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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Took down chapter 22 for some necessary maintenance. I will try to repost it tomorrow once i've finished the editing I want to do.

And... while I'm posting this mini-blog, I also need to make a public service announcement that I will be taking down the majority of That Hideous Slumber in the near future, as I prepare the final eight chapters, and begin the big push to get the story edited and up to code for potential publishing. I intend to leave up chapter one, and whatever the most recent chapter is, until I reach 29. However, all chapters will be available upon request via email.

That is all, thanksmuchbaiseeya llamas.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

If You Trust

New poem. Let me know what you think.

"If You Trust"

If you trust in your lungs,
take a deep breathe and dive on in
but the ocean goes on for miles,
and the surface may not be waiting
on the other side,

If you trust in your heart,
follow this winding path
you've set yourself on,
but I don't think it ever ends,
it just meanders in circles into eternity

I trusted my hand,
would be filled with the hand of another,
but my hands are empty now,
and I can't trust them to guide me,
down these dark hallways

I don't trust my eyes,
because I can't see the way,
quite so clearly,
I don't trust in my feet,
because they stumble
ever so easily

I trusted my hand,
would be filled with the hand of another,
but my hands are empty now,
and I can't trust them to guide me

I trust in the one who's holding my heart,
I trust in the one who's got me
in the palm of their infinite hand,
a hand that will never lose its way,
a heart that can't be led astray,
an eye that never wavers.

If you trust in yourself,
let go of everything you know,
and trust in this one thing
we can all be sure of.