Friday, April 27, 2018

The End of Beautiful People

Hosted by Cait Grace
So, I admit, I didn't do a great job of keeping up with Beautiful People while it was running . . . but I do want to join in for this last hurrah of the tag. I'm sad that it's going away, but at the same time, I can kind of get why. Coming up with new questions every month must get pretty tiring. This final edition takes favorite questions from previous iterations of the tag and combines them into one, so it kind of flip-flops between general writing questions and book/character specific questions. For the latter category, I'll be answering for my current main WIP, Dust of Silver (formerly Danger in the Tower).

1. Favourite genre to write in?
Fantasy! You've got dragons, magic, epic battles, adventures, quests, griffins, fae folk, and more, just from the genre, and plenty of variety once you get into the subgenres (High, Low, steampunk, retelling, mythic, urban/contemporary, historical, so on). I get all the joys of creating characters and throwing them into stressful situations, plus the pleasure of worldbuilding and writing epic battle scenes (ok, that's not always a pleasure, but you know what I mean), and I don't have to stress too much about "Wait, is this actually how it works in the Real World?" because in many cases, it's my world, my rules.

2. What book (a real actual published book!) do you think your character would benefit from reading?
Ohhhhh boy. That's a tough one. I think all of them could benefit from reading the Bible, obviously. Other books . . . I'm half-tempted to give Aster Entwined, because it would help her realize what's going on in her life, but that might also break the plot, so . . . yeah. Poppy gets the Dragons in Our Midst series, which she'd read because dragons but which would help her because she's the most independent of the sisters and I think that the Dragons in Our Midst books do a pretty good job of emphasizing that you can't do anything on your own. (Not that independence is a bad thing, but it can be taken too far.) Ivy I'm not sure about, so I'm going to give her Goldstone Wood because everyone needs to read that.

Also, bonus side-and-future-main-character books: Pansy gets Gillian Bronte Adams' Songkeeper Chronicles and the Jackaby series, since both deal with a character who can see or hear things that others can't. Hayden, like Ivy, gets the Tales of Goldstone Wood, but he also gets C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy— the former because he can learn quite a few lessons from it; the latter because he'd appreciate the blend of theology and storytelling. And Jason gets the Invisible Library series, less because he needs to learn from it than because he needs a break and it's a good series. That said, he'd probably also get the Dragons in Our Midst books because Poppy would throw them at him for being annoying.

3. Favourite piece of dialogue you’ve written?
Well, my overall favorite in this novel so far is still Poppy's rose-petal insult, but I already posted that one. So, my favorite that I've written since then . . . Hmm. I guess I'll go with this one because all the others only make sense in context:
Ivy glanced back, grinning. "Not Lily? Is she not a responsible adult tonight?"

"Not responsible for your lot." Lily laughed and slid what must've been the twentieth pin into Aster's hairdo. "Aster has given me leave to thoroughly enjoy yourself tonight."

"Just make sure that while you're thoroughly enjoying yourself and meeting new people, you keep your eyes and ears open and maybe ask some useful questions. We need you as a discoverer of secrets, not a charmer of strangers."

4. What did your character want to be when they grew up, and what did they actually become?
Well, I can't do the second part for most characters because either they aren't grown up yet or the answer is a spoiler. However, I will answer the first part for my major characters.
  • Aster, the oldest sister, shifted through a few different dreams, most of them very traditional little girl dreams— princess, dancer, mother, dancer again— but by the time she was eleven or twelve, she mostly just wanted a life that wasn't consumed by younger sisters and confined to the tower. 
  • Poppy also went through a phase when she wanted to be a dancer, but then she decided that staying in cities all the time sounded boring and she wanted to be an explorer instead and map the mountains where the dragons dwelt. Barring that, traveling entertainer sounded pretty good too.
  • Ivy mostly went along with whatever Poppy wanted for most of her childhood. Eventually, though, she decided that she wasn't so interested in adventure and that she'd rather just live on a farm and grow things. That said, she also ages weirdly, so she'd be happy to just grow up period.

5. Favourite character name(s)?
I am inordinately fond of the name of my main-main character, Ivy Jade. Where I got it from is a little bit stupid, but I enjoy the fact that the connotations of the name (at least in my mind, outside of the storyworld) run so counter to who the character actually is. Of course, the in-world connotations are quite different . . . I also like the name of one of my princes, Hayden. It fits him.

6. What makes your character feel loved, and who was the last person to make them feel that way?
Ivy feels loved when people listen to her and show that they value and respect what she says and thinks. The last person to make her feel that way was probably Poppy before the main plot of the book began. Poppy most loved when people spend time with her, especially if they're doing something that those people wouldn't necessarily do otherwise, and when people seek her out for things, either fun things or I-need-help-and-you're-the-first-person-I-thought-of things. Ivy was definitely the last person to make her feel loved in the first way; in the second, Clover and Dasiy, the two youngest sisters. And Aster feels loved when people do things to make her life easier, and the last person to do that was Wisteria, the second-oldest of the sisters, who wrangled the youngest four sisters into bed and kept Aster from having to listen to their complaints.

7. Favourite character you’ve ever written?
Ever? Oooh. That's a tough one. I really enjoy writing Katelyn Stevens from Between Two Worlds because I can get in her head really easily, plus she makes a ton of fandom references. But I also like writing the trio of Jared, Jason, and Jarek; they have very similar voices (heavy on the snarky and teasing comments), they all love to get a rise out of other characters, and Jared and Jason have character arcs I really enjoy.

8. If your character were permanently leaving town, what would they easily throw out? What would they refuse to part with? (Why?)
Ivy and Poppy probably wouldn't take much of anything except the basic necessities and maybe a picture of all the sisters together, or some other small token to remember their sisters by. They aren't interested in mementos of the tower, just of their family. Aster would take the basic necessities, plus a few cuttings from her favorite lilac bush outside and mementos of each of her sisters. Pansy, on the other hand, would take as much of the tower library as she can, plus her entire collection of diaries and notebooks.

9. Favourite tropes to write!
Ooooh. I love big, messed-up families, big families in general, sibling teams, sibling rivalries, dramatic family reveals, characters' family members showing up to haunt them . . . basically, family tropes in general. I also love rogue-and-regal love stories (I have two so far, though one is less obvious than the other), lovable rogues, and battle couples. Aaaand all my favorite tropes are relationship ones . . . oh well.

10. Which story has your heart and won’t let go?
Um. All of them? That's the whole point of why I'm rewriting Dust of Silver and hoping to rewrite the Berstru Tales and Monster in the Castle, and why I want to write more in the Between Two Worlds and Way of the Pen universes as soon as I come up with plots.

