Fae Bargains and New Beginnings

Spring stories! Yay!

I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like we all missed spring this year.

Today, I went out to the grocery store after being on full quarantine for two weeks. It was sunny…and very, very hot. And all the trees are in full summer leaves.

I missed all the gentle spring air and flowers.

But in a way, today felt like a fresh start after weeks of working from home and a completely destroyed sleep schedule. I got sunshine, ate some vegetables, and have renewed energy for my writing, no matter the other things going on in my life and the world around me. It’s a great feeling.

And another new thing happened yesterday: All That Glimmers released! AND I now have a BookBub!

This novella is the first spring installment of Seasons of Magic, and though it deals with the heavier topics of grief and guilt, it’s also a contemporary fantasy set in the same world as Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks. So if you liked Fae in that story, this is the next one for you. 🙂

Three things you’ll find inside:

  1. A deer Fae, complete with antlers.
  2. Friendship.
  3. New beginnings.

Here’s a little more about it (and keep reading for a sneak peek!):

Hallie just made the stupidest mistake of her life. Twice.

After the loss of her longtime friend, college student Hallie just needed a win. Too bad she got rejected from the only graduate program she applied to. But when a mysterious Fae appears offering to change that rejection to an acceptance, her choice seems clear. And all she has to give him is her first discovery—her academic firstborn.

But when the time comes to pay up, Hallie can’t go through with it. She never counted on a discovery that could bring her friend back to life. So she offers a new bargain: she keeps the knowledge, but she must figure out who this mysterious Fae is…or stay in the Spring Court forever. Now she must race the clock to investigate the Court, solve this mystery, and find out how to bring her friend back. Otherwise, she can forget about fixing her mistakes and say goodbye to her human life for good.

This retelling of Rumplestiltskin is a powerful story of loss, acceptance, and new beginnings. How far would you go to fix your worst mistakes?

You can get it on Amazon here or anywhere else here!

And now…a sneak peek!

Hallie crumpled the paper between her fists as the first tear hit her desk.

Of course she didn’t get in. Sabine University’s folklore program was only the most competitive in the country. And of course she didn’t apply anywhere else. And of course she had already told her parents—who already told everyone they knew—that she was a shoo-in.

And of course Kat had tried to tell her.

Stupid. She should have listened to Wyn. To Kat. But Kat was gone now, and it seemed she’d taken every good thing along with her.

Hallie rubbed at the fresh red scar across her collarbone. Even if she wanted to forget it all, she couldn’t.

After the accident, she had nearly failed her last literature class, missing the deadline for the biggest paper of the semester. Luckily, the professor had been understanding and let her turn it in late. Even a C was better than a 0.

And she got nothing done the entire week of the funeral.

And now this. Hallie sincerely hoped it was true that bad things came in threes. Maybe this meant the bad was finally past, like the spring shower pelting her windowpane.

How was she ever going to explain to her parents?

She tossed the crumpled paper onto her crowded desk where it was lost amidst her notes and books for finals. None of it seemed to matter now. She might as well skip her last final tomorrow and start packing up her dorm room. She stretched her arms over her head and leaned back in the chair, taking a shaky breath.

“You could always ask for help,” came a voice from behind her.

A male voice.

Hallie’s chair hit the cement floor with a thunk, and she spun to face the intruder without standing. A boy about her age stood in the door, his hair shaggy and storm-tossed from the wind outside. His black frames almost hid his eyes behind the glint of the fluorescent light, and behind him, her dorm’s door was definitely still closed. And locked.

“How did you get in here?” She swiped at the tears on her cheeks.

“The more important point is that I’m here,” he responded with a toothy smile. “After all, this is what you wanted, isn’t it? Don’t you want to know how I can help you?”

The air seemed to shimmer around the young man. There was more to him than what she could see, she knew that. Yet, in this moment, it didn’t seem important that she remember why she should care. Why she might worry. Wyn, as a Fae, had taught her something, but Hallie’s brain was fuzzy, like this boy radiated something to make her forget.

