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Grotesque Success

Phew!  After many grueling days of procrastinating, I finally managed to:

  • Rewrite the first half of Grotesque.
  • Edit the second half of Grotesque to accommodate the rewrites.
  • Reread Grotesque twice in order to edit, proofread, and check for continuity errors.

It’s finally done.  And I am so much happier with the result than I thought I’d be.  It’s honestly very difficult to write a book without rereading at all until you’re done, because the whole time you’re writing, you’re thinking…

Book Ruiner

My fears were assuaged after my first read-through of the completed draft.  I’m not exactly going to post a compare-and-contrast look at the old manuscript and the new one, but here’s a list of problems I addressed:

  • Historical inaccuracies
  • Forensic inaccuracies
  • Pacing problems
  • Repetitive/formulaic plot
  • Unresolved subplots
  • Underdeveloped characters (namely the villain and love interest)
  • Unbelievable scenarios (Grotesque waking up with instant knowledge of the world around him, ability to walk, talk, eat, etc.)
  • Other things as well, probably.

What I want to talk about in this post is the method I used to bring the changes I wanted to see into fruition.  My friend Evelyn taught me a method of outlining called “story beats.”  It’s my kind of outlining because you literally just write a numbered list of things that are going to happen in the book, in the order that they happen.  You can use casual language, and you can write out details that will help you to write the book, even if those details are never explicitly stated in the manuscript.

I’d like to provide an example from the story beats I wrote out for Grotesque, so what you’re going to see is two story beats (written in block quotes so you can identify them easily) and then the corresponding section of book.  It’s amazing how much you can get out of just one paragraph of quick description of a scene.  The text of the book sample is going to be in italics because this part of the book happens to be in all italics.

2. Bastien returns home after a long day, ignores his parents as he goes straight to his room. He opens and closes the door very quickly. His room is strewn with books, and there is a large shelf stocked with potion ingredients. A small toy knight is sitting on his bed waiting for him. When it sees him, it jumps up and down, making tiny clanking noises. Bastien urges it to hush and calm down. His parents can’t hear what he has done because it was illegal.

3. Flashback: Bastien remembers going before the council. He has been researching the art of creating life for years, and he believes he can master it. He believes that with the right technique, certain objects could be made to understand and carry out tasks, maybe even help fight should another war begin. Some of Bastien’s cold ruthlessness begins to shine through as he talks. The Council is outraged by his speech and they tell him if he ever attempts anything like that, he will be banished or jailed or something.

That job had taken much longer than he had hoped. The moon and stars were shining brightly from the inky black sky as he walked home.

“Sweetheart, you’re back late,” his mother said as he pushed his way through the front door.

Bastien didn’t even glance her way as he headed to his room. He slipped inside as quickly as possible, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Little Lance was sitting on the bed, his tiny metal feet dangling over the edge of the mattress. He jumped up when he saw Bastien, ran over to him, bounced excitedly. Bastien tried to shush him. Little Lance was small – his head barely made it to Bastien’s shin – but his every movement resulted in metallic clanking that was loud enough to draw suspicion.

“Hush now,” Bastien said, patting the knight’s tiny helmet to calm him. “We can’t let Mother and Father hear you. Why don’t we do some quiet reading?”

The knight nodded its head excitedly, its miniscule visor flapping up and down with the movement. Bastien lifted him up and put him on the desk. The knight used his miniature lance – for which he’d been named – to help him balance as he crossed his legs and sat down. Bastien took off his robe and hung it by the door. He looked at the gold bands on the sleeves and the crown that was embroidered onto the right shoulder. A symbol of his rank. He was one of the most important crafters on the council. But it didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered at all in the end. When he’d gone to them, asked them to listen to him.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

“Manus knew it, too,” Bastien had said, referring to the man who had trained him in this trade. “We are taking on too much responsibility, Head Councilman. Many people here work the jobs of three men. I have been studying this subject for years. I can do it. Think of the possibilities!”

“That is enough, Councilman Garrison,” said Head Councilman Stefan Wiel. “Just saying these things out loud borders on illegal. You have been honored with the position of Royal Healer. Your lack of gratitude is disgraceful.”

“Why should I be grateful for a job that was forced on me?” Bastien demanded.

