writing

“Are you ever going to update Rayne?”

rayne

I started Rayne back in 2003 and I never got around to finishing it. I moved to France, I turned away from fiction-writing for several years, and ultimately decided to focus all of my attention on finishing TBSOL — a task that has taken way, way longer than I ever expected.

Rayne never received the sort of attention that TBSOL did, despite being out there on the Internet for many years as a free read, but that honestly didn’t bother me too much. In a lot of ways, the lack of interest was a bit of a relief. I didn’t feel as guilty taking time away from it. I didn’t feel any intense pressure to finish it. Most of all, it gave me the time and space I needed to admit that I wasn’t 100% happy with the story. I wasn’t even 60% happy with it. The attention the story did receive, however, convinced me that it was a story worth telling.

A couple of years ago, I set out to rewrite Rayne anew, but that second attempt didn’t go anywhere. The story just wasn’t coming together. So, I decided to put it aside.

Over the years, I’ve received a few emails here and there asking about Rayne, and whether I ever intend to finish it.

The short answer is yes.

Of all of the stories I have running around in my brain — and there are many — Rayne is the one that most excites me. Of all of the characters I’ve ever created, Azure is my favorite. Of all of the lesbian love stories I’ve conjured up in my imagination, Azure’s and Aeryn’s is the one I’m most impatient to tell.

I have not given up on Rayne, but I’ve found that writing this novel isn’t going to be easy. It’s a story that requires careful planning and world-building, neither of which are things that come naturally to me. So, I’ve decided that the best way to go about writing it, is to take my time. I’ll be working on it in the background. To steal Stephen King’s words, I’ll be writing this one “with the door closed.”

As always, the first, and unfinished draft, is available online. I’ve scrapped almost everything about it, including the plot, and some of the characters, so whatever Rayne: The Third Seer turns out to be, it won’t be anywhere near what I started writing ten years ago.

The second unfinished draft (up to chapter 4), which has, up until today, only been available to a closed circle of beta readers, can be found below. I’ve scrapped everything about this one as well, but for those curious to read it, here you go!

RAYNE: THE THIRD SEER (draft #2)

Prologue

The name Aeryn floated away from the page; each letter a carefully formed mist lit by the yellow glow of candles. Those gathered around the table waited for the name to disperse and dissolve back into the nothing before speaking.

“It is as we feared,” said Tahra, and her sigh caused the flames to waver. Shadows danced across the walls of the chamber.

“This has gone far enough,” said Alon, leaning forward in his chair. “Are we honestly going to ignore the fact that Aeryn is of Guardian blood?”

Across from him, Ceara’s gentle features broke into a frown. “We’ve always considered her as one of us—“

“But she is not one of us! She is Jael’s daughter! And to pretend otherwise is to ignore the potential danger she poses to Lare. It is one thing to let her grow up in the safety of the island, it is quite another to allow her to join the Order.”

“He has a point,” Tahra said.

Ceara let out a long breath and turned her attention to the head of the table. “Larken, what are your thoughts on all of this?”

The High Priestess regarded each of the Elders in turn before settling her gaze on Alon. “Has Aeryn given us any reason to distrust her?”

“The girl is arrogant,” said Alon. “Her arrogance makes her reckless.”

Ceara frowned. “Aeryn is no more arrogant than any of the other Adepts. She’s always been thoughtful and kind and the children adore her.”

“That’s because she teaches them nonsense!”

Larken turned to Tahra. “Care to offer a different perspective?”

Tahra sat back in her chair. “Aeryn is brilliant and aware of her brilliance. She is powerful and aware of her power. But none of that helps us determine what she might do in the future. The fact remains that we have lied to her. And we have no way to predict how she will react to the truth.”

“She will have to choose regardless,” said Ceara. “Whether we permit her to join the Order or not, her powers grow stronger.”

“If it were up to me, I would bind her powers now,” Alon said. “Letting her do as she pleases is too much of a risk.”

Ceara glared at him. “Why not lock her up in a cell while we’re at it?”

