I have a manuscript just sitting around. It's the first in a trilogy. It's not bad (I was offered a publishing contract for it, which I turned down--long story). But it's definitely my "first" book. So what do I do with the thing? Do I try and publish it as an ebook (I could use the money)? Do I permanently shelve it (this makes me sad)?
Do I scratch it and do a rewrite ("No!" scream the other voices in my head. "Our stories need told!")?
Here's the thing, I'm not sure the books stands alone well enough to put it out there without the rest of the trilogy. And it would take me years to rewrite the entire trilogy. I don't know that I want to dedicate that kinda time.
So what would you do? Does putting it out there help my career or hurt it? (psst: just so you know, there's a Unicorn. A black one. And a girl with a sword--which is so kick A.)
And for your reading pleasure:
The Priestess Prophecy
Familiar threads of ice wound up Ara’s spine. She tried to force them down. She may as well have pummeled the wind. They twinned out, spreading across her back. No. Not here. Not now. Time slowed as the ice took her belly, her shoulders.
Her brother turned, his face lost its smile. His gaggle of friends, not understanding, watched her with mixtures of concern and confusion. Vines of cold snaked up her throat. “Tenan!” she managed a warning cry before the vision sucked her in.
Cold and hunger gnawed at her. She would have cried, had she the strength. As it was, she whimpered softly—mewing like a sick kitten. Her body wouldn’t obey her commands. Whether because of the cold or for some other reason, she couldn’t tell.
Before her was an insurmountable white barrier. It served as her prison as well as her fortress. Beyond the barrier, trees—tall and straight as giants—stood as her sentinels. But strangest of all, the barrier moved.
The vision slammed shut, thrusting her back and leaving her fourteen-year old limbs trembling. Slowly, sounds trickled in, as if from far away, “Ara? Ara? Answer me, Ara.”
Her head flinging back, she gasped before slumping in her brother’s arms. His flesh felt like the sun against her winter skin. She swallowed against the sharp remnants of hunger the vision had left. As the cold began to fade, to grow bearable, she blinked and her furry vision managed to focus on his worried face. “Tenan?” she croaked.
“Is she all right?” a voice asked. She flinched as an unfamiliar hand brushed across her arm. “She’s freezing!”
Smells suddenly returned to her. Hearth smoke, hot wool, Tenan—his breath warm against her neck. Shaking her head, she tried to order her scrambled thoughts. She had to get away—away from them. Before they realized what had happened. What was still happening.
Tenan’s arms tightened around her. “She’s fine. She just needs to rest.” Draping her arm over his shoulder, he scanned the faces of the villagers surrounding them. “Move,” he growled.
Ara forced her wooden legs to stir. He half dragged, half supported her across the empty green of the village square. Underneath the shade of the Hallowed Tree’s vast boughs, he hauled her down beside him. She watched as Tenan’s friends slowly dispersed. Did they understand what had just happened? Her eyes fluttered shut. If word spread that she was Gifted, how long before the Assassins found her?
Unstopping his waterskin, Tenan held it to her lips. She tipped back her head and didn’t care that it gushed over her cheeks and down her tunic. It tasted of her family’s cold well and leather. The familiarity helped.
“Better?” Tenan asked.
She nodded. The reckless rush of her heart had steadied, and the ice that flowed in her veins was thawing. “Another moment, and I’ll be all right.”
Without taking his gaze from the people in the distance, he grunted sourly. “I warned you, Ara.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, hating how different she was. Her golden skin. Her lanky build. Her curious eyes—brown, flecked with green in the iris. But most of all, she hated her Gift. “You won’t tell Father?”
Tenan scoured his hands over his tender beard, as if to scrub away her taint. “I never do. But try not to have them anymore.”
She looked away, out over the village. The houses topped with split-shingle roofs and vegetable gardens seemed so out of place with the turmoil inside her. Nothing to hint of the danger she’d just placed herself in. “I’ll try.” But in truth, she tried to suppress the visions every day. It hadn’t stopped them.
“There you are!”
She choked, a mouthful of water sputtering down her front. Her father lowered his head like a charging bull. He always did that when he was angry. “You were supposed to wait by the inn.”
Tenan’s grey eyes shot her a look, one she was all too familiar with. The one that said ‘let me do the talking.’ She was more than happy to comply. “Ara got hot; I found her some shade.”
Her father surveyed the waterskin in her hands and his head came up slightly, a sure sign that his anger had come and gone as quickly as a doe in flight. “Next time, find shade closer to where I tell you.” He handed Ursha’s reins to Tenan. The mare was heavily laden with supplies. “You two move for home, I’ll be along shortly.” He turned back toward the village.
