Star-Touched Stories Blog Tour and author Q&A!

If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen and Crown of Wishes books, then you know why I’m enamored with her writing. Beautiful, lyrical prose and engrossing tales that leave you begging for more: she is a modern master storyteller. So when I heard that she was coming out with a series of short stories, I was ecstatic. And I was blown away.

About the stories

Star Touched Stories_cover image.jpgDeath and Night

He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.

Poison and Gold

Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Gauri and Vikram’s new reign presents itself, she will have to battle her insecurities and maybe, along the way, find love.

Rose and Sword

There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?

Musings

Each story may be self-contained, but you should read her books in order to fully appreciate them. Death and Night is the prequel for the main characters in The Star-Touched Queen. Poison and Gold is a spin-off at the end of Crown of Wishes, following Aasha. And Rose and Sword is the epilogue of Crown of Wishes, spanning decades in a single story. That last one shattered my heart for all the right reasons, and I feel tears coming on as I think about it again.

I loved the chemistry between Night and Death in the first story. Their courtship was actually really cute, while being worthy of an epic. Seeing how their love blossomed, and how their relationships with their friends affected them even before Star-Touched Queen was a great touch. I think, of the bunch, this is the one story that will fill you with love and hope.

Now that Aasha is living with Guari and Vikram after the events of Crown of Wishes, as they prepare to marry and unite their two kingdoms, she is scared that her powers are out of control. She’s deadly and afraid of her own self. But when she is offered the chance to become their spy mistress, it’s an opportunity to find her place in this human world. I loved her training: it’s my favorite part of fantasy tales, to be honest. Seeing characters faced with seemingly impossible scenarios and then using their skills to get out.

As for the last tales, I won’t spoil a thing. It was the shortest of the lot, but the most passionate. It shows me just how powerful Chokshi’s writing can be, on top of beautiful. I’m in awe!

About the author

ROSHANI CHOKSHI is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes, and Aru Shah and the End of Time. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

A Q&A with Roshana Chokshi

Roshani Chokshi CREDIT Aman Sharma.jpg

What was your favorite bed-time story (or tale in general) when you were growing up?

The one that stands out the most that terrified the living daylights out of me was TAILY-PO, an Appalachian horror story that for some reason is told to small children.

Of all the terrifying and bone-chilling characters in your books, which one scares you the most?

Probably the antagonists of A Crown of Wishes because they’re the result of what happens when you cannot let go.

Out of all the characters in your novels, which one did you have the most fun writing about and who do you relate to the most personally? What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?

In the world of the Star – Touched Queen, I think the one who I related to the most was also the one that I had the most fun writing: Kamala! There’s just something about the demon horse that resonated a lot with me. I think it’s because she does everything that I would do in a fantasy story, which frantically derails the plot and whine to her friends about how hungry she is all the time.

What inspired you to create this fictional world? Were there anyRomo mythologies that particularly inspired you?

I was really inspired by the childhood stories that my grandmother told me. To me, they were so rich with details and texture that it really shocked me how these worlds and mythologies were never explored in mainstream literature. I was particularly inspired by Greek and Hindu mythology.

Why did you feel it was important to add Star-Touched Stories to this world you’ve created? What do you want readers to gain from the stories? Do you think there are any more stories to tell from the Star-Touched world, and if so, who you most like to write about next?

For me, this collection of stories is my farewell to the world that I created. It was extremely cathartic to write these three stories. I want readers to gain a sense of closure. I want readers to feel as much as I did when I with the stories. Who can say whether or not there are more stories left to tell in this world? 😉

Will you miss writing this world and characters?

Absolutely! They lived in my head for so long that I feel strangely weightless to be without them.

What was your favorite scene to write from Star-Touched Stories, and what was your favorite scene to write from the whole series?

Honestly, my favorite scene that I wrote was the last scene the last story. I think you’ll see why. As for my favorite scene that I wrote from the whole series, I think it would have to be the moment when Maya first enters the Night Bazaar.

Is there a scene or character from one of your stories that you’ve had to cut which you really wish you could share with readers?

There once was a speaking monkey character… But I had to let go of him. Maybe he’ll reappear some other time.

How is writing short stories different than writing a full-length book? How different is it to write YA and MG? How has your writing evolved?

