Friday, October 31, 2014

Monthly Reading List: October

Top Row: Gaudy Night, Sapphire Blue and Revenge of Seven
Bottom Row: Cress and K is for Killer
*Not pictured: Heartless, TimeRiders, and Chronicles of Steele: Raven (Episode II)





TimeRiders (Alex Scarrow)
Verdict: It was a cliched premise and the adventure was very much stereotypical, but the treatment was very much enjoyable, all the same!
Three seemingly random individuals from three vastly different points in time are all convened in a time bubble by a man from a future society that has figured out time travel, whereupon it became something highly dangerous and disreputable, much like cooking meth or drag racing. There are those (like this man) who have a healthy respect and an understanding of its effects, and a desire to avoid misusing it, and there are others who unfortunately also know about this "scientific miracle" and want to use it toward their own ends: namely, gain world power by going back and giving Hitler the edge he needs to win the World War.
Honestly, I was expecting something a little more than a glorified Nickelodeon TV show experience, but all the same, the characters were well-done (especially Bob; I liked Bob a lot) and I did not get bored through it all! 

Heartless, Tales of Goldstone Wood #1 (Anne Elisabeth Stengl)
Recommended to me on the stipulation of "brand-new twist", but as far as actual characters go, this was pretty typical. I am a sucker for all things Faerie, though, so of course I liked it!
There are a royal brother and sister, motherless and carefree, till word gets around that the king's health is fading, then the pair are inundated with suitors for the fair princess, each one desirous more for power and riches than for the bride herself—all except the mysterious Prince Aethelbald, who professes to rule a kingdom everyone considered a myth, and who has many more secrets than any Princess Una has ever met. Appearances can be deceiving, all is not what it seems—and the thing that promises to please her most may be the kingdom's undoing. 
Verdict: I loved the pretty fairy-tale scenery and the strong allegories throughout this story. This one is definitely a winner.

Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)
Verdict: How unfortunate that this seemed to be a mystery featuring Harriet Vane more than Lord Peter... But it was still a good mystery. 
A college reunion made ominous by a mysterious "poltergeist" who has evidently a bone to pick with several members of the school, and is not afraid to use extreme measures for the purpose of revenge. The thing I like about the way Sayers writes, though, is her characters are very much distinct and realistic--not a cliche or stereotypical woman in the lot of them! Women "detectives" in fiction tend to be the preppy, peppy, nosy, chatty type (like Miss Marple or Nancy Drew), but Harriet Vane is suitably realistic and relatable. Like her, I almost missed the outrageous presence of Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey and his taciturn sidekick Bunter, but the mystery kept me guessing and diverted long enough... and the presence of his nephew, Viscount St. George is a reasonable facsimile. What always entertains me in these novels is the relative "mainstream" of Viscounts and Lords... too often the classics we read are so early that the titles are borne with heavy weight of duty and the stoic shouldering of a noble burden--but to the men of Wimsey, it's just a fluffy title that makes people so bothered, and hampers ones ability to behave like the carefree person they desire to be--even though the fortune that comes with said title enables all sorts of flights of fancy. 
Sayers' mystery is littered with red herrings, misdirections, subtle clues, casual remarks, and hi-jinks that keep you turning the pages long into the night!

The Revenge of Seven, Lorien Legacies #5 (Pittacus Lore)
Verdict: Wow. Not quite what I was expecting, but an awesome installment, all the same. 
After the events of "Fall of Five" (Ella is captured by the Mogadorians and Five betrays the group and kills Eight) the gang is still reeling. The growing awareness of just how pervasive the Mogadorian presence is on Earth only serves to increase the tension and the urgency. 
Compared to the previous books, not much "happens" in this one, but I appreciated the character development that went on in spite of that. Too many writers get wrapped up in lobbing apocalypses at their characters, they don't really have time to do much beyond reaction and damage control.
This time around, we find out more about the mysterious Tenth Garde, more about their shadowy nemesis, Setrakus Ra, and a whole lot more about Lorien and the characters we have hitherto known in predominantly combative settings. A decent book, and fitting installment for a series that is not over yet, by a long shot!

Sapphire Blue, Precious Stone Trilogy #2 (Kerstin Gier)
Verdict: Oh good heavens! More of everything, and this series just keeps right on going!
More time travel, but this time, Gwyneth's trips are preplanned and a lot more regulated than they were at first. 
More scenes between her and Gideon as the two of them get to know each other (and are steadily falling more in love, as teens in YA novels are apt to do!).
More about the history of the Guardians and the prophecy everyone seems to realize is referring somehow to Gwyneth. She doesn't seem to be getting it, and nobody wants to explain anything to her, but every time a character repeats a rhyme I get a sense of what just might be to come!
More ghosts... Only this time it's a "demon" in the form of a gargoyle. Every bit as entertaining a character as James or Robert, but infinitely more willing to interfere with others and spy for Gwyneth's sake.
More wonderfulness overall, and I am excited to read the final installment!

Cress, Lunar Chronicles #3 (Marissa Meyer)
Verdict: Whee! I am breathless, I am tense, I am giggling like a crazy person... And I could not be happier with this series!!
What Gier has done with Cinderella, with Red Riding Hood, and now with Rapunzel is so much more wonderful than anything I have ever seen, or (I believe) will ever see in the future! Her writing is a spectacular example of how to foreshadow without ever letting on that you're foreshadowing... for example, she introduces the airship Rampion in the last book... but I was halfway through this one before I suddenly realized... "Wait a minute.... RAMPION!" and suddenly it was hilarious and delightful. She adds characters each time, and they're all connected somehow, (Cinder is searching for Scarlet's grandmother, and Cress is the girl who first contacted Cinder to let her know that the Lunar Queen was up to no good!) and I am hopelessly and shamelessly in love with each and every one of them! 
Anybody who loves both sci-fi and fairy tales simply must get their hands on these first three books of the Lunar Chronicles... 
Meanwhile I am on absolute pins-and-needles for the release of the fourth (and final?) book, Winter. Any guesses which fairy tale Meyer will be taking on next? The release date is November 2015--but hey, I'm a Sherlock girl--I know how to hiatus!

K is for Killer, Kinsey Millhone #11 (Sue Grafton)
Verdict: Well, this installment was somewhat a relief after last one... more like the other books in the series that I have enjoyed. (and I'm not quite halfway yet!) 
 Grafton is back in action with yet another mystery that Kinsey solves in time to chase after the culprit alone while said murderer attempts then to murder her. (Book 11, you'd think she would figure it out if she's so "whip-smart"; but Grafton does use the moment to reveal how the killer performed the first murder, and it's always something different, so it's not like it gets old or anything...)
This time around, she's asked to look into an apparent suicide by the victim's mother--who is convinced it was murder when a mysterious video tape that should not have existed suddenly shows up in the mail. Turns out the dead girl worked as an escort on the side, so Kinsey must delve into the shady world of prostitution and porn in all its glitzy glamor and double-dealing depravity. She does it all with a fine sense of her own identity (no insecurities in this woman!) and uncovers the killer even in the midst of deliberate misdirection, omission, stonewalling, and all manner of occupational hazards.
It wasn't the best mystery I have ever read--but, so help me, I will make it through this series!

