On Sale Now: The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2)

One of my writer friends has published her second book in a really nifty series. Go check it out!

Kate M. Colby

perf5.250x8.000.inddAfter over a year of working and waiting, I’m pleased to announce that The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2) is available in ebook AND paperback formats on all major online retailers.

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who has helped me get to this point. I couldn’t have published one book, let alone two, without the support of my family, friends, and fellow writers. My readers deserve a special thanks: your encouraging emails, social media shout-outs, and heartwarming reviews are the fuel that keeps my inspiration burning. Thank you joining my journey.

When I published The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) last year, I thought my heart would burst from panic. Here I was, an unknown and inexperienced author, putting her art out for the world to judge. Publishing my nonfiction booklets has felt significantly less personal (more like writing one of my craft blog posts), so I thought I…

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The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2) Cover Reveal

Check out my friend Kate’s cover reveal for her second novel. It’s on my “to be read” list for sure. I’m so proud of my writer friends! ~Nikki

Kate M. Colby

Hello, everyone! Today, I’m pleased to present the cover and book description for The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2).

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A courtesan on a mission. A brothel ravished by greed. A murder to avenge.

Dellwyn Rutt loves her life as a courtesan. For years, she has enjoyed the simple pleasures and lavish gifts of her trade. Now she wants more: the title of madam.

But Madam Huxley, the brothel’s current proprietor, refuses to name a successor—a problem that is amplified by the legalization of adultery. As the new law sends lusty clients flocking to the brothel, Madam Huxley’s greed grows unchecked at the workers’ expense. Only one outsider seems to care: a self-proclaimed prophet who won’t rest until the unholy institution is abolished.

After weeks of abuse, Dellwyn desperately seeks a way to subdue Madam Huxley’s tyranny. But when another courtesan is murdered, Dellwyn must set her struggles aside and solve the…

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Back from the Abyss

Surprise! I bet you guys thought I’d fallen off the face of the earth, considering how quiet this blog has been this year. All I can say is life happens and things don’t always work out the way you plan. Fortunately, sometimes things also turn out better than you expect, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Despite all this inactivity, I did have one event I wanted to share with you guys. Up until this summer, all the writing I’d done was on my NaNoWriMo novels, or short stories and writing prompts with my BFF. Some of them have appeared on this blog–see the menu links above–but most have been only in Scrivener or rattling around in my head. Then M emailed me and said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Hey, will you do the 24 hour short story contest with me? The entry fee is only five dollars.”  I was curious enough that I went and checked it out and said, “Sure, why not?”

So, come July 18th I found myself sitting in the library with M, not-so-patiently waiting for noon to roll around so we could go to the site and find out our prompt and start writing. After a couple of refreshes, there it was.

Aaaand that’s when the trouble began.

While M got her idea almost immediately and started researching and writing within the first hour, I struggled for a good two hours trying to find a way to use a character I’d created for a different short story that I’d wanted to use again. I admit, frustration almost got the best of me until I decided I needed some air and tossed my key chain onto the table.

I looked down at the clunk, and grinned.

WWLegoFigure
Wonder Woman LEGO character from “The LEGO Movie”, aka the one on my key chain and the story’s inspiration.

You see, earlier that day during lunch, M had given me a souvenir gift from her trip to LEGOLand® with her boys. She knew how much I loved Wonder Woman swag (and I have A LOT of it), and she’d found me a key chain sporting my favorite super-heroine. I was so tickled I’d immediately attached it to my car key ring. At that moment, seeing her laying face up and smiling at me, inspiration struck like she’d tossed out her lasso and whacked me in the head.

I could use Wonder Woman as the heroine in my story!

Well, once that thought took hold, I was off to the races. I’d remembered the beginning of the first episode of the 1977 “Wonder Woman” television show had taken place on Themyscira, Diana’s homeland, and so it was easy to picture exactly what the fabulous Lynda Carter looked like as her princess persona. On top of that, since I am quite familiar with Greek myths, I also pulled in one of my favorite small screen bad guys in the form of the character the late Kevin Smith as Ares, God of War from “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

Following a little research into the Amazon legends and myths, I found one that perfectly suited my story idea, and in no time my fingers were flying across the keyboard. A few hours later, I’d written 1136 words, and it was time to cut that down to the limit of 950. After a little reworking, I had a story I was happy with and sent it in.

