Tag Archives: self-publishing

Revamp

I’m excited about the new look on this page. Apparently I’ve had this going for four years or so. (Thanks, WordPress, for making me feel old.) But I kept with the same theme for the better part of that timeframe.

I played around with my original theme’s sidebar widgets to see if I could display book covers with the pages giving a preview of those books’ contents. No dice.

So eventually I chose a new theme, moved things around, supplied some new links, and clicked “Save & Publish.”

Yay!

I know, I know. Good job, Dave. You did the basic things necessary, things that probably every blogger has to figure out sooner or later. Would you like a high-five or a cookie for all your hard work? TOO BAD.

One thing I’d like to point out is that I’ve added a link to my WattPad profile on the right hand sidebar. In addition to similar previews of my self-published novels, it also has a collection of some short stories posted on this blog as well as the ongoing adventures of Grant & Teagan from my BlogBattles entries. Those are compiled in:

explorer
The Ginger of Galway on WattPad

On top of that, I have an almost-finished WattPad novel that’s only available on that site:

Echoes
Echoes on WattPad

Hooray for linking social media together!

The Fault in No Stars

I had a great chat about my fantasy novel Diffraction with a co-worker today. A few days ago she joked about how she neared the end of the book and thought, “Holy cow, he has a lot of plot threads left to deal with if they all get resolved in this book.” Then of course she realized this is meant to be part of a larger series.

But that simple off-hand comment gave me a valuable reminder. I’ve written about seven chapters of the first draft of Diffusion, the next book set in the Bordermarches. But I hadn’t given enough thought to what questions a returning reader might have. This helped me go back and tweak the first couple chapters to not only provide a refresher on how various systems and mechanics work (like elemental magic, and the Gracemarks that give divine power), but it also highlighted moments where I could sum up what happened in the previous book to let readers know I’m aware some of their questions are as yet unanswered.

The other fun part of the conversation today was that I got yet another opinion on the setting, the magic system, the tweaks to old fantasy tropes, and the characters. One of my fears is that the female characters might come off as “ugh, this was so obviously written by a guy.” And thankfully, some key moments of interaction between two female characters were described as spot on. 

All that to say, I’ll ask the same of readers that I asked of my co-worker. If you read Diffraction, would you be so kind as to post a review or at least a rating on Amazon or Goodreads? I don’t need flowery praise (but of course I welcome it). I’d love some honest ratings or reviews for no other reason than to show that people actually looked at this thing and came to some conclusion about the quality of the writing. If you feel it merits one star, have at it, and if you want to lay out all the things I did wrong, I’ll take the critique. If you’re willing to give it some stars, and maybe say what you did or did not like, all the better. I’d rather a customer see several honest assessments than only two or three. Anything is better than zero or only a few reviews. 

If you know someone who self-published, I guarantee they’re interested in getting such feedback posted to primary sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Other than purchasing their book, nothing shows support and encouragement more than taking the time to post a rating or review. 

If you’re willing to do so, I deeply appreciate your time. Thanks!

First Amendment

Oops. 
So maybe it’s one of those obvious things everybody knows… 

But the saying that income under $600 doesn’t need to be reported to the IRS for taxes is a myth.

I realized this after getting an email from Kindle Direct Publishing stating “your 1099 MISC for royalties is ready for download” …about a week after I already sent off my tax return.

The good news is I doubt there’s a lot of taxes on maybe $50 worth of income. I got $22 in royalties and I sold a few books in person (with maybe $3 profit for each sale, but I have to check).

Royalties on a 1099 MISC are different than the self employed paperwork you have to fill out if you earned more than $400 in your business. And they also make it clear that money you make on side jobs still counts, despite that pervasive $600 myth. 

So NOT filing the amendment (since KDP has tax documents prepared) is more worrisome to me than whatever comes of sending in an amended return. I like the idea of showing the IRS “hey, I didn’t include this, but here it is, I’m doing the right thing and just being thorough, please don’t destroy me.”

And with such a small amount, I doubt anything’s going to change…

Other than the way I document whatever profit I make throughout the year. Even if it’s just “coffee money” here and there from selling a book in person, I want to have my ducks in a row. 

Ducks in a nice row don’t get audited as often. Or so I hope.

Happy tax season!

Out of Stock

When I self-published Diffraction, I had no idea how many hard copies I might need and guesstimated 15.

  
Those got claimed faster than expected. So I ordered another 12 after the 15 arrived. 

But when people saw me handing out the signed copies, more friends said, “Me too.” So now all 12 are claimed before they even get here. And now I need to order more.

I never anticipated writing would be something I do for a living, so I’m realistic about the fact that 30 or 40 copies of a self-published book does not equal best-seller.

But it puts a smile on my face nonetheless.

Thanks to those who gave my writing a shot!

Real Artists Ship

It’s a quote attributed to Steve Jobs. I found it in a book by Jeff Goins, called You Are A Writer, So Start Acting Like One.

I’ve been reading it in the winding line at the Postal Service Center, waiting to pick up packages that invariably contain anything but what I was waiting for. (My wife had fun with holiday shopping.)

Today I got my present in the mail:

 

Sometimes shipping takes a while!

And all but one of the books are already claimed. I got my signing pens ready!

Thanks to all who support in various ways – the Facebook shares, the GoodReads review, the “me!” responses when I post an offer. 

This gets me going for the next book (the draft of which currently holds 5,600 words).
Blessings.

Word More!

I’m always grateful for a little motivation from my friends and co-workers. Whether it’s the question, “So when’s book two coming?” or a simple, “I got a copy of your book the other day,” every little bit helps spur me on to put words to paper.

I’ll say I would write these stories anyway, because I do enjoy the process and the accomplishment. But it’s easy to wonder if anyone cares. 

Then I get a text from an old friend:

 

“Guess what I got in the mail?”

He actually asked, “Think I can get the author to sign it for me?”

The answer of course is yes, gladly.

Another friend, whose feedback has been the most thorough and constructive, said to me, “I’m thinking of writing a story in your world.” He asked as though this was the most arrogant of requests.

