Thursday, March 15, 2018
It'll take more than true love's kiss to break this curse.
After years of trying to find a cure, Princess Elena feels like she's made her peace with the century-long nap in her future. But when the curse threatens to come early and a rogue prince wants to hurry it along even faster, circumstances force her to reunite with a frustrating figure from her childhood who has some secrets of his own. Can the two overcome their differences and work together to defeat the curse, stop the prince, and find their own happily-ever-after?
(This is a new, heavily revised edition of the now no longer in print "Dreamless." If you enjoy the book, please leave a review at the listing of your choice.)
Sunday, March 4, 2018
So I've been kind of M.I.A for awhile because I've been deep in the "Dreamless" rewrite (which will be called "Fighting Sleep" now), but I'm only a few chapters away from the end. I'm really, really excited by this new version (I think I'm writing it so fast because it's the only way I'll actually get to read the thing), so even though I'm not done yet here's the new first chapter:
Chapter 1: Avoiding the Problem
Experimentation always had its risks. Sometimes, that meant impressive-looking explosions. Other times, that meant tripping and falling because a spell refused to behave properly.
Elena hit the ground with a distinctly undignified thunk, praying that the Healer's Academy muffled sound even half as well as the castle did. Then she pushed herself up into a sitting position, ignoring the new round of bruises as she pulled the misbehaving leather cuff of her ankle. Banishing the shimmer of magic around it, she scowled at the sigils carefully stitched onto the surface. “You’re not supposed to be flying right now,” she muttered, mentally calculating how much smaller the sigils would have to be in order to make sure the cuff would have some lift but not enough to actually go anywhere. She wanted it to take the weight of Alan’s broken leg, not try to take to the sky every time he—
She jerked her head up at hurried footsteps in the hallway, and she quickly shoved the cuff into her pocket as the door swung open to reveal a round-faced woman in healer’s scrubs clearly ready to shout at someone. “What’s going on in—“ The woman stopped abruptly as she focused on Elena, her long blond hair half-fallen out of the knot at her back and her eminently practical skirt sprawled out around her. A beat later, her eyes widened. “Your Highness?”
Great. There was no truly dignified way to scramble upright, so Elena simply tried to get to her feet as fast as she could. “Forgive me, matron.” She gave the woman her most polite smile, hoping that would be enough to keep the woman from asking any questions. People tended to accept a polite expression and pleasant tone at face value, ignoring inconvenient complications like why a nearly 18-year-old princess had been sprawled out on their floor. “I’m afraid I was testing something for my bodyguard, Alan Merrick. Do you know if he’s finished his appointment, yet?”
“I... well....” The woman stepped back, clearly flustered. “Let me check.” Bobbing a quick curtsy, she quickly backed out of the room and shut the door behind her.
Elena sighed, undoing the knot at the back of her neck and re-doing it properly. Best guess, the woman would run to her nearest supervisor and inform them that the poor tragic princess was officially in the building. At that point, she’d be lucky if she made it out of the building without a collection of hand pats, sympathetic looks, and people saying how sorry they were and complimenting her for “how strong” she was. If she had to run that particular gauntlet, she’d be lucky if she made it out of the building without not-so-accidentally turning someone into a frog.
As her mother had expressly forbidden her from doing that, Elena was certain it wouldn’t go over well.
The only option, then, was to make her escape early and find Alan herself. Invisibility spells were impractical in a building this crowded – people tended to notice bumping into an empty space more than they would a person – but that didn't mean magic was completely useless. A smaller spell, designed to make people simply not notice her, would let her slip through the hallways like she belonged here.
She drew the correct sigil in the air, the shape so familiar she no longer had to think about it, and murmured the corresponding trigger phrase under her breath. As she finished, she felt the magical energy flow out of her body and through the channel of her hand, settling back against her skin with a faint tingling sensation. She couldn't see the energy without an imaging spell, but most of the time you don't need to.
Once she was sure the spell was complete, Elena slipped out into the hallway and headed toward the examination room where she knew Alan's appointment had been. Healers passed by her without a second glance, hurrying back and forth between rooms filled with patients. Healing wasn't as easy as the stories made it sound, even something as simple as a gash requiring a delicate stitching of muscle and skin. Even that took time, and something as complicated as a lingering illness could stretch into an ongoing battle.
