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Melissa Mohalla

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  1. Seven Assignments 1. STORY STATEMENT: An irreverent singing prodigy with extinct siren magic must escape the cutthroat world of an elite opera company to uncover the secrets of the ruling families who seek to eliminate the threat she poses to their power. 2. ANTAGONIST: The Phoerian Opera is an elite company of performers within a decadent city devoted to entertainment and the arts. With a reputation dating back centuries, the Phoerian is the pinnacle of revered singing talent in the realm of Nyskos and an integral part of the kingdom’s culture. The Opera always gets what it wants, plucking promising children from backwater villages and ensuring their commitment with guarantees of fame, riches, and training oversight by their Voicemasters. What the Phoerian doesn’t advertise is the grueling training, cutthroat competition, and forced life of glorified prostitution. That’s showbusiness, and no one turns down the two-edged sword that is the Phoerian Opera. The Opera caters to patrons with enough power or money who long to touch the elusive living art the performers become, and it will provide this experience at any cost to those it has shackled in its grip. For the Phoerian, there is no moral quandary in this practice; it is instead a lovely symbiosis- a natural appreciation of art and a primal desire of beauty mingled in service to its artistic triumphs. This antagonist is represented in the form of its Director, upon whom Kalliope focuses her hatred, although it is understood by all to be a systemic and cultural force. The second (and ultimately main series) antagonists which develop by the end of the second act are the rulers of Gomethra. These rulers are immortals who have held onto their power for a millennia by keeping their people separated in an attempt to stop the heightened magical abilities intermingling produces. Their ultimate triumph was The Scything, a planned war between their nations to produce geographical boundaries and long-standing hatred between their peoples. Their justification is simple- they are protecting their respective realms from the dangers of chaotic magic which could occur. How can they keep people safe if laws and armies cannot keep up with the array of abilities in which interbreeding could result? Most of these rulers have convinced themselves of their noble mindset, but the lengths to which they have gone to achieve this “peace” bely this motive. Ancient and yet still human in their emotions, these scions of power will stop at nothing to remove the threat Kalliope poses as the epitome of the very thing they have waged war to eliminate. 3. TITLES - Song of Smoke - A Symphony of Chains - Aria of Smoke and Scales Series Titles: Book 1: Song of Smoke Book 2: Chord of Fire Book 3: Aria of Ash Book 4: Symphony of Bones 4. GENRE AND COMPARABLES: Young Adult Fantasy a. From Blood and Ash- Jennifer Armentrout’s Blood and Ash series is similar to my novel in that it is a “chosen one” story trope of a young woman who discovers her kingdom harbors shattering secrets regarding its history and treatment of certain populations. This series also has a prevalent romance with foreign royalty, which my book begins to explore. The fantasy elements are comparable due to their derivation of multiple world mythologies and a system of polytheism. The polytheistic aspect in her books bleeds into the corporeal realm when her protagonist is revealed to be a goddess (or descendent of such). My series will explore the possibilities of deities in human form as well, through two of the main supporting characters. b. A Court of Thorns and Roses- This young adult fantasy series by Sara J. Maas follows a young woman’s journey from nobody to queen of a continent, a trope my series uses as well. This book also has in common with mine two rival love interests and the eventual development of a large-scale war throughout the series. Her writing style is a balance of lilting prose and pithy dialogue between well-rounded characters, as well as cinematic action sequences, which I strive to emulate. I admire the strategy of rising stakes Maas employs, which is a factor in her debut YA fantasy series as well (Throne of Glass). My fully plotted quartet will utilize the same approach, with the stakes and scale of action rising with each book, culminating in all-out war for control of the continent. 5. HOOK LINE: As an irreverent singing prodigy with forbidden sirenic abilities is forced into the cutthroat world of an elite opera company, she must confront the truth of her treacherous heritage and the threat it poses to the ruling families of her realm. 