Friday, December 31, 2010

The Red Elevators (Chapter One)

The Red Elevators

Chapter One: The Blackout

They called it the long road to paradise.

I preferred to think of it as an end to misery. I trundled along through nearly half a foot of snow with only a ragged sweater to keep me warm. It was thick but fraying at the hems. Strings were always hanging off, catching on things.

You may be wandering where I am. They called it the orphan world. They. The survivors. There was no such thing as the elderly here. On this planet, you're old if you reach thirty.

But it doesn't matter, because you won't.

Only the strongest, toughest and meanest can survive. It's these who sometimes live into their twenties. Sometimes they helped you out, taught you things, sometimes they didn't.

But I'm probably confusing you. There's only three things you need to know about the orphan world, honestly. First, the minute you turn thirteen you're going to work in the mines, or the factories. Second, you will die in the mines, or the factories. And third, when they call you to the building with the red elevators, you are never ever coming back.

I'd been summoned yesterday morning. A man in a gas mask had delivered a crinkled, burned up envelope to me. He hadn't said a word, just handed me the stupid piece of paper and walked away. Inside was only a piece of paper with one word.


That was all that was needed, because everyone knew what it meant. You can ignore it, yes, but one day someone's going to show up, right beside your bed when you're sleeping, just blow your clean freaking head off. You don't have to believe me, but I saw it happen once with my own eyes, so I know well enough the consequences of ignoring a summons.

Being twelve years old, I lived in the Lyran Commons with all the children. It wasn't a building meant for living in. The whole planet had been different once long long ago, before the warts had taken over. There were ruins everywhere. I was walking in a canyon made by several toppled buildings, towards the one structure the warts had built themselves, a massive rectangular building that towered over the land like a boxy mountain.

Wart headquarters.

A wart was the name the survivors had given to the rulers of the orphan world. No one knew exactly what they looked like behind the gas masks they always wore, but apparently the story was they looked like toads, their skin covered in warts.

As to what the warts called themselves... they seemed to only want us to think of them as "the master race". They'd never given any sort of real name to call them, a fact which only added to their mysteriousness.

I wanted to drag out the long walk from Lyran Commons to the headquarters as much as possible, but it was so cold I couldn't do it. Even after half an hour in the cold I was shivering. Soon enough I was standing in a massive, echo-y atrium dripping snow onto tiles checkered gold and white. The walls were all windows, but heavily tinted, making the room oppressively dark.

There was nothing in the room, absolutely nothing, except for two elevators set opposite the door. All else was glass, tile, and silence. With a startling "bing!" one the elevator doors opened, spilling light into the dimly lit entryway.

True to rumor it was as red as blood.

Warmer now out of the cold, this was a walk I could make last as long as I please. And I did. I took several minutes of pacing, hemming and hawing before I finally stepped inside the red red red elevator, feeling like I was stepping into a blood vessel or something. There was a massive array of buttons next to the doors on the left side, but touching them did nothing.

There was one in the high right hand corner, a funny looking sideways 8, it was the only one lit. I was going all the way to the top. I gripped the red railing with a shaking hand, trying to steady myself. Every strange rumor, every wild possibility ran through my head in that long ride into the sky.

A little thingie like a digital clock ticked off the levels in one corner. I stared at it, watching as the symbol representing each floor was passed. I couldn't understand what all of them meant, but it didn't mean I couldn't match them up. I had to fight to stem off panic as my destination began to grow closer and closer.

I hummed the tune to a silly children's song. I couldn't remember the name or any of the words, just someone singing it to me while they wrapped me up in a pale blue blanket. Maybe it was my long lost mother, maybe not. Whenever I was scared, I had taken to humming it. But when the doors opened with another "bing!" I couldn't bring myself to move.

There was nothing to see beyond the elevators. An oppressively heavy mist prevented me from making out even shadows. Little tendrils of fog began to curl their way towards me. Heat followed, driving out the last of the cold that I'd brought with me from the outside.

"Step forward!" A synthetic, robot-like voice commanded. The voice of a wart inside its suit. Trembling, I stepped forward. If this was my last moment on earth, I supposed it didn't do much good to spend it quivering against the wall like a lily-livered coward.

The elevator closed behind me, leaving me blind and vulnerable. "Remove your sweater, subject 1-4-9-9 Jonah Griffin." a second voice ordered. It was similar to the first, but subtly different. It was an odd request, but I was beginning to grow very warm now anyways. I let the ragged old thing drop, now wet with moisture.

Shadows emerged from the fog. Figures in bulky metal suits and insectoid masks. Beads of condensation clung to their shiny black goggles as they studied me. One of them had a syringe. It looked tiny in his padded glove.

"Stretch out your arm, subject 1-4-9-9." He told me. Humming one last bit of my tune, I did so. I'm not too proud to admit, my arm was still shaking. The wart gripped my elbow roughly in his free hand, holding it tight. With the other I watched as the syringe began to get close to my skin.

And then things got crazy.

The next thing I knew, I wasn't in that strange, misty room at all. I was in a hallway. Alarms were blaring like crazy, and my head was incredibly fuzzy, like when you wake up from a poor night's sleep, or an unrestful nap.

And in my left hand, I was holding tight to someone else' hand. A girl named Penny. I'd had a crush on Penny for the last few years, but I'd never had the courage to tell her, and she'd never taken much notice of me regardless. It didn't help that Penny was a year older, too.

Mere weeks from being sent to the mines, she'd been summoned just days before me. Could it be we had escaped somehow? I couldn't make sense of where my memories had gone. It felt like I should be able to remember what had happened, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't do it.

Maybe Penny knew. She had an odd expression on her face, a senseless sort of bliss. She seemed content to simply stand there while I came to my senses. "What's going on?" I asked the girl.

Penny looked at me with unfocused eyes, then giggled. "Johnny," she said, stroking my cheek. "They hurted my brain." She tapped at her forehead awkwardly, as if her motor skills were no longer what they were. Her hair, once dark and beautiful, clung to her skin in lank strands. There were bald patches here and there where they'd just shaved it away.

She attempted to relay her story to me, but it was too vague for me to understand much. She kept going back to needles, in her skin, through her bone. She was terrified of needles.

They'd lobotomized her, I realized.

I looked around, trying to get a grip and figure out my surroundings. We had to escape, that much was obvious. Even if we'd managed to get away for a little bit, I doubted we'd be free for much longer.

I led Penny towards the first door I found. It was a supply closet. The second, however, led into a immense hanger that seemed to take up much of the space on this floor. Beyond the open hanger doors, a starlit night awaited. The light of worlds beyond our own twinkled invitingly.

And floating a few inches off the ground, waiting as if a gift from God himself, was the most beautiful, elegant spaceship I'd ever seen. It was an electric blue disk, with two engine pods sticking out to either side. The cockpit was settled into a third pod, jutting just above the bow of the ship.

And in it I saw my means of escape, my freedom. I didn't know what had happened to me in the minutes since my ride in the Red Elevators, but I knew I'd been given a chance at maybe finding something better, perhaps even a real life. The thought of living free of oppression and fear almost seemed impossible to me, like a bird who's never been let out of its cage. I had to seize this while I still could.

We had to steal the starship.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I DID IT!! I finished my book! I can hardly believe it. There is still a LOT of work to be done in terms of editing and cleanup, but at the same time, it's all there. Every moment I pictured in my head, all the words, the plot.

What an amazing ride the last nine or so months have been. I've learned so much. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.

I DID IT THOUGH!! I will worry over what a mess it is later... tonight I celebrate thirty wonderful chapters written. I think I have remarked before on how much writing a novel feels like having a child. I certainly feel something like love for my book. Even if it is ugly to the rest of the world, I'm still going to cherish it. I don't expect much, and I still want honest opinions no matter how negative, but there is something special about this moment, and this work, no denying it.

And soon enough... it'll be time to start my next book!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bear and the Bow

"The Bear and the Bow"

Once upon a time there was a Princess named Bethie. She lived in the faraway land of Emmhummm, a land of vibrant forests and beautiful lakes, ringed by mountains on three sides, and the sea on another. Princess Bethie was good at a lot of things. She excelled at archery, at horseback riding, and at hunting, but there was one thing she was rather terrible at.

Being a princess.

She loved to sneak out in the early mornings while the bakers were still warming their ovens in the castle's mighty kitchen. Bethie would steal a warm loaf of bread and sneak out barefoot into the wilderness, hair a tangled mess.

Eventually the king's men would find her, somewhere deep in the evergreens. Even as a little girl the forest was her second home, and as she grew up, she learned in secret the ways of the forest. She learned how to track deer, to climb trees, and often went swimming in some of Emmhummm's crocodile infested lakes. Meanwhile, her mother the queen struggled in vain to teach her how to be a princess.

Music, art and entertaining, a world within a world seemed to live within the castle. Servants and teachers and guests in an endless array, but Bethie had no patience for any of it. It was too small of a world, and far too stuffy.

On the morning of Bethie's nineteenth birthday she was nibbling a loaf of bread, racing through the trees, when she suddenly realized something unusual had happened.

She was lost.

The princess wandered for hours until she stumbled into a clearing she had never seen before. In the center of that clearing was a bear, a bear far larger than any the girl had ever seen before.

Bethie tried to shrink back, but the enormous bear had noticed the girl at once. "Come forth, child." The bear commanded. Bethie was many things but fearful was not among them. She stepped forward, curious.

"What sort of bear are you?" she asked.

"I am no bear! I am the prince of Danefield!" The bear replied.

"Oh," the startled girl replied. "You look a lot like a bear."

"I was turned into a bear by a wicked man with a magic bow. He launched an arrow and transformed me into this beast you see before you."

"That sounds like a tall tale to me," the girl replied.

"But a talking bear doesn't give you any trouble?" After a bit of explaining, the princess decided she ought to help the prince. Not because he was a prince, especially, but because he was a bear. He seemed a part of the peaceful forest she loved so much.

The selfish prince took her help without a second thought, and the two set off. They journeyed far, to the edge of Emmhummm, where the trees faded into snow capped mountains. There they found a smallish hut perched out upon the edge of a rocky cliff.