Waiting the seven weeks to find out the results was maddening, although I’m not sure why I thought I’d win my first time out. I do find it interesting that this was one of the few times I didn’t immediately think “Nah, I won’t win anything, I never do,” but instead thought positively on the outcome. In the end, I was among the hundreds of folks who, for whatever reason, didn’t make the judges’ final cut. It took a day or so for me to be okay with that and just be happy I’d not given up and had sent in a submission. I think that’s why I like NaNoWriMo so much; while you may be in the same competition as your friends, you’re really only competing against yourself and the word count. In fact, I’ve already started prepping for this year’s entry. :)

I hope you like my story of what happens when a former superhero returns home to her paradise island and embraces her old traditions, only to find things aren’t what they seem. It is also posted as its own page, which also includes the prompt from which this story came, under the “About Nik’s Stories/Writing Competitions” menu above for future reading.

Isn’t It A Wonder

Diana, princess to Themyscira (Lynda Carter) from “Wonder Woman”
Diana, princess of Themyscira (Lynda Carter from “Wonder Woman”)

Diana carefully stepped down into the grotto and settled onto one of the underwater benches, sighing as the cool waters soothed her overheated skin. Catching sight of her sibling, she waved, glad she’d been able to attend Drusilla’s twenty-first birthday party despite her condition. Nearly everyone in the commune was also in attendance, laughing and enjoying the sun and surf, not to mention the picnic the queen had arranged.

As if summoned by thought, Queen Hippolyta joined her at the edge of the pool.

“How are you feeling today?”

“I’m fine, Mother. You can stop hovering.”

“I’m allowed to hover,” she argued. “You’re carrying my first grandchild, and she’s going to be the first Themysciran princess born in centuries. The gods may have gifted you with beauty, strength and wisdom, but you’re still a mortal and my daughter.”

“Yes, but even we Amazons slow down a little when it comes to childbirth,” Diana said, reaching for her sister’s hand as Drusilla settled down beside them. “Enough about me. How are you enjoying your party, little one?”

Dru grinned. “I’m great! The gift table is stacked with presents, I’ve snacked on every treat at least twice, and I’ve finally worn Atalanta down. I start my archery lessons next week. I couldn’t have asked for a better day! Thank you.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Hippolyta returned, smiling affectionately at her youngest child. “Now, I’ll leave you to your celebration. I still have work to do and last minute details to finalize.” Rising to her feet in that graceful way all queens seemed to possess, she bent to kiss each daughter’s temple.

Suddenly, a loud, shrill whistle cut through the air. In the silence that followed, the thunder of fast-approaching horses could be heard. A moment later, Hippolyta’s assistant rode up to them with two horses in tow and reined in hard. Ephiny acknowledged the queen with a quick nod.

“Majesty, we appear to have an emergency situation regarding tonight’s shipment.”

“What happened?” the queen asked.

The blonde briefly glanced at Diana, who didn’t like the panic she saw in her normally unflappable friend. “It seems one of our pets has somehow managed to free himself, and… Well, my Queen, we can’t seem to find him.”

Hippolyta wasted no time. “Drusilla, help get your sister onto her horse then return to your party,” the queen ordered, taking a set of reins from her assistant. “Tell anyone that asks we’ve gone to handle the preparations for the rest of the evening’s festivities.”

Ephiny cursed under her breath when the queen kicked her steed into a full gallop and took the path back across the sand. Diana reached for her sister’s hand and climbed out of the pool, then hauled herself onto the unfamiliar sidesaddle, following at the much slower and frustrating pace her condition required.

As she approached the island’s southern edge, she saw her mother, Ephiny and Tania the stable mistress deep in conversation. As Diana did not see any of their pets waiting to be loaded onto the docked ship, she surmised they’d been returned to their stables until the situation could be resolved. Dismounting awkwardly, she joined the discussion.

“Where have you searched for him?” Hippolyta asked. “He can’t have gotten very far.”

“We’ve searched everywhere he might have gone in the time since the midday feeding when he was last seen, Your Majesty,” Tania replied. “The second and third Circles hunt for him still.”

“What of his restraints? How did he break the chains?”

“That’s part of the problem, Majesty,” Ephiny admitted, crouching down to the pile of chain at her feet. Diana watched as her friend pushed aside the ring that Tania must have pried loose from its proper place on the wall and sifted through the thick, heavy links until she held up an undamaged manacle. “He didn’t break the chains, nor did he pull himself free. Even the lock’s still intact. It’s like he simply…slipped free.”

Hippolyta handed back the shackle and frowned. “You still haven’t told me to which pet these belong.”

