Thursday, December 8, 2011
As far as the print version goes, I took it down to fix a few last little typos and for some reason the formatting requirements changed on CreateSpace... now the book is 80 pages longer and a little more expensive, but I did get the opportunity to play with the layout a little bit, and I think it could be nice.
And my new book, Child of Thunder?? Still plugging away. Just recently finished chapter 17. It's been a little disconcerting, this book has taken much much longer than my last, but I'm doing my best not to let it discourage me. My plans to be finished by November are obviously out the window though, still seven chapters to go! Oh well, I will continue to work hard and do my best... I know I said I'd post every chapter, so hit me up if you're wanting something to read. Chapters 1-8 are up now in raw, unedited form, and I'd be happy to do the same for 9-17.
I also have a few short stories that will act as companions to That Hideous Slumber in the works. "The Two Deaths of Atlas Kinnley" and "Eleanor's Dream". I've begun but had no time to finish either, but I hope to get them both finished next year for a sort of 'deluxe' version of That Hideous Slumber.
And that's all for today... got a little poetry I might post later. Later llamas!!
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The bombs are falling,
and the world is catching fire,
but I am not afraid
I run through buildings
toppling like playthings
through the smoke and ash and death
to find you now and pull you out,
together we will escape this ruin,
or I'll never leave at all
But I am not afraid,
and I will never hesitate to run straight for danger
I'll brave any furnace
sleep in any lion's den,
and I am not afraid,
so as the world is catching fire,
I'll lift my voice to sing,
I'll dance in the flames.
"The Time You Love"
I was born breathless and blue,
in the time that you love,
when the snow falls and the world shudders
under the icy touch of winter
whose cold fingers turn our cheeks rosy,
and bathe the world in pure and white
we bundle up against it,
but we never fear its fury
You were born into Spring's delight
in the time that I love
when the young spring sun
makes everything warm and green and golden
and the rain falls every day
bringing our beautiful world into perfect life,
flowering perfect life
On and on this cycle spins
with the Earth's steady rhythms,
and though I don't always want a Winter day
your smile I think could make it easier to bear
“What I’m Waiting For”
Solar flare and sunshine
I don’t know what I’m waiting for,
Lunar eclipse and sundog,
I don’t know what I’m waiting for
All the stars to line up,
And call my name,
Perhaps the day will feel brighter,
My clothes fit better,
My hair lay right,
And every song grace my lips,
Beautiful and sweet and strong
I don’t know what I’m waiting for
The proper words are surely there,
But they never come at my call,
Like song birds in the trees,
Lovely and distant, never mine.
But there’s only one word I need,
One to claim and hold and never let go,
I know what I’m waiting for.
Monday, October 31, 2011
"The Spring Life"
I felt it between us,
the moment we came here,
this beautiful awful place,
in quiet town and breathless city,
I loved you once,
but where has all that feeling slipped to?
I need it now more than anything,
that I think I've ever needed
If a dark figure should visit your dreams
and take you by the hand,
don't believe everything you see,
don't believe in the dark childhood
I left behind so long ago
We create worlds without a second thought
shape and mold like gods
but we can't govern our own minds
can't find the right thought to think,
in quiet town, breathless city,
in dreaming ocean, sleeping seas
where is that one right thought?
If a dark figure should visit my dreams
and take me by the hand,
I'll believe everything I see,
about that dark past,
you left behind so long ago
Lost in centuries of thoughtless creation,
who can say where I'll find you now?
a hundred million stars lie between us
I'd bridge any gap to reach you,
but how do you cross infinite?
how do you open a door
that no longer exists?
Time has made my promises weak old and feeble,
but I tell you this,
if the way is there,
I swear I'll find it.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Chapter Eight: The Pale Hand of Death
In the wake of Xyd’s downfall the other vultures scattered, crowing fearfully. All became a wild confusion of feathers and dirt flying everywhere in the dimly lit nest. I could only stare at the dead bird, watching as it bled silently. The corpse seemed to be expanding, blowing up like a balloon. Gryndor appeared out of the chaos and grabbed me firmly by the arm. “Time to go!” he exclaimed.
“What… what’s happening to him?” I asked. I couldn’t help feeling a little in shock. One second ago I’d been resisting temptation to evil, now I was fleeing from something I could not understand. I stumbled a bit as I was pulled along, so intently was I staring.
“No time to explain!” Gryndor replied, huffing for breath. “We have to get out of here.” He pulled a long strip off the hem of his gray robe. He ran it back and forth between his hands for a moment, till it began to take on a life of its own, writhing like a snake. He let it go and it began to fly through the air in circles around us as Gryndor rushed us towards a wall.
And then quite suddenly we were on the ground, grass beneath our feet. We’d teleported. This I understood, this my brain could handle as I’d done it before.
What I couldn’t understand was that it was night. A bright pair of moons shone down from on high, one red, one blue. These I could understand, as I’d seen them before. But why was it night? How long had I been up there? Xyd’s magic must have altered my perception of time somehow.
But the next thing I noticed was much more difficult to handle.
Why was everyone dying?
I could hear the sounds all around me, swords clashing, blood being spilt. Black figures like shadows given life seemed to be killing everything they came across, prisoner and guard alike. Gryndor stumbled and hit his knee. “It’s happening already… I don’t believe it. And here I am having used up too much energy.”
“What?” My voice didn’t sound like my own. It was panicked, confused, and a little angry. “What is going on?”
“The Anurae are attacking…” Gryndor began. Above us, the nest exploded in a supernova of flame that lit up the night. Burning splinters of wood rained down on us, a couple of them singeing my skin. The ruined tower wasn’t the only building that had been set ablaze. The night was colored in fiery orange, the nearby forest beginning to glow as it caught fire.
Why was everything burning?
My mind was threatening to shut down, so sudden and terrifying was this change. I looked to Gryndor, hoping for some direction. He was just beginning to rise. We seemed to be in a calm spot, the eye of a hurricane that was destroying everything around us. A little brown rabbit crawled from the shadows into the circle of light created by the ravaged vulture’s nest. His hind legs were soaked with blood, his face piteous with fright. Before I could come to its aid, a slender blade plunged into his chest, stabbing the last bit of life out of the poor thing.
In the wildest of my imaginings, I thought a demon might emerge from the darkness. At the very least, surely it would be a bear or a panther, or some other mighty predator. The last thing I expected was a frog.
The frog who approached us wore simple black robes that were open at the chest. His skin was painted black, except where splotches had variously either come off or been splattered with blood. The frog’s eyes bulged almost comically, spread to either side of his face. With his giant lips and awkward gait, the creature could have looked ridiculous, were it not for the crimson droplets on that sword and the fierce expression in those wide-set eyes.
I heard a challenging roar from my right, and a bear lumbered forward with mace held high. It was the very same bear I’d nearly barreled into yesterday. His dark fur blended in with the night nearly as well as the frog’s black body paint.
Caught between two terrible enemies, I was readying myself for a brutal fight when a long red rope shot from the frog. It passed right over where Gryndor lay crouched and flicked against the black bear’s skin. When blood splashed to the ground and spattered my chest, I realized there was a knife attached to that rope. When it was whipped back towards the frog, and I felt the wet droplets of saliva, I realized it was the creature’s tongue.
