Category Archives: Novel

Chapter 4 (draft 1-3)

Madam Hapnes smiled and tilted her head toward Kira. “Pass.”

Kira took her seat, still sitting up straight as always.

“Don’t expect me to call you a master musician,” Dizzie growled.

To her surprise, Kira didn’t make any kind of retort or anything. She smiled and muttered, “I know you won’t, Dizzie. Thank you.”

Did she hear her right? What did she do for Kira to thank her? Dizzie decided to cool the snark while the rest of the senior year failed their exams one by one.

“How did I do?” Kira as they walked through the University gardens.

“What do you mean, how did you do? You passed.”

“Real talk, Diz.” She adjusted her mandolin strap. “I want to know what you thought.”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters. Now spit it out.”

Dizzie sighed and rolled her head. “You were playing for musicians. Technically, you hit every note. It was complex and daring. But nobody gives a shit about that except musicians. If you’re going to play something with purpose, you need to improvise. You need to feel it and pound it out.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“You were treating that mandolin like a tool. Treat it like an enemy, a lover, or whatever. But if you’re just worried about playing flawlessly, you’re missing the point.”

“What point?”

“Kira, you want to play like Jumoke, right?”

“More than anything. He’s my hero.”

“That’s wrong. You should be wanting to surpass Jumoke. You should be wanted to pound him into the dust.”

Kira scratched her head. “I guess you’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

“Why don’t you pay attention in class? You could be amazing. It’s like Hapnes said…”

“Hapnes can bite me. We’ve got our own path to being amazing.” Dizzie pulled out a parchment from her pocket.

“What’s this?”

“My gift to you for becoming a master.”

She looked it over. “Is this real?”

“Yep. Got it from one of his goons. We’ve been invited to play an impromptu concert tonight for Aquino.”

“He’s a radical, though.”

Dizzie snatched the invitation back. “Ah ah! Counterculturalist, Kira. Watch your language.”

“My parents are going to be pissed.”

“You just achieved mastery of the mandolin. How can they be anything but happy?”

“Do we even have a set prepared?”

“We’ll just do the usual. Maybe we can open with that ditty you played for music class.”

Kira raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t worry so much, babe. This’ll get us exposure right up the stinkhole.”

“When it comes to you, Diz, I can’t be anything but worried.”

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Chapter 4 (draft 1)

Dizzie raced down the hall, slowing down only to ruffle up Seamus’s already-messy hair. He swatted and hissed like a harassed cat. Dizzie hopped out of the way.

“Is that what you’re going to be after Passage? A custodian?” She walked around the dirty floor, clucking her tongue. “It’s too bad that death maze is going to eat you alive.”

“It’s not a death maze.”

“Tell that to the kids who got lost in there a few years back.”

“Shut up, Dizzie! That’s not true. Why are you always such a liar?”

Dizzie shrugged. “It’s just fun to mess with you. If you didn’t react, I wouldn’t bother.”

“You’re saying it’s my fault?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Dizzie grabbed a pear and a heel of bread from the kitchen before leaving. The bread was a bit stale, but she couldn’t have an empty stomach on an exam day.

The University was less than a mile away from the palace district, but Dizzie could see the main tower from the front door. It was the centerpiece of the city of Marca and where the architects and scribes went to study. Dizzie’s classes were in a smaller domed building next to the philosophers’ gardens. It was where the orators, poets, and musicians went. Dizzie was a singer. And a damn good one.

She eyed the sundial in the gardens as she passed. Seven in the morning.

“Right on time.”

As Dizzie swung open the heavy yew door to a circle of several hundred students. The discordant sounds of instruments tuning and singers warming up wafted over her ears. The students taking the exam today were all in the front row. Kira was there, dutifully tuning her mandolin. She frowned and tossed her head to an empty seat next to her.

Rather than joining her, Dizzie winked at Kira and leapt on to the main stage. Her teacher, Madam Hapnes. There were two Madam Hapnes in the University, but this one was much more rigid and imposing than the frail mathematics instructor. So, of course, Dizzie called her “Madam Happiness” instead.