Princess Bethie rapped upon the door and found a leather clad hunter soon stared her in the face, a hunter with a bow and quiver strapped to his back. "What is it, little wretch?" He replied, even more gruffly than the bear-prince. Bethie did not like that at all. Then the hunter saw the bear. "Getting a lassie to fight your battles for you, eh Gerald?" The hunter asked, guffawing.

"Well, I wouldn't need to if you weren't using a magic bow to fight yours!" Gerald the bear replied.

"Perhaps you ought to turn him back..." Bethie replied, a bit uncomfortably.

"Perhaps." The hunter replied. "But he was poaching on my land, and I did as was my right! So perhaps I ought to turn you into a duck!" He began to notch an arrow to his bow, but Bethie was faster. She whipped her arm up and hit the hunter's wrist before he could fire. The arrow thudded harmlessly into the cabin's thatch ceiling, turning a bit of hay into a very surprised duckling.

Bethie slipped behind the hunter and grabbed an arrow from his quiver. She tapped it against the man's neck, and was suddenly dealing with a very irate hog dressed like a man. She quickly snatched up the bow lying on the ground and relieved the pig of his arrows. So armed, she burst from the house, and ran out into the night. She ran all the way back to her castle, taking a great deal of time to find her way back.

By the time she arrived, it was very late. The king and queen were waiting by the fire in the dining hall, hoping to hear word of their daughter's return. When she burst into the hall, filthy with mud and bear fur, they ran to greet her. But before they could, she tapped each of them with an arrow.

Soon enough, the king had become a llama, and the queen, an unexpectedly massive goose. In later years, long after Bethie had become queen, she would still wander through her beloved forest. Sometimes she would hear the sounds of a bear and a pig arguing. Sometimes she took her llama father, other times she rode upon the back of her mother goose, soaring through the air. She used the bow to rule all the land, governing fairly in most cases, although at times she was as hotheaded as one would expect a woman who had ruthlessly turned her mother into a goose might be.

Strangely enough, Bethie's mother goose became a great listener in her avian state. She took note of all the stories she heard, no matter how strange, and transformed them into nursery rhymes.

And that is how the legend of Mother Goose began.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Interim Musings


Still hard at work on chapter thirty. This final outing is going to be quite a beast. I believe this is the first chapter I've ever written that has required its own outline.

Why was an outline necessary, you ask? Well the scope of what I'm attempting is a little broader than previous chapters. I have had two to three part chapters before, but this one is five distinct parts. I actually contemplated splitting this one into three or four chapters, but I liked the idea of having everything under one banner "Lost in the House of Endless Dreaming". I love the title of chapter thirty so much, I nearly renamed the book after it.

In other news, I have become very tired of my job. Mostly because I want my job to be writing. I wake up every morning, get to work on something, then have to leave it way too soon to be at Best Buy.

I've been realizing lately I'm really out of touch with the writing world in a lot of ways. I was thinking about my favorite books from 2010, and like every year they're all Ted Dekker books. In all other ways, I'm not really keeping up with current trends at all.

I haven't decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I worry sometimes about my stories being seen as rip-offs of pre-existing work, through no fault of my own, simply because I didn't know this story or that already existed. But at the same time, I have no desire to be affected by what sort of stories the rest of the world is telling. I want my craft to have as little influence as possible, to create purer experience, more "me".

It's a fascinating conundrum... but in the end it's got to be a happy medium. I can't be fully sheltered from the world, nor do I entirely want to be. I love to experience others' stories, and sometimes I need them to keep me going. When I get so into a book I can't put it down... it reminds of what I'm looking for in my own stories, that breathless experience that can't be put into anything other than a carefully constructed house of words.

As I near the end of my nine month (and counting) journey writing That Hideous Slumber, I must admit sometimes I wish I could sequester myself away in some far off house on the beach. However, I'm also glad to be able to labor in coffee shops and bookstores and libraries, and my little desk in my bedroom. I am surrounded by all the things that make our daily lives what they are. Work, family, friends, 3D movies, traffic jams, crowded restaurants, netflix, mutinies, cute baristas, rebellions, personality clashes, beer, card games, misunderstandings, victories, prayers, coffee, celebrations.

All some of things that can make a story so fascinating. Little moments and details, and massive world changing events all intermingled into a ridiculously difficult to get the hang of hodgepodge that no one ever fully figures out.

The beautiful, confusing mess we call life.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Princess and the Pee

"The Princess and the Pee"

Once upon a time there was a princess named Bethie who lived in the land of Puponia. She was settling in for bed one night high atop her pile of mattresses when suddenly she felt an extreme discomfort in her bladder. "Drat," she muttered to herself. "I knew I forgot something."

"BUTLER!!" Princess Bethie called out.

From across the castle she heard a loud commotion as the butler roused himself from his own bed and scurried through the halls. It was the king's orders that the princess be escorted to the bathroom after she had fallen from her pile of mattresses in an effort to obtain a ho-ho forgotten on her bedside table far below.

When the butler arrived, he let out a world weary sigh and grabbed a ladder that was leaning not far away. He laid it against the great stack of mattresses and Princess Bethie carefully descended.

Hand in hand, princess and butler made their way across the castle to the building's only royal bathroom. There had been more than one bathroom once, but in the Great Toilet War with Japan Puponia had had all their toilets stolen except for one. This one toilet was now exclusively for royal use, being the only toilet remaining in all the land.

The butler waited outside the door, trying not to think about his own need to use the bathroom, which in this case would require a long trek into the cold to use an outhouse. The butler grumpily contemplated stealing the miraculous toilet plated in gold, truly a fitting throne for a king too cheap to buy his subjects more porcelain.

All done, Princess Bethie emerged from the bathroom, humming and wiping her hands on her nightgown. "Didst thou wash thy royal hands?" the butler questioned, thankful that was the only thing he was required to ask about. Previous butlers had been forced to ask more specifics, such as whether "number one" or "number two" had been the reason for the late night visit to the commode.

And heaven forbid the answer was ever number two. A change in policy had been necessary when too many butlers quit over the indignity of being forced to question the princess on whether she'd remembered her "wipey poo".

The princess shook her head then returned to the gold plated sink and spent nearly ten minutes playing with the bubbles made by the soapy water while the butler struggled to maintain his composure, and the integrity of his bladder.

Finally the butler and the princess made their way back to the princess' chambers, which were (naturally) on the far side of the enormous castle, opposite the building's only operable bathroom. The butler wished to hurry, but Princess Bethie was no longer interested in returning to her chambers. Instead, she brought up all the things she thought that she and her servant should do instead.

Thereby the butler was forced to inform the princess that there would be no roller skating through the ballroom, no playing with dolls in the dungeons, and certainly no construction of dynamite out of nitroglycerin and play-doh.

Upon returning to her chamber, Princess Bethie once more carefully climbed her ladder and relaxed into bed. The lights went out and the ladder was pulled away. The butler withdrew, moving with more speed than she would have thought possible. The princess however, could not sleep. She could not put her finger on the exact reason why. She rolled back and forth, wondering if a pea had been slid underneath her lowest mattress.

And then she realized the cold, brutal truth. A pea wasn't the problem at all.

She had to go again.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Little Manatee

The church I visited today was somewhat abysmal. Basically the worst sermon I have ever heard. So I got kind of bored, and mentally composed a short story. Here it be.

"The Little Manatee"

Once upon a time, there was a manatee named Charlotte. Every day she traveled to the edge of the florida swamp, to a sandy beach where fisherman brought their boats, hoping for a good haul.

Oftentimes she would catch sight of a particular fisherman who caught her eye. He was the only one who was careful with his boat. Others had hit her manatee friends, bumping them on the noggin without care. Charlotte liked to watch the kindly fisherman work, and wished she could talk to him. The manatee had come close to his boat before, but the fisherman had taken no notice of the comely sea cow.

One day, Charlotte decided to do something about it. She traveled away from the marshlands, out into the deep ocean where the waves grew as tall as sailboats. Further from home than she'd ever been. The dark infinite sea scared her, but once she left she did not look back.

Charlotte the manatee traveled for miles till she found a cave where a giant squid dwelled. Charlotte was frightened of giant squid but was reasonably confident they did not eat manatee. The giant squid stared at the sea cow with one giant, unblinking eye.

"What do you want from me?" the massive creature demanded gruffly.

"I have heard that you can grant wishes," the manatee replied timidly. "I would like to have my wish granted."

"I can indeed grant the wishes of manatees. Unfortunately I can only grant the wishes of manatees, not a specialty that has served me well so far from Florida. Business has been poor, so I will be happy to help you, if you do one thing for me."

"What must I do?" Charlotte asked.

"Travel to the coral reef to the west. A great white shark has been terrorizing the fishes there. Defeat the shark, and you shall have your wish."

Charlotte didn't know how to stop a shark, but she felt she had traveled too far to turn back now, and she was a very clever manatee regardless, so she felt she might think of something. The manatee traveled west until she found the coral reef, a beautiful place of strange plants and even stranger fish.

She asked all of the fishes where she might find this terrible shark, but no one would tell her, terrified for the naive sea cow's safety. It wasn't long before the shark appeared however.

Upon seeing the bulky, out of place creature floating about, the shark's stomach rumbled. The manatee seemed to transform into a giant cheeseburger before his eyes. His mouth began to water as well, but it was difficult to tell, since he was underwater anyhow.

Immediately the shark charged Charlotte the manatee down, eager for a meal. Charlotte stood her ground, or rather floated in place. She was terrified but determined. Closing her eyes, she braced for impact.

It never came. For all the fish, seeing how this brave manatee stood up for their safety, all the fish in the reef rallied together and attacked the shark as one. Apart, they had never been able to accomplish anything, but together they were able to drive the great white shark away.

He was never seen in the coral reef again. Charlotte traveled back to the great squid's cavern and made her request. She wished to be human. Immediately the manatee fell into a deep sleep. When she woke again, she felt sand beneath her flippers.

But no, that wasn't right. Her flippers were no more, replaced now by hands. Long red hair flowed past her shoulders, just as she'd always longed for. Struggling awkwardly to her feet, she saw the kindly fisherman walking towards her.

Upon seeing the stranger washed up on his beach, the man dropped his catch and ran to her aid. With strong arms he helped her to her feet. "Hey, are you alright man?" the man asked her.