Writing short stories is really different from writing a full-length book because you’re ultimately writing to a punchline in a shorter amount of space. There is less space to explore so the language must be very deliberate. I think my writing has evolved to become a lot more character focused than I once was. I still love gorgeous, decadent prose, but I believe that the best kind of language is that which is emotionally filtered through the feelings of a character.

What is the best advice you would give to inspiring writers?

Read often. I realize that sounds trite, but so many people retread the same path with stories out of comfort or nostalgia. I totally understand this and I’m one of those people who loves to reread my favorite books but I never found a sense of my own writing voice or writing style without reading a wide variety of works.

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Smoke and Iron – Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

36595619I’m so excited to announce that I’m the third stop on the Smoke and Iron blog tour! If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m addicted to the Great Library series by Rachel Caine. So I couldn’t believe it when I got picked to be a part of the tour! If you haven’t read my review of Smoke and Iron yet, check it out here.

To celebrate the release, I’ve been given the great honor of showing you an excerpt of a chapter from Wolfe’s point of view! Fans of the series are probably sitting in shock right now – what? We’re not following Jess? Well, in book four we get to explore multiple points of view and it’s amazingly exciting. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see other chapters from other beloved characters!

And at the end, check out the TWO giveaways for a chance to win a signed copy of Smoke and Iron… and the entire series as a whole!

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WOLFE

9_wolfeIt was the smell, in the end, that was the worst of it. Not that the Great Library kept a filthy prison, but the stench of terror and de¬spair was harder to wash away than more organic stains. This facility used stones that had been quarried for similar purposes five thousand years ago, long enough that the walls had been well soaked in pain and horror, and exhaled it constantly.

And he knew the miasma of it so intimately, horribly well.

He could ignore the darkness, the bars, the discomfort. But not the smell. And so, after the bars had closed around him, Christopher Wolfe had gone a little mad. A day of shuddering, flinching, imagining that every noise was a torturer coming for him again. A night when he wouldn’t close his eyes, for fear the past would smother him.

The morning of the second day—which he calculated not by sunrise, which was invisible down here, but by the changing of the guard watch—he had grown more accustomed to the stench of the place, and the darkness and the confinement, or at least he’d mastered his dread of those things a bit. He reminded himself that if he was right, his job here was not to wallow in useless self- pity, but to do something more.

If he was right, of course. If this was some plan that Jess and his miserable twin had conjured up. If this was not simply betrayal, but betrayal to a purpose.

The question then was what he was expected to accomplish, locked up here. Morgan, he could understand. But if this was a plan, by rights one of them should have whispered at least a hint to him before it was too late.

Then why would it profit any scheme—and he sensed Dario San¬tiago’s Machiavellian hand behind it—to send him back to a hell he’d never have agreed to return to? Wolfe had worked hard to keep his trauma silent and secret from the younger members of their little band, but Jess, in particular, had been privy to details. The young man knew at least the edges of that particular knife, if not the terrible wounds it had left.

No way to solve this puzzle without information, he told himself, and concentrated on the one he could solve: the security of this prison.

Here in this passage, he saw more of the dull metallic gleam of moving sphinxes than he did human High Garda. An overdependence upon automation, he thought. The sphinxes could be gotten around. Jess had worked out how. Even Dario had managed it.

Human guards were more difficult, if less lethal. They adapted. The sphinxes at least operated upon a set of rigid orders.

But surely his feckless students hadn’t put him here just to escape; no point in that. No, there was a purpose behind it, just as there was behind putting Morgan back in the Iron Tower.

That was when he heard the murmurs from another cell. He rec¬ognized the words, and they were echoed from other locations—one farther to his right, and one almost directly to his left. Prisoners at morning prayers.

And suddenly, Wolfe knew precisely why he’d been placed here. It started with those prayers but would hardly end there.

He sat cross-legged on his narrow bunk and ran through where, precisely, these prisons were located. They’d not taken the precau¬tion this time of moving him to another city. He was in Alexandria, in the cells buried far beneath the Serapeum. Holding pens for those sentenced to death. Ignore that, Wolfe thought, as he felt a small crack run through his resolve. Just another problem to be solved.

He listened. Sat for the better part of an hour and simply listened, pinpointing coughs, shuffles, rustles, the distant sounds of moans and sobs. This place is full of dissidents. Normally, it would not be; the Li¬brary’s opponents ranged from Burners—who normally killed them¬selves rather than end up here—to smugglers, who were usually killed quickly.

