An Unexpected Song from a Faraway Place

This is the last of the excerpts I’m posting for Stars Fall Out, and it’s one of the earliest in the book.

My main character steals a magic vial with the power to instantly travel from one place to another via any natural body of water, and soon starts spending a lot of her free time doing just that.

It’s an escape, and an addictive one.

Her routine doesn’t vary much: wake up, work at family bakery, be escorted home by secret husband. And so, the other characters start noticing quickly, starting with her friend, a glass merchant who takes the university magic test every single day, even though it’s supposed to test innate ability.

It wasn’t until well after I wrote this that I hammered out the details of how, exactly, she stole the vial. In the rewrite of this scene, she’s going to be much, much more nervous.

Clapping came from the window table. “I didn’t know baking could be an athletic event.”

Pinuar had come in, and I hadn’t heard the bell.

“The usual, please, after you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.”

I turned away and chewed my enormous bite of sausage braid as quickly as I could. How long had he been there? There was no way to ask without revealing the depth of my embarrassment, and so I set to getting his [usual order].

“That was an interesting song,” he said as I put down the food and took his money. “Unexpected.”

I didn’t immediately realize what he was talking about.

My blankness must’ve showed. “The one you were humming during your performance.”

I struggled to remember blur of the last few hours. Realization smashed like a shipwreck. The song from the city camped outside the city. The song I had picked up in a place that, still, was a total mystery to me. I had been humming like a deranged person as I whirled between the three recipes.

Relax, I told myself. He was only making conversation. “I suppose it helps the work go by faster.”

Pinuar sipped his cinnamon tea and peeled back a layer of his roll. “You seemed fast enough.” He shrugged. “But the Suong aren’t allowed in your city, and I know you’ve rarely left.”

Never. I had never left, not until last night, and I hadn’t known until now that I had been in a Suong encampment. I went back to the counter to fetch Pinuar a napkin, my mind spinning useless circles around my imbecilic slip-up.

Peeling back another layer, he dunked the roll in his tea. “Where did you pick it up? Songs don’t have the legs to travel on their own.”

Of all the things to ask. I decided to tell what was probably the truth. “Oh, I picked it up from a Suong. One with the legs to sneak into places.” With just a hint of lie thrown in. “Nirsuathu isn’t exactly air-tight.”
Pinuar smiled. “Very true.”

I decided to change the subject. “Taking the magic test again tomorrow?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve been practicing.”


In Case You Didn’t Get My Previous Message

Aside from some excerpts concerning the magic vial, most of my snippets from Stars Fall Out haven’t dealt with the magic in the book.

Many of the scenes I could’ve posted are too spoilery, and in fact, this one might be as well. But it showcases something that comes up a lot in the second half of the book: the oneiromantic messenger bird, as manifested by Master Zanhrori.

In this world, there are dedicated oneiromancers whose only job it is to pass messages with these birds. They are often looked down upon as a cross between a secretary and a mail carrier, two professions involving skills that aren’t always visible on the surface. The same goes for those who send messenger birds.


On his way back down, the paper and smoke bird hit him in the chest. He grabbed it reflexively before he realized what it was, then frowned at the crumpled thing in his hand.

“Let’s see,” he said, and held it up without opening it. “’Piro, Piro, Piro—’”

“He wouldn’t write your name three times.”

“No, I suppose not.” He held up the messenger bird and began again, “’Pirohleko. I hope this finds you well. If you are able, please bring five dozen loaves of Nirsuathan seed bread. Snoo will take nothing else. Please make sure that Tyatavar knows where she is going, even though I have already gone over this with her. And fix your hair. Signed, Zanhrori.’”

Then Piro shoved it in his pocket, and we returned to the sort of behavior that had been costing us time for the last while. We were gazing into each other’s eyes in what was likely a quite sickening fashion when the second messenger bird came.

I slapped my neck, thinking it to be some sort of enormous insect.


Knowing Better Isn’t Doing Better

I started posting excerpts of Stars Fall Out when I was halfway through the draft. As a result, I haven’t posted excerpts of a lot of the early action that defines the book, including the main character’s use of a magic vial that allows travel from one place to another via a natural body of water.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that knowing better isn’t the same as doing better. I like stories with intelligent characters, but I also like characters who fuck everything up and get in their own way.

I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.

This post is the third excerpt in a sequence that I’ve posted over the last two weeks. Here’s the first and second, which involve stealing the vial and discovering that it’s damn uncomfortable to use.

You’d think I would be smarter this time. That I would bind up a change of clothes so they wouldn’t get wet. That I would pack money and bread. That I would bring a map or compass.