“Don’t think I haven’t considered it.”

“Enough,” said Larken. “Aeryn has passed into the final round of testing and we cannot ignore the fact that she has done so with the Goddess’ blessing. What we must do now is decide what her final test will be.”

“We should test her loyalty,” said Tahra. “We should see what she does out there on her own. It might give us better insight into her true nature.”

“Setting her loose on the mainland is a dangerous proposition,” Alon said.

“If you’re right, Alon, then it’s better that we find it out now,” Ceara said. “I agree to this test.”

“For the record, I feel that the best course of action is to bind her powers now before it’s too late,” Alon said. “But, like always, I’m outnumbered.” He glanced at Larken. “What is the test, exactly?”

“Leave that to me.”

.01

Aeryn closed her eyes and concentrated, shutting out the sound of the waterfall nearby and the excited whispers of the children at her feet. She focused all of her energy on the butterfly in her palm. Don’t be afraid, Aeryn urged, and felt the butterfly’s nervousness lessen. When she opened her eyes, she smiled, and gently placed the butterfly on the ground.

The children crowded around, forming a small circle around the insect. Their eyes went wide and their cries of wonder escalated as they watched the butterfly grow bigger, its shape slowly shifting into that of a mouse.

“How did you do that, Aeryn?”

“Teach us!”

“Yeah, teach us!”

Aeryn grinned and scooped up the rodent, cradling it safely in her hand. It was only an illusion, but the kids didn’t need to know that.

“What inappropriate things are you teaching them now?”

Aeryn glanced up at the voice and smiled at the sight of Eira walking toward them. Her best friend paused by a nearby tree and crossed her arms in mock disapproval.

The children answered in unison:

“She just turned a butterfly into a mouse!”

“It was so cool!”

“Do it again, Aeryn!”

“Can you turn me into a mouse?”

“Can you turn Eira into a mouse?”

Aeryn winked at Eira and then held up the mouse. She thanked the butterfly for her patience and assistance and wished her safety in her travels. They all watched as the mouse returned to its natural form and flew smoothly away.

The children cheered.

“Now, if anyone asks, what did we learn today?” Aeryn asked in her serious tone.

“You taught us the mal…mallcuir proprietaries of plants,” said Kristein.

Aeryn laughed. “Close enough. Now off with you; and not a word of this to anyone over the age of ten.”

The children laughed and scampered away; all of them, but one.

“What’s the matter, Alayna?” Aeryn asked the remaining child.

Alayna glanced up at her. “What about Eira?” she whispered. “She’s way over the age of ten.”

Aeryn arched an eyebrow at Eira, who looked back at her in amusement. “Oh, I’ll take care of Eira. If she threatens to tell …well, I’ll turn her into a bar of soap!”

“No!” Alayna’s eyes went wide with horror. “Don’t tell anyone Eira! You’re too pretty to be soap!” And then she ran off after the others.

“You’re a terrible influence,” said Eira, once they were alone. She walked over to where Aeryn was sitting and plopped down beside her on the grass. “No wonder they don’t pay attention in my classes. You spoil them.”

“It’s too beautiful a day to waste it following directions,” Aeryn said, and grinned.

Eira shook her head but smiled. She looked at Aeryn for a long time before saying anything. “You know the Elders are meeting today?”

“I do.” It was, in fact, the only thing Aeryn had thought about all morning. Her afternoon class had provided a much-needed distraction.

“You know it will be down to the two of us in the end.” She sighed, not waiting for an answer. “I hate this, you know? The final test is always a battle of power. I could never fight against you.”

“It might not come to that,” Aeryn said. “Who’s to say I even pass into the next round?”

“You will.”

“Not if Alon has anything to say about it.”

“My father will do what is fair.”

“Your father doesn’t know the meaning of fair!” Aeryn regretted the words the moment she spoke them, even if they weren’t a lie. She looked at Eira and took her hand. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Eira slid closer and put her head on Aeryn’s shoulder. “I meant what I told you the other day. I think we should just leave. No matter what happens, we’ll always get separated. I can’t bear the thought of being anywhere without you.”