This prison, he realized, had been packed with individuals the Archivist thought might go against him. We did this, he thought. Our small act of rebellion, rescuing Thomas from Rome, echoing across the entire Library system . . . it forced him to tighten his grip, eliminate those who could do him harm. He had no doubt that the individuals jailed near him were Library sworn . . . Scholars, librarians, High Garda soldiers.

The core of the Library, now seen as its enemies. Tyrants turned on their own, in the end; it was the only way to keep power.

The prayers ceased, and Wolfe stood up and went to the bars of his cell. They were heavy, cold iron, and he thought of a thousand ways to break them. All required things he didn’t currently possess, but that had never stopped him for long. “My friend next door,” he said. “Are you by any chance a relative of Khalila Seif?”

There was a moment of silence, and then a guarded reply. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I know her well,” Wolfe said. “And a more brilliant, clever student I’ve never taught. She’s that rare combination of a great mind and an even better heart.”

He heart the release of a breath. It sounded shaken. “That’s my sister,” the man said. “My younger sister. I’m Saleh. She’s well?” The young man—he was young, perhaps a few years older than Khalila—sounded shaken. “She’s not here?”

“Safe I can’t guarantee, but last I saw her, she was well, and far away from here.”

“I pray she stays far away, too.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “My apologies. I’ve given you my name and not asked yours.”

“Christopher Wolfe.”

“The rebel Scholar.” Saleh’s voice had turned brittle. “The one who brought all this on us.”

“Blame can wait. Survival first,” Wolfe said. He had no patience for fools, now or ever; the only thing he’d ever done to deserve the blame was to invent a machine the Library didn’t want. Everything, everything, followed from that. His imprisonment. His release, and erasure from Library records. His penance as lowly instructor. His determination to never allow the Archivist to destroy another bright mind. “Tell me who’s here with us.”

“My father, uncle, and older brother are farther down the row,” Saleh said. “Arrested on suspicion of treason against the Great Library. Which is nonsense, of course. We were arrested to force Khalila to come back.”

“Who else is here?”

“A Scholar Artifex, Marcus Johnson. Le Dinh, Scholar Medica. Captain Ahmed Khan, High Garda. Two or three Scholars from the Literature ranks, one a beloed author whose recent works are considered heretical. A host of librarians, for various crimes including concealment of original works, and Burner sympathies.” Saleh paused to think. “There’s one at the end of this corridor I don’t know. He never speaks. My father tried sign, but there was no response. But that only accounts for this one hallway.”

“How many other High Garda confined in here?”

“Six more. Ahmed’s the only one of significant rank, though.”

Wolfe had forgotten about the bars around him now, the chill in the stones, the evil smell of the place. He found a small chip of stone and used it to begin scratching out a list on the wall. “Start method¬ically,” he said. “Are you at the end of the hallway?”

“No.”

“Then tell me who is next to you.”

When he was done with Saleh, he engaged the woman to his right, Ariane, who’d been listening. She was High Garda and deliv¬ered her account in a crisp, calm voice that he quite liked. It re¬minded him for a terrifying second of Nic, and he had to pause and push that need away. Niccolo is safe, he told himself. And on his way. Your job is to be ready when he arrives.

The word spread slowly down the hall, and passed back to him, as he drew a complete map of the prison hall, with names attached. By the time the meager ration of lunch arrived, he’d memorized the placements and rubbed away the map.

“Eat it, don’t throw it,” advised the High Garda soldier who handed him the tray of food. Meat, bread, cheese, figs, a small por¬tion of sour beer and a larger one of water. “Throw it, you get noth¬ing else today or tomorrow. Doesn’t take long for people to learn the lesson.”

Wolfe glanced up at him and had a second of doubt. Did he know this man? Recognize him? It was possible, but he couldn’t be sure, and the soldier gave no indication at all of knowing him.
“I’ll throw it when I’m tired of the food,” he said.

That got him a bare thread of a smile, and the young man—he was young, nearly as young as Wolfe’s students—tapped fingers to his forehead in a mock salute. “That’s why you’re a Scholar,” he said. “You get right to the bottom of things.”