Stefan’s eyes had gone cold. “You will do a job that is worthy of the crown on your shoulder, or you’ll be stripped of your title and your council status. We will leave you with nothing. Do I make myself clear?”

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Bastien let the memory fade as he reached out and ran his hands over the robe that had been made just for him when he was inducted into the council.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” he said, turning to Little Lance.

The knight cocked his head at him. Bastien sighed and shook his head.

“You wouldn’t understand. Don’t worry about it.”

[End book passage]

There you have it.  Hopefully you were able to see the difference between a story beat and the polished writing that comes out of it.  I highly recommend this method because it helps to prevent writer’s block before it even happens.  You set up the entire plot ahead of time, and it’s much easier to edit and tweak the story because instead of changing an entire book you’re just deleting/editing/moving a bullet point.  Over all, this method makes it much easier to put words to paper.  I am going to use it from now on.  That’s right.  I’m finally going to start outlining.  Hell probably just froze over.

That’s all!  I’ll write again soon.

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Free Sample

Welp, I finished editing Grotesque.  Before you go about congratulating me, I want to define “finished” for you:

Finished [ƒǝƞ-œŒ- ñÿď] adj – At a point where a book can be sent out for initial critique, where the book meets at least two of the following three criteria: 1. Is legible  2. Is in a language that all or most of the readers know  3. Obeys some rules of grammar

So yeah.  It’s not done.  Not by a long shot.  So I want you to keep in mind that the small sample I’m about to provide is completely unedited.  It will definitely change at least once before the month is out.  I can guarantee that.

But that’s okay!  Because all I really wanted to show you was some of the ways the book has already changed.  So I’m going to take a risk and compare the old and new introductory passages (which is only a risk because I am not sure at this point if my beta readers are going to like the new intro at all), as well as one other excerpt taken from the end of Chapter One.

For those who need a bit of a refresher on Grotesque, you can click here to go through my favorite post about it.  Or you can click here to go to the post in which I describe my inspiration for it (and then apparently provide the entirety of the first chapter, but you don’t have to read that).  Or you can go really crazy and click on both those links.

Okay, so here we go.  I’m going to put all passages in blockquotes so that they’re easy to differentiate from like…this writing I’m doing right here.

Pre-rewrite intro:

I awaken for the first time on the ledge of a tall building, the ground too far below for comfort. Above me is an inky black sky full of bright stars, a large moon, and a few wisps of gray cloud. The words for these things come easily to me, in a language that floods my mind, though I don’t know where it came from.

New intro:

Cold

Falling

Gasping

Breathing

In

Out

Flailing

Grabbing

Holding

Balance

Nerves tingling.

Heart pounding.

Stuttering breaths, in and out.

What am I doing?

A cold breeze dries the sweat on my forehead.

Where am I?

Sitting on a ledge, gripping onto something to keep myself steady, beneath an inky black sky dotted with stars. The moon is bright, illuminating a few wisps of gray cloud, and the ground beneath me which is too far away for comfort.

So why’d I change it?  Well, the first intro honestly wasn’t very captivating.  It also felt kind of forced and clunky to me.  With the new introduction, I wanted to try to encapsulate what it really would feel like to suddenly be alive for the very first time ever.  Once again, not sure if my readers (i.e. close friends and family) are going to like it.  It might change.  But this illustrates the direction I wanted to take it in pretty well.

Next we’ll look at a little further down in the same chapter.  This is from the old version:

“I brought life to you because I need some help.”

“Doing what?”

He shrugs.

“This and that. I have rather ambitious plans for my future, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my goals without help. So I risked weakening my powers some in order to give you life.”

“What if I don’t want to help you?”

“Oh, you can’t refuse. You’re enslaved to my will. You will have to obey any and every command I issue to you.”

He is so matter-of-fact about it, but I find I am not nearly as calm. I feel anger and frustration rising in my gut as the meaning of his words sinks in.

“So you brought me to life just to use me as a slave?”

“Yes.”

“I think I’d prefer to be a statue…or free.”

The man snorts out a laugh.

“And what would you do with your freedom? Do you really think people would accept you into their homes? Into their lives? You’d be hunted down and slaughtered on sight.”

