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A short story inspired by the song "Royals" by Lorde.
Two street rats. A city full of glamour. New year's eve.
Enter the world of Elysia in this companion short story to Silver and Ice.
The stench of rotting food and horse dung made Kira’s eyes water. Off in the distance, the White Palace shone on top of a manmade hill. Floating orbs of witch light illuminated every window of the building, casting a glow on the crystal gardens encircling the palace. Kira reckoned it smelled much nicer up there. Truth be told, anywhere probably smelled better than the slums of the Imperial City.
“Hey Ra-ra, why so sad? Be happy—it’s new year’s eve—we’ve survived another year!” A dark haired boy dropped down from the balcony of a nearby building, giving Kira a good-natured shove.
“Gods, Asher, I hate it when you sneak up on me like that.” Kira narrowed her eyes at the taller boy. “And you know I hate being called Ra-ra.”
Asher threw an arm around Kira’s shoulders. “Well, Ra-ra—ow—that punch was uncalled for!” He clutched his side and dropped onto the cobblestone street in mock hurt. Two seconds later, he popped back onto his feet and continued on as if nothing had happened. “Wipe that frown off your face—you look much nicer with a smile. This is going to be our best year yet, and I have the perfect way to start it off. Want to hear how?” He didn’t give Kira time to reply. “First, we’re going to attend the annual Eve’s Gala at the White Palace. Then we’ll dine at the royal banquet along with all the nobles and even the queen herself. After the eight-course dinner, we’ll go for a private boat ride down Crystal Canal to enjoy the firework display performed by the court’s spell casters. Finally, to bring in luck for the new year, I think a kiss from my favorite girl ought to do the trick. How does that sound?”
Kira rolled her eyes. “Asher, I’m the only girl who can stand your jabbering for more than a minute.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say.” He flashed her a mischievous grin. “So, want to give my plan a whirl?”
“Everything but the kiss.”
“Aw, shucks.” Asher motioned for Kira to follow, the watery light from the streetlamps reflecting the smudge of dirt on his cheek. “Watch your step—there’s a dead rat.”
They slipped through the winding streets with ease, both having grown up in the city. The air cleared as they neared the White Palace. Revelers staggered about the streets, laughing and belting out songs in an off key fashion. The scent of mouthwatering foods and alcohol mingled in the air as Kira and Asher threaded their way through the crowd.
“Happy new year!” A masked stranger jumped in front of them, tossing up a handful of glitter.
“Happy new year to you too!” Asher grinned and shook his hair, sending a spray of sparkles everywhere. He turned back to Kira and said, “Grab my hand—crowd’s getting beasty and we don’t want to be late for the Eve’s Gala.”
“Asher, are we seriously going to the White Palace?” Kira palmed a rice cake off an unsuspecting vendor; she had mastered the art of pickpocketing after many years of practice.
“Of course we are. I’m a man of my word. Hey, I hope you’re going to share some of that rice cake with me.”
Ducking to avoid a drunk’s flailing arm, Kira snapped the cake in half and tossed the larger portion towards Asher. He caught it with his mouth and nodded at another vendor hawking roasted chestnuts. “Want to slip me some of those as well?”
“Get it yourself, lazy pig.”
“But Ra-ra, I always get caught.” He shot her an imploring expression, hazel eyes wide and a slight pout to his lips. It was a look that could’ve convinced the Winter Queen to melt her precious crown of ice.
Unfortunately for Asher, Kira had become immune to his tactics. She arched an eyebrow. “Tough luck.”
The streets became less crowded the closer they approached the White Palace and the fragrance of snow flowers—the royal flower—grew stronger. A walkway made of marble bricks led them up to the gate where two soldiers stood guard.
Asher sauntered up to the guard on the right. “We’re here for the Eve’s Gala. I apologize for arriving late.”
The soldier peered down at him, taking in Asher’s frayed shirt and torn shoes. “Only guests with an invitation are allowed.”