One that, sometimes, even the best healers lost.
Shaking off the memory – there had been more than one reason why she hadn't followed Alan into his appointment – Elena stopped just outside the correct examination room. Then, carefully, she silently pushed the door open a crack.
"...fused some of the finer fragments of bone back together, Mr. Merrick, but I'm afraid that's the extent of what we'll be able to do for you here." The healer's tone was matter-of-fact. "Your natural resistance to magic makes it difficult to do any healing on you at all, and I'm afraid if we try anything larger than that we'll misjudge our force and make things worse in there. If we start reattaching a chunk of bone to its neighbor when it's in the wrong place, it could permanently damage your ability to walk."
Elena's fingers curled into a fist, raining silent curses down on Nigel's head. The fact that he was sitting in prison at the moment didn't feel like nearly enough punishment for dropping an entire wall on her guard. The fact that it had happened because Alan was protecting her from being crushed only made her angrier at the little weasel.
Inside the examination room, Alan sighed. "I was afraid of that." She heard him shift his leg, the huge cast around it making a heavy sound she didn't like. "If we leave it alone, though, I'll heal, right? I'll be back to full mobility?"
The healer hesitated long enough that Elena held her breath. When she did finally speak, there was a warning in her voice. "I'll say probably, but only if you have the good sense to keep off it while it heels. Nothing more strenuous than walking, preferably with a cane we'll give you. Which means, let me state officially, means you can no longer chase around after that princess of yours."
Elena winced at that. If Alan was going to be off his feet for awhile, there was no chance of her mother letting her out of the castle without an entire retinue of guards. She might as well carry a sign above her head at that point, or maybe carry around a horn and formally announce her name to the crowd every 20 or 30 feet.
Elena wondered how many times you could hear “I’m sorry” before your head actually exploded.
Suddenly wanting to be anywhere else, she pushed open the door. The healer didn’t turn her head, still under the effects of the spell, but Alan immediately turned toward the doorway. The “don’t notice me” spell didn’t work on him, both because of his resistance to magic and his general fondness for her, and the moment his eyes focused on her she could feel the spell pop like a soap bubble. Once it did, the healer turned as well. “Your Highness,” she said, eyes widening for only a moment before she recovered her matter-of-fact tone. “Would you like me to—”
“She’s heard it,” Alan interrupted mildly, lips flickering upward. “If you’d be willing to go get that cane for me, we’ll be on our way.”
The healer nodded. “Of course.” Elena stepped further into the room to get out of her way, but as the woman walked past her she hesitated. “Your Highness, let me say once again that we in the Healer’s Academy are so sorry that we couldn’t do more for you after your aunt—”
Mercy, this sounded like the beginning of a speech. “Thank you,” Elena cut her off, hand tightening in her skirt briefly before she forced herself to let go. She could already feel the headache starting to form, but healing was unfortunately the one area of sorcery where she had no talent whatsoever. “We would appreciate it greatly if you could bring that cane you mentioned.”
The healer blinked, briefly flustered, then nodded. “Yes, yes, of course.”
When she left, Elena shut the door behind her and turned back to Alan. “I’m killing Nigel,” she announced, letting herself picture it for a second. She was pretty sure she wouldn’t actually do it – murder was illegal, even for royalty – but it was so incredibly soothing to think about. “I’ll make it look like self-defense if I have to. But next time I see him, he’s dead.”
Alan’s lips curved upward again. “You’ll have to tell Dr. Flyte you’re setting goals again.”
Elena sighed, imagining the reaction the magic mirror-turned-therapist would have to that particular announcement. “Somehow, I don’t think that was what he meant.”
Once they’d finally escaped the Healer’s Academy, Elena argued for getting a carriage back to the castle. Alan, however, stubbornly insisted on walking. “The healer said it was okay,” he argued, suddenly remembering to put actual weight on the cane instead of just carrying it. “I need to know if I can handle the distance.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, hurrying to catch up. “I knew you gave in too easily to taking the carriage here.”
He tilted his head in acknowledgement. “I knew the way back would be when I needed the thinking time.” Then he sighed, his entire tone suddenly turning serious. “We need to talk about what we’re going to do until my leg heals.”
Elena’s stomach twisted at the reminder. “Any chance you could convince my mother that there’s another guard in the castle somewhere who’s good enough to be trusted on his own?”
