Again, not much of an intro. The Ruin of Snow went through a lot of variations and drafts before I settled on the version that was published, and with that came some character changes. In particular a character named Maralah, another of Neyva's sisters, who was cut from the final version and who appears in this scene. Enjoy.


(Philippa also doesn't exist in the final version but she was never all that important of a character, so whatever.)


 

The door creaked as it opened and Philippa stuck her head in hesitantly. I closed my book and gave her smile, and she returned it with a barely-hidden sigh of relief as she ventured the rest of the way into the room. "Good evening, Miss."


"Good evening." I stood and she trailed behind me to the dressing table, where I sat.


Philippa lifted a hairbrush, relaxing at the easy task she'd been assigned. "Thank you for asking me here, Miss," she said softly as she ran it through my hair, a gentle and steady rhythm.


I met my reflection's eyes. "You've worked tirelessly since you arrived. I felt you deserved it."


She tried to hide how the comment made her beam, but I caught it in the mirror. When she'd worked her expression into an appropriately humble one, she murmured, "I'm honored, Miss."


"Tell me, Philippa, why did you approach my family for work? There are countless in the noble squares who would be happy to hire someone like you. You must have heard the rumors."


"The rumors of...secrets and atrocities in this house?" She shook her head. "Oh, no, Miss, I've never believed them. You and your family are so kind. I must confess, Miss, I saw your family once in passing, years ago, and knew you must be the finest family in all of Acalta."


Sickly sweet words she couldn't possibly believe would flatter me. I worked to keep my expression neutral. "Well, we are very happy to have you." Without looking from the mirror I reached down, sliding open a drawer to my side, and closed my fingers around the cool, hard edges of the stolen jewels. Philippa hardly glanced at what I was doing, until I laid them flat on the table before me, hand still covering them. Her eyes flickered towards my hand for only an instant, but she didn't stray from her task. "A servant with such an eye for finery is valued, indeed."


I saw the apprehension cross her face as I removed my hand, replacing it in my lap. Her hand faltered, the brush tugging at a few pieces of my hair as she slowed to a stop.


"I—Miss—" In the mirror her eyes flashed between me and the jewels, fear rooting quickly in them. She stumbled over a clumsy attempt to save herself. "I—those are beautiful, Miss, but I'm afraid I've never—never seen them before."


I rolled a ring between my fingers, watching the way the candlelight danced off it. "Haven't you? If only your skill in lying matched your work ethic." She just tripped back a step, silent. "We can't allow thieves in this house, Philippa. I'm sure you understand."


I glanced up long enough to see her shaking her head like her skull was detached from her spine. "I would never, Miss, I swear on the Lady. Please, I have nowhere else to go—"


"I don't think you need to worry about that."


I had just lifted the ring again, feeling the way my magic burned into her fingerprints on it, when a knock at the door stopped me. Philippa's head whipped towards the sound and I set the ring down, forcing every muscle to relax.


"Yes?"


"Are you terribly busy, Neyva? I'd like to discuss something with you."


Maralah. Just barely behind me getting to Philippa and smart enough to know I'd gotten to her first. Now, what, did she intend on stealing the victory for herself? I'd all but claimed it already.


And yet, it wouldn't do to turn her away. She'd come in whether I invited her or not. I glanced to Philippa, looking from me to the door with a tentative combination of fear and relief, as if she was wondering if I'd show mercy with my sister watching. I lifted one eyebrow at her, and she hurried to return to her place. "Come in," I called.


Maralah entered on silent feet, closing the door behind her. I watched her in the mirror as she studied the situation in an instant, and then crossed to the bed and sat, smoothing her skirt. "Good evening, Philippa."


Philippa kept her head down. "Good evening, Miss."


Maralah ignored her and watched me. I met her reflection's waiting gaze. "I see you've caught the thief. Clever as always, little sister."


Philippa's face paled, but to her credit she didn't falter in her job a second time. "It was simple, really," I told my sister, glancing to the rings again. "She didn't hide them very well. A smarter thief would have chosen somewhere that couldn't be traced back to her."


"Well, sister, aren't you going to punish her?"


Philippa's hand shook and yanked a strand of my hair hard enough to make my wince. I swallowed a sharp order directed at her and instead gave Maralah a guarded glance in the mirror. 'I thought you were here to do it before I could."


She gave a smile as falsely sweet as Philippa's flattery. "Nonsense. Go ahead." I should have taken the opportunity, but I just watched her, waiting. None of my sisters were that selfless. To give up a chance to win? When I hesitated her smile darkened. "What do you plan, I wonder? One of your poisons? Or a quick killing curse? Or perhaps something slower, more fun?"


