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Monday, November 24, 2014

Another Thunderclap!!

My  first Thunderclap went really well, becoming fully supported in just a few days (you  can still participate here), so I  decided to try a second, this one to announce a free day  for Dragon's Curse.

If you'd like to help me get the word out click here.

Beggar Magic: Tour Kick Off!

In anticipation of Beggar Magic, I am doing another Magic Appreciation tour. Starting tomorrow I will be touring blogs of various other talented fantasy authors, dropping in with a little guest post here, an excerpt there . .. oh, and did I mention a giveaway? There is one (goes live 11/25/14).

Magic Appreciation Tour Badge
Where readers find books
and authors find friends.

Tour Schedule:
11/25-Character Interview @ the Story Teller Inn 
11/28-Guest Post: Common Vs. Highmost
11/30-Excerpt with Disciple of the Fount
12/1-Author Interview with  Karin 
12/3-Guest Post: How the Most Tone-Deaf Woman in the World Wrote about Magical  Music
12/5-An Excerpt at Katherina Gerlach's Blog
12/6-An Excerpt at Electively Paige 

I hope to get you all as excited for the release of this new YA fantasy as I am! Click the link below to preorder!
Beggar Magic

Giveaway HTML: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Link to H. L. Burke on Goodreads:
Link to H. L. Burke on Facebook:
Author Website:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review Scammers: Making it harder for Indie writers to be taken seriously.

Okay, to start this off on a happier note, Dragon's Debt  is on a countdown deal for 99 cents today. Click the link on the bottom of this post to purchase.

Now to business: if you are an indie writer . . . or any writer, really, this happens in trade circles too, reviews are extremely important. When you  are getting started, it is tempting to watch them like a hawk, to beg for them, to do a little dance when you get a good one, etc. You'll probably be in the business of handing out free books like candy, hopefully in return for an honest review, but online you're going to find abuses of the system. It's a good thing to familiarize yourself with Amazon's (which is the major review hub) policies on reviews.

Here is the page with their official guidelines. An important thing to note is the line about promotional content, how you aren't allowed to exchange anything other than a free product (or book)  for a review. There's a link here that expands on what sorts of things you cannot receive in return for your review.

This post is going to be majorly about THIS item:
An artist posts a positive review on a peer's album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them.

Pretty straight forward, right? However, a lot of author's thoughts on this are "what's the harm?" There is some "wiggle room" in that it says "positive" review. If you ask for an "honest" review in return, you slip into a gray area where as long as you don't let what they said about your book color your review of their book it is not technically against policy. However, this is really hard to do, honestly, and a lot of people get upset and may even change the star rating on your book retroactively if your review of their book isn't as glowing as their review of yours.

And yes, I do read and review books my writer friends have written from time to time and my writer friends have reviewed me, but that isn't by arrangement.

Now, this is an actual conversation that came to me via my personal (not my author) facebook page. I'm not friends with this individual, and I chose to take the high road and delete her name and face, but the exchange speaks for itself.

  • E
    Hi Heidi, are you interested in .99 review exchanges? please let me know. thank you so much!
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    I don't do review exchanges. Too much chance of hard feelings. I also think they are technically against Amazon's policies, so you might want to be careful about that.

  • E
    hhmm, thanks for your compliment but amazon allows to exchange reviews.. please read amazon forum
    it would be fine if you can send me your pre-written review so that I can just post it
    you'll be having a safe side, right?
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    That's REALLY against Amazon's policies and can get your account banned. Don't do that.

  • E
    so sorry.. been doing this for almost 1 year honey
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    if someone reports you, Amazon will ban your account and delete your reviews

  • E
    hhmm, well.. if you were scared.. then its up to you.
    thanks by the way!
  • Heidi Lyn Burke
    Heidi Lyn Burke
    I wish you luck, but please don't contact me again. Review trading and posting pre-written reviews is dishonest and I don't do that sort of thing.