6. CONFLICTS a. Inner Conflict: Kalliope dreads joining the Phoerian Opera. She views her fate as a prison of conventional drudgery, no matter the gilding of the cage. She also views her talents as trivial (core wound), though her society prizes them. She longs for adventure, for freedom, for the discovery of the true history of her continent. Her feet would rather be squelching in mud than pirouetting in toe-shoes. When her plan of escaping her fate falls through, she is forced to take her position as a performer. The death of her dream causes Kalliope to struggle with bouts of depression and defiance within the opera house. In relation to this, Kalliope is soon pressured by the opera to oblige the patrons’ expectation of sexual favors, a fate she attempts to avoid at all costs while warring with her principles. b. Secondary Conflicts: - Burgeoning love for her friend Oren. Partner in crime for over a decade, Oren finally lays his cards on the table and proposes they run away to escape their families’ expectations. However, he abandons the plan, and Kalliope must face the fact that he chose his career over her. Later on, she discovers he did not abandon her at all, and she missed her chance at a life with him. - Raice’s offer of adventure. Kalliope’s sexually tense relationship with Raice, a man from the neighboring kingdom, is tested when he offers her the chance to go with him to his country. She refuses at the time, but regrets her decision once the Opera becomes her only recourse. - Kalliope’s trust in her mother. During the course of events, it is revealed that Kalliope’s mother interfered in Kalliope and Oren’s escape. Kalliope discovers that her mother also kept her true heritage a secret from her. - Competition with Andrina. A fellow singer is the Phoerian Opera tries to kill Kalliope in revenge for landing the lead role. - Raice’s assertion of her heritage. Kalliope resents Raice for suggesting that she is a “half-breed,” which is a shameful and dangerous thing in Gomethra. This is also an internal struggle for her to accept her origins. - Raice’s use of Kalliope. Kalliope resents Raice for not telling her about the prophecy regarding her future and for allowing her to think he was invested in her as a person instead of as a political tool 7. SETTING: Kalliope’s story takes place mainly in her home kingdom of Nyskos, a nation comprised of islands spanning across the lower region of the continent of Gomethra. Kalliope grows up surrounded by the Sea, which is developed as a character in itself. She spends her time exploring the nearby islands and remnants of the war. The culture and technological advancement of Nyskos is most comparable to ancient Babylonian, Roman, or Grecian society. The arts are highly prized, and as descendants of nereids/sirens, singing in particular is a revered talent. Her small village of Cretoria is an insular town on an island near the capital city of Mytikas, from which wealthy vacationers come to escape the heat in summer. When Kalliope joins the Phoerian Opera, she is uprooted to the urban setting of Areskoll, which is a hedonistic city devoted to the arts. The decadence of the island is sketched through her provincial observations, but the majority of her time is spent in the great Phoerian Opera House on the hill above Areskoll. The Opera House is a den of fierce competition and broken dreams wrapped up in shining performance halls and mirrored training rooms. After Kalliope escapes the Opera, she journeys across Gomethra’s mainland, the majority of which is a waste called the Ash Plains. This vast expanse of land was destroyed in The Scything, a war between Nyskos and the northern kingdom of Volnyrocq hundreds of years ago. The Ash Plains are home to the Shadow Wolves, twisted creatures borne of the sorcery used in the long-ago war. Foreshadowing of an encounter with these monsters is given in the opening of the story. This geographical feature plays a key role in the plot, as it is the cause of the successful segregation of the northern and southern kingdoms and is considered forbidden territory. Gomethra is a continent shaped, as all continents are, by its history. The conflict between Nyskos and Volnyrocq was fabricated by the ruling families of both nations in order to cause a geographical separation of their peoples. Thus, the Ash Plains, Draekenmor Reef, abandoned Seer's swamp, and other features of the landscape are tied inextricably to the violent political history of this world. These places are explored by the protagonist at various points in the story, leading her to uncover the secrets of her kingdom’s past. Manuscript Example: The Seers' Swamp Raice’s wings set us down on a sparse hillock which proved to be the only clear portion of the island. A forest of dead cypress loomed from the water-logged swamp surrounding the knoll like the bleached skeletons of sentinels with exposed roots of grasping, arthritic toes. They dripped with long tendrils of dry moss which touched the undisturbed water around the base of each tree, a forest of unnatural stillness which raised the hairs on my neck. The sun barely penetrated the gloom underneath branches that had ceased growing centuries ago, and despite the stillness which lingered, the water remained murky with a sediment that refused to settle as if something underneath stirred it. “Why are we here?” I turned to Raice, my eyes darting around the space so as not to miss any movement lurking in the trees. The dragon before me morphed into a man once more, those same scales once again in place as the smoke dissipated in the silent air that seemed to listen to my every word. This time, however, the scales only covered him from the hips down over his waist and legs like molded trousers, leaving his chest and arms bare. The sight of just how corded with muscle he was unsettled me more than the island upon which we stood. The Hellflame Prince’s darkness was a gravitation that called to me more than the garish brightness of the the Phoerian's patrons. Raice flexed his fingers and rotated each arm as if growing used to the feel of them again. “I need information from a woman who lives on this island. She’s a witch and a seer.” My brows rose. “A witch?” He nodded, looking out over the endless swamp. “Cetusath- the most powerful seer in a thousand years. She knows many things.” A prickle of fear curled around my