If Philippa had been pale before, she was ghostly now. Her hand shook so much she was no longer brushing my hair at all, just staring into the mirror. Her voice was thin. "No," she breathed. "You're—you're witches?"


"You should have believed the rumors," I told her simply, and rolled a ring over again.


"Please, I swear to you both, I never—" It was as far as she got before she met my eyes in the glass again. There was pure, raw terror in hers, and I knew what she saw in mine. The eyes of a killer. She dropped the brush and bolted without another word, but Maralah and I were both faster. One the same thought we cast the door a glance and the bolt slid into place untouched. Philippa pulled up short, both hands flat against the door but not daring to make a sound.


I glanced to the candle beside me, trailing a fingertip along the wax beading on the edge. It seared against my skin, but I ignored the pain and let it drip from my finger onto the ring. My words rang through the still air like they were metal themselves. "Where thieving hands have left their mark,


Let—"


But my voice caught there, and for an instant I didn't know why. As if my throat had closed.


There were tears in Philippa's eyes, shining like silver. She stood with her head lowered, lips moving in a silent prayer. And the sight swept the rest of the spell from my tongue entirely.


I froze. For the first time in my life, I froze.


Maralah's face was like stone as she stood and crossed to stand beside me, every motion stiff and cold. "Let wicked souls sleep in the dark," she finished for me, and blew the flame out.


The room was plunged into a crushing, pitch darkness, and still I couldn't move. Before I could be sure why, the light returned and Philippa was lying motionless on the floor, eyes closed and one hand draped across her chest as if she was peacefully sleeping. But no breath stirred her.


I couldn't look away from the body, but Maralah acted as if she wasn't there at all, stepping up behind me and running her fingers through my hair. "You've always preferred simple curses over complicated ones," she commented nonchalantly. "It makes it quiet easy for another witch to interfere."


My voice came out quieter than I would have liked. "Complicated spells can go wrong."


"Like that one did? So simple, and yet you couldn't even finish it." Still her voice was nothing more than casual, but a chill swept through me. "Is your magic less than you've always led us to believe, or are you suddenly showing mercy, Neyva?"


I lifted my chin. "Neither."


"And yet a true witch would have finished that curse," she murmured, leaning closer. "You look lovely with your hair down."


And she turned away, stepping over Philippa's body as if it wasn't there at all, and unlocked the door. "I'll fetch Mother."

 

Buy The Ruin of Snow here!

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Looking for something new to read and short on money? You're in the right place, where I'll be featuring aspiring authors and their (free!) work!


This month meet Fufu_Blufu, writer of fantasy adventure Imbalance!





Because of the war between the water and fire districts, there had almost been an imbalance of the harmony of elements, which many think wouldn't be that big of a deal. Many, except for the elementalists themselves. Cast out due to their strange abilities, they will have to put the past behind them and learn to work together with their opposing elements.






Meet Fufu_Blufu and read an excerpt of the book below!



Tell me a little bit about your writing journey. How long have you been writing, and how did you get started?


"I've been writing for about a year now, got started around this time in 2020, being in the middle of a pandemic, I thought, "Why not try something new?" So I gave it a try, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable experience."


Why fantasy specifically? Is it something you write often, or is this your first venture into the genre?


"Fantasy in my opinion is one of the most versatile genres out there, the stories and plots can vary no matter what. It's my first go at writing a big novel like this and I decided that I would go with fantasy because one, it's my personal favorite genre and two, I felt like it just fit my style."


What are your goals for your writing?


"My main goal for the book itself is to get it professionally edited and to have it sold in stores, and if fate has it in store for me, I would love for the book, and the series, to become a bestseller. Even if that doesn't happen, I believe that it isn't just about making masterpieces, it's about enjoying the creation of the book."


What inspired Imbalance?


"Imbalance was initially inspired by drawings my friend made. The drawings were basically of my friend group, but in hanfu. She described the drawings as following Chinese culture, and I was interested, so I started learning more about folklore and legends, and the characters in the drawings became the main characters in the story itself. I feel like that's what sets my story apart from certain others, the fact that some of the characters are designed based off of real people."


Who is your favorite character in it and why? Tell me a little about them.


"My personal favorite character is Selva, and not because he's the character that was designed in my image, but because of the lore I gave to him. Just his overall demeanor and attitude are fun to put into the story because I can kind of put myself in his shoes when I write scenarios that involve him. He's generally withdrawn, quiet, and serious, unless he's around somebody he trusts, in which case he opens up more and becomes more energetic. Selva is an experienced fighter, and wood elementalist, obviously from the Wood District, which he was unfortunately banished from. (I can't say more on the topic without spoiling the story) A few people that read the story have told me that they sympathize with him, and I do as well, on a personal level."