Her locked door was concerning. But she had summoned a Fae, any Fae, in the hopes that she could still fix at least one thing in her life. She just never thought one would actually appear.

And then she was speaking before she even realized it. “How can you help me?”

His grin grew even wider, were that possible. He took another few steps into the room. The crumpled rejection letter rolled from the pile of notes and smoothed itself in front of her. She snatched it up and held it to her chest as if she could hide the painful words from him.

“I can make that rejection…” He thought for a moment, looking up into a distant corner. A sharp tooth glinted in the artificial light of the dorm. “Transform.”

“Transform?”

“You want to get in, right? To be a student at Sabine? Well, I can make that happen.”

Hallie’s breath caught in her throat. He could get her in? How?

“I have ways,” he said, as if reading her thoughts. “But it won’t be for free.”

Her heart dropped. Of course. No magic was ever free.

“What do you want?” she forced from her wooden lips.

He smiled again. “Not much. I just want your first discovery. Your academic firstborn, if you will.”

“What?”

“I get the credit for your first discovery, my dear. That’s all.”

That was it? Her first paper would belong to him, whoever he was? That didn’t seem so bad. Her mind scrambled furiously, trying to see a downside to the offer, but nothing came to mind.

She should stop here. Think on it. Sleep on it. Wasn’t that what Wyn had always told her? Don’t trust the Fae too easily?

But why? She could change her fate. And all it would cost was a single piece of research. Didn’t she have a whole lifetime ahead of her, anyway? Her entire life to learn folklore, to find out where story and truth intersected?

She nodded slowly. “Okay.”

“Wonderful!” he said.

The boy stepped forward, extending a hand. She rose from her desk chair and took it. Vines of golden-green magic wrapped around both their arms, and the air hummed with energy. She could feel it sinking into her skin, a warmth like the first breath of spring air.

He released her hand and gestured at the letter, still clutched against her chest. “Look.”

She pulled it away, her eyes scanning the page quickly.

Congratulations, it said in place of We are sorry to inform you

Hallie caught her breath. So easily? Could it really be that simple? She looked back up at the boy.

“It is done,” the boy said. And then he was gone.