chest. “What are you going to give up?” Raice slid his eyes to mine. “Worried, Siren?” Bristling, I crossed my arms. “I know I’m not that special.” He barked out a laugh. “To ease your fears, I won’t have to give up anything I can’t live without.” He considered his words and cocked his head. “In a manner of speaking. I’m not looking for a vision that hasn’t yet been seen. What I want is access to one she has had in her possession since The Scything.” “What does this vision depict?” The spongy ground beneath my feet squelched. Why hadn’t I been wearing sandals on the beach that day? For once, I wished I couldn’t feel any sensation on the bottoms of my bare feet. “Someone who can turn the tide,” he replied. He reached for my hand, and I put mine in his. “I can’t navigate through the trees while in my more formidable form. It’s about two miles from here.” He nodded towards the heart of the island. I looked into the dank forest and tried not to cringe. Adventure. That’s what I had wanted. I supposed that’s what this was. My attempts to remember that flickered out as Raice led me into the swamp, wading into the opaque water that was colder than I’d expected. As soon as I touched it, I knew- this water was not like the sea. It did not answer to me the same way, nor did it welcome our intrusion. We trudged further and further into the bleak and sunless swamp, our strides sluggish in the waist-deep water. All color here was dimmed, as if anything vibrant had been leached of its brightness in a silent scream over the years. I imagined I could feel myself growing paler by the minute.
  2. Opening Scene- Establishes setting, protagonist, antagonist, and primary and secondary conflicts. CHAPTER 1 “Only one in forty are venomous.” The murmured reminder did nothing to banish the trickle of bright adrenaline down my nerves as the breakers began their telltale frothing beneath the water’s surface. I should have felt badly for skipping my voice session, but I was too sated on the sand’s warmth and a full belly to much care. Strands of hair coaxed on the sea’s winds floated across my copper cheeks, and I did not bother to restrain their path over slitted eyes which watched the ebb of the surf- waiting. The coiling of my stomach did not owe itself to breaking the unspoken rules governing my days, but what I now contemplated as I watched the equine creature emerge from the roiling waves. I began to sing, my ability to voice two notes at once drawing the animal nearer in swells of melding chords. She beckons with misting fingers And Tantrums of thrown limbs Join the waves, the wind, the storm Listen to her hymns Embrace her darkness, kiss her depths Taste salt upon your lip Your neglect of dawn’s blood skies Cost more than just your ship Closer it came across the sand, ears perked at the old ballad as I wove the chorus in the air around us. Half a dozen coves carved Cretoria’s coastline in aggressive gouges, but Oren and I had claimed this one. Tidal pools of varying sizes reflected the slouching sun like pieces of shattered mirror embedded in the dark rocks on the west end, while nothing but golden sand comprised the remainder of the small crescent. Neither the locals nor the summer sunbirds from the nearby capital city of Mytikas enjoyed traversing the narrow ledge of a trail down the slate cliffs over the cove, leaving this place to us most days. Dusk had coalesced in fading golden shafts suspended in the leaden hour of the evening- the hour in which wild sea horses sometimes swam onto shore here to fling their manes of kelp as they pounded across the sand. I had never approached one until now, the longing to run my fingers over its flaring pink gills overpowering the conviction that such a thing is never meant to be tamed or even touched by civilized hands. My hands were not soft by any means, not like the lavender oil scented ones of those in Mytikas. But they were human hands, and humans tended to ruin things they loved. I would only touch its muzzle, just for a moment. My notes fell softer as it approached. The hard plates of its nectarine-hued body rose and fell in ridges capped with skeletal knobs, ending in a curled tail. As it danced closer, my eyes drifted to its saddle fin, which rose high on its back tipped in lethal spines. Those needle-sharp points, and the smaller ones embedded in its ridges, contained a venom the barest amount of which would paralyze your limbs with creeping stealth as you were impaled further and dragged into the sea by the carnivorous animal. It was said that during those moments, the venom caused a euphoria, and you didn’t mind your imminent death approaching on the white-tipped depths. Her gills fluttered as she stretched her neck towards me, my nostrils catching the briny scent of kelp which hung in layers of twisting jade ribbon and bulbous air pockets along her neck. The orange of her shell absorbed the sunlight slanting across the cove like my own skin did. I was always famished for sunlight, for cool seawater, for the sound of the tide shushing my staccato heartbeat. She and I were kindred. The tips of my fingers brushed her fluted nose. A familiar voice sliced through the carefully cultivated haze around me. “Opi? What-” The horse reared back, tossing her head as she shimmied backwards and turned away from me. “Curse you, Oren!” I yelled as the creature sprinted for the surf, thundering into the undertow. I whipped towards him, eyes squinting to see the haloed outline of his rangy limbs. “What’s the matter with you?” my friend called, long legs ambling over