Rover

Underdog

Everybody loves an underdog story.

An underdog is someone who ‘is thought to have little chance of winning a fight or a contest’ or someone who has ‘little status in society’. Which is why we love it so much when they come out on top.

In Black Rose, all Changers fall under the second definition. But there’s a kind of Changer that’s even lower than that: the Rovers. Rovers are Changers that have either left their Clan or have been ‘asked’ to leave; this is pretty important since the Changers place such a high value on community and their Clan. They’re basically rootless, whether by choice or not.

Luke left his Clan when he was fifteen and was semi-adopted by the Silver Clan, the Changers living in Silverdon. His status as a Rover actually helps them: since he isn’t technically a Silver, he is only one of two Changers allowed to leave the Forest. His ‘underdog’ status comes in handy.

That is, until he becomes well-known.

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Intimidation

Black

A character’s clothes can speak volumes about who they are. For instance, if someone appears in a book or television programme wearing dark clothing (particularly black leather), you just know they’re going to be trouble. Spike, Derek Hale and Negan are perfect examples of this.

Isabel Monray likes to wear black because she wants to give the impression of someone you do not want to mess with. Of course, anyone who actually knows her will see right through this.

She doesn’t want to appear vulnerable or afraid, even though she is in a very vulnerable position. Someone tells her if she’s not afraid, she’ll be all right; interestingly, that someone is wearing leather when she says this. But wearing the right type of clothes to show off your confidence doesn’t mean you actually are confident.

Later Isabel starts wearing her black jacket because she wants to wear it, not because she feels she has to.

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Hatchling

Egg

When Lorna was fifteen, Commander Wentsar chose her to become one of the new cadets in the Academy. She remembered being more in awe of the imposing figure standing before her than of the scroll the Commander held out to her.

It was an honour to be selected. Lorna knew that. She could feel her parents’ pride warming her back.

“Do you accept, Lorna Seagrove?” Commander Wentsar asked. The sun glinted off the Argentum feather pinned to his jacket.

Lorna didn’t hesitate at all.

Three months later she was being led through one of the hatcheries. The instructors had emphasised many times the importance of each cadet being assigned to the right dragon to create an equal partnership. The behaviour and character of each cadet was closely monitored during the first three months of training; they would care for the egg themselves for the next three months, during which time the hatchling would finish its development.

“Cadet Seagrove. That one is yours.” Captain Hodge pointed towards a shallow pool hollowed out of a single rock. Lorna looked inside to see what looked like an large pearl nestling at the bottom. “It’s a water dragon, or Aqua. Aquas aren’t the largest species and they aren’t the fiercest either, but they’re always loyal to those they love.”

Lorna trailed her fingertips over the water’s surface. “I can’t make it love me,” she whispered, temporarily forgetting where she was and who was with her.

“That’s right, you can’t,” Captain Hodge agreed. “You can’t force love. But you can nurture it and let it grow.” She clapped Lorna on the shoulder once and headed off to show Cadet Danhurst the egg he had been allocated to.

xxx

The moment the baby Aqua dragon’s eyes found hers, Lorna knew Captain Hodge was right. She couldn’t force love. It was impossible, not when she found herself drowning in its depths.

She scooped the tiny creature out of the water and held it against her chest. It purred softly and nudged Lorna under her chin.

“I’ve always liked the name Mira,” Lorna murmured. “What do you think?”

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Unaware of courage

Brave

The thing about being brave is you sometimes don’t know you’re doing it.

It can take on many forms. Bravery can be distracting a bunch of orcs so your friend can escape with the Ring. Bravery can be choosing to hang around and be friends with werewolves even though they could seriously hurt you without meaning to, and taking part in the adventures with nothing but your wit and courage. Bravery can be facing down a large dragon who could easily obliterate you with one breath.

Merry and Pippin, Stiles and Bilbo were brave. And I don’t think they even knew it.

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Rose with thorns

Sting

Anyone who looked at Milly Costello would have called her ‘girly’. She certainly looked the part: long blonde hair, light blue eyes and a fondness for the colours blue and pink. They wouldn’t have known she travelled to get to the city of Redcross on foot, together with at least fifty other people, at the age of fourteen.

For two years she worked working at a café with three friends she made while travelling, but she refused to accept this was going to be it for her. She remembered the world outside Redcross, and was determined not to live the rest of her life inside its walls.

Eventually, she did get to leave the city. It just wasn’t in a way she expected – or wanted. And right then, she would have given anything to get back there.

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Candyfloss Kisses

Enamored

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

It was the only way Leo would get more visitors at the facility. Avrel was the only member of his family who would visit him and…well, if Sami was being honest, they needed Leo’s help.

So Sami suggested she pose as Leo’s girlfriend. He’d spent three months at the facility and was now allowed unsupervised and more frequent visits as a reward for good behaviour.

Leo was surprised to see her when she first arrived. He was even more surprised (although he never showed it to the guards) to learn he had a “girlfriend”, but as Sami and Avrel’s visits continued, he gave them the help they needed.

Sami learned more about Leo as his “girlfriend” than she ever did as his sister’s friend. She learned he liked browsing through books he would randomly take off the library shelves. His favourite treat was candyfloss ice cream. He secretly nicknamed one of the guards “Sir Eatsalot”, and now all the other inmates called him that (never to his face). He was sad that his parents never visited him. He worried he’d disappointed them so badly they would never see him again even after his sentence was over.