Man? Charlotte took a moment to examine herself, and realized the cold, brutal truth. She hadn't been terribly specific when she'd made her wish, and that made all the difference.

She'd gone from being a manatee... to being a man.

The End

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Out of Sync

Yes. I wrote another poem. Not going to stop while I'm on a role, ok?? I wrote this one stemming from an idea from my last untitled poem. I always feel out of sync with the people around me, so I wrote a poem about it.

"Out of Sync"

Tick tick tick
the clock tocks the same for me
as everyone else,
I must assume.

But sometimes it all feels so wrong
I'm one step back,
or two steps ahead,
or seven steps back,
living in yesterday's domain,
or the future's unseen kingdom,
but am I ever in the right moment?

Am I ever in sync,
or does every moment slip past
as senseless as the one before,
while everyone lives their synchronized life
I manage stories and peoples
in my cluttered china shop brain
waiting for a bull to break all the dishes
waiting for a tornado to sweep me off my feet

Am I ever in sync,
or is everyone else,
simply as disoriented as me?
I haven't told anyone my suspicions,
but I think maybe nobody has it together
I know I'm out of sync,
I know I've got it all wrong
but maybe
I'm too out of sync to care.

Perhaps what I'm trying to say,
is that I don't mind being
out of sorts, out of sync
I'd just like it
if there was one person
two steps back,
when I'm two steps back,
seven steps to my seven,
backward or forward
out of sync,
but perfectly in tune.

Red Truth

Another new poem. The idea for this one popped into my head kind of randomly while I was working on my book. I was working on the current plot in chapter 28, then somehow I got sidetracked into a story about a girl turning invisible because everyone ignores her, then got further sidetracked with random lines about finding a lost book abandoned in the back of a library. Maybe this doesn't literally happen with bibles very often, but figuratively, it happens all the time, doesn't it??

I was going to call it "The Answer" but I liked allusion to red as a counterpoint to my last poem.

"The Red Truth"

Every library has them in limitless supply,
pages and pages,
to offer me all the wisdom
of gathered minds,
pooled into pulp,
and trapped in inky black words

I searched book after book,
looking for answers,
asking all my questions,
but the words I sought were never found
and as the black words,
collapsed under their own weight
into black holes
I thought maybe the answer,
was silence
No answer at all.

But in the back room,
of the furthest library
on the back shelf,
thick with dust
and neglect
I found something different,
a book of red words
and red truth

I looked at books full of answers,
and found only questions,
but in the end
I found a book full of questions,
and now I have my answer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

As the Crow Flies

I was digging through my old Xanga for buried treasure and I found this old poem. I think it could use a little editing, but I rather liked it, so I decided to repost it. I recall being disappointed with the song "As the Crow Flies" by Thrice. I think I just felt like the name had so many possibilities for storytelling, having it merely be about raising a crow felt sort of boring.

"As The Crow Flies"

As the crow flies,
we're ten miles from home,
and you can still turn back.
The eternally winding road,
the weight of this knapsack,
and these swaying rows of corn,
they're all I know.

But in ten miles more,
you'll be homesick for sure.
As I wander through mazes of city lights,
and desolate farmlands sentried by the scowls,
of ragged scarecrows,
following caravans to the courts,
of the wealthiest kings.
And robbers into the darkest forests,
Where fireflies cavort in nightly shows,
and the light of lantern globes dance,
in every maidens' hair.
and rains soak every lane to mud.

Far from home and fresh bread,
and clean sheets, and morning coffee,
but oh so near the stars.
The trees will whisper your name,
and I will sing of winter snows,
and around campfires,
down mountain trails,
in graveyards and dusty libraries,
I know you'll be missing home.

As the crow flies,
we're only eleven miles out.
You can still turn back,
I want you to know.

(Originally published April 21, 2008)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The White Dress

Second new poem. Guess I'm feeling kind of prolific tonight. This one is kind of a story. I got the inspiration a few days ago. I can't remember what from. It didn't turn out as well I'd hoped, but it isn't as bad as I'd feared it would be either.

"The White Dress"

Hesitation bears us away,
across an ocean wide and cold
lifeboats without pail or paddle
filling with seawater,
crashing to strange and foreign shores

Wait wait wait,
but one can only wait so long,
till the years fly,
and fizzle like spent birthday candles
and in the back room, there's a white dress,
Maybe it waits the longest
Collecting dust on a lonely dressmaker's dummy

And in my closet, there's a pair of white shoes.
If I could only bring myself,
to scuff them up,
to drag them across the asphalt seas,
and turn them black as coal,
maybe I could ask the question
burning within,
but I let my shoes sit in my closet,
I let my words pile up in my brain
like unattended car wrecks
and I brave the storms of this world alone
in another land, on the other side of the world,
you quietly do the same,
and we wait.

But the most senseless thing of all,
to bury away my thoughts of you,
for I would rather go the distance
with no shoes at all,
and tear my feet
to a shredded mess
than live one more second
on the wrong side of the world.

Untitled #7

New poem. I have lost count of how many untitled poems I have written, but I am reasonably sure this is number seven. If it's not... then I have two poems with the same title, not the end of the world.

"Untitled #7"

Never have I understood this thing
they call sacrifice,
never have I known,
how to close my eyes
give my all,
but if you can teach me
I'm willing to learn.

Teach me how to give,
tell me how to love,
and what does it mean,
this crazy talk
of dying to myself
I know there's so much,
that I'm missing in my shutterspeed life,
moments pass in the blink of an eye

Give up an eye or an arm
I swear it's worth it
Sacrifice your eyes,
because we're all blind anyways
and when one eye closes
to the sins of this midnight world,
does it open,
to beautiful golden light?

If I'm blind,
maimed and mute,
may my tongue rejoice,
clap my hands for joy,
and let my eyelids
follow my lips into a smile
For I do not need
beauty in my skin,
I need it to behold.

Let my eyes rest on you,
and you're all I need.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Newer poem.

I wrote another new poem. This is my now customary intro to keep the poem from being jammed into a paragraph on Buzz, which I do not like. I wrote it late last night, reflecting on the idea of darkness meeting light, a common enough songwriting foil.


I've always been told,
things will get better,
when the darkness meets the light,
but that only happens twice a day.
In with the dawn,
out with the dusk.

If I miss the sunrise,
if the day slips past my eyes,
will you still be there,
when the sun's about to go down?
Say you'll be there,
say you'll be there

Twilight is taking root in my mind,
following the rout to go numb,
I think the gray is winning out,
losing my way amongst
shades and shadows,
But I can't forget your face.

I'll close my eyes,
ignore the light,
ignore the stars
and keep my focus,
on something more permanent
than days or seasons or years
I'll keep my focus
on the one thing I love.
I'll keep my focus on you.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Poem

This is my introduction. I wrote a poem tonight. I am mostly typing because I don't like it when Buzz crams lines from my poems into a paragraph. Poems must be taken in whole. You can't just read one sentence. The first few sentences alone of this poem could be kind of depressing, but it's really not that kind of poem at all, so that mushed paragraph misrepresents me, doesn't it?? Well I think this is long enough.

"The Infinite Blue"

It isn't lead weights pulling me under,
I don't have the need,
it's just my own sense of misdirection,
faulty as ever
It's just the weight of my confusion,
my sadness and pain,
all the things I don't need to have

Where is the sunlight,
where's the sea floor?
Does it even matter?
I can't tell anymore
it's all just blue,
infinite blue
nothing more and nothing less

I sink to the bottom,
cutting my feet on the rocks below
why do we always cut it so close
when it feels like life is waiting
maybe a few miles deeper

There's no oxygen here,
but I think maybe
if I could teach my lungs just right,
they'd love this water
and maybe I don't have to drown,
for one more second.

So as the fish and whales watch,
why don't you take my hand,
kick off your shoes,
let it all go,
and we'll swim away,
into the infinite blue.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sleepless Inferno

I'm pretty sure I'm eventually going to write a sequel for That Hideous Slumber, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be called The Sleepless Inferno. Pretty ominous, no??

Just beginning work on chapter 27. Chapter 26 is finished and awaiting a little editing. I'm looking forward to getting through these final chapters for two reasons. One, I'm really excited about the ending I've cooked up (don't let sequel talk give anything away. I guarantee nothing!). Two, I'm looking forward to writing the Red Elevators.

That is all. I recently signed up for a free trial of Netflix AND the new Force Unleashed game just came out... so if it takes me a long time to finish chapter 27 you will know why...

Friday, October 8, 2010

That Hideous Slumber (Chapter 25)

That Hideous Slumber

Chapter XXV: Between Yesterday and Eternity

Day One

Weather beaten by the centuries and hollowed out by thieves and vagabonds for their wicked work, that was the hovel Drift led us to. It was little more than a cavern. It had born from a rock formation that had long been abandoned by anyone in Termile with legitimate intentions. A heap of rocks with no elegant contours to call the eye, nor height impressive enough to call much attention. It was the perfect hideout for the people we were chasing.

Drift, Rovur, and I hid out of sight behind a smaller rock formation. I ran through what little I'd learned of Termile in my head as we sat against the rock. I'd drilled Rovur for all the information and advice I could as we wandered out into the oppressive, oven-esque heat of the day. I didn't want a repeat of my previous mistakes. I wanted to learn, and learning in this case meant trusting in the wisdom and strength of my companions.

And so I now knew the city from far off atop the sand dune where I'd arrived was Termile's capital, Moraaz. It was truly a spectacle, renowned throughout the world for its architecture, which consisted of immense, colorful towers called onion domes. The city I'd seen in Artemis' head was Laare, and more commonly reflected Termile living with its large but haphazardly thrown together adobe buildings.

The men who had attacked Rovur were part of the king's army, and I learned the wulfren bore them no ill will given his sudden entrance. The king, by the way, was here called a sultan, though I hardly saw a difference. Slavery was generally abhorred in Termilian culture, however rogue elements will always stoop below society's allowances.

Rovur was impatient.

"If we're going to attack, why don't we go ahead and attack? I can't handle this waiting. It's making me crazy."

"There's no need," I said simply.

"That's not why we're here," Drift added. "Have a little patience."

"I am having a little patience! Why do you think I haven't charged in there and created myself a disturbance?" Where Drift and I leaned casually, he stood pacing back and forth.