“We can’t turn our back on Lare.”

“Even if it means being together?” Eira lifted her head to look into Aeryn’s eyes. “We could go anywhere. We could be anything. We’d be free.”

Aeryn looked away, feeling suffocated by Eira’s needs and desires and by her own guilt at not sharing them. Aeryn didn’t want to be free; what she wanted was answers. She wanted to know the truth about her mother and father. She wanted to know how Larken had come to rescue her from the Guardians. These were the questions no one would answer, even now, seventeen years later.

“Is there someone else?” Eira asked. “If there is, you can tell me. I’m not going to lose it or anything. Is it Braeden? I saw the way he was looking at you at the festival and-”

“Braeden? Eira, what are you talking about?”

Eira moved away, but didn’t let go of her hand. “I’m talking about us, Aeryn. I’m talking about—“

“Aeryn,” said another voice, and both girls jumped at the interruption.

“Finley,” said Aeryn.

“The High Priestess wishes to see you,” he said.

“Me?” Aeryn was certain she’d misunderstood. Larken had never summoned her, not once in all her years in Lare.

“Yes, you,” said Finley. “Now.” He turned around and disappeared into the woods.

“Well, that’s … unexpected.” Aeryn felt Eira squeeze her hand, and recalled they were in the middle of a conversation. “I’m sorry—“

“Go,” Eira said gently. “We’ll talk later.”

***

Larken’s office door was open when Aeryn arrived. The High Priestess was seated at her desk, reading from an old, leather-bound book, and her look of concentration was so intense that Aeryn hesitated in the doorway.

Larken looked tired; tired, but beautiful. Her golden hair hung loose around her shoulders, a strand falling forward into her face as she bent over the book. It was said that Larken was the most beautiful woman to ever live in Lare, though despite her many suitors, Larken had never taken an interest in anyone. This was, in fact, a point of contention among the Circle of Elders and many of the other folk on the island. The High Priestess’ love life was everyone’s favorite topic of discussion, though Aeryn failed to see how the absence of gossip made for interesting conversation.

Aeryn couldn’t blame them; she was just as interested in the High Priestess as everyone else, though her curiosity had little to do with any romantic inclinations. Aeryn’s feelings about Larken were complicated and often-times conflicted.

“Are you planning to stand there all evening?”

Aeryn was startled by the voice though she should’ve expected it. “Finley said you’d called for me, High Priestess.”

“Close the door behind you,” Larken said. “And sit.”

Aeryn did as instructed, feeling anxious and nervous in Larken’s presence. They had never been alone with each other before; at least, not that Aeryn could remember. Someone told her once that Larken would visit her often as a baby, but Aeryn had no memory of that. Now, years later, it was hard for Aeryn to believe that Larken had been the one to rescue her and bring her to the island. Over time, Aeryn had grown certain that the older woman was avoiding her.

Several seconds passed in silence, until Larken finally spoke. “What do you know about Seers?”

“Seers?” Aeryn asked. The question was so far off from whatever topic she’d expected that she wondered if she’d misheard. But Larken stared back at her expectantly and Aeryn forced her brain into action. She thought back over the myriad of text books she’d read in her lifetime.

Seers were, as far as Aeryn could recall, the incarnation of the Goddesses’ Watchers. These ancient beings once guarded the doors between worlds and kept watch over the heavens and earth. In physical form, they were supposed to be powerful allies against evil. To Larken, she said, “According to Larean beliefs, Seers are an order of angels who wander between the worlds restoring the balance of good and evil.”

“And?”

“And… there’s supposed to be four of them.”

“And?”

Aeryn was running out of things to say. She had never been that interested in mythology. She wasn’t sure if the next thing she said was true or if she’d made it up. “And no one is supposed to know who they are. In fact, there’s no evidence that they have ever existed.”

Larken smiled, and the smile took Aeryn by surprise. “There’s plenty of evidence,” she said, “if you know what you’re looking for.”

