Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 6

The young man slept for most of the day, half waking once to drink, before finally coming around again in the evening. His startling green eyes-a rare color in the circles Kristoff was used to-roved the cave walls before settling again.

            Kristoff would be more sensitive this time. “Are you feeling better?” Kristoff asked. The youth nodded once, his gaze never leaving Kristoff's face. Kristoff helped him to drink, and this time he let him drink more at once. For all the abuses he had suffered, he was young and strong, and would recover quickly.

            “I...apologize for before,” Kristoff said, setting the flask down.  “I don't want to overwhelm you, especially considering how unwell you are...were.” Kristoff caught himself, mentally cursing his own inexperience. “Let's start from the beginning. I know you cannot speak or write, but I would still like to learn your name.”

            The young man cocked his head, indicating his understandable confusion.

“Maybe I could read your lips?” Kristoff asked. “Your voice may not work, but that doesn't mean there's no need to try and make yourself understood. And it is important to me that I learn your name.”

            The young man paused for a moment, then nodded. Kristoff moved closer, leaning in so he could see better. The young man mouthed...something. Kristoff wasn't sure, but he could tell an o was involved. He could see the man’s soft lips, still chapped and pale from lack of health, open, and his tongue was intact, meaning that the reason he couldn't speak was not due to his tongue being cut out. Kristoff had been afraid that may have been the case.

            He mouthed it again, Kristoff leaning down to see if he could hear anything. There was no voice, only the faintest aspiration as he tried to speak it, but Kristoff could tell from the shape of his mouth and tongue some of the word.

            “Owen?” The boy stared, then gave a slight shake of his head, holding up one finger. Did that mean he was close? He mouthed it again, and then Kristoff caught it, the bunching of the tongue. “Rowen!” he exclaimed.

            Rowen nodded, his face lighting up, and Kristoff felt a small moment of joy at seeing it. “Your name is Rowen.” He repeated, a bit surprised at their sudden successful communication. “Good.”

            With that victory, Kristoff suddenly felt a bit more confident. “I'm going to take care of you until you're strong enough to leave. I know you have questions, and I will do my best to explain everything I can about where you will be going. I want to tell you about where I'll be taking you, and about what Storm Lords do. My explanation before was all true, but...incomplete.” Rowen cocked his head, but despite it Kristoff could tell he understood and was thinking quickly. He may not be able to speak, but he was easy to read.

            Kristoff leaned against the cool cave wall. He had rehearsed what he was going to say, and hoped it would answer any questions Rowen could think of.

            “There are several regions around the world, and all have people living on them. Some are like your village, with few people and led by one man. Others are huge kingdoms, with a ruling family who reigns over thousands of people over hundreds of miles.

            “All of these places, no matter where they are, suffer from the same heat spells that your village did. No matter where in the world you go, there will always be heat spells at some time of year. They are unavoidable.”

            A look of disappointment flitted across Rowen's features, and Kristoff sympathized. Some new apprentices came in thinking that once they left their hometown, they would be escaping the heat spells forever.

            “There are people--like me--called Storm Lords. We have the power to influence the weather, bringing on moisture and wind. We do this for the sole purpose of breaking these heat spells, so that they do not get to the point where they kill anyone.”

            Rowen frowned, his features suddenly harsh, and Kristoff felt a chill, but continued.

            “Without us, the heat spells would kill, do not doubt it. Temperatures in the most extreme cases can get up to 110 degrees and stay there until we end it. And without us, they would not end.” Rowen looked more and more troubled as he spoke, and Kristoff wished he knew what the man wanted to ask. “Every year the heat spells get more intense, harder to disperse, and become more frequent. We are constantly seeking those like you, who have the potential to bring on the heat breaking storms. We theorize that without people like us, the planet would turn into a wasteland.”

            Kristoff paused, taking a breath. This was a strange case, but he knew this was usually the part that people would protest against.

            “We need you, Rowen. I know you may have family, or people you care about, at home, but what you do as a Storm Lord is far more important. You have a choice, and if you refuse we must respect it, but I beg you to join with us.” Kristoff waited, heart suddenly racing.

            Rowen didn't pause to think. He just nodded.

