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The Legacy of Androva Series


 

“Truly, there is magic in fairy tales. For it takes but a simply-uttered 'Once upon a time...' to allure and spellbind an audience.”

—Richelle E. Goodrich

 

The term “fairy tale” or “conte de fΓ©es” was first used by French writer Countess d’Aulnoy at the end of the seventeenth century. “Once upon a time” is even older and can be traced back to an English poem from 1380! Of course, short stories based on myths and folklore existed long before people started to call them fairy tales, and they continue to evolve as new writers reinvent the characters and their circumstances.

 

Last year I wrote a blog post about Beauty and the Beast retellings. It was the first time I’d used a fairy tale as the basis for my reading choices, and I really enjoyed both the research and the reading. With that in mind, I repeated the exercise this week with a different fairy tale. I chose Rapunzel, partly because I’ve always loved the film Tangled and partly because I was curious—it’s a less mainstream fairy tale and arguably more difficult to reimagine.

 

The earliest version of the story, Petrosinella, is from 1634. Persinette followed in 1698, and the Brothers Grimm published Rapunzel in 1812. The story begins with the theft of some special salad leaves from a witch’s garden to save the life of the main character’s mother. In fact, the names Petrosinella and Persinette came from the Italian and French words for parsley! Most people are familiar with what follows: the tall tower, the long hair, the handsome prince, the witch’s revenge, and the main character’s magical tears.

 

Once again, the research was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to exploring a new fairy tale in the future. I hope you find my choices interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today πŸ’•.

 

** Writing update: Further to my previous post about villains, I’ve written prologues for both new books, and now I feel like I should apologise to my characters for what they’re about to face! **

 

The Fairest of Them All, by Carolyn Turgeon Amazon US

 

What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? In this kingdom, only one fairy tale can end with happily ever after.

 

I love descriptions that begin with “What if…?” 

I also like the idea of bringing two fairy tales together and exploring what happens to Rapunzel after she marries her prince. Then I read the prologue, and I was hooked. I can’t resist a sympathetic and complicated villain.

 

Prologue (extract)

I was the girl with the long long hair, trapped in the tower. You have no doubt heard of me. As a young woman I was very famous for those tresses, even though I lived in the middle of the woods and had never been to court, not for a feast or a wedding or a matter of law.

[…]

Poets and troubadours sang of my beauty then.

It was sorcery, that hair. Sometimes now I wonder if things would have been different, had I been plain.

It is a hard thing, not being that girl any longer. Even as I sit here, I cannot help but turn toward the mirror and ask the question I have asked a thousand times before:

“Who is the fairest of them all?”

The mirror shifts. The glass moves back and forth, like water. And then my image disappears, until a voice, like a memory, or something from my bones and skin, gives me the same answer it always does now:

She is.”

I turn back to the parchment in front of me and try to ignore the ache inside. The apple waits on the table next to me, gleaming with poison. All that’s left to do is write it down, everything that happened, so that there will still be some record in this world.

 

The Witch’s Tower, by Tamara Grantham Amazon US

 

Gothel is a witch. Punished for the actions of her mother, her choice is simple: either she stands guard over Princess Rapunzel—or she dies.

 

This caught my eye because the story is told from Gothel’s POV, and she’s not the villain from the original story. Rapunzel’s father, the king, became a powerful sorcerer by stealing from Aethel, Gothel’s mother. Aethel took her revenge by cursing Rapunzel. Rapunzel can only be freed by a prince of noble heart and some special, heavily-guarded magical shears. Oh, and the prince also has to kill Gothel, the innocent witch forced to guard Rapunzel. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, what happens if Gothel and the prince fall for each other along the way? I can’t wait to find out... Here’s a short extract from the beginning of the book.

 

“My name is Prince Merek Duc’Line.”

“You’re the king’s son?”

He nodded.

My stomach knotted. A prince? Could he be the one? If he was, then I should’ve fought him off. I should’ve kept him as far away from the tower as possible. There was a foretelling that a prince of noble blood would free the princess and kill the witch. Kill me.

 

With Blossoms Gold, by Hayden Ward Amazon US 

 

She never wanted to leave the tower. He never wanted to rule the country. But when war breaks out, this reckless prince and reclusive maiden are faced with overcoming their deepest fears in order to determine not only their own fate, but that of their entire country.