Alan scowled, just like she’d known he would. “You know how I feel about lying.”
Elena sighed. “You know, I’m sure they’ve hired several new people since that incident with the cake. There’s got to be someone there who can meet your exacting standards.”
Alan raised an eyebrow at her, letting himself slow down a fraction so she could get the full effect. “Who, conveniently, wouldn’t be immune to your ‘don’t notice me spell’ the same way I am, right?”
Elena blinked, appalled that she hadn’t had the good sense to come up with that idea before he’d shot it down. “I would never,” she said with mock outrage, cheered by the thought that she would probably be able to use it on whatever guards her mother stuck her with. She didn’t spend enough time with most of them to develop the sort of affection that would invalidate the spell.
Besides, it had given her another idea as well. “It’s not as if whoever it was would have to do much, anyway.” She made sure to keep pace with Alan, careful to keep her voice as even a possible. If she played too innocent, he’d know she was faking it. “I’ll probably spend most of the time you’re recuperating just hiding out in the castle.” At his skeptical look, she shrugged. “What? I’d rather hide out in my room a couple of months than drag half the palace guards around the city. Someone can bring Dr. Flyte’s mirror in for my appointments, and if I need something for one of my spells I can ask the kitchen staff to add it to their weekly order.”
“And that means no one will be keeping an eye on you when you’re sneaking out at—” He stopped, eyes going distant for a moment, then blinked and refocused on her. “We’re being followed.”
Elena stopped as well, scanning the immediate area out of the corner of her eye. There were too many people around for a life-scanning spell to be of any use, and tracking spells only worked if you knew who you were tracking. “Wouldn’t an assassin wait for more privacy?” she said quietly.
He caught her gaze when it moved past his, and the seriousness in his eyes made her go still with wariness. “Maybe.” He adjusted his grip on the cane so that he held it more like a sword. “But I’m not about to trust either of our lives on it.”
With the smallest tilt of his head, he gestured back to the alley they had just passed. They moved toward it with a deliberate casualness that only the person following them would even notice, then ducked inside. Alan went first, making sure whoever was following them hadn’t chosen it as their own hideout, and at his nod Elena slipped in behind him. Behind her back, she sketched a sigil for a paralysis spell in the air. It wasn’t quite strong enough for combat, but if she could catch their pursuer by surprise it should keep Alan from having to do much fighting. She just needed to know who she was aiming at….
A moment later, Alan answered that question for her. With no signal she could see or hear, he suddenly pivoted around on his good leg and slammed what seemed to be absolutely nothing against the wall. His arm stopped about six inches away from the bricks, clearly resting on something solid despite the distance, and Elena shifted tactics and sketched the correct sigil to counter an invisibility spell. One quick yanking motion later, an embarrassed-looking young man wearing far too much silk was standing in front of them. “Well.” He cleared his throat, then tried an overly bright smile. “How … how lovely to see you both. Have you been having a pleasant afternoon?”
It took an amazing amount of self-control not to strangle Nigel where he stood. “How in the world are you not in prison?”
Nigel perked up at that. “It turns out one of the guards was quite admiring of one of my rings, and when I explained the misunderstanding to—”
Alan cursed. “Now that I have some free time,” he muttered, “clearly I need to make sure some prison guards get fired.”
“Or prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Elena snapped, fingers clenching. “You tried to kill me, Nigel, and succeeded in seriously injuring my guard. That is a crime.”
Nigel’s cheeks reddened. “I told you, that was just a terribly unfortunate accident!”
Alan’s only response to that bit of idiocy was a rude noise. He kept Nigel pinned against the wall with the cane, using his free hand to check for any weapons. When he did find something, his brow lowered in clear puzzlement as he felt around it. When he pulled out an old spindle, he held it up. “Has this been enchanted?”
She sketched a sigil in the air, then waved her hand over the spindle. When therewas no corresponding glow, she felt just as confused as Alan looked. “No, which makes no sense. What use would—” Then memory hit, and she whipped her hand around to glare at Nigel. “You know that was a rumor, right? Started hundreds of years ago by a sorcerer whose ex-wife specialized in making spinning wheels.”
Nigel’s eyes went ride. “A rumor?”
