Ayala Storme Prepares for the Re-Stormening!

HALLO HUMANS

 

It’s been quiet around these parts. I’ve been incubating stuff. New books, short stories (move your butt over to Patreon if you want to catch up with lots of fiction!), cats, mawwaige (evidence below), and a big impending move to Scotland.

 

 

There are approximately thirteen blog posts in that sentence alone, but this one is about Ayala, and she’s got swords, so I better get the focus back to her.

 

Ahem.

 

I won’t beat around the proverbial bush. Ayala Storme’s four book series has been Amazon exclusive for eBook since it came out, but NO MORE! BHC Press’s Indigo imprint is bringing Ayala to wider distribution (and with a brand new interior book design! SO SHINY!) on 26 June!

 

You can read the press release here! We decided to keep the covers because Jes Negrón did such a stellar job, but these bad boys will have a gorgeous new look inside! ALSO, I recently wrote a foreword for BHC Press’s release of their first Signature Classic, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, which you should read because Ayala and Anne have a lot in common (no, seriously).

 

Mark your calendars for 26 June! Help me say bon voyage to the US with a return to Nashville and Ayala’s story. Plus, there’s butts. Lots of butts. And Nana bunny. You should read this series for Nana, if nothing else. Think of Nana.

Signed Book Time!

Ordering is now closed! If you ordered signed books, I’ll update this page periodically throughout the process!

11 April: Getting ready to order from my distributor!

11 April: Books ordered! Shipping to me is the slowest bit–they estimate 28 April as delivery day, but usually they’re here faster. I’ll make sure to update you when I get a tracking number!

19 April: Books shipped, said to have a delivery date of TOMORROW! V Exciting, will update once they arrive. WHEE.

24 April: Books shipped to YOU. Most of you should have them by the end of this week. International shipping should be within the next 10 business days! If you need a tracking number, please let me know!

Here we go! I’ve had a lot of folks ask when I would next be doing a run of signed books, and finally the answer is now!

I’ve tried to simplify ordering this time around.

Here’s What to Expect.

  1. You place your order through PayPal in the form below. Ordering is open from 27 March until 10 April at 8 PM EDT. Shipping and handling are included in the price you see on the form!
  2. On 11 April, I order the books from my distributor.
  3. When the books come in (usually in about a week), I’ll sign them, pack them up, and ship them.
  4. When they ship, I’ll email you your tracking number.
  5. You’ll get them in 2-3 days (domestic — 5-6 business days internationally) after that, priority mail.
  6. International shipping is still horrible. I am so sorry. For transparency, it’s about $24 for shipping alone for a single book. The medium box holds up to six books and costs almost $45 to ship. I’m trying to make this accessible, but for those of you in the UK, once I’m there you’ll be the domestic ones and can exact your revenge. MUAHAHA.
  7. That means US folks, uh….maybe take this opportunity to order now! I can’t promise I’ll be able to do another run before we move to Scotland.
  8. Australia, I’m just really sorry. Everything is so expensive for you lot.

Go forth and get yerself some books!

MUAH.

Love,

Emmie

 

Signed Copies Available!

WHEW.

It’s halfway through July already. How did that happen?

If you missed the news, EYE OF THE STORM is now out in ebook, paperback, and audiobook! The fabulous Chuck Wendig invited me to share a very personal post on Terrible Minds, and my next project, a contemporary magical realismesque standalone A HALL OF KEYS AND NO DOORS is available for preorder! I am also on Patreon, and we are almost halfway toward my first goal, which would be a new SHRIKE novelette!

That’s a lot!

But there is also more — if you are itching to get your paws on signed copies of any of my already-released books, now’s your VERY LIMITED TIME moment.

Starting now, I’ll be taking orders for one week (from today until 22 July). Then I will order the books, sign them, and ship them out, so they should be to you within a month with shipping times. Last year my system broke down due to a move in the middle, but this year I am stationary and you have my guarantee that it won’t take more than six weeks.

You can order the books through PayPal below. You can get any of them on their own, or you can buy series bundles.

For Transparency: I can ship to UK/AUS/NZ/Canada, but the shipping cost is, unfortunately, much higher. One book internationally is $25 in shipping alone. I use tracked USPS Priority Mail flat rate boxes to ensure that the books, you know, get where they’re supposed to go and are insured. Happy to do this, but I apologise for having to charge so much more. Combining the cost I pay for the books themselves (discounted, but not even close to free), shipping them to me, processing orders, and shipping them out, the overhead cost ends up over $40 per single book internationally.