            More than a little taken aback, Kristoff fell into silence. Usually he would have to explain the consequences of refusing, which meant constant contact with a Storm Lord in case their powers manifested on their own—which they almost always did, bringing calamity down on their loved ones.  “ wish to join up with us?”

            Rowen nodded again, his gaze flat and distant.

            “Good. So that leaves me with the explanation of what you should expect, but we can leave that for another day.” Kristoff relaxed. “For now, let's focus on getting you better. We should expect to leave in a matter of days.” Rowen nodded again, and Kristoff didn't know whether to feel relieved or troubled at how easily things had gone.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Apple Bites Anthology!

From the Wednesday Briefers, we bring you....

Back to school takes on new meaning in this collection of eight mini-stories which run the gamut from sweet to spicy! No children in these tales, they’re for adults only! And each one features an apple in some way.
In this mixed bag of apple bites, you’ll find seasoned authors as well as newcomers. Teachers and students. Both M/M and M/F. There’s something for everyone’s taste.
Going back to school has never been so naughty!
JC Wallace – An Officer and a Gentleman (and an Apple)
Holden isn’t sure how much longer he can survive without the man he loves, whose return from a six-month deployment has been delayed. On the first day of classes, Professor Holden finds a shiny, red apple on his desk, mocking him. A cruel joke? Or something much more shocking…

Carol Pedroso – Have a Break, Have a...
Kevin is acting principal of another troubled school filled with idiotic teachers. His new husband had been sent half way round the world. Kevin is lonely, hungry, horny, and pissed off at life.
A surprise visitor at lunch time offers Kevin the break he so desperately needs…
Julie Lynn Hayes – Rivals  
John and Bryce are heads of competing fraternities at upscale Westover College, as well as fierce rivals. On rush night, John finds Bryce has crashed his soiree, seeking recruits. Verbal swords are thrust. When Bryce pushes John’s buttons, the challenge is on—and winner takes all.

Nephy Hart – Apple for the Teacher
Going back to school is difficult for Rage. He has no reason to think this year won’t be filled with more marginalization and abuse. When his boyfriend gives him an apple for the teacher, Rage has no idea what difference an art project will make, or who will get the apple.
Perry’s Cherry – Avery Dawes
An unfortunate earthquake shakes Perry from a freshman room to sharing with a grumpy senior. Too bad Nick is so sexy… and sullen. Labor Day finds them both on campus. Nick suggests a trip to a private club. Perry is about to get a college education of another kind…


Elyzabeth M. VaLey – Good Teacher, pet
Ready to start the new school year, Anais’ boyfriend and Dom, Ian, plants the seeds of doubt in her mind. He tells her she’s forgetting something that only the best teachers receive. Ian gives Anais a lesson and shows her how to earn herself a juicy treat.

Cynthia Dawn Griffin – Gatekeeper
Kate loves her job as Head Secretary. The students adore her, calling her Gatekeeper. Kate’s job may be in jeopardy because of her passionate affair with one of the staff, who acts as though it never happened.
Will she be able to focus on her job and win her man back?
Renee Rose – Hot for Teacher
Lucy's nerves have her wound up for her first Biochemistry 101 lecture. Fiancé Dr. Todd gives his T.A. a wicked distraction. While he tortures Lucy with edging and public arousal, she must somehow get through her class without losing all control.

Facebook Ready Post (just copy & paste if you are willing):
It's back to school with eight authors who are dying to show you just how naughty they can be! Read to find out if the characters in these stories can survive their back to school surprises.
#RomanceAnthology #BacktoSchool #MM #MF
Apple Bites: A Romance Anthology

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Stormlords part 5

Kristoff cursed as he walked outside the cave, the sun shining down through the damp leaves. He had royally screwed up already. 

            When he had sensed the presence of another Storm Lord, at first he had thought Lissa had followed him, hoping to help with his work in dispelling a particularly nasty heat spell over the southwest region. When she hadn’t appeared, he had begun to get nervous as the sensation grew stronger and more warped, different from a fully trained Lord. More like the apprentices who lounged on the island, waiting to be taught their strength. 

            While he was more than powerful enough to accept an apprentice, the only Storm Lord who could summon a hurricane alone, he had never imagined it happening this soon. He was only 21, and he couldn't imagine separating a young child from their family to teach them their necessary abilities.