 

I was intrigued by a Rapunzel who doesn’t want to be rescued, and the Italian setting, and a prince with his own character development challenges. Plus the main character’s name is Nella, short for Petrosinella—just like the original version of the story πŸ˜€. Here’s a short extract of some dialogue between Nella and Prince Benedict about a third of the way through the book.

 

“And do you—that is, have you any betrothals currently?” she asked.

He laughed. “I do seem to go through them at an alarming rate, don’t I?”

“Well, you did when I was a child. I think there were five before I reached the age of twelve.”

“Oh, probably at least eight or nine.” He grinned. “No, not currently. I seem to have a bit of bad luck with that.”

Nella was horrified to find herself glad. Jealousy was a sign of attachment. Or worse. “Well, I wish you all the best in that, then.” She hated saying the words, and she hated that she hated it.

Benedict seemed not to notice. “Do you ever hope of getting married?”

[…]

He looked at her and grinned. “I suppose being tethered to a man for the rest of your life makes you shudder.”

“Until the rest of his life,” she corrected, not able to restrain a smirk.

 

My Name is Rapunzel, by K. C. Hilton Amazon US 

 

My tale has been told again and again, and I’ve heard each one. Except for my hair, I barely recognize the pitiful renditions. Muddled versions, crafted to entertain laughing children… but the children wouldn’t have laughed if they’d known the real story. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know the truth. Nobody did. My name is Rapunzel. I will tell you my story. I will tell you the truth.

 

The first person POV in the description works really well, and it sets the scene for a fresh take on the story with a strong protagonist. Anything could happen following an introduction like that!

 

Prologue (extract)

I peered out my window, waiting for the right moment. There. The sun dropped below the horizon, casting the castle grounds into darkness.

Now!

I tied the corners of my blanket together into a knot then slung the makeshift sack over my shoulder. I scurried to the door. Looking back was not an option.

I had thirty minutes, maximum. That’s all I had between the setting of the sun and when the dragon would expect to see the candlelight flicker in my window, my daily assurance to him of my presence in the castle. If he didn’t see that glow from my tower…

 

Rapunzel Untangled, by Cindy C. Bennett Amazon US 

 

Rapunzel is not your average teenager. For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is fifteen feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction.

 

I had to include a retelling with a contemporary setting, and Rapunzel Untangled is my choice. At the beginning of the story, Rapunzel is reluctantly accepting of her captivity because she’s been told she has an immunodeficiency. But she also has a computer with internet access, and one day she discovers social media. She connects with “Fab Fane Flannigan” from the local high school, and her perspective soon begins to shift. I’m interested to know Fane’s backstory in this version and his real name. Here’s a short extract from one of Rapunzel’s and Fane’s early conversations.

 

Rapunzel closed her eyes tightly, thinking, debating. Then, before she could change her mind, she typed:

Rapunzel

There was nothing but her flashing cursor, then

Rapunzel? That’s your name?

Yes.

You’re not kidding around?

No.

Unusual. Rapunzel. Never heard of it. I like it.

Please don’t try to guess my last name.

Okay, you win. For now. Rapunzel.



 

“Maybe it’s the very presence of one thing—light or darkness—that necessitates the existence of the other.”

— Jessica Shirvington

 

Heroes and villains are typically defined in opposition. The hero becomes a hero because the villain gives them a reason to do something heroic. And villains make things interesting. They push other characters out of their comfort zones, forcing them to discover things that would otherwise remain hidden. Without conflict, there would be no story.

 

I’m at the beginning of a new book right now, and I find myself in need of a villain. When it comes to the writing process, I’m not a natural planner (unfortunately!) which means I discover each story one chapter at a time. But it helps if I have something to write toward, and that’s why I try to figure out the villain first.

 

Taking my most recent book as an example, Lost in Magic’s prologue introduces Averine and her father. I knew Averine’s father would be the villain Kellan ultimately had to face. However, I didn’t know the villain’s identity or how Kellan’s and Averine’s paths could possibly cross. Wanting to know the answer motivated me to keep writing.

