Behind the Scenes of the Novels of Terra Haven
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"The Once-in-a-Lifetime Question" - A Terra Haven Short Story
“The Once-in-a-Lifetime Question” bonus short takes place after the events in Deadlines & Dryads, and before the events of Secret of the Gargoyles.
If you’ve not read Deadlines & Dryads, Magic of the Gargoyles, and Curse of the Gargoyles, this story will contain SPOILERS.
I plodded into my studio apartment, my head buzzing with excitement but my body dragging. I was going to an everlasting tree blooming!
I’d been so focused on winning today’s competition to report on the blooming that I hadn’t given any thought to the tree itself, or rather to my extraordinary opportunity to ask an everlasting tree a question—any question—and get an answer.
How was I going to decide on just one question?
I tossed my keys into a wooden half bowl nailed to the wall inside the front door, not bothering with a light. The ambient glow from the porch light below the bay windows and the lamplights across the street provided more than enough illumination to navigate my familiar studio apartment. Pointedly not looking in the direction of my bed, with its soft sheets, downy comforter, and fluffy, cloudlike pillows, I crossed the room to the balcony door on the left. If I acknowledged the bed’s existence, then my exhaustion might overwhelm me, and I still had Quinn to take care of.
A ripple of gold flashed past the window, followed by a heavy thump and a creak of an overworked balcony railing. I made a mental note to remind our landlady, Ms. Zuberrie, to have the balusters reinforced. They hadn’t been designed to accommodate the repeated launchings and landings of a gargoyle, let alone five. Normally, Mika would have already spoken with Ms. Zuberrie, or more likely, figured out a way to reinforce the railing herself, but she had a lot on her mind right now.
I swung the balcony door open, wincing when the movement stretched a cut on my ribs. The numbing salve Grant had slathered on my deeper wounds had all but worn off, but I desperately needed a shower before I reapplied it. Quinn first.
The lion gargoyle perched on the railing, his thick citrine body hunched on itself to fit all four paws on the slender board, his wings cupped for balance. Light shone from Mika’s windows, casting heavy shadows across his face and accentuating the gouges in his normally glossy body.
“She’s still up,” Quinn said.
“She’s always up these days,” I said. “But even if she weren’t, we’d wake her for you. You need to have those cuts tended.”
I hurried across the short balcony that adjoined my room with Mika’s, getting out of Quinn’s way so he could drop from the railing to the boards behind me. He eased down, folding his wings tight to his body. Despite being only half grown, the gargoyle had to squeeze to fit on the balcony, and getting through the narrow door to Mika’s apartment would be a close scrape. Mika and I would need to move soon; we couldn’t stay in a place that wouldn’t fit the gargoyles. Affording more spacious housing wasn’t out of the question anymore, either, now that Mika was a gargoyle healer with a successful quartz artisan business on the side, and I had regular paychecks from the Terra Haven Chronicle.
But that was a conversation for another night, one when I didn’t smell like a harpy’s underbelly and every flat surface didn’t look like a nice place to nap.
I knocked softly on Mika’s door. She didn’t answer, so I eased it open; she could be jumpy if she were lost in a project, and I didn’t want to cause her to break anything.
Mika hunched in a cramped, high-backed velvet chair that had seen better days two or three owners prior. Books, pamphlets, and newspapers sprawled across the floor in front of her, some open, some closed, most bookmarked with slivers of flattened quartz and ripped paper. Even more research material layered her lap and draped the chair’s armrests, and the book she’d been reading before she’d fallen asleep lay pressed to her chest.
Oliver’s head snapped up, his orange-red carnelian eyes flaring awake, and he raised a stubby paw to his lips in the universal signal for silence. The gargoyle’s long Chinese dragon body lay in a tight coil beneath Mika’s worktable, which, in a room littered with half a library’s contents, was the only place with enough free space to accommodate him.
“She just nodded off,” he whispered before his jaw cracked in a yawn.
I hesitated, then pushed forward. If it were for any reason but Quinn’s health, I would have crept back out and let my best friend catch a couple hours of sleep before dawn. No doubt she needed it.