  • E
    okay honey.. will keep it noted

You notice when I declined her offer, she offered to let ME write the review of my book. So basically, she would just be a puppet account parroting whatever I wanted readers to hear about my book. Now, by 99 cent review exchanges, I don't think she means I would pay her for the review but rather that we'd swap reviews by buying each other's 99 cent books (she never linked hers, but her facebook page, which I clicked on to see if I could track her back to a specific Amazon account and maybe report her. had links to multiple 99 cent bargain books by multiple authors, mostly on herbal medicine and other self-help topics. )

This individual insists she does this all the time and that it is NOT against Amazon's policies (maybe depending on that "honest not positive" loop hole I mentioned); however, if she is actually allowing authors to write the reviews she posts, this is nothing more than semantics. There is no way a writer is going to bash their own book, no matter how bad it is (though I once had this idea that if I told everyone my book says something truly awful, like condones puppy killing or something, I could get a lot of curiosity purchases. . .just a thought. Any time a book is berated in a public forum for this sort of thing, it gets a sales burst from gawkers, or so I've been told). 

Because of people who do this sort of things, it becomes even harder for new authors to be taken seriously. Now even if they finally get their positive Amazon reviews there's a question of "but are they REAL reviews?" 

How do you combat this? 

  • If you're a writer, try to be completely above reproof as far as your review activity goes. Avoid even the appearance of evil.
  •  Only leave honest reviews of books you've actually read, even if you really want to help a friend out. If you don't have time to read their book at that moment, resist the urge to review and instead share a few links on twitter or facebook, or buy a copy for a friend who reads that genre.
  • Don't review author friends who react badly to bad reviews, even if they say they won't this time. If when you are writing the review, your thought at any point is "this is really what I think, but I'm afraid it will make him/hermad" it is probably a good idea to just stop.
  • Pursue legitimate review sources. Giving out ARCs or free review copies is allowed by Amazon. Choose reviewers with a good reputation who leave thoughtful reviews with a mix of  negative and positive.
  • Just say no. It is easier to say no in a case like mine where this is some random spammer probably contacting dozens of people at once. It's a little harder when you know the author personally. 
A lot of people do get offended when you turn down review exchange requests. Some will assume you are accusing them of planning to be dishonest when they are in fact quite innocently wanting an honest review of their book.  However, you want to  avoid even the APPEARANCE of impropriety. 

With so many people cheating the system, you have to work even harder to stand out. So basically, say no to review scams. Pretty please. 

If you want to leave an honest review of Dragon's Debt you'll have to buy it first. To do that click this link.

It's 99 cents until Friday!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Another Goodreads Giveaway

This will be the last Goodreads Giveaway for Beggar Magic before the release.

Add the book to your Goodread's shelf and click the link below to pre order.
Beggar Magic


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Beggar Magic by H.L. Burke



          Beggar Magic

          by H.L. Burke


            Giveaway ends December 09, 2014.
            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.

      Enter to win

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Beggar Magic Quiz!

Are you excited about Beggar Magic? Well, if you'd like a little hint about some of the characters, take this test and see which Beggar Magic character you are. Leilani? Zebedy? Brick? Vickers?  Brash?

Which Beggar Magic Character Are You?

linked here and here and here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaNoWriMo Update

The Participant Widget with Username features the NaNoWriMo username attached to the user system name. Example:

Lands of Ash is challenging me in a few ways. It has a broader scope than the majority of my novels, and because of that it has been a challenge for me to find focus. Right now I'm trying to figure out  a battle scene, and I haven't written one of these since high school, that I can think of. 

I found these two articles to help:
One suggested drawing a map for my own reference. ..
so I cam up with this:

Pretty slick, huh?

Microsoft paint is for professionals. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clarice's Book Nook: Giving Thanks/Black Friday HUGE Giveaway Event!!

I'm taking part in another multi-author giveaway at Clarice's Book Nook. Check it out! 