 

It got me to wondering about the key ingredients that make for an interesting fictional villain. Of course, I’m not an expert, and I can only speak from my own experience, but my list includes the following four things:

 

A meaningful motive

What’s the villain’s endgame, and why are they pursuing it in the first place? In their eyes, their choices should be defensible. They are the protagonist of their own story, with an agenda that lends a certain logic to those choices, even if it doesn’t excuse them.

 

“I need to know what happened, but she can’t tell me. She’s too damaged. And if she could? Would it make a difference? Would I understand? Would I understand the depth of grief and fear that could’ve led her to take my entire life away from me?”

— Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

 

Hard to beat

Every hero deserves a worthy opponent, and a hard-won victory is a lot more satisfying. If the villain is so powerful that you can’t imagine how on earth the hero can ever beat them, then it sets the scene for something unpredictable and engaging.

 

“Rhen coughs again, wetly, and presses his forehead to the ground. He’s coughed up enough blood that a dark pool sits beneath his jaw. […] ‘Make your request,’ says Lilith. ‘I grow bored, girl. Rhen knows what happens when I grow bored.’ She jerks his head back and he makes a sound I never want to hear again.”

— A Curse so Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer

 

Conviction

Determined villains drive the story. The stakes are raised when the audience knows a change of heart is impossible.

 

“The Darkling would not hesitate. He would not grieve. His darkness would consume the world, and he would never waver.”

— Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

 

Making it personal

When there’s a heartfelt connection of some kind between the villain and the hero—be it family, or perhaps a former friendship, or a romance that ended badly—everything is more complicated. It gives the villain’s motive an extra edge, and it really puts the hero’s conviction to the test.

 

“Cinder studied her aunt. […] Her trembling lip and defeated shoulders. She was too exhausted for even her glamour. Too weak to fight anymore. A shock of pity stole through her. This miserable, awful woman still had no idea what it meant to be truly beautiful, or truly loved. Cinder doubted she ever would.”

— Winter (The Lunar Chronicles), Marissa Meyer

 

What makes for a memorable villain in your opinion? Would your list be different from mine? A great villain sets the stage for the hero to shine. A lot of my favourite books and movies became my favourites because of the villains as much as the heroes. And now I’m off to write a new prologue so I can discover another villain for my characters to face! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today πŸ’•.



Ode to Enchanted Light

Under the trees

light has dropped from the top of the sky,

light

like a green

latticework of branches,

shining

on every leaf,

drifting down like clean

white sand.

 

A cicada sends

its sawing song

high into the empty air.

 

The world is

a glass overflowing

with water.

     Pablo Neruda

 

I have a small update about the Light Mage books, which gives me an excuse to post this beautiful poem about the magic of light. Because I already shared Spell Tracker from start to finish on this blog, I can’t put it into Kindle Unlimited the way I have with all of the Androva books, so I decided to make Spell Tracker and Spell Mason free to download in other sales channels (per the universal book links below).

 

Spell Tracker

 

Spell Mason

 

The final book in the trilogy, Spell Master, is likely to be the next story I write, but I’m really excited to continue the Beyond Androva series too. Perhaps I’ll swap back and forth between them so I don’t have to choose! Thank you for visiting my blog today, and I hope you liked the poem πŸ’•.


 

“There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”

― Leo Tolstoy

 

Love is an enigma. It can be the best thing that ever happened to you, or the worst. It’s impossible to plan for, and it can’t be controlled. I guess that’s why love is such an enduring theme in storytelling. It’s endlessly complicated.

 

I’m a hopeless romantic. I enjoy reading and writing stories where love shows up to challenge the protagonist. And love is on my mind right now as I consider which book to write next. It’s a choice between the fourth Beyond Androva story and the conclusion to the Light Mage trilogy. The former will begin with the love story that happened off the page in the previous Beyond Androva book, and it has a real ‘enemies to lovers’ vibe (fun to write!). The latter concerns two characters who deserve to find their way to a happy ending because they’ve been mad about each other almost since the day they met.

 

In the name of writing research, today’s post is a collection of ten beautiful poems about love. A few of them are famous, others are less well known, but they all capture something of the pain and joy that love can bring. And because I’m such a Shakespeare fan, he gets to open and close the list! I hope you enjoy the poetry, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today πŸ’•.

 

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

— William Shakespeare

 

and if you are to love,
love as the moon loves;

it does not steal the night —

it only unveils the beauty

of the dark.