Mika had been pushing herself too hard, searching for a cure for the comatose gargoyles she’d discovered in Focal Park and scattered around Terra Haven. After weeks of research and hundreds of spells, she didn’t appear any closer to an answer, and the failures—and the grueling hours she maintained—had taken their toll. Even asleep, she looked exhausted, dark purple bruises underscoring her eyes and grooves bracketed her down-turned mouth. She’d lost weight, too. Hunting for the elusive cure was killing her.
I tiptoed across the room, mincing through the research materials to Mika’s side. The least I could do was wake her gently.
Quinn limped through the doorway, wings compressed to his body. Oliver surged to his feet and rushed to his brother.
“Quinn! What happened?” Oliver asked, voice raised in alarm.
Mika snapped awake, hands flailing to catch falling books, eyes darting around the room. Power surged from her, shivering through every non-living splinter of quartz in the room. I grabbed her forearm, drawing her attention before she lashed out in her half-awake state.
“It’s me. It’s all right,” I said. “It’s me and Quinn, and Quinn needs healing.”
Mika’s green eyes snapped to my face, then she launched from the chair and trampled through her research to Quinn’s side.
“It’s not that bad,” the lion gargoyle said.
“You look like you were attacked by a tornado of knives.” Mika dropped to her knees next to him and ran a gentle hand down the deep grooves in his side.
“That’s pretty close to what happened,” I said.
Mika shot me an astonished look. Seed crystals flew from her work table to her lap even as an elaborate weave of quartz-tuned earth magic encased in delicate strands of fire, water, wood, and air feathered from her into Quinn. If I’d tried anything half as complex with earth, it would have crumbled, but Mika made the intricate magic look effortless. I’d never met another earther who could do half what she did with the quartz spectrum of earth element, and it made her an ideal gargoyle healer.
Selecting a seed crystal from the pile, Mika pressed it to the deep groove cut through Quinn’s paw, her magic knitting the raw crystal into his citrine flesh in a blur of magic too complex for me to follow. Quinn’s face scrunched, then he closed his eyes and leaned into Mika’s touch. As fast as if Mika had turned the seed crystal into water and poured it into Quinn’s wound, the clear quartz knit to his rock body, filling the deep gouge. I’d seen Mika perform similar patches before, so I knew Quinn’s body would absorb the raw quartz and replace it with citrine over the next couple of days, erasing all traces of the wound. Truly, Mika was a miracle healer.
I settled into Mika’s abandoned chair, carefully stacking books onto the floor, and Oliver shuffled to my side to give Mika room to work. Exhaustion swamped my excitement over tomorrow’s departure, and I rubbed my eyes, fighting sleep.
When Mika finished tending Quinn minutes later, she sat back on her heels, lost her balance, and sprawled on her butt. Quinn reached for her, and Oliver jerked as if he could catch her from across the room, but she waved them both aside. Making a face, she scooted sideways and rested against Quinn’s side.
“All right. Tell me what happened,” she said.
“When was the last time you ate?” I asked.
“Is this your way of building suspense? Because it’s kind of late for that.”
“She hasn’t eaten since lunch,” Oliver said.
With a Herculean effort, I shoved out of the chair and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl atop Mika’s squat dresser. I would have tossed it to her, but she looked more likely to pass out than catch something.
“Here,” I said, handing it to her. “Eat while we regale you with our adventure.”
I minced across the cluttered floor back to the surprisingly comfortable old chair and waited until Mika had taken a bite before I began my tale. As much as I wanted to rehash every detail, I kept the retelling short, skipping over the entire encounter with harpy Beldame Zipporah and letting Quinn cover the details of the spriggan battle.
“Wow! What an incredible and terrifying day,” Mika said when Quinn finished. She raised an eyebrow at me. “Of course, you probably weren’t even scared.”
“Are you kidding? I was petrified!”
“Me, too,” Quinn said.
Mika scoffed. For some reason, she thought I possessed inhuman courage, and I could protest her superior bravery until I was blue in the face, but she’d never believe me.
“Let me guess,” Mika said. “You didn’t see a healer when you got back to Terra Haven, either. You went straight to the Chronicle.”
“Grant patched me up—”
“Oh did he?”
“And I will see a healer in the morning before I need to be back at the paper.”
“You’re not taking even a day off?”
Look who’s talking, I wanted to argue, but it wouldn’t work. Mika was the only gargoyle healer in Terra Haven, and she refused to take a day off so long as gargoyles were sick, which meant she had been working nonstop since she saved the city from imploding at Focal Park weeks ago.
