March Check-In


This is my official check-in for March!

My goal for 2017 is to do an update post once a month (or once every two months, if I don’t have many updates). I’ll usually post these more mid-month, but I’m doing it earlier this time because I have a promotion going on at Smashwords I want to announce. And I also promised some insight into future books, so that’s what the second part of this post is about.

Promotions:

All of the Reborn installments thus far are on sale for free over at Smashwords; just enter the code SFREE at checkout. If you don’t have a Smashwords account, no worries–it’s free to create an account. This is part of Smashwords’ Read an Ebook Week that runs through March 11.

The Grand Plan

So I’ve been keeping busy updating my book notes and planning out the rest of the series. I’m not really doing any regular writing yet, maybe a little here and there, because honestly I’m kind of burned out from finishing Reclaim. I need a break. I know the usual writers’ advice goes that you should write a little every day, but sometimes I just need to let my imagination wander, clear my mind to let inspiration strike. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a bit about where the Reborn series is headed.

Even though thus far I’ve been a one project at a time kind of writer, I’m going to do my best to bounce back and forth between projects this time, so that I can publish things simultaneously, like I did with Revenge and Reclaim. Even though Revenge was just a novella and the latter was a full-length book, I liked being able to put them out close together. This time, I’ll aim to put out books 4 and 5 (which don’t have titles yet) around the same time, maybe a few months apart. This is mainly because book 5 goes back to mostly Siobhan’s story (and Carly’s a little bit)–and I’m sure you’re kind of wondering where I’m taking those plot threads–but book 4 focuses on Anna.

What this series sort of turned into is three separate (but related) stories–Siobhan, Carly, and Anna’s. The events in book 4 run parallel to Reclaim, but since Anna isn’t in the sorority it’s really a completely different story. I just couldn’t see any seamless way to incorporate her story into any other book, but it’s a story I want to tell. Plus, one of the big reveals of the series will happen in book 4.

The first three books are kinda dark, but not really, but I think the next book is going to go to a very dark place. Hopefully you guys will stick with it, lol. Siobhan’s story is in part a story of an inner battle between good and evil, and, although at the end of Relapse Siobhan is left giving in to her darker side, good will ultimately win out. Carly is a more resilient character and isn’t as easily swayed by darkness. Anna’s story, on the other hand, is going to be more of her transforming into a villain in the series (while also gaining a lot of power). Just to mentally prepare you early on, haha. I’m also reading up on some other mythology for book 4. The focus is still on the Greek gods, of course, but I think it’s cool how similar stories and concepts pop up in different cultures, even those separated by oceans (like La Iara, a figure in Brazilian mythology similar to the siren).

The working title for book 4 is Relinquish, although I might change it to something shorter, snappier.

On the other side of things, Siobhan and Carly have more in common than just belonging to the same sorority, which I’ll come back to in book 5. You’ll also get to find out who Carly’s dad is. 😉 This book will tie up most of the loose ends from the previous installments. (Depending on how things go, there will likely be a book 6, which I won’t get into yet. Who knows, I may just decide to tie up everything in the fifth book. Or maybe it will be a spin-off book/series or something like that. We’ll see…)

I also have at least one more standalone/companion novella planned (from Apate’s POV). At one point I had some thoughts for a prequel novella that would take place long, long ago and center on Eros and Psyche, so maybe I’ll revisit that at some point.

So, in summary: There will be more things coming, at some point! And they will be good things you will hopefully like. 😉

Book Review: Feversong


Before getting into tonight’s review, I made a small change to the format of this blog. Now when you go to the home page–instead of my blog post feed–you will be taken to a static page where I will post general updates about what I’m working on, followed by a list of my current books and links if you want to grab a copy. Right now the update is very vague and general since I’m working that out, lol, but it will become more detailed as I figure that out.

A list of recent blog posts is available on the right hand menu.

I decided to do this as a quicker and more general way of keeping readers and those who may stumble upon this blog up-to-date with what I’m working on. I don’t really blog as much as I used to, nor do I usually have the time and/or desire to blog that much, haha. February is an exception because I released a novella and then Reclaim, but I’m going to try to keep update posts to once every month, or even every two months. Until I’m well underway with a project, there’s usually not that much to say, and I end up repeating myself a lot.

With that said, onto my review of Feversong, the final installment of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series (at least as we know it!).

*****

feversong_coverI thoroughly enjoyed this conclusion to KMM’s Fever series, although I’m super bummed this is the end for Barrons and Mac’s story, at least, it seems, for now. I believe Ms. Moning is planning additional books set in the fever world, only centered around other characters, so I’m interested to see where that goes.

Honestly, I was nervous at the beginning of the book that I wouldn’t like it. At the end of Feverborn, to save herself and Jada/Dani, Mac basically opens her inner Sinsar Dubh…and sure, it gets them out, but it also turns Mac into a psychopath, haha. The parts written from Mac/the Sinsar Dubh’s perspective got old for me, fast, but luckily it’s only the first quarter of the book or so. And she does some REALLY horrible things while she’s possessed. I mean, dear God, lol.