Finally the sound I'd been waiting for met my ears at last. A living statue burst his way right through one wall of the thieves den, creating a permanent second front door. Face still and expressionless, the stone man appraised the cloudless blue sky above, the seemingly endless expanse of sand around him, and then began to walk our way.

"Have you been waiting long?" Atlas called out as we quit our hiding spot. He slowly began to return to human form. The stone seemed to melt into his skin, letting flesh take reign once more. Except for his left arm, which did not change at all.

"No," I replied. "Just a few minutes or so. Did you leave anything for us to clean up?" I asked, maybe a bit hopeful.

"'Fraid not. Took care of the rabble all by my lonesome. Didn't realize you'd find me so soon." The quiet man nodded then, and the matter was over. Atlas had just taken out a literal den of thieves and then brushed it off, ready to move on with his day.

"Has that ever happened before?" I asked. His arm still had not changed. He was feeling it now with his right hand, as if trying to figure out what was wrong.

"No, it hasn't," he said, taking a few more steps closer. There was no concern in his voice. Suddenly the arm returned to normal on its own, and we didn't think about the matter again.

"What's the plan now?" Atlas asked. "Seems we're a long way from home." At this I began to explain to everyone all I knew and all I learned. I laid before them the dire situation, and the need to reach Eleanor before Artemis. I spoke staring into the sand at my feet, struggling not to let any emotion creep into my words.

When I finished the story of what had happened to me in their absence, I looked up to see that only Drift and Atlas were listening. Rovur was nowhere in sight.

"Where's Frank?" They both pointed to the cave. I noticed then that the slavers had been driven out. A handful of them were wandering out into the desert, proverbial tails between their legs as they shamefully made their way out into the sun empty handed. So much the better. They deserved little else in my opinion.

Inside we discovered Rovur sitting upon a literal heap of gold. A slender, decorative crown rested upon his head, and a haunch of gnawed upon meat was in one hand. Rovur grinned a bit sheepishly. "I felt we'd earned better quarters after our trek, you see. Make y'selves at home, chaps."

The thieves hideout was lavish and comfortable. The floor was carpeted with finely woven rugs. The furnishings were all wood, a rarity for high desert. A melancholy feeling washed over me as I looked it over.

I'd missed Eleanor terribly these past three years, but I'd rarely considered home. I'd just been too busy, life had been too full. But looking at the simple things, the couches and carpets, all I wanted to do was be back in Eastwold with the girl I loved.

I sighed. In the few seconds I'd been standing there lost in thought, my companions had eagerly set to exploring and poking around. Part of me was tempted to mention that these were all stolen goods, belonging to the people of Termile, but I didn't want to let my foul mood spread to my friends. Let them have a little fun, a bit of comfort.

I knew things were certainly going to be awful as all hell soon enough.


"So you're positive," Rovur asked for at least the fourth time, "You only have seven days?" The man hadn't moved from his treasure perch since we'd begun our discussion. The bones from his meal lay at this feet.

Atlas lay asleep sprawled across a sofa, while Drift was listening in silence, quietly making candles appear and disappear, grow and shrink.

I nodded. "It has to do with the lunar calender. The greater dragons meet off the coast of Argenta when the moon is full. But only in the Autumn months. It is one of the only times all year that Artemis will be able to summon the leviathan back."

I stood, pacing back and forth as I considered all I'd seen. Atlas lay asleep sprawled across a sofa, while Drift was listening in silence. He sat quietly making candles appear and disappear, grow and shrink.

"Well then, I hate to tell you this, my friend, but it simply cannot be done. Argenta is half a world away now." He grunted and rose to his feet. "Here..." He'd left the room, walking around the corner, into the entryway where the fiery sun heated the walls. The wind had subtly deposited sand along the ground.

As Drift and I looked over his shoulder, Rovur grabbed a stick and made an X mark in the sand near the edge of the doorway. "Ok, so that's the place where the Silver City used to stand, right? And here..." He drew another X quite a ways to the east, and then etched in several mountains to the north of it. "Here's Eastwold, your home, right? And these mountains... the seat of the wizard council, eh? You've been there, haven't you?" Puzzled by the idea, I failed to reply, but Rovur didn't wait for an answer before moving on.

"Where do you think we are, kiddos?" He turned and pushed past us to move back into the common room. He traced the pattern of an X in the carpet at a diagonal angle to the faraway X in the entrance. Far, far, far to the southeast our mark sat.

Drift gasped.

Even speaking optimistically, we had a journey of at least a month ahead of us, if not two. And by then, it would be winter, and Eleanor would be dead. I wanted to shrivel up right then, to just cave in and collapse.

But I refused. I balled my fists, forcing myself to think. There had to be another way, another option. And then I had it. "We need to find a wizard," I said. "We must get in touch with the wizard council." Despite the distrust and hatred I'd cultivated for their man Margrovax, I knew he was the only one who could help us now, he who specialized in teleportation.

"But Margrovax stayed behind with Eleanor!" Drift exclaimed when I explained my line of thinking.

"So he said..." I began, having never believed the wizard.

Rovur cut me off, "Nay. Now I'm not saying this chap couldn't have had a good reason, but I certainly can say I heard tell that he's been seen about. Came as quite a shock to me, I can tell you that. He was supposed to have been dead by our hand, you know." This gave me pause. I'd almost forgotten that Rovur had once been in league with hated enemies. A shadow too had made itself known on Drift's face.

"At any rate," Rovur continued, oblivious to the dark feelings he'd just stirred up in the men he was speaking to, "There is a wizard near here, but it's not going to be Margrovax. He's a Nicculun man, y'see. Their man here is Niebelynk. Lives in Laare, if I'm not mistaken."

"Well then, we'd better get moving," I said, feeling like that was the end of the matter. "Unless you want to spend the rest of your life broiling like a pig on a spit."

Atlas stirred then and took a look around. "Franklin," he said in a voice still heavy with sleep, "Have you always had green hair?"

Rovur reached a hand to his long mane of once dark hair. It was indeed a vibrant green now, like grass. The man ran to find a mirror, all the color drained from his face. It was the first time I had ever seen a look of horror mar his features.

And still, despite the signs, I thought nothing of it.


Day Three

Dust swirled at our feet as we made our way through the gates of the desert gem we'd long been searching for. Tall buildings born of sun-dried earth stretched high over our heads. The city of Laare was a beautiful catastrophe, a messy hodgepodge of adobe that seemed to sprawl forever. I was beginning to love this city, and its people. Everywhere I looked there were people. Above on the rooftops, where many grew incredible gardens. On the streets where beggars and merchants alike worked their craft. Below in sunken courtyards where families dined and business meetings took place.

It was all a bustling, endless chaos but it wove itself like a tapestry around us. We were not outsiders, we were friendships that had not been made, customers who had not yet made a purchase, thirsty travelers likely to buy a drink and share a story.

In short, we were welcome.

Niebelynk lived in one of the tallest buildings in the city, an apartment complex where a great many dwelled. I was grateful for the cool shade we found searching its hallways for the proper doorway.

Things could not move fast enough for me. It felt already in journeying here and in searching for the wizard we'd already wasted far too much time. I was I felt being pushed towards a position of faith. I could only trust and hope that things were going to turn out alright. Sheer stubborn strength of will could only go so far.

The wizard Niebelynk lived three floors from the top, that was all we knew. His exact whereabouts, his comings and goings, we'd not been able to discern. I'd realized with no small amount of shock that I could not remember meeting the man at all, could not picture his face. I worried at the thought like a loose tooth, probing my memories to try to find the lost memory.

Most of the doorways and windows were open, to allow the building to breathe. Its occupants had hung blankets over many of the doors for privacy. We ran into a little boy emerging behind one such blanket on the fifth floor and offered him a few gold coins to be our guide.

As we soon learned, Niebelynk was a local legend. It seemed he was an experienced healer and those in search of his skill often traveled for miles, even from faraway lands like Argenta.

The boy, dressed in tan robes to guard against the grit that occupied so much of his world, led us to an opening blocked by a thick black curtain. He rang a bell hanging on the wall nearby and scurried away.

It seemed he'd guided us well. A pale face as white as death appeared from behind the midnight cloth, a face that smiled like some sort of friendly snake. "Roberrrrt," he hissed, his slit-like eyes smiling. It is good to sssseee you."

Looking upon his face brought no spark of recognition. I faltered for a moment before realizing it was my place to speak on behalf of our group. "Master Niebelynk, greetings. I am afraid we have urgent business to discuss."

"I am afraid I will not be able to lift the cursesss upon you all, gentlemen, but please come in." With that he fully drew aside the curtain, allowing us entry. The room within was small but comfortably situated the customary rugs and pillows, with little wood to be seen. As to the wizard himself, he was dressed in the blue robes common to his ilk.

"Curses?" I asked, a bit puzzled.

"Have you not come to be... liberated?" He asked, sounding confused himself. "I can tell all four of you have... tangled with Artemissss. Her stench is heavy in the spellssss that hang upon you."

"We've been cursed?" Drift asked. "How so?"

"I do not know... but it looksss like your friend is turning into a tree." At this Rovur felt again at his hair and skin, looking worried.

"Well, that is not what we came here for," I interjected. "We are here for..." What were we there for? I faltered again, and then spoke. "We need to find the wizard Margrovax. Do you have the means to get into contact with him?"

With that, I was forced to explain my story once more. This time Niebelynk pressed for more details about the moment of cursing, asking specifically what words had been said at each of our banishings.

Ossification, for Atlas.

Tree, for Rovur.

Swine, for Drift.

And what mine was, I could not say. I had to assume she had not been able to curse me, merely send me away.

When all explanations were done Niebelynk gave us the news. "All of you have been cursed in different waysss," the wizard hissed. "I do not possessss Carrol's deep sight but I believe they are proximity curses. They will strengthen the closer you get to your dessstination."

"So we can never go home again?" Atlas queried.

"Not unless we want to risk transformation," Drift interjected. So far his curse did not seem to have shown itself. Perhaps he too was immune.

"Whatever the risk, I must find a way north. I have to stop Artemis. The rest of you can stay here and hide if you wish, but if you ever want to be free, you must follow me. Only in victory will we find a way around any enchantments.

"Your friend speaks wisssdom," Niebelynk said, glancing at each of us in turn as if measuring us up.