The frog let the dagger sway at chin level for a moment, then opened its mouth and let the knife slide back into hiding. The bear lay on the ground, stone dead from the terrible neck wound he’d received. The swordsman frog studied me for a moment, then opened his mouth to yell.
“I’ve found the mark!” it screamed, its voice was a high pitched croak. Gryndor swore under his breath and stood. I stepped close to his side. “I’ve found the…” the frog began to yell again but it was cut off as Daale cut the beast down from behind. The bear had a wild look in his eyes, exhausted but determined.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Daale said breathlessly. “This place is going to hell pretty quick.”
“Really?” Gryndor replied calmly. “Hadn’t noticed.”
“We have to find Needha! I’m not leaving without her!” I interjected, jumping into the conversation.
“I’m sorry lad,” Daale told me. “I haven’t seen her.” He was leaning on his blade now, the weariness plain to see in his face and body language. What sort of day had I missed?
“Escape needs to be our priority.” Gryndor said firmly. The sounds of carnage echoed around us, seeming to ratify his point.
“NEEDHA!” I roared, letting my voice bellow as loud and deep as I could manage.
Gryndor reached for my hand, ready to pull me along, but I resisted. “We have to find her! And the other prisoners? What about Hayfinch?”
“He’s got a point.” Daale said. The bear glanced around, seemingly taking stock of our surroundings.
“It’s too dangerous!” Gryndor answered. “We have to GO.”
Daale let his blade drop to the earth and stood close to Gryndor, their faces inches apart. He poked the deer in the chest. “If it was you… would you want to be left to die, or would you want to be rescued?”
Gryndor turned to walk away then. He seemed to be headed to the northern edge of the valley, where the chaos seemed greatest, the fires tallest. “Where are you going?” I asked.
“I suppose I’d want to be rescued,” he replied impatiently. “Now let’s get on with this. I really do not like this place.”
In the end we saved six, Needha among them. In was a small victory, infinitesimal against the backdrop of all the suffering we’d befallen, but it was just that all the same.
Even the emperor himself couldn’t take that away from us. We stood in a pass north of the valley that led deeper into the mountains. It was our way out, perhaps the only way out, since we knew the road by which we’d entered was well guarded. Every one of the animals around me was fire blackened, their fur matted with soot. I knew I could not look much different. I could see patches of darkness on my bare skin as well.
We’d gathered here to wait for Gryndor. Daale had wanted to do a final sweep of the area for survivors, but Gryndor had insisted. It was only prudent, after all, since the deer was far stealthier and more agile than the mighty bear.
I stood at Needha’s side, a hand buried in her thick brown fur, feeling a little afraid she’d vanish on me. The bison had not been treated well, but fortunately had not been stuck here long. The other five we’d rescued, however, had not had the same luck.
Hayfinch we’d found under a cart, one of his ears lopped off. The old soldier had gotten hold of a sword, and managed to kill a few of the frogs before a number of wounds had forced him into hiding to bandage himself.
The rest were an elderly llama, a little deer girl, a rat-like creature with an eyepatch over one eye, and a one armed panther. These four had been holed up in a barn that had caught fire. We’d had to fight off several Anurae closing in on them.
Our new army.
The frogs, I’d learned, were the hirelings of Daale’s father. They were here for Daale, Gryndor, and I. Once the Anurae were hired, they killed everything they came into contact with until they found their mark, or marks, and eliminated them. The emperor had willingly unleashed them upon his own people, caring little for the consequences.
Less still was the care he bestowed on his son, a supposed heir to his very throne.
As we waited, we watched the valley burn. There was a slope before us that ran down from the edge of the pass where we stood. It was a bit vulnerable, rising from the floor of the valley up into the hidden folds of the rock where we were. It was this slope Gryndor would race up any moment now, with or without more victims of the labor camp, and the Emperor’s cruelty.
“How did you escape?” I asked Daale as we waited. I was curious as to how he and Gryndor had been able to get free. Gryndor had been able to sneak into Xyd’s lair and dispatch him long before the chaos that had overcome the labor camp should have allowed.
“We bribed the guard. I knew him from long ago, knew his family could use a little extra money. He in turn trusted me not to cause too much trouble. Trouble, as you noticed, found us instead. We were working on your rescue when the frogs arrived. I had no idea he planned on killing that vulture. Didn’t even know it was possible.” As I recall Daale’s tone was incredulous, as if he couldn’t believe some of the words coming out of his own mouth.
I had a hard time believing them myself, admittedly.
But that was all I had to hold onto just then. Words. My direction in this new life I led depended entirely on whose words I trusted and whose I rejected. So far, I’d chosen Daale, Needha, and Gryndor. Their words I trusted.
It wasn’t long before Gryndor came walking up that path. Lit up against burning vegetation and shadowy in the dead of night, I couldn’t help seeing a bit of a demon in the horned creature. The tinsel was still in his antlers. The gold caught a spark of light as he walked, making them glow a little. As he grew closer, I shook my head, and the comparison fled. This was no demon, only my friend.
In evading the flames the frogs had brought with them, he’d been forced to shed his gray robes. I saw he was clad now in slacks and a plain white shirt. The deer’d lost an aspect of mystery that had hung around him. It was more plain now than ever that the creature was younger than he let on.
Though at first I assumed his rescue efforts were entirely without success, I was surprised to see a squirrel clutching to his back. All bets were off as I was concerned when it came to guessing ages here, but I had the feeling it was another child. A two foot tall squirrel. There was a time when such a sight would have surprised me. Now, I just took it in stride.
“Well?” He asked with typical impatience. Let’s get a move on.” Daale nodded. Our sense of duty satisfied, it was certainly time to go. The only thing staying could accomplish was the level of danger increasing still further.
And so six became seven, and our “army” gained yet another child. We turned our faces from the valley, ready to flee. Though we’d filled many, I was certain that even more still remained, fully enough to slaughter us all if they came upon us.
As we climbed, the smoke followed us. Fumes rose in black waves, all of us covering our noses (or snouts, where applicable) with strips of cloth. The incline continued, drawing us up and out.
And so it was that I did not see the foe at hand until it was too late. A single frog stuck to the stone to our right, climbing silently along. Slipping out of the smoke, his knife had darted out and struck me in the chest before anyone even knew he was there. That long, red tongue slid back, and suddenly my blood had been set free. All of it seemed to be rushing to escape.
But if all my blood is running around loose, where does that leave me?
It seemed an insane thought, perhaps the last idea my brain could form. I had no memory of falling to the ground, but that was where I found myself. I could hear sounds of a scuffle, possibly. I also might have heard someone or something being dispatched, but it’s entirely possible I imagined the whole thing, out of the hope that my killer would be brought to Lady Justice something swift like.
Furred hands that felt icy against my skin propped me up and bandaged my wounds, but what good was locking the cage when the lions were already roaming free? All my blood was on the outside, soaking into the earth. Would it well up and overwhelm me?
Could I drown in my own blood? I had to consider the possibility.
Daale and Gryndor seemed to fall to arguing sometime after I was tended to. I heard snippets only, snippets of voices raised in anger.