            Finding what looked to be a grown man had shocked him, and it had only gotten worse from there. The youth had been exposed, tied up and nearly dead from heat exhaustion. Kristoff had no idea why he had been left outside, obviously to die. For all Kristoff knew, he was a murderer or worse, rightfully condemned. He didn't know much about the southwestern desert, as no Storm Lord had ever come from there, but he did know they fiercely punished their criminals. Leaving him to die in a heat spell would be as effective a death sentence as any. 

            And then to learn he couldn't speak or write, so Kristoff couldn't find anything out about him other than his age...18 was very old to begin training. Not unheard of, but rare. 

            Kristoff sighed, trying to dispel his doubt. The circumstances had been strange, but there was no reason to judge the man yet. Kristoff had nothing to go on, no proof that the man had done something wrong, and he couldn't speak to defend himself. It would be unfair to assume anything. On top of that, they simply could not afford to be picky. They needed all the help they could get if the heat spells were to be averted, saving lives. He must train him, or at least try. 

            If only he knew what to say. His muddled explanation had probably only confused the poor man more, or convinced him that Kristoff was insane if he did not remember their flight. The man had been very ill then, after all, and had lain in the cave for three days without waking. 

            They would be wondering where Kristoff was, back at the island. But Kristoff knew he could not fly again without regaining strength, especially not while carrying another person. 

            He wished Talia was here. His mentor had trained him since he was three, and had always seemed like she knew everything, explaining things to him with kindness and patience. When he had dispelled his first heat spell alone at 17, she had gratefully accepted him as a full Storm Lord, and had receded from his life. She had never taught him how to teach others, though. 

            She probably trusted him to simply remember what she had taught. But this young man was 18,  a year older than he had been when he completed his training. How was he supposed to act? Especially when the person he was training couldn't communicate? 

            Calm down. He kicked a rock into the quick flowing stream from which he had been getting the young man’s life saving water. He only had to explain things, and then for at least three years the young man would attend classes with other new apprentices. Kristoff would only have to act as a mentor, not his sole teacher. They both would have other help. 

            And for now, it was not wise to leave someone alone who had come so close to heat death. Kristoff filled another canteen and headed back to cave, vowing to act more like a Storm Lord should.
            Kristoff found him asleep, his breathing deep and shallow. A hand on his forehead confirmed the presence of the low grade fever that had persisted since the breaking of the raging fire that had seemed to consume him since arriving. The cold mud salve had eased most of that, but underneath his skin would be blistered and peeling, and it must be agonizingly painful. Kristoff wished him a restful sleep, and contented himself with chores around the cave. He still didn't know what to do about clothing. He couldn't take him back to the island naked. 

            What had Talia done? Kristoff did not remember much of his first day on the island. She had found him at night, coming to his window. She had not asked him, the way Kristoff had asked this young man. She had merely taken him, and he thought he had slept most of the way. He didn't remember missing his parents, though he must have. 

            Would this one miss his family? He hadn't seemed to care much about anything when he woken, but then again, he was still  ill. That part, the reassurance, would probably come later. Kristoff had seen it done often enough with the younger apprentices, the pledge that here they were doing far more good for their family, the world, than they would be otherwise. It didn't always work, especially with the younger ones, but those time cured best anyway. 

            The problem was the secrecy. Not even the most learned and knowledgeable cities knew the true details of the Storm Lords and what they did, what they fought for. Without them, heat spells would decimate the planet, overheating it to the point where no one could survive. Every year, they grew worse. If people knew...

            Kristoff didn't want to think about that. He should be focusing on his new apprentice, solving the problem of how to get him back. 

            And when he woke, how to communicate the importance of what Storm Lords did.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 4

Rowen blinked slowly, trying to figure out what this man meant by apprentice. He nodded. 

            “Ok. How old are you? No, sorry...Uh, are you twenty?” Rowen shook his head. 

            “19?” Another head shake, all the way down to his age of 18. 

            “Good then,” Kristoff said with a smile. “I'm 21. You’re quite close to my age.” 

            Rowen didn't know what to make of being spoken to in such a friendly way. He found himself smiling back, despite the lingering pain and thirst. 