"I certainly don't want to turn into some sort of tree," Rovur replied. The idea brought back vague memories. Something about a Eleanor sitting beneath a tree. For one wild moment I entertained the notion I'd been a tree once, a very long time ago... but that was absurd, wasn't it?

Drift spoke up then. "I think all of three us will stand with you, to hell and ruin if need be, in order to stop Artemis and rescue Eleanor. This I swear I will see through by your side." The words were spoken with conviction, as an oath.

"Aye," Atlas added. "To hell and ruin. This lady of chaos, this queen of spite, she must be stopped."

Rovur merely nodded. So I knew then at last that I would not be abandoned, as had been my fear. I had recognized the nature of the curse upon Atlas from the first. It had lessened when he'd stepped south, towards us. The curse had shown itself when he'd been further north. There had been no other extenuating circumstances.

After a moment, Niebelynk began to shoo my companions away. "I would speak to Robert in private if you pleassse." The men looked to me, and I nodded.

"We've much gold now," I said. "Get yourselves some food and drink, as you may. With any luck we'll be on our way soon enough. The distance from one hearth to the next will be long indeed."

Once in solitude the wizard revealed something he had not told everyone. "My dear friend Margrovax is dead, Robert. However, I do not want you to dessspair. I know a hidden truth... there is a secret pathway between here and there, between yesterday and eternity. It is meant for wizardsss only, but I would grant you entry."

When I stared blankly, Niebelynk explained himself more plainly.

"I am going to teach you how to teleport."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Red Elevators (Prologue)

I wrote a little prologue to the Red Elevators today, whilst taking a break from writing chapter 25 of That Hideous Slumber. It's a little rough, but I like it. Let me know what you think!

The Red Elevators

Only By the Night


The diminutive butler android designated Fin-X3 put on an extra burst of speed as his master called him again. He raced through the higher levels of the skyscraper laden city known only as Zero Two, towards the only being of flesh on the entire planet.

A planet known only as Zero One.

"FIN!" The distant voice screamed a third time, then swore. Fin-X3 hadn't even been given time to finish the last task his fractious overlord had put him on, but the robot did not take it personally. Indeed, he could not, for his programming did not possess the capacity.

When Fin-X3 finally burst through the doorway into his master's bedchamber, he quickly took note of the disarray that had overtaken it. The bed was where it ought to be, and the bookcases. The desk still sat facing the massive picture window that occupied one wall. And the chair behind it still held Fin-X3's master, just as it had five minutes ago when he'd left.

But papers and books were strewn everywhere. Fin-X3 had never seen a tree, for there was no organic life on Zero One, but he had a picture of one in his memory logs, and he knew where paper came from them.

Paper was a frivolous human trapping, and even in his limited capacity to understand, Fin-X3 saw how trivial such a thing was on a world run by computers. Still, there was something in the way humans stared so raptly. Perhaps it was a glitch in his operating matrix, but Fin-X3 longed to look at those pointless sheets of pulp and see something that enthralled him.

But more pressing than the paper that distracted him so, Fin-X3 quickly noted the presence of a blue phantasm standing before his master. The ghostly creature was perfectly see through and without detail, save for its face. The face bore the features of a woman, a human woman.

And not just any sort of face either. According to some of the oldest recordings on Zero One, it was a face perfect of symmetry and line. Save for eyes perhaps a touch too large. Even so, a vision of beauty to any being born of living tissue. As Fin-X3 analyzed, he also noted that the phantasm's body had the shape of a female as well. There was a slight glimmer to her "skin", the faintest traces of light.

Fin-X3, neither rattled nor capable of true fear, dropped to one knee in the required show of obeisance. The blue woman, noting the android's presence, winked and walked away, apparently disappearing right through a wall.

"What do you require of me, milord?" Fin-X3 inquired, his tinny speaker box crackling over the words.

"Stop that nonsense and get over here," his master groused angrily. Fen-X3's servomotors whirred as he stood and approached. All this time the man in the chair had had his back to the robot, and this did not change now. Fen-X3 kept his distance, for his master had been known to backhand him in a fit of rage on more than one occasion, sending the hapless, four foot android flying backward.

Fin-X3's master was a human male. The robotic designation that had been given to him was Alpha. No one knew his true name. Alpha was a man of Riintus 3, a planet of heavy gravity that created a propensity towards a level of obesity considered unsightly among humans born under more standard conditions. His immense bulk caused the substandard chair beneath him to groan as he shifted to face his butler.

"Fin, I've just been visited again by the ghoul who has been troubling my sleep these past months. You must ready my starship at once. I shall return to the orphan world in a week's time."

"What did the ghoul tell you, sire?" Fin-X3 asked with a touch of curiosity that would have gotten some robots rebooted immediately. He didn't think most would have called the creature he'd seen a ghoul but he made no attempt to offer correction.

Alpha however, was eager for someone to talk to and did not take offense. "What did she tell me? We didn't have a conversation! What an odd thing to say. It's written in the way my things have been thrown about, in the cold sweat that has overtaken me. In the nightmare I had. I know the time has come."

In this way Fin-X3 surmised that his master could not see as he had seen, that somehow Fin-X3 was able to look upon what Alpha's eyes of flesh could not. The android ventured another question. "This ghoul has visited you often?" Fin-X3 had seen the room in collapse into various states of chaos, but he had assumed it was part of messy human nature.

"Often, yes, and only by the night I might add," Alpha waggled a finger at his butler as if to emphasize his words. "It is a curious thing. I don't suppose you know the agony that is troubled sleep. Even on nights where I experience no visitation, I lay awake, wondering if and when it is coming to haunt me. I tell you I can bear it no longer. This planet has always given me the creeps anyhow. One needs life to surround, not these endless miles of computers."

"Shall I accompany you, sire?" The android asked, hoping the speaker box did not betray the hope he felt. It was the curiosity. Once allowed to work at his programming, it moved like a virus, corrupting his processing capabilities.

"Well, yes, I suppose so. I will certainly need someone's assistance, and you're not the most useless of your kind." Fin-X3, not offended in the slightest, let his memory logs run a search for info about an "orphan world" but they came up blank.

After a moment Alpha shouted at him. "What are you still doing here, you useless rustbucket? See to my starship at once! Great and terrible things are afoot in the galaxy, and I don't want to be left behind, playing nursemaid to a bunch of overgrown number-crunchers!"

Fin-X3 scurried away at once, to the spaceport. He didn't know what the blue phantasm was, nor did he understand what his master meant by 'great and terrible things.' All he knew was he was about to visit the galaxy at large for the first time since his construction.

Soon his ever growing curiosity would be able to satisfy itself with the makings of an infinite universe.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Public Service Announcement

PSA: I've changed Robert's last name in chapter 24. I'm going to edit previous chapters to reflect this eventually, but I have yet to do so. I'm not settled on a name just yet, I just didn't like the one I had been using.

I can't believe I'm starting chapter 25 today. The very idea is crazy. I've got a lot of work ahead of me still in these final chapters, and then a ton of editing and revision, but still. I feel close. I'm close to finishing a book, for the first time... ever.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

That Hideous Slumber (Chapter 24)

That Hideous Slumber

Chapter XXIV: Child of Thunder

I will not lie, my heart began to pound with an increasing cadence the further we walked through the dark forest. It would have seemed as if night had fallen were it not for the occasional weakling burst of sunlight that managed to crawl its way through to the ground strewn with rotten leaves. I kept my claymore gripped tightly in my left hand, letting it rest lightly against my right shoulder blade.

Harkala was strapped to my back. Its power both frightened and comforted me.

Soon enough we came to a massive clearing. I clung to the trees, observing. My comrades stopped behind me, waiting silently. I took in the make of the open meadow. The far side of it was home to a large formation of smooth gray rock. Water burbled from an opening between two massive boulders, spilling out into a little pool.

Nearer, in the center of the field, there lay a large circle of char. It seemed to be regular home to a massive bonfire. However, I could smell no ash. A strange, flowery scent filled the air. It seemed to grow heavier the longer we stood there.

Perhaps oddest of all, the whole area was as shadowy as where we stood, despite the afternoon sun above.

No sign of the faerie ruler. I was a bit hesitant as to how we ought to proceed. Rovur leaned close and whispered into my ear. “This is the seat of Artemis’ power. She will be very near.” I nodded. I wished then that I’d come up with a more thorough plan. How foolish to charge into the woods to fight such an adversary. I’d let my eagerness overcome my common sense, a potentially fatal mistake now.

But I let none of this show on my face. I refused to let the worry reach my words, my actions, or my limbs.

I stepped out from the treeline and into the clearing, hefting my sword off my shoulder and gripping it tight with both palms. Almost at once, a shadow appeared standing atop the rocks. “Ah!” A purring female voice called out. “How I’ve waited for your arrival, Robert Thornhail!”

The shadow jumped, closing half the distance between us in one leap. Now the woman was only thirty feet away, standing just on the other side of the fire pit. “You know what I’ve come for?” I asked. My companions gathered behind me, weapons held at ready.

“But of course!” the woman came a few steps closer. Artemis the faerie queen was indecently clad in little more than a short skirt that came down to a triangular point several inches above the knee and a ragged halterneck that exposed her back. Both were made of a tattered brown leather. The faerie also had a halberd clinging to her back and a set of long daggers were strapped to either thigh. On second glance, I additionally noticed a row of throwing knives lining her left bicep. Like her sister Persephone, she had a long mane of golden hair bound into a ponytail that reached her waistline.

Also like her sister, she was breathtakingly beautiful.

“I have been waiting for you,” Artemis said again. She stepped closer, moving right across the ashes that lay between us. “A true child of thunder you are, to come here and challenge me, goddess of moon and wood and water and sprite." She wore a wicked, mischievous grin that made her look like a naughty child caught in the act. “I just love having new reasons to wreck lives and curse fools.”

“So you won’t listen to reason and remove the curse that has overtaken Eleanor Embern, an innocent woman who has never done you harm?” I asked. I wasn’t afraid of force, but if diplomatic words could accomplish the same results then so much the better.