— isra al-thibeh

 

with you
the long

way home

never felt

long enough

— Ben Maxfield

 


Love is a rebellious bird,
that nobody can tame,

and you call him quite in vain,

if it suits him not to come.

― Ludovic HalΓ©vy

 

What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?

What is this stance we take,

To turn away and then turn back?

What did we hear?

It was the breath we took when we first met.

Listen. It is here.

— Harold Pinter

 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— W. B. Yeats

 


I love you
More than I ever thought I could

So deeply I never thought I would

I love you

More than you will ever know

So much more than I can show

I love you

I believe in you and me

With all my heart until infinity

— Ann Hirsch

 

The world seems
somehow slower

when you are

next to me.

As though my senses

cannot focus

on anything

but you.

— Blake Auden

 

I love you
For putting your hand

Into my heaped-up heart

And passing over

All the foolish, weak things

That you can't help

Dimly seeing there,

And for drawing out Into the light

All the beautiful belongings

That no one else had looked

Quite far enough to find

— Roy Croft

 


Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love.

— William Shakespeare

 


 


To celebrate the release of Lost in Magic, up to and including Monday 7th June 2021, the Legacy of Androva series will be at a special price on Amazon! Breaking Magic will be FREE and the other books in the series will be priced at $0.99/£0.99 on Amazon US and UK.

You can find The Legacy of Androva series here:

Amazon UK The Legacy of Androva

Amazon US The Legacy of Androva

Spell Tracker is still free to read on this blog under the New series label. Just scroll down to the oldest post for Chapter One ☺


“All the whole time
I was my chamber’s prisoner.”
— William Shakespeare

Today’s blog post is an update on the story of Xytovia’s most famous prisoner, Kellan Bavois. Lost in Magic, the third book in the Beyond Androva series will be released next month! 

As always, there is a short prologue to set the scene for things to come, then Kellan takes over as the narrator. I hope you’ll enjoy finding out what happened to him and the challenges he faced when he parted ways with Art and Serena at the end of Engraved in Magic. I loved writing from Kellan’s perspective.

The pre-order for the eBook (3rd June 2021) will be up on Amazon very soon, and I’ll update this post with a link when it’s available. The price will remain at £0.99/€0.99/$0.99 until the release date.

Update ☺
Amazon UK Lost in Magic
Amazon US Lost in Magic

The description and the prologue are below. Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and if you decide to read Lost in Magic, I hope you enjoy it!

Magic, mystery, and murder.
Second chances can be complicated.

Kellan is a seventeen-year-old magician who just escaped from prison. After almost two centuries in a Dimension Cell, reliving the same day over and over with only his nightmares for company, he emerges into a very different world from the one he remembers. War, mage-sickness, and a mandatory Bonding Spell have transformed Xytovia. 

His rescuers, Art and Serena, are trying to put things right, but their actions are not welcomed by everyone. At first, Kellan's only allegiance is to himself. He's not interested in making friends, much less risking his life for them. Then he stumbles across a cry for help from the past, and he's drawn into a conspiracy that quickly becomes very personal and very life threatening. 

Kellan thought his problems were over when he was released from the Dimension Cell. It turns out they were only beginning… 

Prologue: Averine

Averine watched as the hint of golden light disappeared behind the mountain. Her last sunset. She had not made a habit of staring at sunsets before this one. And yet, when the fiery colours filled the sky, she felt a pang of regret, knowing she might not see them again. She set her jaw, pushing the emotion away. Regrets were manageable. Regrets wouldn’t keep her from the cure, but dying would.

Shadows gathered as the light faded, hiding the rocks and grass on the mountain’s slopes beneath a veil of darkness. She drew up her knees, looping her arms around them as she leaned into the corner of the window seat. The Gallium Dagger lay on the table where her father had placed it after creating the message she would leave behind. Its magical energy shone brightly in the gloom, reminding her that she was almost out of time. The Stasis Spell had to be applied tonight. Before the deadly mage-sickness attacking her body reached her heart.