the sand towards me. “Were you about to touch that thing?” I crossed my arms as he approached. “Maybe.” The white of his eyes showed as he sighed. “Did you skip voice lessons?” What was he, my mother? Kalliope, her lilting voice wavered in my mind. I won’t have it said you’re shirking your duties to the Opera… Anxiety curled in my gut, but I clobbered it down with an imaginary piece of driftwood. The Phoerian Opera could go rot today. I was not yet in its gold-fisted grip- or so I told myself. Rolling my eyes in answer, I picked up the lobster tail I’d been roasting and tossed it to him. “Got four today.” I didn’t mention I’d spent two hours diving for them, but they were his second-favorite food, so I didn’t mind. He caught it with a soft swear and then dropped the scalding crustacean in the sand. Flicking his nimble fingers as if to rid them of the heat, he commented casually, “Suppose it’s a good thing you’re here already.” He paused, and I almost threw sand in his sun-bronzed face before he finally spit out what I’d been waiting to hear. “My contact at the Nautilus Citadel replied to my letter.” Everything in me suddenly focused to a razor-sharp edge, my urge to ream him for the ruined lobster abandoned. We’d been waiting over a month for this response. This was it. The only answer to the only question that mattered. “Yes?” My hands twitched as I contemplated the urge to strangle him. “What did he say? The one-dimpled smile which crept across my friend’s face raised the hairs on my arms. “We leave in the morning for the Solstice Trade.” My breath hitched. It was true. The vanished peoples of Gomethra’s mainland were real. The Solstice Trade was real. And we were going to crash it. No rule for what we were about to do existed, but if it had- I’d break it faster than a sea horse could drag me beneath the indifferent waves, euphoric to the bitter end. **** The edge of my awareness drug on unfamiliar ground, a hem fraying further with each barefoot step we’d taken to arrive at the wastelands of Gomethra. Though the boat in which we’d traveled was only a mile away through the forest, I forced the image of its hull bumping against the rocks through my mind like a talisman. “Do bones burn to ash as well, or are they still beneath us?” Oren mused. Patience had never been my strong suit, but I could think of a thousand things I’d rather be than patient, so I wasn’t going to fill the Amphritis Sea with tears over it. My cheeks stung as I dragged ash-encrusted nails down them. The imbecile beside me had clearly forgotten the need for silence as we crouched on the edge of the vast, grass-covered Ash Plains, anticipation taught as a lyre’s strings in our veins. “Shut it,” I hissed, sending his larger form toppling over from where he crouched next to me. The azure of his eyes widened as he froze at the lofty grass rustling around us. I prayed to Chrosos no one in the envoy had seen the ripple in the silver vegetation. The company of a hundred soldiers waited in stoic silence a stone’s throw from us as they faced the undulating waves stretching out for miles in front of them like a sea of mirrored anemones. My shoulders dropped in relief as they stood unmoving against the cloudless skies. “Thought you were bringing food,” Oren growled, his mutinous wheat hair slipping over one eye. I heaved a token sigh, inhaling and exhaling the smell of burning leaves that still lingered in the soil after all this time. His nattering didn’t matter anyways while the breeze and the grass spoke so freely around us, drowning our words in their murmured song akin to velvet brushing over my ears. “No matter how long we wait, seeing dragons will be worth it,” I reminded him. “Where’s your food?” Face falling, he mumbled, “I hid some snacks from myself last night to save them and couldn’t remember where I put them this morning.” Vertical lines furrowed his brow as his eyes roamed the mental landscape of possible hiding spots he’d forgotten about. He’d find them eventually, as always. I patted his tightly coiled shoulder muscle. “My condolences. No, you can’t have mine.” There had always been rumors the dragons still existed. The official word claimed they had gone extinct from disease and starvation after The Scything, the war waged centuries ago between Nyskos and the northern kingdom of Volnyrocq. The mainland had not always been the wasteland of cursed grass which stretched before us. Oren had heard through his family’s connections in Mytikas that some Rocqes still lived beyond the Ash Plains and that an exchange of goods happened each year near the summer solstice. Yet none of the things we’d speculated about came close to the reality before us. Half a dozen cargo ships were tethered on the wide river mouth which flowed alongside the plains. The massive caravan of goods sitting behind the line of guards could have fed the capital city of Mytikas for a month. Nyskos had amassed hundreds of barrels of salted and smoked fish, live lobsters and crabs in enormous glass tanks pulled on wagons, towers of crated wine and sweet liqueurs, bottles of olive oil, sacks of grain and kafe beans...The smell alone carried over on the wind caused my mouth to water. I’d skipped breakfast for this (more like Oren ate mine on the way) to meet him at the docks and arrive here by the sun’s highest point. A distant rumble began to shake the ground beneath my knees, and I looked up to see the hazy outline of black forms marching through the grass. Those who believed in the tales of the Rocqes’ existence said they had lost their ability