Ephiny tossed the restraints back to the sand and straightened, her gaze capturing Diana’s. “These are Kairos’s chains.”

At this news, the Queen turned and regarded her daughter, disappointment etched on her face. “Diana, I had hoped that your agreement to participate in this, our oldest of traditions, meant that you’d finally embraced your true heritage once more. Please, daughter, tell me you had nothing to do with the freeing of your pet.”

Ares, God of War (Kevin Smith) from “Xena: Warrior Princess”
Ares, God of War (the late Kevin Smith from “Xena: Warrior Princess”)

“She didn’t.”

The warriors reacted instinctually to both the male voice and the amusement they heard in it. Spinning around to confront the intruder, each woman’s hand rested on the dagger at her hip. All were shocked to find the pet they’d been searching for casually leaning against the gate that led to the family’s private quarters, especially Diana.

“You knew the rules, Kairos.” Diana held her ground when he straightened and advanced, the prey now becoming the predator. “You served your year in the stables and earned your freedom. Why do this now?”

“It’s simple, princess. I want my child. I’m not going to let you kill him when he’s born.”

Her hands flew to her belly, the feminum bracelets she wore on each wrist glinting in the afternoon sun. “My child doesn’t belong to you, Kairos. She belongs to the Amazons.”

“Oh, my dear Diana, how wrong you are,” he drawled, and with a flick of his wrist vanished his disguise. Ares, the God of War, laughed delightedly as the women began to back away from his true identity. “That child isn’t just an Amazon, he’s also a demigod. Isn’t that a wonder?”

Author’s Note: no Greek gods or legendary characters were harmed in the writing of this tale. A few myths may have been slightly bent, however.

Now, anyone see where I put my Wonder Woman television show DVDs…?

Artemis’ Rescue: A Flash Fiction Challenge

Hello everyone! I’m writing to you today from the morning of Day Five of my much-needed staycation. I’ve been getting a lot accomplished (like cleaning my house, getting donations that have been sitting around for months out of said clean house, and taking a fun day to go shopping and out to lunch with Mom), and those accomplishments also include writing my self-assigned flash fiction challenge of last week. If you missed the earlier post on this, you can read it here but I’ll also remind you below.

“Take all the items listed in the [@YouAreCarrying] response tweet (your ‘inventory’) and use them all — in some way, oblique, abstract or overt — in a flash fiction.

My inventory, for those of you who will be reading carefully to make sure all are present and accounted for, is: an arrow, a teapot decorated with sad bats, a brass token, a cake frosted with blue letters, and a wooden life ring.

This turned out to be another great exercise for me. This time, I also completed the challenge on time and added to the original Terrible Minds post, which means more people might read my story. That in itself is pretty darn nifty.

I also completely changed what I thought would be the setting for the story. At first I was thinking something witchy, what with a teapot with bats on it being part of my inventory, but when I sat down to start writing, Artemis popped in my head. Now, this is no surprise, considering a) my first inventory item of an arrow, b) the fact that I’ve always had a thing for Greek mythology, and c) my name itself is derived from Nike, goddess of victory. Even though I had no idea how I would work a wooden life ring (aka life preserver) into the story, I went with it and where the story took me.

So here’s my story of what happens when a modern-day goddess of the hunt comes across a shipwrecked man on her way to visit her friend, the modern-day goddess of wisdom. It is also posted as its own page under the “About Nik’s Stories” menu above for future reading.

Artemis’ Rescue

Artemis stepped outside and shut the door to her cabin, making sure she heard the latch drop into place. She didn’t know why her brother insisted she have a lock on her door. She’d done fine for millenia without locks, especially when the animals in the forest kept watch. Leave it to Apollo to go all big brother on her and install the blasted thing anyway, even though she’d been the twin born first.

She whistled softly, smiling when she heard the sounds of her dogs and Aeolus thrust his head into her hand. She scratched the brown spotted hound’s ears, then crouched down to greet the others: Delos and Damian with their black-and-white coats, and her three lovelies Hector, Helios and Theron, whose reddish coats shone in the moonlight. Since the day she’d received them from Pan, she’d never been without them.

“Well, my hounds, shall we go?”

All six responded with short barks, so she sent them down the path ahead of her. It wasn’t long before one returned to her side, agitated.

“What is it, my boy?”

Theron whimpered at her, then went still as did the rest of the forest around her. In seconds, her five remaining hounds appeared beside her, their attention trained somewhere over the next rise.