Chronicles of Steele: Raven, Episode II (Pauline Creeden)
Verdict: Oh good grief! If I thought the cliffhanger at the first episode was painful, this was infinitely more so! The action increases in this second installment, and doesn't let up from beginning to end.
In this all-to-brief installment, we learn more about Raven's shadowy past, about the legacy of the Reapers, and we get to see her finally come face to face with the man intent on tracking her down, Captain Jack Grant. The Captain himself, having at first taken the word of the duke who hired him to apprehend a kidnapper, begins to realize that all is not as his client would have him believe, and there is something definitely strange about these mysterious Reapers, but not malicious or evil. 
One thing is for sure: Chronicles of Steele is shaping up to be a steampunk series not to be missed on any account! The race is on, with more questions than answers, and everything is not as it seems for anyone. I recently purchased the full novel, so I am excited to be able to review it as a whole once I read it!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--The Exchange

Image from a Google search


"Milady! Lady Ylaine! Highness! Wake up!"

Ylaine blinked. Giles stood over her, desperate to awaken her. The sun shone brightly through the window. Why was he so worried? Ylaine felt her hands; why was she wearing gloves? She moved to take them off—then stopped in horror as her skin began to come away with them! Suddenly everything that happened the previous day came back to her in a rush, and she gave such a gasp that her dry gills crackled. She looked up at Giles and tried to ask him for water to moisten her throat, but it was so dry, no sound could pass her lips.

"Wa....wa—wa—" she panted.

The faithful servant understood. He grabbed the fresh jug from the maid and handed it to her. Ylaine gratefully filled her lungs with the liquid.

"Must get...to Nathan!" she cried, pulling her heavy body out of bed. Instead of standing, she collapsed on the floor. Her legs were as limp as fish tails. Giles dove forward and supported her weak body.

"I am afraid you are too late, your highness," he mourned, "The others have already left for the carnival. There will be no hope of finding them now."

Ylaine looked mournfully at her hands. "That's not...the worst..." She offered Giles a hand. Already, the glove hung from it, half-off, revealing the scaled, webbed appendage underneath. She met eyes with the astonished young man.

"I must...get to water... soon!"

Giles immediately gripped the wet, fishy hand in his own dry, firm one.
"Come with me, your Highness."

>>>>>>

An hour later, the prince's servant hurried down the lane toward the place where the forest met the edge of the island.

"Nearly there, your Highness!" Giles whispered to the barrow full of burlap sacks.

He had tucked Ylaine into it, and saturated the sacks so that she could at the very least breathe. In this manner he brought her all the way to a small cove enclosed in the hanging branches of a weeping willow.
"We have arrived, princess," he told her, pulling off the bags to expose her face.

"Leave me here," she instructed. "Wait outside."
Giles hesitated. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Ylaine nodded, "Go now." She didn't want him to see how terribly desperate she had become.

The minute Giles withdrew, Ylaine practically threw herself out of the barrow and to the water's edge. Her gills flared open wide as she gulped the life-giving water. Her arms were losing their skin already as she reached into the folds of her dress for the mier she had hidden there. Ylaine placed the smooth, round shell against the bank, and it attached itself with a slurping sound. Desperately, Ylaine swung her arm as hard as she could and the shell broke open. She could not hear it above the water, but, as she had promised, the lean form of Nayidia appeared just under the surface. Ylaine dipped her face into the water to speak with her.

"Kelpling!" Nayidia smiled. "How are you? Have you come to reclaim your gift? Did you find the human you were looking for?"
"Yes, I found him, but—oh Nayidia! I need more time!"
"More time?" Nayidia examined the young face above her. "What do you mean? Doesn't he love you?"
Ylaine's chin trembled. "Never mind, there isn't time to explain," she muttered. "Do you still have my gift?"
"Your fairy gift?" Nayidia gestured to the green stone hanging around her neck. "I have it right here. Would you like it back?"
Perhaps if she could sing to Nathan, make him wise enough to see what the Princess was doing, perhaps that would solve everything. "Yes!" She cried.
"Very well," said Nayidia, coyly playing with her braids. "But it's not going to be for free."
Ylaine forced her thoughts away from Nathan to focus on what her godmother had just said. "But Nayidia," she spluttered. "You said that if I wanted it—"
"That was if you had secured the human's love and were going to remain human forever, wasn't it?" Nayidia reminded her. "Anybody can see that's not the case, Kelpling." She pointed as a flap of human skin from Ylaine's cheek broke free and floated away in the water.

"I propose a new bargain," the mermaid continued. "Pendant for pendant: I give you the stone with your gift, and you," she pointed to the space beneath Ylaine's chin, "give me the golden shell."
Ylaine's hand flew to the article in question. "What? But Nayidia, that is my birthright!"
Nayidia absently picked at one of her braids. "And a lot of good it would do you if you're going to decide to remain human!" She fixed Ylaine with those clear, icy-blue eyes. "That is what you want, isn't it?"

Ylaine fought within herself; she had hoped the necklace would serve as a reminder to her of the other place where her loyalties lay–but she would still always remember the sea without it, wouldn't she? Certainly giving it up would mean giving up being a mermaid altogether—but if Nathan really did love her, and if being human meant saving both their kingdoms, did that not matter more than being accepted into the mer-community?

She unclasped the golden cowrie. "Very well," she sighed.

Nayidia smiled sympathetically as she handed the green stone to Ylaine. "I know how hard this must be for you, Kelpling—you must truly believe in he cause of the land-dwellers."
"I believe in a cause driven by love," Ylaine affirmed. She prepared to return to attempting to breathe air again. "Thank you, Nayidia—"

"Wait." The mermaid seemed to consider something deeply. "Before you go, I want to give you something." She reached into the pouch about her waist and pulled out a small vial.
"More potion?" An irrational hope welled in Ylaine's chest.
"Yes; it's some of the one-day potion I had brewing for your birthday. I know it's not much, but—"
Ylaine snatched it up when Nayidia held it out to her. "Oh, thank you, Nayidia."
The mermaid smiled. "It is the least I can do for my Kelpling. If this works, I suppose I shan't ever see you again."

Ylaine smiled at her dear friend. "With my gift, I can always call you, Nayidia."

Nayidia popped her gills dubiously. "We shall see," she said, and took her leave.


Ylaine pulled her face out of the water and instantly felt short of breath again. She almost could not uncork the vial and drink some, but she managed a few drops of what little there was.

The effect was instantaneous. Her gills seared over again, and her muscles firmed up, so that she no longer felt like she was melting. Ylaine replaced the cork and looked at the green stone hanging from the chain. She fastened the chain around her neck, and the moment she did, the stone glowed brightly with an icy intensity, and she felt her lungs and throat expanding to welcome the fairy gift back into their midst. Ylaine took a deep breath, and as she listened to the resonance of the tree, the grass, the water around her, she fancied she could even hear the music of the carnival—


The carnival! Ylaine scrambled to her feet and back out into the open.

"Giles!" She called—and nearly laughed to hear the old ring in her voice once more. Oh, how she had missed that!
He appeared, looking very shocked and puzzled. "Your Highness?"
Ylaine guessed that he was probably wondering at not only her voice but also how she had managed to rejuvenate her entire appearance.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Musings: To Sojourn in Nineveh

 
Jonah was likely a very great prophet. I dare say that among all the prophet-judges of the era, he was exceptionally skilled at his job. He walks into town, and people smile and cheer. The Israelites supported him, appreciated him, and he felt like he could tackle anything, however unexpected, that could ever happen there. 
 
Of course, as a prophet he would know that it was not his merit that had filled his life with such grace and blessing. He recognizes that it is God who delights to give good gifts to His children. 
He's looking forward to another week of wonderful work that is almost more rewarding with every effort he exerts into it.