“Contralto Catalano, would you mind taking your seat?”

She cracked her neck. “I’m ready, Madam Happiness. Just give the word.”

“You’ve just arrived. Have you even warmed up your voice?”

“What? Am I going to strain my vocal chords or something?”

Madam Hapnes sighed. “Very well. Silence in the room!”

The screeching and whistling died down.

Dizzie cleared her throat and started out with as high a note as she could muster. Then, she squashed it down, then stretched it out, bellowing a wavering note that sounded something like a swarm of buzzing flies.

Madam Hapnes waved her hand for silence. Dizzie grinned.

“What was that?”

“I call it ‘antimusic.’”

“Not only do you dye your hair and pierce your face like a farm animal, you’ve also decided you want to sound like one.”

The students laughed. Kira put her face in her palm.

“Music doesn’t have to be beautiful, Madam.”

“Why would someone want to listen to ugly music?”

“Because it reflects their lives. And it’s different. It breaks the rules, Madam. It’s important that we break rules and forge ahead.”

“If you think you can break the rules without mastering them first, you’ve got another thing coming, Contralto Catalano. Take a seat.”

“Do I pass?”

“What do you think?”

Dizzie bowed to the students. “Thank you all. I have worked beside you as a peer but now I will stand above you as a master.”

“No, Dizzie. The answer is no. Take a seat. Have an actual song ready next month.” She addressed the room. “I hope you take this as a lesson, especially you new students. Talent is nothing without practiced skill. I will not accept any music outside of the accepted canon. Everything you do in life will be based first on the tenets you learn in this class. If you don’t want to learn them, fine. You’re free to do so. But you’ll never complete your life path that way.

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Chapter 3 (draft 1)

“Alabaster?”

For how big his feet were, the elephant never made much too much noise. That was all fine and well if Seamus was trying to sleep; but if he was trying to find track him down in an enormous two-story museum, that was very bad.

“Alabaster?” Seamus whispered. “Alabaster, I know you can hear me you big, dumb butt. You’ve got ears the size of wheel barrows.”

Seamus cupped his hand around his ears. He heard the slight scrapping of elephant feet on marble down by his parents’ bedroom.

Seamus ran down the hall in bare feet, leaving a trail of dirt behind him. He’d have to clean it all before Mom and Dad got up.

He saw the elephant hiding behind a corner and leapt at him. “Gotcha!”

Alabaster snorted with joy then raised his snout.

“Don’t!”

And he trumpeted. Seamus buried his face in the elephant side. Almost immediately, the door to his parents’ bedroom opened. His mother was carrying a lantern.”

“Seamus, what is going on here?”

“Alabaster was running around.”

“Chemall save me. The sun isn’t even up yet.”

Seamus’s father came out after her, stretching and yawning. “Give it time, dear.”

He kissed her on the cheek. She swatted him away.

“We wouldn’t have this problem if you’d just put that thing in the zoo or sold it to a collecter.”

Seamus pulled himself onto the elephant, holding the old book in the crook of his arm. “No, Mom. I’ve got him. See?”

Alabaster leaned against the wall, almost crushing Seamus’s leg to scratch an itch.

“Hey.” Seamus’s mother walked up and pushed Alabaster away from the wall. “Not in these halls, you.”

Alabaster tossed his trunk.

Seamus’s father grabbed Seamus’s foot.

“Seamus,” he said. “What were you doing outside?”

“Outside?” said his mother. “Past curfew?”

Seamus looked at the floor. “I’ll clean it up.”

His father tapped the book he was holding close to his chest. “You will. But first tell us what happened. Did you take that from the library?”

“Yes.”

His mother walked around the elephant and held out her hands. Seamus reluctantly gave it to her.

“I’ve never seen this ratty book in our collection. Where did you get this so late at night?”

He swallowed, trying to gather enough spit to talk. “Outside. I met the ghost.”

“Ghost?”

“The one Dizzie’s always used to scare me about. The girl who died during the Union War.”

“Does this ghost have a name?”