Asher tapped a finger against his cheek. “Hm. The queen must’ve forgotten to send me one.”
“Doubtful. Scram, now.”
“The queen and I are on first name basis,” Asher persisted.
The guard sighed. “Son, I think you’ve had one too many drinks tonight.” He cast Kira a pointed look. “I’m giving you ten seconds to get him out of my sight.”
Asher ignored the guard’s warning and said, “Please inform the queen that Asher Grayson is requesting entry into the palace—”
Asher,” Kira hissed. “Let’s go.”
“Hold on a second.” He held up a hand and turned to the guard, pinching a quarter-crown coin between his thumb and middle finger. “If it’s heads, you let us in. If it’s tails, I’ll leave. What do you say?”
The guard reached for the sword strapped to his hip.
Asher tossed the bronze coin into the air and darted away, shouting “happy new year!” over his shoulder.
Kira caught up with him, the swollen streets swallowing them up in a blink of an eye.
“Well, that didn’t go as planned,” Asher remarked.
“You think? C’mon, let’s go find Albert and Vinny.” Kira’s fingers deftly wove her hair into a side braid. “I bet they’re at Troll’s Tarven.”
“Not so fast. Plan A didn’t work, but luckily I have plan B.”
“Plan B better not be as idiotic as plan A.”
“I promise it’s not.”
Clang! Clang! Clang!
The timekeeper’s bell drowned out all sounds.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Kira counted eleven tolls. One more hour until the start of the new year.
“God damned bells,” Asher muttered five minutes later. “My ears are still ringing.”
“Just exactly where are we going?” Kira asked.
“Patience, my friend.” Asher swiped a packet of turnip chips and offered them to Kira.
Kira took them and popped a chip into her mouth, savoring the crunch and saltiness. A girl whirled in front of her path, clapping in time to a fiddler’s music. For a panicked moment, Kira feared that she had lost Asher, but then she spotted him dodging around the corner. She followed suit, relieved to find herself on a less packed street.
The sounds of celebration dwindled the further they drew away from the main avenue. Asher stopped in front of an out of business shop. He fiddled with the lock, then opened the door with a flourish. “After you, lady Kira.”
Kira resisted rolling her eyes and stepped over the threshold. Asher gently closed the door and lit a lantern. Mirrors of all shapes and sizes lined the perimeters of the otherwise empty shop. Asher lit five more lanterns, illuminating the entire room with a flickering glow. Then he reached behind a tall mirror tilted haphazardly on its stand and pulled out an antique music player. With exaggerated movement, he spun the dial into the “on” position and soft music poured forth.
Kira glanced around. A hundred reflections of a thin, pale girl stared back at her. “Asher, what is the meaning of this?”
In reply, he proffered a shallow bow and held out a hand. “I promised you a dance, and a dance you shall have.”
Kira couldn’t hold back the lighthearted laugh bubbling up within. She accepted the hand and Asher spun her around in a circle.
“Kira, can you see all the ladies and lords around us?” Asher whispered, waving his free hand about them. “Look at all the diamonds and rubies and pearls adorning their clothes. Can you hear the royal orchestra playing? Can you see the Winter Queen sitting on her throne? I do believe she just waved at us.”
They waltzed around the room, off beat from the music and making up moves to their whim. Eventually, the song ended and Asher blew out all but one lantern, which he picked up before gesturing for Kira to follow. He pushed aside a mirror, revealing a set of staircase leading up.           

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When Charlotte McConnell meets Ryan Windsor, the two immediately develop a quirky friendship as they engage in conversations that span everything from the birth of stars to the price of bus tickets. However, when Ryan’s advice for Charlotte to be a kinder person inadvertently kills her, she must discover whether or not she is capable of forgiving the blind boy who showed her the good in humanity.
I was furious the day I first met you. Furious at my parents, at my Uncle Tony, at that ass Gareth Richmond. But mostly, I was furious with myself.