to breathe fire or fly, just as we, the race of Nereiden, had lost our sirenic traits over time. Whatever form they wore caused a rhythmic trembling of the grass around us, and we watched as the first row of two dozen black plates of armor came into focus. Their pace would bring them to us in moments, but that wasn’t what caused Oren to swear. “Holy mother of tentacles,” he breathed. Behind the Rocqe soldiers were massive carts pulled by beasts I had only read about in one of the texts from my mother’s collection. Unlike most cart animals, the heads of the bone lynxes with their twitching feline noses stayed angled high in the air, looking out over the soldiers of the retinue in front of them. Black spikes of bone longer than my arms rose in pairs from the ringed white fur on their backs, chains connecting them to the carts pulled taut from the manacles encircling them. They moved as if the weight of the house-sized carts didn’t affect them in the least as they stalked forward with fluid grace. My head tilted. “Is it wrong I have an urge to see how soft their ears are?” “T’would be a noble death,” Oren replied. “I'll sing your song in the Nautilus Citadel.” Oren’s voice was terrible, so I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. More intriguing than the bone lynxes were the men encased from the waist up in armor of glistening jet black with horned helmets. As they drew closer, I could see the iridescent scales which made up the armor shifting over each other. There were what appeared to be wings for epaulets, flaring out beyond their shoulders and ending in a single talon at the tip. In contrast, the golden armor of the Nereiden almost blinded a person when looking at it in full sunlight. I was pleased to see that our representatives didn’t move a muscle in reaction to the approaching envoy. One of the bone lynxes snapped its head in our direction, looking straight at us through the grass. My lungs seized. Ducking back down, I pulled Oren with me. “Do you think it sees us?” Oren’s eyes were not teasing now. “I have no doubt it does.” Shivers chased over my scalp. Or perhaps the shiver had more to do with the way he lowered his voice to a baritone murmur that had developed of late. It was strange to realize Oren’s lanky form had filled out into broader shoulders and his face had developed new angles to it. He’d always had beautiful features, and I’d teased him mercilessly for being prettier than any of the girls on Cretoria. But now he was beginning to strike me as something different. When the retinues finally came face to face, it was rather anticlimactic. Two soldiers simply exchanged scrolls, and then we watched for almost an hour while they loaded and unloaded goods from the bone lynxes onto the ships and vice versa. My stomach grumbled as time wore on, but I wasn’t going to look away. “They managed to cross the Ash Plains unscathed,” I commented, sifting gray dirt through my fingers as I sat on the packed earth. Drawings on old parchment surfaced in my mind, images of the warped creatures which hunted in the grasses of the plains and made crossing a suicidal endeavor. Oren raised a brow at me like I was an idiot. “I would imagine it had something to do with the giant cats they brought,” he drawled. “Even if the shadow wolves are as big as they say, nothing would attack those things.” He had a point. As we watched yet more containers and barrels being hefted onto the flat carts of the bone lynxes, Oren voiced a question of his own. “Do you think the Prince of Volnyrocq truly started the war? That he burned an entire city to the ground?” I’d thought about the answer to his question a thousand times. “Wouldn’t blame him if he did.” Oren gave me a look like I’d grown another head. “Just because one person died doesn’t mean you can-” “She didn’t just die, Oren. Her fins were cut from her body and her heart ripped out.” We’d had this argument countless times, but I was more than happy to rise to the occasion again. “If I found the person I was supposed to marry like that, I might go on a fire-breathing rampage too.” Oren frowned. “He should have known better than to bring a nereid to the Winged Court. The Rocqes were barbarians, even without the danger of a Kymaera being produced from their union.” I shrugged. “Forbid something, and someone will inevitably be stupid enough to try it, daemon spawn or not.” He paused, then looked at me sideways. “You still believe those stories? I doubt any of us could shift into dragons or mer, even eight-hundred years ago. And the Kymaera were probably just deformed children. I pity them.” I turned my body towards him, jaw dropped. “What are you talking about? You’ve seen the Draekenmor Reef the same as I. The bones are piled from the sea floor to the surface. Thousands of dragons. They were pulled from the sky in The Scything.” He shrugged. “But what if it’s just casts and molds? Carvings? What if it doesn’t reach to the sea floor, Opi?” “I can't even hear you over your own horsecrap,” I hissed, struggling to keep my voice low. He didn’t deserve to use his pet name for me. “Those scrolls are not stories, Oren. Their histories. How can you deny that?” He sighed, leaning back onto one elbow. “Mytikas has different texts now, ones that are more accurate based on actual research. Your mother’s scrolls are probably just a collection of tales that were never meant to be taken seriously.” My fingers curled into the ash beneath us. He was suddenly revealing this misbelief now, of all times? Those stories of dragons and mer were an unshakable