I’m able to process multiple books to the same address more cheaply, hence the price per book going down significantly if you bundle them.

How to Order: Orders have officially closed! Depending on demand, I may do another round of signed copies for the holiday season in a few months. Thank you to everyone who ordered!

 

 

The View From the Top of Ole Series Mountain

I did something this year that I set out to do way back in Nashville in 2008 during the worst year of my life. When I set out to do the thing, I was in the middle of a whole other thing. So Thing 2 got set aside for a few years, and that’s okay. I came back to it in 2013 or so, and it began in earnest.

Thing 1 was a trilogy I got 2.5 books into and realised that the writing quality for books one through half of book two was not great. The story was derivative, the characters were legion and lacked distinguishing complexities, and basically anyone who’d read LJ Smith and David Eddings both would have probably put their head in their hands and sighed. In this scenario, I imagine their breath hitting me with a gust of Doritos scent. Probably Cool Ranch.

So I stopped in the middle of the third and final book of the trilogy, set over a quarter of a million words in a trunk after bemoaning that the second half of those quarter million words were pretty okay but bound sort of irrevocably to the other half, which were not pretty okay or pretty anything. Somewhere in those 250,000 trunked words, I found something of my Voice, that mystical write-y quality that provides the je ne sais quoi to decent craft and makes a story more than words on paper. Saying that — or typing it — sounds unforgivably egotistical, but since finding your Voice is one of those integral steps writers MUST DO, I’ll forgive myself.

I set those aside and wrote SHRIKE: THE MASKED SONGBIRD. It was in the rush of hopefulness and creativity and ambition surrounding the Scottish referendum for independence. I was invited to write for National Collective, I engaged with what was going on, I got cranky that they were in the middle of rebooting Spider-Man, and SHRIKE just happened. I started querying a couple months later and, to assuage my “here we go” jitters and soothe the deafening silence of my inbox, I went back to that little project I’d started in 2008, my worst year.

That project was STORM IN A TEACUP, and I banged it out mostly in NaNoWriMo 2012. I got an offer for representation for SHRIKE in January 2013, and we were off to the races.

I’d always envisioned the Ayala Storme books as a four book series. I had the basic arc in mind from the start. When we got an offer on STORM IN A TEACUP in 2014 that subsequently fell apart, I didn’t think anyone would ever get to see that book. Because my deal for the only-just published SHRIKE and two other books also dissolved within three weeks in the middle of the worst financial crisis of my adult life to date, my separation from my ex husband, and my job falling to pieces, well…suffice it to say that I had a dark night of the soul.

It looked something like sending Felicia Day a tearful and embarrassing email just before Christmas, because naturally that’s when my debut novel got pulled from the shelves of my publisher, watching Once More With Feeling, and eating my weight in Dominos pizza while crying into my cheesy bread.

Yep. That happened.

Less than two weeks later, my agent left the business. I had an epic fantasy half written and three (3) full novels that had been acquired for publication only to be orphaned. I had no agent. I had a temp job with a hefty commute, and had survived the holidays only by the generosity of 80-some people who swooped in and bailed me out.

I spent January finishing that epic fantasy. I got a preemptive offer of rep from an agent friend who knew I needed to still query widely. I sent 34 query letters on about February the fourth of 2015. I got 20 full requests, and over the next three weeks, seven offers of rep.

Somewhere in all that, I decided to self publish STORM IN A TEACUP and the SHRIKE books after my rights reverted. My former agent helped with the covers. I did everything else. The same week I sent out the queries for my epic fantasy, STORM IN A TEACUP went out in the world.

And it sold.

It sold well, even. I wrote ANY PORT IN A STORM, and when it came out in June, I made the equivalent of three month’s income in one. It allowed me to do something I’d dreamt of doing for years: write full time without also working full time. I’d been working 100+ hour weeks for six years.

Then we sold the audio rights for the first three Storm books to Audible. I sat down and wrote TAKEN BY STORM in nine days, which on paper sounds like some spectacular feat, but in reality, it was horrifying. My neuroatypical brain gets hyperfocused and obsessive. I wrote 20,000+ a day on a couple of those days, writing from the top of the hour until I hit 1200, then spending fifteen minutes or so “resting.” I finished that and plowed right into EYE OF THE STORM, hammering out the first 30,000 words…

…and then I hit a wall.