Tenan held out a heavily calloused hand for her. “Are you fit?”
She let him pull her up. “I am.”
He tugged her cap from her belt and tossed it at her chest. “Hide your hair then. You know the rule.”
She tucked her braid under the stuffy cap that most women of Bondell wore, in addition to trousers. It was the villages attempt to disguise how few men there really were. Living far away from the nearest neighbor, and help, her family had embraced the rule. After all, four men seemed more formidable than two.
The walk to Bondell had been a pleasant one. No more. Silence punctured the already raw tension between Ara and Tenan—silence only interrupted by occasional fingers of wind through the aspens or the crunch of brittle pine needles beneath Ursha’s hard hooves.
The heavy pines plunged them into an unnatural twilight as they wound deeper into mountains that still bore icy caps of snow, toward their home in the high meadows.
Her head swinging from side to side, Ara searched for the source of her tension. Something unnatural tickled the back of her memory, but what? She wanted to ask Tenan, but he was glowering at every bush and rock, probably in an effort not to glower at her.
It’s so quiet. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. A feeling of danger washed over her as sure as a bucket of water overturned on her head. She halted, staring into the trees.
Tenan’s voice seemed far away, “Ara?” His tone dropped dangerously, “Not again!”
She barely heard him. The feeling of danger had grown until it was palpable against her skin. Instinct took over. She felt as though her soul simply gathered itself and stepped out of her body. With a shock, she glanced down at herself—a smoky apparition. A little ways off, her body stood frozen, eyes unseeing, ears unhearing.
Face contorted, Tenan was shouting at her body, but his lips were moving slowly. Spit flew from his mouth, arching slowly through the air in front of him. She watched it in disbelief.
Somehow, her soul had left her body. And time had changed—either speeding up for her or slowing down for everything else. She wanted to move. No sooner had the thought entered her head than she glided forward. Faster. The landscape blurred by.
Not understanding how or why, she flew over the ground like a puff of smoke, her instinct leading her to a dark cover of bushes. She paused, in the shadows she could sense another creature.
But she was afraid to go in. She stretched toward it, somehow sending tendrils of her soul forward. The stench of rotten meat inundated her. The metallic, salty taste of blood filled her mouth. Slitted catlike eyes turned toward her. Everything but its face and palms was covered it dark, bristly hair. It had no nose to speak of. Only wide pits rimmed with jagged ridges. Between forked lips, its razor-sharp teeth were nearly as yellow as its eyes.
Terrified, she snatched the pieces of her soul back and rushed into her body. Her eyes flew open, her mouth murmuring the word that came unbidden to her mind, “Hebock.”
Tenan gaped at her. But he didn’t have time to react. Ursha shied and it was all he could do to hold her. The mare’s nostrils flared as she blew out, her ears pointing westward. “Ara, help me!”
She leapt for the reins, pulling hard. The mare screamed and then fled, heedless of the iron bit in her mouth.
Refusing to let go, Ara and Tenan were wrenched from their feet. Ara slammed into the ground and the mare began dragging them both. Branches and twigs tore at her body. The reins slipped! They seared her hands before pulling free.
“My hand is caught!” Tenan screamed. He fought to get his feet under him before the mare killed him.
Ignoring the pain, she pushed herself up and surged after her brother. Fumbling for her belt knife, she watched as the mare bound over an overturned tree. Tenan slammed into it with a grunt as the air was knocked out of him. Somehow, he managed to hold fast to a gnarled root. Ursha flayed wildly, like a fish fighting to be free of a line.
Ara gathered her legs and leapt over the dead trunk. As she came down, she slashed at the taut rein, snapping it instantly. Liberated, the mare turned and ran as a pack of wolves nipped at her heels.
Drawing ragged breaths, Ara knelt next to her brother. “Tenan?”
He moaned. “She nearly pulled both my arms off.”
Ara’s eyes raked across the black-green woods. What had frightened the mare so badly? She remembered what she’d seen just before Ursha had panicked: a Hebock. It couldn’t be. Not here. “Tenan-Tenan, we have to get out of here.”
Grimacing, he leaned forward and worked his arms in a circle. “Father will murder me if we don’t get the mare back.”
She started digging frantically through the loose leaves. “Where’s your bow?”
He nodded in the direction Ursha had disappeared.
That left them with nothing more than their knives. She looked toward the village. Her father might not be far down the trail. Somehow, she had to make Tenan come with her. “We have to go! Something’s still out there. I feel it as if its breath is hot against my throat.”