Elemental magic is such a commonly used thing in fantasy stories, what sets yours apart?


"Elemental magic. I can't tell you how many times someone has asked me "Is this an Avatar fanfic?" when I tell them about the story. It is a widely used thing in fantasy, but I feel like what sets mine apart from other stories is that it's not what people expect it to be. It's not Avatar. Normally when someone hears "elemental" they assume water, fire, earth, and air, right? Well Imbalance is different in the sense that it leans towards the Wu Xing elements, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, which come from Chinese culture. It's not an Avatar inspired story at all, actually. It's funny because a few months into writing, I realized "Hey, people might mistake this for an Avatar fanfic or something."

It took me a bit to realize that, and it's become sort of a habit to clarify with people that it is not a fanfiction. It has its own unique style, and as for elements being a commonly used thing in fantasy, what gives Imbalance that unique spin is the Wu Xing elements, and the characters don't rely solely on the use of the elements to help them, either."


Do you have anything else you'd like to say to the readers?


"I have a lot to say to the readers, but to sum it all up, thank you all. I never dreamt that the story would get to where it is today, and knowing that people love it as much as I do is inspirational to me, and it keeps me writing, and coming up with new ideas. Thank you for your support, and I couldn't have done this without your help."


 

It was obliterated. Everything, as far as the eye could see. The smell of blood and smoke filled Selva's nose, and he shook his head, trying to clear his mind. He had sensed multiple energies coming from the district, but the one he was tracking was stronger to him. He knew that Greni had a better sense of calm energies, which is why she had gone to try and find the other source. Selva was skilled at sensing violent, powerful energies, and this one that he was feeling was like a roaring inferno. He could feel anger, fear, and sadness resonating from the energy, and it was growing stronger and stronger the closer he got to it. He felt strangely connected, drawn to the source of these negative emotions, but he didn't know why. He did know one thing, though. The energy was coming from someone like him

 

Read Imbalance for free, or follow Fufu_Blufu on Wattpad!

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Looking for something new to read and short on money? You're in the right place, where I'll be featuring aspiring authors and their (free!) work!


This month I'm showcasing a good writer friend of mine--Rue Hamilton, author of Two Wands, One Heart! You may also know her as Shaylee Speare, author of Letters from an Angel featured a few months ago!


At the age of eighteen, witches and warlocks return to their homeland to hone their magic skills. Bound to a coven, outside affiliations--especially romantic--are prohibited. Dyllis is your everyday free-spirited witch. After an encounter with a demon--the enemy of witches and warlocks--she decides to bring her best friend, a human named Neve, with her to her homeland. With feelings for Neve, the last thing she needs is to fall for dark witch Evanora too. Evanora is a rebellious dark witch. After reuniting with her childhood friend, covenless warlock Rian, she finds herself stuck in an engagement with him. What she needs is an escape. Falling in love with Dyllis couldn't be any better for her ten-month plan. As the best friend to a witch, self-proclaimed goth Neve finds herself fleeing to escape the horrors of her life. To fill the time, she studies magic with covenless witches while at night she sneaks out to see Dyllis and Evanora. Fae Bylur is set on killing Rian after being outcasted by his own court. But his plans seem to go to the wayside because Rian wants Bylur dead. Their compromise--an enemies-with-benefits relationship. Rian doesn't mean to trap Evanora in an engagement. Yes, he loves her and would die for her, but he has suspicions that he might die for covenless witch Linden too, who is assigned to help him catch demons. But his feelings for Linden might be riskier than he expects when he accidentally unleashes a demon meant to bring out one's darkest secrets. As the demon invades the world of witches and warlocks, everyone must face a test--a series of spells that torture them to their very core until they admit their secrets are true--or take their secrets to their grave upon their impending gruesome death.



Meet Rue and read an excerpt below!



Since this is your second book featured here, what's the biggest (writing-related) lesson you've learned between writing Letters From an Angel and now? Has your approach or writing style changed?


One of the biggest lessons I've learned between writing Letters from an Angel is to vary my chapter introductions up. So you could say that my approach and writing style has changed.


What's your favorite aspect of writing? Worldbuilding, character development, drafting, editing, etc? Why?


My favorite aspect of writing I would have to say is drafting. As someone who is more of a pantser than a plotter, I surprised myself by writing six main characters into existence when I originally intended for there to be the protagonist and the love interest. But it's fun, because now Two Wands, One Heart has a deeper meaning.