She continued, her tone teasing, “Surely the other reporters at the paper can scrounge up a front-page story without your help at least one day this week.”
“She can’t take tomorrow off because we’re leaving,” Quinn said.
“Leaving?” Oliver asked.
“For the everlasting tree,” Quinn said.
“The everlasting tree . . .” Mika straightened, looking back and forth between us. “It’s blooming?”
I nodded, grinning. “Dahlia announced this morning that whoever brought her the best story would get to cover it.” I spread my arms wide. “You’re looking at the winning team.”
“That’s incredible! Kylie, that’s— that’s—”
“An opportunity of a lifetime? Absolutely amazing? The most exciting thing to ever happen to me?”
If it hadn’t been well past midnight and my limbs weren’t leaden with fatigue, I would have danced around the cramped apartment. I settled for doing a seated wiggle that made Mika laugh.
“You can get the answer to anything. What are you going to ask it?” she asked.
“I—” I started to say I don’t know, but the words died in my throat. “I’m an idiot. I’ve been thinking about all sorts of questions, but there’s only one that matters: I’ll ask it how to cure the comatose gargoyles.”
“You will?” Oliver sat up tall, his eyes shining.
“Of course.” It was the right thing to do. None of my other ideas came close to being as important as the lives of the gargoyles. If I hadn’t been so wrapped up in myself, I would have realized it sooner. Mika had an impossible task—she needed a miracle solution. She needed . . .
“What? What’s that look for?” Mika asked.
“You! Why don’t you come with us?”
“Go with you? But—”
“But nothing. It’s the perfect solution. Raquel is taking us. I’m sure her gryphon can fit one more, especially once Raquel learns it’s the city hero who needs a ride.”
She waved aside being called a hero, but her expression lit with hope.
“Really? Gryphonback? That would be . . . Well, that would be terrifying, but to get to see an everlasting tree bloom, and to get a seed with the answer . . .” She trailed off, her stare becoming fixed on the window, and I didn’t think she was seeing the reflection of the room in the dark surface. With a start, she refocused on me. “When does the tree bloom?”
“Soon. Any day now.”
“But you don’t know when exactly?”
“No one does. Based off records, it could be tomorrow or two weeks from tomorrow.”
“Two weeks?” The tension drained out of her spine. “Assuming I can hitch a ride with you, how long will it take to get to the tree?”
“A day or two. I’m not sure.”
“So two days there, up to two weeks waiting, and two days back, plus it’s not like I’d return with the answer. I’d have to figure out how to get my seed to grow before it would give me the cure.” She sighed. “I can’t.”
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t go. The sick gargoyles don’t have that much time.”
“But the tree could bloom the day we arrive, for all you know.”
“And for all you know, it won’t.” She shook her head, her mouth curling down. “I remember the reports from the last blooming. Some people’s seeds didn’t give them their answer for years.”
“And some got their answer within days.”
“I can’t chance it. I need to stay here and keep trying. If I go, and the gargoyles die, I’ll always wonder if I abandoned them when I had the answer right here.” She indicated the sprawl of documents across her floor.
I didn’t point out that if the gargoyles died before she found a cure, she would always wonder if she could have gotten the answer from the tree.
“All right. I see your point,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t still ask. If you haven’t found the cure before I return, you can help me get the seed to grow . . . Why are you shaking your head?”
“Because the same time restrictions apply to you. What if I cure the gargoyles before you return? You’d have wasted your once-in-a-lifetime question.”
“It’d be worth it.”
“No. Thank you, but no. This is my responsibility, not yours.”
I slumped back in my seat. She’d gotten that stubborn look on her face that meant she wouldn’t be budged from her position. But I didn’t need her permission, and it’s not like she’d be mad if I returned with a seed that could give us the cure.
“No,” she said.
“I can see what you’re thinking.”
“No you can’t.”
“You’re planning on asking anyway,” Mika said.
“Please don’t. I couldn’t bear it if you used your question on a cure I’d already found the answer to, and I think I’m close to a discovery.”
“You do?” I leaned forward, bracing my forearms on my knees to study her face for the truth.
“I’ve found a handful of ancient spells designed specifically for gargoyles. I’m sure the answer is in one of them. I’ve not given up hope.”