I saw it differently. By writing a book, I’ve invited readers into a world that only exists in my head. Someone wants to play in that sandbox? That’s amazing. 

And one of my long-time WoW buds is starting writing. I guess he figured if both Dave and his wife could knock out a book, then anyone can. 

Motivation is everywhere… So I have no excuse but to get those words down. It’s a hardship but I think I’ll be okay.

 

This Year's Projects

So I discovered that roughly two months of NaNoWriMo pace at my “second job” / “jobby” is too much for me. 

 

Yay! But also “OW! Thank God it’s over!”
 
I wasn’t about to miss out on November. I had a project bouncing around in my head since last November, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. The idea of psychic reconnaissance 30 years in the future proved to be a lot of fun for me to write. So 50,000 words later, Perdition is probably 80% complete. (I had some scenes I toyed with beforehand, and I have some gaps to fill in.)

On December 1st, I transitioned to my new goal–the “Christmas present to me” of completing and self-publishing my fantasy novel I’d written and revised off-and-on since 2008. Diffraction made it out the door laaaate in the evening of the Winter Solstice here on Okinawa, an appropriate timing for the struggles of the main character as an outcast and religious rebel in her community. Several friends bought copies, and a couple people read some of it on Kindle Unlimited. Then I ran a NYE giveaway and got 70 Kindle copies out there into the ether. Plus I have a shipment of paperback copies coming my way, with a few committed purchasers waiting. 

It’s no break-out success but I’m happy with it. 

What’s on tap this year? 

1. Finishing Perdition. It would be silly to leave it on the back burner when it’s this close to done.

2. Critique my wife’s NaNoWriMo draft. Jem surprised me, our writers’ group, and pretty much everyone who knew how her progress had been going. A day into the event, an idea sparked her creativity and she started brainstorming. But with about 4 days left in November, she had maybe 10K words. So instead of giving up, she declared “I am doing this.” And she knocked out the 50K before the deadline. She did awesome, and as she’s my biggest supporter and fan, I want to be the same for her. 

3. I hope to return some attention to short stories and flash fiction like Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. I also want to get back to my Echoes project on WattPad, which has been ignored for the past two months. 

4. Most of all, my goal is to return to the Bordermarches and pen another book in my fantasy world (I have six or seven planned, in different time periods). I hope to put Diffusion into public sales by Dec 21st. In fact, I took time last night to touch up one of the first scenes.

I figure if I could manage 50K in a month while forsaking almost everything else, then manage touching up and publishing a 140K word fantasy novel in the run-up to Christmas, then a goal of 20K words a month is reasonable. If I do really well, I’ll finish the first draft of Diffusion in time for Markday (Midsummer), which would be a lovely treat.

Hopefully, I’ll get to spend more time with all of you lovelies on WordPress along the way. I always enjoy reading about your journeys, wherever they may lead. Thanks for joining me on mine. 

Diffraction Chapter Eight: Together

Reveal the Strength of Aulis’ call, make those once-blinded know.

 Though the setting sun only grazed the horizon, revelers already packed the main room of the Friar’s Folly. The boisterous crowd spilled out into the central street of Northridge. Farmers and shepherds out front surrounded a merchant wagon labeled Falsted’s Finery. A hawker showed off wares from Aulivar and made bargains, seeking coin but willing to barter. Inside the tavern, music from three instruments filled the air, each playing a different tune in separate parts of the hall. The cacophony of song resounded in Josephine’s ears.

 She pushed her way through the crowd blocking her exit. When she glanced back, an elderly man with an immaculate goatee and fine robes raised his mug to say farewell. Joram Falsted, whose business stretched between Aulivar and distant Aelwyn in the east, along with all the towns in between.

 He winked and smiled before one of his associates demanded his attention.

 Josephine blinked in the sunlight once she reached the street. How does Master Falsted stand that racket? He acted like this is tame. What must the Market Square in Aulivar be like?

 Imaginations of the City-State filled Josephine with hope. Maybe I’ll find out for myself. She pictured gleaming white stonework buildings towering into the sky and merchants in the latest fashions crying out to wealthy nobles dressed in finery. Horses clopped down cobblestone streets in her mind. Most of all, the air would smell fresh and sweet, like baked goods.

 Josephine skirted around a steaming pile in the dirt road and turned toward her father’s home. I bet there’s no dung laying about in Aulivar, that’s for sure.

 She considered Joram’s offer and tingled. Is that excitement, or fear? I’m not sure.

 Townsfolk raised their right hands in greeting, palms turned inward, whether they had a Gracemark or not. Josephine Marked to a couple Elders who turned aside as if distracted. More than a few busy folk with cold glares in the last three months.

 Josephine brushed off the snub, and her thoughts returned to the last question Joram asked. Am I truly ready for this? Father doesn’t think so, or I would have gone to Glacierift with the Arcanist. Camden Delumiere’s decision to forbid his daughter’s selection did not sit well with the town’s Elders. Many sent sons into the Militia, and the sight of a Gracemarked Soulforged like Josephine in the town raised questions.

 But for Josephine, the memory stoked fires of rage ever since.

 There is nothing left for him to teach me. He said so himself. Her fists clenched and her footfalls turned to stomping. So why can I not do my part? What if they encounter Fractured in the north?

 The twisted creatures came in many forms, but regardless which shape they took, a Fractured always looked like an animal made of liquid shadow. The strength of men faltered when facing one. Swords and shields tripled in weight. Armor became an overwhelming burden, making it impossible to move. Even an Arcanist’s Refocusing magic acted strange around Fractured.

 A verse of Tsadek’s oaths echoed in Josephine’s mind. Soulforged blessed with Just One’s might, called to stand against the Night. Only the holy warriors of Tsadek the Aspect of Justice could stand unencumbered by a Fractured’s power. Soulforged were forever sought after, and every settlement housed at least one. Until four years ago, Camden was Northridge’s sole protector against the Night.

 Josephine frowned as she approached the gates of her father’s home. You’re not the only one, now, Dad. Deal with it. Give me an opportunity.

 Soft whimpering from the side of the house broke Josephine out of her thoughts. Her right hand reached by instinct for a hammer at her hip that was not there. She jogged around the corner and gasped.