Aeryn was at a loss. Larken had asked her to her office in the middle of the day to quiz her on etheric beings? There was no good way to ask if there was a point to all of this, so she remained silent.

For a long time, neither spoke. Eventually, Larken rose from her chair and walked to the window. “The Elders don’t trust you, Aeryn,” she said, her tone soft despite the bluntness of the words. “They wish me to test your loyalty to the Order and to Lare. But I’m not interested in playing games.” She turned from the window. “Can I trust you?”

Aeryn felt unsettled, both by the question and everything that came before it. That Alon didn’t trust her was no big surprise, but knowing the others didn’t trust her either was a painful reminder that she would always be an outsider. The question still lingered between them. Larken had said I not we. Aeryn wondered at the phrasing. She caught Larken’s gaze and held it. “You saved me. I owe you everything. Of course you can trust me.”

“And what if I told you that you weren’t the one I meant to save?”

Aeryn winced. The question felt like a slap. She had always believed, or at least wanted to believe, that Larken had seen something special in her; something worth protecting. That all of this had been a mistake of sorts … “Who did you mean to save?”

“First, answer my question.”

“You can trust me,” Aeryn said, intent on keeping the pain from her voice.

“Good,” Larken said. Her relief was visible as she sat back down, but there was something in her eyes that Aeryn couldn’t decipher. “What I’m about to tell you cannot leave this chamber. Do you understand?”

Aeryn nodded.

“When I was hidden among the Guardians, I spent a lot of time in their libraries,” Larken began. “Their collection is extensive, far grander than ours here in Lare. All of my free time was spent reading their books, trying to learn as much as possible of their ceremonies and rituals. They have access to Books of Shadows long considered lost; shelves and shelves of them. The amount of knowledge they’ve collected over the years is staggering.”

Aeryn realized she was leaning too far forward in her chair, looking too expectant and eager. She forced her body into a neutral position. She had never heard Larken speak of her time with the Guardians and she was desperate for every scrap of information.

She’d heard all about Larken’s accomplishments. She knew that Larken was once the youngest leader the Order had ever had. She knew that at seventeen she had successfully infiltrated the Guardians, passing every test they’d thrown her way. She knew, of course, of her grand escape two years later, and her miraculous return to the island with baby Aeryn in tow. Over the years, the details grew more exaggerated. Larken, in them, became more heroic and larger-than-life.

All Aeryn wanted was the truth.

“Among these books,” Larken continued, “I found the story of a man the ancients believed to be the First Seer. His name was left out of the written records, but evidence of his great powers were detailed and preserved. Before he died, he left a series of prophesies, one of which disclosed the identity of all future Seers. According to his prophesy, the Third Seer was born eighteen years ago.”

Aeryn blinked in surprise. “So, you’re saying there’s a Seer among us now?”

“Yes,” Larken said. “And I need you to find her.”

***

Jael hurried through the hidden corridor beneath his mansion. He reached a concrete wall and walked swiftly through it. One by one, the torches along the walls lit up as he approached, extinguishing as he passed. He sighed at the sight of them, thinking, as he often did, that he should install modern lighting down here. He’d never been a fan of fire, especially that close to his hair.

He passed through another wall and then another, stepping eventually into a large, window-less room.

“Long time,” said the man standing at the opposite end.

“Has it been?” Jael asked, knowing, of course, that it had. “Time flies when you’re not living alone in a dungeon cell, I suppose.” He smiled brightly. “Last time I saw you, you were sitting. And look, now you’re standing. A lot has changed in … well, however long it’s been.”

The man chuckled bitterly and stepped closer, as close as the invisible barriers would allow. “You will regret this one day.”

Jael let out a big, overdrawn yawn. “Gosh, excuse me! How rude of me. It’s just that I’ve heard that same, empty threat so many times over the years that it bores me a little. I was hoping you’d have some new material by now.”

The man smiled, and his smile was cruel. “You’re a fool, Jael,” he said. “You’ve always been a fool.”

“Fool or not, I was strong enough to defeat you.”