Then God says, "Go to Nineveh."

Jonah asks, "Really, God? Are you sure? Well... It's just for a few days, right?"

And God says, "I will let you know."

Jonah shrugs; for the sake of this story, he hasn't really heard much about Nineveh. How bad could it be?

Jonah's Journal:

Day 1—Oh dear God, this is not what I signed up for. Did you see the authorities having to arrest an unruly man? How can anybody spend six hours just screaming? It scares me that every "house" I have visited so far has a huge dent in the wall—big enough for a person's foot or head sometimes! God, all I can do is sit here. I can't even talk to these people. It's like we don't speak the same language. I am just a placeholder. Can I go back to working in Israel tomorrow?

Day 2—Seriously, God? You want two more days? I could cry right now.  This is a waste of the gifts you gave me. Yeah, sure, I have started teaching again... Trying to... Out of boredom, more than anything. Still, God, if I wanted to be the resident preacher in Nineveh, I think I would have asked to be sent here, right? I simply cannot see how in the world I can be the least bit effective, and definitely not as effective as I was back in Israel. In Israel, I could give the people answers and they would listen and heed; in Nineveh, the people not only do not trust me, they don't trust anybody but themselves! Like the person who was convinced that following my advice would get him into trouble, or the one who was so convicted about absolutely nothing that he spent the entire day wailing about how sorry he was and would not hear any encouragement to the contrary! God, I can still hear his cries in my head! This is doing nothing for my sanity or my usefulness. Don't you want me to be useful, God? 

Day 3—Okay, all right, fine. This has gotta be the last day, right? I am back to just sitting. Good grief, it has been a hard day. So many intense fights! People screaming at each other—how can they think that this behavior is okay? In what universe does screaming and cussing out the other person get what you want? These people have no concept of cause and effect, no desire to behave well. I have stayed this long, Lord; doesn't that count for something? Can I be done now?

Day 4—This is not the sort of work I should be getting paid for. Please just send me back to Israel! Just for one day! I miss it, God! I know that I have been filling in where all they need is an extra body... But God, I never intended to just be "an extra body." Surely You understand that I am worth more than that! Today was especially hard because I hear the Israelites are asking about me. And I was so looking forward to celebrating with them tomorrow! God, this is Your last chance, okay? Please let me go back! Today was just AWKWARD.

Day 5—Wow, a whole week has gone. It has been really hard, God. But today wasn't so bad after all. And I see that You weren't trying to purge me of anything or chastise me for a fault of some sort that incurred my week-long stay in Nineveh. All I had to do, God, was be willing to function on Your timetable. Because I really don't know for sure whether suddenly I will show up to work and there's no message for Israel, You're sending me somewhere else. The point is to pour just as much investment and energy no matter where I am working, because my professional responsibility is still the same level. Thank You, God, for the opportunity to learn that.
 
<<<<<>>>>>

In case you were wondering, yes—this whole scenario is a reflection and allegory for my own week in "educational Nineveh"—a place I would never volunteer to go at any point in my career, a place where learning is just an annoying thing that the staff is trying to force upon kids whose every thought is toward playtime and pleasure. 
 
From first grade to twelfth, not a one of them seemed to consider actually getting smart and having a career as a viable goal. They all had mental, psychological, or behavior disorders that required medication. Their only thought was "survive the day at any cost." Why waste one's life trying to figure out what costal landforms were valuable to eighteenth-century traders? That is not survival skills. Why do math? It just keeps getting more difficult, and that's why we have calculators, right? 
 
All the "incidents" described above are references to actual student behaviors. It was dragging, it was polar-opposite to the job I wanted to do... But at the same time, it was still work, and my presence—however inept—was still very much appreciated and filled a need that no one else apparently had a mind to. And I dare say I might have enjoyed some moments at some points during the week. All by the grace of the same God who gives me grace for a "normal" workday. I am still myself, no matter where I am working, and He is still Himself. I can still give it my best and depend on Him to direct the events of the day.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #13


Suggested by: Julieann Wright

The List:
Name: Seth
Place: Train Station
Time: Fall
Object: A Coin
The Result:

Darren regained consciousness, but he could not move. He could feel his eyelids so puffed with bruising that no amount of exertion could get them open further than a sliver.
The goblins had worked till he passed out, but they were gone now. Faith was safe. He had not told them anything.
His head throbbed where they had pounded him with clubs; his sides ached where they had stuck him with javelins. They had tied ropes around his wrists and ankles and nearly quartered him. Finally the blackness had consumed him, and Darren had slipped away from the pain.
A steady dripping echoed from deeper into the cavern underneath Alexander VanTussel's stately mansion. A single torch near the front of the room cast a sputtering, yellowed light to within three feet of Darren's cell, but no further. He lay in the hard-packed dirt, just waiting for unconsciousness to claim him again.
Footsteps crunched, but Darren was beyond resisting anymore. They could just go ahead and kill him, for all he cared. He wondered if Faith and Courtland had reached Orkney by now. Soon the Midnight Dragon would be beyond the reach of anybody... And then what?

"What the—Darren?

Darren didn't know what surprised him more: the human voice when he expected goblins, or the fact that he knew the voice, despite not having heard it in years. Slowly, he rolled his body toward the bars of his cell.

"Seth?" He croaked.

His old friend stepped into the light of the torch. His face was much older than the last time they'd seen each other, at the end of the fall term at university, gearing up to join their respective families for the holidays. But nonetheless, as Seth stood at the bars of the cage, peering in, Darren knew—or he hoped—that his friend remained the same.
Seth grinned. "You always did have a thing for young damsels and quests for destiny, didn't you?"

What did he—was he mocking Darren? The prisoner grimaced as he heaved himself to a sitting position.
"Seth," he moaned, "what are you—"
"Oh, save your breath," Seth sneered. "If you were any bit as good a Protector as you fancied yourself, you would have seen me there at the train station in Lancaster, following you... and the Ecrivaine."
Thoughts and emotions rattled around Darren's mind, and he wagged his head in a futile attempt to clear it. "Y-you... You're with him?" He panted.
Seth grinned, but the mirth was gone. "Of course; I'm the one who told VanTussel where you were. You might have lost the Ecrivaine by the time I found you—but I know what she looks like, so we'll find her again."

Like a candle in the rain, the hope sputtered and died. Desperately, Darren lunged for the bars. "No!" He made it halfway and scrabbled at the dirt. "You can't do this! You don't know—"
"About the dragon?" Seth cut in again, slipping his hands into his pockets with an air of nonchalance. "About the incredible power it would bring—"
"It would destroy Earth!"
"You idiot," Seth snarled. "He doesn't want to deal with Earth! He wants Phantasm!"
Darren frowned at the strange word. "What?"
"VanTussel wants to rule the Dragon's world, Phantasm. He wants to use the restraints that the Dragon has here–the Ring and the Ecrivaine—to harness it before he returns with it and sets himself over that world."

Darren snorted, but there was too much blood in his nose and instead he gave a wet, gurgling cough. "And you think he's gonna share that with you?"
Seth shook his head. "No; I know that's never going to happen, he's said as much. I'm here for you, old friend."

Darren gestured to his bars. "Not quite the scene I pictured you saying that in," he commented.
The gloating facade slipped for a moment, and Seth took his hands out of his pockets. "Darn you, Darren! Why couldn't you just tell the man what he wanted to know? What's so important that you had to keep mum?"
Darren smirked as well as he could with a fat lip and leaned his head back on the rough stone wall. "I'm a Protector, Seth," he mumbled, "It's what I do." He raised his head and looked right at his former friend. "What are you?"

