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The Legacy of Androva Series

This weekend's blog post is Chapter Six! Luca has a temporary crisis of confidence before trying to figure out what's really going on between Devin, Gabe, and Mina. You can catch up on any of the previous chapters via the New Series label at the top of this post. Thank you very much for reading .

6 A Snapping Point

By the time we returned to perform in front of the rest of the class I was a wreck. I could only hope the chaos inside my head didn’t show on my face. I delivered my lines, holding on to Benedick’s self-righteous indignation and sarcasm just long enough for us to earn a round of applause.
“I didn’t want to make a casting decision so early in the semester, but you two have incredible chemistry,” said Miss Randall. “I’m going to give you a couple more scenes to try, and if you can perform them equally well, the parts are yours.”
After we sat down, I attempted to shield myself. I turned my face into my shoulder, whispering, “Contego,” and gradually, my awareness of her energy and the history between us retreated behind the spell. When Mina stood up to perform I had calmed down enough to pay attention. She was good, presenting herself as the villain, Don John, with a sinister intensity that was very compelling. Miss Randall offered her the part there and then.
When the bell rang for lunch, I didn’t get up straight away. The prospect of reading lines with Cass, playing out the story of two proud characters who started as enemies and ended up as lovers, was like some hideous nightmare where our shared past would replay over and over. How could I deal with that while I was trying to—
My phone chimed with a text. Slowly, I removed it from my pocket, knowing what I would find when I turned it over.
Hello, Luca. How do you like my third restriction? Yes, I chose the play. Yes, I paired you together. Let’s see if your oh-so-serene Light Mage objectivity can withstand an emotional onslaught of this magnitude. Can’t wait to find out :)
This message didn’t make me angry. Still reeling from what had just happened, all I felt was despair. I wondered if I should just give up. I only had the smallest chance of success anyway. No matter what I did, he would never stop presenting me with obstacles. For a few seconds I wallowed in self-pity.
What’s the matter with me? I never give up. I’m not going to start now. Besides, I wanted more time with Cass and now I have it. This is a good thing.
A shadow fell over the screen. “Avi. We should swap details.”
It was Cass. She was holding her phone and looking down at mine expectantly.
“You want my number?”
“No. I want this part. Being able to contact you is unfortunately a necessity if that is to happen.”
 “I… er… it’s new. The phone. I haven’t… I’m not set up yet.”
“I suppose you’ll have to text me, then.” She reeled off a series of numbers and I rather laboriously typed them in. I hesitated before deciding on, “Hey,” and pressing Send.
“Thanks,” she said, before putting her phone away. “I’ll send you an invitation later. Miss Randall will set up a messaging group for the play as well, just so you know.” She walked off, not saying another word to me or anyone else. We’d still only made eye contact that one time.
With her departure I felt better. I promised myself I would devise a different coping strategy before we met up again. A couple of students spoke to me on their way out, praising my performance. It was getting easier each time: the introductions, the casual banter. Avitus Sequani was becoming more like a real person.
“Well, well, well.” Mina, the last to leave, took a seat next to me. I noticed that her caramel skin had a dusting of freckles, visible even through her makeup under the harsh overhead light. “She doesn’t date, y’know. So don’t get your hopes up.”
“You were great,” I said, ignoring her insinuation.
“Thanks.” She looked me up and down. “You’re not turning out like I expected.”
I looked her up and down too. “You never met me before Friday. How would you know what to expect?”
“I always prejudge. I can’t help it.”
“Oh, yeah? It’s entirely beyond your control?”
She smiled. “Maybe not. I guess it’s a habit.”
“I suppose I prejudged you too, a little,” I admitted. “Anyone with half a brain can see you have a… position at this school.”
“Yeah. I’ve earned it, too. And I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it. It’s all I…” She stopped talking and frowned. “I don’t know why I said that.”
Because no one can hide their true nature from a guardian. I stood up. “Why don’t we get some lunch and you can tell me how to get along better with Gabe,” I suggested.
Mina looked up at me. “Why would I do that?”
“Because it would make things easier for Devin. Your friend.”
She sighed. “Even if I wanted to help you… you have no idea how complicated things are right now.”
“Afraid you’ll fail?”
At that, Mina laughed. “You’ve got some nerve for a new guy.”
“Maybe I’m just stupid. You should probably take pity on me.”
She shook her head. “More like too smart for your own good.”
When we arrived at the cafeteria I hardly recognized it from the Friday before. It was like walking into a living wall of noise and smells that overloaded my senses. Since I’d crossed over, everything was in high definition. I was grateful I didn’t need to eat. Appetizing, it wasn’t.
Devin and Gabe were sitting together, not talking. There was an extra tray alongside Gabe, and Mina sat down in front of it. She told the person next to Devin to get out of the way, and I took their chair with a muttered apology.
“Hey, Avi,” said Devin. “How’s it going?”
I returned his smile, glad to see he was more relaxed than he’d been earlier.
Mina leaned into Gabe. His blond hair was wet at the back and she curled a strand around her finger. “Your shampoo is so amazing,” she said, breathing in. “I love the smell of coconut.”
Gabe stiffened. “Since when?” he said.
“Since always. Don’t look so worried. I’m not going to proposition you right in the middle of the cafeteria.” She dropped her hand.
“I’m not worried,” he protested.
“Of course you’re not,” she replied, pulling the tray closer. “Thanks to whoever got my lunch, by the way. How was basketball?”
“Good,” Devin replied. “I think I might make the first team this year. Gabe’s going to help me with some one-on-one practice after school.”
There was a beat of silence. “I bet he is,” Mina said in a low voice, and Gabe’s face turned red. He shifted in his chair.
“Do you play any sports, Avi?” said Devin. His gaze shifted down my torso. “You look like you… do you?” He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. It was very cute. Not that I cared one way or the other, of course.
I didn’t know how to answer. I don’t think fighting to the death is a recognized spectator sport in this school.
“I used to do a bit of track and field. I’m not all that good, though.”
“Tell us something about Avitus Sequani,” said Mina. “Ordinary, from Europe, isn’t really much to go on.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Are you being deliberately evasive?” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“That’s what you want to know?” I said, deadpan, and Devin laughed. “I’m not that interesting,” I lied. “I moved here very recently, so I’m kind of clueless about the local area and the school and everything. I’ll be eighteen in October. I’m good at Math and History and terrible at anything IT-related.”
“Favorite color?” said Mina.
“Yes. Two.” Avi’s parents were a slave and a Roman citizen who should have kept his ego under his tunic where it belonged.
“Have you ever been in love?” Mina traced the top of her soda can with her fingers, round and round.
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business, considering we only just met.”
“So that’s a yes. Are you in a relationship now?”
“Still none of your business.” I folded my arms. Gods, she’s persistent. Who the hell does she think she is?
She gave me a thoughtful look, completely unintimidated by my irritation. A couple of girls came up to the table, asking Mina about a party she was apparently planning for her birthday in a couple of weeks’ time. It was like watching senators pay court to the Roman emperor. On a much smaller scale, of course, but the basic principle was the same.
It helped me to calm down. I suppressed a smile. Imagine Lucius Verus as a high school teenager reduced to planning parties and debating wardrobe and makeup choices.
One of the girls turned to me. “Are you going?”
As I can’t leave the school grounds, it’s unlikely.
“I haven’t been invited,” I said.
“You can go with me,” said Devin. No one said anything. “Can’t he?”
Mina nodded. “If he’s that important to you,” she said. The girls giggled and one of them whispered something to Mina before they left.
“I’ll have to check,” I said to Devin. “Thanks, though.”
Gabe watched us exchange smiles and his face darkened. He gave the empty table in front of me a pointed look. “Aren’t you going to eat anything?”
I scanned the room, pretending to consider the food on offer. “I guess I’ll eat later. First day nerves, you know…”
“Nerves? You? Yeah, right.” He picked up his fork and moved the pasta on his tray back and forth.
“Oh, Gabe, grow up,” said Mina.
He threw down the fork. “So now you’re a fully paid-up member of the freak fan club too?”
“For God’s sake,” said Devin, pushing his chair back. “Let it go, will you?”
“Eat something,” said Gabe. “Prove that you’re human.”
Mina laughed. “Seriously? Gabe, I think you might be taking this a little far.”
“You didn’t see what he did.”
“No one saw it because he didn’t do anything!” said Devin, his voice rising. “I don’t know what your problem is, but you need to get over it. So he’s not hungry. No big deal.”
“If it’s no big deal, then why doesn’t he just eat something?” said Gabe stubbornly.
I reached forward and grabbed a handful of chips from Gabe’s tray. After I stuffed them in my mouth, I held up my hand as if to hide my chewing. The background noise was enough to cover my “Dispareo,” and the chips melted away.
“Satisfied?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer.
“Sure you don’t want to see if he sparkles in the sunlight? Or maybe check his pockets for the key to an alien spaceship?” said Mina.
“Shut up,” Gabe muttered.
Mina changed the subject, and I sighed with relief. She talked about Drama class and Miss Randall’s unexpected choice of play. Devin congratulated her on her casting. “It must not be denied, but I am a plain-dealing villain,” she said, delivering one of Don John’s lines with a wicked grin. “Oh, and Cavi is now a thing. I’ve decided.”
We all stared at her. My relief vanished. “Cass and Avi,” she added, coating one of her fries in mayonnaise and eating it slowly. “Yum.”
“They’re not… That’s not funny,” said Devin.
“It’s not supposed to be. They’re getting the lead parts. The chance of life imitating art at some point has got to be high, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know why I’m friends with you. You’re such a bitch lately,” said Devin.
“I know. You love me, really.” She ate another fry.
“Cass will go postal when she finds out,” said Gabe.
“No, she won’t. She’s on a final warning, and she wants this part.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked. My anger was rising. I couldn’t help it.
“If I don’t, someone else will. The angry loner and the gorgeous, enigmatic new guy… practicing their lines together… the gossip’s inevitable.”
“Lots of things are inevitable. But who are you to decide when they happen?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Avi.” She gave me an innocent smile. “I thought you wanted me to help you get along better with Gabe. He’ll be happy if you and Cass are an item, won’t you Gabe? Rather you and Cass than you and D—”
“Stop! Just stop!” Devin half rose out of his chair and students at the surrounding tables turned to look at us.
After a few more seconds, Devin grabbed his backpack and all but ran out of the cafeteria. Gabe looked like someone had punched him in the stomach. Mina took a slow, careful sip from her soda can. I would have believed her unconcerned by Devin’s reaction, if the can hadn’t wobbled as she set it back down on the table.
What is going on?