11. Favourite relationship between characters you’ve written?
In Dust of Silver: I love all the sister relationships, but my favorite is the one between Poppy and Ivy. They're super close, and they tease each other but in a nice way, and if you mess with one you're messing with both (and you really don't want to mess with either, especially Poppy, because she's scary when she's mad). And there's a little bit of a disconnect at some points, but Poppy will trust Ivy a lot more than she'll trust others, even some of her sisters.

A few other favorites from my projects in general:
  • All the Alyron sister relationships (so! much! drama! Also sweetness when they actually manage to get along).
  • Poppy and Jason (loads of snark because they're both stubborn but have to work together quite often; would actually get along if they decided they didn't hate each other).
  • Jason and Hayden (because polar opposites who, again, have to work together; Jason is the only one who can get Hayden to make even slightly snarky comments).
  • Hayden and the Princess du Karel (less original than I thought, but still fun to write and I like where it's going).
  • Jared and Bianca (one of the rogue-and-royal pairings I mentioned earlier, with bonus snark and chess).
  • Katelyn and Aedon (the cutest couple I've written in my life) and Katelyn and Jarek (snarky magic best buddies).
  • The Baili-Chouko-Gan friendship triangle (in which Baili is idealistic, Gan is mysterious, and Chouko is just grumpy at everyone).
  • Rinna and the Taleweaver (because characters interacting with authors).
I might or might not have a lot of favorites. I regret nothing.

12. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?
I've done a few posts on this topic already, but a quick rundown:
  • More awesome fantasy families.
  • More female heroes who can be fierce and awesome but still like traditionally feminine things without shame.
  • More female heroes who do awesome stuff without being warriors.
  • More time travel and time-based superheroes.
  • Fewer books where miscommunication causes 90% of the plot.
  • More unusual fantasy creatures.
  • More historical fantasy.
  • More fantasy-mystery.
  • More clean urban fantasy.
  • Odyssey retelling in space.
Will I actually write any or all of these? I'm already working on some of them. The rest, we'll see.

13. Favourite Pinterest board/aesthetic for a book?
I'm bad at aesthetic, but my Berstru Tales Pinterest board is one of my favorites, with Between Two Worlds a close second. Y'all get both of them. (I'd post my Fairy Tale Retellings board too, but it's mostly stuff about Jason Silver, so . . . yeah.)

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14. Favourite time periods & settings to work with?
Since I'm a fantasy author, I'm just going to talk about settings. I think my favorite world I've created is a three-way tie between Udarean (The Way of the Pen; the inhabitants know they're characters in a series of novels), Berstru (Berstru Tales, the first world I created, and the most developed of my worlds), and the world of Once Upon a Dream (because I get to mess around with a dream world in which anything can happen).

15. When people are done reading your book, what feeling do you want them to come away with?
Happiness, satisfaction, desire to visit the world and meet the characters in person, and eagerness to read the next book.

And there you have it: the last Beautiful People. Thanks for reading, y'all!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 13

Last week on Fight Song, Callie and her roommate had a revelatory heart-to-heart after Uhjin decided that she couldn't keep quiet about what she knew any longer. This week, Callie finds inspiration and half a plan . . . unfortunately, it's the half that sounds slightly impossible to pull off. As always, comments, critiques, suggestions, and questions are welcome! Thanks for reading!

 Chapter 13: Breakage

Church that morning and work the next day were both full of people constantly asking if I was ok when they saw how bruised and scraped up I was. I assured everyone that yes, I was fine, and no, nothing serious happened; I was just kind of clumsy and banged into some stuff. Rebecca, unsurprisingly, was one of the most concerned, checking on me throughout my shift to make sure I was all right. Near the end of my shift, she outright hugged me and told me to feel better soon and to let her know if I needed anything. I thanked her bemusedly— but maybe concern had some kind of healing effect, because my injuries felt much less painful after she let go.

Throughout most of those few days, Starlight’s words and the stories of Ana and Uhjin consumed my thoughts. I knew Starlight was right. I knew I needed to make a choice. And, deep down, I thought I knew what my choice needed to be— but I couldn’t admit it, couldn’t take that leap. Not yet. Not until I knew what to do about Welsh.

And that was the question— what could I do? I had three eyewitness testimonies against him, but that wasn’t enough. A judge and jury could call my and Uhjin’s accounts into doubt. And as for Ana, I wasn’t sure she’d even be willing or able to testify in court, however compelling her story might be.
Something about Uhjin’s story, too, kept niggling at the back of my mind— as if the answer were in there somewhere. But for all my thinking while stocking yarn and running the music store register, I couldn’t figure out what it might be. My frustration with the situation left me tossing and turning all Monday night, and Tuesday I couldn’t even settle down long enough to try to sleep. Instead, I sat in my room with my guitar, toying with notes and melodies and chords.

Eventually, I turned to trying to recreate the song I sang for Ana, transferred now to the strings of my instrument. I recalled the notes I’d used, how they’d interacted with the ambient music of the apartment and the street outside. How some of those ambient songs had shifted in response to mine. As I thought back, I realized there had been another song too, one that didn’t belong. I’d heard the Death Song in Ana and Julián’s apartment— heard it faintly, yes, but still.

That wasn’t much of a surprise. Ana was dying, after all. And yet . . . mentally, I compared the version of the song I’d heard there to the song I’d heard the night Lacey died and both of those to the versions I’d heard too many times on the streets. As I did, I realized: Welsh’s version is different. Harsher, yes, but also more ordered somehow. More defined. I could almost, maybe, pick out the individual anti-notes and figure out what they corresponded to. If I played or sang the true notes in time with Welsh’s song, what would happen? Would the two cancel out? I couldn’t think of any way to test it, but it seemed likely.

I strummed a random chord on my guitar, sending tiny dots of light out into the dimness of my room. So I had a potential defense if and when Welsh and I met again. That was good. But it wasn’t proof.  
I mentally reviewed the testimonies— mine, Ana’s, Uhjin’s— trying to think what would make them stand as more than hearsay. The hotel records from the night of Lacey’s death would help, like Jonathan had suggested.  Or . . . I smacked myself in the forehead. Duh. Uhjin rewatched the security feed to confirm what she saw! I had to ask her if that video still existed and if she could get ahold of it. If she could, maybe we’d start to have a chance. And I could ask Jonathan— maybe he could figure out if any of the other deaths might’ve been caught on film too somehow. That would link Welsh to the victims, at least.