 A dirty brown figure racked by sobbing slumped against the house. Lyllithe! Josephine froze, taking in the scene. “Light, girl, did you roll in the mud with the pigs?”

 Lines of pale skin shone in the sunlight where tears carved through the caked mud on Lyllithe’s face. Her shirt hung too loose over her slender frame, exposing more flesh. The gentle glow of Lyllithe’s double Gracemark barely shone through the dirt on her hand. She looked up at Josephine and opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.

 Was this one of those blasted Devoted from Lyllithe’s class? Some practical joke gone too far? Everyone knew the Ghostskin was the butt of half the pranks in Northridge.

 Josephine knelt down, furious. “What happened to you? What God-scarred son of a Kem did this?”

 Something smelled wrong. Metallic. Pungent.

 Josephine looked at her palm.

 This isn’t dirt.

 She fell backwards and grunted when she hit the ground. Her voice croaked. “Lyl… what… whose blood…”

 Horn blasts erupted from the Woodwall around the town. One cut short. Then another.

 We’re under attack? The bandits never assault the Wall.

 Josephine scrambled to her feet. “Stay here, Lyl. I need to fetch my hammer.” She spoke an oath to Tsadek. “Give me strength to stand. There’s killing to be done.”

 Behind her, Lyllithe groaned.

      * * * * *

 A war of emotion raged in Lyllithe’s mind.

 Just tell her. You have to warn her, warn all of them of what you did, what Jek said.

 If they find out, I’m finished as a Devoted.

 You already are.

 I never asked for this.

 Really? Then why play with magic? Why didn’t you simply burn Davon’s book?

 Lyllithe had no answer, at least none that would drive away the crushing burden of guilt. She hunched over on her knees, her abdomen tight from strained breaths and weeping. Her hands shook and she placed them on the ground for stability. In the distance, the horns ceased. Shouts echoed, but Lyllithe couldn’t make out words.

 I knew better, but I wanted this so badly. What have I done?

 Knowledge has a limit. Dominating one’s nature is superior. The inscription on Davon’s book. Her eyes opened, and she saw the soft blue glow of her Gracemark shining through the cracked dry blood on her hand.

 I have not been forsaken. I am not abandoned or Scarred. I can and will control myself.

 Lyllithe sucked in a deep breath and focused on the Strength side of her Mark. Light send me strength, because I’m going to fix this.

 She rose to her feet and looked for energy in the air. Wavy lines of aera intertwined and turned on each breeze. Lyllithe Bound some and twisted it into aqua. A small cloudless shower poured down on her as she walked toward the Square and the town’s gates. The blood and grime streamed down her arms and legs, revealing shining white skin once more.

 A voice inside her mind whispered, Guilt doesn’t wash away so easily.

      * * * * *

 Josephine hustled up the steps to the guards’ platform halfway up the Woodwall. Camden stood there with three Elders, their voices low. Josephine ignored a bloody, lifeless hand hanging off the wooden ledge above, where the townsfolk on duty patrolled. Another body lay in the dirt below, with an arrow through his neck. Tolam, the baker’s brother.

 Grieve later. First we avenge this. She drew her hammer from its belt loop and adjusted the straps on her shield.

 Raucous voices hollered and sang beyond the Wall. Josephine could only make out snippets of the lyrics.

 …What’ll I do once me purse is full?

Break her legs and crush her skull! 

 An’ when an Arcanist looks me way

 To set me bones on fire,

 I know right what Kal would say,

 In a fight so dire:

 I’ll cut ‘is gut in night or day

 An’ send ‘is corpse to the Friar!

 Cheers and whoops punctuated each stanza, and the bandits began another. In this verse, the victim was a Dunnestani merchant out of Aelwyn. Josephine blushed at the indignities the bandits promised, and turned to listen to her father.

 “Most of the bandits stand on the other side of the gate,” Camden told the Elders. “Obviously they have archers in positions in the trees or on high terrain. Our men on the other side of the Wall took arrows as well, though they lived to find cover.”

 Josephine considered the Elders. First, there was Master Varonaulis, the leader of the Council. The pudgy man’s eyes darted all about, and his breath came out in nervous gasps. His puffy hands gripped the railing of the guard platform. He’ll bend like a first-year sapling if it saves his hide. Next, Gammin, whose son now ran the Folly. Scrappy and strong-willed. He won’t stand for this. And Marten, the Eldest from the Abbey. Lyl’s dad. With everything he’s lost to these bandits of Kal’s, surely he won’t give in.

 Even if he can’t fight to save his own life.

 The townsfolk clustered together near the platform, most eyes fixed on Master Varonaulis. Whispers and murmurs reached Josephine’s ears, and she looked at the councilman. Sweat beaded on his brow, though he often dabbed it with a handkerchief. Josephine imagined she heard his heart pounding like a war drum beneath his rich coat.

 At least I hope I’m imagining that.

 Camden lay a reassuring hand on the councilman’s shoulder, who jolted at the touch. “Balfour, what would you have us do?”

 “I—well, I think we must, ahh…” He patted his brow again, and his eyes darted to Marten. “I think we must give them what they demand, and hope they are satisfied with that.”

 Making demands of the village? Josephine frowned. That’s new. What do we have to offer that they couldn’t take from travelers and merchants on the road?

 Marten moved to speak, but Camden raised a hand. “I cannot abandon one of our own to torture and death, Councilman.”

 Varonaulis looked down. “She’s not really one of our own, though, is she?”

 Marten and Camden both erupted into shouts, and Varonaulis raised his hands as if expecting a physical attack.

 A booming voice rang out from the other side of the Wall. “You had time to think it over. Bring out your Arcanist and we go away.”

 What? Northridge doesn’t have an Arcanist.

 Varonaulis whispered, “We can’t stand against so many. It’s for the best.”

 “You got enough trouble to worry you, putting out fires,” the bandit yelled. “Open up the gates. Give us that Ghostskin, an’ we’ll give you peace.”

 Lyllithe…

 A flash of white caught Josephine’s eye. Wet and clean, Lyllithe strode into the Square and made her way toward the crowd as if summoned.