At the time of writing this blog post, 31st October is around three weeks away 👻. To get myself in the mood for Hallowe'en, I've been looking for something suitably scary to read. Actually, I'm exaggerating... I have a pretty low tolerance threshold when it comes to anything horror-related 😅. There are certain books (and movies) that still scare me years after I read (or watched) them, and that's not what I want right now. I was thinking more along the lines of something paranormal, or murder-mystery, or dark magic--that kind of thing. Not pure horror.

I looked around for some YA books fitting the description and these are the three I've chosen:

One Of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

Tagline: Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive.

Why I chose it:
The blurb reads like this book is a modern-day take on an eighties teen movie, with the added challenge of having a murder to solve. I like the idea that the narrative flips between so many different points of view--something that will hopefully keep me guessing when it comes to figuring out the identity of the killer (especially if one of the characters is an unreliable narrator).
Three interesting quotes:
“That's the kind of person you can get away with killing: someone everybody else wants dead.”
“I guess we're almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you're not one hundred percent sure the other person isn't framing you for murder.”
“I wish he'd listen, because if anyone knows how badly you can screw up your life when you decide you're not good enough, it's me.”

Jackaby, by William Ritter

Tagline: Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Why I chose it:
I'll be honest--it wasn't the blurb that attracted me to this book, and certainly not the tagline (it's a review quote from the Chicago Tribune). That's not because the blurb is bad. It's because I'm not particularly a fan of detective stories. However, I clicked the 'Look Inside' on Amazon after seeing the cool cover and reading the overwhelmingly positive reviews. It didn't hurt that the Kindle price was also pretty reasonable ($2 excluding taxes at the time of writing). And once I'd read the beginning of the story... I was hooked!
Three interesting quotes:
“I have ceased concerning myself with how things look to others, Abigail Rook. I suggest you do the same. In my experience, others are generally wrong.”
“...illusions, so many masks and facades. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”
“'Don't feel too bad,' I offered. 'I met him face-to-face, and I missed it, too.'
'Yes, but no one expected you to be clever, Miss Rook.'
'Thanks for that,' I said.”

White Cat, by Holly Black

Tagline: You're only a fingertip away from another world...

Why I chose it:
OK, I'll admit I initially looked at this one because I own a white cat--a very unscientific and illogical reason 😄. (Especially as I have a suspicion from the cover that the cat in this book might not be particularly friendly!). Once I'd read the blurb, however, I was intrigued enough to download a sample, and after that it was an easy decision to buy the book. The story takes place in a world where magic was prohibited in 1929, and the main character, Cassel, lives in a magical family. It's very clear that the kind of magic in this story is the stuff of nightmares rather than fairytales.
Three interesting quotes:
“The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.”
“Like a stage magician, the con artist misdirects suspicion. While everyone’s watching for him to pull a rabbit out of a hat, he’s actually sawing a girl in half. You think he’s doing one trick when he’s actually doing another. You think that I’m dying, but I’m laughing at you.”
“All friendships are negotiations of power.”

Work and weekend writing permitting, I hope I can finish all three before Hallowe'en. By then I should be feeling inspired enough to carve a pumpkin or two 🎃. Are you reading any scary books this month? Have you read any of the three books on my list? Thank you for visiting my blog today!

So, it's officially October tomorrow 😊🍂. I spent most of the weekend either reading or writing (when I wasn't on Twitter 😏), and I also found time to make a cover for one of my Hallowe'en stories. It's nowhere near as professional as my 'real' covers (probably because I'm not a cover designer!), but I had fun all the same. I hope your weekend was a good one, however you spent it, and thanks for visiting my blog!

Mika doesn't understand what happened between him and Travis. They'd been best friends forever, until Travis cut him off at the start of senior year. No warning. No explanation. By the time Hallowe'en comes around, Mika's had enough. He doesn't realize Travis is hiding a very big secret. One that might change both of them forever.