I do know him, Wolfe thought. He couldn’t place the boy in proper context; surely they wouldn’t put one of Santi’s people on duty here? Unless, of course, there was more going on in Alexandria than he’d previously suspected—eminently possible, considering the shocking number of Scholars and librarians imprisoned. Perhaps the strong¬hold of the Great Library was no longer holding quite as strongly. An interesting theory to chase.

Wolfe ate his food slowly, not to savor its taste—it had little—but because he was involved in assessing the residents of this prison for their potential value in any escape attempt. The Artifex Scholar would certainly be useful. The writers could certainly come up with distractions. He was most concerned about Khalila’s father, who suf¬fered from a delicate heart, which these conditions certainly hadn’t improved.

He was still deep in thought when he scraped the last of the wa¬tery meat from the bottom of the bowl.

There was a message written on it, barely visible now and disap¬pearing fast. It said, Lieutenant Zara sent me.

Wolfe paused, closed his eyes a moment, and took in a deep, slow breath. Brightwell had not, after all, abandoned him here without a word, without a plan. Santi’s lieutenant—not a woman he cared for a great deal, but competent nonetheless—had been alerted to his plight. And knowing Zara, she had plans.

Now he had a messenger, and possibly even an extra ally.

Wolfe used his thumb to scrub the rest of the message from the bowl and put the tray through the slot outside the bars after down¬ing the ale and most of the water, which he desperately needed.

When the young man came back to collect the dishes, Wolfe fi¬nally placed him in his proper context. A lieutenant, one who’d been in charge of the Blue Dogs in Santi’s squad. Troll. His nickname was Troll. A competent young man, and fearless, which would be an as¬set here. Wolfe nodded. Troll glanced down in the bowl, gave that thread-thin smile again, and left without a word.

Wolfe sat back on his bunk and began to methodically catalogue every item in this bare, depressing cell for its usefulness.

Because soon, he’d need every possible asset to find a way out of this.


Smoke and Iron blog tour (1)

Signed Set of The Great Library Giveaway

Signed Smoke and Iron Giveaway

Good luck! Massive thank you to Rachel Caine for not only creating such an amazing series, but for sharing the love with her fans.

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TRAVELER Blog Tour!

Traveler Blog Tour READCOMMENDATIONS

Hello friends! What some of you know, if you’ve been with this blog for a while, is that I’m an author. A scifi author, to be precise! I try to keep my author life and blogger life separate to avoid bias, but today is an exception: I’m a part of the TRAVELER blog tour, and will be telling you more about some of the characters you’ll meet in this third installment of the Starstruck Saga! Are you ready? Here we go!

Summary

38469649Sally’s search for Earth isn’t off to a good start: chased out of her hotel room and into the broom closet of a spaceship, she’s accidentally become a stowaway on the Alliance Flagship, Traveler.

But when sabotage and murder show the crew’s true colors, Zander and Blayde are forced to stay and help them out of their mess. Lies, drama, and deceit lead them light years away to a mysterious planet on the edge of the galaxy, where the crew must band together just to stay alive. Which would be much easier if they didn’t have to deal with a diva first-mate, a droid with a religious obsession, and Blayde’s Ex whose brain is a spaceship.

Finding Earth has to be put on the back burner, as Sally’s stuck tending alien boo-boos – and she still has no idea what she’s doing. And she might live long enough to get off the planet in one piece.

Sally, Zander, and Blayde are on a spaceship in this book. And not just any ship: the eponymous Traveler, the flagship of the Alliance fleet, gem of the stars. It’s also where the Alliance films its greatest victories. A camera crew follows the crew night and day, showing the viewers back home the true story of how glorious war can be. That is, if it isn’t all scripted, of course…

Adventures of the Traveler Promo

Let’s meet the crew!

Traveler Character Cards KorkMeet the Planetary Alliance’s greatest asset, the defeater of the Hillons, protector of justice and our most basic rights, a true hero, Captain James T. Kork. Fifteen years ago, he was the sole survivor of the Battle of the Pluveht. Attacked by pirates, last alive and sure to die, he sent his ship straight into the belly of the enemy, thus accomplishing his mission and upholding the standards of the Alliance with what would have been his dying breath. After being pulled from the wreckage, he was awarded the grade of Commander and quickly rose to the ranks of Captain. He has been part of the Traveler Crew for fourteen years, seven of them as captain. Ladies, he’s single!