part of us- so I’d thought. I was going to push him off a cliff when we got back to Cretoria. “What nonsense have those in Mytikas been spout-” A screech rent the sky in the distance, raising the dusty hairs on my body to stand. It was a shrill cry, ear-piercing in pitch and ending on a hopeless, echoing note like the last song of a dying glasswhale. We lifted our heads up out of the grass. All of the soldiers had stopped to listen too, and the bone lynxes had shifted to crouched positions as low as possible in their harnesses. Their great yellow eyes watched the sky to the north, and I turned to look at well. Another desolate shriek sounded, and I saw the vague outline of something high in the air- something too big to be any sort of bird. “Is that…?” I couldn’t even say the words, my heart pounding so loud the bone lynxes could probably hear it with their tufted ears. “It can’t be,” Oren whispered. “It’s impossible.” The creature was too far away to make out anything more than the outline of wings and a sleek body, but I knew. It was a dragon. Apparently, the soldiers thought so too. Shouting began, and swords were pulled from sheaths as the Nereiden guards faced their dark counterparts. It was clear this wasn’t part of the plan. The Rocqe soldiers also drew their weapons from their backs, wielding two wickedly curved onyx blades in response. “We need to get out of here,” Oren rumbled, taking my hand. “Now.” I couldn’t agree more, though I was dying to stay and see what happened. But if fighting occurred, there would be no predicting where the soldiers would go, and they could run right into us. I wasn’t stupid enough to think we would be spared by even our own soldiers in such a precarious situation. Looking up to the sky once more, I saw the shape of the dragon- or whatever it was- growing closer. I had never in my life wanted to stay put more than I did in that moment, whether I was burned to a crisp or chopped into pieces. “Kalliope, now!” Oren dragged me towards the forest with more force than I expected. Tearing my gaze away from the black spec in the sky, I followed him, awkwardly running while bent over as low as I could. When we were almost to the tree line at the edge of the Ash Plains, another primeval screech struck our ears as the clang of swords rang out, and we both abandoned our stealth for speed as we sprinted for the shelter of the trees. As we reached the first few steps under the forest’s canopy, I turned back. All I saw before Oren jerked me forward again were flashes of gold and obsidian striking each other. “Wait, Oren, I want to see if-” “No, you don’t,” he snapped, and I blinked at him. He never spoke to me in that tone, but the hard set of his jaw silenced any argument I had planned to use. Still- I looked back one last time before jerking into movement… The elegantly curved blade of a black-suited soldier plunged into the space between his opponent’s armor where the shoulder met the golden breastplate. I watched as it was forced deeper, piercing sideways into the man’s chest. My own ribs seemed constrict inwards as I pictured the perforation of his lungs, his heart, blood filling the cavities in between. The Nereiden’s cry was so small compared to the creature’s above and yet echoed through my nerve endings. It was final. It was desperate and fearful and knowing, his last sound. The gold-clad body fell to Ash Plains and did not rise. My blood had frozen, but it pounded in my ears nonetheless as Oren pulled me away. We sped over the forest paths back to where our small fishing boat waited. As we shoved off for the sail back to Cretoria, I thought I heard another wailing cry, and I caught my breath at the loneliness of it. Or, as Oren insisted on the way home, it was probably just the wind.
  3. Seven Assignments 1. STORY STATEMENT: An irreverent singing prodigy must escape her fate as an exploited opera singer and confront her identity as a threat to the ruling families of her realm. 2. ANTAGONIST: The Phoerian Opera is an elite company of performers within a decadent city devoted to entertainment and the arts. With a reputation dating back centuries, the Phoerian is the pinnacle of revered singing talent in the realm of Nyskos and an integral part of the kingdom’s culture. The Opera always gets what it wants, plucking promising children from backwater villages and ensuring their commitment with guarantees of fame, riches, and training oversight by their Voicemasters. What the Phoerian doesn’t advertise is the grueling training, cutthroat competition, and forced life of glorified prostitution. That’s showbusiness, and no one turns down the two-edged sword that is the Phoerian Opera. The Opera caters to patrons with enough power or money who long to touch the elusive living art the performers become, and it will provide this experience at any cost to those it has shackled in its grip. For the Phoerian, there is no moral quandary in this practice, but a beautiful dichotomy, a natural balance of higher creativity and base desire mingled in service to its artistic triumphs. This antagonist is represented many times in the form of its Director, upon whom Kalliope focuses her hatred. The second (and ultimately main series) antagonists which develop by the end of the second act are the rulers of Gomethra. These rulers are immortals who have held onto their power for a millennia by keeping their people separated in an attempt to stop the heightened magical abilities intermingling produces. Their ultimate triumph was The Scything, a planned war between their nations to produce geographical boundaries and long-standing hatred between the races. Their justification is simple- they are protecting their respective realms from the dangers of chaotic magic which could occur. How can they keep people safe if laws and armies cannot keep up with the array of abilities which interbreeding could result in? Most of these rulers have convinced themselves of their noble mindset, but the lengths to which they have gone to achieve this “peace” bely this motive. Ancient and yet still human in their emotions, these scions of power will stop at nothing to remove the threat Kalliope poses as the epitome of the very thing they have waged war to eliminate. 