            “Have you ever heard of the Storm Lords?” Rowen narrowed his eyes, thinking. The old traditions, the storm dances and storm prayers, were one meant to appease the god of storms, or so his parents had told him. But they had fallen out of favor, until now. He shook his head. A no was closer to the truth. 

            “I should have expected not, so far south.” Kristoff sighed. “We're not gods.” It was almost as if he had read his mind. “There are people, people like me, who can summon storms. Different types of storms, too, like how some can summon ice storms and some can summon windstorms.” He looked down at Rowen, who merely listened and thought quietly. It sounded...insane. But hadn't he flown here, with a man who had ridden on the winds of a storm? 

            “The heat spells...without us, they would continue, unabated. We use our powers to end them. Some calls us gods, who know of us. We try to keep it secret. If too many people knew...” He trailed off, unable to explain. 

            Rowen knew all too well. If this was true, and these “Storm Lords” had come earlier, his parents would not be dead. Lucas would not be dead. His voice would be intact. He ached for an explanation for why they waited, why they let the heat spells go on for so long. 

            “Sometimes, when we bring the storms, we find people. People like you, who have the same powers we do, or at least the potential for them. You could be one of us. That's why I saved you.” 

            Rowen met his blue eyed gaze. It was troubled, unsure, and Rowen thought he knew why. Kristoff had just admitted that if Rowen were not one of them, did not have this potential, then he would have let him die, suffocated or drowned in his storm. The realization hurt. 

            “It takes time. Time to figure out what type of storms you can summon, and even more time to learn how to use the power. I was found when I was three. You are older, but in ten years time you could be like me. Maybe sooner, if you learn quickly.” 

            Rowen just nodded, to show he was listening. He didn't understand.

            “Once you are recovered, I will bring you to our island, if you agree. That will be the first part of your training. They can teach you to write there, you know. Then maybe I'll learn your name, yeah?” He smiled, but Rowen suddenly didn't feel like smiling back. 

            “Just rest for now. We can talk, sorry.” Kristoff frowned at his lapse. “I'll tell you more later, after you think it over some.” He left the cave suddenly, giving Rowen privacy. 

            Without Kristoff, he felt very alone. One the one hand, the man had saved him, spoken to him, and acted friendly, something Rowen hadn't experienced in a long time. One the other...he intended to use him, to make him just like him. One who would let people die in heat spells and storms. 

            What would he do if Rowen refused? Leave him, probably. Sacrifice him, just as the villagers had. Kindness only lasted so long as you were willing to cooperate with what someone else expected of you, and assumptions made always seemed to cast him in a bad light when he couldn't speak to his own defense. 

            He didn't have a choice. Or did he? He thought harder. Just because Kristoff let people die didn't mean he had to. If he learned to use these storm powers, perhaps he could do better. He would never let people die in heat spells, and control his storms so that nobody perished. Perhaps this wasn't a trap after all, but a blessing. He could change things. 

            Rowen let himself ease into a pained sleep, content with his decision.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 3

“Would you like to come with me?” The man asked. His voice was deep, reverberant in Rowen's chest. Around them, the storm raged, thatch blowing off of soaking roofs and water pouring from eaves and out of overfull water jars. 

            Rowen opened his mouth, but of course he could not speak. He shut it, blinking slowly. Was this death? 

            “Will you come?” The man moved farther away, hovering, and looked up. “If you don't, the storm will probably kill you.” 

            Rowen could not speak. But he reached out, and the man smiled. 

            “Come then.” He knelt down, grabbing Rowen and hoisting him like a child. Pain from the sunburns screamed across his body, but he could not cry out. If this was death, it was not what he had expected. 

            He didn't have the strength to hold on, but the man gripped him as they hovered higher into the air, then flew, up above the village and into the storm. Rowen did not look down, staring at the man's neck, secure in his muscular arms. The sky around them was gray-black with clouds, but here he felt none of the violence of the storm that was being wreaked below. Spots flecked through his vision, but he no longer felt like giving up. 

            “I'm going to take you somewhere safe.” The man's voice rumbled. “Don't worry. I will explain everything to you.” 

            He talked as though Rowen cared. His village had sacrificed him to die. He was not dead now, he was flying above the village he had grown up in...The world spun around him, and for a moment he thought he was falling, or flying faster. Then he passed out.