But I loved the rest of the book, and I felt like everything that happened after that was a natural extension of Mac’s story. Also, and I may be in the minority here, but I really like Dani, and I liked seeing her become her old self more and more as the book went on. And I LOVE her and Dancer and get a little annoyed when KMM seems to be trying to appease the Dani/Ryodan shippers while also giving Dani and Dancer the time together they deserve.

I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Dani’s time in the Silvers with Shazam. (I love Shazam.) We get to find out more about him, too.

All in all, KMM brought this second part of the Fever series to a satisfying and admirable close, while still leaving the reader with a bit of a sense of mystery, particularly around the destinies of Barrons and Mac. (If you’re curious or confused, she did write a blog post about this. It’s on her Facebook page, but don’t read it until you finish this book because there are spoilers. But it might clear up any confusion you may have.)

There was also a scene in Feversong that made me cry. 😦 Overall, well done, Ms. Moning!

Reclaim Release Day!


If you’re seeing this, I hope you’re having a fabulous Valentine’s Day. Be sure to treat yourself to some chocolate and, pretty soon, some paranormal romance and adventure. Because, in mere hours, Reclaim (Reborn Book 3) goes live!

reclaimcoverThe paperback version is already available on Amazon. At the end of this post is a list of links to download Reclaim for Kindle, Nook, and some of the other major e-book retailers. Right now, you can pre-order it for $0.99, or check back tomorrow when it goes live.

And, if you’re new to the Reborn series, I’ve made each installment (three books + a novella) $0.99 each for the month of February! You can find the first book, Reborn, for Kindle here. The Reborn series is available through all major e-book retailers, but if you have questions about availability or formats offered, feel free to ask in the comments. 🙂

(And don’t worry; there’s more to come in the series. Stay tuned…..)

When you read Reclaim (or any of my books) and find yourself with a free minute or two, revenge_sl_stacy_cover_fullI’d appreciate it if you left a rating and/or review on Goodreads or Amazon (or wherever you purchased it from). (Seriously, even if it’s a one star review. Even if you HATED it, haha. All opinions matter.) Reviews really help all authors, but maybe particularly indie authors. Or take a moment to tell a friend about the Reborn series! Word of mouth is still one of the most (if not the most) important ways to get the word out about a book. So if you enjoyed it, recommend it to your book loving/paranormal romance loving friends out there! 😉

I’d also love to hear your thoughts personally. You can contact me through the aptly named “Contact Me” tab on this blog, by messaging me on my Facebook page, on twitter (@sstacy06), or email urge2write@gmail.com.

*****

Some Links

Download Reclaim on Kindle, Nook, Apple, Smashwords and Kobo.

Reclaim on Goodreads

Inspiration for Reclaim


When I first conceived the Reborn series, it was just supposed to be a trilogy, and it was just supposed to be about Siobhan and Jasper.

But as I was writing Relapse, I realized other characters in this world had their own, complex stories to tell. One of those characters is, of course, Carly. I’ll address my plans for the rest of the series in a future post, but today I’d like to share with you some of the things that inspired the third installment Reclaim, which releases February 15 (and is available for pre-order now!).

Reclaim initially came out of me psychoanalyzing my own book (Relapse), lol. I try not to censor what comes out of my head when I write (I don’t take something out else unless I truly hate it, it doesn’t make sense, or it ends up really not working). Although I make rough outlines for my books, the characters tend to take the story where they want it to go, and who am I to force them to go another way. (This probably won’t make any sense to you unless you are also a writer, haha.)

That being said…I didn’t like where I had left Carly at the end of that book. (Also, if you haven’t read the first two books yet, this is your obligatory spoiler alert.)

spoilers

Damseling

If you recall, Carly’s plot thread in Relapse ended with her realizing there was literally no way she (and Dolos) could get out of Pandora without help. Up until that point, Carly had been more proactive thinking about ways to get out, but eventually she had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. They had to wait to be rescued.

Then, things got even worse for Carly. She’s part Olympian, but also part human, and so was weakening at a much faster rate than Dolos. She was dying, but Dolos used his ability to create illusions to distract her, and to lessen her pain. I don’t regret writing it that way because I wanted to show that, despite the act he showed to the world, Dolos was, deep down, a good guy, and he cared about Carly, a lot. I like writing those “awwwwww” moments that also kind of make you want to cry and give you lots of feels. (As a romance reader and writer, I enjoy those moments where you realize just how much the hero loves the heroine, and the lengths he’ll go to protect her. But thinking about it a little more deeply, this can sometimes be at the expense of the female character’s autonomy.)

As you know, at the end of Relapse, Siobhan did come to their rescue, and Carly was freed. Woot! Hooray!

Sure, Carly had a moment of weakness, and needed the help of a friend, but I didn’t want to keep her in that position. So I decided to center the next installment around her and how she would…ahem…reclaim her power.

Although I keep the details vague, you also get the sense in Carly’s part of Relapse that, as a child, she was the victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather. In Reclaim, Carly gets an opportunity to confront this dark period in her life and some of the ways it’s still affecting her. And, just like Siobhan seems to have some pretty unique halfling abilities, Carly taps into a unique power of her own.