That wasn’t the same as having a cure, but I didn’t push, trusting Mika to know what she was talking about when it came to gargoyles.
“You know, this is actually perfect timing,” she said. “You’ll be out of town when I heal the gargoyles, so there won’t be anyone to write an embarrassing story in the Chronicle about it.”
“‘An embarrassing story’? You mean a fascinating piece about our city’s most taken-for-granted citizens? It’s shameful that no one noticed these sick gargoyles until you. The city’s healers should have been working on a cure since the gargoyles first went comatose. If these kinds of stories aren’t put in the paper, then people will continue to overlook the problems right in front of their noses.”
“Whoa, slow down. I don’t want to stop you from writing about gargoyles, just not about me. You have a tendency to make me into some sort of hero, and that’s the embarrassing part.”
You are a hero, I thought but didn’t voice it. Mika was too modest for her own good, and trying to convince her otherwise was like butting my head against granite.
“Kylie is a professional,” Quinn said. “She doesn’t exaggerate in her articles.”
“I have read her articles, too, and she always sticks to the facts,” Oliver agreed, his eyes glowing with love for Mika.
She glanced back and forth between the gargoyles, mouth open, but her standard denials were useless in the face of their adoration. After a moment, she snapped her mouth closed and shot me a helpless look. I grinned.
“I guess I can’t argue with all three of you,” she said.
“Nope.” I yawned wide enough to crack my jaw.
“You need to get some sleep before you—” Mika’s yawn interrupted her. “Before you depart.”
Quinn’s mouth gaped in an impressive display of fangs and a long, curled citrine tongue. Oliver caught the yawn next, passing it back to me.
“We all need to get some sleep.” I shoved to my feet, disturbing the folds of my clothes and unleashing a fresh wave of harpy nest funk from the fabric. “And I need a shower.”
“Badly,” Mika agreed, sweeping the chair behind me with a quick cleaning spell.
Quinn backed out of the room, then hopped from the balcony ledge to the roof, his feet surprisingly soft as he prowled to the ridgeline and his usual sleeping spot.
“Promise me you won’t use your question for the comatose gargoyles,” Mika said, drawing me to a stop at the balcony threshold. “I’m close to an answer. I know I am.”
I searched her face, then nodded. “I promise, but only if you will promise not to give any other journalist the story of how you do it.”
“Deal!” She braved my funk and leaned in for a hug. “I want to hear every detail when you return, so don’t forget anything.”
“An everlasting tree blooming.” She shook her head in wonder. “That’s going to be the story of a lifetime.”
Exclusive to the VIP newsletter: Sign up to receive a novelette of Mika and Oliver’s adventure.
If something threatens a gargoyle, Mika’s confident she can handle it. But can she save the day when it’s Marcus who needs to be rescued?
Novels of Terra Haven Series Order
Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles
1. Magic of the Gargoyles
2. Curse of the Gargoyles
3. Secret of the Gargoyles
3.5 Lured (a bonus novelette; VIP newsletter only)
Terra Haven Chronicles
0.5 Deadlines & Dryads
“Once in a Lifetime Question” (short story; VIP newsletter only)
1. Leads & Lynxes (forthcoming)
How Well Do You Know Your Quartz?
Here’s a guide to the most prominent gargoyles in the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles. (If you haven’t finished the trilogy, I don’t think knowing a few gargoyle names included here is going to be too much of a spoiler.)
His sinuous Chinese dragon body and eagle wings are pure, fiery carnelian.
Her winged panther body is rich dumortierite veined with green aventurine.
With a lion body covered in scales instead of fur, Quinn is as golden as quartz can come.
Possibly the most exotic of the siblings (maybe to offset his name), Herbert’s rose quartz armadillo body and toucan head are accented with deep blue dumortierite coils.
A swan with lion’s feet, her stone feathers are a spectrum of purple, pink, and orange.
Other Important Gargoyles
The size of a small horse, Celeste’s gryphon body is ebony onxy and amethyst.
With a solid jasper marmot body, all his dumortierite touches are concentrated in the tips of his antlers and the feathers of his long, sweeping wings.
Fox (name unknown)
With wings of golden citrine and a fox-like body of shimmering tigereye, this gargoyle might be nameless, but she’s beautiful.
* * *
There are so many more variations of quartz out there. If you’re interested in learning more, a simple Google search will reveal some amazing varieties.
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