Artemis, goddess of the hunt (photo source: Pinterest)
Artemis, goddess of the hunt (photo source: Pinterest)

She reached into her pack and pulled out her favorite compound bow, thumbing the switch that triggered its transformation to full size. She drew an arrow from the quiver on her back, settling it into place as she slowly climbed She whispered to her dogs, “Quickly but quietly,” and they slipped away to take up their usual hunting positions around her. It took her a few strides to crest the top of the small hill, and a moment later she sheathed her arrow and collapsed and stowed her bow as she ran down to the edge of the water where the man lay half submerged.

Chunks of wreckage surrounded the survivor, who was lying on a large section of deck planking. She could see in the distance the remains of his ship, with its broken mast spearing out of the waves crookedly and the rear section of the stern barely visible above the choppy waters. A wooden life ring’s cord had twisted itself around his ankle, and floated behind him. A satchel was strapped across his chest and caught beneath him, and she would bet that he’d broken everything within it.

Kneeling at his side, she realized how large he was. Upright, he had to be at least seven feet tall, and through his tattered clothing she saw nothing but tanned muscle. She brushed his thick dark hair away from his face, her hand coming away bloody from a nasty gash just beneath his hairline. Wasting no time, she tore a strip of linen off her tunic and began bandaging his wound even as she reached out for her friend’s mind.

Athena, are you there?

Artemis! Where on Earth are you? Even through their telepathy, Artemis could hear the war goddess’ concern. We expected you an hour ago. I was about to send Callisto to look for you.

Do you still have that wagon that you haul weapons around in?

Yes. Why?

Bring it and the girls with you when you come. I’ll explain when you get here. I need your help as fast as you can manage. I’m sending Aeolus to you. He’ll lead you back along the coast about two miles west of your house. It looks like that storm we had last night did a little more than scare your owls and my deer. It took down a big passenger ship, and I don’t think I can move on my own the very large, very muscular man lying at my feet with a head wound that’s bleeding a little more profusely than I’d like. He may be its only survivor.

We’ll be there soon, came back Athena’s crisp response.

She knew she could count on the goddess of war to be calm in a crisis. Giving Aeolus the command to go to Athena, she motioned for the rest of her hounds to stand down. They settled into the sand an arm’s length away to her left, heads resting on paws but keeping both of them within view. A pained groan snapped her attention back to the man before her. Placing a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to keep him from moving, the warmth of his skin had her wondering.

“Try not to move,” she suggested softly. “I don’t know what injuries you might have gotten from being tossed about in the storm, and we don’t want to make them worse.”

He merely grunted at her. Her hand slipped from his shoulder as he shifted, uncurling his fingers from their grip on the wood, sliding both of his hands back until they were palms down and even with his massive shoulders. He managed to push himself off the planks, every muscle in his arms and shoulders quivering with the effort. As she watched him get his feet underneath him so that he could move himself off his life raft and onto the beach, she couldn’t help but admire his strength. She considered contacting Athena and telling her they weren’t needed, but by the awkward way he collapsed into a half-sitting, half-leaning position, she decided to have her check him over for injuries.

He raked his hair back and off his forehead, out of his eyes, he winced when he aggravated his head wound. Fingering the bandage, he glanced over at her. “Hello, Artemis.”

His knowing her name didn’t surprise her. It did, however, confirm her earlier hunch that he might be a demigod. She would eventually figure out which one of his parents was of the Olympian pantheon, as she was.

“Hello to you.”

He chuckled as he freed himself from the life ring’s rope. “I forget we’ve never officially been introduced as I’ve wanted to meet you for years. You know my father, Poseidon.”

Her memories clicked into place. She now placed where she’d seen eyes that same color, and that charming smile. “Ah, yes. You would be Orion.”

When he shifted as if to stand, she motioned for him to stay put. “You need to rest; my friends will be here shortly with a wagon and we’ll get you patched up.”

“I’m not going to argue with you. My left side aches something terrible.” He drew the strap of his bag over his head and grimaced when he heard the tinkling of shattered pottery. “Oh, Mother’s not going to be happy about this.” He loosened the buckle and carefully slipped a hand inside, drawing it back out again. In his palm lay large bits of white painted ceramic, including one that stared back at her with oddly sad eyes. “She has this quirky collection of teapots that Hecate throws and decorates for her. Never seen one with bats on it before, let alone with such unhappy expressions. Think she’ll forgive me if I tell her it broke when I landed on it trying to survive a near-hurricane?”

