Saturday, March 28, 2015

Serial Saturdays: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar" Part 6

"...the small box nearly overflowed with gold and jewels of every color..."

[Excerpt from Chapter 8]

The streets of the City were crooked and narrow, and most of the buildings looked so alike that strangers to it often lost themselves in the winding alleys. For one supposedly from the wide plains of Ettinsmoor, Galor seemed rather adept at finding his way through the lanes and roads. They were soon settled comfortably throughout the building. Servants from Lady Melanie brought at least two wagons' worth of clean food and raiment, and the apartment was situated conveniently near a well. With many praises and blessings for Her Ladyship, Galor accepted the gifts and saw the servants away from the building. Once they were out of sight, he instructed one of his men to draw a pail of water for him, and, in the privacy of his own apartment, began to wash.

It must have been a sight to see not only the dirt come off with the water, but a bit more scrubbing took off the tired haggardness as well! Galor laughed at his reflection when he finished. It looked as if he had removed ten years of his life and darkened his skin, all with a common sponge! His comrades washed as well, and took care afterwards not to show their faces outside. A completely different group than the one Melanie showed compassion on now met in the apartments she had given them that evening.
"So, Brother Galor, do we prepare to set up tomorrow?"

Galor smiled and shook his head. "I know how eager you all are. We are men of Eveston, the grand jewel of Telmar! It was much too easy to slip out of the city in the dead of night, while the spirit drove our comrades out by force. It was simple to find a field invisible from the castle, rend our own clothes, distress our wagons, and leave our food out to rot while we painted our faces to appear destitute. Lady Melanie is a soft, compassionate young girl, but she is also wise. How will it appear if we—a group of starving men and women—are suddenly hale overnight? No, Brother Finno; we will bide our time, partaking of Her Ladyship's hospitality, for three days. Meanwhile, I want every one of you wooing the villagers: do services for them, pay them compliments, and the like. If I make my guess aright, Lady Melanie will want to know what we are like while she is considering our request. If the report is favorable, we may be able to sway her."

[...]

"If you have been observing us, you know how we have treated your people, and how we have taken pains to associate among them, and not seclude ourselves." He paused for effect. "Incidentally, it was only the other day that I heard something truly amazing concerning your Ladyship; so amazing, that we can only assume it is gossip unless you can enlighten us as to the truth."

His eyes were so clever and teasing, that Melanie could not help returning with a merry grin, "Tell me what you have heard and I shall do my utmost to ascertain whether they are true."

Galor shrugged nonchalantly, "Oh, it wasn't anything very serious at all. They say you were the one who called out the Spirit that drove all the other merchants away; is this true?"

Melanie's smile dropped as she regained her decorum. "To an extent, Galor; while it is true I know this Spirit, I am a servant of his, and not his master."

"Then perhaps this Spirit would permit you to let us stay if we offered gifts." The merchant's mysterious expression piqued Melanie's curiosity.

"Gifts?" she echoed.

Galor nodded and produced a small chest he had prepared for exactly this moment. Sliding on silk gloves, he unlocked the small, carved chest and pried back the lid.

Melanie gasped at what she saw: the small box nearly overflowed with gold and jewels of every color that glowed so brightly with their own light that all the fine decorations of the room seemed dark and pale in comparison.

"These are our finest treasures," Galor whispered suavely, "handed down from the first generation of our guild." He picked up a ruby and let it shimmer in his palm before placing it back atop the other treasures. It struck the gold coin with an almost musical sound. "Would not your Spirit accept them as tribute and allow us to stay?"

Melanie swallowed as the charm of the riches dimmed slightly. "I'm not sure . . ." she began, but Galor closed the chest of treasure with a most humble, pitiful expression.

"Your Ladyship, we are fully prepared to submit to any requirement or restriction you deem appropriate. Only permit us to do business here."

>>>>>>>

[Excerpt from Chapter 9]

"Melanie."

Something within Melanie sank when she heard Aslan's deep, soul-piercing voice. She did not lift her head.

"Melanie!"

His tone grew more insistent, and with a guilty heart Melanie sat up, but still did not meet those great, noble eyes.

"Child, what have you done?" He asked the question very innocently, but Melanie couldn't help feeling that he knew all about it. Or, perhaps he didn't? If he only knew the circumstances, and not the logic behind them, perhaps Melanie could explain. After all, her actions hadn't been wrong . . . entirely.