“…can’t take him to your homeland! How could I go there?” I heard the bear prince exclaim. “I’m certain that…”
“…not quite the issue here.” Gryndor answered. “Herons? The healers live in lawless country. He wouldn’t survive that kind of trek.”
“…what then? He can’t have much time… if he dies, our hope could…” Daale’s voice sounded desperate, possibly even panicked. I wanted to ask him what was the matter, but I couldn’t speak. My voice was hiding from me.
I tried to rise, but my limbs wouldn’t obey me any more than my wayward voice. I felt cold. Ten thousand winters settling into my bones, as if to fill the void my vacating fluids were opening up.
Meanwhile, those angry tones rattled on, so full of life and warmth. “…to the rams.” Gryndor was insisting. “Yes, it is far I agree, but if we can revive him, just for… could buy enough time.
I didn’t hear Daale’s response well enough to comprehend it. His words sounded dark, low, and infuriated.
“It’ll be a special sort of spell. Only my master…” Gryndor sounded earnest now as he explained. “…necessary to reverse it. The damned herons won’t be able to help by then!”
“…suppose it’s settled then. Do what you must.” Daale’s voice was brittle enough to snap. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one touched by the cold.
I felt myself being propped up again. Heard paper rustling.
“Riley…” the words seemed to echo, stretched out by a tunnel or a canyon. Surely the speaker was far, far away, not someone close enough to touch. I was delirious, unsure of anything. But someone was definitely touching me. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine they were talking to me too. But whoever they were, their clutch was nowhere near as firm as that of the pale hand of death that gripped me so tightly.
“Riley. Listen to me.” I was being summoned. They would say my name three times, and I would appear. That meant I had to wait for the third, otherwise the people summoning me would get confused about how it worked. “I know it hurts, but we need you to be strong, just for a few more seconds. Come on Riley, stay with us.”
That was it.
I had to answer now. I fought hard against the cold, but it was too strong. I couldn’t move anymore. I managed to jerk my arms and legs, but little else. “Ok, you have to sign this contract. It’s the only way you’ll be able to survive.” I felt an ink quill being pressed against my fingers. Paper rustled again. Somewhere near my limp arm was that paper I’d heard rustling.
My eyes were desperate to roll back into my head and stay there, but I forced myself up for one, two, three seconds and scribbled out something that could have said Jolly King of England for all I knew but was meant to say “Riley M. Rennington.” The contract was signed. Whatever that meant.And then my eyes retreated to their hiding place
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Chapter Seven: An Invitation to Breakfast
There are but two things you need to know about the night we passed as captives.
First, that despite several hours of discussion, we’d come up with no feasible plan. We were trapped in a room with only one exit, which was heavily guarded. We had no weapons, and Gryndor could think of no tricks that could get us out. Apparently, whatever stone the building around us was born of, it made magic very difficult.
Secondly, Gryndor had taught me a new spell. It was the art of being “difficult to notice”. The deer had told me that it would make me mentally slippery to others, and difficult to focus on. Essentially, it was the power of invisibility without the pesky issue of not being able to see my feet. If I could master it. He had stressed that that would take a little time.
Passing the night on bare, cold rock is one life experience I could have done without. Even with my cloak laid out beneath me, it was still terribly uncomfortable. I woke up stiff and hungry, my toes freezing. As I idly looked at my surroundings as I awoke, it took me a moment to notice that Daale and Gryndor were bound again, along with Hayfinch the rabbit.
I alone was free, not counting the timid beasts who’d been watching us from the corner. I was certain after some observation they were mostly rabbits, along with a few squirrels and a fox. What the poor things had done to deserve being trapped here, I could not say. I alone was free. A thin brown bear stood near the door, one I didn’t think I’d seen before. He seemed to have been waiting for something. When he stepped forward as I stirred, I realized he’d been waiting for me to wake up.
“Good morning sir. The mighty wizard Xyd, overseer of Ursyne labor camp number seven wishes to extend to you an invitation to breakfast. Immediately upon your awakening, you are to make haste and meet with him at your earliest convenience.” When I did not respond, the bear added. “Your earliest convenience… is now, if I’m not mistaken. Let’s be moving along, sir.”
There was no sign of any chains or ropes. They weren’t going to bind me. I could hardly believe it. I didn’t think Gryndor could have anticipated things going this way, but he couldn’t have possibly picked a better skill to teach me.
I followed the bear out of the room I’d passed such uncomfortable time in. We moved into a long hall. Two bears stood on either side of us, guarding the exit, each wielding an enormous mace with wicked spikes sprouting from the business end. One of them glanced at me and snarled, as if he were reluctant to let me leave.
Immediately I went to work on making myself invisible. I concentrated on making my presence shrink. In my minds’ eye I pictured myself growing smaller and smaller. I imagined people looking for me and looking straight through me. There were magic words to this spell just like the others, but I was afraid if I uttered anything strange, it would alert the bear to my intentions. I was also afraid it wouldn’t work at all… if Gryndor had difficulties here, why should I be any different? But the deer had also told me that the rules would not always apply to me, perhaps one of the most significant things anyone had told me since my arrival.
We walked down the hall and through several twisting corridors. At first, the bear chatted with me, telling me about bear things I didn’t entirely understand. Most of them seemed to have to do with happenings in the city.
After a few minutes of attempting to make my existence as thin as a shadow, he spoke less. The bear grew confused, twice stopping midsentence. He seemed to have gotten the feeling he’d been talking to himself, then remembered I was there. Finally when we reached a crossroads with corridors stretching away in either direction, I fled.
I didn’t know where I was going. I ran just to run. The spell I was working had its limitations, however. The guard was confused, but he wasn’t going to forget about me or fail to see which way I’d gone. I was pretty sure it was possible to achieve true invisibility, but not without practice. Indeed, it wasn’t long before I heard the creature giving chase, nails scraping against stone.
The hallway curved and I nearly ran right into a large bear with fur as dark as a moonless night sky. I skidded to a stop mere seconds from running into him. He looked downward with a frown, probably as confused as the bear barreling down the hallway on all fours after me.
I did an about face and ran another way. This time, I didn’t run for long before I burst outside. Daylight dazzled my eyes as early morning cold bit into my bare chest. There was dew on the ground, I could feel it on the blades of grass beneath my feet. I cast an eye back towards the building I’d left. Both bears were in pursuit now.
I woozily dropped to my knees with sudden exhaustion and was forced to let the spell drop. Hiding in plain sight was no longer an option. Not that it had gone particularly well for me in the first place. Ahead of me I saw nothing but fields, beasts already toiling despite the youth of the day. Was that our fate if we stayed here? If we failed somehow to escape? My heart burned with a passion to see everyone here free, and to see every one of these awful slapdash buildings fall to the ground in heaps of ashes, their embers the only life left.
That’s all this valley was to me. A place of hatred and fear.
The skinny brown bear caught up to me in the same instance that a black vulture swooped out of the sky. It looked just like the one I’d seen yesterday, except it had an eyepatch over one eye. “We knew you would not be able to handle the child,” the vulture slurred mockingly, voice strangely thick.