The thing about creating art is that it requires emotional expenditure. And I done ran myself dry.

I didn’t take care of myself. I was in a stressful position of writing being my only income for the first time ever, my personal life precarious, my health teetering…and I flopped.

EYE OF THE STORM felt broken. I couldn’t make myself work on it. I worked on short stories instead, just to be able to finish something. I felt like a failure and like I had somehow ruined something.

The need to create it was still there, but spending so much time in the limited first person present POV with a single character somehow left me alone in my own brain and struggling to make sense of anything I was doing. My epic was getting rejections from publishers, and I got very depressed.

I couldn’t even think of writing. If there’s anything I’m super good at, it’s beating the crap out of myself for perceived weakness, lack of productivity, and laziness. But after working 100+ hours a week for six years and burning through the tiny remainder of my fuel in the space of my first month living on my own as a full time author, I couldn’t make myself do anything.

I’d picked a bottom floor apartment so I could work out at home. Instead I sat on Facebook all day. In spite of having written almost four books in the space of twelve months, I felt like I had somehow failed or disappointed everyone. I knew something was wrong with EYE OF THE STORM, but I couldn’t even make myself look at it to figure out what it was.

I finally gave myself permission to rest in January. I worked on anything I felt drawn to. Short story ideas, new novel, editing the epic for another round of subs. I played a shit ton of video games. I started reading again.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to recharge my tank. But I fumblingly found my way again, starting with reading aloud to my partner (who moved in with me on Boxing Day) before we went to bed each night.

One day, I picked up EYE OF THE STORM, opened a bunch of new Scrivener chapters at the beginning, and started over.

A month later, I’d finished the book. And I was proud of it. Proud.

Finishing a series was something I meant to do years ago with that first trilogy. Most of the time when I finish a novel, my brain is on The Next Thing (like I said, obsessive). But with EYE OF THE STORM, for the very first time, I felt like I’d actually completed something gargantuan. It’s not the Wheel of Time or Harry Potter. It’s four books, each averaging about 90,000 words.

But hell if that mountain wasn’t a bitch and a half to climb.

The point of this is just to say this: you can tackle Everest, but if you don’t look out for what you need on the way, your oxygen and shelter and the things that make your body not die when you’re scaling a behemoth of a peak, you won’t make it very far.

Creative types often share things like depression and anxiety, those lying fuckers. We also share a tendency to to keep throwing ourselves at our mountains and never stopping to look around.

So I want to take a second to enjoy the view, and I hope you’ll pause whatever you’re working on and enjoy yours too.

You don’t have to have finished a book or a series to do this. You’ve finished something, accomplished something. Take a moment and look around.

If you want to help me tackle the next Everest, you can preorder EYE OF THE STORM here or take long road with more stops and join me on Patreon!

 

#ChatStorme Approaching: Join Amber and Me Tomorrow!

EOTS FRONT COVER
Don’t forget to preorder your copy of the series finale! Click image to GIT ER DONE

What: Me, You, Amber Benson, a cosy little Twitter chat on a Tuesday eve

When: Uh….Tuesday eve. Tomorrow, specifically, at 6 PM EDT. 

Why: Amber and I want to chat about Ayala Storme with you AND give away some snazzy audiobooks!

Where: Get thee to Twitter tomorrow at 6 EDT, and type #ChatStorme into your search bar!

Who: You. Is this thing on? You, me, Amber Benson. Ayala Storme. MAYBE NANA. (See featured image, re: Bun In A Teacup)

 

 

Are you excited? I’m excited. You should be excited. BUN TORNADO EXCITED.

BunTornado

 

News, World Takeover, Unrestrained Squeeing

Woo!

It’s Tuesday, and I’ve got some news!

I’ll try and keep it short — lots to do, lots to do.

News the First

If you haven’t yet heard, my fabulous agent Sara Megibow sold the audio rights to the first three Ayala Storme books (STORM IN A TEACUP, ANY PORT IN A STORM, and TAKEN BY STORM) to Audible! This is huge news in and of itself, and I am SO excited to bring Ayala to a new format!