“No,” he lied. “She just had this book.”

“Venyel Nosek… how did you get this?”

“She… she gave it to me.”

“Venyel Nosek was executed before the Union Wars. These were almost all burned when the Nobles were destroying our culture. Even now, there’s

His father, scratching Alabaster’s side, turned his head. “Gave or borrowed? Which is it, Seamus?”

“Borrowed. She said she’d be back to pick it up.”

His mother and father exchanged a look of confusion. “Well, it’s yours then. But Seamus…” she grabbed his shoulders. “Can I borrow it while you’re cleaning up your mess?”

Seamus frowned at the dirty footprints on the floor. “Okay.”

“Thank you!” She kissed him on the forehead and went back to her room with the lantern, leaving the three of them in the dark.

His father patted Alabaster on the head. “Don’t worry. I’ll take Alabaster back to your room and bring you back some light to work by. Come on, you noisy cow. Waking us all up like that…”

“I can take him.”

“No you can’t. You’ll drag your dirty feet all over the place.”

“Oh. Right.” It was still too early to be thinking.

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Writing Exercise: Seamus gets Fired

Seamus sat across from One Old, the man who had sat on the Council as One Young back during the Union Wars, who had basically handed over the Nobles and won the war for the common people. He was a hero, but Seamus couldn’t help but feel a complete lack of anything in his presence.

Seamus tried not to look in his eyes. It was too painful seeing that mix of sympathy and confusion on his face. And after living in East Marca and after seeing Sadie taken away in chains, it was hard to believe that any of his emotions were real.

“How often do you think young people actually fail their Passage?”

Seamus didn’t know. He figured not very often or else the Council would have a long line of 13-year-olds outside of their doors every day. He was pretty sure nobody wanted that.

One Old took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. “Your silence tells me that you are ashamed. That’s good. A little humility give us perspective. Seamus, do you want to go back to live in the Palace District again?”

The question caught him off guard. Wasn’t he here to talk about his life path?

“You’ve been caretaker for the old Grelio home. How would you like to do the same for the Council building?”

Seamus felt helpless, crushed.

“Sir, I hoped I would be able to… redo my proposal?” It sounded stupid now that he said it out loud.

“No, Seamus. You showed us ineptitude and we failed you. You can never join the University.” He folded his fingers on the desk. “I’m offering you an opportunity, Seamus. You can live in the luxury you were accustomed to. If you serve me for long enough, maybe someday I will recommend you to Council.”

“But the people vote for that.”

“And I could give you a nudge in right direction, Seamus. Connections mean something.”

“…can I think about it?”

“I need your answer now, Seamus. If you don’t agree to this, I’ll need to meet with the rest of the Council and find another place for you.”

Seamus closed his eyes and tried to imagine working at the Council Building, dusting the art and filing papers. It would be a little like what he did back at the museum. Only he’d be doing it for the rest of his life. But what other choice did he have?

“I guess that would be okay.”

“Wonderful. I’ll let the others know.”

Seamus sat and stared at One Old scribbling some notes down.

“You may go, Seamus.”

Seamus had to will his legs not to run out of the office. He closed the door softly behind him then half-walked, half-jogged down the hallway. Whatever would get him away fastest without drawing attention.

The hike back to East Marca took until almost sunset. He was tired and his feet hurt. But when he got to his door, he didn’t want to go inside. Mom would probably be more upset than him that he wasn’t able to follow his life path. And Dizzie would probably just make fun of him like usual.

More than anything, he wanted to talk with Sadie again. He never got answers for why she did what she did. Everything she had said ended up being true, about Quellamunga and its history. And the Council. So, why? Why would she join with such horrible people to burn down the museum?

“Hey, kid.”

Seamus hadn’t noticed the the young man sitting on his steps. He had a yellowing bruise below his eye.

“Why so glum?”

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Chapter 2 (draft 1-3)

“Why would they do that?”

“Because people are awful.”

“That was a long time ago… things are different now.”

“No, Seamus. You. Me. Everyone is awful. Me especially.” The girl’s head lolled to the side, looking past Seamus to Alabaster. “Do you think that creature had parents?”