“I had it under control!” The bear cried, his patience long spent. “The second bear watched everything passively. “How dare you run away from me!” Brown Fur cried, striking me across the chest, raking his sharp claws into my flesh.
I cried out as I fell backward, the blow knocking me off my feet. I was ready to expend the last of my energy incinerating the bear, but the vulture intervened, stepping between us. “Do not think your actions will go unpunished, foolish one.” The bird hissed. The bird stretched out a gloved hand and helped me to my feet. “I was to deliver him unharmed. What shall I tell Xyd now, hmm?”
This statement seemed to turn the bear’s heart to liquid and his legs to jelly. He caved fearfully, all but dropping to his knees and begging.
“Please, Xynder, I’m sorry. I was frustrated. He just gave me the slip, that’s all.” But his cries fell on deaf ears, the vulture ignored him, stretching out a long black wing and ushering me away.
“Your time in this camp does not have to be unpleasant. As long as you do as Xyd askes, you will probably survive alright. Your friends however… will not live long much longer, I can promise you that.” It was the bird’s turn to have words fall to someone unwilling to hear. “Have a little care in the company you keep, or your doom is most assuredly near.”
I held my tongue, knowing nothing I had to say would please him. The bird walked me to the tower that stood at the center of the settlement. It was frighteningly unstable in appearance, perhaps the worst of all the structures in the camp. Just a skeletal frame of wooden beams capped by a building that looked too large for its stilts. It seemed to be completely closed off to the outside world. The only openings I saw seemed to be little slits, a few of which seemed to have little twigs sticking out of them.
"You're a lucky child to have caught Xyd's eye. Fleeing was unwise, as I'm sure you'll soon learn." I was pushed towards a ladder than looked as though it would collapse with a touch. Yet I didn't feel I had much choice, the way that bird stared with its single eye.
My limbs felt heavy as I began my ascent. This magic business was a frustrating endeavor. I was tired of feeling exhausted all the time. It made it hard to think. It felt crucial that I have all my faculties but there wasn't much I could do about that now, was there?
A slender square of black soon gobbled me up. I emerged into a dimly lit sort of nest. Twigs and such lined all the walls. At the center of the room there was a layer of forest debris that lay like a carpet. I stood in between, a layer of sticks behind, the heart of the vulture's lair ahead.
The bird sat on a soiled pillow, a little gaggle of his awful friends hunching around him. Thin slats of light slithered in through slots that probably afforded a view of the whole camp. Somebody could easily cast their glance through one without alerting anyone down below they were being spied upon.
“Come closer, little boy…” Xyd crowed. His feathers were a patchwork of black and white. It seemed Gryndor’s magic had had a lasting effect. The vultures stared silently at me as I approached, feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. Blood from the scratches on my chest ran down in long red lines. They were shallow cuts, but they still stung. I crossed my arms and walked forward, wondering what the awful beast could what from me.
If I hadn’t already worn myself a little too thin, I might have tried to kill the bird right there. I couldn’t help feeling it would save us a little trouble. As it was, I just stood there hunched a bit. It was colder up here, even colder than the morning air had been. In the shadows I probably almost looked like another vulture, shoulders stiff.
“You may be wondering why you are here, but the wise and powerful Xyd is not without his mercies. This place may seem like squalor, but I can give you anything you desire, I assure you.” As if on cue, my stomach began to rumble. A steaming bowl of what looked like rice suddenly appeared before me, hovering just within reach. An appetizing scent filled the air, enticing me to reach forward. My hand however grasped nothing but empty air. The image wavered and vanished.
The smell clung to my nostrils for a moment, its lingering only serving to make me hungrier than ever. What sort of devilry was this? “You invite me to breakfast, then offer me teasing parlor tricks?” I replied petulantly. “No thank you sir.”
“I can show you more than tricks, foolish child.” Xyd answered, his calm cracking like a dam under strain. “Believe you me.” The room lit up suddenly as if from a thousand torches, and yet I saw no source of light. Tables all around us groaned under the weight of the food they bore. Feast upon feast, a banquet for an army, all of it filling the bird’s nest with pleasing aromas.
But I felt certain that, as before, it was all a ruse.
I shook my head, unimpressed.
Xyd sighed and spoke slowly, as if dealing with an unruly child. “Do you not understand what I’m offering you?” The vulture stamped his foot against the ground, and the room went dark again. In the shadow I could tell all the tantalizing food had vanished. “The emperor is a powerful beast. This whole world is going to be in his control sooner or later…” Xyd intoned.
Suddenly I saw before me a square like a window. It floated in the air between the vultures and I, showing a landscape of green. It rolled across fields and hills, terrain that looked exactly like the place I’d traversed with Gryndor and Daale. Soon enough misty mountainside appeared within. The window grew, encompassing my full field of view. It swooped through a cloud, and I felt cold air brush against my cheeks. A lungful of rainy air filled my lungs.
And then it was gone. I was flying high over the mountains, over everything, till the whole earth seemed to be there beneath me. The sight of it was breathtaking.
To the south, jungle.
To the north, an ocean. The whorl of a large island chain lay there like a great eye, staring at the world around it.
To the west, a smattering of immense forests. The rapidly shrinking realm of the deer.
And to the east… desert. For reasons I could not fathom, my heart began to pound when I caught side of that sandy expanse. Something of my destiny lay in that place.
After seeming to hang there up high for a long time, I suddenly began to feel as though I was falling. The mountains grew closer again, but we didn’t narrow in on the labor camp like I expected. Instead, Uryn grew near, that city born from the husk of a dead mountain. The streets flew by. I saw bears going about their day, guards patrolling the streets, even a skinny little thing balancing on a ball. He was snuffing out the light in a lantern with a long pole.
After a few minutes spent flying low through the streets of the city, the doors of the palace appeared before me. I’d seen them from a distance before, when I’d been clambering up to the tower, but never so close up. They were enormous silver things, shimmering with images and effigies. My perspective moved right towards the door as if to crash through it but I passed through immaterially. On the other side a courtyard sprawled, layered with gardens and bush mazes.
Then it was on through another set of gleaming double doors, into a cavernous hall. A great bear, larger than any I’d ever seen, sat at court there. His throne was the size of a wagon, with cushions that would have surely swallowed me up.
Basson knelt before him. “My spies report Daale has arrived at camp seven to the north.”
Suddenly it all disappeared. I nearly hit the floor, feeling jarred. It was as though I’d been picked up and then dropped without warning. Or perhaps more accurately, it was like climbing stairs in the dark, suddenly you reach out, and there’s one less stair than you expect, and you nearly lose your footing. I’d lost my awareness of myself in the strange forced vision I’d just experienced, and hadn’t been expecting to gain it back so suddenly.
“So you see, such is the strength and splendor of your emperor. I even in all my power serve him. Think on that before you resist me.” The sorcerer had an awestruck quality to his voice. I wondered if everyone had seen things as I’d seen them.
My convictions were firm.
“There is nothing to think about,” I replied a bit haughtily. “I would never help you, nor join your cause. I would sooner die.”
“Do not think that cannot be all too easily arranged,” Xyd replied. The rage was less veiled this time. I was angering him. It was clear his strange tricks were meant to impress me. My unfeeling dismissal of what the vulture had shown me infuriated him.