Artemis smiled. “Perhaps. I’ve found mothers are often much more forgiving toward their only sons. My brother is a perfect example.”

Further conversation was halted momentarily by the arrival of Aeolus, who skidded to a stop at Artemis’ side, his entire body vibrating in his happiness to be reunited with his mistress. She thanked him with a hug, a quick body rub and a kiss, and his enthusiastic bark caused Orion to laugh.

“Oh, I really shouldn’t have laughed. I think Mother’s teapot cracked a couple of ribs.”

“We’ll soon find out. Here come my friends.” She pointed up the beach. Athena was up in the driver’s seat, with Artemis’ two companions holding on for dear life in the bed of the wagon. Apparently, the goddess of war drove at breakneck speed no matter the cargo she carried. The passengers hopped out before the goddess had reigned in the horses to a complete stop, and stumbled a little in the sand. Jogging the few extra feet to where she sat, Callisto stood as if on guard and glared at Orion, while Atalanta merely nodded to him in greeting.

“Who have we here?’ greeted Athena as she joined the group, “and what did you do to make the god of the sea so mad that he had it make a meal out of your ship and spit you back out again like a bad clam?”

Orion shrugged. “I don’t think it was about me personally. Right before we capsized I thought I heard him bellow something, Odysseus perhaps? In any case, I doubt it would have mattered overmuch had he known I was on board. Father’s not exactly lacking for offspring, so losing one son of many to the depths wouldn’t matter to anyone but my mother.” He then met Athena’s gaze. “Considering your history with Poseidon, I would understand if you’d rather not get involved.”

“Oh, our relationship’s not that bad anymore,” the war goddess argued, then eyed him directly. “But if you ever make me mad, I’ll do worse than drown you at sea.” Athena wiggled her fingers at him, and the many legends of those who had crossed her flashed through his mind. He held up a hand in reassurance, and the goddess grinned.

The four of them managed to get him upright and over to the bed of the wagon, where Athena performed a cursory field inspection. The cut on his head was no longer bleeding, and when she gently probed the huge bruise covering the majority of the left side of Orion’s torso, she reported that he did indeed have a couple of cracked ribs but they seemed to be healing.

“I think you inherited some of your father’s affinity for water,” Athena said as she stepped back, securing her first aid kit back in its space in the wagon. “I believe in another couple of hours, you’ll be fully healed.”

He carefully slid off the back of the wagon, and other than a hand pressed to his side, he showed no signs of being in pain. “I guess sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be a demigod. Thank you for your assistance, ladies, but I should be on my way. Artemis’ hounds have reminded me I have one of my own waiting for me at home.” He walked a few steps, then stopped to rummage through his satchel. Calling out her name, he pitched a small coin in Artemis’ direction.

Catching it in mid-air, she inspected the object. It was filthy despite Orion’s impromptu swim, so she knelt at the water’s edge and cleaned it off. At first she thought he’d tossed her a drachma, one of the ancient coins they’d used for currency. What he’d in fact given her was a brass token belonging to an amusement park she’d heard of years ago that claimed to include a decent archery range. He’d tossed it to her knowing she’d be unable to resist the invitation, and she smiled.

“Come on, Artemis!” Callisto ran and grabbed her free hand. “You have to see the dessert Athena got for us. It’s one of those big yummy vanilla sheet cakes, and she had them write ‘Girls Night’ on it in bright blue letters, and in Greek no less!”

Whistling for her dogs, Artemis slipped Orion’s token into her pocket and let her be pulled along as she listened to her companion chatter on. Glancing back toward the forest as she climbed into the wagon, she was oddly pleased to discover he stood waiting at the edge of the trees. Curious, she reached out with her mind and discovered he’d inherited one additional ability from his father as she connected with him telepathically.

Well? he asked, his deep voice oddly intimate as it resonated in her mind.

You’re on, she answered, looking forward to the challenge.

Author’s Note: no Greek gods, goddesses, heroines or constellations were harmed in the writing of this tale. A few myths and legends may have been slightly bent, however.

Now, anyone see where I put my Percy Jackson Blu-rays…?

Cease and Desist: A Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s a couple of days late, but here’s the result of my flash fiction challenge that M issued last week. In case you missed the earlier post on this, you can read it here but I’ll also make it easier by reminding you below.

“You will pick two [subgenres] from the list…then you will write a short story that mashes up those two subgenres.