The dawning sky still held a scarce scattering of stars, though the first rays of the sun could be glimpsed creeping over the horizon. The waves swished gently, invading then retreating from the shore. A very picturesque scene and a direct contradiction to my current emotional state.
I stalked along the boardwalk, shoulders hunched forward in stiff determination, scowling. The bus station should only be a quarter mile away, which meant freedom was only twenty minutes from grasp—five minutes to walk to the station, five minutes to buy the ticket, and then a ten minute wait until the 5:00 a.m. bus arrives to whisk me out of this wretched town and back to Somerville, New York.
I was so intent with my mission I nearly missed you sitting on that stonewashed bench. The only reason I noticed was because you raised a hand, offering me a quick—almost shy—wave.
I ignored you and strode on. The ocean breeze nipped at my cheeks; although Backwater Bay, the name of this thrice-cursed Rhode Island coastal village, was generally warm mid July, the early mornings still had a chilly bite.
The bus station finally appeared: a single story concrete building, squatting rudely at the fringes of town. I marched up to the ticket counter. Sweat gathered in the creases of my palms. My parents had made it very clear when they kicked me out of the house that I was to remain with my uncle and think about the consequences of my actions.
I’ve always been a good girl, the paradigm of the perfect daughter. Always obey rules, hang out with respectable friends, don’t do drugs or alcohol, get good grades. One hundred percent clean except for a little blip that marred my pristine record the last week before I finished junior year. The little blip that resulted with me being stuck in Backwater Bay for the entire summer.
“To hell with what my parents want,” I muttered. I was going to buy a ticket back to Somerville, and if they didn’t want me back home, well, they would just have to deal. I figured I could always crash at a friend’s house; maybe bounce around my small circle of peers so that I don’t overstay my welcome until my parents were ready to have me home.
I rang the little bell on the counter. An attendant wearing a Londonpike Community College sweatshirt popped up. He stifled a yawn. “Hello, how may I help you?”
“Single ticket to Somerville, New York. Please,” I added as an afterthought, reaching into my pocket to grab the wad of bills I’d filched from Uncle Tony’s wallet last night. There goes another black mark on Charlotte’s once-spotless track record.
The ticket attendant punched some buttons on the keyboard. “That would be sixty dollars.”
I froze, unsure if I’d heard right. “Sixty dollars?”
He nodded, eyes darting to his buzzing cell phone and tapping his fingers along the countertop.
“But the ticket was listed as thirty dollars on the website.” I’d only grabbed fifty total, figuring I should have some extra cash for food and a taxi once I got back to New York.
The attendant shrugged. “Sixty dollars is the current price. It’s listed in the brochure.” He held up a crinkled pamphlet to illustrate his point.
I bit back a frustrated sigh. I could walk back to my uncle’s cottage and steal some more money, but the 5 a.m. bus would be long gone by the time I returned. Which meant I would have to wait until tomorrow before making my escape. Which meant I had to spend another miserable twenty-four hours in this town.
“You buying a ticket or not?”
I shook my head and pushed away from the counter. “Not now.”
He grunted and pulled out his cellphone, turning his back on me. I started the mile-and-half trek back to the cottage. Strips of red and gold streaked the sky, announcing the sun’s arrival. A few gulls circled overhead and let loose their throaty cries.
You were still on that bench when I walked past again. Didn’t offer me a wave this time. Instead, you simply asked, “Why are you upset?”
I halted in my steps and gave you a stare.
After a moment, you said, “Are you angry? Anger’s not good for the soul. Poisons it.”
I finally recovered from the shock that a complete stranger had just asked me why I was upset, and blurted out, “Who are you?”
Then I took a moment to study you. Probably be pretty tall if you unfolded your lanky frame from that bench; dark, dark hair that was slightly tousled paired with an aquiline nose. I guessed you were around my age, give or take a year or two. You were wearing sunglasses (cheap plastic shades with red sides), which I found peculiar since the sun hadn’t even fully risen yet.