"You're a fool, Darren," Seth snapped. 
Grunting and growling down the hall signaled the return of the goblins. Suddenly Seth seemed eager not to get caught standing at the cage. He backed into the shadows.

"I'll be back to watch you die!" He yelled—a little too loudly, Darren thought. Something glinted as it sailed through the air from one of Seth's hands, and clanked as it hit the ground and rolled through the bars to Darren's feet. He quickly snatched it up before the goblins arrived to torture him again. By the time he looked up, Seth had vanished. Darren looked at the object in his hand.

It was a coin. Grinning, Darren tucked the coin where the goblins wouldn't find it. He would need it later to make his escape. He only hoped it would be in time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reader's Review: "Thornburg's Daughter" by Rose Withering


Synopsis from Amazon:
A young man with a prophesied destiny grows up hearing a fairy tale about a beautiful Elvin Princess who is trapped in a tower. When he is older he falls in love and gives up his destiny to be with her. One night a baby is left on his doorstep with a piece of paper attached to her blanket. It is a page from The Fantastic Tales of Mystique, a forgotten Chronicle of a mystical land that is tied to his prophesied destiny and written by his own great grandfather.

[From the book cover]
"The end of the Age of the Guardians will come to pass with the start of a great war..."

Martin Thornburg loved his great-grandfather's fairy tales until he learned that they were not just fairy tales. Martin leaves Scotland with the intention of never returning until a baby girl is left on his doorstep  with a prophesied destiny that links to his.

My Review:
Okay, I was not entirely familiar with the blurb before I read the book... I had only had a brief summary from the author herself and I knew I wanted to read the story. Wow! I can verify that the above synopsis really does not do the story justice! Shape-shifting elves, an evil witch who will stop at nothing to prevent the prophecy from coming true, a woman who doesn't believe in magic and the young girl at the heart of it all who not only has to deal with being mocked because she is different, but also the fact that she is apparently the savior of a realm that she never even knew existed!

Martin had a destiny, but he thought he could give it up to be with Tara. Then Elle appears in their lives, and when Martin discovers that this little baby is in fact the Elvish princess from the world he'd left behind, he must learn that destiny always has a way of catching up to even the most reluctant heroes.

Rose Withering has produced a novel of epic proportions. The amateur formatting and the constant streams of dialogue might seem off-putting at first, but trust me, you do not want to miss this tale! I loved all of the characters involved, and the way the energy of the story does not let up from start to finish. Her enthusiasm leaches off of every page. She takes the typical "Child of Destiny" trope and bolsters it with unique characters, intriguing lore, and a legacy that captivates the imagination. The sheer amount of creativity it took to produce a story like this makes me excited for what Rose Withering will be writing next!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Phantasm, Part 2: "Beasts And Other Beings"

Painting by Pamela Poole
 Dragons
The magical world of Phantasm is home to many of the creatures we on Earth believe to be hoaxes and myths. The greatest of these is without a doubt the dragon. Dragons’ scales are similar to a snake’s, but much larger and thicker. They have long, thick, serpentine necks, and they possess pointing snouts full of savage, sharp teeth, a crest of horns around their heads, and a flexible tail with a pointed barb at the end. These winged behemoths bear greatness not out of fear and coerciveness, but borne out of respect. They are typically reclusive, which makes their infrequent appearances in the lives of the other Phantasmians all the more prominent. Typically, dragons, with their keen senses (they can sense emotions) and longevity (meaning they live through several generations of the other creatures) contributing to their understanding of the ways of other creatures, serve as harbingers of war or world-changing news. When one is visited by a dragon, you can be sure that being will play an important role in an impending event. The single greatest gift bestowed by a Dragon is Dragon-Voice. Only non-dragons can receive Dragon-Voice (obviously) and to receive it, the being must perform a task or make a decision that deems it worthy of a Name from the Dragon-Namer (usually the Clan-leader’s offspring or mate) and become a member of the Dragon-Clan.
Names are a very serious concept among dragons; before this “proving” (which even a young dragon must experience), a dragon is merely given the generic name “dragon,” which is their equivalent of our name “baby” or “newbie.” Once a dragon has proved itself, though, the Dragon-Namer gives it a name that often has special meaning based on the role that dragon (or non-dragon) will have in a future event or conflict. Once a name is given, the being (whether dragon or non-dragon) is a Brother or Sister in the Dragon-Clan. With Dragon-Voice, a non-dragon can speak to and understand Dragon. In situations of dire need, a dragon (or a non-dragon with Dragon-Voice) may call the name of the clan (usually also the name of the Clan-leader) and according to Dragon-Law, every dragon who hears it must come or risk being branded with the name “Worm” for the rest of its life. The worm is the lowest life-form to a dragon. To be named as such is the worst degradation known to dragon. Very frequently, a dragon wounded in battle will suffer infection of the untreated wound, and soon it is infested with the vile “worm.” A dragon infected with the worms is either cast out of his clan, regardless of his rank, or he is willingly slain by a dragon enemy, for no dragon will kill another dragon. 

Unicorns
            Second only to the dragon is the majestic unicorn. Pure, glistening white, the unicorn is a valiant, noble creature, often chosen as a guardian or protector. A newborn unicorn does not have a horn; it begins growing shortly after birth. As it grows, the horn is milky-white in color. Once a unicorn reaches maturity and the horn reaches its full length, the milky-white coating sloughs off and the unicorn’s assignment of protection is decided by the color of the horn beneath. A unicorn’s horn is transparent, like a diamond; its conical surface is completely smooth, and tapers from its head like a long sword. Typically the color is clear, (protecting the creatures in the mountains), blue (protecting the Lake-creatures), green (protecting the little folk: elves and fairies and such), or amber (protecting the towns). Very rarely, a unicorn has a red horn. A red-horned unicorn has the especial privilege of protecting the Phantasmagyth.

A Word On The Phantasmagyth
The Phantasmagyth serves as the protection of Phantasm. Its appearance is like that of a large, clear jewel set in gold, with an ornate gold chain attached to it. The Phantasmagyth remains around the neck of the red-horned unicorn, and as long as that is the case, no outsider can enter Phantasm. If an outsider does enter, by contrived artificial or mechanical means, this is a threat to the red-horned unicorn, and all of the other guardian-unicorns will seek to monitor the intruder and keep the Phantasmagyth safe at all costs. If an intruder either kills the red-horned unicorn or by trickery, flattery, or other false means obtains the Phantasmagyth, that intruder—whomever he may be—has complete control over all the beings in Phantasm except the dragons. They must obey his order, no matter what. It may be that the intruder is a human from Earth, and perhaps he has managed to bring the Phantasmagyth back with him, and he activates the Phantasmagyth (by placing the chain on the setting of the Phantasmagyth; in the event of an emergency, the red-horned unicorn can separate the two parts, the Chain and the gyth, which becomes nothing more than a large, sparkling gem; the real power of the Phantasmagyth is in the Chain) on Earth. If this were to happen, he would have dominion over all the beings on Earth, and the capacity to force them to do whatever he wants. This is why it is so vastly important to every creature in Phantasm to protect the Phantasmagyth, and why it is such a high honor for the red-horned unicorn, of which there can only be one at a time. 