“Nothing scares me, least of all you,” said Mika. He narrowed his eyes. “So don’t even try that stupid Hallowe’en stuff. It’s all fake. Just like you are.”
Travis lifted his chin. “I’m quaking here.” He clutched at his chest. “Oh, wait. My mistake. It must be the laughter I can barely contain at the sight of you trying to intimidate me.”
Mika took a step forward. He was close enough to smell the spearmint gum on Travis’s breath. Close enough to land a punch, if he chose to throw one. “You’re not intimidated?” he said, lowering his voice. “You sure about that, Trav?”
Travis clenched his hands into fists. They were pushed deep inside the pockets of his jeans, and the material scraped against his knuckles. “Look,” he said, “it wasn’t me who put the blood in your locker. If I’d wanted to scare you I’d have done the job properly.”
“Dream on,” said Mika. “Anyway, I know it was you. No one else knows my locker combination, and the door hadn’t been forced. You’re so pathetic.” He leaned even closer, scowling. “So desperate.”
Travis lost it. His hands were out of his pockets and around Mika’s neck before the other boy had time to take another breath. Two seconds later they were fighting on the floor, rolling over and over, ignoring the shouts of encouragement that quickly rose up from the other students.
Rather than try to separate them, Miss Harper went behind the counter into the kitchen and fetched a bucket of water. She returned and unceremoniously threw it over the two boys. Travis, whod borne the brunt of the soaking, immediately released his grip on Mika. For a few seconds they glared at each other. Mika’s nose was bleeding and a droplet of blood fell on Travis’s face. Travis flinched and immediately pushed Mika away, scrambling to his feet.
Ten minutes later they were in Principal Grange’s office, gazes fixed on the floor and shoulders rigid with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “This is not the example I expect you to be setting,” said Principal Grange, rubbing his chin to hide his irritation. “You’re seniors now. And I have enough Hallowe’en pranks to deal with already today without you adding to it by brawling in the cafeteria.”
Mika and Travis remained silent while they were given detention. At the end of the school day they returned to the principal’s office and were told to mop the corridors. Because of the pranks the principal had mentioned earlier, there were dried splatters of fake blood decorating the dark-green floor tiles all over the school.
All the corridors?” asked Mika, sensing that his Hallowe’en plans were about to be ruined.
“I don’t know, Mr. Sanson,” said Principal Grange, raising his eyebrows. “It depends how long it takes for me to be satisfied that you’ve worked off your anger. Both of you,” he added, glancing at Travis.
“But, Sir, I really have to be somewhere,” said Travis.
“Then I suggest you get mopping and do your best to convince me.”
As they walked away, Mika spoke under his breath. “Sir, please, Sir, I have to be somewhere.”
“Shut up,” Travis whispered fiercely.
“Oh, and gentlemen?” said Principal Grange, calling after them. “The only words I want to hear coming out of your mouths are apologies. To each other, then to me.”
When they were far enough away not to be overheard, Mika turned to Travis. “You’re not the only one with plans.”
“Yeah, well, mine are kind of essential.” He lowered his gaze.
“What do you mean?” asked Mika, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Travis shrugged, but Mika could see that his jaw was clenched shut as if to prevent himself from answering. He waited, but Travis said nothing. “Suit yourself,” said Mika, picking up his mop and slopping it onto the floor.
Late afternoon became early evening, and the sky outside gradually darkened. Mika thought of the party he was supposed to be at and sighed. He’d been so relieved to get an invitation. He didn’t want to be alone on Hallowe’en. Everything with Travis had gotten so weird lately. One minute they’d been best friends, and the next minute Travis had pushed him away. Mika still didn’t understand exactly what had happened. With Travis either cutting him dead or insulting him in front of everyone, Mika’s confusion had turned to humiliation, then to anger. He was still angry. He wore his anger like an armored coat. It was reassuringly solid.
Travis had tried to apologize the previous week, hinting there was some big secret he couldn’t talk about. Mika, pushing his hurt underneath the armored coat where it couldn’t distract him, had laughed in Travis’s face. Travis immediately backed away and returned to behaving as if they were sworn enemies. When the bottle of red liquid had turned up in Mika’s locker that morning, with a fancy “Drink me” label in gothic script, Mika’s anger had spiked high enough to seek out Travis in the cafeteria and challenge him about it.
Suddenly, he realized how quiet it was. He’d reached one of the far corridors and there was no sign of Travis anywhere. Mika let his mop fall to the floor and wondered if he should just get over himself and apologize. Surely Principal Grange couldn’t make them stay much longer. He was starting to feel hungry, too. What time was it anyway?
He looked to his right and noticed he was close to his own locker. Knowing there was a half-eaten chocolate bar inside, he was just reaching for the dial to enter the combination, when someone grabbed his hand and slammed it into the locker door. The noise echoed in the empty space. Mika let out a rather undignified yelp as pain exploded in the centre of his hand. “What the…?” He turned to look over his shoulder. “Trav?”
Travis said nothing. His face was set in a grimace, as if he were in more pain than Mika. “Don’t… open… the locker,” he managed.
Mika gaped at him. He tried and failed to move his hand.
“Promise me,” said Travis. “Don’t open it.”
“I… OK. Are you going to let me go? And tell me why?”
Travis took a step backward, and Mika pulled his hand away. As he turned it over to check the damage he saw a cut in the centre of his palm. Blood began to well up and was soon running toward his wrist in a line of dark red. Travis backed further away, making a low, desperate sound.
Mika froze. There was something about that noise that simultaneously terrified him and made him want to draw closer. He moved forward, his heart pounding so loudly he couldn’t hear anything above the rushing sound in his ears. Travis was shaking, holding up his hands as if to push Mika away.
“Hey, Tra-a-vis,” came a sing-song voice from the end of the corridor.
Travis and Mika both turned their heads. The stranger approached slowly with a smile on his face, his boots making a rhythmic thudding noise as they hit the floor tiles one after the other. His posture radiated a lazy confidence.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding. Did you find my gift? Have you quenched your thirst yet? Did it feel… good?”
Mika looked at Travis. Travis swallowed and held one hand up to his throat. The stranger extended his hand and curled his fingers in a beckoning gesture. Travis didn’t move.
“Hmmm. You haven’t drunk it. I’m disappointed.” His gaze flicked in Mika’s direction and suddenly sharpened with interest. “Oh, what do we have here?” said the stranger. “I smell the blood of a pretty young thing. No wonder you’re not interested in mine.”
Travis grabbed hold of Mika’s arm and pushed him away, moving to stand between Mika and the stranger. The stranger laughed. The sound was warm and sweet, and Mika found himself swaying toward it. He took a step and then another.
“No,” said Travis, shoving him backward.
“You can’t stop me, Travis,” said the stranger. “Night has fallen on Hallowe’en. Your first since maturity. We discussed this, remember? You have no strength until you drink. Right now, you’re as weak as this boy here. And if you don’t drink soon, the thirst will overpower you.”
“I’m not going to drink your blood,” said Travis through gritted teeth. “If I do choose to create a bond with anyone, it sure as hell wont be you.”
“His blood?” asked Mika. “Are you kidding me? That’s what was in my locker?”
Your locker?” said the stranger. “But… the energy signature… I was so sure…” The stranger’s head tilted to one side.  He gave Travis a speculative look. “Does he know how you feel about him?”
 Travis pressed his lips together in a thin line. Mika glanced between the two of them, trying to figure out what was going on. His legs were trembling as he fought the desire to move. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to run away from the stranger or toward him.
The stranger took a few steps closer. “Time’s up, Travis. Either you drink from him now, or I will kill him, and you will drink from me. You have one minute to decide.” He folded his arms.
“Run,” said Travis urgently. He gave Mika a push. “Run, and don’t stop until you’re somewhere safe.”
“There’s nowhere safe for him,” said the stranger. “I think he smells good, even if you don’t. I’ll be able to find him again. Twenty seconds gone, by the way.”
“That’s not fair,” said Travis.
“As I said: you drink from him, or I will kill him. Thirty seconds.”
Travis gave Mika a frantic look.
“If you do it, will it hurt? Will I die?” asked Mika. Travis shook his head. “No. You… you will probably… um… like it. But we will be bonded. I can’t help that. Because you’ll be…” He held his throat again. “You’ll be my first.”
“Forty-five seconds,” said the stranger.
“Do it,” said Mika. “I want to survive this. I want us to survive this. Our friendship, our…  our whatever. We can figure the rest out after.”
“Fifty seconds.”
“Are you sure?” Travis reached out to hold Mika round the neck, much more gently than he had done earlier that same day. Mika nodded, and Travis lowered his head.