What's the biggest challenge you face while writing?


The biggest challenge I face while writing is just staying consistent. I try to write every day but there are some days when I just can't get anything down on a page.


What inspired Two Wands, One Heart?


The story behind Two Wands, One Heart is many-sided. I can't really choose one thing that inspired the book. As I said before, drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. So, let's start out with the cinematic side of the inspiration, or as I like to call it, the "What if" moment. When I was watching an episode of Disney Channel's Owl House which featured a plotline where the main character had to choose what type of magic she wanted to study, I started to wonder what it would be like if they made this a premise. So, I decided to take matters into my own hand when I got the push to jot down my idea of forbidden love between two witches after watching the Disney Channel Orginal Movie Upside Down Magic.


Who is your favorite character in the book and why? Tell me a little about them.


My favorite character in the book is probably Rian because he has a lot of interesting relationship dynamics with some of the other main characters. For instance, he has this enemies-with-benefits relationship with Bylur. I also like him because he has an interesting way of portraying his thoughts. When I write his internal dialogue, he somehow manages to describe his conscience as a cooler version of himself, specifically the kind that wears leather jackets and probably rides a moped.


What are the most enjoyable and most difficult parts about writing in multiple characters' perspectives?


The most enjoyable part about writing from multiple characters' perspectives is that I get to present multiple ways to view each main character. For example, Linden is viewed through different lenses, whether it be a badass mentor, or a rival. On the other hand, the most difficult part about writing from multiple characters' perspectives is that I have to make each character unique. Like, I have to make sure that each narrator sounds different.


Do you have anything else you'd like to say to the readers?


To the readers, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do.


 

“Who said I was interested?” Linden glanced at the ground. Her ponytail slapped the top of her spine. A moment later, she shifted back to my eyes. “My eyes may wander, but I’m like, ‘Nope,’ inside.” She paused for a moment and glanced at the sky before sighing. “And I’m taking you dancing to give you what you want: juicy details on your girlfriend’s infatuation with the Prince’s fiancée.” Once more, she held her hand out in front of my chest.

Glancing at Dylan, I acquiesced Linden’s offer to dance, taking her hand and allowing her to lead me onto the dance floor. A sigh escaped through my nostrils. This would not be fun.

The music guided our feet to the rhythm. We moved around in small circles, our hips swaying. At a crescendo, I asked under the pulsing beat, “Are you suggesting my girlfriend is a gold digger?” I breathed in the chemicals.

The song faded into some sultry jazz instrumental. Linden pressed her frame against me and replied, “Are you suggesting my sister is a gold digger?” with no subtlety to her retort. Sure, she meant well, but her words always seemed to sting as if I provoked a bee.

Back home, my mother would’ve called it backtalk that earned her knuckles smashing into my cheek. Here, I was given a concept of freedom, but in reality, I was a bird trapped in a cage.

“Let’s find out,” Linden said, and we waltzed our way to Dylan and the Prince’s fiancée.

I listened to Dylan’s conversation after she spun the Prince’s fiancée. “So, you said you’re from Pennsylvania, Evanora?” asked Dylan.

“I did say that,” Evanora replied. Her soft chuckle tantalized the jazz-saturated atmosphere. Meanwhile, her chocolate-brown curls danced against the top of her back. “I’m from the borough of Allenport in Washington County. What about you, Dyllis?”

Did Evanora call my girlfriend Dyllis? No, did Dylan introduce herself to Evanora as Dyllis? Hearing it felt like a piece of my heart was torn from my chest. She preferred Dyllis over Dylan. Where did I stand now? Without her, I had no purpose.

“I’m from Westmoreland County,” said Dylan. Dyllis? I didn’t anymore. As far as I was concerned, I was no longer important to her. My chest was full of remorse. A single thought pulsed in my brain: Get out of here.

“Gold digger,” I muttered before returning to Linden’s ocean eyes. Dyllis could have Evanora’s heart. She was exactly like my ex, Fleming. The moment an opportunity for something better opened, she threw herself at it. I was a game to her. Nothing more. Nothing else. What a bitch.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Linden, “but I can’t dance with you,” and ran off past the hedges, into the labyrinth.

I traced the rose-decorated bushes. Meanwhile, the air made the skirt of my dress extremely poofy. Somehow, it had turned into a drawstring petticoat like out of a Cinderella movie. The only difference: Cinderella would’ve never worn black.

 

Read Two Wands, One Heart for free, check out Rue's website, or follow her on Wattpad or Twitter!

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