Clarice's Book Nook: Giving Thanks/Black Friday HUGE Giveaway Event!!: Well it's that time of year again and everyone is needing extra cash, gifts for Christmas, and more.  Well here is your chance to scor...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Little Illustrator

Coryn drew some pictures for the middle grade chapter book I wrote recently. It involves a kitten who is the best friend of a princess but is separated from her when a wizard mistakenly casts a spell on him with unintended consequences.

Anyway, that book isn't due out for a while, but I still wanted to share:

I think this is the princess and the kitten.

Also the princess . . . though she looks kind of angry. Not sure why.

This wizard needs a lesson on how to handle cats. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reasons Why You SHOULDN'T Read Dragon's Curse

Reasons why you should NOT buy Dragon's Curse 
by H. L. Burke

  •  It may cause you to develop sympathies towards dragons.
  •  There are a lot of other things you could buy with 99 cents, like Twizzlers. 
  • Reading is dangerous. Dragons are dangerous. Reading+Dragons=Super Dangerous. 
  • 9 out of 10 knights agree, Dragon's Curse is dragon fancier propaganda. 
  •  It is the gateway drug to the rest of the Dragon and the Scholar Saga. Not even once!

  • However, if you are the rebellious type, with a fondness for sarcastic dragons and slightly scatterbrained but tenacious and kind hearted scholars, perhaps you should consider clicking the link below and picking up a copy of Dragon's Curse by H. L. Burke

    Important Announcement: Dragon's Curse is now. . .

    . . . 99 cents!
    Not for a limited time, for always and forever!

    Here's a screen shot from Amazon if you  don't believe me.

    Why? Well, I think if  you read Dragon's Curse you will love it and want to  read onward, even if it means paying the full price for the rest of the series. In other words . . .

    The remainder of the book in this series remain $2.99; however, I do like to run countdown deals whenever it is available. You can purchase the books on Amazon through the links below.

    Dragon's Curse (The Dragon and the Scholar Book 1)

    New Release: Evolution, by Kate Wrath!

    Evolution, the second book in the E series, is now available!  Get Evolution and E for only 99¢ each during release week, November 12th-19th, 2014.

    cover of Evolution by Kate Wrath
    Outpost Three is still standing… barely. But the deadliest threat it has ever faced is on its way-- a violent force that will annihilate every man, woman, and child.

    With the Sentries under his control and Grey’s army defeated, Matt is more powerful than ever. Eden is little more than his prisoner, but that line is blurring as her affection for him grows. Now, as the Outpost faces total destruction, Matt must sacrifice the possibility of attaining Eden’s love in the vague hope that her past might hold the key to saving them all.

    Eden’s journey will begin to unravel the mysteries of her previous life, reveal dangerous new questions, and change not only the future of Outpost Three, but shape the course of history.

    This eagerly anticipated sequel to Kate Wrath’s E begins an epic quest into the dark, dystopian landscape of Eden’s world.
    Add to GoodreadsBuy E $0.99Buy Evolution $0.99

    Get both books in the E series, E and Evolution, for 99¢ each on Kindle for a limited time only:  November 12th- 19th, 2014.

    Connect with Kate:

    Kate Wrath's WebsiteTwitterGoodreadsFacebook

    Join Kate for the Evolution Release Day Facebook Party:

    You're invited!  Come hang out November 12th from 8-12 pm Eastern and celebrate the release of Evolution.  Woohoo!

    An excerpt from Evolution:

    We run down the narrow alley and take the first turn, then another. We keep running, moving. I don't even notice my surroundings until, at last, we slow to a stop. The smell hits me first—the stench of piss, of something rotten, all condensed into a small space. Breathing hard, we stand in the street and look around us. We're in a main thoroughfare now, judging from the traffic, but it’s still narrow. I feel squashed, smothered. On all sides, a crowd throngs around us. Most of them are dressed in rags. Hollow faces huddle three or four bodies deep against both edges of the road, dirty, hopeless, and lost. Many of them are children.