And . . . the first hints of a new idea started to weave together in my mind. Maybe we could catch something on camera ourselves. Something that would confirm Welsh’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I set my guitar aside and lunged across the room to grab my phone from the dresser. No way Jonathan would be up at this hour, but I couldn’t wait. My fingers flew over the keypad, typing and backspacing and retyping as I tried to keep up with my thoughts and figure out what to say. Finally, I settled on “Idea— camera feeds! & New lead! Meet at café soon? Important!” Maybe that wasn’t the clearest text, but mingled tiredness and exhilaration conspired to keep me from thinking up anything better. Satisfied, I hit send.

I had to talk myself out of sitting up and waiting for a response. Jonathan would, of course, be asleep, like any sane person. And Dad had always said to sleep on a big idea before you shared it— especially a late-night genius idea. And since sleeping on his own late-night genius ideas was how he’d gotten us into a nice house on the good side of town and put me through music lessons and into college, I figured he probably knew what he was talking about.

Jonathan didn’t respond until nearly noon the next day, but after a couple more texts, we agreed to meet at the café at seven that evening. For once, I arrived first. I considered returning his weeks-ago favor by ordering him coffee— but I couldn’t remember what he normally drank. So I got myself a cup of plain black and claimed a corner booth, glad that the café was so empty.

Ten minutes later, Jonathan slid onto the bench across from me. He carried no coffee, but he had a Canon camera bag slung over one shoulder, a leather satchel over the other, and a look that said he hadn’t gotten much more sleep than I had. “Do you commonly send cryptic text messages to people in the wee hours in the morning, or am I just special?”

“You’re special. And it wasn’t that cryptic.” I sipped my coffee. “And hello to you too.”

“Sorry.” Jonathan slumped in his seat. “I’ve crossed the city three times already today working on an article, and I still have another two people to interview tonight. Unfortunately, the Herald won’t pay me to track down murderers until I actually write the articles about them.”

“For shame.” I leaned forward, elbows on the table. “So— I found another witness, one like me, who saw Welsh do the deed. She’s from out in California, so I don’t think you would’ve thought of looking for her.”

“Nice work.” Jonathan nodded approvingly. “But you said something about camera feeds?”
“Yeah. See, Uh— the witness, after what happened, she went back and checked the store’s security camera feed, and it showed Welsh go after the victim. So, I thought, maybe some of Welsh’s other kills have been caught on camera too. And if we could get ahold of those, it would make our case a lot stronger.” I paused, waiting to see Jonathan’s reaction.

“Well, it’s not a bad idea.” But, to judge by Jonathan’s face and tone, it’s not a great idea either. “You could ask your witness if she still has access to the security feeds and if she can get us a copy. But even if Welsh was filmed other times, neither of us has authority to get to the feeds to find out. We’d need police with a warrant, which means . . .”

“Actual evidence.” I sighed. “I’m going to ask tonight. But, I had another thought too. What if . . .” Just say it, Callie. This part of my idea is only half-formed, but talking it out with Jonathan should fill in the holes. “Ok, I know it sounds crazy, but what if we got a video of our own of Welsh attacking someone?”

“Crazy is right.” Jonathan shook his head in disbelief. “Have you noticed something I haven’t, Callie? Can you predict when and where he’ll kill next? Because I can’t. Or do you just want us to follow him around with a camera and hope he doesn’t notice? Because I think he will notice— and anyway, last time I checked, we both have jobs. It’s not going to work.”

Well. That wasn’t the response I expected. “I didn’t say it was a perfect plan! Just that it was a thought! And I didn’t say anything about following him around with a camera. Because, yeah, he would notice— he’s already noticed me.” Darn. I didn’t mean for that to slip out like that. Too late now, though; I’ll just have to run with it. Not like it’s the most shocking thing I’d considered revealing tonight. “But we can use that. Lure him into some kind of confrontation, maybe.”

“And then what?” Jonathan demanded, arms crossed. “So we draw Welsh out, film the meeting, but it’s only going to help us if we either trick him into confessing or he actually tries to kill you. He’s too smart to admit anything, and if he actually tried anything— best case, you’d end up like Ana. Worst case, you end up dead. That’s not going to solve anything.”

Definitely not telling him. I balled my hands into fists, resting them knuckles-up on the table. “Look. You don’t know that. And I know what I’m doing.”

“You know what you’re doing? I don’t think so, Callie,” Jonathan spat back. “How do you think you’re going to stay alive if Welsh attacks you? We have no idea how long you have to be under his power before it affects you long term. And how would you get away? Welsh can control people with his voice, apparently. Odds are, he can control multiple people. You wouldn’t be able to run; I wouldn’t be able to pull you out.”

“You don’t know any of that for sure.” I glared, shoulders back. “Anyway, I don’t hear you coming up with any great ideas.”

“I’m also not suggesting any suicidal ones.” Jonathan stood and grabbed his bags. “I need to go. Let me know if you come up with any ideas that don’t involve killing yourself, but as long as you’re stuck on this plan, count me out. I’m not interested in being party to your death.”

“If that’s the kind of attitude you’re going to have, then fine. I’ll do it without you, and I won’t die. Wait and see.” I didn’t look at him, just stared at my coffee and my clenched fists. “And when I’m done and Welsh is behind bars, I’ll— I’ll— I won’t say a word to you, or anyone else from the Herald. You’ll have to find a way to write your big story without my input.”

“Fine. I will.” I waited, but Jonathan didn’t say more. His footsteps retreated towards the door; the bell over the frame jingled as he left.

Well. So much for that.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Spring Cleaning Writer Challenge!

Created by Deborah O'Carroll
Hey'a, all! So, around the end of last month, Deborah O'Carroll created a cool new writing tag: the Spring Cleaning Challenge! This is a pretty short tag, but it also looks really fun. Plus, while I've been keeping you all up-to-date (well, up-to-month) with my current writing adventures, I'd like to share some of my broader writing plans with y'all, and this seems like a great way to do it!

But, first, the Rules:
1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5. Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them (via comment/message/email or hey, even carrier-pigeon or smoke signal; I’m not picky)
And now the questions!