Melanie finally raised her head, but Aslan no longer stood before her. Soundlessly, the great Lion had crossed the room and now stood at the window overlooking the Square. Melanie knew he could see the merchants doing their business, the business she had permitted, when he had expressly told her to let him divest the city of them. Guiltily, she watched him for any sign of disapproval, but Aslan remained neutral, merely standing, watching, his tail swaying back and forth.

"What have you done, Child?" Aslan finally broke that awful silence.

"I—" Melanie's voice cracked, and she realized with surprise that her mouth suddenly felt very dry. She swallowed, and her explanation came out a bit faster than she wanted it to, "I tried to do the right thing, Aslan, truly! I thought if I put a lot of restraints on them it would discourage them, maybe influence them to leave . . ."

"Yet they professed such admiration for you that you listened to your pride instead of to me, and promised them protection. Come here, Child."

Melanie attempted to regain Aslan's good graces by bringing the treasure-chest with her when she joined him at the window. "But see," she tried again, "I am not the only one they desired to honor. Here, they entrusted this treasure for me to give you." She started to open the box, but Aslan suddenly whirled upon her and snarled so fiercely and with such a terrible expression that she very quickly clapped it shut again.

"Melanie," he reprimanded her sternly, "you have fallen double-victim to your own pride, first in words, then in riches. Do I desire jewels and gold? Entire worlds are at my disposal, countries to do with as I please, what need do I have for tribute? Child, the sweetest treasure to me is a meek and humble heart!"

Tears itched at Melanie's eyes. "I'm sorry, Aslan," she said hoarsely, "I . . . I should have waited. I was wrong; Please forgive me."

Aslan's face relaxed, no longer so terrifying. "You are forgiven, Child, but there will be consequences for your decisions. By that chest you hold in your hands, evil will come to the world of Narnia."  
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To read Chapters 8 and 9, start by clicking -->HERE<--


Friday, March 27, 2015

Winter Reading List

*Not pictured: Quickbane (The Vale Chronicles #1)
Quickbane (The Vale Chronicles #1) by Chelsea Starling

This book came recommended by Pauline Creeden during a day when it was free, so I picked it up. I read the blurb first, and there was a little part of me that worried this book would turn out to be the cheap, "fluffy", shallow variety of YA chick lit—but I trusted Pauline on account of her own writing, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

I am so glad I did. Jessa is the quintessential "Child of Destiny", but she spends much of the story trying to figure it out, and her fiery temper and her stubborn pride get the better of her and threaten to unleash terror on her whole community. Coupled with a trapped demon desperate for any avenue of escape, and a rite of passage that requires knowledge of the darker side of magic—
Starling creates a fascinating world reminiscent of Gaiman and Funke, and I found Quickbane to be an enchanting, enjoyable read!

I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak

I had never heard of Marcus Zusak till someone suggested I read The Book Thief. That book has henceforth been counted time and again in pretty much every single one of my "Books You Simply Must Read" lists, and is the pivotal book in opening my eyes to unorthodox styles of writing that stick with me and work well. So, naturally, when I saw a second book by Zusak, I had to read it.
"I Am The Messenger" doesn't quite carry the same dramatic "punch-to-the-feels" that Book Thief did, but it still carries that same thoughtful deliberation over those everyday decisions we take for granted. How often are we content to float through life without even a second thought for our neighbors, to say nothing of our community? What if you were given the chance to care enough to do something nice for a total stranger? Would you care enough to save the life of someone down the street? Ed is just an ordinary young man with a dog that is described exclusively and repeatedly in association with the foulest stenches known to man—and by some twist of chance he is thrust into the forgotten corners of his community as the Messenger—bringer of hope, of life, and of joy. Zusak's trademark careful use of language kept me attached to the book and certainly got me thinking about my own community. It does have bouts of objectionable material; not enough to make me wholly reject the book, but just barely over the "recommendable" limit.