    I'm scanning their faces frantically before I even realize what I'm doing. "Oscar," I hear myself whisper. It hits me, and I break off before I can call out his name. Before I can start running again, sifting through the masses of them.

    Apollon's hand clamps onto mine, but he says nothing. He and Jonas are focused on Jacob, who is shaking violently. Tears are pouring from widened eyes down his face. I want to help him, but all I can do is stand here trying not to break down, myself.

    "We need to find somewhere to regroup," Jonas says quietly. "Get out of this mess."
    I cast around for somewhere to go, but as far as I can see, it's piles upon piles. People, and people, and buildings looming over them. There's no breathing room. No space. I have to force my breath to steadiness. It's too much.
    There is a commotion on the street ahead, maybe a block away. The ragged masses push away from the center, squashing and trampling each other in the process. We're caught in a wave of motion and carried backward, but still we try to look. Where the commotion started, there's a group of figures, similarly dressed in black with blue bandanas. They're moving down the street toward us.

    The wave of people suddenly backlashes from the other direction, and we're pushed the opposite way from before. We manage to finally see why. On our opposite side, there's another group of people. These are dressed primarily in white. One of them, clearly a leader, wears a purple doo rag and carries what might be the biggest gun I've ever seen. He raises it toward us.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Beggar Magic: THUNDERCLAP!

    I'm trying out a new promotional outlet for the Beggar Magic release, and I would be so grateful for any of you who come along.

    Thunderclap is a social  media tool that allows you to organize your fans  to spread a message. To view the Thunderclap page for Beggar Magic click here.

    It's a very easy process. You simply click and authorize  Thunderclap to post on one or more of your social media sites (Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter are the current options). Now don't worry about this being spammy. It will only send out  a single post on the day of the promotion (December 9th) (you can view the tweet by clicking the link above).

    That's the easy part. The hard part is that at least 100 people have to agree to support my Thuderclap for it to qualify at all. . .and I'm currently at 14.

    Please consider clicking on the link and helping me spread the word about Beggar Magic. As always you  can pre-order the book  on Amazon by clicking the link below.

    Beggar Magic

    linked here and here and here and here

    Saturday, November 8, 2014

    Beggar Magic: Chapter One

    Beggar Magic will be available on Amazon December 9th, but I thought I'd give you a quick sample. Here is chapter one! If this strikes your fancy, you can preorder on Amazon through this link:

