder than the rest grabbed all attention. Clarence was stomping on what had been a carefully sculpted sand castle, and three girls circled around, howling, unwilling to forgive but not quite ready for retribution among so many witnesses. The theatrics demonstrated to the women that the gathering was over. They separated into two groups, bid farewell, and disappeared into the dusty landscape.

 

Brian's Game

Posted by Christie V Powell on October 10, 2015 at 7:55 PM

Brian and Keita meet for the first time, from Brian's pont of view. --CVP



Brian could have sensed the three girls’ emotions even without his abilities. They fidgeted, kicked at the ankle-deep meadow grass, looked anywhere but at him. Their brothers, who had come to the annual meeting in the previous years, called the Summit the dullest place on earth, even after Brian told them that boredom was a sign of a dull mind. The girls were not bored. They were uneasy, angry, even scared, but not bored.

 

Brian grabbed a coin from his pocket and flung it into the grass between them. The nearest girl, Keita Sage, leapt backward. Her bright green eyes fastened on his face, and for a moment she looked like she might attack—or just bolt into the grass and never be seen again. But the look faded, and she quickly turned away again.

 

“Would you like to play a game?” Brian asked.

 

Zuri, who he’d met last year, met his gaze. “I’m willing to try,” she said.

 

He pointed to the coin. “The person who best lifts that into the air and holds it steady wins.”

 

The new girl Carli, who had been staring wistfully at the surrounding walls, turned toward him. Her expression was still dangerously angry, but a hint of a competitive smile haunted the corners of her mouth. She raised her arms, and the tops of the grass began swirling, pointing this way and that. A sudden wind broke off blades and sent them swirling in circles, faster and faster, until the coin was swept upward. It rose to shoulder height, tumbled about by the wind. Carli gave a satisfied smile. The winds dispersed, and the coin dropped.

 

“Does that count as steady?” Zuri asked.

 

Carli scowled. “You do it then.”

 

“I didn’t mean to criticize,” Zuri said, but she stepped forward. Like Carli, she raised her arms before she began, but instead of rushing wind, a stream of water shot from the ground, launching the coin into the air. Brian didn’t flinch as droplets sprinkled his legs and arms—he’d seen her brothers do the same. The coin floated for a moment, held up by the water, and then it fell.

 

Brian looked at Keita. “Want a turn?”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “You go first.”

 

He hesitated, but saw no way out of it. He bent down, picked up the coin, and held it flat in his palm.

For a moment the girls stared. Than Zuri began to laugh. “That doesn’t count!” Carli cried.

 

“Why not?”

 

She sputtered but couldn’t seem to come up with an answer.

 

“So, Brian wins?” Zuri asked.

“Not yet.”

 

Keita’s expression was as hard to read as all Sprites, but something in her eyes was twinkling. She dug her bare toes into the earth. For a moment nothing happened. Then the grass stems began to change. Brian stepped back as they thickened, stretching toward the pale mountain sunshine. Keita stepped forward, took the coin from his hand, and set it on top of the hardened grass stalks. It stayed, unmoving.

 

“All right,” he said. “You win.”

 

Rusty's Story

Posted by Christie V Powell on October 3, 2015 at 8:40 PM

At first I wanted to write a short story about Rusty, but he was not cooperating. He did at least give this interview to little Mason Smelt. -CVP



Me? What do you want to know about me for? I haven’t left this place in forty years—nothing interesting happens to me. Sure, I’ve heard plenty, seen plenty, and I can tell you about those. Want to hear about your uncle’s escape from the dungeon he grew up in? What do mean, he’s already told you? Well, you’re not hearing anything more interesting than that from me.


Yes, that’s true, I haven’t always lived at the hidden palace. I started out in the capital city. I was the youngest son of the Nome king. Ha, didn’t know we’re related, did you? Yep, we’re… let me see… your father’s father’s father’s brother… oh, forget it. I wouldn’t want you calling me uncle anyway.


What do you mean, finish the story? I told you already I don’t have much of a story. My parents wanted to make sure they had plenty of spare princes, just in case, and so I ended up the youngest of six boys. And what do you know, every single one of them lived. Good for them, not so good for me. Some of mixed with the nobility. One bought a mine down south and became the richest of all of us… oh, the fights he had with your grandpa… great-grandpa… whatever… all about taxes and regulations and all sorts of big words. Nah, that wasn’t for me. I liked playing nobility sometimes, but all the time? I don’t think so. Now that was power. I could play nobility like the best of them, looking down my nose and talking big and wearing the right fashions. And inside I’m laughing my head off at the ridiculousness of it all. I could play servant pretty good too. Acted as Seven’s butler one day and he didn’t even notice the difference. Seven? That’s Clayton the Seventh. My oldest brother. You’re lucky they lost that tradition, eh? Want to be Tanner the second? Steiner the third? Oh, right… that is awkward… well, never mind.


Some other old geezer ran the hidden palace back then. Don’t remember his name at all, he was the kind of guy who didn’t do anything, just told everyone else how to do it. But when I was in my twenties, he passed away, and I saw an opportunity. To manage the palace would be perfect. I could play nobility in front of the visitors, a servant behind closed doors, and then have long quiet stretches without any visitors at all when I could be whatever I wanted. And the stories I hear! The people I’ve met! I tell you, this is the perfect job. Convincing my parents wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that. I couldn’t just outright ask, not them. You think your Pa’s bad with the formality, you should have seen mine! Tanner’s a cushion next to the old rulers. So I had to go about it very carefully, putting hints in all the right places, very carefully…


Wait a minute, what am I doing? Teaching you to manipulate your elders? Oh no, I don’t think so. Going to get me in trouble, that’s what you’re going to do. No, no, not another word. Not a one. Not unless you want to hear some other story. Want to hear about when I entertained a pair of Stygians under this roof? What do you mean you’ve already heard it? And don't call me uncle.

 


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