“Every time you come down here you sound dumber than the last time. Have you found your daughter yet? Have you even found the bitch that took her?”

Jael struggled to maintain a neutral tone. “I will find them.”

“It’s my turn to yawn,” said the man. “How long has it been? Seventeen years?”

“They can’t hide forever.”

“That’s what you said a decade ago. If you let me out of here, I will find them both for you.”

Jael laughed at that. “Nice try, Caym.”

“You’re going to need my help eventually.”

“The Guardians are perfectly capable of defeating that silly Order of incompetent magi.”

Caym smiled and even had the nerve to look genuinely amused. “You have no idea what you’re talking about, brother. None at all.”

“Enlighten me, then,” Jael said, crossing his arms. “Tell me all you’ve learned during your time alone here in your underground jamboree.”

Caym stared at Jael for a long time before speaking. Finally, he said, “Dad told me why he tried to kill your daughter.”

Despite his best attempts to remain impassive, Jael frowned. “Dad has been dead for a long time.”

“He visits sometimes.” Caym grinned. “He’s not fond of the way you’ve been treating your older brother, so he told me a few things he thought you might find valuable.”

“Why should I believe you? You’d say anything to get out of that cell.”

“Probably, but that doesn’t mean some of it isn’t true. For example, he told me that your daughter wasn’t the one he was after.”

Jael swallowed, irritated that his brother’s words were actually affecting him. “What… what are you talking about?”

Caym grinned and took a seat on the floor. “When you let me out of here, I will tell you everything.”

.03

“I don’t understand,” Aeryn said. “How did you know who she was?”

“I didn’t,” Larken said. “Not at first.  But my mission there was to spy, and I did a lot of spying. Eventually, I overheard a conversation between the Guardian leader and one of his advisors. The Guardians had found the Seer. I don’t know how. I just know they brought the baby in and Rowyn ordered her killed, but his advisor intervened. He told him that the Seer would simply be reborn somewhere else, somewhere outside of his control. So, Rowyn decided on another course of action.”

“What did he do with her?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know what his plans for her were. I just knew that I had to get her out of there. But then … I was discovered and everything after that happened so fast…”

“And you took me by mistake.” The words tasted bitter.

Larken stared at Aeryn silently. She nodded.

“So now what? What am I supposed to do when I find this … this Seer?”

“You are to keep her safe.”

“You want me to bring her back to Lare?”

“No,” Larken said. “That’s too risky. We don’t know what sort of influence the Guardians have over her. We can’t risk bringing her here.”

“I don’t understand why you’re sending me,” Aeryn said. “Surely there are people far more qualified to babysit a deity.”

“You want to be a member of the Order. Consider this your test.”

“I thought you didn’t want to play games?”

“This isn’t a game, Aeryn. No one can know about her. Not the Elders, not the members of the Order, not even your girlfriend.”

“Eira isn’t…” Aeryn bit her lip. “When do I leave?”

“Tonight.”

***

“That was an interesting version of what actually happened.”

Larken didn’t start, or move, or react at all to the words. “She doesn’t need to know the truth,” she said finally, looking up at her guardian spirits.

“She will sooner or later,” said the one the others called Edden.

Larken stood from her desk and moved to the window. Staring out at the sea usually soothed her, but not today. “It’s better this way.”

“For you or for her?”

“For everyone.” The spirits said nothing and their silence unsettled her. “If you have something to say to me, say it.”

“You asked for her trust,” said Edden, “and then lied to her face.”

Larken whirled around. “What was I supposed to tell her? That I chose to rescue her over a known, living Seer?”

“That is what you did.”

“I can never tell her that. She’d want to know why.”

“You should tell her why.”

“It’s much too late for that.”

“It’s never too late for the truth, Seer.”

***

“Hey! How did it… why are you packing?”

Aeryn glanced at Eira and then went back to tossing random items into a bag. “Looks like your father isn’t the only one in the Circle who hates me.”

“What?”

“Apparently, the Elders don’t trust me. So, they’re sending me away to the mainland.”