I feel my throat tighten, cutting off further words. He is right, of course. This had all been part of his plan to keep me under his control.

“Besides,” he continues. “You can’t be free. Not until I’m dead. And don’t get any ideas. You cannot disobey me.”

Well, this is a solution to one problem at least. I raise my hand and slash my claws across the man’s throat. His blood spills quickly, and he collapses to the floor. The bastard hadn’t ordered me not to kill him, so I wasn’t disobeying anything by doing so.

And this is that same scene from the new version:

He shrugs. “This and that. I have rather ambitious plans for my future, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my goals without help. So I risked weakening my powers some in order to give you life.”

“Why should I help you?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“Because I’m going to tell you to,” is the reply. “You can’t refuse. You are bound by my will, and will continue to be until such time as I meet my inevitable, but unfortunate end.”

“So you created me to be your…slave?”

Slave. The word whispers itself in my ear, its significance bubbling in my mind. Bad. Not free. Trapped. Suffering.

I am pretty sure I don’t want to be a slave.

“Don’t look so concerned,” the man says, chuckling. “You will be happy to serve me. Your only purpose in life will be to please me. You will see that everything I do is for a greater cause.”

At first his words don’t seem all that reassuring, but suddenly I can see his point. What’s so wrong with being a slave? I’ve been promised security. And this man hasn’t given me reason to believe he has bad intentions. Surely this will be a good thing. I can’t wait for his next order so that I can show him how obedient I can be.

I smile.

Hopefully you can see how different this scene has become.  Thanks to my friend Micah’s suggestions, I added a new layer to Serrafiel’s character arc by forcing him to be happy with his position in life, rather than giving him a sense of morals right off the bat.  If he were truly new to life, he wouldn’t immediately know what was right or wrong.  He’d be like a two-year-old.  And that made his arc more interesting (in my humble opinion).  Because he has to grow up very, very fast.

Also, because I just realized that not everyone will read the name with the Spanish pronunciation, Serrafiel is not pronounced “Sarah-feel.”  It is pronounced “Seh-ra-fee-EL.”  That’s the best I can do for a pronunciation guide.  In case you didn’t notice when you were reading earlier, I’m not so good with the symbols and such.

And that’s it for now!  Hope you like the sneak peek at the changes I made.

Lots of words for you to read today, huh?  How about I reward you with…

A NEW COMIC!!

Writer's-Block-Strip-44

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The Support Hellbound Initiative

We’re going to have a very brief hiatus on the chapter updates for now.  I am clearly unsure where I’m going with the book, and my brother highly recommends outlining, so I’m trying that.  I actually have an outline for chapter eight already, but I don’t want to write it until I know what’s going to happen in subsequent chapters.

But this is good because it gives me a chance to tell you about that project I hinted at a while back.  You know that stupid thing I’m trying?  Basically I am not very happy with the idea of sitting around and doing nothing to help promote or sell my own book.  So I’m starting the Support Hellbound Initiative.  It’s probably too little too late, but I’ve got to try something.

The short summary of the project is this: I’m going to collect signatures, not unlike signatures for a petition.  The signatures will be on cards, and the cards will be arranged in a visual type of way.  Updates will happen on this blog, and you can be a part of it.

Here’s how:

Step 1 – Read all these steps carefully.

Step 2 – After you have read all the steps, read the excerpt of my novel Hellbound at the bottom of this post.

Step 3 – If you like what you read, or you think someone else would like it, or you at least acknowledge that the writing is decent, then please send me an email at WriteRightWithBex@gmail.com.  In that email, please provide your name and mailing address.

Step 4 – I will mail you an envelope.

Large Envelope

Inside that envelope will be a smaller envelope.

Both Envelopes

Inside that smaller envelope will be a card.

Envelopes and cards

The card will look like this.

card

Sign the card.

Signed Card

Personalize it a bit if you want to.  You can draw a butterfly or sign in rainbow.  I only ask that the words and signature are visible, and that you put nothing obscene on the card.  We are all adults here, after all.

Step 5 – You will notice that the smaller envelope is what we in the business call an “SASE.”  Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.  Basically it means that I will do all the work for you.  All you have to do is sign the card, seal it in the smaller envelope, write a return address if you want, and stick that sucker in the mail.