It was a good exercise for me in many ways. First, I’m writing! That’s always a good thing. Second, it was good for me to start and end a story in 2,000 words, because it showed me I could actually finish a story, not just a scene like I had with the writer’s blocks.As I mentioned in my Meet My Character Blog Tour post, once I got the bare bones of this story down on paper and knew who my superhero heronie was, it turns out the story came together pretty quickly. I spent a few hours on Saturday writing 75% of the story, and the rest on Sunday with M at our monthly writing session. I also have to thank the Syfy Channel’s 2007 mini-series “Tin Man” and the character of Azkadellia for inspiring the way that Skylar reveals her wings.

So, there may yet be hope that I’ll finish either “GBE” (that’s my chick lit “Great Boyfriend Experiment” novel in progress for those of you new to the blog that’s 85% done and really, really long) or “Shifters” (my paranormal/fantasy novel that I started during NaNoWriMo 2013) in the near future.

For now, I’ll settle for presenting to you Skylar’s story.

Cease and Desist

Skylar pushed through the revolving door of her office building and emerged into the humid afternoon rolling her shoulders, trying to relieve some of the stress from her day’s work as a courier. She’d been busy since she’d arrived that morning, from the first assignment a few blocks over in the city to the last that had taken her two territories over. Her shoulders ached, but that was no surprise, considering the flight time she’d clocked that day. Glancing up at the Corporate cameras on every corner of every block aimed in every direction, she weighed calling out her wings to relieve some of the aches against how long it might take the Central Database to register she wasn’t on the clock and report her.She settled for pulling out her cell phone and making an appointment for a massage.

Sighing, Skylar headed for home with her her hands shoved into the pockets of her short jacket so the cameras wouldn’t pick up on her frustration. She could have tolerated the constant surveillance and the Corporation controlling all aspects of her life if she at least liked her job. There weren’t that many options for her kind, although she’d never wished to be anything other than what she was, even if it meant being stuck for life in a job she hated. Still, she didn’t want anything to affect her standing in the SARC waiting list.

That’s what she really wanted to do, like her uncle had done before her. He’d told her stories of his adventures with the Search and Rescue Corps until the day he’d been caught in an explosion and lost the use of his wings. She’d interned with SARC all through college, hoping she’d get a placement on graduation. Unfortunately, no positions had been available and she’d been stuck looking elsewhere.

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Skylar, heroine of “Cease and Desist” (photo source: Pinterest)

Skylar knew it could be worse. She could be in a job that didn’t allow her to use her wings at all, forced to keep them hidden except for that single hour a day alloted for exercise to keep the muscles from atrophying. Her mother had freaked out when she’d hit puberty and the grayscale tattoos had appeared on her shoulders, shoulder blades, upper arms and ribs, indicating she’d inherited her father’s power of flight. Skylar had been thrilled and had reveled in the freedom to use them whenever she wanted. Even when she’d come of age at twenty-one and received her implant, she hadn’t minded her appointment as a courier because it meant she’d get to fly every day.

Ten years later, it was a different story.

She turned the corner toward home when the streets behind her suddenly erupted in shouting and screaming. Spinning around, she caught sight of a large group of fliers heading for the city in tight formation. She watched as they reached downtown, paused long enough to make one big circuit in the air, then gained a few hundred feet in altitude before flying hard and fast downward.

It wasn’t until she saw them tuck in their wings that she knew their intent. Even as she thought it, the dozen men and women in the sky broke apart and aimed for the small cluster of six buildings that comprised Corporation headquarters. She flinched as she watched them intentionally crash through windows, targeting four separate floors in each of three main buildings. Glass rained down on the citizens below, most being able to duck under awnings or into doorways to avoid the shards.

Suddenly, the air went still and the sounds of the street went quiet, as if the city itself were holding its breath in anticipation.

A second later, all three damaged buildings exploded from the inside out, cascading chunks of concrete and steel into the neighboring buildings and onto the streets and people below.

Skylar shoved her way through the crowd running away from the buildings now billowing thick black smoke and engulfed in flames, trying to make her way closer to the scene of the attack. She could hear the sirens that heralded the coming of the nearest SARC team off in the distance, but they were a lot farther away than they needed to be in order to be of any significant help. Based on where the bombers had chosen to target each of the buildings, she knew it was only a matter of time before one or all three of them began collapsing.