            He woke to a feeling of cold, a slimy surface chill that masked deeper thrums of pain. As soon as he opened his eyes, a flask was thrust in his face. 

            “Don't move. Just drink.” The cool water was poured into his mouth, spilling over his chin. He couldn't quite grasp the concept of drinking for a moment, the water splashing on his dry mouth and chin, but soon he guzzled it greedily, suddenly so thirsty that he felt as though the water was merely going down his throat without being touched by his tongue or being absorbed, as though he were drinking water in a dream. When the flask was taken away he felt no relief, only more thirst, and he followed it with his eyes, obeying the order not to move. 

            The man who had saved him knelt beside next to his head, the flask in one tanned hand. The place Rowen lay was dark, cold stone beneath and above him. 

            “I know you're thirsty, but you can't drink too much too fast. Small sips.” His voice echoed slightly, and Rowen wished he knew where they were. A year without being able to speak had taught him patience, however, and he merely accepted the flask when it was given again, swallowing the precious water. 

            “Do you feel better?” The man asked, and Rowen inwardly cringed. This man didn't know he couldn't talk. He nodded, unsure of how to communicate the problem. He wanted to thank him, for taking him away from the village and saving his life, but there was no way to do it. 

            “I'm Kristoff. What's your name?” The man spoke as though to a wounded animal, and Rowen realized that's essentially what he was. He lay naked on a stone floor, covered in caked mud, which he presumed was for the burns. The man looked concerned, even more so when Rowen wouldn't answer. 

            “Can you understand me?” He asked, brows furrowing. Rowen nodded once, holding his gaze, hoping Kristoff would understand. 

            “Will you tell me your name?” Kristoff pressed. 

            Rowen dropped his gaze. He moved his arm, the skin shrieking with pain as it left the cold floor, and pointed to his throat, giving a small shake of his head. 

            “More water will help.” Kristoff didn't understand, and Rowen drank a bit more, before shaking his head again and motioning once more to his throat. He drew a small X in the air above it, his hand shaking just from that small gesture. 

            Kristoff's eyes widened. “You can't speak at all?” 

            Rowen nodded once, and then felt something, an emotion he couldn't identify. Everyone in the village had known it, discovering it days after it happened, after his parents had lain, rotting, in his house until the heat spell broke, Rowen too weak to report it their deaths and no one concerned enough to check. No one had spoken to him since except to command, or tease, or sacrifice, not until now. And now Kristoff, the man who had saved his life, who had flown in a storm, would know that speaking to him was pointless, and it would begin again. Pain blossomed  in his chest. Whatever the reason was for saving him didn't matter. He was useless if he couldn't communicate. He looked away, not wanting to see the disappointment on Kristoff's face. 

            “Can you write?” Rowen shook his head. Only Alain and Erik had been able to write. Rowen had been destined to dig wells, as his parents had. 

            “Please, look at me.” He obeyed, finding a strange kindness in the other man's features. “That doesn't matter for now. I mean, I guess it does matter, your name is important, but...” He sighed, looking up as though for help. “I'm guessing you have questions that you can't ask, so I'm going to explain things to you as best I can. Bear with me. I've never had an apprentice before.” He said the last almost to himself, and Rowen realized that Kristoff was nervous. “Can you, uh, answer a few yes or no questions for me first?”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 2

“He will suffer the way his parents did.” The woman said, and people around her agreed. His neighbors, the ones he had watched bring their water to the gathering, scowled at him and turned away. 

            Rowen didn't try to fight. There was no point. There were too many, and running during a heat spell would only bring on his death faster. 

            “Tie him up!” 

            Rowen heard Alain protesting, and then he was silenced. Those tying him worked quickly and quietly, stripping his clothes off and binding his ankles with cord, his wrists behind his back. For a sacrifice, it was all very civilized. Everyone knew not to waste energy in this heat. 

            “Leave him in the sun,” the man spoke. “One less to take your water, and one more death to bring the storms faster.” 

            Hot tears formed in Rowen's eyes, but he was too old to let himself cry. He hadn't wanted their water anyway. 

            They dragged him into the sun, and the ground underneath him burned. He shut his eyes tightly, and the sun baked him. Nobody watched.       
            Rowen knew that death would come quickly. 