Seamus shook his head. He didn’t understand what she was saying.

She looked at him, then, deep into her eyes. Her voice cracked so that at times it sounded human. And at times… not human. “Do you think they took that baby from its mother so that you could have a pet, Seamus Kready? Maybe if you got out of your mansion and talked to some real people, you’d know what the world was like. War, death, intolerance. It’s all around you. It just hasn’t arrived at your door yet. But it will.”

She stepped forward and Seamus found himself backing toward the door. It was as if she really was a spirit from the past. The Union Wars happened in his grandparents’ generation. There was peace now. People were happy.

“What are you…?” Seamus covered his eyes.

“Hey,” she said, a little raspy and tired. “Stop that. I’m trying to give you something.”

He uncovered his eyes. She was offering him the history book. “But I can’t just… we have shelves full of books.”

“I’m sure you do, but I’m loaning this to you. Every good citizen should know his country’s history.”

He grabbed it with trembling fingers. The book was heavy and old. Its binding shifted a little in his hands.

“Careful with that. It was my dad’s.”

For the first time, the intensity of her eyes softened somewhat. A smile curled on her dry, cracked lips. She smelled like dry leaves and moss. His heart leapt and he could feel all the little hairs on his arms.

“I will,” he said, feeling like the heroes in his books. “I’ll protect it with my life.”

She covered her mouth to stifle the snorting laughter. “Easy there, kid.” She wiped at the corner of her eye, still chuckling. “But yes. If you lose that book, I’ll see to it that you don’t live past your Passage.”

She stared him down, her eyes once again fierce and judging. He broke his gaze to look at the book cover. History and Lore of Quellamunga by Venyel Nosek.

“How do I give it back, though, when I’m done?”

“I know where you live, Seamus. But if you really want to go slumming and if your family will really allow you to walk freely after you begin your life path…”

“They will!” Of course he could. After Passage, after he was bound to his life path, he was allowed to go anywhere he pleased.

“…then you can find me in East Marca where all the little halfway houses are. Ask around for Sadie.”

She spun on her heel and disappeared slowly into the darkness, leaving the sound only cricket song and the sound of Seamus’s rapid heartbeat.

He opened the back entrance and quickly locked it behind him. A dumb grin tried to make its way onto his face, but he took a deep breath. It wasn’t every day one went toe to toe with a ghost story come to life.

“Sadie, huh? What do you think?” He turned the corner to the atrium…

“Alabaster?”

…but Alabaster was not there.

“Oh no.”

Seamus kicked off his shoes, hugged the heavy book to his chest, and sprinted down the hall.

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Chapter 2 (draft 1-2)

“Excuse me, uh, miss?” She looked a few years older than him. She was thin, pale, and sickly looking. The deep bags under her eyes made her look like a ghost. She’d heard that story from Dizzie, about the ghost Noble from the Union Wars who haunts the area. It was ridiculous, of course. Just a story to scare kids. But still…

“Are you hurt? Are you okay?”

She glanced up from her book, not seeming to notice him at all until now. Her dark hair parted from her face and her dark-rimmed eyes shot needles at him. Then, scowling, she looked him up and down and went back to reading.

“Excuse me. Uh, this is private property…”

She reached for a fallen leaf, set it in the book, and slammed the pages shut.

“What do you want, kid?”

Her voice was scratchy and hoarse. It sounded like it came from the throat of a snarling animal rather than a young woman’s mouth. Maybe she was the ghost girl in the stories, but she looked alive enough to him.

“Go back to bed,” she said, dusting off her pants. “Pretend you didn’t see me.”

“What are you reading?” Seamus asked.

“Nothing anymore.”

“No really. I want to know. I like reading too.”

“Good for you…” Her slightly bored eyes widened into a look of shock. “What is that thing behind you?”

Seamus turned around quickly. Alabaster was tapping on the window lightly with his trunk.

“Oh, that’s just Alabaster. He’s an elephant from Spider Islands in Nyame.”

“You new Nobles really have everything.”