ONe more time…here are those links: YOU CAN GET IT ON AMAZON HERE OR ANYWHERE ELSE HERE!

~~~

News!

As I mentioned briefly above, if you’re on BookBub, I’m there now! You can find me and my recommended reads here. See you there! 😀

Urban Fantasy: A Closer Look

Let’s talk urban fantasy!

Welcome back to Fantasy Month! As a reminder, you can find out all about this event over on Jenelle Schmidt’s blog.

Previously, we’ve discussed some of the subgenres of fantasy, but today I want to delve more into urban fantasy, its own subgenre of fantasy. Why? Because urban fantasy has a lot of subtle nuances that tend to be used interchangeably, and there can be a lot of disagreement about what exactly urban fantasy is.

But first, a note. Even though this is how I define urban fantasy, you don’t have to agree with me. Not everyone does! But I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments so we can chat. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Urban fantasy is not contemporary fantasy

I feel like this is a common misconception. Many people equate urban fantasy with anything set in modern time. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

By definition, urban fantasy (UF) must take place in a city setting (urban). It could be historical urban fantasy, but the most likely, and the most recognized, is modern day city settings.

Contemporary fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t restricted to a city setting. It can be rural, under the ocean, on the moon…though there may be other overlapping genres there. 😉 But the key is that it takes place in current times without specifying location.

Contemporary and low fantasy aren’t the same

Low fantasy, similar to contemporary fantasy, takes place in our world. However, similar to urban fantasy, it does not have to be modern time. Contemporary, by definition, does take place during modern times.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are similar…but not the same

This one is still fuzzier to me. Urban fantasy is similar to paranormal romance (PNR), but it tends to focus much less on romantic elements. PNR centers on romantic relationships, though it shares many other characteristics with UF. As I had mentioned last year in the fantasy subgenres breakdown, paranormal itself tends to center on another specific characteristic, so I’d say that PNR is just paranormal with a romantic twist.

Do you have a good definition of PNR? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!

So what are some hallmarks of urban fantasy?

Many people will overlap urban and contemporary fantasy, and there are a lot of book series that fall into this category in bookstores and online. Many of them tend to share some of the same features (but these are by no means inclusive and UF doesn’t have to contain all of them):

  • Brandon Sanderson once described urban fantasy as “chicks in leather fighting demons”. This can be accurate for some.
  • Many main characters (not all) are female.
  • Main characters may be human or not. But they become deeply immersed in supernatural culture.
  • There are often slow-burn romantic elements, but it is not the focus of the story, and romance isn’t a requirement.
  • Books are often long-running series.
  • Each book in a series is self-contained, but overall character arcs continue to develop from book to book.
  • UF may contain the following (or more!): shifters, fae, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mages, demons, angels, any magical creature you can think of.

Do you have other characteristics you’ve seen in urban fantasy? What are they? Tell me in the comments!

Final thoughts

Personally, I LOVE urban fantasy, but I know it isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that idea that magic could be just around the corner, that we just don’t see it around us. It’s an idea I became almost obsessed with over the past several years, starting with when I read the Mercy Thompson books in grad school. And because of my love for it, I tend to write quite a bit of it.

This Cursed Flame is a YA contemporary/portal fantasy. It doesn’t take place in a city, but it is set in modern times. It includes many, many djinn. And a genie.

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks is also contemporary fantasy, but it doesn’t take place in a city, so again, just contemporary. It does, however, have fae all over it.

And my newest release (out today!), Freeze Thaw, is a blend of contemporary and historical fantasy, as it combines magic in the Ice Age with magic in the modern world. But it’s set at an archaeological dig rather than a city, so I say, again, contemporary.

I’d love to tell you of all my upcoming projects, but it would simply take too long. So instead, do you have any favorite UF (or similar) reads? What are they? Why do you love them? Let’s chat!

~~~

New Release Announcement!

As I mentioned, Freeze Thaw is out today! It is novelette length and a Sleeping Beauty retelling…in fact, it’s the same story that started all the Seasons of Magic stories! It was a Top Ten finalist in the Rooglewood Press Five Magic Spindles contest, and I am still in love with my story.

Click on the picture or the link above to find out more!

Cover Reveal: Freeze Thaw!

It’s time!!!

Guess what? It’s time again! The next Seasons of Magic is coming!

You may have seen this one floating around on the home page of this site for YEARS, and I kept promising to release it. It’s a story I wrote as part of Rooglewood Press’s Five Magic Spindles contest (Sleeping Beauty retellings), and it hit the top ten finalist list! Of those ten, five were chosen for the anthology…mine wasn’t picked because it didn’t quite fit with the others.

But that one thing inspired the entire Seasons of Magic series. We’ve already seen Rapunzel in Of the Clouds and Hansel & Gretel in Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks.

Now meet Talia, my Ice Age Sleeping Beauty, waking in the middle of a glacier archaeology dig.

Here’s the blurb:

An archaeology student, an Ice Age princess, and an undead sorceress…

Talia was meant to be her clan’s greatest leader. But when her parents fail to invite a powerful—and very dangerous—sorceress to her birth party, the clan’s long-desired blessing becomes their final curse. As Talia comes of age, the power of the sorceress finds her, and she is lost in a blizzard.

Millennia later, archeaology student Owen is on the field trip of his life to a glacier dig. But what begins as a routine dig soon becomes much more when he discovers a perfectly preserved mummy in the ice—a mummy that returns to life and drags him into a millennias-old dispute.

For deeper in the glacier, dark magic is at work, waking the sorceress known as the Shadow Woman, and she will stop at nothing to end Talia’s life and destroy the clan once and for all. If Talia and Owen can’t stop her, she will destroy not only Talia but also Owen and the rest of the team. But if they can survive, they may just re-discover more than they could have ever hoped for.