Suddenly she felt the unmistakable downdrafts of a winged flier and looked up. Two airborne members of the elite SARC team had arrived, and they hovered in the air, assessing the situation. They shouted for everyone to get back, to go home, to get inside, but Skylar didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Here were her uncle’s stories unfolding before her in real life, in real time, in all of its horrible glory. She could easily see her uncle hovering aloft in a blue and gold uniform calming everyone down with firm but gentle authority, creating order out of chaos, and helping anyone who needed him.

Her appointment forgotten, Skylar smiled and stepped back until she was mostly hidden in the doorway of a nearby shop to watch. The roaring of the fire didn’t bother her, nor did the ash that was beginning to fall from the burning buildings, or the chaos caused by frightened citizens. This was what she wanted, not schlepping papers or currency or this bit of whatever from city to city for whoever could pay for the privilege. This was what she was meant to do with her life, she was sure of it.

It took a moment for her to realize something wasn’t right. Without the rest of their SARC team, the fliers weren’t able to do anything about the raging fires so they still burned out of control. Without their equipment or support personnel, they were only able to rescue or assist a limited number of people in the air or on the ground, and she could see their frustration in the way they flew.

She heard shouting and saw quite a few curious people had come out into the streets, thinking the worst was over. The fliers were urgently ordering them back inside and off the streets before putting on a sudden burst of power and rocketing up higher in the sky.

Seconds later, she understood why.

They’d seen from their higher vantage point what was coming next and were getting out of the way so they’d be around to help. Loud cracking and popping preceded ominous rumbling that shook the ground Skylar stood on as each of the four damaged floors in the first building imploded and it began to collapse. Skylar gripped the edge of the doorway and buried her head in her shoulder to muffle her crying as she imagined all of the people who were trapped within that two hundred story building as it fell, unable to do anything but die.

Her head snapped up as she heard horrified screaming, and Skylar barely contained her own scream as she saw that workers within the buildings had started breaking windows and leaping out into thin air rather than being caught and crushed as the building went down.

The SARC fliers reacted immediately. They literally swooped in and snatched people out of mid-air, but they were too few and the jumpers were too many. For every four people they caught and rescued, twice that many plummeted to the ground. Only a few were lucky and managed to land on a succession of awnings or trees that slowed their descent enough to keep them alive, but most ended up broken and bloodied on the pavement.

When she heard the popping and booming starting again, Skylar turned away, not wanting to watch the second building and its tenants fall to their doom. It was then she heard her uncle’s voice in her head, saw him centered in the midst of an emergency helping anyone that needed him even after he’d been grounded. She knew then what she wanted to, could do. Yet she also knew the price she would have to pay.

If it meant she saved just one life, it would be worth it.

Shoving out of her hiding place, Skylar headed for the chaos, shedding her jacket as she ran. Her tattoos shimmered on the bare skin revealed by the halter top she always wore as she twisted up her hair and secured it with the tie that was ever-present around her wrist. One of the fliers saw her as he deposited a man and a woman on a fire escape, and hollered at her to get back and out of the way. Rather than replying, she stopped abruptly in the middle of the street and called forth her wings.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. As her arms lifted, she willed her wings to emerge from her tattoos. She heard gasps from those around her as the stylized wings seemed to lift from her skin, growing and unfolding in an impressive display. The glossy dark gray and black feathers caught small slivers of sunlight that made it through the floating ash as she stretched them to their full ten-foot wingspan.

Wasting no time, she vaulted into the air.

She pumped her wings hard and reached the same altitude as the other fliers, communicating with the hand signals she’d learned during her internship. Relief flashed briefly across their faces as they welcomed the help before they directed her beneath them. Ripping the nearest canvas awning off the building, she held one end and threw the other out, and each of the fliers caught hold, creating a makeshift sling that could carry multiple people to safety.

Just as they dropped off their first load onto a nearby fire escape out of danger, a sharp burst of pain skittered up the full length of her spine to her brain. Her unsanctioned activity had been transmitted to the Central Corporate Database through her implant and logged, and the noncompliance command had been triggered. Simultaneously, the Corporate warning all citizens feared echoed through her mind.

Citizen. You are acting outside of contract parameters and are hereby ordered to cease and desist. Comply immediately for summary judgment or endure summary execution.

Without hesitation, Skylar made her choice and remained aloft with the other fliers. But with every minute that passed, the pain coursing through her body from her implant intensified, and it began to affect her ability to fly. She waved off the concerned looks of the SARC team and kept going until she couldn’t hold back her cries.

“You’re not SARC, are you?” the nearest flier guessed.

Skylar ignored him.