Today's blog post is an A to Z. I haven't done an A to Z for a while, and they're a lot of fun to create, especially when combined with my love of reading books and watching movies 😊. This particular list is made up from character-related quotes.
The season changed yesterday, so we can look forward to cooler temperatures, beautiful trees 🍁🍂, and perhaps a few ghosts and pumpkins toward the end of next month 👻🎃. I'm hoping to have the first Light Mage book finished around Hallowe'en, so the rain that's falling right now is probably a good thing in terms of making sure I stay indoors to write!  Anyway, onto the A to Z. I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for visiting my blog today!

A is for Adventurous
"Everything's a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It's up to you."
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

B is for Brother
"If we're not careful, we'll have another Head Boy in the family. I don't think I could stand the shame."
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

C is for Cat 😸
"I am not crazy, my reality is just different than yours."
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

D is for Dog 🐶 
"He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken."
The Call of the Wild by Jack London

E is for Empathy
"Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have."
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling

F is for Friendship
"Because I know you, Percy Jackson. In many ways, you are impulsive, but when it comes to your friends, you are as constant as a compass needle. You are unswervingly loyal, and you inspire loyalty. You are the glue that will unite the seven."
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

G is for Goodbye
"The people who deserved to die took forever to do so. Those who deserved to live always went too soon."
The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

H is for Hero
"I can do this all day."
Captain America, the hero who never gives up

I is for Intelligent
"Just because something works doesn't mean it can't be improved."
Shuri, Black Panther

J is for Joy
"And then she smiled a smile so dazzling, Rishi tripped over his own feet."
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

K is for King
"But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers."
T'Challa, Black Panther

L is for Love
"I want love to conquer all. But love can't conquer anything. It can't do anything on its own. It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf."
Every Day by David Levithan

M is for Magician
"My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?" Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape's ferocious, anguished face. "If you insist …"
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling

N is for Neverland
"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it."
Peter Pan by J M Barrie

O is for Object
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

P is for Princess
"I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses."
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Q is for Queen
"If you know someone's fear, you know them."
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

R is for Robot
"Happiness is the most natural thing in the world when you have it, and the slowest, strangest, most impossible thing when you don't."
Partials by Dan Wells

S is for Shadowhunter
"I stabbed you. With a massive sword. You caught on fire." His lips twitched, almost imperceptibly. "Okay, so maybe our problems aren't like other couples."
Mortal Instruments-City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

T is for Troublemaker
"Longbottom, if brains were gold you'd be poorer than Weasley, and that's saying something."
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling

U is for Unpalatable Truth
"I've spent years living safely to secure a longer life, and look where that's gotten me. I'm at the finish line but I never ran the race."
They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

V is for Villain
This GIF is just an example because I can't choose a single quote for Loki. What can I say? He's an extremely quotable villain 😆

W is for Witch
"But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it."
The Magician's Nephew by C S Lewis

X is for Exasperated
"'What's a dementor?'
I mean, I can't even. 'Nora, you are no longer my sister.'
'So it's some Harry Potter thing,' she says."
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Y is for Yourself
"There's something really badass about truly, honestly not caring what people think about you. A lot of people say they don't care. Or they act like they don't care. But I think most people care a lot. I know I do."
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Z is for Zombie
"I long for exclamation marks, but I'm drowning in ellipses."
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I like mixing a little history in amongst the magic/spells/alternative worlds when I'm writing ⚔🛡. The research is fun, as is figuring out a way for my characters to have their adventures without changing any of that history.