This was a Top Ten Finalist for the Five Magic Spindles contest by Rooglewood Press.

And now, without further ado, what you’re all here for: the cover!

Isn’t it beautiful? (Image shows the cover for Freeze Thaw, mostly black with an Ice Age woman standing in the foreground and an aurora and waterfall in the dark background. The title looks like it is made of ice, and green sparkles surround it and the girl. The text around the title reads “Cover Reveal”, then “An archaeology student, an Ice Age princess, and an undead sorceress…” followed by the title, the author Selina J. Eckert, and the designer Dragonpen Designs. Surrounding text is on a backdrop of green ice.)

And, as promised, this was a finalist, so I HAD to share my finalist medal on SOMETHING:

(Image of the cover again, this one including a medallion that says “Five Magic Spindles Top Ten Finalist”)

Convinced?

You can preorder this beauty, or it will also be available through KU…this is my first book ever available through the program, so take advantage of it!

If you’re not quite ready to order, you can also add the book to Goodreads.

The story will be available on February 14 (just in time for Valentine’s Day). I can’t wait for you all to read it! 😀

~~~

PS: If you have read any of my previous books, I’d love it if you could leave a review on either Amazon or Goodreads (or your favorite book seller’s website!). It doesn’t have to be long and can say whatever you want! I’m so, so grateful for every review I get (even the critical ones), and I’d really appreciate any additional reviews. But even if you choose not to, I hope you continue to enjoy my stories! ❤

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks Cover Reveal!

Guys, it’s time! I don’t have an official buy link for you yet, but I am ready to share the beautiful cover of Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks with you!

But first, the blurb.

When fate comes knocking, feed it pie!

Reese was never a risk-taker…that is, until she quit her job to open a bakery serving magical pies from her home. Now, she has the opportunity of a lifetime to win a contract with the visiting Autumn Court. But when two troublesome Fae appear on her doorstep, determined to find a mate for their prince, Reese’s life is thrown into chaos, and she begins to question every choice she has made. Can she learn to take a risk on her new life, despite the troubles around her? Or will the mischief of the Fae drive her business into ruin–forcing her to move back in with her parents? This light and entertaining tale is inspired by Hansel & Gretel and is a perfect way to celebrate the autumn season.

You can add it to Goodreads now!

And now, the main event!

*drumroll*

Savannah once again did a beautiful job catching Reese as I imagined her. I love the whimsy and fun I can feel in this title, and I feel like it fits with the story perfectly!

Let’s take a look at how Savannah put it all together:

Just, wow. From a florist and a cat in a basket to a baker, a magic pie, and adorable little Nutmeg!

Okay, okay. Since we’re talking treats, and it IS October now, how about a little taste of Nutmeg herself?

Don’t forget to add it to Goodreads, and keep an eye out for the official release link!

Of the Clouds Release Day!

Happy birthday, Quri and Sumaq!

Today is the day! “Of the Clouds” is finally out! That means those of you who have been waiting can finally get your hands on this sweet, adventurous, and hopeful retelling of Rapunzel!

Here’s the blurb:

What would you do to be free?

Shaman-in-training Quri only knows her master’s hut…until the neighboring prince arrives, showing her what life could be. But her master has other plans for Quri, and she will stop at nothing to keep her young apprentice from leaving her, including locking her in an old tomb. Now, Quri must defy her master to learn the magic she needs to free herself or lose her chance for the prince, her own happiness, and the life she wants. Can Quri find the strength she needs to save herself and the prince, or will the shaman keep her locked up forever?

This sweet and exciting retelling of Rapunzel will have you asking what you would do for your freedom.

Get it at your favorite retailer, or add to Goodreads!

And don’t worry; next we we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled posts! Underwriters and overwriters, prepare to examine your books!

Of the Clouds Cover Reveal!

Okay, I know I’ve been slow to share the helpful articles lately, but there have been so many good things to share, and today is no exception!