Let the Games Begin!

One thing you may remember about Dolos from Relapse is he likes playing games. (Whether he likes playing fairly is another story…) Games are also a theme in Reclaim.

By the way, Dolos’s alter ego is inspired by a combination of Jareth from Labyrinth and Julian from L.J. Smith’s The Forbidden Game trilogy (who probably also has a bit of Jareth in him). There’s enough of a twist on it that my book isn’t TFG fanfiction, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Smith’s influence on my writing. As you’ll see, the opening quote in Reclaim is from the first TFG book, The Hunter: “Sometimes you can’t return good for evil; sometimes evil simply has to be stopped.”

A year ago, when I was first planning out this book and thinking about this theme of games, I remember looking up game theory on Wikipedia. Which took me to a page on pursuit-evasion games, like the princess and monster game. This got me further thinking about portrayals of girls and women in video games, TV shows, movies…basically any form of media…although it is getting better, and at least people are acknowledging and talking about it. So Reclaim became a story about “princess” Carly, battling her own monsters–literal and figurative–and, ultimately, owning her own power.

It’s also just a fun book with some sexy scenes, some fight scenes, and lots of witty banter. 😉

Reclaim releases February 15, 2017.

reclaimcover

Pre-Order for Reclaim


So, I know the Lady Gaga concert is tonight (oh wait, or maybe it’s the Super Bowl, or something), but I wanted to let you all know that you can now pre-order Reclaim (Reborn Series Book 3)! It’s available through Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, and many other platforms. Pre-order it now, and it will be delivered to your e-reader on February 15, 2017.

Revenge, a Reborn series novella that takes place between books 2 and 3, is also available for purchase! (To be honest, you don’t have to read it to understand what’s going on in Reclaim, although there is a neat tie-in between the two installments.)

The paperback version of Reclaim will also be available on February 15.

*****

reclaimcoverCarly just lost the last week of her life trapped in Pandora, the space between universes. Most of it was spent navigating an illusion created by her only companion, Dolos, the god of trickery. Even so, the time Carly spent there changed her. She fell in love. She’s more fearless and more determined than ever to leave the darkest parts of her past behind. And she’s learned that, sometimes, family is the one you make for yourself, like the one she’s found at Gamma Lambda Phi.

But a lot can happen in one week, and Carly returns to a sorority in jeopardy. A curse has been placed on her sisters, and it’s up to her to break it. With the Gammas out of commission, Eric’s halfling army is plotting something big, and Carly and her sisters are the only ones who can stop them. To make matters worse, Dolos is working for the bad guys and up to his old tricks.

Time is running out, but the antidote for the curse is proving impossible to find. To save her sisters and stop Eric’s army, Carly has some tough choices to make. But will she choose duty and sisterhood, or the kind of passion that comes around only once in a lifetime?

Revenge is Up!


Well, I knocked at least one thing off of my to do list: Revenge is now available for $0.99 for Kindle and on Smashwords! Right now it’s in pending review limbo land for premium status on Smashwords, but once it’s approved there it will become available through Apple, Kobo, and the other e-book distributors.

I’m also running a giveaway on my Facebook page and here through 11:59 pm tonight (Sunday). If you’d like a free review copy of Revenge, either message my Facebook page (because I don’t think Facebook will let me contact individual people through the page) or email urge2write@gmail.com. If you’ve read Revenge (even the previous version that was up on this blog) and have a moment or two, I’d appreciate an honest review. You can leave it on Amazon or Goodreads.

Besides the novella, Revenge also contains a previously unreleased excerpt about Anna and Eric and a sneak peek of Reclaim.

Check out the cover art (by the awesome H.N. Sieverding) and synopsis below!

*****

revenge_sl_stacy_cover_fullSynopsis:

Genie Cho was ambitious, a dedicated student, and–as president of her sorority, Alpha Rho–a promising leader. Until she made some new, otherworldly–and dangerous–friends. They opened her up to a world of magic, a world where everyone had special powers. They promised her eternal life. But something went wrong, and Genie wound up dead.

Her untimely death has shaken all of her sorority sisters, but hits Rebecca Grey especially hard. Ever since her roommate’s passing, Rebecca’s sleepless nights have been filled with nightmares. Rebecca even thinks she hears Genie’s voice sometimes, calling out for help. Although some of her sisters remain skeptical, Rebecca is convinced that Genie’s ghost is still out there somewhere and needs their help to move on.

Join Rebecca and the Alpha Rhos on their journey to lay Genie’s spirit to rest, a quest that takes them beyond the safety and comfort of their sorority house to the gates of the Underworld.