Small envelope + writing

Step 6 (Optional) – Tell your friends!  Tell your family!  Tell your neighbors in between asking them to pick up after their dog and requesting that they stop having loud parties on weekday nights.  If you feel there are other people in your life who would be amenable to signing a card, feel free to ask me in your email for multiple cards.  I’m going to cap it at ten, since you know…you gotta draw the line somewhere.  But you can request up to ten cards.

Step 7 (DEFINITELY NOT OPTIONAL) – READ THIS REASSURING DISCLAIMER:

First of all, I am not a company.  I am not a corporation.  I am not an evil CEO or even a kind CEO.  I’m just one person trying to make a living doing something I love.  I am not going to sell your address or personal information to the highest bidder, or use the information you provide for ANYTHING other than mailing you these cards.  Also, just to point it out, you’re going to have my address, too.  So it’s a fair exchange.  Another also…please don’t do anything weird with my address.  Because I’m not going to do anything weird with yours.

Second, signing this card is in NO WAY legally binding. I CAN NOT use your signature on a business card to force you to purchase a copy of my book should it get published.

That being said, if you do help to get my book published, I thank you with every fiber of my being. I mean that. Furthermore, if you help my book get published and purchase a copy of the novel…well…I have no more fibers of my being to thank you with. Just know that you have earned my eternal gratitude.

Finally, a reminder: I wrote Hellbound. Don’t steal it please. I’m taking a big risk sharing even this much of it with you.

Step 8: This isn’t actually a step.  I just want to let you know that this should be fun for everyone.  So I’m going to offer a little bonus gift (like a drawing or something) to the first person who writes in for a card, and then every tenth person after that.  The exciting thing is you won’t know if you qualify as one of those people until you open the envelope.  So that could be fun right?  Like a game of chance.

Also, anyone who sends me ten signed signature cards will have the option of requesting a signed, laminated print of one of my Writer’s Block comics.  If you want.  You have to send the cards first, but if I receive ten from you I’ll email you and ask you if you want a print.  I know I have no way of knowing if real people signed cards or if you just signed ten yourself, but hopefully I can trust you to be honest.  Sound fair?

Okay that’s it!  Thank you for reading this far.  Here is the excerpt of the most recent version of Hellbound:

Prologue

A quiet night in September finds a pair of bloodied hands drawing occult symbols in a secluded plot of dirt. Not a sound can be heard except for erratic, frenzied breathing.

Nervous thoughts compete for attention.

This is so wrong.

It won’t even work.

It’s a school night.

I should be sleeping.

But it could make everything better. There must have been a reason for finding this book. It was meant to be.

The symbols are complete. What next?

Smudged fingers hover over the yellowed pages.

The pentacle…on the forehead. Sweat mixes with blood and dirt as it is drawn.

The hands drop. Waiting.

The pages are consulted again. It should have worked.

Silence. Pressing silence.

It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t work. It was ridiculous to think it would.

“You have freed me. In exchange I am required to offer you one service.”

The voice sends a jolt down the spine; it came out of nowhere. In the middle of all the symbols on the ground is now a tall, dark figure. A living shadow. Its cavernous eyes are cast down on the quivering human before it, waiting. Expectant.

Quickly, the pages are consulted again. The required response. The contract must be completed!

“I…I understand my part in this. I accept your boon with gratitude.”

The creature gives the slightest of nods.

Dry lips are licked.

“This is what I need you to do…”

 

Chapter One

Aiden woke up to the sound of screams, as usual. They sounded more outraged than normal, which he knew meant bad news for him. He blinked and stretched, stood up and shook himself. It was dark, and he had no idea what time it was. Clocks were hard to come by in Hell. Working clocks even harder. Without the need for a light source, he found his way to his dresser, pulled out clothes, put them on.

It was the same old routine. Strangely enough, he knew something was going to break up the monotony of his life very soon, and it was that fact that made him dread leaving his room. So he did what any normal teenage boy would do – he stalled. Running his fingers through his light brown hair, he looked absently around his room for a mirror before he remembered he didn’t have one.

“Kairn?”

He stooped to look under his bed as he called his friend’s name again.