Artemis threw back her head and laughed. “Of course not, dear! Not in a million years, for all the precious jewels in the world! I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard when I learned Victoriana managed to subvert the justice I intended to land upon her daughter. You see, it’s all one to me, since they’re peasants now anyways, and that fool Gimel’s lost his power and reputation.”

I shifted my footing, ready to lunge. In my head I pictured myself sending the faerie’s head rolling across the grass. I wasn’t positive it would help Eleanor, but if she insisted on being stubborn, it certainly wasn’t going to hurt. “I say again, Eleanor is innocent. I give you one last chance to change your stance and help me.”

She shrugged. “Go ahead and attack. We’ll see where just how strong you are, child of thunder.”

I did precisely that, swinging my sword straight for the vulnerable stretch of her beautiful neck, too exposed to ignore. She drew one of her dangers in the flicker of an eye and stopped me with one lazy swing, then drew her halberd with the other hand, batting away the rocks I’d hurled her way with my telekinesis. I was flung back with such unexpected force that I stumbled over my own feet, falling to the ground.

Atlas took the opportunity to charge forward. He carried a massive sword, one he could only handle once he turned at least part of his body into stone. It was four feet long and nearly nine inches wide, a truly impressive weapon. I raised a hand to the trees above, shaking every branch, sending thousands of leaves raining down in a massive cloud. I shrouded Atlas within the cloud, hiding him from view even as he chased Artemis down.

But then suddenly all the leaves dropped to the ground, and I could not pick them up mentally no matter how hard I tried. Atlas, preparing to swing his mighty blade, was caught off guard by this turn of events. By this time I had raised myself and was running to join the fray. Drift and Rovur beat me to it, attempting to strike from both sides. However before either could do anything she had slipped past Atlas’ sword and planted two fingers against his forehead. “Ossification.” she said simply, and the man vanished into thin air as cleanly as if he’d never existed at all.

Drift and Rovur were clearly caught off guard by this. Both stopped in their tracks. I charged past Drift, who was on this side of Artemis with me, and lunged again with a heavy swing of my sword, this time I mentally pulled myself to the right, so that my trajectory wouldn’t quite take me where expected. Artemis laughed and delivered a vicious kick to my still-healing ribs. I hit the ground hard enough to rattle my skull and click my teeth. Stars danced across my eyes.

It barely registered when Rovur, in wolf form, lunged at Artemis, only to be flipped on his back somehow. I could see the faerie get close, and then I heard the word “Tree.” and knew that Franklin Rovur was gone, just like Atlas. Drift, having overcome his surprise at losing Atlas, and then Rovur, moved in to attack even as I righted myself for the second time, supremely frustrated at having been thwarted twice.

Artemis drew both daggers in anticipation of Drift’s next move, and Drift obliged, racing forward with sword drawn. He tried to slide under the faerie’s whirling blades to no avail. She struck him cleanly in the chest, an easy killing blow that did not kill. No surprise registered on her face when Drift’s wax-clone began to melt away.

Nothing in the clearing would obey me anymore. I tried to send rocks, leaves, even water, hurling at our adversary to no use. Somehow she was canceling out my abilities, as if the forest preferred to obey her voice over mine. Or perhaps... I could have been imagining it, but I was beginning to feel terribly dizzy...

Artemis had shown no surprise when Drift’s wax-clone melted away, but when four more clones appeared from behind and each latched onto a different limb, her face was transformed by shock. Every doppleganger not only held an arm or leg, but twisted one of its own arms in an unnatural way, wrapping it around Artemis’ limb in a full circle and tying itself into a knot, seemingly leaving no possibility of escape.

I was planning to run in an strike while she was vulnerable, but Drift beat me to it. The true Drift Garnet came running from his hiding place in the woods, sword high and screaming bloody murder. Artemis caught fire then, her entire body wrapping itself in flames. It was only for a fraction of a second, but when her captors arms melted, she was free to counter the blow coming her way. She raised a leg and kicked away Drift’s sword, knocking it into the trees.

I tried to attack a third time, but she threw her halberd in a deadly strike just as I got close, forcing me to dodge it. I attempted to catch it with my mind but it was no use. Drift tried to swing a punch, but she caught his fist with one hand, and laid two fingers from the other hand against his forehead.

“Swine.” One word to dismiss my only friend left. He vanished just like the others.

By this time I was almost too dizzy to stand. I was certain the perfume in the air was having an adverse effect on me. I shook my head, frowning as I concentrated as hard as I could. I tried one last time, pulling at one of the knives from Artemis' arm.

It flew outward a few feet and then flicked itself forward as cleanly as any knife I'd ever hurled from my own fingers. Artemis swung her hand around to catch it, genuinely seeming to be caught off guard. It dug right into her palm, stopped in midair by her very flesh.

She groaned in pain as she dug the blade out. "Naughty boy... that really heart. I'm growing rather tired of playing with you... time for you to follow your little buddies."

Seeing no point in replying aloud, I swung my claymore behind my back and strapped it down. I drew Harkala then.

It was my absolute measure of last resort.

Unlike every other time I'd drawn the sword, it didn't simply make my hand tingle and cause it to turn into metal. No, this time armor sheathed my entire arm almost instantly, and veins of blue metal began to wrap themselves across my chest like the possessive tentacles of a stubborn sea creature.

"I see you've acquired the weaponry of my former lover... I hope you're also aware of what happens if you use it too long..."

To my surprise, my head had cleared up the second the sword had slid into my palm. I stood up straight, ready now to fight with everything I had. I wished I'd done this sooner, but my promise to Drift had held me back.

I could only hope they were still alive.

I held out both hands and reached out to everything I could grasp in the clearing, rocks, leaves, twigs, even ash from the fire pit. I also mentally picked up Artemis' halberd and drew every one of her throwing knives. I created a dome of debris around her, a shell that would shrink in and crush her. I refused to take a chance on allowing her to escape.

"Thornhail, wait... can't we talk about this?"

"The time for talk is past," I replied, squeezing both my hands into fists. My bubble of detritus constricted around the woman's form, killing her instantly.

Or so I wished.

I soon found her standing right before me. I didn't have the chance to shrink away before she'd planted her forefingers against my forehead. "Cockroach." She declared.

Nothing happened.

The faerie queen frowned in frustration. "That's quite a stubborn spell you've got on you. It's effects have been undone but it lingers... keeping you from being able to change shape. I want you to know I find that terribly vexing."

"Well if it helps, I'm about to kill you, so you aren't going to be vexed for long," I replied.

"Yes, yes. Sure you are, dear." I tried to draw away but I found myself stuck. The fingers pressed against my forehead began to glow with silvery light. "My spite knows no limitations. Don't think for a moment you can escape its path of destruction."

"Forget." She said, another single word declaration. In that moment I felt as if my mind were being pulled forcibly from my body. I felt dizzy, numb, and disjointed all at once. It was far worse than the perfume, it was as if my existence were coming to a quick and brutal end.

And then the feeling was past, but all was not well. I was no longer in the forest battling a terrible foe, I was floundering in a black ocean. I could not see or hear anything. I knew only the struggle to keep my head above water in a vast dark nothingness.

In the span of seconds I felt my limbs grow heavier and heavier, till they were nothing but cast-iron relics, rusting in the sea. My stamina failed me and I sank under the water.

The moment I did so, I felt my head light up. A strangely giddy sensation, not entirely unpleasant, filled my head. I saw things, images in the water flashing by, thoughts and ideas began to fill my head.

And then the water was gone with a flash of light, and I was standing on a green lawn. A clear blue sky filled the air above. Behind me I saw a house that looked so new it had been built yesterday. The brilliant white paint looked as if it were still fresh.

Before me I saw a young girl playing with dolls in the grass. Somehow I knew this was Artemis. As I watched, a man walked from the house, a man with dark hair dressed in a robe of deep dark blue. In his hand he carried a sword that dripped with blood. It was a weapon all too familiar to me, the very blade I'd been carrying at my side for the last three years.

The man, his face expressionless, reached down and tousled the little girl's messy blond hair without emotion. Somehow I knew I was looking upon Artemis as a child. And the man standing over her was none other than Harkan, the most powerful wizard the world had ever known.

Harkan squatted, placing his free hand on the little girl's shoulder. "Artemis," he said calmly and quietly, "I've just murdered your mommy and daddy. Do you know what that means?" He said the words as if patiently explaining some inconsequential fact.

"You and your sisters are very special girls," The wizard continued, not allowing the girl to process his first sentence. "You're going to come with me to a beautiful castle made of black rock."

"Can momma and poppa come?" the girl asked in childish innocence. The last thing I saw was Harkan shaking his head...

Another flash. This time I was looking upon three young girls, all teenagers. They were stumbling through the faerie woods, clothes ripped and faces dirty. Trees rose like towers above, shading the sun. All three girls looked lost, hungry, alone and scared. Artemis, Athena, and Persephone. I knew as I had known before, when I should not.

They arrived in a meadow different from the one I and my friends had battled Artemis in. It was occupied by a massive silver fountain. Water burbled from the mouths of four statues standing with their backs to each other. Two dragons and two angels. The falling liquid collected in a round pool at the feet of those figures. A gentle spray misted the air.

The three girls fell to their knees in exhaustion before the fountain. "Are you sure about this?" Persephone inquired, looking nervously in the water.

"Harkan said we should drink from this pool, that it would make the faeries listen to us," Artemis was already leaning her head over the gleaming rim of the fountain, cupping her hands for a drink of that cold, clear water...

Flash. Two figures in tan robes that protected them from the hot desert sun and swirling sand stood in an alleyway etched in shadow. All the buildings around were sun dried adobe. I could hear the sounds of a bustling marketplace not far off. Could this be Termile?

It was clear from the posture of the two that a secret exchange was taking place. I saw a gleaming blue flute pass from one hand to another. The flute was meant for something special. It was the means to summon the Leviathan, the creature who carried the Castle of Infinite Night upon its back.

The image grew hazy, indistinct. Things began to change more quickly, in disorienting patterns. I thought perhaps I was seeing ideas about the future. I saw Athena, aged into ancient skin, being run through with one of Artemis' daggers. The hateful faerie queen intended to summon the dragon and then kill all its passengers. This included Eleanor and Margrovax, if she came upon them.

The thoughts faded. I could feel Artemis drawing back, pushing me away. I knew somehow, in the great lengths she'd gone to curse me and send me away, she'd accidentally given me a glimpse deep into the recesses of her mind, and her past.