“What?”

“They want to ensure I don’t turn into some sort of magick-wielding sociopath.”

What?”

“Stop saying ‘what.’”

“Aeryn.”

Aeryn focused on packing. She didn’t want to look at Eira. She couldn’t look at her and lie to her at the same time.

“Aeryn, look at me.” Eira stepped in front of her, and Aeryn had no choice but to look into her eyes. “I can talk to my father. I can fix this.”

“There’s nothing to fix, Eira. It’s all part of their test.” She wasn’t sure where the truth ended and the lies began anymore, but she’d given Larken her word, and she intended to keep it. “I’m sorry. I have to do this.”

“Then I’ll go with you.”

“You can’t!”

Eira’s eyes watered and Aeryn sighed. She hated this. She pulled Eira into a hug.

“I love you.”

Aeryn closed her eyes and held Eira closer. “I know. I love you, too.”

“But not like that.” Eira stepped away and wiped at her eyes. “I know.”

Aeryn said nothing.

“So, where is it you’re going?”

Aeryn hesitated, unsure of what details she was allowed to reveal. Probably none, but she hated lying. “The University of Aradia.”

.04

Azure Varden hugged the guitar case to her chest in an effort to shield herself. The four guys standing by the entrance to her dormitory building didn’t budge as she walked up the steps.

“Excuse me,” she said, in her most confident voice, which was, she recognized, not very confident at all.

They didn’t hear her so she tried again. “I just need to–”

Their laughter cut her off. They were drunk. They were always drunk, or high, or something; and not just these guys here but all of them, everywhere. College was not what Azure had expected it to be. She’d come here to get away; to run away. She thought she’d find a shred of normalcy among people her own age. All she’d found was a bunch of losers wasting their lives away.

Excuse me.” This time she was almost audible.

The guy standing nearest to her turned around. He laughed for no reason Azure could determine. “Hey there,” he said, smiling brightly. He turned to his group of friends and said, loudly, “Guys, shut up! Let the lady speak.”

His friends howled with laughter.

“I just want to pass through,” Azure said.

“By all means,” said the guy. “In fact, let me escort you to the door.” He reached for her hand.

Azure nearly dropped her guitar in an effort to keep him from touching her. But he was too quick, or maybe she was too slow. The moment his fingers grazed her skin, everything went dark. In the darkness, a flash of images passed quickly across her mind: an overturned car… glass everywhere … the guy, dirty and bloody, crying helplessly over the body of a blonde girl.

Then she was back, greeted in the present by the sound of the door swinging open. She held the guitar closer and tried to breathe. A group of girls spilled out into the open air, laughing just as loudly as the guys on the stoop. And now they were all talking and hugging and laughing at once.

Azure recognized the girl from her vision.

The group started down the steps and Azure moved out of the way. As the blonde girl passed by her, Azure said, “Don’t let him drive.”

The blonde girl glanced at her, but was then distracted by the guy’s arms around her shoulders. He whispered something in her ear and the girl giggled and leaned into him. The group continued on its way.

Azure closed her eyes. It’s not real, she told herself. It’s not. She breathed slowly and opened her eyes.  The stoop was empty now, the entryway clear. She hurried inside.

At the door to her room, Azure hesitated. “God, please let the room be empty.” She pushed the door open, turned on the light and looked around. She was relieved to find her roommate’s side still unoccupied.

There were still two days before the start of classes, but Azure was hopeful that she’d get the room to herself. After all, she’d asked for a single. More importantly, she’d prayed for one. And God always listened.

She put the guitar down and closed the door. She stood at the center of the room and tried to relax, but she couldn’t. She sighed, and said, “I told you to leave me alone.”

It took several seconds, but the spirit materialized by the door. He or she—it was hard to tell—stared back at her. “You saved her life,” it said, in a voice that wasn’t quite a voice, but wasn’t quite anything else, either.

Azure turned her back to him, her, it. She shut her eyes. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me…” She opened her eyes and looked back at the door. The spirit was gone.