 Many hard faces with narrowed eyes turned toward her.

 But not Gammin’s. “Fires?” He turned to Camden. “What fires?”

 Flaming arrows whooshed overhead, landing in thatched roofs and wooden walls. Three struck the whitewashed wood of the Abbey.

 Camden dashed down the stairs and yelled to the townsfolk. “Women to the well, with buckets. Swiftly! Keep the fires at bay. Once they’re out, seek shelter. Any who will stand and fight, come to me.” Then he turned to Lyllithe’s father. “Get your Devoted ready to tend the wounded. And Gammin, send some lads for weapons.”

 Varonaulis sputtered, opening and closing his mouth and raising a finger seeking attention no one paid him. Finally he spit out a question. “Delumiere, what are you going to do?”

 Camden smiled as he strapped on his shield. “Just what you suggested, Councilman.”

 His hand closed around the haft of his warhammer, and it shone with sudden light like it held the sun within. “We’ll give them what they demand.”

 A second wave of fiery arrows pelted the town.

 Camden turned and shouted for the bandits to hear. “Prepare to open up the gates!”

 

      * * * * *

 Lyllithe twisted more aera into water to put out flames. The light of fires and the setting sun cast orange and red hues over all of Northridge. In between plumes of smoke, stars began to twinkle in the twilight. Near the gates, the men of Northridge gathered their weapons and prepared for a fight. A few women joined their ranks. There’s Jo, right at the front.

 Doubts filled Lyllithe’s mind. You should be in the Abbey. They will need healers.

 I don’t even know if I can still heal. And I’m in no rush to find out.

 How devoted you are.

 She Refocused more air into water. Fires sputtered and went out. I can do more here.

 Haven’t you already done enough?

 Another volley of flaming arrows struck the town. One woman with an arrow in her side screamed and fell thrashing as her dress caught on fire. Anetta. Stam’s niece.

 This is your fault.

 I know.

 Lyllithe turned away from a burning building and loosed aqua on the woman. The flames went out. Lyllithe jogged over, extending a hand, ignoring the stench of burnt hair.

 Anetta scrambled backwards like a crab, wincing in pain before rising to her feet.

 I saved you. Why are you so afraid of me?

 The doubts broke in again. How many will die tonight as the cost of your dreams?

 Not that one, Lyllithe answered. But she watched as Anetta ran away.

 Lyllithe turned back to Loose more aqua onto the new set of fires sprouting up. And she told herself it was the smoke that made her eyes water.

      * * * * *

 

 Josephine shifted from one foot to the other, ready to sprint into battle as soon as the gates swung wide.

 On the other side, the bandits hollered and taunted the townsfolk. “You’re outta time,” one yelled into the darkening dusk. “We’re coming in if you don’t turn her over now.”

 Camden stood beside Josephine, calm and immovable, the Light-Shield of the stories Davon and others told. “Patience, Jo. Be steadfast. The river’s strength breaks on the rocks. Stones don’t charge into the nearest stream.”

 Josephine sniffed. “Water wears the stones down until nothing is left.”

 “Perhaps. But only over a long time. And this ends tonight.” Camden shrugged and grinned. “We’ve got no place to go. Nowhere to be but here.”

 Josephine returned the grin. “Soulforged blessed with Just One’s might,” she recited.

 “Together we’ll outlast the night,” Camden said.

 Dad, you can’t change the oaths whenever you please. But that word together brought a smile. I am ready for this. He knows it. A more important realization came. He trusts me.

 Camden raised his hammer to the men at the Woodwall. “Steel your hearts for battle, and open the gates!”

 They shoved at cranks that turned gears and pushed the tall doors open. The defenders formed up, spears and swords at the ready along with pitchforks and staves.

 Warcries erupted from the other side. Something roared in the twilight.

 “Open only one quarter.” Camden said. “Create a chokepoint against a charge.”

 The men around him shifted and stared—at him, at each other, at the night beyond the widening gap between the gates. Josephine saw hesitation and confusion on several faces.

 “Farmhands and herdsmen, Dad,” she said. “This isn’t a star of Lightsworn soldiers defending the City’s walls.”

 Camden nodded and turned to the men of Northridge. “They’ll be forced to enter one or two at a time. Guard each other, and you’ll get through this night with stories to tell your children. I will not say ‘Do not fear.’ Fear if you must, but do so for your women and children huddled in your homes. And let that fear drive you to seize greatness, as many noble men have done before you.”

 The Light-Shield spun and pointed at the gap in the gate. “Let them come!”

 A massive hand punched between the widening doors, and they shuddered. What was that? Black claws dug into the tree trunks which made up the left gate, and wood splintered. Another hand grasped the top of the left gate. That’s the height of two men.

 The townsfolk murmured and stirred. Ranks drifted apart and men shuffled back.

 Something bellowed, and the left gate flew up into the air to crash in the distant forest. A mountain of muscle in a vaguely humanoid form stomped into the town on cloven hooves, orange flames reflecting in the huge curved black horns sprouting from its head. Glowing yellow eyes in the creature’s skull-like visage scanned the defenses and settled on Camden. Bandits rushed in on either side and attacked the stunned defenders.

 “Dad, what is that?”

 Camden frowned. “A Kem’neth, a Cursebearer—a Scarred man empowered and corrupted by one of the Daemons into a champion of war.”

 The creature’s lofty gaze took in the meager opposition. Obsidian claws gleamed as it flexed its fingers. It snorted and made some rumbling sounds like coughing.

 Josephine stood frozen in place. “And what is it doing?”

 “Laughing at us.”

Diffraction Chapter Seven: Playing with Fire

In preparation for publishing, I’ve been posting chapters from my fantasy novel, Diffraction. They’re also available on WattPad here

————

Peace extended unto all, no matter friend or foe.