Instead, I was less smart. I packed none of those things, and I barely even concealed myself. “I’ll take it from here,” I had told Tirsan when we came in sight of my home. “You’re tired.”

Then I had waited half-behind a tree, and watched as Tirsan walked away, the limp still present in his step after all these months.

I ran almost to the bridge, then slowed to a stroll so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. But when I made it to the water, when I filled the vial and chugged it down, I practically dove in.

Water swept me down and crushed me, squeezed my rib cage, until I washed up elsewhere, free of the city, free of all of it.

Infinity, was what I thought when I looked at the beach.


That Awkward Moment When Your Stolen Magic Vial Actually Works

Last week, I posted a short excerpt from Stars Fall Out in which my main character runs like hell after stealing a magic vial from her sister’s professor. All she knows about the vial is that it’s supposed to allow travel from place to place if one uses it to consume water from a natural body. She doesn’t know the finer points of how this works or how to choose the place you go to.

She also doesn’t know that it’s going to be uncomfortable as hell.

Darkness.

Darkness rushed around me, and water burned wrongly in my nose. I flipped, but stayed perfectly still. Or the world flipped, and gravity—

The rushing-water-darkness thrashed me up and away from it. Gravity and ash hit me at the same time.

Ash. I couldn’t see it, but the sensation of it had come to me immediately, plugging my nose. And my forearms were buried in it. My legs floated uselessly behind me, while my arms and upper body were buried in the cold, crumbling remains of a campfire. My fingers crawled around, breaking pieces of old wood as I dragged myself fully onto the shore and collapsed on my belly directly over the pile of coals. Pale hints of light came from somewhere, and my eyes tracked to them automatically.

I blew my nose onto my sleeve, messy and childlike, and wondered, stupidly, if anyone had seen. Still on my belly with my hands and elbows in the burned out fire, I gave myself to the count of twelve, and then rolled onto my back.

This was not my home.


That Awkward Moment When Someone Catches You Stealing a Magic Vial From Your Sister’s Professor

It’s tough to find a good first draft excerpt. Something that isn’t too clunky, too spoilery, or too rife with notes-to-self and bracketed terms I need to research. After starting to post excerpts at the halfway point of Stars Fall Out, I went back and found a few from earlier in the book. That took care of the “spoilery” bit of the problem.

I’m still self-conscious about most of the excerpts I’ve posted. There’s a lot that’s lost by taking words out of the context of the scene, and since they’re rough draft, that clunkiness is still there.

Anyway. I think we can all relate to the feeling of sneaking into a lab at the top of a tower with an almost infinite number of stairs to steal a magic vial from your sister’s professor. So here’s more about that:

The light came near me again, and I dove to a crouch, stumbling at the edge of the archway, and again losing momentum as I tried to pivot and rise to my feet out of view. In that third moment of stillness, my legs shook with fear. They would fail me the next time I tried them.

I wouldn’t make it to the stairs, let alone down.

But they worked on their own, somehow, somehow, thank the gods, thank the spirits, thank reflex and terror, and I dashed down the stairs, skipping them two and three at a time, stumbling around corners and knocking into walls.

I didn’t hear my pursuer, or even know for sure if they were indeed pursuing me. I lost track of how many flights I had gone down, and so there was no halfway point to acknowledge, but again, stairs, landing, fireglass.

Stairs, landing, fireglass.

Stairs, landing, fireglass.

Door.

I pushed it open with all my strength in opposition to a powerful winter wind blowing it shut.

And then I burst out onto the university campus, and onto the streets of Nirsuathu.


A Fearsome Beast

Here’s another excerpt from Stars Fall Out, one of several I set aside to post before I finished the draft, but then never got around to posting due to the fact that finishing the draft ate all my free time in the weeks before its completion.

This excerpt features Master Zanhori, known as one of the greatest living oneiromancers, who travels throughout the Kirosz Empire with his three fearsome beasts, negotiating for peace where he can, and sometimes leaving destruction where he can’t.

The chair creaked alarmingly when I sat in it. Berihl opened a single eye at the noise and snorted. “How did you get a huge boar like that up the stairs?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.” Zanhrori tapped his long, elegant pen against the side of his desk. “And she’s a sow, not a boar.”

“Piro said—”

“For all his keenness, he isn’t much of a biologist. Your husband could’ve told you the difference.”

“That’s probably true.” His unexpected mention of Tirsan had thrown me off balance. I took a deep breath and braced myself in the chair so it wouldn’t creak again. “I know that you’re busy, so I’ll get right to it: I’m looking for someone to train me.”