    Chapter One


    Leilani Weaver burst out the door of her father’s shop and glanced back at her mother. “We’ll be late! The launch is in less than an hour.”
    Her mother stopped in the doorway and adjusted her coat. She wore her “serene” expression. There was no way to rush her once she’d brought her laugh lines into submission and half closed her eyes. That face meant they were going to walk with decorum and dignity, rather than the speed and efficiency Leilani would’ve preferred. Leilani’s sixteen-year-old sister, Keris, glided through the door behind Mother, her chin tilted up and her eyes squinting in an attempt to imitate her. Leilani rolled her eyes. When Leilani and Keris had been eight and ten, Keris was all sorts of fun. Now she spent all her time pretending to be Mother.
    Keris cleared her throat. “Ladies don’t run.”
    And don’t worry, Leilani,” her mother said. “It's only a twenty minute walk to the water gate.” She reached into the pocket of her gray frock coat and pulled out Father’s brass pocket watch. “We have plenty of time.”
    Leilani tried not to grumble. She was too old to sulk or pout, but her mother and sister could be infuriating. Yes, the launch wasn’t for an hour. However, if they weren’t there early, they’d never get close enough to see anything. Everyone in Gelia City would be attending. Well, everyone except Father and little Kip. Father thought taking time off from work for such things was frivolous, and it had taken hours of begging for Leilani and Keris to get the afternoon off.
    Competing as a weaver against the larger shops with their mechanized looms was hard. Father was old-fashioned, though, and liked doing things by hand, with care–another reason the launch of the new steambarge was of no interest to him. Silly Highmost. They have the Strains at their disposal, but they can’t resist puttering around with their clunky machines and noisy contraptions.”
    Invisible but ever-present, the Strains held the Commonwealth of Gelia together like mortar around the bricks in the city's walls. Nothing moved in the city without their touch. Their use divided the folk of Gelia into two classes. The Highmost could use them with strength, but Common, such as Leilani’s family, could coax only small tasks, beggar magic, from the Strains. Common women used them to start fires and to encourage bread to rise, tradesmen to soothe the flaws from the wood and stone they carved, and children to knock fruit and nuts from the highest branches.
    Leilani could not remember a time when the Strains did not sing her to sleep at night. They had always been there, like the humming of her father’s loom or the smell of her mother’s baking or the ticking of their prized grandfather clock.
    Her father sang to the Strains as he worked, guiding them to keep his threads from twisting or breaking. Her mother had shown her how to whisper them into submission.
    The Strains sounded vibrant and happy today. They revealed themselves in an array of different noises: birdsong, instruments, even human voices. Now, they tinkled like bells, and Leilani’s quick steps matched their rhythm. Her high-button shoes tapped against the cobblestone of the narrow streets as she worked her way through the Trade District towards the water gate, one of the three gateways out of the walled city. Here a lock separated the city’s six canals, which were built in concentric circles dividing the city districts, from the Seabound River.
    Colorful banners, advertising the wares sold inside, hung from the two- and three-story buildings, built right up against each other. Flower boxes and drying laundry hung over the streets from the upper windows, where most tradesmen and their families lived.
    They say if the barge launch is successful, they might establish a ferry system.” Keris’s voice sounded distant.
    Realizing she had pulled too far ahead, Leilani stopped and waited for her mother and sister.
    My friend, Betta, told me she hopes they’ll have a ferry that goes all the way to the sea. I’d like to be able to visit the sea on holidays,” Keris continued.
    That seems a long trip, even by steambarge,” Mother said.
    Ahead, the street opened into a wide courtyard, and Leilani sighed in disappointment. A large crowd, easily a hundred strong, crammed together right up to the edge of the canal.
    Leilani could tell the Highmost from the Common by the differences in their clothing. Common wore mainly grays and browns, sturdy work trousers and coats with patches on the arms for the men, long skirts and pinafores for the women. The Highmost dressed in bright colors, and many wore long ‘manor robes’–pretentious, ankle-length things–over their clothes. The men wore top hats and tails, and while some of the Highmost women were daring enough to wear bloomer pants and tunics, most sported bustles and ruffled frock coats with pearl buttons. Both kept to tight groups, choosing not to intermingle.