 

Traveler Character Cards Crandle

Lieutenant Crandle has been Captain Kork’s loyal first mate for as long as he has been captain. Though she hadn’t always been destined for a life of galactic adventure: you may know her better as superstar of the holofilms “Warped Woman” and “Stars Align.” After her father was killed in a brutal attack by the vile Consortium, Crandle quickly dropped her life as an actress and immediately enlisted in the fleet. Traveler has been her first and only assignment, where she has served for over two decades. Her initial training was as an exolinguist, but she proved to be a reliable asset on away missions as muscle as well. Beneath her composed exterior lies a core of strength and determination. Consortium enemies, beware!

Traveler Character Cards Doesso

Ensign Cara Doesso is a rising star in the Alliance. With only five years of service under her belt, she is already responsible for unraveling over 350 different languages and dialects, which have been added to our translators as a result of her diligence. Her work with base linguistics has enabled her to grow the code used in modern translator work. Thanks to her, new allies have been brought into the Alliance and new treaties are being signed daily. Many have compared her to a younger version of the great Crandle herself: Look out, lieutenant, someone’s gunning for your job!

 

Artwork created by Emily Anderson. 

Traveler comes out new Friday, April 27th. Preorder now!

 

A Dangerous Game BLOG TOUR

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Have you read the outstanding UNTAMED series by Madeline Dyer? I discovered the first book back in summer 2016 and instantly fell in love. It was followed quickly by FRAGMENTED and DIVIDED, both even better than the last. The author’s most recent release is set in the same world, but takes place before the first book: and follows a different POV character, Keelie.

Today, as part of the blog tour, I’m sharing the prologue with you! Enjoy!

Summary

34035695LOVE WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE EASY…

All her life, Keelie Lin-Sykes has known what she wants: to protect her brother and sisters by killing as many of the soulless Enhanced Ones as she can. Oh, and to have fun while she’s doing it. After all, hiding in a secret Untamed community, while the group’s Seer warns them of danger, shouldn’t mean that life can only be serious, right?

But, when a face from her past suddenly–and secretly–shows up, Keelie’s catapulted back into the very world she’s been trying to escape from for the last ten years: a world full of guilt, lies, and…love. And the deeper Keelie gets into this world, the bigger the risks become.

Now, Keelie must deceive those she values most in order to protect them, even though her actions will destroy everything she knows and haunt her family forever. But she can’t ignore her feelings–not again. And Keelie will do anything to be with the man she loves.


TEN YEARS EARLIER

 

First, I hear them in my dreams.

Long, drawn-out screams. Screams that grab and burn, like fire; sounds that never let go. Sounds that—

“Keelie!”

I open my eyes, heart pounding, and see a figure looming over me. My father—short, red-faced, worried. He grabs my arm, pulls me up. The screams continue, still scorching me.

For a moment, I think it’s the Turning. That it’s the spirits screaming, that they’re reverting to their most dangerous of temperaments, and it’s a good job we’re inside, else they’ll kill us. But then I realize. The screams are human. They’re us.

“Keelie! Come on—we’ve got to go, got to leave. Now.” My father hands me several layers of clothes. “Pack everything quickly. Like we practiced.”

Behind him, my mother’s shoving everything she can get her hands on into the only suitcase we have. Her hands move so fast. “Owen, get the weapons!” she yells.

Nearby, there’s sharp movement—hands and arms reaching for things. Heavy, quick breathing. Bea, my older sister, scoops the baby out of the cot, holds Mila close to her chest just as the infant starts crying. I see the look on Bea’s face—how she’s trying to stay in control and not panic.

My body jolts; it’s happening. Actually happening.

They’re out there.

They’re coming for us.

Outside, someone shouts. I think it’s Red’s voice, but I’m not sure—it’s distorted by the heavy clog of the engines, the shouts, the screams.

A thousand emotions drive through my body, clash with each other, start to do battle. I know I should be afraid—the fear should be palpable—but I’m not. My body hums with energy. This is it.

I fight to stop a smile erupting across my face. There are times and places when smiling is appropriate. This is not one of them.