    A soft breeze plucked the scent from hillside wildflowers and wafted down the gentle slope into the trees. At the edge of a clearing, leaves rustled and long grass waved around Lyllithe’s shins. Today she wore plain brown linen pants and a thin cotton shirt that left her arms exposed under a worn leather vest emblazoned front and back with the Sun emblem of Aulis, the Divine Aspect of Light. 
    You never know when you might be called upon as a Devoted, Marten often taught. Your powers are a gift. It would be shameful and selfish to hide them.
    Lyllithe frowned at the mental lecture. Yes, Father, like how we cower in the Abbey’s safety instead of facing evil in the real world.
    Once again, she surveyed her surroundings, reveling in the beauty. Her father loved to warn against entering the forest and mountains beyond the Woodwall. Plagued by bandits, they say. But there are worse creatures than greedy Scarred men. Lyllithe could hear him scoff in her mind. You might find a pack of Shade-wrought to devour your soul in darkness. Or even some of the Kem, granted power through the curse of the Daemons.
    Lyllithe glanced about the clearing. Butterflies flitted around a cluster of Elith-Eyes in bloom. That speech worked when I was five summers old. 
    No one had seen any Kem around Northridge in her lifetime. And although rumors from other parts of the Bordermarches spoke of increased Shade sightings, even old Stam admitted he’d never heard of one in the area.
    No, Father, it’s the Scarred men I worry about. Men who could have been noble, who bore Gracemarks once, but forsook their Aspects and the teachings of their faith. A Shade was a twisted creature, but that was its nature. A man with a Scar was corrupted by choice.
    She glanced down at the glowing symbol on her right hand. Three months dabbling in the Arcane, and I still fear I might wake up Scarred one day. Surely it would have happened by now, if magic truly meant abandoning the Light.
    The cool wind struck her pale glistening skin and tempered the strength of noon’s sun. She took a deep breath, then sighed. This isn’t why you’re out here, fool girl. 
    The stump of a fallen tree stuck out of the ground a dozen paces away. She stared at it as if expecting it to spring to life. 
    “Do not see by the light,” she recited, picturing the pages of the book Davon gave her three months ago. “See Light itself.”
    The air seemed to shimmer. Lyllithe saw rainbow strands pulsating, stretching down like an intricate web from the sky. She exerted her will on several near the stump, drawing the energy into herself. That side of the clearing dimmed for a moment. Refocus the energy. Take it, twist it, turn it, throw it.
    Power coursed through Lyllithe’s nerves. Her body trembled at first, then shook. Like fingers held too close to a flame, the initial comforting warmth shifted into pain which soon became unbearable.
    She chose flagros—fire—and squinted at the stump. A jet of flame appeared in the air before her. It streaked across the path of her vision and struck the wood with a thunderclap, shattering the stump into splinters. The brightness returned, revealing a jagged crater of wood. Smoking fragments rained down around the clearing.
    Lyllithe grinned and rocked on her heels. I can Bind an element, change it to another, and Loose it. She practiced thinking in proper terms the Arcanists used. 
She watched the strands of fire vanish. Nice to get something good out of my elemental heritage for a change. Pureblood humans like Davon could not Bind without the use of an Ocular, but Lyllithe needed no aid to see the elemental energies available all around her. 

Maybe being a half-blood Ghostskin isn’t entirely bad.