            The sweating had already begun, and his head swam in the heat. He didn't dare open his eyes, to see the merciless sun beating down on him. His skin was pale, and if he lasted long enough he would be covered in blisters. 

            He tried to think of his parents. He had been close with them, as an only child. His father had introduced him to village girls, and had not shown disappointment when Rowen had confessed to feeling nothing for any of them. 

            He thought of Lucas. Lucas, blacksmith's apprentice, a boy his age with blond hair and an eager smile, full lips and bright blue eyes. Rowen had never told him how Lucas had made him feel, quickening his blood and stirring him in his dreams. 

            Lucas had died in the same heat spell that had killed his parents. Since then Rowen had felt nothing. Too much loss, all at once. He groaned on the heated ground, but it was useless. 

            He had survived the heat spell. It should have killed him, like it killed his parents, but he had lived, eating pit seeds that silenced him forever and leaving him mute to defend himself to the villagers when they claimed he stole his parents water. 

            A wave of nausea surged through him. Heat sickness was setting in. He rolled over to vomit, nothing coming up but whitish bile. Rolling made him dizzy, and that made the sickness worse. 

            Soon, nothing came up at all. Heat surged through him, but he could no longer sweat. The ground spun.
            This was fitting. He couldn’t survive again. 

            He opened his eyes, and was greeted with darkness. 

            Night had not come. He rolled, impossibly slow, to look up. The sun had been covered, a thick, dark cloud blanketing the village. 

            Rowen almost smiled.  He had been sacrificed, and the storm had come.

            Rain began to pelt the ground, the drops hitting as hard as thrown stones. Rowen opened his mouth, instinctively hoping to ease some of his dehydration, before thunder boomed, a fork of lightning splitting the sky and unleashing torrents. 

            More died during the heat spells preceding the storms, but the storms themselves were deadly too if caught outside. Wind lashed rain into his face, hard enough that if he were not already prone he would have been knocked over. He could no longer look up; opening his eyes only invited the rain, the cold drops making his dry eyes burn. 

            Rowen lay on his side like sodden rags, listening to the power of the storm. He had not expected to die this way. Water began to pool around him, the flood coming fast despite the dry ground underneath absorbing it. Eventually it would absorb it all, filling the underground wells, but for now the water would run into Rowen's nose and mouth, drowning him because he was too weak to move. He tried to drink; it tasted like dust. 

            Gusts of wind blew over him, whistling in his ears and hair, and he began to shiver with cold despite being overheated just a short time ago. The thunder deafened him, the flashes of lightning only visible as a red sheen behind his eyelids. If one struck him, at least it would be over quickly. 

            Suddenly, everything calmed. The darkness was accompanied by silence, the pelting rain gone, and for a moment Rowen knew he was dead. 

            “You.” A voice called, one that he did not recognize. He opened his eyes, watching the water flow by him. 

            “You. Look at me.” The voice called him again. Without the rain hammering him down, Rowen managed to roll over. If he was dead, why was the weakness, the pain, not gone? 

            A man stood over him. No, hovered over him, his feet not touching the ground. He was clad in dark green, a rare color here in this desert village. His short dark brown hair was plastered to his head, dripping onto his nose and chin, and he wore a necklace with a grayish stone around his neck. Rowen focused on the deep blue eyes, like a clear summer sky, so different from the hazy blue that had accompanied the heat spell. They promised something.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: StormLords part 1

Hey everyone! For a few weeks or so, I'm going to post the first few chapters of The Stormlords. Eventually it will be its own book, but for a while it will be my weekly Wednesday Brief!

            The heat hung over the village like a smothering blanket. 

            Rowen watched his neighbors carry buckets of water out of their hut, the image dancing in the heat waves that wavered off of the baked clay. The entire village was preparing for the daily gathering, always necessary during a heat spell. The gathering was a time for people to spread out precious goods like water and pit seeds, which would cool down the body and prevent heat death. 

            In normal times, goods were traded as per their worth. During a heat spell, however, nothing could match the worth of a simple bucket of water or a single pit seed. As a result, all shared, carrying the village through the spells that sucked the life out of the area. 