New Plan (and Other Important Updates)


If you’re seeing this, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and happy (and safe) New Year! This is my first post of 2017 and, although lots (and by lots, I mean two) exciting things are happening, Reborn series-wise, at the beginning of 2017, I am revising my publishing plan, so please bear with me.

reclaimcoverFirst of all, as an indie author, I’m probably never going to try to set a release date more than a month or two in advance, ever. Again. (For my fellow indie authors, what is your typical self-publishing approach? How far in advance do you set release dates and start marketing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!) Obviously, big publishers plan ahead like this, but it’s not really working for lil old me. Unless you don’t care that I’ve changed the release date for Reclaim what feels like a bajillion times. (Or maybe no one’s noticed…)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to set general goals of when things will go out. After I publish Reclaim, for example, the fourth book will probably come out beginning of 2018. But I’m not setting exact dates anymore until it gets closer, because I end up feeling bad for inevitably pushing them back.

Reborn was the first book, so it was kind of natural that I waited until I’d had a few people read it and made changes and then decided to plop it up on Amazon. I had already started the sequel at the time, so thinking about when it might get released wasn’t as big of a deal either. I had a pretty good idea.

The bad-ish news: In case you don’t know where this is going, I’m changing the release date for Reclaim, again. It was supposed to be next week, and that’s not happening. I’m only pushing it back by a few weeks, but the release date is sort of a moving target. It will likely be in early February, though, and I will probably have a better sense of this next week.

Even a couple of months ago, when I set the January date, I didn’t know I’d be starting a new job this soon. Believe me, I’m happy I am, lol, but as a result I’m shifting things around. Not to mention I started this job with co-teaching a class and working on a grant that’s due in a few weeks, plus finishing up manuscripts from my previous position.

I don’t mean (or maybe I do?) to play the “I’m busy” card. We’re all busy with different things. But for my sanity, I need to push it back. And anyway, it’s not like I’m saying “woops, sorry, it’s actually not coming out until next year” or something. A few weeks helps me out alot.

Where I’m at: I had a friend who enjoyed the previous two books beta test Reclaim for me, and she loved it! (Which is a good sign. If you liked the first two books, you will probably like this one.) She had some comments I need to incorporate–nothing major, but she definitely pointed out a few things I think other people would notice. My editor (/my other friend) is helping me with more detailed edits. It’s in her hands right now, and I want her to take her time with it. She also has other things on her plate but helps me out with this because she’s awesome like that. 😉

The better news: I do, however, have the bandwidth to publish Revenge in the next week or two. The old version was previously posted here, but I took it down and made some changes (mostly to the ending). It will be available for Kindle and the other e-book platforms through Smashwords. This is easier for me to get up now because it’s pretty much done. As a novella, it’s simply shorter, and I’ve already made all of the edits to it I want to make. I also have some awesome cover art for it, made by my fabulous graphic designer Heidi.

Revenge will only be available in e-book format (in other words, no paperback version). It will also include an unreleased excerpt, likely about Anna and Eric.

To wrap this up, I’d thought I’d share my official to-do list with you, the same one staring up at me from my laptop screen, as further self-motivation:

-Read over Revenge one last time
-Format Rev. for Smashwords (shouldn’t take me too long since it’s already formatted for Kindle, just tweaking), publish
-Incorporate Y. and L.’s edits into Reclaim
-Upload pdf of Reclaim cover, order proof
-Format Reclaim for Kindle, Smashwords, publish!

Then it will be time to regroup, update my book notes, and let you all know the official plan for the rest of the series!

You can check back here or my Facebook page for updates on these two major projects. Happy 2017!

Add Revenge on Goodreads.

Add Reclaim on Goodreads.

 

 

 

WIP Wednesday December 14, 2016


This won’t be a long update post today, but I just wanted to let you all know I finished all of the edits/rewrites I wanted to make for Reclaim!

IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.

christmas-unicorn

Lol, but seriously, I’m really excited. I’m definitely on track now to release this thing end of January (January 24, 2017, to be exact).

I’m going to order the proof of the paperback version soon to check that out. It will make it easier for me to read through it one last time. Hopefully I don’t realize there’s some catastrophic, super obvious plot hole that I missed during the rewrites. I don’t mind if there are little things people don’t like about it (you can’t please everyone), but I hope I don’t catch any glaring errors at this point, gahhh. There shouldn’t be. I’m just being paranoid.

Anyway, I’ll let a few friends read it and help me with edits, but other than that it’s pretty close to being done. So get excited!

I’m going to try to go on a social media detox during the holidays, but I’ll be back in January and will probably be super annoying about promoting this thing.

In the meantime, you can read the first chapter of Reclaim here, and another fun excerpt here.

Until then, happy holidays, and happy reading!

~S.L.

Book Review: Lady Midnight


I’ll have a real update post for you tomorrow, but I’m also trying to get caught up on book reviews. Here is one for Lady Midnight, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s newest trilogy, The Dark Artifices.

Back Cover Book Summary:

lady-midnight“In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?”

*****

So, I am typically a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I loved The Mortal Instruments series. I loved The Infernal Devices trilogy even more. But Lady Midnight was a 3-star read for me and a kind of shaky start to this newest trilogy.

Part of the problem is that LM takes about one hundred pages for the plot to really get moving and interesting. The beginning of the book is A LOT of set up, which is somewhat needed but seemed to take too long and wasn’t as organically incorporated into the developing plot as it could have been. The Mortal Instruments series has a memorable opening with Clary encountering the shadowhunters for the first time in a club called Pandemonium. The opening of this book does not live up to that. Plus, I found myself not really invested in the main plot point–Emma’s search for the person who killed her parents–at least initially. This did get better.