Unicorns can speak, though you need fairy dust to understand them. (In fact, a human needs fairy dust to understand most of the creatures in Phantasm except the dragons, who communicate only to those with Dragon-Voice, the gryphons, whom no one can understand, the trolls, and the dwarves.)

Little Folk
            To explain fairy dust, I must first describe fairies. The Little Folk of Phantasm are divided into two genders: Elves and Fairies. I say “genders” because all girls are fairies, and all boys are elves. The Little Folk of Phantasm are not miniscule, and they do not look like flowers; they look more like people, only they are six inches high on average. So you see, compared with the common conception of fairies, real fairies are much taller.
Fairies have hands and feet just like we do, (no curly-toed shoes), and are generally pale (not a glass-like skin tone, but more fair-skinned), but it is really their faces that set them apart from us in the matter of appearance. A fairy’s eyes are shaped like large almonds, and her eyebrows are shaped like a wide V. Fairies’ ears are pointed, but not just at the top. The earlobes are pointed, too, giving the organ an elliptical shape. Fairies have wings; elves don’t. Fairies’ wings are not at all like butterfly wings; they’re more like a swallow’s wings, unfolding from behind their backs when they fly and tucking in when they are still. The wings are typically white, with a pearly sheen to them. Fairies do not glow either, at least not all the time. The movement of their wings causes them to illuminate.

A word about fairy dust: it doesn’t make you fly. It almost looks like mustard powder with a very faint sheen to it; the fairy dust serves as a translator. Putting it in your ears helps you understand the fairy (who speaks in little bell-noises, like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan). The fairy dust will also “translate” the speech of any other creature, such as unicorns or the merfolk. If you’re daring (or desperate) you can also put a little bit on your tongue to help you speak to the creatures who don’t understand human-speech (or even other humans who don’t speak English). Be careful though: fairy dust tastes like a tongue-scorching combination of hot mustard and red pepper!

Some other varieties of Little Folk are: Biitals, small, furry, eyeless creatures that live among the grass in the Meadow, and “see” through extremely sensitive tentacles; gnomes, three-inch tall grey creatures with small hands and big yellow eyes; and dryads, small pixies around four inches tall, whose duty it is to release the blossoms and leaves from the trees to make room for the new ones to grow. (This is so because the sun is in a fixed place in the outer membrane, and therefore no seasons in Phantasm.)

Gryphons
High up in the trees of the Glades (and in caves around the Sayhoun Mountains) live the gryphons. They have the head of a golden eagle, gigantic wings, and the strong, sinewy body of a lion. Their paws are shaped like lion’s paws, but since they are both eagle and lion, the claws are large and long like an eagle’s talons. Gryphons are carnivores, feasting on the wild lamb-like creature, the resia, who do not bother anyone, but graze constantly on the grass in the Meadow and around the trees. Resia look very much like fat lambs, only their “wool” is actually very short, curly white hair on their hide. Gryphons aren’t the only ones who eat them; resia are the chief (if not the only) meat source in Phantasm.

The last creature worth describing (because all the rest look relatively like we expect them to: trolls are squat, pig-like creatures with triangular ears, dwarves are short and hairy, and giants look like normal people, only they average from fifty-five to seventy feet tall) is the mermaid.

Mer-Folk
For starters, the Mer-folk of Phantasm are not half-fish-half-human, but rather a combination of human and fish. The only thing relating to humans is the general shape of the body (head, neck, torso, two arms, two legs), and the arrangement of the face (mer-person ears are sort of like frogs’ “ears”: hollow, drum-like organs called tympani; in lieu of ear-lobes they have small fins on the sides of their heads; two eyes on the front of the head, below them the gill-slits instead of a human nose, and a fish-like mouth below that). Adult Merfolk can be anywhere from ten feet to twenty feet tall. Skin tone ranges from bright blue to dark grey. Eyes are bulbous and fish-like, but their color ranges between merpeople as much as human eye color does: brown, blue, green, hazel, violet, aqua, or amber. Hair color, also, can be any color (such as bright green or purple), and it does not change with age, as a human’s does. Both mermen and mermaids have long hair that does not stop growing throughout their lives; mermaids generally tend to tie their hair back as it grows, or pile it on their heads and tie it securely with seaweed. The more impatient mermen generally cut their hair short with bone-knives when it gets in the way of swimming.

Having separate legs instead of a single fishtail, the merfolk’s method of swimming is similar to the “butterfly stroke” used by humans. Their feet, instead of toes, have long fins, sort of like natural flippers in that a slow, easy kicking motion propels the merperson forward. Spanning the underarms from the wrist to the hip are wide, flexible, iridescent fins. To swim, a merperson extends its arms out to the side and sweeps forward with webbed hands, in the motion of the butterfly stroke mentioned before. Water gets caught in the fins and is released with the backward sweep of the hands, thrusting the merperson through the water at twice the speed of the fastest human swimmer over the water. Also contributing to the fluidity of a mer-person’s movements is the fact that their bodies are streamlined, in the manner of a fish. The front of their torsos are very flat compared to a human’s, and their backs are smooth like a dolphin’s, from the neck to the heel. They glide through the water much like manta rays.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #12

"Alexander VanTussel"

Suggested by: Lindsey Bruno

The List:
Name: Alexander VanTussel
Place: A Library
Time: 1 am
Object: A rocks glass
The Result:

The grandfather clock in the hallway struck one, and the chime echoed through the empty, dark halls.
He lifted the tumbler to his lips, and the caramel-brown bourbon slipped down his throat from between the half-melted pebbles of ice.

They were late.
He sat among the shelves stacked high with wonderful volumes full of vast power and immense treasure. He set the glass on a coaster. What a shame none of these books could tell him the information he needed. That was why he had sent them out in the first place.

He heard the wet smack of their soft feet on the patio as they neared the house. His lip curled in a sneer. How had it come to this? Alexander VanTussel, confined to his home, all of his best-laid plans at the mercy of a gaggle of slimy, slow-witted goblins? Each warty foot-pad only reminded him of the number of times he had failed to get what he really wanted—what he was only moments away from achieving now.

Alexander rose from his low-slung armchair and flung the French doors open wide. A dozen squat, grey-green creatures with yellow eyes  carried a struggling black body bag into the library.

"Well?" He demanded, his piercing grey eyes surveying the promising prize.
One of the disgusting scavengers gave the signal and they all dropped the bag, which landed with a thump.
"All in order, sir," the goblin grunted, a dopey smile plastered across his frog-like face.
Alexander eyed the unmoving bag. "Alive?"
The goblin rubbed his head. "And kicking, if you get my meaning, sir."

Alexander rolled his eyes; how did the expression run? "Subtle as a goblin"—and this was all he could manage to conjure from the Otherworld. Mordecai VanTussel would be turning in his grave if he knew what his descendants had been reduced to.

"Open it!" He commanded.

The goblins hastily unzipped the bag. A head of bright-red hair flopped forward when they raised the body.
Alexander glared at the goblin.
"My instructions were absolutely clear."

"That they were, sir, no question. He's probably just a bit winded from the journey—was a powerful long ways. Just give it a mo'." The goblin, anxious to please his master, gave the prisoner a lusty crack on the head. The young man jerked back into consciousness and blinked weakly up at the tall form leaning over him.