Emperor of Thorns (Broken Empire Trilogy #3) by Mark Lawrence

And then there's Mark Lawrence. HEY GUESS WHAT? I DID IT! I FINALLY FINISHED THAT BLOODY (literally) TRILOGY!
I still remain squeamish; I still cannot stand reading books with so much darkness and such murder and depravity...
But there's just something in the way Mark writes that keeps me coming back again and again, something in that dry "guillotine humor" (makes the gallows seem tame...) and the spell-binding use of technology in this erstwhile "medieval" world that stirs me to peep between my fingers as I cover my face in horror.
And it has payed off. Now at last the enigma that is Fexler Brews is unraveled. I was disappointed to find that it had been so long since I had read King of Thorns that I had forgotten the intricate side plots and tandem storylines—but all the same, at this point all I wanted was to find out how it ended. I wasn't particularly attached to how the kid got there. (Apologies to the author, but that's how it is)
That being said, if all the final reveals over the course of the book were not enough to blow my mind as the series has done time and again... The ending blew my mind in the way it turned my expectation on its head! Even now as I recall it, I cannot figure out what in the heck I just read... If Zusak left me pensive and looking closely at my world with renewed interest, Lawrence leaves me disoriented, puzzled, and spinning through a void of a post-apocalyptic world that I thought I understood, but now cannot even fathom. Full marks for use of descriptive and poignant language... But dock one for that finish...

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede

It's fairy tales, in Elizabethan English! I prided myself for knowing exactly what everyone was saying. Besides, only the dialogue was in the archaic vernacular, and—contrary to the metered lines of Shakespeare—it wasn't all truncated and full of the chopped-up syllables to get it to fit, which made it easier to understand. The style of the story itself was more your average modern-day fairy tale—and a beautifully-done one at that! I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Dark Fire (The Last Dragon Chronicles #5) by Chris D'Lacey

I did it. I'm sorry. I read another "Last Dragon Chronicles," even after I told myself I didn't want to.
This one wasn't so bad. It's a lot less of the Fain/Ix/Polar bear hoodoo and a lot more confrontations... And this time there's a fully-grown dragon instead of just a sculpture of one! I think D'Lacey finally (after floundering like a beached whale for two or three books!) found out where he wanted to go with the series, and so there seems to be more of a heading toward a certain goal, instead of the neverending cycle of "Good guy tries it, bad guy stops him." As with the Broken Empire (SORRY, MARK!) I might just stick with the story till it ends, but there doesn't seem to be any of the characters I am particularly fond of. 

Day of the Predator (TimeRiders #2) by Alex Scarrow

CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE HECK I JUST READ??
Time travel over "millions of years" to the time of dinosaurs, throw in a new "organic AI" that was a guy in the first book and now is a girl... Recipe for a YA treatise on the evolutionary theory, right?
Thankfully, Scarrow has yet to lose track of bringing his characters through an actual story in the midst of all this crazy time-hopping. He's not trying to make a point, the environment is still the medium for his characters, not the message for his readers. So I can worry less about whether he's trying to convince me of gender fluidity and just enjoy the fact that Bob and Becks, while "based" on the same AI program, are still very separate and distinct entities. And the connections between the team members are getting stronger and deeper, and they're learning not just about themselves but also about the dangers and mysteries of time travel and what all that entails. And then...

THAT ENDING THOUGH!!!! 

Here I was, just beginning to relax, getting ready to put the book down with a smile after that great escapade that turned out all right in the end...

AND SCARROW THROWS IN THE MOTHER OF ALL PLOT TWISTS IN THE VERY LAST SENTENCE AND NOW I CAN'T EVEN!!!

Must finish this series or I just might explode.

L is for Lawless (ABC Mysteries #12) by Sue Grafton

Another mystery, another chance for Kinsey Millhone to screw things up and get herself into impossibly uncomfortable and pretty-near life-threatening situations. It's pretty sad when the most entertaining part of the book is the secondary character who only shows up every so often. That being said, I love Grafton for inventing the Pitts family: four geriatric siblings (the youngest is I think eighty-five) and one of them is marrying a garrulous Ukranian named Rosie. Actually I found the undercover work Kinsey does this time around to be mildly entertaining. But the nature of the crime, the "mystery", and the "periods of peril" involved with this installment left quite a bit to be desired, compared to some of the earlier books in the series. "L" is for "Lackluster."

Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James

Jane Austen and a murder mystery? Yes please! James slides her "fanfiction" seamlessly into Austen's most famous work, plunging Pemberley into the dark embroils of murder, centering around—who else—one George Wickham. 
As Darcy muses to himself, "Am I never to be rid of that man?"
The mystery itself, as with the outcomes of most of Austen's novels, is clear right from the beginning, although the exact conclusion is affected by some twist that only happens just before the denouement. But as far as language (my fetish) is concerned, James does ample justice to her source, even getting derailed in a treatise on the politics and practices of the day, which I skim-read in the middle. 
Couple that with watching the BBC series on Netflix at the same time (why, yes, I did in fact finish the adaptation before I finished the book; what of it?) I must say I rather enjoyed myself during this one, and would recommend it to any Austen fan!