All three audiobooks and TAKEN BY STORM (ebook and print) will be out 1 December 2015!

And for a final massive kicker, the books are currently in production, being brought to life by no other than actor, author, producer, director, and all-round badass, Amber Benson.

tara, buffy, amber benson, buffy the vampire slayer, once more with feeling, omwf, under your spell, gif
SPARKLES, MOTHERFUCKERS.

I had the honour and joy of meeting Amber at Awesome Con this year, which was fantastic. I was crossing every available crossable when we sold the audio rights that just MAYBE a miracle would happen, and lo and behold, MIRACLE. I knew Amber had narrated John Scalzi’s books, and she’s just phenomenal in general. I cannot (truly cannot) think of a single soul I’d rather have bringing Ayala’s story to life.

Yay wheeeee!
Yay wheeeee!

News the Second

Baltimore Book Fest is this week! Not only am I going to be present, but I’m going to be doing ALL THE THINGS. The full schedule for the SFWA tent is here. The event is FREE, so I fully expect all you locals to come play with us.

My personal schedule for the weekend is here:

Friday-

11 AM:

The Revolution Will Be Science-fictional… and Fantastic
What to read in SF/F and where to find it! Our panel looks at the latest trends in SF/F and the books people are talking about this year.

Panelists: Emmie Mears, Cat Rambo, Fran Wilde, Michael R. Underwood

5 PM:

When Sci-Fi & Fantasy Get Sexy
It’s not all rayguns and unicorns… join our writers to talk about the hotter side of science fiction and fantasy.

Panelists: Kelly Harmon, Carmen Maria Machado, Emmie Mears, KM Szpara, Jean Marie Ward

6 PM:

Making Magic: Magic Systems and Fantasy
Go beyond “Wingardium Leviosa!” with this exploration of magic systems in a range of fantasy settings.

Panelists: Tom Doyle, Anna Kashina, Elektra Hammond, Emmie Mears

Saturday:

12 PM: Signing in the SFWA tent signing table!

Sunday:

5 PM:

Location, Location, Location
Our panel of authors discusses what gives a strong sense of place to science fiction and fantasy, from Hogwarts to Neil Gaiman’s strange London Underground to every monster that has ever stomped Manhattan. We discuss the ways place informs fiction – plus, how to get your details right and what drives us crazy when authors get our favorite real life places wrong.

Panelists: Tobias S. Buckell, Kelly Harmon, Emmie Mears, KM Szpara

News the Third

Just announced — the Sunday of World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs, NY, I will be doing a signing at Flights of Fantasy Books and Games with Amalia Dillin, Garth Nix, Julie Czerneda, Alex Gordon/Kristine Smith, and Anne Bishop!

This will be Flights of Fantasy on Sunday, 8 November at 1800. If you’re going to be at WFC, you should come!

News the Fourth

This week I will be a guest on August McLaughlin‘s FABULOUS Girl Boner podcast. Girl Boner is ALL about celebrating women’s sexuality, empowerment, and arousal. I’ll be talking about sexual fluidity and my own bisexual/pansexual identity as well as challenges the bi/pan community face.

Come on down and see us! It’s gonna be a party!

Stormy Weather: Ayala’s Back in Bunnies

AAAAAHHHHH YOU GUYS.

Ayala’s back! ANY PORT IN A STORM is finally here!

Even better? You can still snag STORM IN A TEACUP for a bitty $0.99 for the rest of today!

EVEN BETTER? (I know, I know, I KNOW!) You can now buy SHRIKE: THE MASKED SONGBIRD in trade paperback!

Okay — take a deep breath with me. So many books. So much win. Very superheroes, so bunnies, such wedgies WOW.

So. Many of you have asked me about signed copies, and I am super excited to finally be able to oblige you!

From now until June 26 (deadline extended!), you can order a signed copy through the button below. I will place the bulk order on July 1, and the books will be mailed out no later than July 15. Pricing includes shipping, and tax will be added during checkout because I do not want the IRS knocking at my door. They won’t accept cookies in lieu of evaded sales tax.

Because several people from outside the US have asked about signed copies, I’ve included pricing below to the UK, continental Europe, and Australia. If you live outside these places and are interested, contact me. I’m sorry it’s so expensive; many authors don’t offer international shipping due to the price being prohibitive. I ship the books USPS Priority Mail in a flat rate box. They arrive within 6-10 business days and come with tracking, and the cost for overseas shipping is $25 per book. 