"Darren Alexander," VanTussel uttered the name contemptuously and with a cruel smile. "Protector of the Ecrivaine."
Darren tried a smile, but his face was so swollen after taking such a beating from the goblins that he could only manage half a smirk. "That's me," he croaked.
VanTussel leaned in close. "Then why did my minions find you alone? Where is she, Darren?" He spoke softly, the malice saturating his velvet voice. "Where is this Dragon-conjurer you should have been protecting?"
Darren allowed his head to loll forward, so the goblin on his right grabbed a tuft of red hair and yanked it back, forcing him to look up at Alexander.
"Where is she?" Alexander seethed. "Where is the Ecrivaine?"
Darren winced as the goblin jerked on his hair. "You'll never get her," he shot back.
Boiling with rage, Alexander grabbed the front of the young man's collar and hoisted him into the air. 
"I am Alexander VanTussel!" He thundered. "My family has always borne a connection to the Otherworld, and hanged if I don't get myself the bloody dragon!"
Darren struggled to breathe under the furious grip of the older man, and his toes just barely brushed the ground. But he managed a cocksure smile. "Go hang, then," he rasped.

Alexander dropped him with a forceful push, and Darren collapsed on the floor. 
"Take him to the dungeon!" He ordered the goblin. "Torture him till he tells everything he knows. I will find the Summoner myself."
The goblins complied willingly, leaving Alexander alone in the library once more. Scowling darkly, he poured himself another drink. He would get no sleep until he had found a way to recapture the Midnight Dragon who had escaped from his ancestor so long ago. It belonged to the family, and Alexander wanted it back.

And when a VanTussel wanted something, he got it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Introduction to the World of Phantasm (Part 1)

Painting by Pamela Poole
 
PART I—The World of Phantasm

Far in the recesses of the universe where all fantasy worlds reside, there is one in particular that by some unfortunate chance received a connection with certain persons on Earth. It is called Phantasm. A world of perpetual sunshine (since the sun rotates at a fixed point in the world’s viscous atmosphere), Phantasm is alive with vivid colors and thriving plants, flowers and creatures.
Phantasm is a world of markedly consolidated landforms. There is one mountain range (the Great Range), large swathes of grassy meadows punctuated by tall, extensive forests (this area is called the Meadowglades), and a single Lake, (known by all as “the Lake,” for it is the only body of water in the known part of the world.) The Great Range stretches so far that not even the dragons have reached the far side of it. Phantasmians assume that those mountains wholly cover half of the world while the Meadowglades cover the other half. No creature has ever been able to travel far enough across the mountains of the Great Range to see if this is true.

The Great Mountain Range dominates the Phantasmian landscape. Contrary to the dead, grey stone of the mountains of our world, the Phantasmian mountains are swirled with hues of blue and purple ranging from bright magenta to deep-ocean blue. This is the domain of the dragons: sage, judicious creatures who are not mindless savages, though they are not very gentle by our standards! The furthest any non-dragon ever dares to go is a string of mountains on the front fringe of the Great Range, called the Sayhoun Mountains. At the center of the Sayhoun Mountains is the eyrie of the gryphons, full of caves and outcroppings where the magnificent creatures rear their young.

The Lake of Phantasm is many miles wide and many deep, home to thousands of merfolk and the last water horse in existence. Situated in a protective corner of the Sayhoun Mountains, the water in the Lake is constantly refreshed by waterfalls of melted snow and glaciers mixed with the warmer rainwater to provide a very comfortable environment neither too hot nor too cold. In the Lake there is a certain kind of plant called uandino (wan’-din-oh) that creatures without gills can use to breathe underwater. The plant grows very tall underwater, and has long, triangular leaves of dark green with streaks of blue and purple in it. On the back of each leaf is a gooey, mucosal substance that, when rubbed over the mouth, clings to the skin and enables one to breathe without letting water in. It stretches without breaking to any width, and once outside the water, it peels off easily.

The Meadowglades are home to the six-inch-high fairies and elves. The fairies live in special house-flowers out in the meadow called misti. Misti have the appearance of spine-less barrel cacti. The color of the misti depends on the preference of the fairy that builds it, as do the number and color of the flowers that decorate the top of the “cactus.” The elves live among the trees, in mushroom-like “houses” called quirts. As with the misti, the color and shape of the quirt depends on the occupant’s preference. The quirt “neighborhoods” are not grouped around the base of a tree, but wind up the tree itself, often spiraling all the way up to the crown of the tree. Also growing on the trees are dark-green vines of edkidna, a delicious fruit. The edkidna is shaped like a mango and has a thick, citrus-like rind. It’s coloring is a brilliant yellow with small red flecks and streaks. To eat it, the edkidna must be smashed against a hard surface, like a stone or a tree-trunk, which causes the rind to split and break easily away from the orange, melon-like flesh. 

A most singular plant in the Meadowglades is the venim (ven-im’, with the accent on the second syllable) plant. It flourishes on Phantasm and is a very communal plant, growing in thick clumps in the meadows, or around the bases of the trees in the forests. It grows in the form of a bush, with tall stalks growing together from a common root, much like mint; indeed, it looks very much like our mint plant. The leaves are bright green with blue tips. The flower is large and beautiful, with many petals of red and purple, with golden-yellow pistils in the center. Every creature avoids these plants, even the herbivores. The venim plant is a natural preservative, essentially stopping the aging process of anything it comes in contact with, whether it is ingested or picked. To preserve clothing, one can store ones clothes in a chest full of dried venim leaves, like mothballs. The clothing will never wear out and never need mending. If ingested, the creature will never age again, but will remain exactly as it was the moment it ingested the venim. If it is only consumed once, it will not remain in the creature’s system any longer than a normal food would, and once it passes out of the digestive system, it has no affect on that creature. Regardless, it is a terrible plant to all Phantasmians, and all creatures generally avoid it.
            Scattered respective distances apart over the Meadowglades are various towns in which live different species: a few Giant-towns, several dwarf-towns, and a few empty towns once inhabited by creatures who either went extinct or were banished to the Underworld. Most of these buildings are made of sod or stone.

            The Underworld encompasses the whole inner core of the planet, ten miles underneath the surface of Phantasm from any point on the spherical world. Here is where all the darkest, most evil creatures reside, shut off (for the most part) from the rest of the world above: small goblins, man-size ogres, giant Cyclopes, vampire bats the size of a grown man, shriveled, wrinkled hags, witches, werewolves, squat trolls, burly minotaurs, and other nameless creatures born out of nightmares. The Underworld is a dark place, pleasant to them, for all the Underworld creatures possess the ability to see in the dark, and cannot stand the light. Mostly, the Underworld consists of long, snaking tunnels twisting round and round, all leading to the very heart of Phantasm, an area about sixty miles in diameter, fully sixty miles below the surface. There is a mutual truce between the Underworlders, more like a “stay-out-of-my-way-and-I-won’t-kill-you” pact. Their only opportunity to rise to the surface is if there is an evil influence on the surface that summons them. Otherwise, they must remain below. Underworlders enjoy fire, but water burns their skin. Underworlders, when attacking Phantasmians, will often use torches, for the flames do not bother them. Every Phantasmian who has been attacked by Underworlders knows to keep a pail of water handy. The only way for the Underworld to ever have access to Phantasm is if the Underworlders are summoned by dark magic by someone in Phantasm (typically an intruder, because no Phantasmian in their right mind would ever think of opening the Underworld).