1. Dust-bunnies and Plot-bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)
I actually set a couple writing goals at the start of the year, so let's revisit those:
  • Finish editing and posting Fight Song. This one isn't finished yet, but I've made good progress! If I recall correctly, I have fewer than ten chapters left before I'm done, and I plan to get back to work either when I hit my Camp NaNo goal or in May, whichever works better. So, once that happens, I should be able to finish relatively quickly.
  • Write a short fiction piece a month. I did great on this in January! I wrote, like, two whole short stories! But then February happened and I tried but got nowhere. So that's unfortunate. And in March I didn't even try . . . the deadline for Indie e-Con is coming up, though, so I should probably make one last attempt before it's too late. I'll try to pick this up again during the summer, but I don't know how well it'll go.
  • Finish rewriting Destinies and Decisions. Hahaha. I haven't even worked on this one and I am definitely dropping it. Other projects are higher priority right now.
  • Finish editing Between Two Worlds. Again, haven't worked on this at all, and I don't think I'll finish edits this year. I would like to get more work done on edits, though, so that's my modified goal.
  • Participate in all three NaNoWriMo events. So far, so good! Camp NaNoWriMo is coming along nicely, even though I had a solid week in which I was too mentally exhausted to really get more than a page, maybe two, done per day. I'm definitely participating in July Camp too. November . . . well, we'll see what happens.
  • Set and meet a new writing goal every month. The setting of goals is going splendidly. The meeting of goals . . . Well, I've given it my best shot, so I'm going to call this a win.
 So, that's one goal dropped, another modified, two that are almost definitely going to be achieved to some degree, and two that I'm going to give another shot before I give up on. Not bad.       
2. Which Stage Are You At? Expound!
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)
Like Deborah, I'm going to answer this by running through my significant projects— I can't say WIPs, because some of them aren't properly in progress but I'm making plans for them to be in progress later, so, yeah.
  • Fight Song: Polishing the windows, scrubbing the floors, putting flowers in vases . . . and also creating blueprints for what else I might do in this storyworld, because I have too much potential in this storyverse to let it go easily.
  • Berstru Tales: Cleaning out many closets. Literally all the other categories— planning, editing, beginning-inklings, even a little writing— are happening. I really want to continue writing these, because I love the characters and their relationships, I love the world, and I love the plotlines I'm contemplating for the future. However, I've expanded Berstru quite a lot since I wrote the first book, and I have so many thoughts on how the earlier books could be better, or things I wish I'd done differently . . . I may end up rewriting the series from the beginning before I try to edit Destinies and Decisions again. I am definitely also going to rethink my naming scheme, because currently it does not say high-fantasy, at least in my opinion.
  • Between Two Worlds: Taking a break from polishing, scrubbing, flowers in vases, etc. I'm still very happy with this book and I most definitely want to publish it somehow, someday.
  • Dust of Silver & Monster in the Castle: Cleaning out closets again. We've got blueprints and remodeling layouts for the future of the series, but we've also got painting and polishing and scrubbing on Dust of Silver and plans for more of the same on Monster, which is also getting renamed because yeah. I do not like my naming abilities. 
  • Blood in the Snow, Mechanical Heart, & Once Upon a Dream: Currently are collecting dust, but all three are hopefully going to get some polishing and scrubbing and flowers and such fairly soon. And by "fairly soon" I mean sometime in the next year. I have plans, and they might be stupid plans, and I still need to work on all the details, but . . . yeah. Watch this space come June or July-ish and you might hear something. At least these ones won't need renamed.
 3. Treasure From the Back of the Closet (Share one to three snippets you love!)
I can do that! Snippets are from Dust of Silver, my Camp NaNoWriMo WIP.
Poppy wrinkled her nose and scowled at Lily. "That's because you make yourself useless, you wilting rose petal."
"We shouldn't go." Pansy's tremulous voice came from the back of the crowd. She stared at nothing, eyes wide, trembling. With one hand, she clutched Ivy's arm; with the other, she tugged at a tight black curl. "We shouldn't. We should go back to teh tower. Stop up the entrance. There's voices here. They're crying. Voices and ghosts in the trees." She curled closer to Ivy. "I want to go home."
The man waved a hand and laughed. "Merely a trifle; it's simply a matter of rearranging the basic elements of material structure in your gowns, combined with a few illusions— but you ladies hardly care about the details. The transformation will last until you leave my realm. My power does not extend beyond the portal. Now, will you join me in the pavilon?" 
3.5. Bonus: Do Some Actual Spring Cleaning of Your Writer Self! (And share a picture!)
I don't really have a dedicated writing space anymore, so . . . yeah. No cleaning or pictures. Sorry.

I hope you enjoyed reading my answers to that tag! If you're still curious about Dust of Silver, keeep an eye out for my Beautiful People post (coming as soon as I can get it written) and potentially another writer-y tag. I'm doing alllll the tags, y'all.

Oh, and before I forget: tagging people!
-Emmarayn Redding
-Jem Jones
-Katie Grace
And, if anyone else wants to give this tag a try, feel free to steal it! I won't care!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 12

Last week on Fight Song, Callie got both a bit of help and a bit of advice from an unexpected source— Starlight herself! This week, she discovers that sometimes, part of what you're looking for is right under your nose . . . and eats bacon, because it's delicious, and honestly, she deserves it. 

As always, if you have thoughts, questions, or critiques, feel free to post them in the comments! I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Chapter 12: Bacon and Revelation

When I woke the next morning, unexpectedly bright sunlight filtered through my window, and my silent alarm clock read 8:47. I blinked at the red numbers, trying to figure out why that seemed off. Then, in a flash of realization, the answer struck me: Sunday! Last worship practice! Should’ve left twenty minutes ago!

I threw off the blanket and launched myself out of bed, only to wince as my cuts and bruises from last night protested my speed. Still, I couldn’t stop. I was late already; maybe if I hurried I could still make it for the last bit of practice . . .

I rushed through a shower, threw on a pair of nice jeans and a sunny yellow blouse, and bundled my wet hair into a bun, one eye trained on the clock. At 9:03 sharp, I stepped out of my room— and that’s when the scent hit me. I’d recognize that symphony of delicious anywhere: bacon, eggs, toast, and cinnamon apples. I hadn’t smelled its like since break— and, wonder of wonders, Uhjin was doing the cooking. Not that Uhjin couldn’t cook, but normally I didn’t see her on Sunday mornings until she got to church.

Uhjin glanced up as she transferred a skillet full of scrambled eggs to the table. “Good morning, Callie! Join me? The eggs are a little brown, but I think they’re ok, and I got the bacon nice and crispy.”

What in the world was going on? “Uhjin, I’m already late— I need to get to church for the last worship practice before the service—”

“No, you don’t.” Uhjin set a plate piled with bacon beside the skillet of eggs. “I called Taylor and told him that you weren’t feeling well and wouldn’t make it to practice this morning— that you might not make it in at all. And he said that’s fine and that you should feel better soon. Come on. Sit.”

“Uhjin— I can’t just not show up—”

Sit.” Uhjin pointed to our second chair. “I’ve been saving this bacon for a special occasion, and I got up early to cook for you. You are not allowed to let my sacrifices go to waste.”