As it turned out, however, I would never have to worry about my next move. Gryndor made it for me.
“I am sorry,” The wizard said, “but the only death on the docket for the day is your own.” With that I saw the bird suddenly fall forward, collapsing to the floor. Gryndor pulled a bloody knife from Xyd’s back and began to wipe it clean with a rag produced from somewhere within the folds of his robe.
Just like that, the mighty wizard Xyd, overseer of Ursyne labor camp number seven was…
Monday, September 5, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
So... slight delay in the release of the print version of That Hideous Slumber. I guess there's a review period before they send it through. This shouldn't have caught me off guard, since the digital version had a wait period on it too, but it did. So I was planning on releasing the book today, but now we're looking at a Monday launch date. All the other issues seem to be worked out, however, so hopefully that will be the end of it.
Right now the book will run you a fairly reasonable $7.99, which is the standard price of a mass market paperback. It'll only be available through Amazon and Createspace for now, but apparently it will eventually be possible to reach a broader market more easily than I anticipated (It looks like THS could even wind up libraries soonish). The problem is, that will cost more money, so for now to keep prices down I'm going to keep things simple.
While talk has largely centered around That Hideous Slumber, I've not been neglecting my next book by any means. I'm crossing the threshold from chapter 15 to 16 now and liking the way things have come together. I'm really excited to finish this story, and I'm also looking forward to my next book (number three for those keeping score) which will be called "The Spring Life". My first(ish) book with a modern setting.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
I wound my way through a dark tunnel,
an endless procession of sleep
sleep that brought histories to life
things made and unmade, remember and forget
all gone once I awoke
stamped out by fingers rubbing eyelids,
And all was truly washed away,
Lost in my dreaming
I slept the world away, waking to white sand and quiet
My bed lay by the sea
lost and out of place,
while I stood and rubbed my eyes again
Faint music filled the air,
I looked for the one that slept beside me,
and the bed was empty
But I felt a hand on my shoulders and knew I wasn’t alone
The day I slept through the end of the world
Friday, August 5, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Child of Thunder
Chapter Six: White Vulture
I woke up with a start, ready for a fight. Part of me expected to rise in the exact place I’d fallen, as though I’d only been unconscious mere seconds. This was not the case, however.
I wasn’t draped across Daale’s back either, but instead I lay in a surprisingly cozy bed. I’d been covered with a wool blanket that was a bit itchy but wonderfully warm. For a half second, I was tempted to lie back down. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this comfortable.
It was enough to make me wonder if it had all been a dream. I felt a surge of panic until I checked my ankle and found the furrowed scars where I the bear had clawed me up in capture. I looked up and saw to my utter shock that I seemed to be back in my own world. This was the simple log cabin in Iowa I’d called home once… before my family had permanently taken to the road. Same bed, same fire crackling away in the hearth.
The door rattled. I saw the corner of a dress striped blue and white. “Mother,” I began.
“Yes dear?” a voice came. But it wasn’t my mother who peeked her head around the corner at all. It was Basson in a woman’s dress, the silver streak on his face seeming to glimmer in the low light. But then, as if unzipping a costume, the bear removed its skin and fur, revealing a big white vulture with wide red eyes.
Once more I woke suddenly, letting out a strangled cry of fear. I was immediately shushed, a heavy, furred hand pressed against my mouth. “Shh, lad.” Daale whispered gruffly. “We’re very close to the camp. The slightest noise could give us away. Don’t want to provoke an attack.”
I nodded and sat up. I had been leaned against a tree. As before, I woke up feeling alert. I just wanted to know what was going on. That was the worst thing about spending so much time unconscious. I felt like I never understood anything.
But Daale was quick to remedy this. He’d been peering through a bush all this time, and for me he spread its branches a little wider so I could see what he was looking at so intently. A valley carefully nestled away in the mountains dipped before us.
I had expected much from the labor camp. I had pictured it dry as a bone, desolate, and miserable. What spread below us was perhaps the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. It was all buildings of stark white stone, ruins draped with coats of thick moss and the reaching tendrils of many vines. Tall trees grew everywhere, all in varying shades of dark green.
I wanted to explore more than anything. This was a labor camp? It took me a moment’s study, but I began to see how it had earned its name. Slightly to our right, at the valley’s lowest point, a high watchtower stood. It wasn’t like the other buildings. It was made of wood and seemed a little sloppily built, as if it had been constructed hastily. In a slender clearing around it, there were about a dozen equally haphazard buildings. Most prominent following the tower was a windmill.
I could also see several fields where it looked like crops were being strained and sweated over. In addition, I noticed there was one particular ruin that still looked quite inhabited. A more modern looking chimney had been roughly fitted on its roof and it was belching smoke skyward in long plumes.
“What’s the plan?” I whispered.
“Infiltrate, take out the guard, liberate the prisoners, escape.”
He made it sound so simple, but I had a feeling it would be a lot more complicated than that.
But wasn’t it always?
I rose and stretched langorously. As I stood, I heard a rustling in the brush surrounding our cramped hiding spot. I raised my hand, ready to defend myself the only way I knew how.
“You going to set the forest up in flames?” Gryndor asked casually, stepping past me. “Better teach you a new spell sooner rather than later, hadn’t I?”
“Would you?” I asked excitedly.
“Better still if he were taught how to fight.” Daale said.
“Agreed, but do you really think your fighting style will be of much benefit?” Gryndor replied.
Daale sighed and shook his head. “I suppose not. Let us be about this business and quickly on our way then.”
Given the way things had gone thus far, I expected crazy to happen in a big hurry. I didn’t know what our fate would be exactly, only that I wanted to rescue Needha and explore that strange landscape. “What did you mean by infiltrate?” I asked Daale.
“I meant that the labor camp just found its two newest workers,” the bear prince responded. “I will be recognized, but news does not always travel fast. Word of my apparent treachery will probably not have reached the white vulture just yet.”
I gasped. “What did you say?”
“This place is run by a foul white vulture skilled in sorcerous arts,” Gryndor interjected. “Why?”
“No reason… just wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly.” Gryndor eyed me strangely but said nothing. I didn’t know what to make of the strange dream I’d had so I’d elected not to mention it, afraid of sounding insane.
From then on we gave up on stealth, making for a broad road that cut a path through the forest. The vegetation here was so thick we could hardly see the sky save for a narrow strip of blue directly above. The walking was easy, as the path wound downhill at a comfortably steady pace. It was an idyllic here, quietly beautiful.
A sense of foreboding was beginning to come upon me, in spite of my previous excitement. A deep dread was pouring into my bones, settling in so far I feared it might never leave. We ate on the road, berries and fish that Gryndor had apparently obtained. I hoped the fish didn’t mind being snatched up and devoured.
After nearly an hour’s walk we found ourselves emerging into that immense clearing we’d seen from above. Two fields straddled either side of the road, both filled with animals of all sorts hunched over their work. Every face I spied was a mask of misery. The beasts tending the fields looked underfed, and their fur was patchy where they’d been struck or burnt or both.
My resolve to see our mission through strengthened.