In Seeking Magic, the third book in the Legacy of Androva series, Jax and Shannon go back in time to Pompeii. It turns out that the way home is not as straightforward as they thought, and of course Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt...
In my new Light Mage series, there will be some history too, but it's not so much time travel as it is past life memories.

For today's post, I thought I would share three details that I found interesting from my research into Pompeii, combined with pictures of three places that Jax and Shannon visited.

Pompeii's amphitheatre is even older than the Colosseum in Rome, and emotions at the games ran pretty high. Emperor Nero actually closed it down for 10 years in 59 AD. A small disagreement between the residents of Pompeii and Nuceria escalated into a riot of such epic proportions that swords were drawn, and many people were killed.

Detail 1: Graffiti was uncovered in Pompeii about a particular gladiator, with the words 'Celadus, suspirium puellarum,' which means (polite translation!) 'Celadus makes the girls sigh!'

These are the formal gardens of Villa Julia Felix, thought to be laid out to resemble the Canopus canal in Egypt. The central pool would have been topped up with fresh water daily.

Pompeii had an aqueduct that supplied the city's drinking fountains and public baths with fresh water. Detail 2: Private houses used the water to supply their gardens, not their kitchen or bathroom facilities. Strange way to prioritise! 🤔

The Temple of Apollo has an amazing 48 columns, and is one of the oldest temples in Pompeii. It dates back to the 6th century BC. Apollo was a Roman god who mainly represented the sun, but also medicine, prophecy, archery and music.

Detail 3: The laurel wreath is said to date from Apollo's Pythian Games. Apollo insulted Eros, the god of love, who got his revenge by making Apollo fall in love with a woman who would never love him back. Eros shot Apollo with an arrow of gold, and Daphne, a beautiful nymph, with an arrow of iron.

Daphne's father, a river god, helped her to escape Apollo by turning her into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to love her forever, wearing laurel leaves in his hair, and making the tree evergreen. It's interesting that the laurel wreath is still around today as a symbol of victory!

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the mini history lesson!

Chapter Five is now ready to post! We learn a little more about Luca's background, and he realizes the history he shares with Cass (that she knows nothing about!) is going to make it very difficult to behave normally around her. You can catch up on any of the previous chapters via the New Series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading .

5 A Difficult Part to Play

I thought I must have misheard. How could they be brother and sister? They didn’t even share the same address. The computer had told me that much. Although… their coloring wasn’t completely dissimilar.
“She’s your sister?”
“Ugh. I don’t discuss family with strangers,” said Cass, giving me a withering look.
Devin stared at the floor. “You don’t discuss family with anyone,” he muttered.
The bell rang again. Devin lifted his head. “We’re late, Avi. Come on. Mr. Fennick isn’t as bad as Mrs. Stanton, but he’ll still give us detention if we don’t get there soon.”
Cass walked off without another word. I watched her leave, not knowing how to stop her without making myself look ridiculous, or desperate, or both.
“Are you any good at Math?” asked Devin, taking my elbow to steer me in the other direction.
“Um… fair, I suppose. Why?”
“Because Mr. Fennick is going to test you in front of everyone. That’s how he gets the measure of any new student.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“If you’re OK at Math, you won’t have a problem. I mean… it’s not like you’re shy, is it?”
I was, once. But my training removed all that.
It occurred to me that I didn’t have to attend lessons. I could follow Cass instead. Or, better yet, I could use the time to formulate a strategy that wasn’t based on, “Please don’t hate me.” I mean, really? What was wrong with me?
“No,” I said to Devin. “I’m not shy.”
He laughed a little. “I thought… when I first talked to you, I thought you were. Then I saw you with Mr. Mason…”
He trailed off as we arrived at the classroom. The only two seats left were right at the front. I saw a few familiar faces from homeroom, but there was no sign of Gabe or Mina.
The teacher, Mr. Fennick, was impeccably groomed, from his neatly-trimmed beard to the shine on his shoes. He gestured impatiently at the empty seats. “You’re three minutes late,” he said, frowning. We sat down and he waited for everyone else to stop talking.
“We have a new student today,” he began, giving me a pleased smile. I remembered what Devin had said about the public test. It seemed like Mr. Fennick was looking forward to it. He glanced at his laptop screen for a second. “Avitus,” he said, pronouncing it Av-ee-tus.
“Uh… the emphasis is on the first syllable, not the second,” I replied. “But… Avi is fine too.”
He subdued the inevitable giggling with a scowl. “Avitus,” he repeated, stressing the sound of the A. “There can be no way to know how Latin words were originally pronounced, of course.”
Yes there can, when you have a former Roman slave sitting in front of you, telling you how his name used to be spoken.
“I apologize,” I said evenly. “It was not my intention to embarrass you.”
His cheekbones flushed red above his beard. But he could hardly reprimand me for apologizing.
“I can’t see where you transferred from,” he went on, glancing back at his screen. “Was it from outside of the state?”
The state… the country… the earthbound dimension…
“Yeah.” I didn’t offer any details.
“Without knowing your academic history, I can’t be sure you’re in the right class, Avitus. Everyone here is planning to take a science or technology major in college. Advanced calculus is not for the average student.”
His smile was back. “I think a little test will help to reassure both of us, hmmm? Come up here and stand next to me.”
Twenty faces stared back at me. Some had expressions of boredom, some sympathy. Most were just relieved it wasn’t them.
“First, can you tell me what calculus is?” Mr. Fennick asked.
“Well, it’s a Latin word. Emphasis on the first syllable,’” I replied, keeping my face straight. Devin grinned and hastily lifted his hand to cover his mouth.
Mr. Fennick bristled, but before he could say anything, I continued. “It is also the mathematical study of continuous change.”
“There are two main branches of calculus, as I’m sure you’re aware?” he asked, folding his arms.
“Differential and integral,” I responded.
He began to question me in more detail about the specifics. It was more difficult than I’d expected—keeping my answers to high school standard and not showing him up. He stopped after about five minutes and allowed me to sit down.
My situation was the same as for any Light Mage. We acquired vast reserves of knowledge and skills over the course of our time as guardians. Our ability to learn was limitless, but in all other respects we were frozen at the age we’d been when we first qualified. It was something to do with preserving who we had been when we’d made the sacrifice.
At my age, it could cause problems. In one sense, I was old. Thousands of years old. However, I was also seventeen, and I’d be seventeen as long as I was a guardian. On a good day, I could empathize with my assignments so well that my average success rate was off-the-charts impressive.
On a bad day… well. On bad days, I was emotionally immature and I didn’t give a shit who knew it. Sometimes I thought I might be growing up a bit. I was always proved wrong.
Mr. Fennick continued his introduction to the topics we’d be covering this semester, ignoring me completely. I ignored him too, focusing on the challenge of how to instigate a conversation with Cass that would last longer than half a minute and didn’t involve using a spell to make her like me. I drew a blank.
It was a double lesson. Mr. Fennick seemed to be the only person in the room who was happy about that. Gradually I became aware of Devin’s emotions, filling the space between us. He wasn’t paying attention to Mr. Fennick any more than I was.
Normally I had to make a conscious choice to tune in to the emotions of the earthbound; otherwise, I’d be inundated. That Devin could get to me without even trying was not a good sign. The connection wasn’t complete yet, but it flickered between us, like a newly lit candle. It only needed a little encouragement to turn into a steadily burning flame.
When the bell rang, a few other students came up to say hello. I did my best to talk to them without holding eye contact. Devin waited next to me at first. Then, after a muttered comment, he walked away. I doubted anyone but me heard what he said. It was self-critical in the extreme.
I let him go, promising myself I’d find him again later. The next class was Drama, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see Cass again. When I arrived at the classroom door I scanned the tables inside, seeing that Mina was there too. Cass sat at the front, on her own. Would it be too obvious if I sat next to her? Dumb question, Luca.
Mina beckoned me over. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said. “I heard this class was totally full. How did you get in?”
With Mr. Mason’s login details. I took a seat. “I’ve had some experience of performing. I guess it was enough for me to qualify.”