An engine rumbles outside, and then my father’s crossing the hut. Clanking sounds follow, and I know he’s getting the knives.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Bea whispers to Mila. But the baby can’t understand, and we all know Bea’s saying it to herself. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

I pull on clothes—a shirt, a hoody, an outer coat, and dark jeans—straight over my pajamas, then find my shoes, put them on. Then I grab my rucksack, start stuffing things inside. My blanket, spare shoes, a book. A second passes, then I grab my teddy bear—even though I know I’m too old for him now.

I fold Bea’s blanket hastily and stuff it into the top of my bag.

“Keelie, take these.” My mother thrusts several items into my arms: a compass, a pack of energy bars, water purification tablets, a tub of Vaseline, a bottle of insect repellent, and some antiseptic cream. “Put them in your bag; we’ve got no room in ours. And be quick. Bea, Mila’s food is in Gwen’s hut. Grab what you can, and then go—we’ll meet you in the woods, by Eighth Branch. Get Mila away before she starts crying. And where’s Elf?” She turns away, her face red with the heat, and flaps her hands around her head for a moment.

“Here.” The curtain to my right moves, and then my brother’s in front of me, reaching for the bottles of water, just as our father hands them to him.

Bea heads out of the hut, her arms wrapped tightly around our baby sister. An empty tote bag hangs from her shoulder.

“Be careful!” I call after her, but I don’t know if my words are loud enough, and I wonder if that’s the last time I’ll see my sisters. My heart clenches.

No, stop it.

I need to stay calm. Gwen’s hut isn’t far. It’s the nearest one to ours, and a lot of Mila’s things are in there because Gwen looks after the baby when my mother’s hunting and Bea’s gathering.

Heart thudding, I squash the new items into the rucksack, realize they won’t all fit, and pull the teddy bear back out, place him on my bed.

“Hurry up,” Caia-Lu whispers. I look up, see her old, gaunt face. “We have to go now. They’re getting closer to this hut.”

“Keelie—keep packing!” my mother shouts at me, her words fraught. And then she’s yelling more and more stuff, but her words are too loud, and I can’t make them out. I stare at her hands, the way they move next to her head. She spins around a couple of times, like she doesn’t know where to go next.

“We haven’t got time!” Caia-Lu grabs the Watcher Doll from the table and squeezes it hard between her palms as if the red paint on it will imprint onto her skin if she holds it tightly enough.

She’s calling upon the spirits to help us, even though she’s not an active Seer right now—she doesn’t get called to the Dream Land or given Seeing dreams put together by good spirits and the Gods and Goddesses. I pray that the spirits will still help, because we’re Untamed, but I know that’s no guarantee. They’re mostly on our side, but they still ripped my uncle to shreds and then altered time so that the scene played over and over for hours and hours. Some of them just want to torment everyone—whether they’re Enhanced or not.

The cries outside get louder. The screams.

“We have to go now!” Caia-Lu yells, and then she’s gone, and the Watcher Doll’s gone too.

I start to go, to follow her. Wisps of early morning light peak through the window, and I freeze as I see the shapes and—

“Keelie! Pack that stuff, grab the other bag—the one under there, yes. Elf, give me a hand with this.”

I shake as I reach for the next bag—as I realize this is real. Very real. Outside, I hear voices, close to our hut. Caia-Lu’s and Gregory’s.

“Where’s the torch?” Elf barges past me, then grabs it from the side counter, spilling a bowl of dried leaves.

“No—don’t turn it on,” my mother hisses. “They could be right out there. Keelie, look from the doorway. See if Ramna and Sara are ready to go. Be careful. Don’t go outside, not without me.”

I follow my mother’s words, and, a second later, I stand in the doorway, holding back the heavy curtain with my arm. It’s lighter outside than in our hut—there’s a full moon along with the dawn light, but it mainly illuminates the mist—and it takes my eyes several seconds to adjust.

Caia-Lu stands by Gwen’s hut, ten yards from me, her head in her hands. She turns slowly, lifting her face, and, despite the haze, I see the haunted look in her eyes.

“Run, child. Running is the only way out,” she shouts.

My chest tightens. I scan the rest of the area, but I can’t see far because of the early morning fog billowing out of the semi-darkness. There’s another hut behind Gwen’s—Nina’s—but I can’t even see its shape. Nor can I see my aunts, Ramna and Sara. But I wouldn’t from here. Their hut is on the other side of the village and—

A scream sends chills through my body.