    Leilani’s cousin Heddie waved from a knot of other textile shop owners and their families. Like all of Leilani's family, she stood out among the fair-haired Gelians. Leilani never feared getting lost in a crowd. Her straight black hair, dark eyes, and small frame kept her from blending in. Both Leilani’s paternal and maternal grandparents had immigrated from Rynar, fleeing a famine. As skilled tradesmen, they had been easily assimilated into Gelian culture, though they remained a tiny minority of the population.
    Come on. I’ve got us a perch,” Heddie said as Keris and Mother caught up.
    Leilani followed her cousin to a stack of crates. Four small boys already sat on them, but they made room for the older girls. From this vantage point, Leilani gazed over heads and hats to the dark waters of the canal. A flat-bottomed boat, perhaps twenty feet in length, with a waterwheel on the back end bobbed in the water. Four rows of wooden benches sat ready for passengers, though at the moment only a city guard in black leather was onboard.
    The Strains changed from bells to drumbeats, a rat-a-tat-tat, similar to falling rain but with a touch more order. Leilani tried to focus on the sound, but the mumbling and murmuring of the crowd beneath her proved too much of a distraction. She sighed. If only she could get close enough to observe how the steambarge worked without so many noisy people in the way. Maybe when the excitement died down, she could ride on it and get a look at the engines.
    Heddie squealed, “Oh, look what that lady is wearing!” Leilani groaned, but her cousin kept going. “Silks! Red silks. I wish I had dresses like that. Do you ever wish you were Highmost, Leilani? Imagine what we could wear.” Heddie glanced down at her gray, knee-length pinafore and woolen leggings, almost identical to Leilani's, and wrinkled her nose.
    Leilani often considered the perks of being born Highmost, and dresses didn’t even make the top ten. Hearing the Strains with greater clarity, being able to use them to do fantastic things, having your life devoted to studying their music–those things Leilani longed for. Dresses were just silly.
    You know if you had been born Highmost, you would’ve been assigned new parents,” Leilani pointed out. “You really want that?”
    Heddie’s grimaced. “Well, Highmost babies are almost never born to Common parents, anyway. Still, it is a nice dream.”
    Who in their right mind would dream about that?” Leilani focused once more on the barge.
    A Highmost man climbed onto the deck of the steambarge. He dismissed the guard with a wave of his hand, and silence dropped over the crowd like a woolen blanket. Another man joined the first and began shoveling coal into the firebox. Dark puffs of smoke issued from the stack. The water-wheel on the stern cranked to life, and the barge eased away from its mooring. The crowd cheered.
    Leilani clapped a few times, so that she wasn’t the only one not clapping, then watched. She disliked loud noises, even self-made ones. She preferred just the Strains and her own thoughts.
    The Strains whistled over the sound of the applause, loud enough that several people winced. Something about their tone made Leilani scrutinize the scene in front of her. The barge was uneven in the water, the prow sticking out at an odd angle.
    Is it supposed to look like that?
    The wheel turned faster and faster, and the barge lurched. The man standing at the controls lost his footing and toppled with a mighty splash into the dirty canal.
    Leilani's jaw dropped, and her eyes widened in a mix of horror and fascination.
    The barge shot down the canal. The remaining crew member dove off. With a crash and a crack, the barge slammed against the wall of the canal and foundered. Steam shot into the air as the furnace sank beneath the water.
    The audience gasped and then someone laughed. Soon waves of laughter passed through the crowd, even as someone threw a rope to the waterlogged crewmen. It wasn't every day the Common got to see a Highmost dripping wet.
    Leilani leaped from the crates. “Strains, I've never heard anything that loud. Wasn't that show worth missing a few hours of weaving? Kip's going to be so jealous.” She chuckled, imagining what her little brother's face would look like when she told him of the crash.
    Her mother shook her head. “Such a waste. Well, it looks as if there will be no launch today. We should get home.”
    But, Mother!” Keris exclaimed. “Father gave us the entire afternoon off. Please, may I go for a walk?”
    By that she means she wants to go flirt with the new apprentice at the carpenter's shop down the road.” Leilani sniffed.
    Keris glared at her. “Jess and I do not flirt. We converse.”
    I didn't know conversing involved so much eye-batting.” Leilani immediately had to dodge her sister's shove.