3. TITLES - Song of Smoke - A Symphony of Chains - Aria of Smoke and Scales 4. GENRE AND COMPARABLES: Young Adult Fantasy a. From Blood and Ash- Jennifer Armentrout’s Blood and Ash series is similar to my novel in that it is a “chosen one” story trope of a young woman who discovers her kingdom harbors shattering secrets regarding its history and treatment of certain populations. This series also has a prevalent romance with foreign royalty, which my book begins to explore. The fantasy elements are comparable due to their derivation of multiple world mythologies and a system of polytheism. The polytheistic aspect in her books bleeds into the corporeal realm when her protagonist is revealed to be a goddess (or descendent of such). My series will explore the possibilities of deities in human form as well, through two of the main supporting characters. b. A Court of Thorns and Roses- This young adult fantasy series by Sara J. Maas follows a young woman’s journey from nobody to queen of a continent, a trope my series uses as well. This book also has in common with mine two rival love interests and the eventual development of a large-scale war throughout the series. Her writing style is a balance of lilting prose and pithy dialogue between well-rounded characters, as well as cinematic action sequences, which I strive to emulate. I admire the strategy of rising stakes Maas employs, which is a factor in her debut YA fantasy series as well (Throne of Glass). My fully plotted quartet will utilize the same approach, with the stakes and scale of action rising with each book, culminating in all-out war for control of the continent. 5. HOOK LINE: As an irreverent singing prodigy with forbidden sirenic abilities is forced into the cutthroat world of an elite opera company, she must confront the truth of her treacherous heritage and the threat it poses to the ruling families of her realm. 6. CONFLICTS a. Inner Conflict: Kalliope dreads joining the Phoerian Opera. She views her fate as a prison of conventional drudgery, no matter the gilding of the cage. She longs for adventure, for freedom, for the discovery of the true history of her continent. Her feet would rather be squelching in mud than pirouetting in toe-shoes. When her plan of escaping her fate falls through, she is forced to take her position as a performer. The death of her dream causes Kalliope to struggle with bouts of depression and defiance within the opera house. In relation to this, Kalliope is soon pressured by the opera to oblige the patrons’ expectation of sexual favors, a fate she attempts to avoid at all costs while warring with her principles. b. Secondary Conflicts: - Burgeoning love for her friend Oren. Partner in crime for over a decade, Oren finally lays his cards on the table and proposes they run away to escape their families’ expectations. However, he abandons the plan, and Kalliope must face the fact that he chose his career over her. Later on, she discovers he did not abandon her at all, and she missed her chance at a life with him. - Raice’s offer of adventure. Kalliope’s sexually tense relationship with Raice, a man from the neighboring kingdom, is tested when he offers her the chance to go with him to his country. She refuses at the time, but regrets her decision once the Opera becomes her only recourse. - Kalliope’s trust in her mother. During the course of events, it is revealed that Kalliope’s mother interfered in Kalliope and Oren’s escape. Kalliope discovers that her mother also kept her true heritage a secret from her. - Competition with Andrina. A fellow singer is the Phoerian Opera tries to kill Kalliope in revenge for landing the lead role - Raice’s assertion of her heritage. Kalliope resents Raice for suggesting that she is a “half-breed,” which is a shameful and dangerous thing in Gomethra. This is also an internal struggle for her to accept her origins. - Raice’s use of Kalliope. Kalliope resents Raice for not telling her about the prophecy regarding her future and for allowing her to think he was invested in her as a person instead of as a political tool 7. SETTING: The plot of this novel, due to its political and action aspects within a fantasy realm, relies heavily on the setting. My novel lays an entire foreign climate, ecosystem, culture, and geopolitical landscape at the reader’s feet, all without large information dumps which will slow the story. I’ve endeavored to accomplish this by using each scene as an opportunity to reveal more of the fantastical setting whilst moving the plot forward. In addition, the protagonist makes a habit of exploring her surroundings, so her personality lends itself to immersing the reader more fully through her eyes. Kalliope’s story takes place mainly in her home kingdom of Nyskos, a nation comprised of islands spanning across the lower region of the continent of Gomethra. Kalliope grows up