Bea.

“Keelie! No!”

My mother tries to grab hold of me, but I’m too quick. I move into the half-darkness—toward the Enhanced, are they here now?—and I run, run toward the scream, toward Bea.

Footsteps pound behind me, and energy resounds through my whole body.

“That way!” Red yells, emerging from the dark, the mist, and he grabs my hand tightly, pulls me to the left.

I skid and slam into him, my best friend. We nearly lose our balance, but somehow we slip on the mud, and our weight propels us to the side. I grip his hand tighter, run faster, my eyes blinking furiously, trying to see ahead.

The trees are there; I can make out their outline. And—

And I see them.

Bea and—and the woman.

Red and I falter, stop. I feel his body jolt, and then he squeezes my hand, hard. He’s shaking.

They’re here. The Enhanced are here.

We’re too late.

Caia-Lu told you to run!

Bea’s crying, trying to cover her ears and hold the baby at the same time, while she rocks on the balls of her feet. She shakes her head over and over again. Mila starts wailing, and Bea trembles, then tries to make herself smaller, crouches down. I see her eyes shut as she nestles the baby into her lap, then she moves one hand up, covers her left ear.

“It’s all right, dear,” the woman says, reaching down to Bea with a long-fingered hand.

“No! Don’t touch her,” I yell. She doesn’t like being touched by strangers.

The woman turns to me—mirror eyes taunting—and I gulp. She takes a step toward me. And I’m sure she’s going to kill one of us. Me? Bea? Red?

But no, everything I know about them tells me that’s wrong. The Enhanced Ones don’t kill us. They’re not violent people, not murderers—that’s what they say. Any deaths in conversion attacks are accidents because the Enhanced Ones are programmed to want to save us all.

Yet, whether intentionally violent or not, they are still armed. And I don’t believe Dad when he says their guns are only for sport. They’re going to use them on us, sooner or later.

“It’s all right, children,” the woman says. “Don’t be scared. I’ve come to save you, my dears. We Chosen Ones will save you all.” She smiles brightly and looks toward Bea. “There, there. Don’t cry, my darlings. You too can live your lives free from negativities.”

Red lets go of my hand and steps toward Bea and the woman. “Bea! Come over here, now.”

But Bea isn’t looking at Red, and I don’t think she hears his words. She’s overstimulated; everything will be an overwhelming blur to her.

I dart forward. Mud splatters over my legs, cold and thick and clammy on my jeans, like it’s trying to draw me back, stop me going.

“Good girl,” the Enhanced woman whispers as I run at them. I don’t know how I hear her words—I just do—and she reaches for me.

I duck under her arm as I enter her thick cloud of perfume, nearly gagging. My eyes water.

“Bea!” I hesitate, know that I need to grab her. But she doesn’t like being touched a lot of the time, even if she knows the person. “Bea! Come on!”

I look around, and then the woman’s reaching toward me, and I ignore the voice in my head and pull Bea up. My sister’s arms are locked around Mila, and Bea stares at me for a moment. I push her to my left as hard as I can, and we’re moving, my two sisters in front of me.

“Red—” I turn, but I can’t see him. “Bea, run!” I shout, but my voice is strained, and it’s suddenly got darker—clouds over the moon and—

Warm fingers close around my wrist.

I twist, see myself reflected in the Enhanced One’s eyes, see myself captured.

For a second, I freeze. Then I spring into action. I slam my fist into the woman’s face, kick out at the same time, turning so I can throw off her center of gravity. But she’s strong—too strong—and her grip doesn’t weaken. If anything it gets stronger. She pulls me closer, and I turn again, kicking out, adrenaline pumping through me.

Her arm snaps around my body, like a lock. And—

“Let us save you!”

Suddenly, there are more. More people, more mirror eyes. I scream at them, try to frighten them, even though I know it’s impossible—they only feel what they want to.

I twist against her body, manage to unlatch her arm from me, and duck as a flash of something gold flies toward me in the half-light. An augmenter? My mouth dries.

No.

No.

No.

I can’t take the poison that will steal my soul, fill me with artificiality, and never let me be the same again.

I turn, got to keep moving—but there are so many of them. They work in packs.

“Keelie!”