“Oh, fine. Thank you.” I sat down and waited for Uhjin to do the same. We both bowed our heads in momentary prayer and helped ourselves to breakfast. The food was good, surprisingly so. Usually when Uhjin cooked, it tended towards the exotic and spicy. Still, much as I enjoyed a homemade breakfast, I couldn’t totally relax, not until I knew what Uhjin was up to. There had to be more to this than just her trying to be nice.

Sure enough, just as I was biting into my second slice of bacon, Uhjin dropped her bombshell. “I know what you’ve been doing, Callie.”

I froze, running through my activities of the last few days. What does she know about? My search for Welsh? My powers? Please not my powers. I swallowed hastily. “What? What do you mean?”

“I know what you’ve been doing. You’re trying to hunt down a murderer who no one thinks is a murderer. I’ve seen your files; you keep leaving your computer open when I’m around. And I’ve seen your posts online.”

Not my powers, then. Probably not, anyway. Thank you, God. Still, I groaned.  “I was trying to keep that quiet. Does everyone know what I’ve been doing? I thought I was being careful.”

“Not enough.” Uhjin shook her head. “I’m worried about you, Callie. You’re trying to do something good, but . . . your search is why you came home all beaten up last night, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” I nodded slowly. “Yeah, it is. I know who did it, and he knows I know, and . . . yeah.” I stared at the half-empty skillet. “So what are you going to do? Tell me I’m crazy? Because I’ve heard that one before. Or tell me to stop? Because I’m not going to. I’ve put too much work into this to give up. And if I don’t fight for this, who will? There are only three people who know who Welsh really is— what he does.”

“Four.” Uhjin’s voice is soft, almost a whisper. “There are four people.”

“No— wait, what?” I looked up, met Uhjin’s eyes. “Uhjin?”

“Four people. There are four people who know what this man— you called him Welsh— can do. Not just three.” Uhjin took a deep breath. “I know you’re not crazy, Callie. Or, if you are, so am I.”

This is not going in the direction I expected at all. All my defensive energy now has nowhere to go, and I’m left staring in confusion. “Uhjin, maybe you should back up. What are you trying to say?”

“What I’m saying is that I’ve seen what this man, Welsh, what he does.” Uhjin picked up a piece of bacon and started breaking it into little pieces. “My sister and I— I was sixteen. She was seventeen. We both worked in our uncle’s store out in California. We were on the closing shift one night, killing time until we could clean up and go home. And then this man walked in, a businessman. He was wearing a suit and a hat and a big fancy ring. I remember that. And he walked like he was in pain. I remember that too. He asked for help finding . . . something, I don’t remember what. So my sister went with him and left me at the register. Then they didn’t come back for too long, and I was scared, so I went to find them.”

Uhjin let the last two crumbles of bacon fall from her fingers over her eggs. She didn’t look at me as she set her hands on her table, fingers curled into fists. “I don’t know how I knew she was dying. Don’t ask me. But I came around the corner and I saw them. Mishil was on the floor, on her knees, gasping. And the man had his hand on her neck and was bending over her, and his ring was . . . it was doing something. It was wrong. He didn’t see me, so I ran back to the counter and called 911. But I couldn’t figure out what to say, and then Mishil came back and looked like she was ok, and so I thought I’d been wrong. I thought I’d been imagining things.”

She paused, her whole body going very, very still. “She died three days later. I was there for that too. Once moment she was walking with me to school. The next moment, she just fell over. Dead. I don’t think anyone but me made the connection, but after that . . . I kept wondering if I could’ve saved her. I even watched the security tapes to make sure I saw what I saw and try to figure out what I could’ve done differently, and I did that over and over again until I couldn’t stand it anymore because it hurt so much. That’s when I started partying, trying to forget— I thought that if I couldn’t fix it, maybe it was better not to remember at all. But I still know what I saw, and I know what happened to my sister. And so I’m not going to tell you to stop doing what I’ve been too cowardly to do. But please, Callie, be careful. And— and if I can help you, if I can do anything, so help me, I will!”

For a moment, all I could do was stare. I’d never seen Uhjin so desperate before. And looking at her, I saw myself, what I could’ve become. The both of us have seen what no one should, and we saw it in a way that makes us doubt if we did see it or if we’re just crazy. But Uhjin lost someone dear to her, while I only lost a coworker— someone I’d grown up with, but so rarely spoke to. Maybe that, well, that and the fact that I had powers and Uhjin didn’t, was why I’d been able to fight back, while Uhjin had been so broken that she’d tried to forget.

“I’m sorry,” I finally said, unsure what else to say. “I’m sorry for what happened to you and your sister. I really am. And thank you, for telling me and taking care of me last night and doing breakfast and for putting up with my secrets. I don’t know how else you can help. I . . . I don’t even know what I’m doing for sure yet. But if I think of something, I’ll tell you.”

Uhjin managed a half smile. “You’re welcome. Thank you for listening. And as far as looking out for you goes, what are roommates for? Anyway, someone has to look out for you. All the heroes in the movies have someone to do it for them. Why not you too?”

Her words suggested what more she might know, and I gave her a wary glance. But she carried on, perfectly innocent. “You’re sure there’s nothing else I can do? You’ve just been collecting evidence or something so far, right? Could I help with that?”

“No. Not really.” I picked up my fork again and shoved my eggs around my plate. “Jonathan and I— Jonathan’s a reporter, he’s helping me out— have just been talking to people, but we’re running low on anyone else who’d know anything. And we need more proof than the confused testimonies of a couple college students and a dying lady and a dozen-odd character witnesses. We need something that can’t be ignored or written off. I just don’t know what. But as soon as I figure out what it is, I’ll let you know. And I guess that if you want to try to think of something like that, that would be nice.”

Uhjin nodded seriously. “I will. And if I come up with anything, I’ll tell you.”

“Thanks.” Despite my initial reservations, I found myself grateful to Uhjin nfor her interference. It was nice to know that someone else had been in the same situation I was, nice to know I wasn’t the only one who’d had to live with those kinds of doubts and fears and sorrows. And it was nice to not have to keep secrets, or not as many, anyway. I still wondered if Uhjin knew, or suspected, something about my powers, but if she did, she kept it quiet and so I just had to trust her.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dealing With Dragons

It is an unfortunate truth that, in any fantasy world involving dragons (even normally-friendly ones), you or your characters will eventually have to face an angry attacking dragon. If you're particularly unfortunate, you'll have to face multiple attacking dragons at the same time. In either case, it's best to be prepared with some basic strategies beforehand. And that's why, today, I'm going to give you five tips that will hopefully keep you alive next time you find yourself facing down an angry furnace-with-wings.