    She analyzed her attempt, and remembered the pain. “What is Bound must be Loosed,” Davon’s book stated. Binding could only be held for short periods before the user had to release it. You can only hold one Binding at a time, and that not for long. Seems rather limiting.
    Lyllithe paced around the smoking stump, assessing the damage. Davon seemed to think Binding light would be easy for me. Now what can I create when I Loose it? 
    The breeze picked up, and Lyllithe blinked to clear her vision from the strands of light. She looked for air next, and faint swirls of aera like unwound yarn appeared around her, shifting gently. She reached out with her mind, imagining plunging her fingers into the jumble. Her mental grasp closed around a handful of the transparent yarn, and she tugged. 
    Take it, twist it. A pleasant sensation filled her for a few seconds before growing more violent. She shuddered from phantom pinpricks all over her skin. Then it seemed her veins pumped acid that would burst out if not released. Turn it. Refocus it into lux. You can do this.
    Every Arcanist had an affinity for one element above all others. Drawing on the energy of that element was considered the easiest task, ideal for beginners. The book stated that converting other elements into one’s affinity is for those with greater skill and experience. 
    I do love a challenge. 
    She gritted her teeth and struggled to create light, pushing with all her will. But it felt like trying to jam mismatched puzzle pieces together.
    The strain overwhelmed her, and she lost control. A brief spray of water burst over the clearing, centered above Lyllithe’s head. She gasped at the sudden chill. The aera shifted into aqua, its natural complementary element. Droplets sizzled when they hit the smoking ruin of the tree stump.
    I can get this to work. 
    She grabbed more of the invisible yarn of air, twisting gently at first, then building up in force. Wind seemed to rush into the space in front of her, ruffling her clothes and hair. She wrung the strands together with one final effort. A ball of light appeared in her hands.
    Lyllithe laughed despite the growing pain of Bound energy. Throw it!
    She thrust her hands up into the sky. An almost invisible sphere flew into the air. Trees and clouds shimmered as it passed. When it reached its peak, the light around the ball rushed into the center, creating a glimmer in the middle of a translucent globe of shade. In a heartbeat, the compressed light exploded. A wave of force rippled out from the blast. 
    Like a star, bursting in the night sky.
    Lyllithe repeated the process three more times, sending starbursts up into the air, each one bigger than the last. On the fourth attempt, she reached out for more aera, and— 
     What is that?
    Somewhere, what she could only describe as in the distance in her mind, there was a sensation of something other. A deep power, vast and unmoving. All elements flow in some way, but this is stationary. Stagnant. 
    She tried to focus her mind on it, but a wave of nausea struck her and the feeling dissipated. When she turned her attention back to the aera, the sensation of unknown power returned. Like seeing something out the corner of my eye. 
    Her first instinct was to call it darkness. But Davon clearly stated that darkness didn’t actually exist; it was merely absence of light.
    This exists. This is a thing. 
    And yet it felt like a void, a great heavy mass of emptiness. So much power there.
    She reached out to take hold, careful to avoid direct focus on the mysterious source. Her mind brushed the surface—
    Lyllithe screamed and thrashed on the ground. Her body ached, like claws scratched within her chest out into every extremity, tearing flesh along the way. She rolled over and vomited into the grass. 
    Oh, Light, what… what was that?
    Her weak, shaking muscles pushed against the dirt. She struggled to an upright position, supported by one knee. There are clearly some things for which I need guidance. 
    A branch snapped near the edge of the treeline, and Lyllithe froze. Distant voices carried on the breeze met her ears. 
    “Over this way, I’m sure of it.” A man’s voice, gruff, yet eager. 
    “You’re wasting time, Jek.” Another male, with an air of authority.
    “I tell you true, ’twas a woman that yelled,” Jek said. 
    More branches rustled. They’re getting closer. Lyllithe looked about for cover. I’m in the middle of a clearing. Where am I supposed to hide?
    The second man laughed. “You been in the woods too long, Jek. Go pay a visit to the hired girls in the Outskirts—maybe you’ll think clearer.” 
    “You saw it, Maz,” Jek said. “Heard it too. Those balls of shadow blowin’ up in the air.”
    Lyllithe scrambled away from the ruined stump. She reached the edge of the clearing opposite from the voices and dove into the thick grass near the trees.
    “If your woman-voice made those,” Maz said, “maybe we don’t want to meet her.”
    Jek laughed. “But killin’ an Arcanist is so much fun.”
    Between swaying blades of grass, Lyllithe watched two men step into the light. Jek, the laughing man, looked short but stocky, with arms and legs thick and hard like the trees he appeared from. His unkempt shock of brown hair extended into a coarse beard that hung halfway down his chest. Jek’s chainmail vest clinked with each step, and his right hand wrapped tight around the haft of a spiked hammer. 
    Maz had a slender frame draped in a cloak of furs. Black hair hung down to his eyebrows, and the stubble on his face was peppered with grey. Chainmail peeked out from beneath a leather jerkin, and two sheathed long knives hung off his belt.
    He put a boot onto the remains of the stump. “Lookit that.”
    Jek glanced at Maz, and his smile faded. His eyes darted around the clearing. “Why’s everything wet?”
    Maz shrugged and grabbed one of his knives. Sunlight revealed a rough scar like an inverted parasol on the back on his hand.
    Lyllithe choked down fear. He was a Soulforged once.
    Maz snapped a finger to get Jek’s attention and pointed at the ground.
    Jek nodded and drew close.
    Lyllithe made out the whisper. Footprints.
    The men took slow, quiet steps, approaching the treeline where Lyllithe hid.
    Panic struck. She watched their movements, desperate. I can’t use Refocusing on them. The Abbey forbids violence. I’ll become impure. Her eyes fixated on Maz’s scar. I could lose my Gracemark, just like him.
    Adrenaline coursed through her. No choice but to run before they get close. She took a slow breath, tensed up, and whispered a prayer. Light save me from my own stupidity.
    A birdcall nearby distracted the men. 
    Lyllithe took her chance. She sprang from the ground and started running, hoping to use the trees for cover.
    Jek shouted and gave chase.
    A whooshing sound made Lyllithe stop short, and one of Maz’s knives pinned her open vest to a tree with a thunk. She strained to get free of the vest, but the angle made it awkward.
    Jek closed the distance within seconds, whooping and waving the hammer at Lyllithe. “Where ya goin’, Ghostskin?” 
    Maz strode through the grass and produced another knife. 
    Lyllithe stopped struggling and glared at the men. “I am the daughter of the Eldest of Northridge, who will not permit—”
    Maz backhanded Lyllithe, a grim sneer on his face. 
    Lights exploded in her head.
    He held his scar before her face. “You see this? Don’t presume to tell me what’s permitted.”
    Light. I need the Light. Lyllithe reached for Divine power through her Gracemark, then stopped. What am I going to do, heal them?
    Jek grinned and grabbed Lyllithe’s throat. “Skin’s so soft, so white.” He set down the hammer and ran his finger across the emblazoned sun on her vest. “Never been with a Devoted.”
    His hot breath stank, and Lyllithe gagged.
    Maz shoved Jek aside. “I’m the Second, Jek. I get first pick of any spoils.”
    Lyllithe gasped for air. Air… aera… maybe I can Refocus. She sought the jumble of invisible yarn she’d seen before, ready to risk impurity to defend herself.
    Her concentration broke when Maz groped her. No… please… 
    Maz laughed and tugged at her shirt. Seams popped. Fabric rent. Tears fell.
    Lyllithe thrashed and clawed at the men, raking at them with her fingernails. Unfazed by her effort, Jek wrenched her arms behind her back and pressed her into the tree with his muscular body. 

    “You’re gonna like this,” Maz whispered as he stroked the point of her left ear.
    Straining against the men’s touch, Lyllithe’s body shook with wasted effort. She closed her eyes. At the edge of her consciousness, she felt the stagnant power from before. I can’t do anything with that. 
    Fingers grasped at her waistline, and fear burned in her chest. 
    Her awareness melted like wax before an inferno.
    A long silence passed.
    Birds started chirping. A gentle breeze blew through the grass. 
    A stench of blood and waste filled the air.
    Lyllithe opened her eyes. She lay on the ground looking up into the sky. The sun had moved almost a full hour.
    Something stirred. A man’s voice spoke, slurring like he’d just woke up. “Mark me,” he whispered in abject fear. “Oh, scarring Mark me. What did you do?” 
Lyllithe sat up and turned toward the sound. Jek, the laughing man.
Blood matted his hair and beard. Pink meaty chunks of flesh splattered and stuck in his chainmail. A severed scarred hand lay nearby. Jek wasn’t laughing anymore. 
    Lyllithe looked down. She remained fully clothed, but soaked with blood. One of Maz’s boots sat at her feet, his calf peeking out from the leather. No sign of his knee or anything above it. She quivered and stared, unblinking.
    “Th-th-the trees,” Jek sputtered. 
    For several paces, every tree bent or fell in a circle toward the bloody center where Maz was scattered in the grass.
    Jek struggled to his feet, pointing his thick shaking finger at Lyllithe. “You killed Maz. You killed Kal’s Second.” He looked around, jaw agape. “What—what kind of Cora-spawn are you, Ghostskin?”
    Teardrops cut lines through the blood on Lyllithe’s face. She looked up at Jek, his visage nearly as white as her own, and managed a whisper. “I don’t know.”
    Jek screamed and bolted, stumbling over broken trees and snapped branches. “Scar me, Kal’s gonna hear about this,” he shouted as he ran.
    Lyllithe remained frozen in place. I’ve killed. Somehow, I’ve murdered a man. The symbol of Aulis on her vest caught her eye. I’ll never be accepted as Devoted.
    Her father’s stern face appeared in her mind. What will he say? There’s no forgiving this. 
    Jek’s voice echoed through the trees. “You’re gonna suffer, Ghostskin.”
    Lyllithe stared down at the blood on her hands. I already am.