Furious, she grabbed the spindle out of Alan’s hand and held it close to Nigel’s face. “They’re far more capable of damaging, say, someone’s eye than setting off a sorceress’s curse.”
“I just … it seemed so much more civilized.” Nigel swallowed, his cheeks starting to get red. “The man at the junk shop was more than happy to sell me a spindle, and I thought—”
“No. You didn’t think.” Alan’s voice was hard as he yanked Nigel away from the wall, giving the prince his best “Commander” glare before gesturing to two of the city guards who’d just come around the corner. “And now you’re going back to prison until we can figure out something worse to do with you.”
Now Nigel looked horrified and embarrassed. “I didn’t … I never meant to harm Princess Elena! I just … I wanted ….”
“To start my curse early, so you could be the one to break it,” Elena finished for him, the words flat to hide the bitterness behind them. “Kiss the poor cursed princess and everyone will be thrilled enough to forget what made her lose consciousness in the first place.” She paused as his face turned an even brighter shade. “Of course, it never occurred to you what would happen if your kiss didn’t work, did it? You wouldn’t be the hero. You’d be nothing more than the villain who trapped the princess in a century of sleep months before she had to be, just because you’d decided to be clever.” A quick spell was enough to make the spindle transport away as he watched. “Unless, of course, I decided to take care of you first.”
Nigel couldn’t say a word, just staring at her like his voice had been stolen. Looking disgusted now, Alan shoved the prince into the arms of the city guards. Once they was safely gone, Elena pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes and reminded herself to breathe. “I should have killed him,” she said quietly. “Or maybe I can have Braeth do it. We could say it was an early death-day present for him.”
“He’s not worth it,” Alan smoothed a gentle hand against her hair, then sighed. “Besides, I need to get you home. We need to make sure Nigel doesn’t wander off again.”
“I almost wonder if we should tell mother about it.” Elena was surprised to find herself smiling a little. “She hasn’t really let herself get angry at someone in a long time. It might be almost relaxing for her to just let all of her frustration out on the people in charge of the prison.”
“Of course, if she kills anyone, that would sort of put a damper on the whole sense of catharsis.” Alan, who had stood just outside the door for all her sessions, knew almost as many therapy words as she did by this point. “You forget, she’s an even more powerful sorceress than you are.”
“We’ve never actually tested that,” she said absently, feeling the tension from earlier tightening her shoulders again. “And if she has something to do, it might relax her enough that she doesn’t actually lock me in my room herself after this.”
“Hopefully, no one else will get the idea,” Alan said quietly. “But if they do, we’re going to need to look at more serious options to protect you. This isn’t just about keeping an eye on you anymore.”
Elena made herself take a deep breath as she felt her options slip away from her. “I know, but—”
The world shut off.
When she opened her eyes again she was on the ground, staring up into Alan’s terrified face. He was cradling her in his arms, checking for a pulse, and for one disoriented second she wondered how he’d managed to catch her with that broken leg of his. She hadn’t fainted – you swooned first, when that happened. You weren’t just snuffed out like a candle that someone else was done with.
Elena felt herself go ice cold. “How long was I …” Her throat closed up, unable to finish the word. The curse wasn’t supposed to work like this – according to everyone who had been there, her aunt had given the very clear deadline of her 18th birthday – but it had felt exactly like every nightmare she’d ever had about her non-existent future.
She forced the thought from her mind as Merrick helped her sit up. “Twenty seconds. Maybe thirty.” His voice hadn’t quite steadied all the way yet. “You stopped speaking, and your eyes rolled up in the back of your head. Then you dropped straight to the ground.”
She shook her head, more to deny the moment than anything he’d said, then made herself stand so she could help him up. He didn’t accept the offer, watching her face the entire time as he got to his feet on his own. “We need to tell your mother.”
“No.” Elena focused on her breathing, forcing it into a slow, steady rhythm. “We can’t even be sure that was the curse.” Alan’s eyes narrowed, and she held up her hands in supplication. “Not yet, then. Let me … let me at least find out more about what’s happening.”
He put his hand back on her shoulder. “It’s not supposed to work like that, is it?”
“No.” She covered his hand with her own, giving it a squeeze as a silent thank you. “Another special surprise from my aunt, I would guess.”
Alan swore softly. “I wish Nigel had been the worst thing to happen this afternoon.”
Elena sighed. “Me, too.”