            Rowen had nothing to share. He only benefited, and he knew others resented him for it. He walked to the gathering with a heavy heart, his scalp burning from the sun as though his red hair were aflame. 

            The others who passed him glared, their eyes full of suspicion. None offered help when he stumbled in the heat. His store of food, the food he hunted for himself, had grown small, and the water bucket in his home was mostly dry. 

He would never steal water, but no one would believe him. Not after what happened.       
            Alain, the village elder, called the meeting to order, his powerful voice carrying over the throng.  There were fewer people here today than the day before. A bad sign. 

            “Report any losses.” This was how the meetings always began. Heat spells killed the young and the old first, and in the first week of this one there had been dozens of deaths. This heat spell was in its third week, the longest Rowen had ever experienced. 

            Hands went up, and Rowen looked down at the shady ground. “Talia.” An eight year old girl who had loved to play outside in the rain during winter. “Edericks.” An older man who dyed fabrics. “Abigail.” The seamstress. 

            Had they died during a normal time, they would be cremated. Fires were too dangerous during a heat spell, so they would be buried on the edge of town instead. 

            “This is day 22 of the current heat spell, the second of the warm season.” Alain intoned. “We have suffered greatly so far.” 

            “Too much!” A man cried out. Rowen looked up. He had lost his infant daughter in the first few days. 

            “Something must be done!” A woman cried. 

            “There is nothing that can be done.” Questions like these always arose. People yearned for the old times, when belief in mythical rituals that could bring the breaking storms was rampant. The old beliefs had fallen out of favor, people realizing that the advent of the storms was unpredictable, but the longer the heat spells stretched on the more desperate people became. 

            “Erik has measured the temperature currently at 134 degrees, dropping to 100 at night.” Alain continued. “This is unusual, but it should only mean that the storm will come soon.” 

            “The heat spells are longer and hotter. We should go back to the old ways!” A man on Rowen's left stood up, redfaced in anger. Andrew, the blacksmith, who's shop had lain abandoned for the last three weeks. “This would never have happened when I was a child!” 

            “There is no point in wasting energy on a ritual that won't work.” Alain didn't bother raising his voice. “The best thing to do is to wait and keep calm. Exertion will bring death.” 

            “We must do something!” The same woman who had been ignored before yelled again, louder this time, and people responded, turning to her and some agreeing, whispering under their breath.

            Rowen's heart picked up speed. The mood of the crowd was turning, from a tired group of people willing to help each other to get through hard times to something else. Something dangerous.
 “What would you have us do? The dances will only cause heat death faster.” Alain was trying to quell the crowd. 

            “There is no need for dances.” A man spoke up from the back of the throng, an accent shading his words. Rowen didn't recognize him until he turned to look. 

            The speaker was a man with pale hair and eyes, a traveler who had settled here from the north only a year ago. The heat had been unkind to him, his skin burned red from the sun. He always told tales of his travels, and people naturally paid close attention to him when he spoke.  

            “Where I come from, heat spells never last this long.” He spoke slowly, calmly, with a soft commanding voice that bade you listen. Rowen immediately didn't trust him. 

            “How?” Andrew asked, some of his belligerence gone. 

            The man chose his words carefully. “Where I live, heat spells are...harsher. Everyone fends for themselves. We are not as quick to share.” 

            A few people seemed concerned, and the man quickly picked up his tale. “But we have found a way to deal with that. Some people are not worth sharing with, after all.” 

            Someone glanced at Rowen. He swallowed, looking away. 

            “Surely this is not necessary.” Alain spoke up. He too sounded nervous. “We will begin the dispersal of water and seeds-” 

            “Where I come from, we give up the people who do not deserve resources.” The man continued, ignoring Alain, and the crowd hung on his words. “Sacrificing them to the Storm Gods brings the storms faster, and makes those who survive more comfortable.” 

            Rowen took a step back. People were nodding, smiling. Someone behind him grabbed Rowen by the arm. 

            “This one killed his parents by stealing their water!” Andrew yelled. Rowen opened his mouth to deny it, but of course no sound came out. He had never been able to speak, not since it had happened. 

            “Criminals make perfect sacrifices.” The man said, looking at Rowen but not meeting his eyes. “The Storm Gods are vindictive.”