surrounded by the Sea, which is developed as a character in itself. She spends her time exploring the nearby islands and remnants of the war. The culture and technological advancement of Nyskos is comparable to Babylonian or ancient Grecian society. The arts are highly prized, and as descendants of nereids/sirens, singing in particular is a revered talent. Her small village of Cretoria is an insular town on an island near the capital city of Mytikas, from which wealthy vacationers come to escape the heat in summer. When Kalliope joins the Phoerian Opera, she is uprooted to the urban setting of Areskoll, which is a hedonistic city devoted to the arts. The decadence of the island is sketched through her provincial observations, but the majority of her time is spent in the great Phoerian Opera House on the hill above Areskoll. The Opera House is a den of fierce competition and broken dreams wrapped up in shining performance halls and mirrored training rooms. After Kalliope escapes the Opera, she journeys across Gomethra’s mainland, the majority of which is a waste called the Ash Plains. This vast expanse of land was destroyed in The Scything, a war between Nyskos and the northern kingdom of Volnyrocq hundreds of years ago. The Ash Plains are home to the Shadow Wolves, twisted creatures borne of the sorcery used in the long-ago war. Foreshadowing of an encounter with these monsters is given in the opening of the story. This geographical feature plays a key role in the plot, as it is the cause of the successful segregation of the northern and southern kingdoms and is considered forbidden territory. Gomethra is a continent shaped, as all continents are, by its history. The conflict between Nyskos and Volnyrocq was fabricated by the ruling families of both nations in order to cause a geographical separation of their peoples. Thus, the Ash Plains, Draekenmor Reef, abandoned Seer's swamp, and other features of the landscape are tied inextricably to the violent political history of this world. These places are explored by the protagonist at various points in the story, leading her to uncover the secrets of her kingdom’s past. Manuscript Example: The Seers' Swamp Raice’s wings set us down on a sparse hillock which proved to be the only clear portion of the entire island. A forest of dead cypress loomed from the water-logged swamp surrounding the knoll like the bleached skeletons of sentinels with exposed roots of grasping, arthritic toes. They dripped with long tendrils of dry moss which touched the undisturbed water around the base of each tree, a forest of unnatural stillness which raised the hairs on my neck. The sun barely penetrated the gloom underneath branches that had ceased growing centuries ago, and despite the stillness that lingered, the water remained murky with a sediment that refused to settle as if something underneath stirred it. “Why are we here?” I turned to Raice, my eyes darting around the space so as not to miss any movement that lurked in the trees. The dragon before me morphed into a man once more, those same scales once again in place as the smoke dissipated in the silent air that seemed to listen to my every word. This time, however, the scales only covered him from the hips down over his waist and legs like molded trousers, leaving his chest and arms bare. The sight of just how corded with muscle he was unsettled me more than the island upon which we stood. The Hellflame Prince’s darkness was a gravitation that called to me more than the garish brightness of the the Phoerian's patrons. Raice flexed his fingers and rotated each arm as if growing used to the feel of them again. “I need information from a woman who lives on this island. She’s a witch and a seer.” My brows rose. “A witch?” He nodded, looking out over the endless swamp. “Cetusath- the most powerful seer in a thousand years. She knows many things.” A prickle of fear curled around my chest. “What are you going to give up?” Raice slid his eyes to mine. “Worried, Siren?” Bristling, I crossed my arms. “I know I’m not that special.” He barked out a laugh. “To ease your fears, I won’t have to give up anything I can’t live without.” He considered his words and cocked his head. “In a manner of speaking. I’m not looking for a vision that hasn’t yet been seen. What I want is access to one she has had in her possession since The Scything.” “What does this vision depict?” The spongy ground beneath my feet squelched. Why hadn’t I been wearing sandals on the beach that day? For once, I wished I couldn’t feel any sensation on the bottoms of my bare feet. “Someone who can turn the tide,” he replied. He reached for my hand, and I put mine in his. “I can’t navigate through the trees while in my more formidable form. It’s about two miles from here.” He nodded towards the heart of the island. I looked into the dank forest and tried not to cringe. Adventure. That’s what I had wanted. I supposed that’s what this was. My attempts to remember that flickered out as Raice led me into the swamp, wading into the opaque water that was colder than I’d expected. As soon as I touched it, I knew- this water was not like the sea. It did not answer to me the same way, nor did it welcome our intrusion. We trudged farther and farther into the bleak and sunless swamp, our strides sluggish in the waist-deep water. All color here was dimmed, as if anything vibrant had been leached of its brightness in a silent scream over the years. I imagined I could feel myself growing paler by the minute.
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