I'm in an odd mood... somewhere between "super chill / self-reflective" and "frantically inspired". I can't quite grasp onto either one right now, but random songs have been giving me emotional goosebumps lately. Also, ground disappearing beneath your feet-type stomach flutters. It tells me both that change is coming, and that I'm about to get mowed over by a fast-moving stampede of inspiration which will likely consume me for a great while.
I feel like last year was so productive and this year my word-count says I barely wrote 70K in new written work total. But that's okay, because I HAVE been planning and preparing ideas - and we all know I have way too many of those already *laughs maniacally* Kidding... mostly.
But I'm not here to talk about what I'm going to do, because every time I do that I end up NOT wanting to do whatever it is I said I was wanting to do. Apparently, I'm very good at reverse psychology when it comes to making plans. To be truthful, one of the biggest things I've done this year has been working on issues within myself, things that have been making me miserable, as well as figuring out the triggers for my stupid brain-splittingly-painful all-day all-night headache episodes to minimize them as much as possible. I've had to amend a great number of bad habits that I've developed over the years, most of them a means to avoid things I didn't want to deal with or particularly care to think about. It doesn't really matter in the long run - being that it is my business and I'm not quite done handling it yet.
So, moving onward:
Today I'm feeling optimistic. I'm also feeling like posting a Songbird of Souls teaser for #TeaserTuesday... so, yeah that's what's going on here.
A little background info if you haven't read anything about my new steampunk series yet:
Songbird of Souls takes place in a walled island city called Kenmor. The citizens are divided into castes - the main being The Fair in the upper district who are mostly comprised of the Politicians, Merchants, Money Lenders and those blessed to be born into wealth. The lower district is the domain of the common folk, laborers and artists in The Gray - where our main two protagonists are both born and raised as actors and entertainers in the renowned Veridian Theatre.
There's strange mechanical devices that can drive a man violently insane, musical mayhem, political intrigue, smart-ass prostitutes and cannibals with a sweet tooth. There are the obligatory airships, creepy bone-filled catacombs, lavish concert halls, and an isolated observatory filled with macabre experiments and overly-chatty automatons.
That's book one. I'm already having maniacal giggle-fits thinking about my plans for the next two in the series. (Have I mentioned how much I love my work? Weeeeeeee!!!! )
Today's teaser is one that is long overdue:
Um, the first chapter. Why the heck haven't I posted the beginning yet? Seriously? That should have been done a while ago! *shuffles off, muttering to herself about always doing things in the opposite order*
Songbird of Souls -
Masks and Machinations: Book I
Her eyes were black empty pools staring back at him.
Linus crumpled the newspaper in his fist, the dark ink smudging over his palms.
It wasn’t a true likeness - those black eyes. Her eyes were a vibrant hue - luminous and full of life - a shade between gray and blue. They would light up, radiant as the midday sky when she smiled - but Linus hadn’t seen that smile in quite a few years.
That day, the Kenmor Daily had held two headlines:
The first confirmed what everyone in the city already knew - The Veritor’s heir, his nephew Fair Trevi Lalin, had died in a riding accident, leaving the aristocratic Fair in a chaotic scramble, bidding and bribing to become next in line.
While the Fair were politically posturing, the people living down in The Gray Quarter were in desolate mourning. Fair Lalin had been a generous man - a man not affected by the stigma of the city’s castes. He patronized schools in the lower district, and was a frequent visitor to The Veridian Theatre and other artistic Gray establishments.
The Plain loved him. All around the dark, sooty under-streets, every arm was banded in black - a sign of utmost reverence and sorrow.
The second headline was more prominent.
An entire half of the front page had been emblazoned with her beauteous face, distorted by the heavy blackness of the newspaper ink. Linus still thought she looked lovely, even in the paper’s flat and faded likeness. Beneath her picture, large print announced “Syrene - The Songbird of Kenmor” would be returning from a tour of the islands to sing for the sadness of the city after the beloved Fair Lalin’s unexpected death.
It wasn’t even her real name - not the name Linus had known her by. Back then she’d still just been Silvanni, the eighth daughter of a washerwoman in The Gray. At six years old, her mother had decided Silvanni’s only worth was to be sold to the Veridian Theatre Troop.
The first time Linus laid eyes upon her, she’d peeked out from behind her mother’s woolen skirts with a decidedly terrified scowl. She was wearing a frayed purple dress, her dark auburn locks wild and matted down her back.
But it was her eyes that captivated Linus - those orbs of bluish-gray stared at the two women waiting on the steps outside the theatre like she were confronting a pack of feral dogs.
The washerwoman, her own equally blue eyes bloodshot and weary, nodded to Linus’ mother as she grabbed the girl around her dainty wrist and yanked her forwards towards the entrance. Linus could still clearly recall the way she shook, like her bones would rattle out of her pale ashen skin, standing exposed and alone in front of the imposing steps up to the infamous Gray establishment.
Most of the Troop had been busy preparing for that night’s performance, so only Linus’ mother Ruma, and the old woman they called Na-Ne came to greet her. Linus had shirked his chores that morning. He was curious about the new girl, and had climbed up onto one of the old marble statues at the bottom of the steps so he could get a good look at her before everyone else.
Ruma Lahoul knelt down in front of her, hands gentle and unassuming. They floated to the girl’s cheek with practiced dramatic flair, wiping away a tear before it dripped off the girl’s delicate chin.
“It’ll be all right, love. No one will lay a hand on you, I promise.”
The girl didn’t move when Ruma beckoned, turning her head to peer desperately at her mother over her shoulder.
“Mama, no!” She moaned, shaking her head in denial.
The washerwoman sucked her breath in exasperation. She smiled apologetically to Ruma, exposing several gaps between her yellowing teeth.