    Quiet, you two.” Her mother looked down the road towards the house and then back at Keris. “I suppose. And you, Leilani, home or your cousins’?”
    Leilani winced. Neither option appealed to her. The Strains hummed, enticing her to go some place quiet and listen. “Maybe I could take a walk along the Farmer’s Road? Just until dinner?”
    Her mother exhaled a long breath. “I suppose, but please keep your ears open to the Strains. Here.” She handed Leilani her satchel. “I packed a few things for us to snack on, but if you're going to be running about in the wild, you might want them.”
    Leilani grinned, kissed her on the cheek, and darted through the crowd towards the gate.  
    The Farmer’s Road, one of several leading out of Gelia City into the countryside, was pleasantly empty. She ran until the oak trees obscured the city walls behind her.
    Away from the bustle of the city with its gas-lamp-lined streets, she could hear the Strains, like a wild symphony, random yet somehow in constant harmony. She imagined weaving them as her father wove his threads.
    She veered off the road into a wood. After several attempts resulting in scraped knees, she managed to climb a small tree and hide in the leaves. She played with the Strains, knocking acorns to the ground. She whistled to the Strains, using her voice to guide the arc of the acorns, managing to get some all the way to the rotted-out tree lying at the edge of the clearing.
    The Strains warbled a strident call that stood apart from their usual melody. Leilani stopped and tilted her head to the side. She heard a sniffling and mewling followed by a rustling from a nearby thicket. She froze. While she had yet to encounter anything remotely dangerous, she was mindful of the possibility of bears or bandits. She pressed her back into the rough bark of the tree.
    A girl, roughly Leilani’s age, stumbled out of the bramble. Twigs and leaves stuck out of her downy strawberry-blonde hair. Her reddened, upturned nose dripped. She wore a dirty purple robe and one suede slipper. As she walked, she favored her bare foot.
    Seeing the girl’s distress, Leilani swung her legs off the branch and braced herself to jump. Before she could leave the safety of the tree, however, the girl gave a frustrated shriek and threw her hands skyward. Following her motion, the Strains tossed the fallen tree several feet into the air. It landed with a cracking of branches in the bracken.
    Leilani gaped as the girl sank to her knees, sobbing hysterically. The fear that had risen in Leilani’s heart at the girl’s outburst died, and Leilani called out, “Are you all right?”
    The other child took in a hissing breath and staggered to her feet. Leilani dropped to the ground.
    The girl shook her head. “I'm lost.”
    Leilani nodded. The girl’s power and wardrobe meant she had to be Highmost. Highmost lived in the Manor District, not on farms. How had she ended up here?
    Leilani cleared her throat. “My name is Leilani. Where did you come from, and where are you trying to get to?”
    The girl smiled and gave a relieved sigh. “I’m Zebedy, but you can call me Zeb. I suppose I am going where I came from, the Country House.”
    Do you know where this house is?”
    You leave the city by a gate and go down a road for about an hour by coach,” Zebedy answered with an eager nod.
    Leilani had little patience for stupidity. She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to snap at Zebedy. Before she could speak, however, the Strains chimed, like the tinkling bell that announced when someone entered her father’s shop. She paused.
    Her mother had told her to listen to the Strains’ urgings. They are your guardians, given by the Maker, and they can guide you if you let them. They will not lead you astray.”
    Leilani tempered her annoyance and spoke softly. “Which gate? The main gate, the trade gate, or the water gate?”
    Oh, well, the one with the blue banners and the statue of the swan.”
    The main gate, then.” Leilani reached under her cloak for her purse. She opened it and rummaged for her snacks. “Are you hungry?” She offered Zebedy a dried apple.
    The Highmost girl took it. “Thank you.” She chewed and swallowed. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I didn’t mean to go so far, but the further I walked the louder the Strains grew, and they are so beautiful.”
    Leilani nodded. “That’s why I come here too.”
    Zebedy’s face brightened. “They were telling me all about the trees, about the birds who nest in the tops and the different bugs who hide amongst the leaves. What did they say to you?”
    Leilani blushed. “I’m not Highmost. I hear their music but not their words. They really speak to you like that? As if they were people?”
    Oh yes, they say all sorts of things: songs, stories, even jokes. The trainers don’t like to admit it, but some Strains can be very funny.”
    Leilani’s mouth quirked in momentary dissatisfaction, but not wanting Zeb to see her jealousy, she forced a weak smile.