He loved the way her hair looked today.

xxx

“Hey,” Sami said as soon as Leo walked in the visitor’s area. “Look what I got you.” She held up the tiny box of candyfloss ice cream.

“Are you serious?” Leo’s eyes lit up. They retreated to the library so he could enjoy the bounty in peace. The guard had been suspicious when she saw the little tub; she relaxed on seeing the seal was unbroken.

He peeled back the lid. “I haven’t had this for ages. Thanks, Sami.”

Sami watched Leo eat the ice cream. She couldn’t keep from smiling when she saw how much he was enjoying it. What kind of food did he have to eat here? She wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.

Leo was about halfway through the tub when he suddenly stopped eating and looked at her. Slowly, he scooped a helping of ice cream up and held it out to her. Sami took the spoon without her fingers brushing against his. She slipped it into her mouth.

No wonder he loved it so much.

She hadn’t taken her eyes off his.

Then they were both leaning forward and she was tasting the sweetness on his lips.

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Starlight

Magnetic

The sun was nearly gone. Krateia glanced around at the people surrounding her; once she was certain nobody was watching her, she unscrewed the top off the tiny vial and swallowed the contents in one gulp.

It burned as it went down her throat. She shuddered and slipped the vial back into the folds of her dress, daring a quick glance at Aigle to see if the other girl had noticed.

Nobody seemed to have noticed. They were too busy talking excitedly amongst themselves.

Krateia knew she shouldn’t be at the party. She hadn’t slept properly for – what was it? Five days now? She wasn’t sure. But it was one of Nyx’s parties, literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If Krateia rejected the invitation, she would never get another one.

That was why she was standing in a ballroom, in a midnight-blue dress belonging to her mother when she had gone to the party Nyx had invited her to, with at least a hundred other people. All were waiting for the sun to go down. When the last sliver of the sunset surrendered to shade, that was when the party would begin.

All around were tables covered with glasses of wine distilled from grapes and morning dew. Others had sweets, creams, ices, everything someone like Krateia could long to taste their entire lives and never, ever try. The hall was lit as if by a thousand candle flames, but there were no candles in sight.

Daylight faded completely. An excited breath stirred the crowd as they looked around expectantly. Loud gasps echoed everywhere as a tall masked woman appeared in the centre of the room.

Nyx. Their hostess.

All eyes were drawn to her. Her long hair hung in curls down to her back. Her strapless gown was the same colour as any other dress or jacket at the party, but it was made of a rich velvet with stars sewn into it. Different constellations shimmered as she raised her hands and removed her feathered mask, revealing clear grey eyes. Slowly, she smiled. Her lips parted to utter a single word.

“Welcome.”

Lively music broke out. People snatched up glasses of wine and eagerly drank. Krateia stayed where she was for a moment, unsure what to do.

“Come on!” Aigle grabbed Krateia’s elbow and pulled her over to the nearest table. She pressed a silver bowl filled with pink ice into her friend’s hands. Krateia used a delicate spoon to taste the ice. It flooded her mouth, nearly drowning the wildfire’s aftertaste. She ate the entire thing, savouring spoonful after spoonful.

When she looked around for Aigle afterwards, her friend was gone. She stayed by herself, watching everyone as they talked and laughed. Some joined hands and began to twirl around in a reckless dance.

When Krateia dared to look around for Nyx, she saw her talking to a man in a simple black shirt open at the neck and plain trousers. His hair and beard were black as well, and his eyes sparkled in the light.

When she looked in their direction again, she saw him watching her. He was frowning. Embarrassed, she blushed and turned back to the table.

Eventually, the music, voices and laughter became too much for her. Her feet ached from standing for too long. Krateia slipped away, out of the light and into the shadows, where lesser candles glowed. She just wanted to find a place to sit down for a while.

All her life she had wondered what one of Nyx’s parties would be like. Somehow, a party hosted by a goddess was just like every other party she had attended.

She finally found a place to sit: a small couch placed in a circle of moonlight. Krateia sat down and sighed with relief, swinging her feet up onto the couch beside her.

“Hello.”

Krateia looked up sharply. It was him. She was so startled, she couldn’t find her voice. His eyes sparkled even in the dark.

Then she did. “What are you doing here?”

“Partly avoiding my family. I’m not really needed through there. It’s far too bright in that room for my tastes.”

“Is all your family in that room?” Krateia asked, blinking hard to try and lighten her eyelids. They felt very heavy all of a sudden.

He laughed. “Just my mother. Trust me, you don’t want my brother in a place like this.”

Krateia discreetly fumbled around for her vial – then realised she had drunk the last of the wildfire.

The couch dipped as he lowered himself onto it. “You’ve been avoiding me, Krateia.”

Her fingers stilled. “How do you know my name? What do you mean, I’ve been avoiding you? I don’t even know who you are.” She put her hand to her mouth to try and stifle a yawn.

“Yes, you do.” His voice was soft and sad. “In fact, you’ve been avoiding me for a while; it’s been five days now.”

“What are you talking a…” Krateia’s voice disappeared as she met his eyes.

She did know who he was.

He reached out, put his hands on her arms and gently pulled her close. He smelled of warm wine and winter spices; his shirt was soft, so soft. Her head was tucked beneath his chin, her cheek resting against his chest.

“It’s all right, Krateia. I’ll watch over you.”

His arms were warm, like fur on a frosty night. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift away, safe in Sleep’s embrace.

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