It’s finally time to reveal the cover for the first Seasons of Magic: Fireflies & Faeries retelling. This book is a novella-length retelling of Rapunzel, set in a Mesoamerica-inspired setting, right at the heart of a jungle mountain. You will find yourself plunked down in the middle of a small village, in a hut with Quri and her shaman-teacher, Chuki, right before a very sick neighboring prince is dropped at their doorstep.

How about a little teaser?

Shaman-in-training Quri only knows her master’s hut…until the neighboring prince arrives, showing her what life could be. Now, she must defy her master, risking all she’s known, to be free. This sweet and exciting retelling of Rapunzel will have you asking what you would do for your freedom.

Okay, okay, enough procrastinating. Here’s the beautiful gorgeous amazing cover, once again designed by Dragonpen Designs!

Without further ado… *drumroll*

*sparkle sparkle sparkle*

This beauty is now up for pre-order, or you can add it to your Goodreads list! It will be released on August 17, just in time to wind down the summer and get ready to go back to school, just like Quri is learning her own lessons.

How about a peak at how Savannah came up with the cover? Check it out!

So amazing how we start with two completely different images to get this gorgeous design. I’m in love! And, of course, SPARKLES!

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy, and I can’t wait for you to meet Quri and Sumaq!

For the Love of a Word Release!

It’s almost here!

For the Love of a Word comes out in just two short days! I know I’m a little early to celebrate the release, but I really wanted to focus on this with its own dedicated post at our regularly scheduled time.

Why?

Because this book is for us. All of us. The authors. The creatives. The book lovers.

It has the words and hearts of sixteen different authors! Including me. If you’ve been around a while, you know how I love to talk about all things books and my love of writing and storytelling. And this book is just that. Authors sharing their love of story.

Here’s the blurb:

A collection of love letters to creative souls. 

For your inspiration and encouragement. 

“There is a strange beauty in this lonely work; to create is to realize my connection with things greater than myself, and soon enough the work is not lonely at all, but blessed and beloved.” 

Featuring the words of sixteen writers, For the Love of a Word is designed to encourage, inspire, and uplift you in your journey.

It will be out in TWO DAYS!!! But I also wanted to give you guys one last chance to get your hands on the pre-order bundle through Annie’s website.

Pre-orders ONLY through her site can get so many extras: bookmarks from some of the participating authors, photo cards, swag, and a printable 8.5″ x 11″ poster to download, in addition to your beautiful book. And wouldn’t that be a great gift for you or the bibliophile in your life?

Or, if you’re not quite ready, you can always add it to Goodreads! And if the swag pack isn’t for you, that’s fine too. You can still get this book on Amazon!

Whether this interests you or not, I hope you will continue to celebrate the love of storytelling with me here on the blog. 🙂

Happy reading, and happy writing!

Blog Tour: Shifter

ANOTHER new release!!!

This truly has been a summer for new releases! Today, I’ll introduce a character who is not all he appears…a dragon shifter!

But first, let’s learn about the book.

Beroan is a shapeshifter, part of the dragon clan. His clan’s Alpha, Sirath, wants to watch the world burn.

For ten long years Sirath has attacked villages, killing thousands of humans and burning towns to the ground. Beroan has had enough, but his resistance will only end in suffering.

Nsi is a human living in a small village with her grandmother and cousin. Her ignorance about the existence of shifters won’t protect her for long. Her family was killed in a dragon attack when she was younger, and now dragons have come again. Now she will stop at nothing until the dragon shifters are stopped, to save humans from suffering the same fate as her family.

Together, Nsi and Beroan will risk everything to save humanity from Sirath.

Darkness is spreading through the galaxy, Corrupting one world after another, and now it has come for theirs. Sirath already belongs to the Corruption of darkness.

He will not stop until he burns down the world and leaves it covered in fire and ash.

Wow, that’s sounds fantastic! If this interests you, you can purchase the book here. It just came out yesterday!