“I know you’re here, Kairn. Quit dicking around.”

The expressions of the twenty-first century were fairly new to him, but he had to admit he liked them. If there was one good thing about the constant influx of souls in Hell, it was that he was able to keep up with the times by listening to their various speech patterns.

A large, red gecko with black spots skittered down from the ceiling and turned its black eyes on Aiden’s back. Its footprints glowed in the pitch darkness, creating enough light to catch Aiden’s attention.

“There you are,” he said, standing. “I need a mirror.”

The lizard cocked its head at him. Aiden scoffed.

“I don’t owe you a reason. Maybe I just want to remind myself of what I look like today.”

Kairn raised his shoulders in a shrug and turned into a small, round mirror with an ornate gold frame that was encrusted with rubies.

“Dude, come on,” Aiden moaned. “I’m not exactly in the mood.”

A head appeared out of the top of the mirror to look questioningly at Aiden.

“I’m going to get a new assignment today,” he grumbled. “Now could you give me a less girly mirror, please?”

It wasn’t that he didn’t want this assignment – he always craved the brief periods of time when he was allowed to go to Earth – but it was starting to weigh on him. It was so hard to go to Earth, a place that held so much more promise than Hell, only to have it ripped away from him time and time again.

Kairn made a kind of sympathetic clicking noise and then quickly rearranged himself until he was a full-length mirror with a simple, black frame.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Aiden stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. He did that for about fifteen minutes, standing as still as a statue, so nervous that he found himself holding his breath. His reflection stared back at him with his own golden yellow eyes.

After another five minutes had passed, someone knocked on Aiden’s door so hard that it jostled bits and pieces loose from the stalactites on the ceiling.

“What?” he called.

“You know what,” came a bored, female voice with an unmistakable Irish accent. “Your father’s waiting for you on the other side of the Infinite Cavern. Get your butt up there within the next thirty seconds or I’ll lock you in one of the serial killer cages and watch the carnage unfold while I eat my breakfast.”

Aiden didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t actually prefer that threat to whatever his father had in store for him.

“Move!” the voice on the other side of the door barked.

Aiden sighed at Kairn, who was back to being a giant gecko, and walked out of his room. He didn’t expect anyone to be outside when he got there, and he wasn’t disappointed. The woman on the other side of the door had already flitted away to her next errand.

The dull roar of screams that he had managed to block from his mind until that point rose into a crescendo of rage again. They had sensed his presence and were shouting their disapproval already.

Much as he hated to admit it, Aiden felt for the souls incarcerated in Tor. They wanted to be on Earth as desperately as he did, but whenever one of them was summoned from its cell by a desperate human, it was his job to bring them back. And they loathed him for it. Even though only a select few entered into such pacts, they all knew he was responsible for destroying their chance at freedom.

Aiden took on his true form before he stepped into the Infinite Cavern. The Res-du-Tor were never allowed to show their human faces to the souls, in case one escaped. If the escapee were able to recognize the Re-du-Tor’s human form, it would know exactly who to run from.

Transformation complete, Aiden closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping through the archway at the end of the hall. The noise in the Infinite Cavern was deafening, as always. The place was home to hundreds of thousands of souls, or rather, the physical manifestations of people’s worse sides. All the good halves of people’s essence went to Lux, leaving Aiden and Tor to deal with the incarnations of pure evil.

The Infinite Cavern consisted of two walls that were infinitely tall, hence its name. Dug into the walls were large pits that were closed off with metal bars. Inside these cages were the souls. They were forced to stay there until it was time for them to be mixed with one of their good counterparts and reborn.

This process was all Tor’s and Lux’s jurisdiction, though. They were the ones who mixed the good and bad souls together in human babies. The new soul would have no memory of its past lives, and it would be neither good nor bad, since babies had no concept of right or wrong. As the baby grew up, it would develop or diminish the good and bad sides of its soul according to the way it was raised. Aiden’s job had nothing to do with soul production, though; his line of work was in soul retrieval.

Tor had taken to making Aiden cross the Infinite Cavern to receive his assignments. It was supposed to act as a reminder of the consequences that could result from him not doing his job; letting a powerful, evil soul run amok on Earth could, and would, have disastrous results. People could die. The balance of Good and Evil in the world could be tipped. Or worse, humans could find out what really lay beyond Death’s door. The information could drive them crazy, make them commit suicide, make them kill others, stop caring about life.