Dealing With Dragons

1. Aim for the wings. Ok, look. This might not be the advice you'd find in the hundreds of dragon legends, myths, novels, and other forms of narrative, most of which recommend going at the underbelly or the neck or something of that sort. And, you know, that advice is fine . . . if you want to go for the one-shot-one-kill-almost-died-five-times strategy that works mostly because there's a million-to-one chance it won't. And, you know, if that's how you want to live your life, I won't stop you. However, if you're more interested in being effective than dramatic, here's my advice: aim for the wings first. Why? Well, let's take a quick look at some dragons.

What do they all have in common? That's right: scales everywhere except the wings. Instead, we've got a material that looks more like layers of skin, probably with blood vessels in it. That doesn't mean the wings will be easy to take out (they've got to be pretty strong to hold the dragon up), but they are a lot more vulnerable than the rest of the dragon. Plus, you know what happens if you tear enough holes in the wing? That's right, the dragon falls! If you're lucky, the fall alone will finish it off . . . but most of the time, the dragon will only be stunned. And that's when you grab your chance and attack the eyes, the neck, the head, anything, and put an end to the fight before the dragon comes to its senses.

2. Keep moving! Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. If you've got, say, a ballista or cannon or proven-dragon-proof fortress, by all means, stick with it. But, in general, even for dragons, moving targets are harder to hit and catch. So, keep moving from cover to cover as much as you can . . . or else your battle will be over in very short order.
These people are going to die, but they've got the right idea, at least.

3. It's dangerous to go alone. Look, I get it. You want to be a hero and get the glory or prove your worth or whatever. So, you think you need to take on the dragon all by yourself. But what you don't realize is that this attitude is basically asking to get killed. Dragons are bigger than you, stronger than you, and much more deadly than you. Your best chance is to work together with people who you trust to have your back. How that works out is up to you. Maybe you all concentrate your fire on one spot; maybe a few of you distract the dragon while the rest take aim; maybe half of you focus on the dragon and the rest defend against threats on the ground. Just do it together. Remember: it's better to be alive than famous.

4. Do NOT try to make friends with the dragon. I know some of you would much rather befriend the dragon than fight it. I get that, and I honestly agree . . . but the time to befriend a dragon is not in the middle of a battle. That's what you do to prevent the battle in the first place. Sadly, unless you have a prior relationship with the attacking dragon, attempting to befriend it will probably end with you as a pile of ash.

5. Accept that everything will probably be on fire. Speaking of piles of ash . . . yeah. Dragons are big, they're powerful, and they have the destructive power of a whole guild of wizards. Just think of what Smaug did to Laketown! Even if you do everything just right to bring down the dragon, it'll take time. So, if you think there's a chance of a dragon attack, don't depend on your fighting abilities alone to keep local civilians alive. Have a plan to evacuate them that will keep them as far from danger as possible. And, after you've taken out the dragon's wings, don't hesitate to drop a building on it if you need to. Once again, keeping the maximum number of people alive is your priority, not fame, glory, honor, or your city. Keep that in mind and you'll go far.

What strategies would you suggest for dealing with attacking dragons? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 11

Last time on Fight Song, we left Callie in a rather tight spot, being attacked by a group of men who seemed more interested in her than her money. This week, we see the outcome of her fight— an outcome that will lead to a most unexpected meeting!

Many thanks to my roommate, who patiently answers my science questions that are too random for Google, and to the friend who let me borrow her character. And thanks to you all for reading; if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, feel free to comment!

Chapter 11: A Helping Hand

A car pulled up beside us and rumbled to a stop, its front tires level with my face. A man stepped out. “Ready?”

“Yep. Just have to gag her so she can’t sing her way out.” A hand gripped the back of my jacket. “Get ready.”

I tensed. This was my last chance to escape. I couldn’t afford to waste it. Oh God let this work.
The attacker gripping my jacket jerked me off the ground. I opened my mouth, forced song past the pressure of my collar against my throat. I managed three notes before one of the other men pulled my scarf away from my face and stuffed a piece of cloth in my mouth. I choked, trying to push the cloth out with my tongue, but the leader of the group slapped a piece of duct tape across my lips before I could succeed.

“There— sing your way out of that, girl!” The leader nodded to the car. “Toss her in and we’ll get out of here.”

“I don’t think you will.” The tires of the car abruptly disappeared with a rippling shift in song that only I could hear, dark liquid flowing away from where they’d been. A slim figure clad in black and silver stepped lightly off the roof of a nearby building and strode down the air as if it were a flight of stairs until she hovered a few feet above the ground. A black domino mask hid the upper half of her face. Though she carried no visible weapon, the way she held herself and the fact that she was literally standing in midair told anyone watching that she didn’t need one— as if they wouldn’t know that anyway. Everyone in Foundry City knew of Starlight.

 “You have two options, gentlemen. Either you release her, or I do. Which will it be?”

The men holding me hesitated. I could guess their thoughts: Starlight was, of course, Starlight, but there were four of them and one of her, and they had me as a hostage. How bad could their chances be? They’d end up the same place if they fought and failed as if they surrendered.  And Starlight didn’t kill; everyone knew that; she wasn’t some vigilante toeing the line between good and evil . . .
The leader made his decision. In one swift move, he drew his pistol and shoved the muzzle against the back of my head. “Or you leave us be and we don’t kill her. How’s that option for you?”

“Strangely unappealing.” Starlight didn’t so much as twitch a finger, but the pressure of the gun against my head suddenly disappeared, and my attacker let out a string of curses. If I could’ve moved my mouth, I would’ve grinned.

The tape and gag disappeared next, dissolving into vapor. I didn’t waste any time, singing the leader’s jacket into flames again. He let go of me with a yell. I hit the ground and rolled, narrowly avoiding the hands of the other thugs.

With a shimmer and a sudden shift in melody, the air around the four thugs solidified into a box. For a moment, all I could do was stare. The wall was only inches from my face, and it was strange to see the men push against it, so close and yet contained. Then I came to my senses and hummed another string of notes. The plastic ties around my wrists and ankles softened until I could push them apart. I sat up, rubbing my wrists, and looked at Starlight. “Thank you.”

“Naturally.” Starlight nodded curtly. She stood on the concrete now, not in the air, and with her feet on the ground it became immediately evident that she was short— petite, even. But she had a presence far greater than her size, built on confidence and power.

I stood and turned to face my attackers again, tucking my scarf back across my face. “You were going for me. Not my money. Not my violin. Why?”

“You think we’re gonna answer that?” The leader scowled at me. “Use your brain.”

“I am. But I want facts, not guesses.” I crossed my arms. “You must have been trying to get me specifically, or someone like me. Otherwise you wouldn’t have kept going even after I put up a fight and showed you what I’m capable of— not unless you’re idiots.”