Emerald Green (Precious Stone Trilogy #3) by Kerstin Gier

Augh!! After seeing this book on the library shelf for SO LONG I finally start the series and I FINALLY reach this, the last book in the trilogy.
I have only this to say: IT WAS EVERYTHING I COULD HAVE HOPED IT TO BE!! Gier keeps the tension and the mind-blowing ingenuity right to the last sentence, and even with all the time-hopping, she (like Scarrow) manages not to get her timelines knotted. So much so that, with what I know now, I very much want to go back and read the whole series over again! It was a lovely time with fantastic characters and wonderful intrigue, and I loved the entire series!!! 
*UPDATE: SAKES ALIVE I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THE FIRST TWO BOOKS WERE MADE INTO MOVIES.... IN GERMAN, BUT WHATEVER! I AM SURE THERE'S AN ENGLISH DUB VERSION OUT THERE!!

The Cardinal at the Kremlin (Jack Ryan #4) by Tom Clancy

All right, so this was my first time choosing a Jack Ryan book that I didn't know the title, and apparently I didn't choose very well. Now I know... But it was fun seeing Ramius from Red October again! I remember thinking that I didn't expect it to be such a very long book... And really, I skimmed a lot of it in the middle there... Even now, a few of the plot points I am thinking, "Why is that even part of the story??" I did find some parts fascinating, though. The more I read Jack Ryan's character, the more I envision him as portrayed by Harrison Ford... Not Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, or Alec Baldwin! 
On the whole, it did not turn out to be as "bone dry" as a friend warned me it would be; however, that might be because I was skim-reading to finish the darn thing. The parts I read, though, were entertaining, and the characters were very intriguing. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Serial Saturday: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar" Part 5

"What are your intentions here, sir?" she asked.
 [Excerpt from Chapter 6]
The next morning, the sun rose to reveal a second clan—in the middle of the midnight revelry so common among the uncouth merchants—dead around their tables, some even with food and drink still clutched in their stiff, cold hands.

Once again, Melanie stood at her bedroom window, asked, "Aslan, do you walk tonight?" and heard him reply, "I walk."

That night, a third clan was driven out of town by unseen visions. Village gossip reported hearing strange wailings coming from the clan about vengeful farmers plowing them like weeds, and weavers unraveling the tents, to destroy them.

Melanie received these reports from various servants. She smiled each time. Three gone, four to go, she thought. At this rate, we could reopen the marketplace by next week!

True to pattern, over the next two days, as Melanie sought Aslan in the night, two clans departed, badly frightened. The second night, a terrible cry went up among the tribe, something nearly unintelligible about a "great animal" that terrified them all. Melanie stuck the bell next to her throne. A servant appeared.

"Tell Pareshin we may be able to reopen the market by the weekend."
The servant grinned. He anticipated a celebratory free day in the marketplace to satisfy his desires. But ... he worried that there would be no merchants left once the marketplace reopened.

The messenger forgot his worries as he entered the tent where Captain Pareshin and his guards slept between rotations. The captain looked exhausted. The servant was glad to give him good news. "Her Ladyship says that we may be able to reopen the marketplace by the weekend."
Captain Pareshin nodded. Somehow, this young foreigner had managed to accomplish in her first week what the Lords of Nast had spent generations attempting.
"It is good," he replied heavily. "My men are wasted, even with the rotations. There are too many alleys and not enough men. But something seems to happen every night. We will wait for the end of the week, in two days."
The servant left the tent, glancing over his shoulder just in time to see one solder relieve another. Neither appeared very alert. Poor souls! The way the rotation had to be set, each soldier only had a few hours to sleep before he needed to relieve a compatriot, if he had slept at all. The servant was glad their suffering would end soon.

That night . . . nothing happened. Two merchant clans still remained.

Melanie wondered at this, but did not fret over it. She considered herself too busy with plans of reforming Nast. […] Such was her concentration on these plans and memories that, for the first time in a week, Melanie forgot to ask Aslan if he would walk. Still, she waited with growing expectation for him to act.

But no dramatic rousting occurred. The next day came and went but the two groups remained, laughing and carousing as if they had outwitted the curses and spirits that had driven away the others.
 >>>>>>>
[To read the full chapter click -->HERE<--]

[Excerpt from Chapter 7]
Melanie, watching from her window, heard all and leaned back, satisfied. Someone behind her cleared his throat. She turned to behold a pageboy. "Yes, what is it?" she asked.