The rest of the SARC team arrived just in time as the third building collapsed and the pain became too much for her. Skylar struggled to stay aloft and barely kept her side of the sling in the air until the six men and women within leapt to safety. Her grip slipped, then her left wing faltered, and abruptly she plummeted. The closest SARC flier released the tarp and dove after her, barely catching her in time to settle her gently on the street.

Holding her against him, his wings momentarily hiding them from view, he asked, “Why would you sacrifice yourself rather than comply?”

Fighting the pain, she managed to whisper, “Because for me, there was no other choice.” With a sharp, piercing scream, Skylar convulsed as her implant transmitted its final fatal pulse.

As she went limp in his arms, the young flier lowered his head to rest it against hers. He jolted as someone touched his shoulder, and he looked up to see the last six people she had saved standing in a circle around them.

“We’ll take care of her,” one of the women said. “Go do what you can. She won’t be forgotten.”

He nodded once to each of them, then launched himself into the air.

Author’s Note: You know it’s good when it makes both you and your best friend emotional at the end of the story. So thanks, Meagan, for challenging me to write my first ever finished short story. Go me!

Meet My Character Blog Tour

Last week, I was tagged in a post over on the Practice in Episodic Fiction blog of one of my newest writing cohorts. TJ and I met last year during NaNoWriMo (it never really goes away, does it?) and he’s keeping me on my toes with these surprise tags about writing and, more specifically, my writing. This time, it’s a task to write about the project you’re working on and a character within it. Because I’ve got at least two fiction projects in various stages of in progress-ness, I’ve been procrastinating on picking one.

Then came M’s flash fiction challenge of last week, and now I have a character I’d like to introduce you to. I’ve been thinking about her since the challenge was issued, and much more so yesterday as I started fleshing out the short story and figuring out who she is. I even dictated into my iPhone’s voice memo app on the way home last night with ideas that kept popping into my head so I wouldn’t forget them overnight. I do remember building on the first idea to an even better one, so hopefully this little short story of mine will be as interesting as I think my character is turning out to be.

Let’s find out who this girl is, shall we?

Q1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Her name is Skylar (thanks, Pinterest, for finding her for me) and here’s a photo of her, although my girl has a slightly different tattoo. She’s a fictional character and not based on anyone, except maybe a teensy bit on Maleficent from the new movie.

Q2) When and where is the story set?

The short story takes place in present day and is set in a parallel dystopian world, where citizens are under constant surveillance by the corporations who control all aspects of life, including the monitoring of anyone with superhuman abilities, like Skylar.

Q3) What should we know about him/her?

She has the power of winged flight, an ability inherited from her father, but because of societal rules and the methods of enforcement, she is only allowed to fly in conjunction with her occupation.

Q4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Skylar hates her job as a courier. The corporate restrictions in place — not to mention the monitoring implant in her spine — do not allow her to fly except when on the clock, not even to travel to her home. So for those few brief moments she takes to the skies for her job, she also loves it.

Her story takes place just after she has clocked out for the day, when she witnesses an attack on the main downtown corporate building complex. Multiple attacks plow into three of the six buildings on multiple levels, and as the buildings start to collapse, she watches in horror and helplessness as people begin leaping from the smoking pillars of concrete, glass and steel rather than getting caught in the collapse and buried under the massive amounts of rubble.

Q5) What is the personal goal of the character?

Her dream has always been to be part of the elite SARC (Search and Rescue Corps). Unfortunately, corporate employment is a lifetime appointment, and the last time a SARC flight placement became available, she was ineligible for consideration due to her age, and one hasn’t become available since. Knowing how deadly the punishment for using her abilities outside of allowable parameters could be, and also knowing she cannot stand by and do nothing, Skylar calls forth her wings and launches into the air to help.

Q6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

I’m calling it Cease and Desist, as that’s the corporate warning that is transmitted by her implant into her head when her illegal actions are registered by the Central Corporate Database.

Q7) When can we expect the book to be published?

The short story will be posted here by the Flash Fiction Challenge deadline.

Now, for the people to tag to continue the character blog tour:

  • Meagan — of course, because she can’t seem to stop poking at me to write, so it’s only fair I return the favor.
  • Mandy — because she’s the first of my friends to publish a book, and I would love to learn more about Alex in Book 2.
  • Hailey — a new follower of my blog and fellow writer that I’d like to get to know.

Don’t forget to stay tuned for Skylar’s story, arriving by Friday at 11 AM to NATN!