I could tell from the feel of her receding presence that she thought she'd won, that I'd learned nothing of true value, but she was wrong.

I'd learned the source of her power, and I knew how to stop her.



I woke up buried deep in sand, unable to breath. Coughing and gasping for air, I clawed desperately for the surface, relieved when cool night air caressed my skin. I looked around, taking stock of where I was.

A desert.

I'd been sent to a desert? I glanced around, confused and disoriented. One moment I'd been standing in the forest battling a bitter foe, now I was covered in sand and standing under starlight. The thoughts of the faerie queen echoed through my head, murmurs and tracings of her malice and resentment.

I climbed to the top of a nearby sand dune, hoping to get my bearings however possible. The desert smoothed out not far in front of me, the sands growing shallower before a faraway city whose colorful spires reflected the dim evening light.

In the middle distance I noticed a number of whirlwinds flying through the air, dervishes of sand that did not look natural. As I glanced closer, I saw an enormous black wolf running from the source of the disturbance.

I soon made out men waving swords within the crowd, mounted atop the strangest horses I had ever seen. Every one of them had a tall hump growing from their back, which the men rode upon. Their faces were droopy, their lips exaggerated.

As I watched, the wolf outpaced his pursuers, rounding the dune upon which I stood. Recognizing Rovur, I stood my ground, not flinching when the wolf came to a stop a few feet before me and transformed back into a human.

Panting for breath, Rovur caught my eye and chuckled. "Don't think they like outsiders," he said with a laugh.

"Stirring up the locals?" I inquired dryly. "We've hardly been here half an hour," I raised both my hands and created a massive wall of sand. It was difficult to hold onto so many tiny objects but I managed it well enough. I made the sand slowly tilt forward till it crashed like a wave over the men intent on charging up after us.

"Well it wasn't my fault! That damn witch dropped me right in the middle of their camp!" His words suggested injury but his tone was light. Franklin Rovur was certainly a jolly fellow. I supposed I could ask for worse companions.

"Wouldn't happen to have seen old Atlas or Drift would you?" I couldn't help worrying over their fates. It was my fault we were here after all. I took the full weight of what had befallen us upon my shoulders without a second thought.

"I'm afraid not, brother. We can only hope they've had our luck making friends." As we finished our conversation, the natives were freeing themselves. They'd been buried a bit but hardly harmed in any way.

"We must kill the invader!!" I heard someone scream in heavily accented Latin. A chorus of assent sounded through the evening air.

"This would uhhh probably be a good time to go," Rovur observed.


We found Drift sleeping near an oasis, curled up in a ball with little white candles floating lazily in the air over his head. We stumbled on the island of green grass nearly an hour after leaving the Termilians behind. Termilians they were, for we were in Termile now, Rovur assured me.

For two filthy, parched and bone tired men the oasis offered unparalleled respite. The morning sun was just beginning to take its roost in the sky when we collapsed into the delightfully wet sand. Rovur spotted the boy first, laying on the opposite side of the little pool of water that occupied the center of the oasis.

"I see at least one of us managed to make the best of things," he noted. "Now all we need to do is find tall, dark and deadly and we'll be a happy family once again." But I didn't see it so simply. Drift had clearly been in another scuffle. He had a number of cuts and scrapes on his arms I hadn't seen before. It wasn't like Drift to let someone get the better of him, but then today had clearly not been our day.

I shook the boy awake, desire for an explanation outweighing the consideration of letting him sleep. He came awake suddenly, grasping for a sword that wasn't there with the practiced grace of a warrior.

I casually deflected a blow to my throat and grabbed him by the wrists. "Drift... Drift calm down. It's me. Tell me what happened."

"Atlas... they took him. I don't know how. I tried every trick in my repertoire to stop them."

"Stop who?" Rovur asked. "I think the youngling's getting soft, letting some desert rats get the better of him."

"They... I think they were slavers. They seemed to want Atlas for something," Drift groaned and stumbled towards the water for a drink. "And they didn't get the better of me," he added petulantly. "I think Artemis drugged us. There was something about the air... made it hard to think. I was still under the effects of it when I popped up right there," he pointed towards the pool he was drinking from.

"So what exactly happened?" I asked.

"Well Atlas must have been pretty out of it. He was slung over a horse, looking half dead. They were all ready to make off with him. So I tried to convince them otherwise, and they beat the tar out of me and left me for dead here."

"Well that's that then," Rovur replied. "Pity too... he seemed like he was a nice chap."

"He still is," I replied. "Do you think you can remember which way they took him?" I asked Drift.

Drift nodded. Taking a deep breath, he heaved himself to his feet.

"You're not thinking of going after him? You heard the boy, he's as good as dead, and not a one of us is fighting fit." I cast a critical eye towards the man. He did look a bit worse for the wear than I'd realized.

"Of course we are. It's my fault we're in this mess. I have to do what I can to reparate. I won't try to force you to join me, but I'd like to have you along." I glanced at the rising sun, then took stock of the slender trees growing around us, hopeful for a few scant provisions to bring along.

"Either way, we must be quick about it," I added.

"What do you mean?" Drift asked.

"We only have seven days, seven days and then Artemis is going to summon the leviathan and kill everyone inside the castle... Eleanor included." The faerie queen's timetable was the most frightening detail I'd learned.

"But that's impossible!" Rovur blurted. "It's too far!"

"Impossible," I replied, "is a specialty of ours."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Triumphant Return

Chapter 22 is back online. There are so many details to keep track of in writing a novel, I forget things sometimes. I had completely forgotten I'd mentioned Asriel's son early in the chapter, so I went back and inserted him into the story. Hopefully it will feel natural. If not... that's what editing is for!

Chapter XXII: Poverty of the Mind

I really enjoyed chapter 22. I think it turned out really well. I'm excited to start chapter 23. I have a good feeling about it so far.

I'm at Caribou right now. This coffee shop has turned into my haven for getting writing done. I come here a lot when I get writer's block. I love how homey it feels. Starbucks have good coffee, but they're so sterile and cramped, not a good environment for thinking.

Anyways, please enjoy chapter 22 and let me know what you think. I will be taking down chapters 2-20 very soon.

Later llamas.

Edit: The beginning of chapter 23 is very emotional. I got choked up and almost shed a tear in the middle of Caribou... that would have been awkward!

Friday, September 10, 2010

That Hideous Slumber (Chapter 23)

That Hideous Slumber

Chapter XXIII: The Most Dangerous Man in the World

My skin was on fire.

I could feel a deep cold digging into my palms. I was on my back, dressed in marauder furs. I sat up, looking around. Ice was all there was to see. Ice was the world. Endless floes surrounded me. High above the moon punched a hole in the midnight sky, looking larger than I'd ever seen it.

The moon and stars colored the world white. I was stranded in a land of contrasts. All around me was pure whiteness, further out were dark shadows lain by the serrated forests of frost. I could see high mountains in the far distance, to the north. At least, what I thought was north. I could also see smoke rising high into the air, as if from some sort of campfire or settlement.

I looked down and saw Eleanor lying beside me, her body a little curled up as if in sleep. I knew in that moment I was either dreaming or I'd lost my mind, and it made my heart hurt. She too was dressed in Malaud clothing. I leaned towards her and gently laid a hand against her shoulder.

"Ellie...?" There was something about the very possibility of her presence, her nearness, that made me happier. The pangs that had momentarily overtaken my heart were quickly forgotten. She was here and I didn't care about anything else.

Eleanor stirred and looked up at me with a sleepy smile. "Robert... I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," I replied. Truer words had never been spoken. I laid back down on the ice, closer so that our shoulders touched. I caught a flash of brilliant starlight, and some sort of rainbowy veil draped across the sky, but I turned towards Eleanor, our faces scant inches apart. The lights above were faintly reflected in her dark brown eyes.

I wanted to kiss her, but something held me back. She reached out with a single finger, stroking my cheek. "Your hair's gotten longer." She said, then added "You're sadder now than you used to be," Not a question, a statement. A slight crackling sounded beneath us, but I ignored the noise.

"Yes, but not right now," I said with a smile. The cracking grew louder.

She nodded, smiling herself. "But I can see it in your eyes. Please don't be sad. It's good to see you. So good. I've been... lost in my dreams for a long time. I'm waiting for you to come wake me up."

"I will, I swear to God I will." A tear slid down my cheek. All this time neither of us had moved, but I began to feel Eleanor drifting away. The cracking, it had been the ice between us coming apart. I swallowed a lump in my throat, fighting back panic.

We no longer sat on an unbroken field of ice, we were on two jagged chunks of frozen seawater, floating away from each other. All had changed while my focus had been diverted.

I reached out a hand to her, but she had turned away. She was in exactly the same position as when I'd first awoken. Back asleep again. But then she roused herself and turned, as if waking up again. She reached out to me, but we were too far apart by then, so our fingertips barely grazed each other.

"I love you, Ellie!" I called out, knowing we were speaking the last words we would get to say to each other for a very long time, possibly forever. Dark ocean water spread between us.

"I love you too, Robbie..." she called back, now more than ten feet away. Her voice sounded dreamy, far away. I had lost her to sleep again. Beneath me I felt the ice bearing me up disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces.

I gasped in pain as the shock of the icewater bit through my thick fur coat into the vulnerable flesh within. Robbed of breath, I sat up in a blind panic, panting for air and drenched in sweat. The ribs I'd broken ached. The pain helped to sharpen my focus. I wasn't in the far north at all, I was lying in a bed of hay inside an ancient, abandoned barn. I could see stars through the slats.

A dream, this one even more vibrant and realistic than the last.

I could still feel the touch of Eleanor's finger on my cheek, still trace the scent of her hair in the atmosphere around. I could still feel the ice delving into my fingertips, even though they didn't feel cold now.

I lay back and watched the sunrise through all the cracks in the walls, deep in thought. Above me in the loft I could hear Drift snoring softly. The little barn lay in the midst of an overgrown farm in northern Nicculus. We'd ridden for hours before finally stumbling across it and deciding to stop.

A stirring outside roused me. I sighed and stretched. It was probably just a raccoon or wayward faerie but I still grabbed a knife from my belongings and moved to investigate.