This didn’t stop Aiden from avoiding his job. It wasn’t like he cared about the humans who were endangered by the soul’s presence.

Aiden tried to look straight ahead and ignore the souls, but they refused to ignore him. Long, boneless arms reached out through the bars of their cages to swipe at his legs, his neck, his wings, anything they thought they could reach. He was safe, though. Part of the magic of the Infinite Cavern made it so they could never reach. No matter how long their limbs got, they would always be just a few inches too short to grab hold of anyone or anything on the outside.

“Going topside again, are you, boy?”

Aiden turned towards what seemed to be the only creature in Hell that wasn’t attempting to strangle him. Interesting that it was talking to him. They didn’t usually bother doing that. Most of them couldn’t, since they hadn’t retained much of their humanity. The shadowy figure sat in the back of his cell, black eyes and unsettlingly toothless grin turned in his direction. Aiden felt like he was staring at a demonic Cheshire cat.

“Don’t get too attached to the fresh air, mind,” the gravelly voice continued as Aiden shook his head and walked on. Its voice followed him as he finished crossing the Infinite Cavern. “No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you’re still a prisoner here just like the rest of us. You’re no freer than I am.”

Aiden tried to push the soul’s voice out of his mind. Of course it knew exactly how to push his buttons. It was evil, after all.

He stepped through the doorway at the end of the cavern and followed the curve of the tunnel, past the Door, all the way to where it dead-ended in a large alcove. Then, safely out of sight of the souls, he turned back into a human. His father was waiting for him, his face red with frustration, while some minor servants danced around him trying to get him to sign various forms. Tor’s work was never done. Most of his time was spent approving souls to be reborn on Earth and monitoring the souls’ activity to make sure that no escapes had been made without his noticing.

“You’re trying my patience, Re-du-Tor,” the Devil gritted out. “You have a job to do and I expect you to do it.”

“Yes, Tor,” Aiden sneered. “What will it be this time, Tor?”

“I like that tone. You remind me of your mother. Keep it up.”

He turned to one of his servants and signed yet another form, which disappeared a second later.

“Your new assignment,” he began, “is in the United States. You will find the idiotic human who invoked the Rit-du-Malos, extract the soul, and bring it back. Promptly.”

Aiden couldn’t help but feel intrigued at the prospect of going to the United States. His last assignment had been in…Europe? France maybe. They all tended to blend together. At any rate, he hadn’t seen anything of modern-day America, and it sounded like he could waste some truly glorious time there.

“How long do I have?” he asked.

Tor sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Get rid of that hopeful glint in your eye. I’m giving you a month. One. Month. Just get up there, do your job, and come back. Please. For once.”

“That’s not fair,” Aiden grumbled. “One month isn’t even enough time to stretch my legs.”

“One month is generous,” Tor countered. “I could have given you half that time, but I thought you might want to avoid Luther for once.”

Aiden shuddered. His run-ins with the Re-du-Lux – his counterpart in Heaven, whose job it was to keep Aiden on schedule – were never fun, or painless.

“I just want to get a chance to live a real life,” he pleaded, knowing it would do no good. Tor had heard all his best arguments a million times. “I want to…I don’t know, see movies. Watch TV. Go to school, hang out with kids my age.”

“Your age? Kids your age?” Tor paused to bark out a laugh. “There are no kids your age. You’re three hundred and seventy-five years old!”

“Three seventy-six, dad. You missed my last birthday.”

“The point is, you cannot hope to lead a normal life among mortals, Aiden. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this before it sinks in. You will never be like them. You have powers they can’t even dream of.” Aiden was a little taken aback. Tor’s tone had become almost…fatherly. Before he could think that his father had turned over a new leaf, however, Tor continued what he was saying. “And you have a deadline. One month. No leeway on this one, Aiden. I will have Luther rip your wings off if you’re not back in time.”

“Yes, father,” Aiden said, bowing.

He knew there was no point in arguing further. He also knew he wasn’t going to let Luther, Tor, or any stupid soul land him back in Tor in just one measly month.

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