I wasn’t lying. Gladiators weren’t actors, not exactly, but learning how to play to the mob had been an important part of my training. Of course, it was unlikely Drama class would involve quite as much death and dismemberment as the Colosseum. Mina’s barbed comments could not draw blood in the literal sense.
The teacher arrived. Miss Randall. She’d only been at the school two years, but I immediately saw why her class was so popular. Her enthusiasm and positivity were almost tangible. She welcomed me with a bright smile and a firm handshake.
Within five minutes, she’d had us push the tables to one side and arrange our chairs in a circle. I found myself sitting opposite Cass. I attempted a smile of recognition, which she did not return.
“OK. Senior year production.” Miss Randall clasped her hands in her lap and leaned forward slightly. “I’ve been researching, and I want us to try something different.”
“Different, how?” asked Mina.
“A comedy.”
There were a few muttered comments and Miss Randall held up a hand. “I know we’d talked about choosing one of the tragedies,” she said. “But comedic timing is one of the most difficult things to master as an actor. And it’s still Shakespeare. There will be no shortage of dramatic moments.”
“It’s not the same,” said the boy sitting next to Cass. “No one ever won an Oscar playing the fool.”
Cass turned to him and calmly reeled off a list of Oscar-winning comedy performances. Miss Randall hid a smile. “Thank you, Cass. Look, everyone, I want this year to be a challenge, but I want you to have fun as well. I think we’re in danger of taking ourselves too seriously.
“If we can make a modern audience laugh at a comedy that’s four hundred years old, we’ll have really achieved something. Besides, you might find the subject matter of Much Ado About Nothing interesting. It should spark a healthy debate, if nothing else.”
Much Ado… what?” asked the girl on Mina’s other side. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Much Ado About Nothing,” repeated Miss Randall. She reached under her chair and picked up some printed pages. “We’ll be using an abridged version, which I’ll email you later. However, I took the liberty of printing off a few scenes for today’s lesson.”
She split the pages in two and handed them to the students sitting on her left and right. “Take one and pass them on. Pair off with whoever has the same numbered scene as you. Don’t worry about character gender right now. We might mix that up a little, anyway.”
We were given half an hour to learn our lines and practice the scene, which we would then perform in front of the rest of the class. Mina grabbed my page to check its number. “Five,” she said. “Shame. I’m number seven. I can probably get someone to swap with me…”
She scanned the room. Cass and the boy next to her were the only two who hadn’t paired up yet. “Number five?” she asked. Cass raised her page in answer. My heart thumped as if I’d just received a direct kick to the chest. Though the thought of being her partner was terrifying, the thought of not being her partner was far worse. “Want to swap?” said Mina.
Before I could try to intervene, the boy shook his head. “No way, Mina,” he said.
“It’s not your decision,” she retorted.
I looked at Cass and she stared back. “No,” she said. “I don’t want to swap.”
She wants to be my partner! I started grinning before my head could finish reminding me to play it cool.
“I’m mentoring him, and if we do this scene together it will get Mrs. Stanton off my back for a couple of days at least.”
Huh. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but better than nothing.
“Whatever,” said Mina. She concealed her irritation behind a sudden smile, and the boy’s frown evaporated. “Come on, Leon. Let’s go and kick our scene’s ass.”
We had access to the next door classrooms to practice, and Cass led the way to an empty corner before turning to face me. “Can you act?” she said.
“Can I…? Oh. Yeah. Well, kind of. I think so. I mean…” Gods, Luca, shut up. “Yes. I can act.”
“Good. Benedick or Beatrice?”
I glanced down at the scene. I knew it well. I’d seen this play performed when it was first written, and it had been a smash hit.
“You can choose,” I said.
She gave me a brief smile. “OK. Miss Randall will probably expect me to play Benedick, so I think I’ll be Beatrice.”
I hesitated. “Do you know the play?”
“Yes, a little. Why?”
I cleared my throat. “Er… the character of Beatrice… and you…”
She laughed. It sounded incredible. The darkness surrounding her lifted for a second. “It’s just pretend, Avi. That’s why I love acting so much. I can escape who I am. If the audience want to assume I have something in common with Beatrice, let them. I don’t care.”
She said my name. Together with the overpowering familiarity of her energy signature at close quarters, it was almost my undoing. I only had to take us back there, to Rome, and she would remember it all. She’d remember me.
I understood now why guardians were never assigned to those they’d known. The temptation to intervene pulled at me, irresistible and dangerous. If I could just explain this to her…
No. If I take her back, she will fail. She has to do this on her own.
I looked down at the sheet of paper clutched in my hand. One of my fingers had torn a hole in its center. “OK,” I managed, keeping my gaze lowered. I can do this. Stay focused. “Do you still hate me?”
I winced. Apparently I still lacked the ability to prevent myself from saying stupid things. “Don’t answer that,” I added quickly. “Let’s try the scene.”
There was a short pause, then she began. Benedick and Beatrice were about to have their first argument, each keen to demonstrate their scorn for the other, and for romance in general.
“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.” Cass’s voice was perfect. Light, sharp, and slightly amused.
“What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” I responded. I raised my head, giving her a full-on glare. We made eye contact for the first time, though it only lasted a second. There was a smile on her face, which widened briefly before she delivered her response.
“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?”
We continued our lines and the characters sparred with each other. Although we were using words and not swords, there was a rhythm to it that was so familiar it made my head spin. At the end, I didn’t know if I were Luca, or Avi, or Benedick.
“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue.” I said my last line and turned away.
“You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old,” she responded, her voice softer.
You do know me. You do know me. This is unbearable.
“Well,” she said. “That was pretty good. You’re better than I expected. Shall we go again?”
Gods help me.