Bears seemed to be overseeing everything, but I also saw a couple of panthers and one wolf too, and here and there a vulture hunched from fenceposts and the eaves of rooftops. The feathers of every bird was coal dark, however. Not a one of them was white, and none of them had red eyes. I was relieved at that, because of all things in this new world so far, that bird alone terrified me.
To keep up the sham, Gryndor and I kept our hands behind our backs, marching ahead of Daale. I’d only been taught a little of our plot. I knew it involved a sleeping potion, and stealing keys. As to what else would happen, I could not say exactly and I didn’t really care. I was content to follow my companions lead as we walked into danger.
What the full particulars of that plan were I would never learn regardless. We were walking through a central lane that seemed to be broadening as we neared the tower that was at the heart of the labor camp. Dark shadows fell across the dirt and gravel path. Bear and prisoner alike looked up in fear as the white vulture from my nightmare swooped in, flanked by two vultures whose feathers were speckled light and dark.
We'd been discovered already.
“Greetings, Xyd." Daale called in a forced, jovial tone. Gryndor turned his head down, playing the part of downtrodden prisoner. I tried to do the same, but I couldn't help peeking at the white vulture out of curiosity.
It was the spitting image of my dream, red eyes and all. I shivered in fear and quickly looked to the ground.
"What is the son of treachery doing in his father's kingdom? the bird rasped harshly in a clear but deadly quiet voice.
The bear prince feigned surprise. "What do you mean?" As I looked ahead and down I noticed that both the speckled vultures had wicked steel claws wrapped around their talons.
"The disgraced prince flees his home in shame and come to Xyd for help? Do not think I have not forseen your actions!"
Daale hesitated, and in the end it was that moment of hesitation that cost us dearly. Xyd did not enwrap his feet in metal like his bodyguards. Rather, he wore leather studded with iron spikes that were rimmed with reddish rust.
One of these he stripped off, awkwardly but quickly placing one foot over the other, then pulling. With this newly freed talon he quickly cast a spell on us with but a single word.
Gryndor raised a hand and seemed to yell something, but he was suddenly mute. I tried to launch a fireball into the beast's gut but I found that I too was incapable of speech. Without words, we could not use magic.
This left Daale alone free to defend us.
He hefted the mighty broadsword veiled beneath his cloak and swung his arms back for a blow mighty enough to see trees hewn and felled. Both the speckled guards attacked in the wake of their master's devastating enchantment, but only one survived to flap away for a second attack.
The bird that had been stricken by Daale’s sword fell to the ground, but its corpse did not bleed as I expected it to. Instead, it began to melt, quickly transforming into a gooey pile of sludge which began to sink into the earth, but not before releasing a noxious black vapor.
Gryndor finally found his tongue and let out a guttural word that I did not understand. At once that foul black cloud swirled into a little tornado that flew towards Xyd. It washed over the bird, coating him in black slime. Xyd doubled over in a coughing fit, red eyes watering.
Before I could launch an attack of my own with my suddenly regained powers of speech, a dozen bears flooded in around us, backing up the two remaining birds. Our chances were now far slimmer. “Xyxophes,” the white vulture cried, casting another dark spell.
Ropes sprouted from the earth and wrapped themselves around our wrists and ankles. They squeezed roughly and I lost my footing. I hit the dirt path so hard the wind was knocked out of me.
“Take them to the prison ward,” Xyd commanded, sounding even more hoarse than before. He barely managed to release the words before hacking again. It didn’t seem to be handling Gryndor’s strike very well.
“And make sure the deer is well bound! He’s a sorcerer!” Those were the last words I heard as the three of us were hauled off, once more in the carelessly brutal custody of bears.
They didn’t throw us into a dank cell as I expected, but a white stone ruin. It wasn’t the one with the chimney I’d seen previously, but one hidden by the veritable jungle growing in this lush valley. We were dumped on our stomachs in a large, open room. The bears left us all tied up to lay there uncomfortably, but not before they gagged Gryndor so he could work no spells.
There were free animals around us, timid little things hiding in the shadows. No one came to our aid, however. We were on our own. I wasn’t terribly troubled yet, just disappointed I hadn’t spied Needha anywhere.
“Well…” Daale murmured, voice muffled against the ground. “This could be a problem.”
We lay there unattended for a very long time. I began to forget my arms and legs as they grew increasingly numb. I may have slept but I was never quite sure. I certainly at no time felt rested, that much I can assure you.
After much time poorly passed one of the quiet little shadows lurking at the edges of the room crept forward. I caught sight of pale yellow fur and long, floppy ears.
A rabbit to the rescue.
I sighed, assuming we were no better off than we had been since we arrived in this awful place. “Don’t you worry now… Colonel Hayfinch Yarwood will have you outta those ropes in half a jif.” I could hear but not see a small yet confident voice coming from somewhere to my left.
Gryndor let out a muffled grunt. Then another, more insistent one. He couldn’t talk around his gag. I heard the rabbit pull it out, allowing the deer’s words to burst out like champagne from an uncorked bottle.
“The ropes are magic,” Gryndor told our rabbit to the rescue. “You’ll need to rub them with water and goose down or they won’t loosen.”
“Goose down? What’s geesers got to do with it?” the “colonel” replied indignantly. After a moment’s work he gave up in frustration. “Well I ain’t got a goose. What do you think of that?”
“I think you should borrow my knife,” Gryndor replied. I heard grunting and shuffling as the deer apparently freed a dagger from somewhere on his person. It clattered noisily on the stone floor, causing the shadows along the edges of the walls to quiver.
“Oh… the deer’s got a knife. Well why didn’t you say so in the first place, leafeater?” Seconds later Gryndor was free. He took the little weapon from the rabbit and freed Daale and I, allowing us a much needed chance to stand and stretch.
Looking around, I found the room we were in had only one exit, which I had to assume was being closely guarded. I was surprised no one had intervened yet. There were a couple of windows which let in the hazy light of the valley, but they were all high and barred off.
When I looked on the rabbit I saw the creature was hunched a bit, and seemed a little haggard, but he was cheerful and bold. Surprising features for such a small creature, in such a place as this. I say small, but really he stood only a few inches shorter than I, and he was taller if you counted the ears. The rabbit was dressed in a navy blue uniform that wouldn’t have been out of place on a soldier in the U.S. Army.
“You’re a soldier?” I asked curiously.
“Just so, little mole-child. Rather… I’m not just a soldier, I’m the whole shebang. All that remains of the Grand Army of the Republic. Since it disbanded, I’m the only one left, y’see.” The rabbit frowned and looked off in the distance, as if recollecting a bad memory. “I was just a private, but I felt it prudent to give myself a promotion… since I’m the only one who did not desert following our surrender.”
“Why not just make yourself a general then?” Gryndor cut in drily.
“Well… generals don’t often see battle, and I’m more the sort for frontlines action.” Hayfinch said the words a bit sheepishly. His people had been conquered, but he’d clung to his honor by the barest thread. I guess when you lost everything, your traditions would be a hard thing to let go.
Daale got on his knees so he could meet the colonel at eye level. “I was sorry to hear about the fall of your people,” he said sincerely. “The rabbit nation was a bright beacon in the darkness. Our world reels from the blow still.”