There’s also an AWESOME giveaway running where you could win a book reading light, book holder, toy dragon, a tote bag, and a puzzle of Shifter’s cover!

And now, our special guest!

Hello, Beroan, and welcome to the blog! Why don’t we start off by learning a little bit about you?

Greetings. I am called Beroan and I am one of the dragon changers.

A dragon changer? What’s that? Do you enjoy it? Are you from the only dragon shifter clan?

I can change between my human form and my dragon form at will. Yes, I enjoy it immensely, but I much prefer to be in my dragon form because it allows me to view the earth at a distance; to see it as a whole, than as separate pieces.

Also, I dislike human clothes. They feel… confining. Yes, there is only one dragon clan.

Sirath sounds pretty terrifying. What finally made you decide enough was enough?

Sirath wishes to burn down the world. I cannot let him destroy humankind. When he called upon me and the Ba’sih’aa’n—the ones who breathe fire—to burn a village, I was a witness to all the death and destruction around me. It is not what God wants and it caused a great pain in my heart. Iy-m’aa-rah’t.

What is your biggest dream for yourself?

To fly free among the clouds, to free my clan from Sirath’s Alpha command, and to ensure that the humans may live peacefully. They do not know of the Ba’ny—the ones who change. I believe they should be left to themselves.

What about your biggest fear?

The events that take place are as God wants, though should Sirath win and the humans killed… for the world to be a place of death and destruction that leaves only the ash behind, that is a world I could not live in.

If you could go back and change one thing about your life, what would it be? Why?

I would stop Sirath from killing my father.

Thanks for visiting! It was certainly interesting getting to know you. 🙂

Et’r-ba’an’y. Until we meet again.

Don’t for get to enter the giveaway! (and take a look at the book)

About the Author

Joanna White earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. The Valiant Series is her first published work. She lives in the country of Missouri with her husband, where she continues to work on her other upcoming books. Writing has been a passion ever since she was ten, when she wrote her first book. Ever since then, writing has become her life outside of her family, God, and being a nerd. Hunter and Shifter are the first two books of the Valiant Novels to be published.

Book Spotlight: Wish You Weren’t Here

This is a summer for great books!

Today I am very excited to share the newest release in the Steel City Genie series by Janeen Ippolito! I read the first book, If Wishes Were Curses, right around the time my own genie book came out, and it was so good with such a unique set of characters. There are shifters, vampires, genies, and creatures I’d never heard of before! Plus, it’s set in my home state, just out in Pittsburgh instead of the eastern half!

Enough of me, here’s more about the book!

I was done with my Jinn ex-boyfriend—but now I’m the only one who can save his life.

I’m already in enough trouble with my magic going crazy right when I’m opening a storefront for romantic crimes consulting. The last thing I need is interference from Kiran Singh, who failed spectacularly as a boyfriend, and now wants me back with some crappy excuse of helping him track down illegal, dangerous love potions.

Then one of his other exes tries to kill me in a fit of jealous, doped-up rage—and ends up dead herself, with all evidence pointing to Kiran.

My vegetarian vampire mate, Cendric, is convinced Kiran is up to something. But homicide isn’t Kiran’s style, even if he’s starting to show serious psycho-jealousy of his own. Someone else is pulling the strings, and they don’t care how many people die from fake love.

If we can’t track down the real mastermind, my ex is going to disappear.And not in the way I’d wish. 

This one was already on my pre-orders after I finished book one. You won’t want to miss this urban fantasy series…it’s a ride!

Where to get it

This book is available on Amazon, or you can add it to Goodreads.

About the author

Janeen Ippolito writes steampunk fantasy and urban fantasy, and creates writing resources, including the reference book World Building From the Inside Out and the creative writing guide Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories. She’s an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, marketer, and is the leader of Uncommon Universes Press, a small traditional science fiction and fantasy publishing house. She’s also the cohost of the podcast Indie Book Magic. In her spare time, Janeen enjoys sword-fighting, reading, pyrography, and eating brownie batter. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica.