A few other aspects that bothered me: First, there were too many kids. Haha. I get that Clare has developed this character, Julian, who had to grow up quickly, taking care of the household and his brothers and sisters–and I liked that about him. I did. He was one of my favorite characters in the book. But I think she could have gotten this point across without quite so many younger siblings. Plus, when their names are Ty, Livvy, Tavvy, and Drusilla, I got them mixed up, lol. At least at first. Maybe part of it was I didn’t care to keep track of who was who. I liked that she includes Ty as an autistic character, but the other ones seemed pointless. (Or maybe I’m terrible.)

The other major drawback for me was the incorporation of characters from previous books. Look, I get that she has created this world now and it’s all connected and that’s fun, but I could have done without the cameos from Clary, Jace, Alec, Magnus, Jem, and Tessa (Jem’s is the only one that should have been there because it made sense). I would love to know what’s happened to these characters since the ends of their respective series, but maybe in a short story or something. In LM, I just wanted to get a feel for the new characters, and these throwbacks to past books kept taking me out of the story.

I love getting lost in long books, but only if there’s a point to it being that long. I think this book could have been tighter for the reasons mentioned above, and, consequently, about 100 pages shorter than it was.

That being said, I didn’t actually hate this book. Mark Blackthorn’s plot thread saved this book for me. As far as I’m concerned, the entire book could have been about that conflict. Maybe she could just write a series about Mark and Kieran in the Wild Hunt.

There are also some cool surprises in Lady Midnight. (This might be a tiny bit spoiler-y, so stop reading now if you don’t want any sort of spoiler, even a small, vague one.) At first, I thought the rule about parabatai not being allowed to have a romantic relationship was as dumb and senseless as Emma and Julian seemed to think it was, but that got better, too.

Despite the issues I had with this book, I still intend to read book 2, Lord of Shadows, to see where all of this is going.

Excerpt: Scarefest


An early Thanksgiving “gift” for all of you, my lovely readers: the first full chapter of Reclaim!

No one has read this yet (so…feel special? lol), and this is of course before the final copy edit. And I guess it could still change a little bit between now and January, but probably not drastically since it’s mainly set up and reminding you about things that went down in Relapse. (And, if you haven’t read the first two books, spoilers abound.) In any case, hope you enjoy!

(You can read another excerpt here.)

*****

“Lower your elbow,” Alec says. Placing one hand on my waist, he gently coaxes my elbow down with the other. I stiffen under the intimate contact, and he pulls away quickly, taking a step to the side. “You were never going to hit any with your arm sticking out like that.”

Smiling, I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. “It’s just balloon darts, Alec.”

He sighs, crossing his arms. “I know. Sorry. I have a bit of a competitive streak, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t.” Returning my gaze to the wall of brightly colored balloons, I align the tip of the dart with a red one in the upper right corner. With a flick of my wrist, I send the dart whizzing toward my target—and straight into the empty patch of corkboard next to it. The next two meet the same fate.

“Fudge,” I say, throwing my arms up in defeat. “There goes my career as a professional darts player. Your turn.”

Alec scoops up three additional darts from the counter and assumes a wide-legged stance, expertly lining up the first dart with the board. He pulls his arm back and snaps it forward again, the dart a silver and black blur as it flies through the air. It bounces off the board, dropping to the ground.

“I may have used a little too much force,” he admits.

I nod in agreement. “Just a little.”

His second dart doesn’t fare much better, getting lodged in the corkboard like all three of mine did. “Maybe you should just stick to football,” I tell him.

As if to prove me wrong, the third successfully punctures a blue balloon with a loud pop that makes me jump, even though I saw it coming.

Alec pumps his fist. “Score!”

Rolling his eyes, the attendant turns to check the tag  underneath the shriveled remains of the balloon. After rummaging underneath the counter, he tosses a neon orange bouncy ball in Alec’s direction. Alec catches it in one hand, promptly dropping it into mine. “I was hoping to win you a giant stuffed animal, but I guess this will have to do.”

“I will cherish it always,” I say, stuffing it into my pocket.

“Another round?” the attendant asks us, looking hopeful as he holds up three more darts. Alec and I glance at each other, then back at the attendant, shaking our heads politely. Heaving a sigh, he turns his back to us, moving to replace the broken balloon.

“Let’s go on some rides,” Alec says to me as we walk away from the game booth.

I shake my head. “Not tonight. I should probably get going,” I realize, checking the time on my cell phone.

“Come on. One ride. How about the Iron Demon?”

“I hate roller coasters…in case you’ve forgotten,” I add with a smirk.

He gives an apologetic shrug. “I kind of did. The haunted house, then,” he suggests, pointing behind me.

“No way. It’s too creepy,” I tell him, shivering at the mere thought of it. The haunted house consists of five or so dark, eerie rooms where an assortment of hideous characters lurk in the shadows, waiting to jump out and scare you. From the outside, it looks like an old, black clapboard house where an evil witch might live. I picture her inside, hunched over a large cauldron filled with a bubbling green potion. She kicks back her head and cackles, and I can almost hear the maniacal sound of it spilling from the windows, echoing in the empty alley beyond.