Tenan gave her a withering look. “I’m not going anywhere until we find Ursha.”
Suddenly, the danger in Ara’s mind exploded. A high-pitched sound like the screech of a thousands bats drove nails into her ears. A black shadow, shorter than Tenan by a span and twice as wide, seemed to gain life and streak toward them through the trees. She gripped her brother’s arm and heaved. “Tenan, run!”
One look at the creature, and he fell in beside her. She peered over her shoulder. Another screech erupted from a bat-like face. She put on a burst of speed she hadn’t known she possessed. She saw a horse between the trees. A familiar one. “Father!” she cried. “Father! Help!”
Kendrake jerked at her cry. His eyes widened with fear and disbelief. Bringing his bow around, he slammed his heels into his horse’s side.
Tenan’s pace increased with her scream. Side by side they raced. Danger, danger, danger, a voice inside her mind chanted. The tempo increased no matter how fast she ran. And then the words changed, bursting in her head, Death!
“Get down!” Her father shouted as he pulled back his bowstring.
Tenan glanced over his shoulder. His face twisted in fear. He lunged, tackling Ara and shielding her body with his own.
And then the danger was gone. Not faded or diminished. It simply ceased to exist. Tenan eased up, his body as rigid as if it were carved from rock. Ara saw her father’s horrified face above them, his bow half drawn with a new arrow.
Flat on her back, her gaze swung slowly to her side. Close enough that she could have reached out and touched it, the charcoal colored creature stretched toward her, menace permanently etched on its face and a wicked axe still clenched in its fist. A Hebock.
An arrow protruded from its right eye. A yellow eye. Slit like a cat’s and still trained upon her. In a way, the Hebock resembled a human, for it had moved on two legs and was roughly the same size. But it would only be mistaken for a man on the darkest nights.
Ara ripped her gaze from the Hebock to look at her father. Kendrake dismounted and eased forward. “It can’t be.” He didn’t let the tension ease from his bow, as he kicked the limp body, turning the Hebock from its side onto its back. His eyes scanned the woods. “There may be more.”
“There aren’t,” Ara whispered.
Whether he heard her or not, her father leapt back on his horse. Though the Hebock’s presence made the animal fight, Kendrake began making a circuit around them.
Tenan looked at the Hebock in wonder, and then that wonder transferred wholly to her. “How in all the Lands did you know that thing was coming . . . that there aren’t more?”
The blood pounded in her face. What had she done? Oh please, for her mother’s sake, not another Gift. “My soul . . . it’s like my soul broke away from my body, like I was a ghost.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “I saw the Hebock and taste blood.”
“Hebock? How do you know what a Hebock looks like?” he asked in bewilderment.
“I’ve seen one befo—” her voice cut off as she realized what she’d said. Seen a Hebock before? That was impossible. No one saw them this far south of the Wild Lands. No one.
Tenan crawled away from her and was sick. Ara wondered if it was her admission that brought on his retches or the sight of the Hebock.
Her father pulled in beside them. “I don’t see signs of more.” He studied her and Tenan. “Either of you hurt?”
Ara tucked her palms behind her. “No, Father.”
Tenan wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “No, Father.”
Her father’s shoulders slumped as if he’d been deboned. His hazel eyes seemed flat, lifeless. “If I hadn’t heard Ara calling for help . . .” he trailed off, his face going even paler. “I don’t understand. Why would a Hebock come here?”
Tenan seemed to recognize the look on Ara’s face. He shook his head, his lips pursed.
“Do Kanovians use Hebocks for Assassins?” she asked gingerly.
Her father rubbed his jaw. “I have heard that they use them for scouts, but Assassins . . .” Suddenly, his eyes went wide. “Ara?” He searched her face and then groaned, “Oh, Ara! No!”
She gathered her knees into her chest, refusing to look at the Hebock, refusing to acknowledge the creature that had tried to kill her for what she was.
Her father tugged his cap further over his thinning black hair. “No one can know about Ara’s Gift. No one besides us. Do you both understand?”
Her eyes remained unfocused. “We’ve both understood for a long time, Father.”
Kendrake shot a condemning look at Tenan before softening. “I see.” He studied the ground as if it might hold the answers he sought. “Your mother doesn’t need to know. We’ll keep Ara close, keep her secret safe. The Hebock’s dead. We’ll bury it. Tonight, so that no one sees. We never speak of this day again. It never happened. Understood?”
Ara’s head felt waterlogged, as if she might hear a sloshing sound if she shook it. “Yes, Father. I understand.”
Kendrake stared at Tenan, waiting.