Where to find her: Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Email Newsletter

Happy Book Birthday!!!

IT’S RELEASE DAY!!!

Happy book birthday to This Cursed Flame!

This book is finally out in the world and touching people’s lives! It’s been such a long journey, and I am so so thankful for all the people who have contributed along the way. There is a full list of people who have helped me in the acknowledgements section of my book, but I absolutely want to take a minute to thank my husband, family, friends, and all the professionals who have worked with me since the book’s story seed in 2011.

And thank you, readers, so much for taking this journey with me. I hope this book means as much to you as it has to me! And I promise, now we are back to our regular posting schedule (until the next release!).

Don’t forget to jump over to Facebook for the party tonight from 4-7 pm eastern, and put in your entries for the giveaways! I have hand-painted genie bottles, signed paperbacks, and signed bookmarks, all just waiting for a new home. Giveaways will be open until Monday April 29th, and then I will be choosing winners!

And finally, This Cursed Flame is available on Amazon (search This Cursed Flame if the paperback isn’t yet linked) and any other major retailer!

And now, your final excerpt…

Janan and Safiyya appeared in a shadowed corner of a loud, crowded city. Cars sped by with alarming disregard for pedestrians. People rushed about, some intent on the sidewalk ahead of them, some entirely engrossed in their phones. No one seemed to take notice of their sudden appearance, and, oddly, Janan couldn’t see any of the other djinn pouring through the portal with them.

Had the portal dropped everyone in different sections of the city?

They plunged into the sunlight outside the alley, and finally people jumped back. It wasn’t every day that humans saw an ocelot and a purple-eyed girl covered in blood and dressed in what looked like a costume. For all they knew, she was a struggling actress in a remake of Aladdin in her loose violet dress, embellished with gold embroidery and gemstones.

Janan looked around, trying to find someplace quiet, somewhere away from prying eyes.

“Janan!” Safiyya said, drawing a few puzzled and concerned looks. They ducked back into the alley before she continued. “Do you still have that bottle?”

Janan placed a hand on the wall of the building to steady herself and opened the bag slung across her body, feeling around for the wrapped bottle. It felt whole, somehow unbroken. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good, I have an idea! Put the bottle on the ground.”

Janan pulled it out of her bag and placed the unwrapped crystal on the cement between them. Icy fingers of fear clawed at her heart—fear for her family, fear for herself. She would never be safe. Never.

Safiyya sat next to it, turning serious eyes on Janan. “We have to do the Binding.”

“What?” Janan exclaimed, unable to control her reaction. Too much had happened, and she was past her limit. Her stomach turned at even the thought of using her magic, and she wasn’t sure she was capable of such an extensive spell. And Safiyya certainly couldn’t do it alone. “Isn’t that too extreme?”

“Extreme, yes, but what choice do we have? The others will find us, and this is our best chance to evade Ahriman.”

“But… here?” Janan looked around the trash-filled alley.

Safiyya also glanced around, glaring at a stray cat. The cat glared back at her with dull yellow eyes. “I can add a protection spell. Move the bottle somewhere safe.”

“Yes, please,” Janan said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Safiyya reached a paw over the bottle, and Janan grasped it. They closed their eyes, focusing all their energy, all their magic, on the bottle between them. Then, they concentrated on weaving their own energy into the crystal lattice.

As the attachment grew, their bodies phased out of physical being, becoming a light vapor that swirled in the weak air currents, mixing lavender and green smoke where they had been sitting.

Finally, the attachment complete, they became physical again and opened their eyes.

“We just need to hide long enough for the others to find us,” Safiyya said. “And you can get some rest in here. As soon as we’re inside, the bottle will take us somewhere safe.” Janan gave her a small smile, and they vanished in a swirl of smoke, disappearing into the top of the bottle.