“Was! And she will be again, God willing.” The rabbit looked at me and winked. “So am I right in assuming your capture was part of an elaborate plan? What’s the next step, if I may ask?”
Daale hesitated. “The plan is… a little off track. We… we’re working on it as we go.”
“There isn’t really a plan anymore.” Gryndor said helpfully. “We’re playing it by ear.”
The rabbit said only one thing, and it seemed to articulate all our feelings accurately.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Child of Thunder
Chapter Five: Low Voices, Low Times
I awoke in motion.
It was a gentle rocking, placid enough that I had the feeling I’d been there for a long time. I opened my eyes and carefully began to stir. I was sprawled across Daale’s back. We were back in the infinite green, the prairie that never ended. I was stiff and groggy. As tired as I’d been, I must have slept for a long time. Gryndor walked at our side.
“Good morning, sunshine,” he told me dryly. “Nice of you to join us.”
“Where are we going?” I mumbled sleepily.
Daale twisted his head back towards me. “We were too close to my father’s city for my comfort. I wanted to get underway as quickly as possible. You were so out of it we couldn’t wake you.” His voice was filled with concern. “I hope you’re all right.”
“I… I think I’m fine,” I replied. “How long have I been asleep?”
Gryndor replied. “A day. You slept through the night. It’s midmorning now… on April the fourth, if you were wondering.”
I shook my head numbly. Despite being a bit out of it, I felt good. No more headache, and none of my wounds were throbbing. I slid down from Daale’s back, wanting to feel some nice, solid earth beneath my feet. The sky looked clear and cheerful as I glanced around, without a cloud to be seen.
“I wonder what they’re saying about all this in Uryn,” Daale said. “I’m sure our escapades are the talk of the town.” His voice was wistful, spiced with a hint of regret.
“We are revolutionaries now,” Gryndor replied. “We can’t worry about that kind of thing anymore.”
“You’re right, of course, my friend.” Daale’s voice was a whisper that seemed too small for such a large creature, in such an expansive landscape. Low words for low times, perhaps.
“Where are we going?” I asked. Curiosity burned in me like a lost lantern, flaming away untended on a forgotten street corner. “I want to find Needha.” Though we hadn’t known each other long, she was my only tether to my world, the only other being I knew of to have made such a wild crossing. The bison was kin to me in a way no one else could be.
“We are going to see what we can do about that. We make for the very labor camp where she is being held captive.” Daale explained. “You see, my intentions are twofold. One, to deliver a blow to imperial forces by reducing their access to food and goods. Two…” the prince hesitated. “A rebellion is only as good as its rebels. We will need all the help we can muster. The more willing hands we can recruit, the more successful we are likely to be.”
I nodded, unsure of what to say. I knew I liked this world, knew I would follow the prince and the wizard wherever asked, but I did not know what words could articulate how I felt. “Is the labor camp far?” I asked. As we’d been talking, the land had risen into a hill. When we rounded the top, the blackened husks of a devastated village sprawled before us.
“No, not… terribly,” Gryndor had begun to reply. His voice trailed off when he saw the burned buildings. Words fled from all our hearts as we took in the bleached white bones and rotting meat. I could see antlers poking up here and there. This was a deer village.
Or had been, rather.
“Shall we go around?” Daale asked softly. Low words for low times.
“No.” Gryndor said firmly. “We cannot afford the delay.” His voice was steady until the end, when it nearly cracked over ‘delay’. It was a point that could not be denied. The village seemed somewhat large, and a river flowed our right. The river was particularly troubling. It was quite large, and would make matters considerably more difficult if we tried to cross it.
So we walked on, ash churning beneath our feet. No matter how carefully we walked, we could not avoid stepping over something that crunched beneath our feet. The sound of brittle bones snapping was perhaps one of the most unsettling sounds I had ever experienced in my short thirteen years.
Through it all, we remained silent. Gryndor kept his eyes focused ahead, not looking at anything. I on the other hand, could not keep my head from swiveling in all directions, taking it all in. I couldn’t seem to help gawking open-mouthed like a stunned fish at the visceral destruction that surrounded me. It wasn’t until I stumbled over a body that I broke the quiet, crying out as I fell to the earth.
I’d tripped over the body of a little deer in a green dress. A girl. A young girl. It was a little fawn with white spots on the exposed fur, her voice frozen into a pained expression.
“Must have died from smoke inhalation,” Daale murmured as he helped me up, then he seemed to regret the words. He glanced at Gryndor, who was just standing there staring mutely.
“Why would they do this?” I asked. “Why destroy this village?” I could hold my questions no longer. There was no doubt in my mind the bears had done this, I just didn’t understand why.
“This is the edge of the Ursyne’s massive empire. They did it to send a message, that what’s left of the free world isn’t safe.” The bear sighed. “It’s also retaliation for the defeat he was handed in the battle I believe you witnessed. He wanted to affirm his power to the world. I was… set up to fail by my father. He hoped that I would die there. Either way, he was going to destroy this place. It’s all he understands, power, and destruction.”
The last two sentences were a bitter snarl. The bear’s teeth had ground together, his hands clenching and unclenching.
Gryndor glanced at us, then nodded towards the northern horizon.
“Come on. We’ve tarried here long enough.”
Our spirits began to lift the moment we escaped the oppressing, ash-choked air of the ruined village. We cleaned ourselves off in the river and the warmth of the day dried us off. Soon it almost seemed as though it had never happened. It was a dark memory I wanted to lock away forever.
My clothes wouldn’t let me forget anything, though. My pants were ragged and bloodstained and my cloak had its rim stained with grit that had refused to come out no matter how hard I’d scrubbed it. Though my situation in the area of clothing was uncomfortable, I was fairly happy. This new world, so like my own yet so different, was all that I’d been looking for. All I’d longed for, perched atop that wagon, bored with life.
I was a revolutionary, traveling with a royal and a magician to liberate my friend. It was going to be utterly deadly, but far from being afraid, I relished the opportunity to throw myself even further into the events unfolding around me.
We followed the meandering path of the stream, through the plains. It grew wider and swifter as traveled on, the world around us beginning to change, growing a bit rockier. Soon the little river was cutting through a canyon far, far below us. A heavy, pallid mist enwrapped the earth like a thick woolen blanket, wetly stifling the sun.
I quickly grew bored of walking.
After three days, it grew almost unbearable.
It was an especially foggy day when Gryndor offered to teach me the secrets of the universe. All the details of the world were hidden away by the miasma around us. Growing increasingly restless, I had taken to walking in meandering patterns, weaving behind my companions, sometimes even walking backwards.
Gryndor seemed to notice my agitation. “Would you like me to teach you a little… something?” He asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The deer, walking on my left, looked down at me as though I’d lost my mind. “I would like to teach you magic, of course,” he said, as though it should have been obvious.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Daale put in, padding along quietly on my other side.
“Is it dangerous?” I asked worriedly. “Not that I’d mind,” I added quickly, afraid he’d change his mind.
“No, it’s not. It’s perfectly safe.” Gryndor replied forcefully. “And it should be fairly easy, too.”