It had been many years since my father had taught me how to hurl a knife but I knew I could still throw with precision. Warily I stepped out of the barn into the morning light. Traces of fog still curled on the ground here and there, clinging to the earth like stray ghosts.

I soon saw it wasn't a raccoon at all, it was Atlas. He'd followed us. The man hadn't seen me yet. He was peering intently through the wall of the barn, trying to get a glimpse of us, of me.

"Can I help you?" I asked, breaking the silence. I made sure I was ten feet away when I did so, out of sword range.

Atlas jumped and drew his blade, pointing it my way. If I'd been closer, I'd have just been skewered. The soldier saw it was me and relaxed, sheathing his weapon. "Don't scare me like that," he breathed, then chuckled a little. "I... uh, I came to join you. You're searching for Queen Artemis, right? I'd like to tag along."

"What for?" I asked, wrinkling my nose a little suspiciously. "It's not going to be a joyride. It's not going to be fun. We could all lose our lives."

"It's a long story for another time. Suffice it to say for now that I too, have business with the faerie."

"I've got time," I replied. "And I hate secrets."

"Well... she killed me. When the war spread to the faerie woods, as you well know, the natives turned on both sides, forcing us all to leave the forests in retreat. My troops were among the first to be ambushed, deep as we were staged." His voice seemed to grow emotional. "I lost every man in my command."

"But why do you want to find Artemis?" I asked. "She's a dangerous woman."

"I want to find out why I came back to life, and how. Why me, and none of the men I failed. I... I had heard reports that there were dangerous elements in the forest. I knew the risks, and I ignored them. It's my... it's my fault so many died."

A man whose errors had brought much death.

I could relate.

"You need say no more, my friend. I welcome you to join us." I reached out a hand and he clasped it.

And then there were three.


The dark and seedy tavern buzzed with conversation as Drift and I slipped inside as surreptitiously as possible. Victoriana had told me this was where I'd find the man who could help me, help us. We had traveled far, back into Argentan land. We were close to the Faerie Wood now. Its immense trees loomed high on the northern horizon like distant mountains.

I waited a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the dramatic change from the sunny December weather outside. The center of the room was occupied by the bar. Dozens of tables and booths lay scattered around it.

For a few gold coins the bartender told me where to find Franklin Rovur, wulfren. He was sitting in a candlelit booth tucked in a back corner of the pub near the kitchen, nursing a frothy pint of golden ale.

"Ho there, chaps, come to buy me another beer?" The man seated at the table called cheerfully as we approached. He seemed congenial enough. "Always room at Franklin Rovur's table!" The wizard before us was certainly dressed like the wulfrend, in black robes. He had the long black hair, odd for an argentan, but common among all wulfrend. It was a little shaggier than normal, however. Rovur's overall appearance was far more unkempt than average, from his rumpled robes to his rakish beard.

"We would indeed like to buy you a beer, friend." I replied, answering his initial question. "And perhaps ask a few questions, if that's alright." I slid into the booth, Drift right beside me.

"Yes, yes, always room at Rovur's table... especially for the ladies. But then, if I could find a nice girl to sit with, maybe you would be less welcome," he said with a chuckle. There was a wild look to his eyes, an almost feral twist to the wicked grin that plied his features.

"I have spoken with Victoriana. She told me of your whereabouts, told me you had been trailing a woman named Artemis for many years." I paused, and let a little urgency slip into my voice. "It's important that I find her." I dropped the witch-queen's pewter necklace onto the table.

The wulfren paused for a moment, taking a long draught from his glass, a bit of foam clinging to his beard. When he spoke his jovial tone was tempered slightly. "Artemis is an... incredibly dangerous woman. Possibly the most dangerous person alive. No one gets too close without her allowing it to happen." He picked up the jewelry laying between us, examining it closely.

"We will see what allowances she will afford." I replied, perhaps a little vehemently. "She will suffer an audience with me if it costs me my very soul, I swear to you. You only call her the most dangerous person alive because you've never seen me on a bad day."

Rovur laughed at this. "What's your name, stranger? He stretched a hand across the table. There was dirt embedded within the fingernails. I reached out to grasp it without hesitation.

"Robert Thornhail."

"Franklin Rovur," he replied, "Though I suspect you already knew that, before I ever invited you to sit. I like you... I think perhaps we can do business. Who's your silent friend?"

"Drift Garnet, pleasure." Drift stretched out his hand in greeting. Atlas was tending to our horses, preferring the outdoors to the poorly lit bar.

"Is that Drift... like a boat lost at sea?"

"Mmhmm," Drift responded. "Is that Rover... like a dog?"

"Close enough!" Rovur replied with a guffaw. "My enemies would certainly say so..."

"You have a lot of enemies?" I asked, wondering what we were getting ourselves into.

"Oh, certainly... Mostly admirers of Artemis who don't like me... snooping around. I never get terribly close to the woman you see. Too dangerous to do so on a regular basis. Lesser men have died that way. I follow the trail she leaves... the patterns she creates in the world, the way a rock creates... ripples in a pond."

"So you don't actually know where she is?" I asked in disbelief. I felt my emotions begin to unravel. All this could have been for nothing... how would I find the faerie queen now? How would I rescue Eleanor now?

Before I could fully grasp the idea and really panic, Rovur answered. "No, no! I know exactly where to find her!" The man feigned offense. "Do you think Victoriana would pay me so much because I'm not the best at what I do? I am a tracker without equal, laddie."

"So you'll take me to her? I realize it's dangerous, but we are willing to reward you for your assistance."

"I will, Robert Thornhail, quite gladly," The man narrowed his eyes, serious again. "And not for the money, either, although I'll take all you've got to give." His features subtly began to transform into a more wolf-like aspect. "I like to live life on the edgesh of madnessss..." His words began to slur as his mouth grew into a snout, canines elongating. "One shhtep away from chaossss and ruin," His face returned to its normal shape again, his point well made.

I glanced at Drift. He was clutching the table with both palms. They left a streak of sweat on the wood when he adjusted them. He seemed to be tensing himself for a fight.

Rovur's face returned to its normal shape again, his point well made. I knew the kind of man we were dealing with now. The kind of man who was dangerous in his own right.

"As it happens, Artemis isn't far from here. She's been away on business in a land far to the southeast, a place called Termile. I can tell you what she was after, but I can't tell you why. It's a flute made of sapphire. I don't know what this silver flute does, but if Artemis was after it, you can bet it's a big deal. That woman is up to something."

"Excellent," I replied, mostly having only heard that the faerie was nearby. "Can you leave right now?"

"Hold on, Thornhail, let's not be hasty." The scruffy wizard waggled a finger at me, taking another sip of beer. "You know about the curses right? Trouble follows that woman everywhere she goes, it makes trailing her child's play sometimes.

"Ever hear of the wizard Margrovax, man of the Council? He's been cursed by Artemis, bet you didn't know that. He found out she was married, noble chap wouldn't cheat on old Dracoy, her husband with her. So she cursed him to wander the earth, never to find love. Isn't that the saddest thing you ever heard?"

"And my very own master, Queen Victoriana, her daughter Europa was cursed somehow too, though I don't know if it ever took effect. When her court magician, Josiah Gimel, turned Dracoy into a bird, Artemis flew into a rage. She blamed it all on the queen, told her Europa was as good as dead. You know what I think is-"

"Alright," I said impatiently, standing. "Enough talk." I dropped a small purse of gold coins onto the table with a loud clink. "I don't need to hear one more word about how dangerous it is, I just want to get going and be done with it." Truthfully, the more I heard about how dangerous Artemis was, the more I anticipated knocking her down a peg or two.

Without another word, without looking back to see if Rovur was following, I stalked out of the tavern. "Hey!" The wulfren called out as I made for the exit, "you still owe me a beer!"


Memories swept over me as the heady heights of the faerie woods stretched above us, their leafy canopies casting us in deep shade. All I could think about was the last time I’d been here, with Eleanor. I would have given anything to go back to that time, even if it meant returning to the body of a bluebird. I just wanted my fiance back, whatever that meant for me.

It had also been a time of awakening, for it was in Charlie’s magic tunnel that I had begun to return to myself mentally. I’d gone from being a bird with a half-remembered human past and a thoughtless preclusion to a beautiful freckled girl to a human in a bird’s body here. A massive transformation to be sure.

I walked my horse, it clomped along beside me at a steady pace. Per Rovur’s suggestion we had dismounted an hour hence, as the path winded through thicker and heavier vegetation, the deeper we traveled. We walked single file, Rovur in front as guard, then I right behind, followed by Drift, with Atlas as rear guard.

I still wasn’t positive what my plan was. I was beginning to grow apprehensive now that the moment was nearly upon us. It was easy enough to risk my own life, that gave me no qualms, but I had three other men depending on me. I would have to hope improvisation and reason would have to be enough.

Eventually, we reached what seemed to be the end of the trail. Heavy vines draped across the dusty way like curtains, hiding the deeper, darker heart of the forest. Up until now, we hadn’t seen much of note, the occasional overgrown cabin, a few faeries fluttering in the trees, but little else to suggest the potential for danger that lurked somewhere here in the trees.

"All right," Rovur called, holding up a hand and urging us to stop in our tracks. "This is it, the point of no return."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Pressing the leads for his horse into his hand, he took the vinery in hand and pulled it to one side of the trail, and waved a hand towards the path, which did in fact continue, meandering into the shade. "I mean that one step further into enemy territory, and the self-proclaimed most dangerous man in the world had better come up with a clever plan to best the second most dangerous person in all the world, or every last one of us is about to die."

I glanced from one man to another.

Franklin Rovur, amusement twitching at his features.

Drift Garnet, muscles tensed and smiling grimly.

Atlas Brimsword, stoic and silent as a cemetery.

“You let me worry about the plan,” I said after a moment. I dropped the ropes for both our mounts. “Leave the horses here. The less attention we draw to ourselves at this point, the better.” I didn’t really care so much about stealth at this point, I just didn’t want to have to worry about them anymore, or let the poor beasts get dragged into a battle unnecessarily. We’d seen enough faeries flying about that I had to assume our whereabouts had been reported to Artemis, assuming she was truly queen of her race.

Which meant she was probably ready for us.

Which meant we were walking right into a trap.