Diffraction Chapter Six: An Unexpected Gift

Generosity the seed from which new life may grow.

 Lyllithe stood frozen as the assembly dispersed. The Arcanist is staring at me, coming my way. What does he want with me? What does he know?

 Townsfolk moved in all directions about her like a stream flowing around a stone. Chatter erupted on all sides, but she could not focus on any particular voices. The night swallowed up most of Northridge except for the town square with its blazing bonfire at the center. Even that light seemed to dim while Lyllithe locked eyes with Master Davon Hachi.

 Her initial curiosity about magic turned to panic at the Arcanist’s approach. I need to go. It’s almost time for the Night Watch in the Abbey. I need to light the candles… need to be anywhere but here.

 She strained to move, but her body did not respond. What is going on? Her legs felt sluggish and heavy. She stumbled forward, and felt an unseen weight dragging behind her.

 The Arcanist strode up to Lyllithe, hands clasped behind his back, lips curved in a slight smile. “Good even, Devoted,” he said, reaching up to remove his monocle.

 “And to you, Master,” Lyllithe replied. Tell him you must go, she told herself. Nyalesee is waiting. The bell will toll soon. Go, now.

 Her body still refused her pleas.

 Davon glanced around at the villagers making their way home. “There’s one in every crowd,” he said as if to himself.

 “One what, Master?”

 His gaze turned back to Lyllithe and he smiled. “A dedicated pupil. A true student of the arcane arts. Not like the struggling sort we get at the Hall, the spoiled brats sent by nobles or men of power, only concerned with titles and accolades.”

 His eyes twinkled, and he rocked on his feet. “No, I mean someone who cares, who burns for knowledge.”

 Lyllithe cocked her head. What is he after? He knows I am a Devoted. She dipped her head in respect. “You praise me, thank you. But I am not interested in applying to the Hall, Master.”

 “Really? Don’t lie, dear.” Davon wagged a finger in jest. “I saw your wide eyes with each Refocusing I loosed on the crowd. I daresay you were enthralled.”

 Lyllithe paused, mouth open awaiting a response her mind did not provide.

 Master Hachi raised an eyebrow as if to declare victory.

 “What I mean is that I cannot apply,” Lyllithe said. She lifted her right hand. “I am not merely a Devoted, but also Gracemarked.”

 The Arcanist whistled softly. His eyes fixated on the Mark. Lyllithe noticed the unseen weight was gone.

 “What is this, dear? A double Gracemark?” He extended his fingers and brushed the glowing blue symbol. Lyllithe flinched. “It has been ages since anyone has seen one. I wonder why it wasn’t documented.”

 “Master, you mean this has happened before?” Lyllithe quelled the urgency building in her voice. “Can you tell me what it means?”

 Davon’s attention remained fully on the soft glow. “Some claim this is what happens when Aspects vie for an individual’s devotion. No one can say for certain, for who knows the mind of the Divine? Men study a lifetime to grasp the teachings of just one of the Fourteen.”

 He looked around at the dispersing crowd and raised an eyebrow. “They didn’t tell you? This is of profound interest and import to the Academy, to the Abbey, to the Conclave of Aulivar. Do they not realize the unique treasure they have been granted?”

 “I heard some of the men talk about it,” Lyllithe said. “Just like a Ghostskin, they said. Can’t even get Marked right.”

 Davon patted Lyllithe’s Gracemarked hand. “Don’t let small minds determine your importance, dear.”

 Lyllithe noted an etched silvery brand like an eye on Davon’s hand, the symbol of Knowledge. Is he a scholar of sorts, who works in the Hall instead of the Academy? She took a chance. “Do you have a theory of how one receives a double Gracemark, Master?”

 He smiled and took a deep breath. “Yes, I do, in fact. I believe it is a sign of one who is conflicted between two ideals. Mind you, this is not like some young teen unwilling to live in service to others, filled with selfish desires. No, that child simply fails their Testing.”

 Lyllithe’s head drooped. “I failed five times,” she said. “Is it because I was selfish?”

 Davon brushed a hand on Lyllithe’s shoulder. “No, child, it was not,” he said. “It is because you were torn between thoughts of equal importance: first, to be pure.” He tapped the Light side of her Gracemark, then tapped the Strength side and continued, “yet something tugs at you to be strong enough. Strong enough for what, I wonder?”

 “I wanted to save my mother,” Lyllithe said. “I watched her die.”

 Davon pursed his lips. “Yes, I’d heard some of that from your father. But is that truly where your conflict began?”

 Lyllithe looked about the square. A dozen stragglers carried on quiet conversations or moved about on personal errands. No ears to hear what I’m about to say.

 She turned back to Davon. “No, I suppose it is not. Master Hachi, I have seen the wounded carried swiftly through the woods, their loved ones desperate, hoping for a miracle in the Abbey. And then there are the dead, those brought too late. And I think of the power I feel in the Light. Power I am not permitted to use. And I ask, is there not another way?”

 Davon nodded. “You speak of the Abbey’s strictures of purity, forbidding violence.”

 “Yes,” Lyllithe said. Her voice rose. “If the Light is so scarring powerful, then why not use it to fight?”

 She clamped a hand over her mouth and mumbled an apology. I just swore at an Arcanist. Brilliant.