Tenan threw a rock against the tree stump. It clattered loudly in the stillness. “I haven’t told anyone yet.”
Their father nodded. “Good. Help me drag this thing out of sight. Then you two clean up. We can’t have you coming home looking like you’ve been brawling in the dirt and twigs.” He glared at the dead thing. “Tonight, we’ll come back and bury it.”
In the darkest hours, Ara stole out of the house with her father and brother. They made their way silently to the Hebock’s body. The fire still burning from the reins, she held the lantern aloft, while her father and brother’s shovels rang loudly in the still night.
Sweat ringed their underarms and drew long, fat lines down their backs by the time they finished a hole deep enough that their heads weren’t visible above the rim. Setting the lantern on the ground, she helped them roll the Hebock’s heavy body inside.
Ara’s nose wrinkled at the Hebock’s pungent odor—rotting meat. Her soul had been right about the smell. They covered the carcass with rocks before refilling the hole. Then they walked across the grave until the ground was smooth before replanting brush and sage.
Dusting off their hands, the two men surveyed their work. Ara didn’t. She looked anywhere but at the grave. How long would it take for another Hebock or Assassin to find her? She pressed her eyes shut. Another secret to keep. Another thing to make her different. Another reason for the Assassins to seek her blood.
Beneath her, the floor rocked and swayed. Her clammy clothes did little to keep out the cold. And nothing assuaged her hunger. Arms held her, trying to comfort her, trying to shield her, trying to warm her.
The arms weren’t human.
With a fierce shake of her head, Ara pushed herself up on her forearms. Another vision. She drew her quilts tighter, drawing the remaining warmth from them. It couldn’t have been more than a few hours since she’d returned with her father and Tenan. Her head ached from lack of sleep and her hands burned as if the reins had just seared them.
Blinking hard, she peered out her warped window. Soft darkness blurred the clean line between mountain and sky, tree and ground. Dawn was still a few hours away. So what had woken her? As if in answer, a knock echoed through the house. Snatching her blanket, she wrapped it over her thin shoulders and hurried from her room.
Her father, mother, and brother blocked her view of what lay beyond the door. Black curls spilling over her blanket, she rushed forward. A Nonaean officer stood with his armor gleaming silver in the pale light, a conscription notice in his hand. Ara’s body froze, her tongue stuck fast to the roof of her mouth. They’re here for Tenan. In the middle of the night, so that the men wouldn’t see them coming and run.
Tenan wouldn’t look at her. “It’s time, Ara.”
She barely registered her mother and father hurrying past her to gather Tenan’s armor and already packed saddle bags. She knew this was coming. They had been preparing for months. But it didn’t feel real. Like a dream. She hoped it was a dream. Tenan couldn’t leave. They needed him. She needed him.
Tenan wrapped her in a fierce embrace, crushing her against his hardened muscles—muscles that trembled with fear. Tenan afraid? Tenan feared nothing. This was no dream. It was real. He was leaving her. “You knew it was coming, little sister. We all did.”
Ara’s words came out half strangled, “It doesn’t make it easier.”
“Don’t ever let anyone know about your Gift, Ara,” he whispered fiercely. “I won’t be here to keep you safe.”
He couldn’t leave her! He couldn’t! But she found herself saying the words he needed to hear, “I’ll be careful.”
As if her touch suddenly burned him, he jerked away and hurried outside.
Ara followed him. She didn’t feel her steps, her body, or even her wounds. Nothing stirred her, not even the stiff breeze from the canyon. She was a wraith, cold and untouchable.
Tenan embraced their mother as if Qessa might break and then stood before Kendrake. Her father stared at the ground, his mouth working. “Come home, son.”
Because if you die on the battlefield, we’ll never see you or your body again. The pain suddenly hit Ara with such force that she nearly doubled over. Tenan was leaving to fight in a war against the men of Kanovia and their monsters, the Hebocks—a war from which he might never return. She bit her lip to hold back her sobs. It felt like a part of her was dying.
Swallowing hard, Tenan nodded as he swung into the saddle. “Yes, Father.”
Ara tried to burn his image into her memory. The Nonaean commander shouted the order. The men spurred their horses. Tenan held his mount, though the stallion danced beneath him. He closed his eyes before giving the horse his head. Within moments, the trees had swallowed him whole.
It felt like hours later when her father pressed Tenan’s old clothes into her arms. “No use trying to sleep. Saddle Talbot. There’s just as much work as before, and now one less pair of hands to do it.”
As Tenan’s scent rose up from the garments, Ara understood what part of her was dying.
She didn’t try to stop it.