The scream comes from behind me, and I try to turn—think I see a figure and—

A gun goes off.

I gasp as something big and heavy hits me, and I fall forward, pulled down with one of them. I hit the ground hard and roll over, freeing myself from the Enhanced One’s weight. Pain flashes through me.

“Keelie?”

My head jerks up, and I taste blood on the roof of my mouth. My tongue feels too big.

Red has the gun—one of the elders’ guns. He stands there, with Bea screaming behind him. She’s cradling Mila, still trying to cover her ears. She shouts at me, tells me to get up. Red holds the weapon. At thirteen years old, he knows how to use it. We’re taught as soon as we’re responsible enough. He learned at the age of eight, and, two years later, on my own eighth birthday, I was old enough too.

I duck just in time to avoid his second shot.

My heart pounds. The ground pounds. Everything pounds, and I feel something building up within me—momentum, as if the world is suddenly going to stop, but I’ll go crashing forward. I cover my head with my arms, try to hunker down so I’m invisible. Coldness seeps into my body.

They fall around me—the Enhanced Ones. I see them, even though my left eye is pressed against the ground, blurring my vision.

Something wet splashes over me.

I stay still. Listening. Scared.

The screams are louder now. More of them. More of us?

It’s all right, I tell myself. It’ll be all right. It’ll be over soon.

And it will end in blood and tears. That’s what Caia-Lu has always said; suddenly, I see her face in front of me. Her eyes are haunted, and they’re sinking into their sockets, being drawn back, until they’re gone. Until there’s nothing there.

“Run!” a voice screams. Another voice—my father’s. “Run!”

I lift my head, move my arms slightly, try to see. But there’s—the air isn’t…it’s smoke. Smoke billows toward me. And there’s no one else, Bea and Red have gone. Disappeared. Something hisses loudly, crackles, up in the sky and—

“Run!”

I catapult forward, but I don’t know which way I’m going now, only that I’ve got to get out. Something’s on fire, and the vehicles are too close. The engines are running, but why haven’t people moved them, driven off? I turn to the left, look toward the hut where we store fuel, see the flames.

“Keep running!”

My legs plow into action before I consciously make the decision. I pull myself forward; gritty air scratches my throat. My eyes smart as I try to see—try to see where people are…my family… I’ve lost them. Where are Bea and Mila? And Elf—is he in the hut still?

And what about Red?

A woman ahead of me stumbles, but I can’t see whether she’s one of them or one of us. The air’s too thick. It’s hiding stuff, making it harder—trying to protect us?

Another gunshot goes off, and I duck, freeze. Every part of my body throbs.

Keep going. Don’t stop.

I run again, and then I’m at the woman’s side. I see her green shawl, recognize it—my aunt Ramna’s shawl. I reach for her hand, and she turns. Blood pours down her face. My stomach squeezes.

“Go!” she wheezes, pointing to the right. “Go!”

I stare at her. Can’t. Can’t go, can’t—

I see the Enhanced Ones looming. Two men with eyes that are too reflective.

Aunt Ramna pushes me, and my legs jump into action as if they’re not mine, as if she’s governing me with ancient magic. I dart to the nearest hut, pull myself behind it, lean against it, breathing hard. Its hide covering feels rough against the side of my face.

I hunker down, feel the fear in my body, feel it trying to take over.

No. You’ve got to stay in control.

You’ve got to run! You’ve got to go!

I nod, then I peer back out.

More smoke—black smoke. Figures are moving, but I can’t tell who they are. My people? Or not? My eyes aren’t working properly. They’re stinging, stinging too much—there’s something in them.

I rub them, but I get more dirt in them, feel my panic rising. A weapon. I need a weapon. I grope about in the dirt, mud hiking under my nails. My fingers grapple at something—a stick. I pull it toward me, but it’s flimsy. Still, it’s all I’ve got and—

I hear his scream. I turn, and I see him fall, see it like he falls in slow motion. My friend. My best friend.

His eyes roll back for a second, but, then they return, and they’re on me.

Help me, his eyes say.

I see the blood around his body, notice the way it fans out so perfectly. A beautiful circle.

My body jolts.

Red.

No.

No.

No.

Nails of ice pierce my soul.

A shadow falls over me.

Your death is already written in the silk of time. You cannot escape it.

I look up and scream.

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