Once it became clear that Daale’s objections weren’t going to change my mind, Gryndor went to work at once. “Now, the first spell you’re going to learn is how to create a fireball. This is very important, because you need something to defend yourself.”
I had to agree. Everything in this land seemed to be bigger, stronger, faster, and meaner than me.
“Now… close your eyes and think about fire. Don’t let any other thoughts intervene.” I closed my eyes and kept walking, stilling my wildest thoughts until all I could sense was the rocky earth beneath my bare feet.
I pictured a bonfire, like the kind the men in my father’s rodeo used to build at night. A massive, roaring inferno fed by a small forest of logs, a tower of heat and light reaching into the sky. I imagined it crackling and popping, endlessly hungry. “Now picture that fire in the palms of your hands.” Gryndor whispered quietly. “Picturing it transforming into the shape of a globe, a compact little ball, floating just above your hands. It kisses your hands with warmth but it does not burn your flesh.”
I did so, holding out both of my arms without realizing. My palms began to grow increasingly warm. I felt lightheaded, giddy. “Now picture that fireball flying forward, on a trajectory of your choosing,” Once again I followed orders. I pictured the ball flying up into the sky and was rewarded with a loud fwoooosh. I opened my eyes and saw a little orb of fire hurling away through the mist toward the veiled sun above.
I felt a strange sort of pull from my feet, as if they’d been frozen to the ground for a second. “Quickly! Quickly! Name your new spell. Once trapped with a name, you won’t have to think for so long to summon it again.”
“Ghoma Ignio.” I didn’t know what the words met, I spoke them without thinking. A strange pattern of interlocking black circles snaked its way up my arm for a moment before vanishing. Suddenly I felt woozy, my eyelids heavier than lead. I stumbled, and Gryndor had to catch me before I plummeted to the earth.
“There.” He said. “It is done. Now you must be careful, for magic will consume energy from within your body. I can teach you techniques to offset this, but until then you must be very, very careful.” I nodded, feeling sleep overtaking me. The last thing I felt was my body being draped over Daale’s back once again. “Don’t worry,” the wizard said, his voice sounding far away. “It’ll get easier with time…”
The last thing I heard was Daale’s voice. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” The sorcerer said something sharp in reply, but I fell asleep before I heard it.
I awoke more suddenly than I expected, my feet cold. I was not as groggy as I’d been before. As I looked around, I saw the mist was releasing its grip ever so slightly. We were still on an incline, the world still rising and growing rockier.
The grasses were losing their grip here, receding like spent ocean waves. There was still plenty of green, but it was all in scrubby grass and scraggly bushes now. The trees, however, were becoming more dominant. A line of them, a pine forest, spread ahead of us. Further out, mountains loomed. We’d gone in a big half circle of sorts, meaning Uryn wasn’t too terribly far to the south.
We were deep in bear territory once again.
“Take care, child. We are in dangerous country now,” Daale told me as I took to walking again, almost as if to affirm my suspicions. I couldn’t believe how much energy I’d drained creating that fireball. How much of my time in this world had I spent unconscious? By my count I’d fallen to prey to unwanted sleep nearly half a dozen times.
“The labor camp is yet a day off still,” Gryndor told me. I tried to suppress a groan. I didn’t know if horses existed here, but I couldn’t help wishing for one, though I had to suppose they wouldn’t let me have a ride even if they did. “This forest is a common haunt for thieves and vagabonds, so keep your wits about you.”
“Bring them on,” I declared boldly.
“Do not make light the danger we rush toward,” Gryndor told me severely. “From here on, it only grows.”
I nodded, doing my best to sound solemn, in spite of the thrill the word ‘marauder’ had put into me. I didn’t know what a vagabond was, but I felt certain I wanted to meet one. I wouldn’t learn what it meant that day, but I wouldn’t have to wait long for marauders.
A harsh voice burst from the treeline. “Halt there, scamps. This forest is not for traveling. Be on your way.” I could see shadows scattered around the fir trees, but I couldn’t make out what sort of creatures were hidden there. I could only see that they looked large and menacing.
“We mean no harm,” the prince said firmly. “Delay us at your peril.”
“The peril is yours alone,” a different voice replied. Behind us. We whirled to find ourselves surrounded. A half dozen panthers dressed in leather tunics stood there, weapons at the ready. The black cats were enormous, standing taller than both my companions, and easily towering over me. I could hardly believe they’d managed to slip behind us undetected.
I looked to Daale. Would he cave now that we were badly outnumbered?
He snarled and drew his weapon. Gryndor began to reach for something in one of the little satchels strapped to his waist. “It’s unwise to pick a fight with a grizzly and a sorcerer,” he muttered. It would be a fight then.
I readied the only weapon I had at my disposal, the solitary bit of magic I’d been taught. I mentally prepared myself, ready to watch for the right moment. From that moment on, everything seemed to begin happening at once. The watchers from the wood began to launch arrows at the same instant that the six sneaks charged forward to attack.
Gryndor threw up a hand, summoning a brick wall that blocked off all the projectiles. Meanwhile, Daale moved to intercept the brunt of the onslaught coming our way. Before he could do a thing, I held up both my hands and cried “Ghoma Ignio!” at the top of my lungs. An interlacing web of black circles crawled up my arm, and my whole body began to feel strange.
This time, instead of a petty little think not much bigger than my head, an enormous orb of fire appeared. It was not only bigger than my body, it was bigger than Daale. Once it grew too big to keep between my arms, I stepped back in disbelief and the thing flew off. It spun like a miniature sun flung from its orbit and smacked right into the marauders.
The beasts didn’t even slow it down.
The fireball rolled across the ground, burning a rift in the earth. I could still hear it even as the world curved out of sight. It sizzled on until it hit the canyon, now far to the southeast. In its wake all that remained was the burned out path that had been forged, and the bones of its victims.
I clenched my teeth, fighting against the exhaustion I knew was coming. A silence seemed to reign in the wake of what I’d just done. I knew it was monumental beyond reckoning, impossibly herculean, and I couldn’t help feeling a little proud.
But mostly I just didn’t want to fall asleep again.
“Well that makes things easier,” Daale muttered, lowering his weapon with an air of disappointment.
I turned back to find that Gryndor’s brick wall was melting. The stone looked more like a marshmallow losing its shape than any sort of sturdy structure now. It seemed his conjurations came with limits.
I was prepared to duck, but no assault was forthcoming. “Our attackers have fled,” I observed. The words came out heavy as molasses, my exhaustion threatening not to let me speak at all.
“Yes.” Gryndor replied impatiently. “Did you think they were going to stick around and ask us to brunch? Stop fighting it. You need to go to sleep.”
I shook my head. “No,” I insisted stubbornly.
The wizard acted as though he hadn’t heard. “When next you wake, we might need you to play along. From here on, the danger only grows.” He tapped his hand against my forehead. I saw thick black fingernails like hooves pressed into my skin, and just like that, I collapsed to the earth. I was out so quickly, I couldn’t even tell you if someone caught me, or if I simply hit the ground.
Once again Daale had something less than pleased to say about this, but I couldn’t make out what was said this time. If Gryndor replied, I certainly never heard it.
Low voices. Low times.
Perhaps I was the only one who didn’t see it that way.