 Davon patted her shoulder. “I understand more than you know. I once sat in the Abbey of Haven, puzzling over these same thoughts. When the Abbey was destroyed in the sacking of the town, I left my robe to burn in the embers.”

 “And you joined the Hall?”

 He shook his head. “Not at first. They could not accept me, because I could not accept what I had to become.” Davon stretched out his arms, showing the gilt embroidery on the crimson sleeves and the band of gold embedded in his wrist. “A man of violence and war.”

 Lyllithe searched for words to avoid what felt like blasphemy. “Was it—did the teachings of Aulis hold you back?”

 “Precisely. I couldn’t bring myself to wield power against another man.” Davon held up a hand and continued, “But with help, I made a breakthrough. If light has power to give life and protect, then what about the absence of light?”

 He waved at the shadows that engulfed the town. “What if you strip your foe of the light, and turn darkness against him?”

 Lyllithe’s mind raced over possibilities and assumptions. “Is that even possible?”

 “Of course, child. As a Devoted you manipulate the Light of the Divine. As an Arcanist, I handle the flowing energies around us, and what is light if not energy?”

 Davon made dramatic sweeps with his arms as if standing before a crowd. “I twist aqua and terros, aera and flagros… Why not lux?”

 Lyllithe considered it for a moment and shrugged. “I cannot see why not, I suppose.”

 “I admit,” Davon explained, “the magelight we manipulate through Refocusing is more illusory than your source of Divine power. Plants cannot grow by magelight, and it offers no healing properties, no matter how devoted you may be. But it has uses.”

 Davon produced his monocle and held it out toward Lyllithe. “And if I, a mere human, am dependent on these trinkets to see the streams of power available…”

 He thrust a finger at her. “How much more are you capable of, with elemental blood?”

 Lyllithe absently stroked her hair to hide the points of her ears. “I have always viewed my mixed heritage as a curse. I never considered a benefit.” She shook her head. “It would not be right. I cannot—”

 “Why not you?” Davon clasped her right hand. “Your very Gracemark speaks to the strength of the Light. Why not use that strength, use your power over light to prevent harm instead of cure it?”

 Lyllithe stared into Davon’s eyes. “I would like that very much.”

 The Arcanist stepped back with a proud smile. “Yes,” he said. “I saw that hunger. So show me.” He gestured toward the bonfire. “Reach out and take hold of its light.”

 She turned toward the flame and shrugged. “How?”

 “We have a precept among some in the Hall,” Davon said. “‘Knowledge has a limit. Dominating one’s nature is superior.’ Refocusing is more about strength of will and disciplined practice than any sort of arcane secrets one can learn. Yes, I understand how to change aera into flagros. There’s little more to it. But like a swordsman practicing forms, I must learn to do it with ease and precision.”

  “And so must you, if you’d like to understand and take hold of this part of your nature. Stretch out your will. Make the flame do what you desire.”

 Lyllithe watched the fire. Undulating strands of orange waved back and forth, unseen by any of those nearby, she knew. Any save Davon with his Ocular monocle.

 The slow motions enthralled her, and her head rocked gently back and forth. “And what do I desire?”

 “Think about the Light,” Davon said. “You are accustomed to its embrace. This time, push it away. Dim the radiance of the flame.”

 Lyllithe studied the glowing orange strands. She imagined twisting them together into knots. The glow faded to half its original strength.

 “Impressive,” Davon declared.

 Lyllithe gasped. “Is that—am I manipulating darkness?”

 “Tenebrae? No,” Davon said. “Remember this: Magelight and shadowcraft—lux and tenebrae—are not primary elements. They are more complex, the result of other elemental reactions. Light exists to some degree, a Refocused energy over which you can exert control. What you call darkness is a term for the absence of light, the effect of its removal.”

 Lyllithe turned to the Arcanist. “Then what did you mean earlier, about controlling darkness to fight your foes?”

 “No, dear. I said you could control light,” Davon said. “By removing it, dampening it, taking away the strength it gives those who oppose you. Arcanists do not manipulate ‘darkness’ as common folk might understand it. You cannot have shadow without light.”

 His eyes flashed away to the side. “You can’t control what doesn’t exist, of course.”

 Just like when Aramina pretends to compliment me during our lessons. Or when the townsfolk treat me kindly while I stand beside Father. He knows more than he’s letting on.

 Lyllithe nodded and replied, “Of course, Master Hachi.”

 Davon looked up at the stars. “Ah, it’s getting late,” he said. “I’m sure you have duties to attend to. As I recall, you have a place keeping the candles lit in the Abbey.”

 Lyllithe bowed her head. “Yes, thank you.”

 The Arcanist reached into the satchel at his side. “Let me leave you with this gift, child. Something to read by candlelight perhaps when the Light is not yet dawned.” He placed a leatherbound book into her hands.

 Her eyes lit up. “What— what is this?”

 “A tome on the very subject we’ve been speaking about. You’ll find it enlightening, I’m sure. Pardon the jest.”

 Lyllithe flipped the book over and checked the spine. No seal from the Academy? What sort of secret does this contain? The first page bore the message Davon had quoted, each word aligned with the binding.

 She read aloud, “Knowledge has a limit. Dominating one’s nature is superior.”

 “Khaldonis,” Davon whispered, “the name of that particular school of thought.”

 Lyllithe shuddered with a sudden guilt, but shook off the sensation. She pushed the book toward Davon. “I cannot accept. What if my father or some other elder sees a forbidden—”

 Davon chuckled. “Child, the Hall prints what it wishes for those who serve it.”

 “Without Academy review and approval?”

 The Arcanist shrugged. “We have an arrangement. They see enough pages from our scholars to know that our scientific pursuits are safe, proper, and logical. This book is no more forbidden than a hymnal of the Abbey.”

 The peal of a bell rang out. Lyllithe gasped. “Oh! I’m late again. Nyalesee will tan my hide if I don’t hurry.”

 “Run along, then, Devoted.”

 Lyllithe started running toward the Abbey in the distance, then stopped and turned. “You said the Hall prints books for those who serve it. But I am no Arcanist.”

 Davon grinned. “Not yet, child. Not yet.”