"Please, Milady, there is a guild just come, and their leader seeks an audience with Your Ladyship."
Intrigued, Melanie replied, "Take me to them." She followed the young boy down to the courtyard, where stood the sorriest-looking guild she had yet seen.
Their hair was unkempt, the people and animals painfully thin, and one of the many-times-broken-and-ill-repaired wagons smelt awfully of rotten foods. One of the men, a gaunt, spectral figure whose clothes—once undoubtedly fine silks and material as would befit a merchant—hung in dirty tatters from his haggard frame, stood away from the rest and knelt before Melanie.
"Hail thou, Lady of Nast!" he said in a weary voice, as one physically spent, "May your province flourish under your rule!"
Melanie blushed at the praise, yet looked squarely into the man's sunken, glassy eyes. "What are your intentions here, sir?" she asked.
The man stood, but kept a humble, respectful posture. "If it please your Ladyship, I am but a merchant, Galor by name, who desires for the present nothing more than to rest after the long journey we have made, perhaps restock our supply in the market over a few days, after which we—with your Ladyship's permission—would do what we could to contribute to the economy, and conduct business out of only a small corner."
An alarm went off in Melanie's mind at the words conduct business. "I have just issued a formal proclamation and closed the marketplace. I intend to make an end to all you merchants coming in, buying at a pittance, and selling at exorbitant rates, effectually robbing from already-poor citizens. I am afraid you have come too late."
Galor's face fell so low, Melanie wondered if he would collapse in the dirt at her feet. "Oh, your Ladyship! Please do not send us away! We come from afar, in Ettinsmoor, and we have traveled through dangerous lands in Narnia and Archenland to reach this land, with only the intentions of enriching the commerce. As you can see, we have allowed our health, our food, and our clothes to spoil, but we have taken great pains to preserve our wares for the use of your people! If you send us away, oh merciful Lady, I fear we will not survive the return expedition." His tone was pleading, pathetic, and sincere. Melanie even thought she saw tears in his eyes. She did not doubt his word, yet she knew she must remain firm, in case Aslan should return and find her disobeying orders!
She replied to Galor, "Very well, then; I will see to it that my servants give you fresh food and clothing, and you may sojourn a few days in one of the apartments recently vacated by the previous merchants. During this time I will consider your request. Once you and your clan are rested and satisfied, you may come before me, and we will discuss the matter further."
Galor smiled gratefully. "Oh thank you, Milady! How generous you are!" he gestured back to the company with him, "Hail!" he cried, bowing low. "Hail!" they echoed, following his lead. The girl hid the blush of her embarrassment by merely nodding and retiring into the castle.
"Milady," Pareshin called. She faced him. "You handled that very well, in my opinion, ma'am." He nodded respectfully before heading to the infirmary to have his wounds tended.
Melanie sighed. It wasn't handled! All she'd done was stall for more time, with no idea what on earth she would do when Galor and his clan were restored, and not even the slightest hint of Aslan's return. Melanie never bothered asking if he'd walk any more. She wondered if he intended to return at all.
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[To read the full chapter, click -->HERE<--]

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reader's Review: "Dawn of Steam: Gods of The Sun" by Jeffrey Cook

 
[Synopsis from Amazon]
In 1816, Gregory Conan Watts's chronicle of the adventures begun in Dawn of Steam: First Light continues – as does the Year Without a Summer. The crew of the airship Dame Fortuna travel to four continents and are embroiled in combat on three of them: conflict with New Spain in Britain's American colonies, an ambush in Machu Picchu, and entanglement in the Maori Potato Wars in New Zealand. As they progress through darkened skies, Gregory gradually discovers that nothing at all was as he thought it was. All his assumptions are cast into doubt: what their orders are, which tales of foreign lands are true, and what parts of the social order as he knows it really are natural. Also in doubt is whether they will all survive the experience.
Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun is an alternate-history, early-era Steampunk epistolary novel. 
>>>>>>>>

My Review: 
 
Jules Verne, look out!

Cook, a native of the Pacific Northwest, writes from a time period when that region lay vast and wild, untamed and mostly uninhabited. If I thought First Light was an adventure from the turn of the nineteenth century... Gods of the Sun was a veritable time machine!