            As with most fantasy worlds, there are characteristics of this world simply impossible on Earth. For example, the sky in Phantasm is an actual, physical surface capable of supporting weight, sort of like an atmospheric “canopy.” Only objects launched at an extremely high velocity by mechanical means can penetrate the membrane; it is impossible for any creature to do so, and it is much higher than even the dragons have ever flown. Consequently, the exact composition of the sky is unknown, or even what is inside the sky (between the membrane and the outer atmosphere). The clouds and stars are directly a part of the membrane itself, though the stars are only visible at night. No one knows for sure, but since the Moon-Beems are the only things in the sky that glow at night, it is believed that perhaps, as the Moon-Beems work around their hive, small parts of the glowing orb flake off into the night sky and cling to the sky membrane, glowing there for many days until they wear out and fall to the ground.
           
The sun and moon are very different on Phantasm than in our world. The Sun is actually a part of the outer atmosphere, and this is what rotates, rather than the world itself. The moon is a large, cratered, satellite planet, similar to ours, only it is much smaller, and contained in the sky-membrane. The moon is actually a hive for the Moon-Beems, large insectoid creatures whose appearance is a cross between termites, honeybees, and lightning bugs. They work busily in the craters of the hive at night, and as they work, they glow, giving the moon its light. The Moon-Beems are also the cause of the moon’s rising and falling. The fervent action of the Moon-Beems lifts the moon up into the sky at night, and when the Sun rotates to the surface of Phantasm, the Moon-Beems cease their activity, and the moon sinks below the mountains.

            Perhaps the single most unusual feature of Phantasm is their reckoning of time and history. Since the sun and moon are not the “heavenly bodies” like we have, there is not really a means of numbering the days—not by seasons, months, years, or even hours. A single day in Phantasm is split up into five segments: dawn, morning, midday, evening, and night. Phantasmians are generally content to live on a day-to-day basis, perhaps counting a journey’s length by the number of days, or reckoning the time since some event by days (or when the days become too numerous, they refer to it as simply “a long time”), but largely ignoring the need for hours or timetables.

            History, too, is somewhat capricious. This is because Phantasm and any other world (such as Earth) may connect at any point in the history of either world, rendering it impossible to maintain an accurate historical record, as new discoveries and events collide, where perhaps a man from the 19th century reaches Phantasm and lives there long enough to be joined by a man from the 20th century, and they in turn team up to affect the lives of others from Earth in the 21st century, meanwhile another person from a completely different timeline in another world will find its way to Phantasm and completely eradicate the existence of the 20th-century man, thereby changing history for Phantasm and affecting that man’s place in the history of Earth. Or a man from the 21st century might think he was the first human to set foot on Phantasmian soil, only to find that someone from the 17th century had already lived and died there. History on Phantasm is like science on Earth: new discoveries render it as an ever-changing circumstance.

Did you enjoy this? Read Part 2 HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea"--Exposed

Image from a Google Search
Giles sighed as he traversed down the hall after everyone had eaten and retired for the night. When would Nathan learn? He had thought the tour would be most successful; indeed, he had never seen the prince so devoted to kingdom matters as he had been. Then the Queen arrived and he was back to being the old Nathan again.
Only when his guests were safely retired did the young prince remember the one guest to whom he still and would forever owe a debt. Unfortunately, she had taken her leave some time before, so what did Nathan do but send Giles to make sure she was comfortable?
Chattering voices caught his attention. Did one of them belong to Lady Illeinina? Giles stopped to listen outside the door.

"Did you see the stables when we came in? Oh, just think of the carriage rides!"
"Frankly, mother, I was more interested in the gardens; so wide and beautiful! Royal life is everything we imagined!"
"You're lucky your Prince still looks young and fresh," the first voice snorted, and with growing consternation Giles was forced to conclude that he was listening to a conversation between the Royal ladies of Crossway! "The King is certainly much more withered than the sea witch made him out to be."
"Remember, mother? If I can get the prince to marry me, you won't have to marry the king."
"Good point; you’ll have to get him off these reform ideas of his, though; no sense in getting altruistic just when we have the chance for ultimate power!"
“Don’t worry, Ma; I’ll make sure our money isn’t wasted on the poor, dying peasants of Overcliff.”
“That’s my girl.” The Queen laughed. "Speaking of peasants—if only the ladies of Port-Town could see us now, eh, Meggie?"
"Ma!" Whined the Princess, "stop calling me that! You've got to remember I am Melinda now. Though," she broke off with a giggle, "I was more thinking of what Lord Jamison might think of his laundress hobnobbing with the King!"
Both women dissolved into giggles. Giles had heard enough. He burst into the room, red with wrath.
"Impostors!" He seethed, "Traitors!"
Devaine and Meggie rose to their feet in alarm as Giles stepped among them.
"How dare you!" Devaine began, but Giles stopped her.
"I know what you are!" He cried. "You are in no way the royalty you claim to be, and certainly it will come before the king at once!" He turned to march back out and leave them standing there.
A gust of wind rushed through the room and slammed the door in front of his face.
Devaine sauntered up behind him. "You see?" She taunted him. "You are only a servant. The true power is with us." She smiled sweetly at him, her eyes glinting cruelly. "And if you dare interfere with our plans for Overcliff," her eyes narrowed. "We will kill Prince Nathan. Have I made myself clear?"
Giles could not tear his eyes away. How could one woman have the wherewithal to pull off such a fantastic charade?
"Perfectly," he replied.
She did not waver. "Perfectly, what?" prompted Devaine.
"Perfectly.... Your Majesty." The words tasted like bile on his tongue.
She nodded. "That's better. You may go."
Another wind swept around him and carried Giles out the door and closed it behind him.

[...]

The next morning, Ylaine awoke a heavy yawn and a sigh. When she stretched her mouth and gasped, she heard a slight popping sound. She stopped; what had popped? Something in her throat? She breathed again. Something fluttered. Suddenly, it seemed that Ylaine could not get as much breath as usual, that she had to gasp several times to get the amount of air in one breath. Then she knew what happened: her gills were coming loose. She was losing her humanity, because Nathan had ceased to love her.

Ylaine tried to go about as if nothing was wrong, dining with the royals as normal. She noticed that the King and Queen talked more openly about the joining of the two kingdoms, while Nathan ignored them to wait on Melinda. Ylaine felt that as long as she hid the sound of her furious, shallow panting, she could find a way to reverse this process.
As they dined that afternoon, Melinda turned her sapphire gaze upon the poor lady.
"My dear," she warbled, "Are you all right?" The princess grasped Ylaine's hand out of apparent concern. As quickly as she grabbed, she released. "Oh my! Your hands, they feel so cold, like a fish!"
Ylaine looked at her hand in alarm. Was it her imagination, or was her human skin beginning to flake off, revealing the scales underneath?
The breathing difficulty increased. Ylaine knew that she had only a short time to regain the prince's attention. She could not do that while Melinda clung to him like a leech.
"Nathan..." she began, but she could not think of anything to tell him that would send a clear enough message to him without alerting the princess. Ylaine stood and left the room. On her way out, she heard the princess speaking to Nathan.
"She looks so very unwell! I don't know what's gotten into her. No matter! Dear Prince, you have a lovely green out behind the castle. Do you, perchance, play croquet?"

Ylaine ran to her room. Water! She needed water to saturate her throat. Her gills were not all open because her throat was too dry, but her lungs were no longer processing air as well as a human's did. She found the washbasin and the jug of water. Speedily, she poured the whole jug in and dunked her face.
Relief at last. Ylaine gasped and spluttered as her gills flapped open at the presence of water, and she could breathe normally again.

Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her out. Ylaine coughed and spluttered as she looked into the horrified face of Giles.
"My lady, have you gone mad?" he demanded forcefully. "What is the meaning of this?"

Ylaine began panting again, and her knees felt weak. She looked down. Her wet human skin was flaking off at an even greater rate. She had no choice but to tell the truth right now, or she would die.
"Giles!" She panted. "You...must...know... the... truth...I...am...not...the...lady...you... think...I...am." She held up her hand for him to see. He held it in his own and studied the revealed scales in surprise as Ylaine continued. "I am...m-mermaid...traded...voice...to become human...to find...the man...I love; but... the spell...wearing off...soon I... will be... mermaid again...and...die...unless I can... win him back!"

Giles dropped her hand. "Lady Illeinina—"

She smiled ruefully and shook her head. "I am... Princess Ylaine... of Undersea."

"Your Highness, then," Giles insisted. "To me and to every other human you are none other than the Prince's savior. He owes you his life, we owe you our prince." He rested his fingertips against her chin and tipped her face up. "No more, no less," he assured her. "Therefore I will do everything in my power to provide whatever you need." To demonstrate, he turned and called a passing servant. "Hello, there!"

A maid stuck her head in. "Yes sir?"

"Ask no questions, but only draw a large bath for the lady. Take care it is not too warm."

The orders confused the maid, but Giles had said not to ask questions, so she complied.
Giles assisted Ylaine to the bed. "There is talk of attending the carnival tomorrow, but I will try to speak with Nathan this evening. Rest now, Highness."

The maid left, and Ylaine eagerly slipped into the water. She gulped deeply, feeling the water lift her gills and breath reenergize her whole body. When she emerged a few hours later, she checked her skin carefully. Luckily her hands were about the only thing showing any scales. A pair of gloves took care of that, and Ylaine could be human once more. She sat before the large hearth as the sun set. She heard a knock at the door.

Queen Devaine stood outside, bearing a tray with two covered platters and two goblets of spiced wine. Her expression was all sympathy and concern.

"I heard you weren't feeling well," she said, coming in and setting the tray on the table, "so I thought you might appreciate some supper with a friend."

Ylaine stared at the plate. She was very hungry, and the wine smelled good. She had thought that Princess Melinda and Queen Devaine viewed her as a threat, but perhaps the whole plot had been the workings of the princess alone. She sat down and supped with the Queen, feeling the stress of the day ebb from her body. She ate the food and drained the goblet; she had never known drink to taste this good. There was a hint of the sea about it...

Ylaine's head dropped, and she slumbered deeply. Devaine smiled as she stood and glanced toward the window.

"Madame Nayidia was right," she mused as if to herself. "The vixen is not human after all."

A breezy reply wafted on the wind. "No sea creature can resist the taste of jetsam-weed. You have done well, Devaine. Soon Overcliff will be yours."

Devaine smirked at the unconscious victim. "Sleep well, little mermaid." She extinguished the lights and closed the door.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #11


Suggested By: Clari Noel

The List:
Name: Brad Duncanson 
Place: A hidden walkway inside of big trunk 
Time: the year 4093
Object: Frozen orange juice


The Result:

"Watch out!"
"Steady!"

The needless warnings echoed in the dusty, musty darkness. Brad rolled his eyes and adjusted his headlamp. It had to be here somewhere... He scanned the crags around and checked the compass. They were headed southwest into the uncharted region of Rien-à-Voir-Ici in northern France—the most ironic name for a mountain ever invented, thought Brad. The name literally meant "Nothing to see here," and nothing could have been further from the truth. The pathway to get to the cave was through a forest of trees so thick and tall that the morning dew hung in a constant blanket of moisture clear into the afternoon. Brad and the other spelunkers got the distinct impression of impossible age—which happened to be exactly what Brad Duncanson was looking for: the First Tree, one rumored to have been growing here in a cavern beneath France since the earliest days of the world, if not the Day of Creation itself. Geologists had traced the origins of the matter in this cave as far back as the year 4093 BC—and Brad wanted to be the first person to lead a team down to its furthest point, just to see what was there. Inside, the ancient cave system was a maze of rocks massive and small, irregularly shaped, and singularly formed by the environment. There was certainly much to see!
The tunnel stretched onward as the ceiling and floor neared each other, creating some very difficult passages on account of all the loose boulders. 
One of the explorers tripped and two others had to catch her before she smacked into a sharp protrusion. She regained her footing and immediately grumbled, "Can't believe we come so bliddy far down just to find a blooming tree!"
Something glinted in his field of vision, and Brad froze in the exact same position he had been, craning his neck to see what it was: a message, left in spray paint on the cavern wall that screamed "Turn Back!" in a disused early dialect of French. Brad sneered in disgust and kept walking. Who would come all the way down here just to tag a natural wonder such as this?
Ironic as the location had been, another point of irony arose: the deeper they went, the more spray painted warnings they saw. 
"Go away!"
"Get out!"
"Stop looking!"
"Leave now!"

What kind of sick joke was this? Brad detected a change in the air pressure as they moved on. 

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

A deafening screech made them all cower and cover their heads, as if the sound waves would cause a cave-in. A flashing red light bathed the area. Brad, hands clenched over his head, inched forward to find the source. His eyes found the strobing LEDs while his hand searched out the small plastic "motion detector", the sort that came in a Super Spy Jr. Kit. He found the toggle switch in the back and turned the device off. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief in the silence. 

"Sacre chatts!" Cried the local on the team, "what was that about?"
Brad shrugged, but he kept crawling. He slid his hands along the rock—
Then suddenly, his hands brushed something softer and warmer than rock. He placed his hand over the area, and felt it creak just slightly. Wood! Brad pushed harder. A series of cracks resounded. Excitedly, Brad turned to the rest of the group, lined up behind him on their hands and knees. 
"Push!" He called.
The hiker behind him latched onto his boots, and Brad braced both hands on the wood as he used the momentum to carry him forward. The wood panel split, and Brad tumbled onto a smooth walkway. He rolled into his feet. 
They were inside a tree; wooden walls reached high into the ceiling above them. The walkway was tall enough for them to stand, and it stretched far beyond the reach of their headlamps. Brad moved forward cautiously. Was this the Tree they sought? 
The walkway emptied into a massive chamber at the heart of the tree. Brad froze and looked around to get his bearings.
"Whoa," he breathed.
"Sacre chatts!" Muttered the Frenchman.

The chamber was a veritable museum of every decade ever, all jumbled together in a mind-blowing juxtaposition: a flintlock musket rested against a transistor radio; a medieval chalice stood upon an original Beatles record. A department store dress form wore corduroy bell-bottoms and an authentic-looking Viking helm. Brad found a small stone crock tucked in a cool corner, like a refrigerating method from before the discovery of freon, and inside was a can of frozen orange juice concentrate. 
The sheer amount of stuff all packed in the cavern made everyone dizzy so that no one paid much attention to the scraping noise echoing from the back of the cave. Brad shook his head. "What is this place?" He murmured.
A soft grunt behind him caused him to turn around.
His entire team sprawled on the ground, unconscious. The last figure standing was a squat, dark little man with strange beady eyes, glaring at him.
"Intruders!" He growled in French. "Thieves! How did you find this place? What are you doing here?"
Brad could not fathom how a short little man could incapacitate an entire crowd in such a short time with virtually no noise. 
"Wh-who are you?" He stammered.
The dwarf looked at him, leaning on the old, bent spade in his hand like a cane. "I am Pierre," he replied. "Who are you?"