I moved house just before I wrote Stealing Magic, and although I live at the end of an ordinary suburban street, there is an amazing area of ancient woodland practically on my doorstep. The woods have survived until now because they belonged to the local university, and the land was never sold off for housing or development.

In terms of my weekend writing it's a mixed blessing as the view from my desk can be kind of distracting! However, it's also inspiring to overlook something with so much history. Ancient woodland is defined as having existed continuously since before the year 1600. Why 1600? Apparently, before then, deliberate planting of woodland in the UK was very rare. Therefore anything older than 1600 was created by nature rather than human beings and had likely been around for a long time already.

Most ancient woodland is much older than a mere four hundred years. For example, Sherwood Forest, home of the legendary Robin Hood, has been dated back to the Ice Age more than ten thousand years ago! I often look out of my window and wonder what I'd see if I were able to go back in time. Here's my top three:

(1) King Henry VIII might have led the royal hunt through those same woods. He was supposed to have stayed near to where I live during his summer progress in 1509, and at that time in history most English woodland was under royal ownership. He'd just become king, and was only eighteen years old. Henry must have felt as if the future were his for the taking. He didn't know he would eventually marry six times and break with the Catholic Church in a desperate quest for male heirs.

(2) It was probably inhabited by wolves. Wolves have been extinct in England for hundreds of years but once roamed free in its forests. However, it's doubtful Henry VIII would have encountered any wolves on the royal huntthey were supposed to have died out completely during his father's reign due to a combination of being aggressively hunted and the reducing number of forests. In the dead of night, the foxes and owls who live in the woods can be pretty noisy. I sometimes wonder how quickly they'd shut up if they were ever interrupted by the howl of a wolf 🐺.

(3) Poachers could have hidden there, on the run from the law. If they were found to have killed the king's deer, their fate would have been death by hangingreason enough for the poacher to be terrified. All thanks to William the Conqueror, who made it illegal in the eleventh century for commoners to hunt in "his" forests. But often the unhappy choice was poaching or death by starvation.

The way I see it, the woods are a piece of living history and, on balance, I think the distraction is worth the view. When we first meet Jax and Darius in Stealing Magic, they are magic-takers, according to the terms of a long-ago treaty between their world, Androva, and ours. They open portals in the dead of night to harvest from the endless supplies of living magic in our trees. I am sometimes asked where the idea for living magic came from. I suppose today's blog post is the answer! Thank you for reading 😊

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