Alec sounds exasperated when he says, “It’s meant to scare little kids. Not us.”

“There’s a room full of clowns, Alec. Clowns. I’m not going in there.”

“Never mind. Sorry I mentioned it.” I catch him rolling his eyes before he turns away from me. “So, no roller coasters, and no haunted houses. Then how about the…”

His words become background noise as I stare into the alley next to the house—looking for what, I don’t know. The lights from the rides don’t seem to reach this corner of the park, where shadows gather like a thick, dark fog. But if I look hard enough, I can almost see the faint silhouettes of two people through the haze. Another shiver runs down my spine, but this time it’s not from fear, or even the cold autumn air. Anticipation coursing through me, I take a reflexive step toward the alley.

“Carly?” Alec puts a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” His concerned voice breaks the trance. Shaking myself, I look up at him, smiling.

“I’m fine,” I insist. “It’s getting late. Let’s just go.” As we walk away, I take one last look at the alley, but the figures I thought I saw in the shadows are gone. Feeling strangely disappointed, I turn back around.

“I’m sorry about before. At the dart game,” Alec says. I assume he’s talking about that brief, awkward moment when he tried to adjust my throwing arm. “It was habit. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay,” I assure him. “I can understand that. It hasn’t been that long since…” I trail off, watching our shoes hit the pavement in sync as we walk through the amusement park. Waves of patrons stream past us in the opposite direction, talking and laughing loudly, cotton candy in hand.

“No, it hasn’t,” he agrees. “Carly, I…” When I look over at him, he’s avoiding my gaze, kicking a chunk of gravel along as we walk.

“Alec.” I stop in the middle of the street, forcing a couple of kids to go around us. “Why did you ask me here tonight?”

Alec pauses and holds my gaze steady. “I…I guess I just thought that maybe…” He takes a step closer to me. “I still care about you, Carly. I want to get back together. I—I thought you might want the same thing.”

At first, I’m too stunned to speak. I shake my head slowly, sounding apologetic but firm when I finally say, “No. I’m sorry, Alec, but I don’t.”

“No,” he echoes sadly. “Well, I guess I sort of expected that. But I have to ask—why?”

Why?” Feeling flustered, I try to remember why I even agreed to meet Alec at Playland in the first place. I should have realized when he “wanted to talk,” it was about getting back together. Instead of thinking it through, I had jumped at the opportunity to get out of the sorority house, which I hadn’t left in days. Hot, angry tears sting the backs of my eyes, ready to burn their way down my cheeks. “You can’t be serious. You dumped me in front of the entire Greek Quad—then had the nerve to ask for your lavalier back.”

“Carly, I was trying to—”

“And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, your fraternity sacrificed me to bring one of your brothers back!” I didn’t know it at the time—didn’t know why the Sigma Iota brothers lured me to their basement and forced me through the portal that took me to Pandora, the space between universes. It wasn’t until later that I found out it was an exchange, a way to bring one of their leaders back from Olympus while maintaining the balance between our worlds.

“Yes, my fraternity! Not me!” He takes a step closer to me. I remember a time not so long ago when he would come up to me and scoop me into his arms, and I would rest my head on one of his broad shoulders. Now, he leaves a sliver of space between us, a few feet that feel like a mile. His golden skin looks paler than usual, pulled tightly across angular cheekbones. He lifts his hands as though to reach for mine, then brings them back to his sides. His dark eyes fill with tears. “I tried to stop them, Carly.”

“What about afterwards? You didn’t come after me or even try to get help. You weren’t at the ritual when the others came to rescue me—”

“I had no idea they were going after you—”

“Stop it!” I shriek. A few of the people standing in line at the rubber duck game look over at us curiously. “Stop making excuses,” I say, lowering my voice. “There’s nothing you can say to make this better.”

Alec nods, seeming to accept this. “I get it. I do, and I’m…sorry. I really am sorry.”

“Me, too.” I shudder as a biting wind blows through the park, cutting through my denim jacket. It whips a lock of Alec’s black hair across his forehead. I dig my hands into my pockets, resisting the impulse to smooth it back.

“I shouldn’t have asked you out tonight,” he continues. “I should have known…plus, if my brothers find out…” He glances over his shoulder as though expecting one of his Sigma Iota brothers to appear behind him.

“I won’t tell if you won’t. Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” I say, turning to go.

“Just tell me,” Alec says, and I turn back around to face him, “there isn’t someone else.”

I roll my eyes. “Because the only possible reason I could have of not getting back together with you is that I met someone.”

He sighs in frustration. “That’s not what I meant.”

I open my mouth, entertaining, for a moment, the idea of telling him everything about my time in Pandora—about the other prisoner, my only companion in that dark, never-ending abyss. Then, the final words he spoke to me resurface, piercing through me all over again like a flurry of tiny darts.