“This is Silvanni.” She said. The young girl took a hesitant step back at hearing her name. Her mother clenched her jaw, “Stop being a twit! There are a lot worse places I could sell you. At least here you’ll be fed, clean, clothed and have work that doesn’t wear your body into the ground. Be thankful and go on.” She placed her hand flat against the girl’s back and gave her a firm yet gentle shove.
Silvanni stumbled forward into Na-Ne’s open arms before twisting around and shooting her mother with a dangerously dark look of betrayal.
The little imp has a temper. She’s braver than she looks.
Linus leaned further over the head of the enormous stone creature, half panther - half eagle. His curiosity was a vast abyss, and now it was focused on the raggedy little brunette who had fire in her eyes. He wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t stop looking at her.
Na-Ne rubbed the girl’s arms through the tattered sleeves of her dress encouragingly and Silvanni seemed to relax into the old woman’s touch. There was something about Na-Ne that just melted a person’s tension away. She was like the Troop’s doting grandmother, looking after the children and providing support for Ruma when things got difficult.
Running the most famous Troop in all of Kenmor was a challenge. Being the guardian of two rambunctious young boys didn’t help matters either. Linus and his cousin Troy kept Na-Ne busy with their troublesome antics. Ruma referred to them both as her “boys”, taking on Troy when her only sister died in childbirth several years before. The Troop was one big mixed-up gaggle of vagabonds. It didn’t matter who belonged to who - all were treated like family, and they looked out for one another.
Ruma took Silvanni by the hand as the girl’s wide eyes welled up with tears. The girl’s mother said nothing, folding her thick arms over her stained apron - waiting.
“You said she can sing?” Ruma asked the washerwoman. The girl clutched Ruma’s hand like a vise, as if afraid she’d be carried away if she let her go.
“She has a fair voice. Good enough for the stage.” The girl’s mother shifted her weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably.
Ruma narrowed her gaze to a skeptical sliver, as if to say, “I’ll be the judge of that.” She slowly knelt down beside Silvanni, tucking a greasy strand of wavy reddish-brown hair behind her ear as she peered curiously into the young girl’s eyes. Silvanni’s chest was heaving, her forehead creased like folded paper as the deluge poured over her round ruddy cheeks. She tried to calm the sputtering tears, and Ruma smiled kindly, leaning in to whisper something softly to her that only they could hear.
Silvanni’s eyes widened, and she nodded in response. By the time Linus’ mother had risen back up to her feet, the girl’s hysterical weeping had ceased.
The washerwoman was fidgeting with the hem of her apron. It was clear she wanted to finish and leave. Time spent here was time she wasn’t working for her coin - and when you lived in The Gray, you needed every little bit you could get your hands on.
Ruma finally nodded in acceptance, pulling her purse out from the recesses of her brightly colored skirts. Linus watched as his mother counted out the silver pieces into the woman’s calloused palm. When they had finished, the washerwoman dipped a quick kiss on the girl’s forehead and turned to go.
“This is not goodbye, Little One.” She mumbled huskily.
Silvanni pulled away from her mother’s affectionate touch and hid behind Ruma’s skirts, putting a barrier between them.
The washerwoman sighed, “You may hate me now, but you’ll understand when you’re older.”
Silvanni glowered at her mother as the woman quickened her steps down the cobblestone street, disappearing down a dark alley out of view.
When she was gone, Ruma passed the girl over to Na-Ne, who mumbled and cooed sympathetically as the girl wrapped her fingers tightly over the old woman’s bony digits.
“Place her in the bunk with Lady.” Ruma instructed.
Na-Ne’s head bobbed up and down in agreement as she gently coaxed Silvanni up the stairs.
Ruma’s sharp blue eyes narrowed on the large marble creature at the base of the steps where Linus was dangling like an acrobat over the statue’s torso to remain out of view.
“Are you going to come and introduce yourself, since you decided to skip your lessons this morning?” His mother grinned as she crossed her arms over her chest and struck an authoritative pose.
Linus startled, his breath catching and then escaping in a loud wheeeeeshhhh!!! while his grip released from around the creature’s neck. He tumbled off the statue onto the cobblestones at their feet and his whole body tingled with both adrenaline and mortification.
Silvanni’s lip twitched with a momentary look of amusement when she saw him, and Linus quickly scrambled upright, wiping the dirt from the front of his faded black vest and trousers. He smoothed the disheveled mop of brown hair from his face before beaming a gap-toothed grin at Silvanni.
Ruma smirked, shaking her head with repressed laughter, “This is my son, Linus. It seems he was so curious about meeting you, he forgot he has duties to attend to.”
Linus bowed low from the hip, a smoothly polished maneuver he’d practiced over and over in the mirror. Silvanni dipped a small, clumsy curtsy in response, still clutching Na-Ne’s hand like a lifeline.
Ruma watched their interaction with a thoughtful look.
“Linus, my heart, you need to get back to your lessons.” She said.
“I know, mother. I’m sorry.” His cheeks burst with a rosy shade of embarrassment at being scolded in front of the new girl.
Ruma turned and knelt, bringing her nose to nose with Silvanni, “You’re tired aren’t you, love? It’s been an exhausting morning. When you’re ready, Linus will give you the tour of the theatre. Just take your time. No one here will hurt you. You’re family now.”
Silvanni slowly nodded, though she still held uncertainty in her eyes. Her gaze flickered across Ruma’s shoulder to Linus who was back to grinning triumphantly the moment their eyes met. He issued a playful wink before darting up the remaining steps into the theatre, and Silvanni felt a strange sense of ease seep into her body as she watched him go.
Well, there you have it! If you've enjoyed this snippet, please spread the word on my new series, check out the first several chapters on Wattpad and let me know what you think.
As always, thanks for reading!
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