“What makes you think I’m gonna tell you anything, girl?” The leader snorted. “You already know I’m not stupid.”

“No. But you probably like breathing, don’t you?” I hummed, pulling air from his throat like I had with the robbers, and kept going until he looked suitably panicked. “Tell me why you wanted me and I won’t do more.”

The leader’s scowl deepened, and he rubbed his throat. “Fine. There’s word out that someone— I’m not gonna name names— is willing to pay well for you. Specifically. He asked for alive, but dead would get a guy something too. That’s all you’re getting.”

“That’s what I asked for.” Welsh. It has to be. I backed away from the prison of air that held the men. Had he secretly orchestrated the holdup at the café too to see what I could do? No. No way. I’m overthinking things. And that would mean he knows my real name . . . How could he know my real name? He’d never seen my full face; we’d only encountered each other in darkness, with one or both of us masked. No. The café was just a coincidence. It has to be. All the same, if Welsh had offered some kind of reward for my capture or death in the criminal underworld, however that worked, I’d have to be careful from here out.

The police arrived not long after that, apparently called by Starlight. I had just enough time to pull down my scarf before they arrived. They took statements and my attackers and left again without trouble. I expected Starlight to leave too, but she lingered. “You didn’t handle yourself too badly.”

Was she complimenting me? Despite my exhaustion, despite my bruises, I stood a little straighter. “Thanks. And thanks for coming to my rescue.”

“It’s what I do.” Again, I thought Starlight would leave, but still she stayed. “As someone who’s been at this a touch longer than you have, can I offer you some advice?”

“Sure. Definitely.” I definitely wasn’t going to pass up advice from Starlight. As far as I was concerned, she was one of the best, maybe the very best, superhero in the city. Whatever she wanted to say, I was going to listen.

“Make up your mind. And while you’re at it, be a little more careful.” Starlight crossed her arms. “Word’s getting around about you and your quest for justice . . . Ava. If you keep this up, someone’s going to put two and two together and guess who you actually are.” Starlight’s tone said she’d already figured that out, and my stomach twisted as I wondered who else had. Not Uhjin or Jonathan, please . . . Of course, Jonathan already knew my real name, and he'd been in the cafe. He might have guessed at my powers too. “And if someone is the man you’re hunting or another Big Bad, you aren’t the only one in danger. A person who knows your face, your name, can find your family and friends easier than you think. And those kind of people won’t think twice about using anyone you love against you.”

My stomach twisted again. Surely Momma and Dad and my siblings were far enough away to be safe, surely . . . but what about Uhjin? My friends from college- Kearsten and Stephen and Jess and the rest? Jonathan? The people at my church? “What are you saying I should do?”

“Make a choice, like I said. Either take up the mask and keep fighting or don’t take the mask and save these powers of yours for emergencies.” Starlight shook her head. “Neither option will solve everything, but either will help. And it’s not a choice to make lightly. But you have to decide sooner or later.”

Her words solidified what I’d known for weeks now. The knowledge sank like stones in my gut. “What do you think I should choose?”

“I don’t know you well enough to tell you that.” Naturally. We’ve never met before tonight. I’d be amazed that Starlight knows who I am at all, except that, as she pointed out, I had been talking to a lot of people and doing more of this amateur-heroing. Surely Starlight, who probably kept her ear to the ground and had dozens of contacts all through the city, would know about my mission. “I will say that you have power and talent to use it. Wasting that would be a shame. But it’s your choice. Think about it.”

With that, she finally left, climbing back up invisible stairs in the air until she reached the rooftop and disappearing into the night. I, too, set off for home, mulling wearily over Starlight’s advice.

When I reached the apartment, I found Uhjin on the couch watching Supergirl on her laptop. Her silky black curls were down; her makeup wiped away; and her fashionable outfit from earlier replaced by yoga pants and a pajama shirt that read “Bear-ly awake.” Seeing her make me stop short. Wow, I’m back late. Normally on a Saturday, she returned after I was comfortably asleep.

Uhjin paused her show and turned around. “You’re late.” She did a double-take. “You look terrible.”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, though I probably wasn’t. The various cuts and scratches on my face and hands stung, my ribs were sore, and every part of me ached. Not that Uhjin needed to know that. “Hello to you too. And goodnight.”

“You aren’t fine.” I expected Uhjin to ask what happened. But instead, she got up and fetched me a bag of frozen peas for my bruises and antiseptic and Band-Aids for my cuts and scrapes. Only once I was thoroughly patched up did she return to her show and let me fall into bed. I was asleep before I hit the pillow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 10

Last time on Fight Song, Callie and Jonathan met with a survivor of one of Welsh's attacks and learned more about how he operates. This week, Callie hits the streets to work off her frustration and runs into a little more trouble than she bargained for.

Fun fact: in order to research this chapter, I spent a solid half-hour at least running around alternately acting like a zombie and acting like I was being chased by a zombie. Also, I scheduled this post while taking shelter during a tornado warning, so . . . yeah. Feel free to make sure I'm not dead or whatever in comments. 

Chapter 10: A Night’s Work

Jonathan and I retraced our steps to the Starbucks in silence. Only once we had coffee in hand— fancy African cold brew for him, simple black with cinnamon for me— did we discuss what we’d learned and what to do now. Ana had given us good information, better than anything we could’ve hoped for. How could we have expected to get a firsthand account of what it’s like to be under Welsh’s power?

Yet her story gave us no real clues about how to proceed. Welsh was powerful; even with Ana’s testimony, he could probably find a way to escape justice. We needed proof he couldn’t possibly push aside and that others couldn’t ignore. And I was distracted throughout our conversation by the tragedy of Ana’s tale. She and her husband had come here looking for something better, risky though it was, and they had that chance stolen from them, all because of Welsh. The fact that I couldn’t do anything to help only made it worse.

That feeling of helplessness haunted me even after Jonathan and I exhausted our ideas and part ways. So, that evening, after my last shift for the day at the craft store and a lunchmeat sandwich dinner, I decide to do something crazy.

The first hints of twilight shaded the sky when I left my apartment, shrouded in a dark blue zip-up hoodie, heavy makeup, and a black headscarf that could be easily tucked across my face, with my violin in a case that bounced on my hip. I wove my way down the streets— four blocks south, turn left, two more blocks, turn right, another three blocks— to the sketchy part of town. Not Rodham block; I was smart enough to know that was more than I could handle; but close enough. I’d been here more than a few times, usually in search of witnesses to Welsh’s sins, but occasionally, like tonight, to work off my frustration with the world by stopping a few crooks.