If you would like a copy of any of the books, use the order form below! Please make sure you select the book you want from the dropdown menu and double check to make sure your PayPal address is your actual address. I will never share your information with anyone. No way, no how. Also, if you would like the book personalised to someone who is not you, please make sure to let me know!

Select a Book




 

ANY PORT IN A STORM: Exclusive Look at Chapter One!

I thought since I’ve been cooped up and laid out flat this week with monster tonsillitis that it could be A Nice Thing to share the first chapter of ANY PORT IN A STORM. If you haven’t yet read STORM IN A TEACUP, navigate away and SAVE YOURSELF FROM ANY POSSIBLE SPOILERS. Because I am sick and lazy, here lieth the extent of the intro. ENJOY.

[Thar be language. My books have that. F-bombs and violence abound in Ayala’s world, be warned, matey.]

Any Port in a Storm
Chapter 1

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to butts all over my apartment.

They’re all very nice butts — shades get the best of both hellkin and human gene pools — but that’s sort of beside the point. There are butts all over my apartment yet again, and it’s just another Thursday night of me having no idea where to look. The butts are bad enough, never mind the other side.

Even more annoying, it’s a full moon tonight, and shades are too literal to even laugh at my jokes.

I miss Mason.

Maybe worst of all, I miss him the same way I miss Roger, the frog I stashed in my room for three weeks when I was a knobbly-kneed Mediator-in-Training. Roger got found out, then thrown out into the pond.

Is that awful? That I miss Mason like that? He wasn’t a pet; he was a person. And he isn’t really past tense at all — not in general. He’s alive and well and somewhere covered in sand in the Middle East. Probably pissing off the locals and eating whole goats.

But he’s past tense for me.

Looking — carefully — around  my living room, my eyes seek out a tattooed shoulder. The tattoo itself is part of that whole “shades are literal” thing. It’s Saturn’s shoulder I’m searching for, and the ink is exactly what you might expect it to be, the rings of the planet rippling over his muscles when he moves.

I see Carrick, my roommate who I guess is pretty enough to kiss but mostly I want to kick. I see Rade and Hanu and Jax.

It’s really sad I know most of these shades by their butts alone. Ugh.

No Saturn.

Frowning, I make my way through the crowded room.

Saturn said he had something to discuss with me, and at three in the morning on a work night, I don’t really want to go wandering through Forest Hills to look for him.

He always sticks close to the place he first drew breath, Saturn. I saw him take that first gasp of air.

It’s not as romantic as it sounds. That first breath came because his full-grown body exploded out of a woman half his size. Lena Saturn. Back when I thought she could be saved.

Jax touches my shoulder when I pass, his brown hand as callused as mine. I return the gesture. His mother was a man called Jack, and I think the x is Jax’s way of making himself a possessive.I’ve yet to meet a shade whose name wasn’t in some way traceable to his mother. The shades call all their hosts mothers, whether they were spawned from a male body or female body or anywhere in between. The ones who gave them life at the expense of their own.

Ain’t nobody living through that.

Rade and Hanu touch my shoulders as I pass them as well, followed by the the others, who stop what they’re doing and reach out to me until my shoulders feel kissed by ghosts. I make sure to return each touch, meeting indigo eyes as I walk. My body never brushes their skin as I move among them. Only their fingertips make contact with me, and only mine make contact with them.

Shade culture. They’re creatures of extreme violence. A gentle touch has evolved into how they say you’re safe. That they expect the same in return from me, well. I don’t know if I should be flattered or frightened.

Then again, I am also a creature of extreme violence.

Carrick finishes talking to Miles. Carrick is a white man with long hair the color of walnut wood. He’s naked as a jaybird and looks even paler next to Miles, who is black with shoulder-length, delicate locs that swish when he moves. Where Carrick is a volcano with long periods of dormancy punctuated by explosions, Miles is steady like the Colorado River. Sometimes I think when the world ends, in the quiet moments when every other being is finally dead, Miles will be the only one left standing, a canyon carved away around him.

I walk among titans these days. Lordy. All except the damn one I want.

“Carrick, where’s Saturn?”

I should expect Carrick’s diffident little shrugs right now, but they still make my toes itch to make contact with his shins. Instead, I gesture at him, impatient.