With a sigh, she turned back to check the horizon. A breeze found its way through the partially open window, lifting the curtain of reddish-brown hair resting against her collar. The last of the light had gone. Averine reached to close the window, carefully pushing aside the sprawling blue leaves of the vines clinging to the exterior wall. Though much of the city was in ruins, her father’s house was still standing due to the extensive use of Protection Spells—a privilege of his position. It was hoped the imminent truce would enable rebuilding to begin. After forty years, the war was finally over. And everyone lost, thought Averine bitterly.

The door opened. It was time. She was trembling a little, but her fear did nothing to lessen her resolve. This was the only solution. To Averine’s disappointment, her father wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by the alchemist, Averine’s least favourite person by a considerable margin. Both of them were wearing titanium gloves that shone silver in the semi-darkness.

“What’s she doing here?”

“I’m not taking any chances with your life,” her father explained.

“It’s bit late for that,” said Averine.

“I know,” he said. His face tightened. “I am going to put this right, Averine. You will wake up, and you will survive. We will find a magician whose force field is undamaged to administer the cure.”

The alchemist smirked. “We’ll find them. Especially with that message of yours. Who could resist such a heartfelt cry for help?”

“Shut up,” said Averine fiercely.

“So authentic,” the alchemist continued. “No one would ever suspect.”

Averine’s eyes narrowed. “Suspect what?”

“Marath, don’t,” said her father with a scowl.

The alchemist, Marath, gave him an assessing look, her grey eyes expressionless. “Your father and I disagree on something.”

“On what?” said Averine. “Father?”

“He thinks we shouldn’t tell you the cure will kill the magician who administers it. I think we should. What’s your view?”

“Marath!” said her father.

“Is this true?” said Averine, backing away. “Is it?”

Marath didn’t answer. Averine’s father examined his shoes.

“Is it true?” Averine repeated, her voice raised.

Her father gave a heavy sigh. “It is. But you have to understand, the cure could save everyone. Half of the world is already dead. What’s one more life if we can save the rest?”

“Are you going to warn them?” said Averine.

The silence that followed her question was as good as any confirmation.

“I’m going to change my message,” said Averine. She turned to the table, and Marath and her father exchanged a glance of perfect accord, stepping forward together.

“I won’t let you send someone to their death without giving them all the facts. I have to—”

Averine broke off with a choking sound as Marath flicked a thin titanium rope around her neck and tightened it. Her father grasped her shoulders and dragged her to the table, pinning her to its surface while she kicked and arched her back in a desperate attempt to escape.

Marath picked up the dagger and held it to Averine’s struggling body. It burned her skin through the tailored grey shirt she wore, and she froze, her eyes wide and bloodshot. Marath didn’t hesitate. The second Averine stopped moving, Marath drove the dagger straight into her heart.


“Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know

Time’s thievish progress to eternity.”

— Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXVII

Time is a tricky concept. It can be an ally or an enemy, it can pass too quickly or too slowly, but the one thing we can depend on is that it always passes. Unless you’re trapped in a Dimension Cell, of course. Today’s blog post is a preview of the first chapter of Lost in Magic, the next book in the Beyond Androva series, where Kellan is facing a lifetime in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Lost in Magic is on track for release in early June, and I’m looking forward to sharing the cover next month! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and I hope you enjoy the chapter πŸ’•.

1 A New Home


After swallowing the bitter-tasting remedy that would suppress my force field, I gathered every scrap of my remaining bravado and painted it across my features like a mask. I hoped it would last until I was alone. The one thing that could make today worse would be stepping into the Dimension Cell having shown my audience how scared I really was. Xytovia only knew how it had come to this. I swallowed again, willing my heart to stop beating so fast. The sensation of my magic dissolving was like an icy fog swirling inside my head, so cold it made my teeth ache.

With a little more flourishing than was strictly necessary, Hilton Vierre, the senior magician, adjusted his cuffs and prepared to create the necessary spell. He was a pompous fool. The accuracy of the symbols was what mattered, not how stylish his hand movements looked while he drew them. There were no reporters here. Who was he trying to impress? I glanced at his deputy, Ava Pationne, a tall dark-haired magician with refined features. Surely not.

Hilton lowered his arms, and the symbols glowed purple and silver where they’d been engraved at chest height on the bark of the largest tree. A shimmering doorway rose up from the dark-blue earth. I averted my gaze. I knew what was on the other side. The doorway led to an empty square chamber, ten feet wide by ten feet tall, sustained by the living magic in the trees, and magically programmed to exist in a never-ending time loop. It was the doorway to my future.