    Zeb scanned from one end of the clearing to the other. “In the city if I get turned around, I can send the Strains to scout ahead for me, find street signs and the like, but they can only see about twenty feet away from me. Here, in every direction there are trees, trees, trees. All trees look alike, even to the Strains.”
    Leilani exhaled slowly. “If you came out the main gate, your house is probably to the west.”
    Zebedy just blinked, so Leilani pointed through the trees.
    That way. I can show you.”
    The girls walked together in the pale green shadows of the leafy branches. Zeb’s tears dried, and she began to babble.
    I’m going to be fourteen in a week. When you're fourteen, the trainers take you on manor tours to see which one suits you best, though you can't join a manor until you're sixteen. I'm a year ahead, so I hope they'll make an exception and let me enroll at fifteen. I want to be with Research. They get to play with pretty much every use of the Strains. The other manors are more restrictive, but I’ll take anything, really, except maybe Civics. Civics can be dreadfully dull. One of my classmates at the Country House’s mother is Civics, and all she does is paperwork, making sure guards get paid and streets are swept. I’d never be able to stay awake through all that. What do your parents do? Mine are both in the Weather Manor.”
    My father’s a weaver,” Leilani answered, with a shrug. Weaving had never interested her as a topic of conversation.
    Zeb frowned, her eyes clouding.
    He’s a tradesman.”
    No reaction, but the frown remained.
    He makes cloth. Sells it to dress shops and tailors or just to the women at market.”
    Oh! I bet he knows Marrine, the seamstress at the Weather Manor. She buys cloth all the time.”
    Maybe, but he’s not the only weaver in Gelia City, you know. There are at least a dozen weaver shops in the Trade District.” Leilani rolled her eyes but forced her face to soften when Zebedy blushed and fell silent. “What do they do at the Weather Manor?” Leilani asked quickly.
    Oh, they predict weather, chart trends, suggest when farmers should plant, and try to intervene if something is going very much awry–to stop catastrophic storms and whatnot. My parents talk about rain a lot.” Zebedy laughed and smiled again. Her eyes had cleared, and as the redness faded from her nose, freckles emerged like stars popping into the night sky. She had high, delicate cheekbones and almost invisible eyebrows. Though almost a year younger than Leilani, Zeb stood a good hand taller. Now, Zeb studied Leilani's face.
    You’re–” Zeb cleared her throat.
    Rynaran? Yes,” Leilani interrupted her, ready to snap if Zeb said anything demeaning. For the most part, Gelians had accepted her people, but they still sometimes said things that made her want to slap them.
    Is it true the Strains don’t sing in Rynar?” Zeb asked.
    Leilani frowned. “I’ve never been to Rynar, but my grandmother said she never heard them until their ship landed in Gelia. She thinks the Strains may belong here and here alone, like Gelian wrens or the golden spotted fish which swim in every pond in Rynar but are never seen in Gelia.”
    Zeb nodded. “I can’t imagine living without the Strains.”
    Neither can I,” Leilani agreed.
    The trees thinned as they approached a rutted dirt road. Recognizing it as one of the back roads leading towards the main thoroughfare, Leilani stepped out and glanced up at the skies.
    The sun had dropped below the treeline ahead of them. Leilani had told her mother she'd be back in time for dinner. If she turned back now, she might make it, barely. She gave Zeb a sideways glance.
    This will lead to the highway coming from the main gate. Can you find your way from there?”
    Zeb opened her mouth, closed it again, and shrugged. “Maybe.”
    Leilani sighed, loudly. “I hope it’s not too far. It will be dark soon.”
    The two girls pushed on. The shadows lengthened across the road. Zebedy whispered to the Strains, and the air around her hands began to glow, shining pink through her fingers. It made her bones visible and cast a circle of light about them. Entranced, Leilani touched the other girl’s hands. She exhaled slowly.
    I didn't even know they could make light. I wish I could do that.”
    Here.” Zeb took Leilani’s left hand about the wrist and hummed.
    Leilani’s skin tingled and came alight. She smiled.
    Come on.” Leilani tugged at Zeb’s arm. “Let’s get you home.”
    An owl hooted in the distance, and Zeb flinched. As if in response, Leilani’s fingers blinked out. Regret filled her chest. Well, it had been nice to touch something more than beggar magic, if only for a moment.

    A twig cracked somewhere nearby. This time Leilani jumped. She pushed Zeb a little harder, trying to concentrate on the Strains and not her own morbid imagination. “We need to walk faster.”