“I’m a liar, Carly. You said so yourself. And you were right all along…I tricked you. I wanted to play with you a little while longer. And you let me…”

I shake my head. “No. There’s no one else.”

Alec looks relieved. “There’s no one else in my life, either.”

“I hope you find someone, Alec,” I tell him, my voice small. “I hope one day you find her—the woman of your dreams.”

“I hope you find the woman of your dreams, too,” Alec says in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood.

I laugh despite myself. “And I hope one day we can be friends. You know, when our houses stop this whole mortal enemies thing.”

He nods. “No matter what happens, I consider you a friend, Carly.”

“Goodbye, Alec.” Unsure of what else to say, I leave him standing next to the booth with the rubber duck game, feeling his eyes on me as I walk away.

I head back toward the park entrance, passing other game booths and rides along the way. Lights flash all around me, brightening the night sky in brief bursts of color. The late night crowd at Playland is mostly composed of people on dates and cliques of rowdy teenagers. Like the group currently loitering off to one side of the arched entryway. The boys are wearing shirts with band or beer logos on the front, pants hanging loose over their boxers. The girls have on shiny tops that don’t come down quite far enough over their form-fitting leggings. None of them are wearing jackets, preferring to look cool over appropriately dressed for the middle of October.

I feel wistful as I watch them talking and laughing, passing a large bag of kettle corn back and forth. I missed out on those carefree years, my adolescence filled with secrets and silence instead of friendships and laughter. Back then, I felt older than my sixteen years, already jaded. Now, watching this group of teenagers, I realize just how young I really was.

“BOO!” a voice bellows in my ear. I jump, letting out a scream to rival those coming from the Iron Demon, and spin around to find a figure in a black, hooded cloak looking just as startled as I am.

“Someone’s a little jumpy,” a muffled male voice says from behind the hood. Shaking his head, he walks away to join the zombie smoking a cigarette over by the ticket booth. The teens with the kettle corn are pointing at me, laughing. Heat rises to my cheeks, and I look away from them. I had forgotten Playland was in the midst of Scarefest, its month-long Halloween event. The zombie and the grim reaper must work at the haunted house.

Glancing around for an escape route, I spot a dark purple tent across the way, the signpost outside of it advertising:

Madam Moira

World-renowned fortuneteller

Divines your future for a $10 donation

I crack a smile at the word “donation.” Nevertheless, I hurry in that direction, avoiding the amused glances and mocking laughter still being thrown my way. For ten bucks, I’m not sure Madam Moira could tell me all that much, but maybe she could at least tell me if I’m going to ace the Concepts of Math midterm I haven’t studied for.

I slip inside the tent to find a hunched figure, draped in a midnight blue cloak, sitting at a foldout table littered with flickering black candles. Directly in front of her is a crystal ball mounted on an iron stand, seeming to emanate a light of its own.

“Who dares to disturb the meditation of Madam Moira?” a dramatic voice says from beneath the cloak. A hand rises to knock back the hood, revealing a tumble of black curls and two dark brown eyes set in an olive-toned face. Madam Moira gestures for me to sit, her large gold hoop earrings swaying from the movement. I take the other chair quickly.

“Ten dollars for a basic reading,” Moira says, holding her hand out expectantly. Her nails are fake, painted a glittery black with a clear gem adorning each tip. I get some money out of my purse, laying the bills in her outstretched palm. Her fingers close immediately over them, cramming them into the velvet pouch on her lap.

“What is your name, child?” she asks me, full, red lips curving into a tranquil smile. I try to hide my amusement at the question. Some psychic she is.

“Carly.” I shift uncomfortably in the chair. The seat is covered with a lumpy gold cushion that makes me feel like I’m sitting on a Jell-O mold.

“Carly,” she repeats thoughtfully. “Daughter of the true gods.” I go still at the words, forgetting the cushion situation. “Tell me, Carly. What has brought you to seek the guidance of Madam Moira?”

Carly,” I begin, mocking her use of the third person, “would like to know what the future holds.”

Moira nods knowingly. “Before we proceed, I must warn you: I do not sugarcoat my readings,” she says, arching a thick, well-shaped eyebrow. She has a faint, unfamiliar accent—must be another part of her act. “Many think they want to know what the future holds. But you may not like what you find there. Would you still like to proceed?”

Of course—I just paid you ten dollars, I think to myself, but all I do is nod, encouraging her to continue.

“Very well.” Moira’s piercing eyes shift to the crystal ball. She stirs the air above it with a flourish of her hands. “You have recently returned from a perilous journey,” she continues, glancing up at me. I give her another nod. “Journey” is pretty vague, even a perilous one. That could mean anything. It could refer to my trip to the grocery store this morning and the truck that almost backed into my car in the parking lot.