At least my family had remained in Vayl City. I was glad they weren’t permitted to make the trip into the xyleander woods to see my sentence carried out. It was a lot easier to hide my feelings now that I was alone with the six officiating magicians. My mouth curled. Six. That was twice the number they needed. Even if I put my mind to it, I couldn’t overpower more than two of them. No, they wanted to dine out on the story of how they were here when I walked through that door.

I had no false modesty about anything, and certainly not my magical ability or my notoriety. This day, the day I was to be finally imprisoned, had been kept secret from the citizens of Vayl because public opinion regarding my guilt remained divided, and the vote to condemn me had been passed with a majority of just two. I’d spoken passionately in my own defence, arguing that I was a victim of circumstance and not a criminal. There had been calls for a recount. There had been a petition signed by some very well-known citizens, magicians and cotidians alike. My face and my name were everywhere: in newspapers, on flyers. I’d heard someone was planning to write my biography.

The only recent likeness of me had been produced by Vayl City College a few months earlier in readiness for my graduation. If I’d known what the likeness would eventually be used for and how many people would see it, I would never have posed that way. Even to my own eyes, I looked arrogant, but I’d received a lot of letters expressing support. There had even been a few declarations of love.

During the rare moments we’d succeeded in ignoring the ongoing trial to talk about more ordinary things, my brother had teased me about the love letters. I’d pretended to be flattered, but in fact, I was more than a little annoyed. I hated being judged on the basis of my looks and a few sensational newspaper articles.

Recalling yesterday’s editorial in the Vayl City Chronicle, a publication known for its exaggerated headlines, I scowled. The reporters were not something I would miss. Kellan Bavois, his dark eyes flashing with a defiance undiminished by the long legal process, continues to protest his innocence. It is this reporter’s understanding that no further interviews will be granted before his imprisonment, though the Board of Mages refuses to confirm the date. Dare we hope that the authorities might listen to reason and give this intriguing young man the benefit of the doubt? Watch this space!

I was all out of hope. According to the laws of the land, a majority was a majority, no matter how small, and the board was determined to uphold those laws. I was going to be made an example of. My sentencing had been intentionally postponed by a week. A week during which I’d turned seventeen years of age and become eligible for the maximum one-hundred-year Dimension Cell term.

I stood straighter and tried to ignore the disorientation inside my head. For the first time in almost five years, I had no magic. I’d always used magic instinctively, right from the day my spark had ignited, and its loss was jarring, impacting my senses as if the world had gone dark or silent. When I tried to project my force field, the stupid dizziness increased. I curled my toes inside my boots and gritted my teeth, staring at the ground until my vision cleared.

As expected, the symbols stitched onto my shirt collar and cuffs had stopped glowing. My mother had created a complicated and unique design made from all of the various symbols that signified protection, ignoring me when I told her there was no point. Without my magic, they were nothing more than embroidered shapes.

It was early morning. Fat drops of water glinted on the waxy surface of the xyleander leaves, evidence of the overnight rainfall. There was a chill in the air and a pale quality to the daylight. Autumn sunshine slanted through the trees’ branches, highlighting their distinctive purple colour. Winter was a few weeks away.

There would be no seasons inside the cell, no colours, and no change in temperature. Each day would be spent surrounded by four blank walls and only my thoughts for company. Every morning I would be returned to the same moment. Over and over. Physically unchanged. Whereas outside the cell, time would continue to pass. I looked at the wet leaves, wondering if I would forget what purple looked like, or the way my favourite drink tasted, or the crunch of frost underneath my boots on a cold morning. What about my sister’s smile? My best friend’s terrible jokes? I scowled again. Don’t get emotional. Sentiment won’t help anything.

“Open your shirt pocket,” said Hilton.

“I was searched before we left,” I said. I pushed my black hair off my forehead. It was too long. Scheduling a haircut hadn’t seemed important.

“You misunderstand me,” said Hilton. He extended his hand, opening his fingers to reveal a small polished crystal, round and flat and sparkling with magic. Layers of intricate symbols had been carved into its centre, too many for me to decipher. His voice softened in an imitation of sympathy, but his eyes remained cold. “This goes into your pocket. Had you forgotten?”