“Is that a shrug you don’t know, or a shrug you don’t care, or a shrug you don’t think it matters?”

“You know me too well,” Carrick says. His English accent still sounds disingenuous coming from the mouth of a shade, its lilt ever-so-slightly off even to someone used to the speech of Londoners.

That’s probably because his speech is held over from the seventeenth century, and no, I’m not used to that thought yet. He looks like he’s in his mid-thirties. He only acts like he’s twelve.

I wait, looking back and forth between Carrick and Miles. Miles, of course, is unmoved. I do see a crinkle at the corner of his eye where he’s hidden away a smile, though, and the sight steels me to keep my deadpan look for Carrick. After a long pause with only the murmurs of the other shades and the clinking of Nana the Bunny in her cage in the background, Carrick scowls at me.

“He’s at home.”

Fuck. I just got home. I don’t want to leave again.

I look at the clock over my TV. Three seventeen. If I leave now, I might catch Saturn in time to get a whopping five hours of sleep. I make a pit stop to give Nana’s head a scratch and feed her a carrot, her rose-dusty fur as soft as down. When I make my way back through my living room, Hanu and Jax give me a nod goodbye. Miles watches me with indigo eyes that almost glow. His gaze falls on my shoulder, then flickers to the back of Carrick’s head. It’s not until I’m out the door that I understand why.

Carrick’s the only one in that room who sleeps under that roof, and he’s the only one who doesn’t touch my shoulder in greeting.

Forest Hills always makes me jumpy. I blame it on the fact that I took down two slummoths and a jeeling here a few months ago. By “took down,” I mean I limped away from that fight with a palm sliced almost clean through, a festering, demon-poisoned bite on my shoulder, pulled muscles, and a heart that only just was still beating on the right side of my ribcage.

You know.

Memories.

By now, I know where to look for Saturn, and I tread carefully through the underbrush, the sycamores and oaks forming a cathedral in the night above, stars shining like stained glass. More important than the scenery though is the soundtrack. Even in early autumn, the crickets play their little songs, their rhythms syncopated and bright in the darkness.

Their sound is safety.

Norms ain’t the only ones who hate hellkin — and fear them.

Saturn sleeps in the trees. He doesn’t seem to mind gnarly bark digging into his nether bits, so I never pester him about it. Most of the other shades have some sort of shelter, but he likes it here. There’s a tall oak across the clearing he tends to occupy, but even though it’s dark and the yellow-orange leaves — dark grey in the night — obscure the trunk enough to hide him, the pit in my gut says he’s not there.

The night is muggy and clammy in the way only southern nights can be, and the prickle that dances along the skin of my forearms has less to do with that and more to do with the way the crickets have quieted.

It’s not that they’ve stopped — it’s like someone’s been gradually turning the volume knob downward until I’m not sure if it’s me or my surroundings that’s changed.

Except I know better.

My shoulder gives a twitch, as if it can remember that demon’s teeth too well.

Slowly, I unsheathe my swords. One long and curved like Saturn’s rings, one short and stabby.

I listen to the now-distant hum of the crickets, the rustle of the trees. A good stealthy person learns to move with the wind, to let the earth disguise her footsteps.

Demons, thankfully, get an F in stealth.

So why am I now surrounded by silence?

It crawls onward through the night, creeping outward, dulling my senses.

A crash of branches would be welcome.

Slowly, I swivel, turning on a full 360 degrees until I’m sure even the dim stars and sliver of setting moon have shown that I’m alone in the clearing.

A single harkast demon scampers out of a bush. Or rather, scampers about well as anything with legs that short can. Stumpy is the best word to describe these things. My blades stop the hellkin beastie before it takes three steps into the clearing, and then it’s dead. A moment later, I hear a chirp of a cricket. No more demons, so why is my spider-sense still going off?

The wind shifts, and I smell them coming before I hear them.

The scent is hot and smells slightly of ash and metal and life. Shade blood. A lot of it.

I’ve been around them long enough, fought beside them enough to recognize it.

A moment later I hear the crash of bushes and a yell, followed by a gurgle.

I keep my sword points low, hoping the blood’s not Saturn’s and that the voices are friendly. My hope is misplaced. Half of it, anyway.

“Put him there!” an unfamiliar, urgent voice barks.

Then I see them, rounding Saturn’s large oak.