When I arrived, it was still early for real trouble. I probably could’ve attracted it if I wanted, but I wasn’t that crazy. So instead I kept a low profile, walked up and down and occasionally sat on a bench for a bit, and waited and listened for something to show up.

Eventually, of course, I found what I was looking for. First were a young man and his buddies attempting to break into a car. I chased them off with a simple string of notes that heated their tools in their hands, but I didn’t pursue. Next, a pair of thugs who’ve cornered a woman with features reminiscent of Uhjin’s, whose notes in the song of people were soured by fear. I sank the criminals’ feet into the asphalt, called the police, and escorted the lost lady on her way— the first such encounter of the night, but not the last. Twice, whole groups of toughs were stupid enough to come after me, and I summoned fire from my violin strings to teach them a lesson. And three times I chased the Death Song down streets and alleyways, but none were the result of a violent crime, and both times I was too late to do anything anyway.

Those weren’t the only times I was unable to reach trouble before it ended, and my failures stacked on top of each other, looming larger than they should’ve. Their ominous beat overwhelmed the golden song of my successes, reminding me again and again that no matter how many criminals I caught or chased off, no matter how many people I helped, no matter what songs I wielded, I was still so powerless. No matter how much I did, what I couldn’t accomplish felt like an overwhelming flood. I couldn’t stop all the crime in the city; I couldn’t even stop all the crime on this small set of streets. I couldn’t save Lacey three years ago; I couldn’t save Ana now. I couldn’t expose Welsh, despite all my investigations. Even my best efforts would never be enough, it seemed, to accomplish anything significant.

Such thoughts, fueled by bitter black coffee purchased from various convenience stores, kept me up and on the streets until the early hours of the next morning. Only then, when the fire of my frustration had cooled to embers and my steps had slowed to sluggishness, did I reluctantly turn back towards home. I walked slumped, my hands in my sweatshirt pockets, humming air for protection. The sun would be up in a matter of hours, I knew, and the worst bit of the night for crime was over. Maybe that was why I let my guard down a little, trusting my song to delay or deflect any danger.
That was a mistake.

At first, I thought the three were just another trio of mostly-drunk locals: not good company to keep, but not likely to attack. Sure, it was late— or, depending how you looked at it, early— for those types to be out much, but there were more than a few bars that would’ve just closed not too long ago. The three were definitely acting drunk, stumbling along and speaking in loud, slurred tones that contained more sound than meaning. I curved in towards the edge of the sidewalk to pass them and otherwise ignored them—

Until one grabbed my arm and yanked hard. I skidded a step before the force jerked me awake. I immediately widened my stance, twisting my wrist in his grip to try to get control. I opened my mouth to sing, but the notes came out off-key from surprise, weariness, and too much coffee, and the other two men closed in on either side of me, no longer shambling but alert and controlled.

No no no no no . . . I went back to humming; managed enough notes of air to push the two on the sides back a step. Got to get past them, get away . . .

I finally managed to pull free from the first man, but— too late. The other two closed back in, and the first advanced, forcing me back against a wall. The one in the middle, clearly the ringleader, drew a pistol and pointed it at me, while the other two pulled out knives. Lovely. 

The leader addressed me in the accents of the inner city: “You’re gonna keep your mouth shut, girl—” only he didn’t say girl— “unless you wanna get shot. One note outta you . . .”

I responded by humming heat into their weapons, focusing on the pistol. One of the men yelled and dropped his knife, shaking his burned hand. I lunged past him, hands up over my head, switching from heat to air mid-note.

The bang of the gunshot almost deafened me, though my shield of air deflected the bullet. My song faltered, and I stumbled, went down hard. My chin hit the ground and I tasted blood.

No time to stop. I started to push myself up, but a kick to my side toppled me back onto the asphalt. I rolled to avoid another blow and scrambled back to my feet. “What do you want with me? Money? I’ve got five bucks; you can have it.” Not likely, given their actions so far, but I could try . . .

The three advanced. I backed away. The leader still held his pistol in his hands— gloved, I realized belatedly. “Not your money. You.” His finger tightened on the trigger. “Last shot was a warning. This one won’t be.”

Great. I didn’t think he’d actually kill me since he hadn’t just shot me straight off, but a bullet in the leg or arm would still hurt. So, for lack of a better idea, I turned and ran for my life. I expected a gunshot to follow, but instead, I heard three sets of pounding feet as my attackers chased after me.
Now, I’m a pretty fast runner. But, exhausted as I was, these three were faster. Before I could make the next block, a hand grabbed my hood and jerked back. I stumbled; tried to twist away— no luck. The group’s leader caught me as I fell backward and squeezed his arm around my throat in a chokehold.

I grabbed his arm and pulled down, but he barely budged. Though I tried to gasp out a song, any song, all I managed was a ragged squeak. Oh no oh no oh no— 

“Not so much trouble without your voice, are you?” The man tightened his hold. “Call Jacobs. Tell him to bring the car. We’ve got her.”

Badbadbadbad— My head spun, and grey fuzziness intruded in the corners of my vision. Oh God help! I twisted, managed to relieve the pressure enough to get a quick breath. But before I could do more, the leader turned too, choking me once more. “Stop struggling, girl. Don’t make me hurt you more.”

I’m going to get hurt anyway, aren’t I? I twisted again, this time stamping on his foot and jerking harder at his arm. He didn’t even flinch, but I managed to loosen his hold enough to tuck in my chin, temporarily  preventing him from choking me again.

Think fast. My power was still my best defense, but singing meant exposing myself to being choked again. I needed something that would work with only a few notes. Fire. Fire’s quick.

I straightened and sang a series of five rapid, slightly off-key notes before the leader clamped his arm down on my throat again. In the same moment, I felt heat on my ear as the shoulder of the man’s leather jacket burst into flames.

He howled and let go. I dashed away, but another of the thugs slammed into me, knocking me to the ground. Before I could get up, his knee was in my back and his hand was pressing my face into the ground. Oh God please no. I flailed at him, but couldn’t see to land a hit.

“Got her— hurry and tie her up before she tries something else!” This, I guessed, was the thug holding me. I increased my struggles, kicking and squirming as well as flailing, but then a pair of hands grabbed my arms and forced my wrists together. Something thin and solid— a zip tie, I suspected— was wrapped tightly around them.

I kicked in the general direction of where I thought my attackers were, but my foot hit nothing but air. Then they grabbed my legs and zip-tied my ankles as well. Badbadbad oh God help. If I could sing, maybe I could soften the plastic like I did the subway tile that one time, but, with my face in the asphalt, I couldn’t open my mouth enough to get out a single note.