I had. I stared at the Death Charm with sudden loathing.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” added Hilton, meeting my gaze. The man’s anticipation was almost palpable. He expected my resolve to crumble at the reminder of what I was facing.

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” I said, holding out my hand. Hilton made a tiny magical cut in the centre of my palm—enough to release one dark red drop of blood. He pressed the crystal against it, and I watched with morbid fascination as the crystal changed colour, giving off a steady hum of energy only I could feel. It set my teeth on edge. It made my stomach clench.

After the drop of blood had been absorbed, I tucked the Death Charm into my pocket with careful fingers. To my relief, I didn’t fumble the buttons, even though inside I was quaking. When I spoke, I kept my voice level. “It’s not as if I ever plan to use it.”

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” said Hilton.

I was so annoyed, I barely heard Ava’s disapproving murmur. “Hilton.”

There was no way I was going to let him get the upper hand.

“Who’s ‘we’?” I said. I hid my anger behind a small smirk. “You won’t. Not unless you plan to live to the age of…” I paused. “One hundred and seventy? Seventy-five?”

A flush of red climbed from Hilton’s neck onto his cheeks. His iron-grey hair seemed to bristle with indignation. “I’m forty-six,” he said.

I pretended to be shocked. “Excuse me. My mistake. Perhaps you’ve been working too hard. The stress of the trial and all. You’ll still be dead long before you find out what happens to me.”

“I don’t care what happens to you!”

Arching an eyebrow, I refrained from answering, choosing to let the man’s red face and raised voice speak for him.

“Enough,” said Ava. “Kellan Bavois, in accordance with the laws of Vayl, you have been tried and found guilty of the murder of your grandmother, Opal Bavois, and you will serve one hundred years in this Dimension Cell as punishment. The board grants you mercy in the form of a Death Charm. You may use the aforementioned charm to escape the cell at any time.”

I just managed not to scoff. Mercy. Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

“Do you wish to make a final statement for the record?” she asked.

I shook my head. You’ll be dead long before you find out what happens to me seemed like a decent enough parting shot. I was tempted to tell them I was innocent, but I’d said it many times already. It would make no difference. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to escape the semicircle of magicians with their curious eyes. This would be the last moment for a very long time when I could still choose for myself. Suddenly, it seemed important that I enter the cell of my own accord rather than at the request of Hilton Vierre. I turned on my heel to face the shimmering doorway, and after barely a second of hesitation, I walked through.

The chamber on the other side was quiet, unnaturally so. I huffed a quick breath, reassured when the sound emerged as normal. My mouth lifted in a wry smile. At least I could talk to myself.

Cautiously, I took a couple of steps, looking left and right and up and down. The walls were uniformly beige except for a faint shadow indicating where they met the floor and the ceiling. My neck and shoulders prickled as if I’d been touched by a spell, and I spun around to find that the doorway had disappeared. They hadn’t wasted any time.

I reached out a hand. The wall was cool, smooth, and depressingly solid. It felt like stone. It wasn’t, of course. It was magical energy that had been made to resemble stone, and I wouldn’t have been able to punch my way out even if the wall had looked and felt like tissue paper. But the stone ensured I would never mistake it for anything but the prison it was. It was lucky I’d never been claustrophobic, but even so, the lack of any visible exit was unnerving.

When I checked, I discovered the entire cell was the same. The floor was just as solid as the walls. Sleeping was going to be uncomfortable. I was dressed in a dark green shirt and a pair of black trousers, and I had no coat or sweater I could use for a pillow. I supposed I could choose to stay awake. After all, each morning the time loop would reset to the moment I’d entered. I wouldn’t age. I wouldn’t die from lack of sleep, or from thirst or starvation. I wouldn’t run out of air. My punishment was complete isolation and the knowledge that everyone I cared about would carry on living without me.

Dimension Cells were a new kind of magic. I was the third prisoner to have earned the rather dubious honour of inhabiting one, and the youngest, and the one with the longest sentence. Never let it be said that Kellan Bavois does anything by halves. I shook my head and pushed the thought away. I sounded like one of the newspaper editorials I hated. I paced the cell, getting to know its dimensions while checking in vain for weak spots with an occasional kick. The buckles on my boots clinked together.

I told myself I could do this. One day at a time.