Creases burrow across her forehead as she peers into the ball. “I see a field. An endless field with tall, green grass. A great wall surrounding a city. An elderly man, standing guard.” Madam Moira pauses for effect. My heart starts to pound, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“I also see a…forest.” I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but it looks like the light inside the glass ball is starting to swirl. “And a creature—a gorgeous creature with a shining mane and a glittering”—she squints as though even she doesn’t quite believe what she’s seeing—“horn. A great, gaping pit of fire, mountains looming in the distance.” Moira blinks a few times, wavering in her chair. “I’m sorry. I’m only getting snapshots—everything is so jumbled and disjointed. Now, there’s a room—a dark room with stone walls and an iron throne—”

“That’s enough,” I say, standing up so quickly I almost knock the chair over. Concentration broken, Moira shifts her gaze to me, looking taken aback. “I mean…that’s okay. None of that matters, anyway. It’s in my past…not my future.” I turn to go, unable to listen to this a moment longer—to her abbreviated version of everything that happened in Pandora, an adventure that turned out to be nothing more than a fancy trick.

I wasn’t alone in Pandora, although I didn’t know my prison had a name at first. I thought I was trapped in an eerie, dark palace, held captive by a mercurial, white-haired prince. He sent me on what turned out to be a pointless quest to win my freedom. On my journey, I was tested three times. A test of the mind to enter the city. One of strength to get across a burning chasm. A final test of the heart to choose my own freedom and getting home to my sorority sisters over an imposter Alec. As it turned out, the entire journey had been a distraction created by the prince, who wasn’t a prince or my captor at all, but a fellow prisoner.

“I see a boy.” Moira’s lilting voice brings me back to the present. “A boy with two faces.”

“Who told you all of this?” I ask, sitting down again. “Was my roommate here? This isn’t funny, Victoria!” I say loudly, just in case she’s hiding somewhere, watching me make a fool of myself.

“You care about him,” Moira says, eyes sad.

A tear escapes down my cheek. I wipe it quickly away. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone. He left me.” I’m not really being fair to Dolos, Moira’s boy with two faces. One, the face of the blonde prince holding me captive—the other green-eyed and dark-haired. The real Dolos, the god of trickery and deceit. When we were rescued from Pandora, I returned home, and so did he, as I found out later. Even though I had already suspected as much, it had taken me awhile to truly digest it—to accept I would never see him again.

“He is not gone,” Moira assures me. “He’s just in hiding.”

I shake my head. “But that would mean—”

“You have known so much loss in such little time,” Moira interrupts me, shaking her head gravely. “A sister in jeopardy. Trapped.”

“Yes!” I cry out, nodding eagerly for her to continue, despite the abrupt change of topic. “Siobhan. Is she okay? Is she alive?”  My sorority sister, Siobhan, was the one who braved Pandora to rescue us. Once I was safely out, she never came back through the portal, and Victoria and the others ran out of time, forced to close it behind her.

“She is hanging on.”

“Do we save her?” I lean forward into the table. “We have to get her out of there. She’s important.”

Moira’s eyes take on a sudden intensity when she replies, “You’re both important.”

I shake my head. “You don’t understand. She saved me, and I think she’s going to save all of us—the whole world, even. We need her.”

“Siobhan is the sword. You are the shield.”

Her cryptic words do nothing to reassure me. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

Instead of answering me, she says, “You need to save the others, first. They are trapped in a different way. Transformed.”

As Victoria updated me upon my return, Hera had spied on our sorority, deeming us unfit to perform our duties as guardians of the wall between universes. As punishment, she turned my sisters into doves.

“Will we be able to save them, too? Change them back?” Moira nods. “How?” I press her.

“Before the day is done, go to the place where three become one.”

“I don’t need another riddle.” I had my fill of them in Pandora. “You’re going to have to give me more than that.”

“You will embark on a dangerous quest.” Moira points a long, manicured fingernail at me. “Sacrifices will be made. Prices will be paid.”

“I think we’ve had to make plenty of sacrifices already,” I say, anger suddenly surging through me.

“You will have to choose.”

“Choose? Choose what?”

“Your sisters or your lover.”

“I think I’ve heard enough.” This time when I stand up, I send the chair clattering to the ground. I was right in the first place. Madam Moira is nothing but an actress. And a mediocre one at that. She got lucky with her guesses. Although I’m not a complete nonbeliever—some people probably are psychic, have “the sight,” whatever you want to call it–but certainly not some ten dollar fortuneteller at an amusement park.

“I warned you,” Madam Moira calls out behind me. “The future isn’t always an easy thing to hear.”

“Neither are your lies,” I tell her without looking back.

“The beast is coming.”

The words stop me in my tracks. Not just the words—Moira’s voice has changed. It’s deep and distorted, like someone or something else is speaking through her. I should bolt from the tent, but fear keeps my feet nailed to the ground. I twist my head slowly to look back over my shoulder, afraid of what I will find when I do, but overcome with an unshakable curiosity.

Moira’s eyes have rolled into the back of her head, leaving only the whites and a spider’s web of red lines. “It rises again,” she bellows. “It returns for the hunt. To devour its prey.”

“What beast?” I ask her, voice quivering. Forcing myself into motion, I back away slowly, unable to take my eyes off of her.

“The beast is alive. It is close. So close.”

“Where is it?” Suddenly, my back hits the wall of the tent, stopping me from going any further. The material gives way as I sink further and further into it. “What does it want?”

Moira fixes her white gaze on me. “You.”

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