Seamus’s attention snapped back to the girl. “Noble” was the worst slur you could call someone and she was saying it like it wasn’t even a big deal.

“You can’t call someone that!” he said, maybe a little too loud.

“Shush,” she croaked. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Just be quiet.”

“Why would you call me that?”

“Because…” she sighed and pulled at her hair. “Look, you want to know what I’m reading? It’s a history book about the Union Wars.”

She showed off the cover. Everyone had to read the abridged version in First School, but this was the full book. It was huge.

“Sounds boring.”

“Oh, most of it’s bunk, for sure. Like the Battle of Grelio’s mansion?” She pointed to Seamus’s home. “Do you see any signs that there was fighting there?”

“They cleaned it up.”

“Every other noble household was deemed unfit to be adapted into a mansion except this one. I’m sure they tidied it up, but why do you think it was so undamaged in the first place?”

“It was a short battle?”

“There was no battle. In the middle of the night, a group of assassins broke into the house and murdered everyone inside. Sir Grelio, his wife, his children. The guards and the gardener all.”

“Assassins? From where?”

“From here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The people of Marca.”

“They were fighting for the country’s freedom.”

“I’m not arguing what they were or weren’t fighting for. All I’m saying is that they did some terrible things to get there.”

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Chapter 2, Draft 1

Thoughts ran through Seamus’s brain like a colony of ants. Though he had a full, duck feather bed courtesy of the Council, the room still felt oppressive.

Then again, it could have just been the elephant smell. Part of him loved Alabaster but another part resented him. The elephant, needing not much more than four or five hours of sleep himself, kept him consistently awake. Seamus’s room was specially padded, all of the museum antiques removed, but the elephant could still be annoying, pushing Seamus awake with his trunk or even trumpeting some mornings. But if he couldn’t take care of one pony-sized elephant, what kind of many would he grow up to be?

What kind of man would he be?

In his heart, he’d always known he wanted to be like the brave heroes in his books, like the giant warrior Balwa who traveled from town to town on his warhorse battling monsters and mediating disagreements. In the books, Balwa couldn’t stand when a man attacked another man, but he wouldn’t hesitate to raise his sword against a fire-breathing parrot or a pack of mountain wolves. But then how could he do something like be a brave traveling warrior? It was easier to feel what he wanted to be than it was to write it down on paper. And that’s exactly what he had to do. Write a proposal. But if he couldn’t tell the truth, what could he say that would be more realistic? What else could he say to get his life path accepted by the Council?

Well, it was no good lying down when you couldn’t sleep. Mom had said he had to do something to get himself tired. He slapped his cheeks, stirring Alabaster from his slumber. Alabaster’s trunk uncurled from his chest and he stretched out his legs.

Seamus touches Alabaster’s trunk before opening the door. “We’re going to the kitchen,” he explains. The elephant follows.

To get to the kitchen, Seamus has to go through the glass hallway with its giant windows. During the day, there’s a beautiful view of the museum gardens and the hills that border Marca. At night, there are a few torches lit by the night guards. Not much else to see except for a long-haired girl bent over next to a tree. Seamus stopped and stared. That wasn’t a very normal sight, to be honest. Was she sick? Or injured?

If he were an adult, he’d be allowed to go outside. But there was a curfew for anyone who hadn’t completed their Passage. But then, it was right outside his door, right? No problem if he just opened the back door a bit and asked her if she needed help. Besides, what kind of hero would he be if he didn’t help someone in trouble right outside his window?

“Stay here, Alabaster,” Seamus whispered.

But Alabaster wanted to follow, stepping down the few steps to get into the atrium.

“No. Stay here.” Seamus slips out the door and closes it behind him so Alabaster doesn’t get any ideas. The elephant’s nose is stronger than Seamus’s arms put together and giving him a chance to slip out wasn’t an option. Seamus would be in huge trouble for sure. Maybe they wouldn’t even let him join Passage this month.

The girl sat curled over a book. She seemed okay, if a little pale and tired. But since he was already outside, he might as well see if she needed any help.

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