It is Saturn. And the blood is definitely his. Mira Gonzales, another Mediator and tentative friend of mine, helps him lay back against the trunk of the tree. I don’t recognize the morph with them. She moves with sharp, precise competence, pressing her hand against the side of Saturn’s neck, which is the source of the blood.

My feet start moving without me, lurching me forward over the mulch-covered ground. The morph lets out a yell of alarm, but Mira sees me and waves the other woman off.

“Wane, chill. It’s Ayala.”

That’s all Wane seems to need, because her attention snaps back to Saturn so fully that it seems she’s forgotten my existence. I drop to my knees at Saturn’s feet, and I finally get a good look at him in the dim clearing.

Someone sliced through almost two inches of his neck. His left side is gushing blood. It pulses out between Wane’s fingers like oozing lava.

“What happened?” I’ve seen a lot of shit, but this makes me feel like someone’s running their fingertips along the inside of my stomach lining.

Mira’s violet eyes are black in the night, her brown skin turned blue grey, her hair like onyx. It’s then I see the way Saturn’s clutching her hand and the quick, shallow rise and fall of his chest.

His eyes are closed, but his lips form my name.

I scoot up beside Mira, feel the coolness of her presence compared with the heat of Saturn’s fear. He burns like a star instead of a planet.

“He got ambushed. He was on his way home. We were supposed to meet him here and heard the fight.” Mira’s voice is dispassionate, but her fingers clasping Saturn’s aren’t.

“Did you see who did this?” I ask.

“Keen blade to the carotid. Would have finished the job if he hadn’t gotten away long enough to make our presence scare them off. Whoever did this cared more about not being seen than they did about finishing the job.” Wane pipes up, her voice brittle.

“Motherfuckers.” Mira says.

I’m about to say something, but the morph keeps going, ignoring Mira’s expletive.

“He’ll live,” she says. “I can feel him healing. I’m trying to help him along.”

I stretch out my hand and touch it to Saturn’s shoulder. His throat convulses.

Help him along. I forget that morphs can transfer energy. By nature their animal transformations are fueled by some sort of primal woo-woo creation magic — they can manipulate that when they see fit. A lot of them are in health care. From Wane’s clinical choice of words, I think she probably is too.

My body relaxes a bit at her prognosis, exhales breath it had locked in my lungs.

“He said he had something to tell me,” I say.

Mira shrugs. “Whatever it is, it’ll have to wait.”

She’s not wrong about that. Saturn’s not able to say anything right now.

The three of us hold watch over Saturn as the sky slowly lightens with the coming dawn. Finally, the blood flow from his neck slows to nothing, and he sleeps between us, blood drying on his naked form.

By nine in the morning, Saturn is healed enough to move him to Mira’s, and I help Wane and her get him to her car and load him in, leaning the passenger seat back as far as it’ll go. She covers her seats like a good little Mediator, but getting him in the car leaves crackling flakes of his dried blood dusting onto her floor mats, the seat backs, and the center console anyway.

I belt him in while Wane climbs into the back seat. I finally get a good look at her. She’s of medium height and wiry, with short hair that’s the color of old quarters. Her face is unlined, with a strong jaw and light brown skin. Her eyes are grey, and after being surrounded by shades and Mediators for months, the sight is welcome and a little unnerving, a reminder of the norm world I’ve lost track of. The reminder is like a drop of cold water falling out of the air onto my scalp. I’ll have to ask Mira about this morph later.

Mira herself meets my gaze, violet to violet. Her face is unreadable for a long moment, then she gives me a cheeky smile.

“I’ll take care of the invalid. Come over after work.” She cranks up the radio — old school Bonnie Raitt — and waves an impatient hand at me to close the door. Before I do, Saturn reaches out and touches my shoulder with his fingertips, and for the tiniest moment, his indigo eyes flutter open and meet mine.

They drive away, and a wave of relief crests in my middle to know he’ll be okay and that he’s in good hands. Too much death and loss this year already. I can’t bring myself to think about what I’d do if I lost him too.

I hike slowly back to my car, taking a detour to where Mira and Wane found Saturn.

It’s  not hard to find — his blood is still red and heavy, splashed on the trunk of a cottonwood.

After a few moments of finding exactly nothing helpful, I leave.

Whatever Saturn wanted to tell me, I have a feeling I’m not going to like it.