You patted the spot next to you. I remained rooted in place.
I was about to write you off as some cracked out wonk and be on my way when you said, “Name’s Ryan. So what’s got you all worked up?” You patted the bench again, an insistence that I sit. “Usually sharing whatever’s bothering you makes it seem, well, not so bad.”
I snorted. “What are you, a philosophical holy man spouting words of wisdom?”
"If that’s how you want to view me.” Your mouth curved into an easy grin. You pointed at the bench. “Sit.” The word came out a command.
On a normal day, I would’ve ignored a beach bum trying to pull some Dr. Phil crap on me. But that day, I stopped and considered your words. Perhaps it was the briny sea air messing with my brain, or the early morning fog still hazing my mind (waking up at 4:00 a.m. took its toll). Either way, I dropped down into the spot beside you and stared out into the ocean.
“So,” you said expectantly.
“What?”
“What’s been eating away at your nerves?”
“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” I shot back.
You leaned back, arms crossed behind your head. “Ah, so we’re doing a one-for-one exchange. Very well, I’ll answer your question then you answer mine.”
“What? No! I never—”
“I wear my sunglasses because the world can be a dark place.”
“That makes absolutely no sense. Wouldn’t wearing sunglasses just make the world seem darker?”
You held up a finger. “An answer for a question. It’s my turn.”
“That’s not fair. You can’t not explain an answer like that.”
“Darling, the world’s far from fair.”
“Did you just call me darling?”
“Yeah,” you said all innocent like.
I opened my mouth to snap back some biting retort, but instead burst out laughing. Even now I don’t know why I started laughing—maybe it was the absurdity of the whole situation: Charlotte McConnell, top of her class, ex-perfect daughter who fucked up big time, got kicked out of her house, attempted to sneak back home at 5:00 a.m. using stolen money, and ended up attending an impromptu therapy session with a stranger on the beach.
“What?” you asked, still maintaining an innocent air.
“Nothing,” I managed to choke around my laughter. “I mean—you—me—darling, of all things to say—it’s just—never mind.”
Tears squeezed out the corners of my eyes. I wondered if I should be worried. Maybe I should add another label to my name. Charlotte McConnell: ex-perfect daughter, class valedictorian, thief, and a certified crazy who’s lost her mind.
“Alright, my turn to ask a question,” I said.
“I still haven’t asked mine.”
“You did—you asked ‘what’ when I started laughing.”
You tilted your head, sliding me a sideways look--at least that’s what I think you were doing, since I couldn’t see your eyes hidden behind the tinted lens. A smile slowly spread across your face. “Huh. I suppose I did.” You clicked your tongue and slowly shook your head. “You’re sharp, darling, dagger of a mind. Careful you don’t cut yourself.”
“So. Tell me why you wear sunglasses when you claim the world to be a dark place.”
“That’s not a question. Nice try, though.”
I appraised you with newfound respect, impressed you’d seen right through my ploy. “Why do you wear sunglasses and yet claim the world to be a dark place?”
“First of all,” you began, “I only said the world can be a dark place. There’s plenty of light in the world—sometimes you just gotta search for it.” A pause. “Do you believe eyes are the windows to the soul? Don’t answer that—” You cut me off before I could even utter a word. “Anyways, if eyes are the windows to the soul, I don’t want just anyone looking through them and into my soul. It’s personal, you know? The soul is the very essence of a human being. It’s the most intimate piece of a person.”
“So your sunglasses are some type of filter to your soul,” I said dubiously. “A layer of protection.”
“Sure.”
“Soul glasses. S-o-l glasses.” I nodded at you. “Your turn.”

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World War Word: A Book Formatting Story

A handy cheat sheet to formatting a book using Microsoft Word.
Published July, 2013 on The Book Designer.