So much of the steampunk genre focuses heavily on the mechanisms of the era, leaving the setting within the confines of Industrialized Victorian London. Cook, like Sir James Coltrane and his intrepid crew, dares to circumnavigate the world and show us the hitherto "untouched" regions beyond the "known" world of the time, in all their native glory. First Light took us westward and south across the Americas, and now the mission brings us East across the Atlantic to Australia and Southern Asia.
In his mission to expand the world of early-nineteenth-century Earth, Cook does not neglect his characters. We have been introduced and become acquainted already; now connections are drawn or withheld as we become friends with some characters and count others as enemies. Further histories and new facets of various characters are revealed, and new "corners" of the world with the same vivid detail that thrills me to the core, as if I am reading a firsthand account of someone who actually saw the world with nineteenth-century eyes. Cook's style brings to mind the paintings from the Old Masters--richly detailed, subtly colored, and incredibly lifelike. Through the somewhat-stylized perspective of a journalist, Cook manages to keep even the dry passages somewhat interesting, as only a deeply-creative, practiced "newscaster" can.
 
In addition to the natural dangers involved with flying a dirigible around the world, Cook brings human emotions through his narrative: there is betrayal and uncertainty, sorrow and vindication, camaraderie and cold shoulders. Just as the relations between the characters are changing, the mission changes in the wake of unforeseen tragedy. An astonishing revelation completely shifts Gregory's initial perspective on the entire journey and the people involved.
 
All of this is lovingly and faithfully recorded in true journalistic retrospect. Honestly, in reading some of the more harrowing accounts I felt like I was in that time period, reading of current events, and I had to remind myself more than once, "Well, he's writing about all this stuff that has already happened, so I know they survived!"
 
Granted, this installment felt quite a bit longer than the last one, but maybe that is because things are not so fresh and new and exciting, and, like Cordelia, we are sensing the impending end to this marvelous journey and now only wish for a safe return for the ones we have come to love!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Serial Saturday: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar" Part 4

"She ceased her noise as her necklace turned into a... hissing viper..."
[Excerpt from Chapter 5]
 
Shiloq the land-trader reclined upon a couch of fine silk pillows, examining his rings. How beautifully they sparkled in the light of twenty bronze lamps! His wife, Shatiya, entered his apartment. How divine she looked, arrayed in a silk wrap and fur slippers! Large earrings of pure gold set with jet adorned her ears. A collar of gold set with jet and rubies encircled her bronze throat. Her ethereal appearance was marred somewhat, however, by the eloquent frown on her delicate face.

"Why is my angel so downcast?" Shiloq murmured as Shatiya cast herself onto the pillows next to him.

"Oh-the-delight-of-my-eyes-and-the-king-of-my-house," she replied, lauding him Calormene-style in a voice that did not mean a word of it, "Your angel weeps because she must dress in rags in spite of your toils."

Shiloq leered at his wife greedily and stroked the soft skin of her bare arm, pausing to run his oily fingers over the gold bands on it just below the shoulder. "Does my goddess desire that her lowly minion strive the more, to adorn her suitable to her inimitable stature?"

Shatiya shrugged away from his pawing, greasy hands petulantly. "Nothing like that, husband!" she rolled her eyes. "I only wish the little farmer's brat would lift the horrid embargo she's put on since the old Lord died. I do so need a new dress," she pouted, but turned and began stroking Shiloq's face coquettishly, "as this one will be a week old tomorrow." Her articulate eyes plainly challenged the merchant, What are you going to do about my problem?

"Do not fret, beloved," Shiloq said with a wicked smile as a plan formed in his mind. "One person, such as this farm-lady who now resides in the castle, cannot have her eyes everywhere, and our brotherhood is numerous. Tomorrow, I can arrange events so that some of our people divert the attention of the authorities, the market will be ours within the first hour of the prohibition's expiration, and my dulcet pet shall have all that her incorruptible heart desires. Does this please you, my adulation?"

In reply, Shatiya took his face in her hands and kissed it. "Truly Shiloq is most cunning among merchants!" she cried.

Shiloq grinned proudly, "One cannot be a land agent without one's cunning, my jewel." He extended his arm without rising and daintily struck a silver chime next to his couch. A servant bowed into his presence from some dark corner of the room, where several more awaited any command from their master. "Fetch us wine, for we rule the marketplace come the morning!" he ordered raucously, already drunk with visions of the success of his plan.

The servant wordlessly crossed to the small stand on which stood a gold pitcher full of strong wine from the wild lands south of Calormen. The servant filled two crystal goblets stemmed with jewels and brought them near his master's hand on a silver platter.
Shiloq never got his wine.

As he was reaching for it, a strong, deep voice warned, "Shiloq, your time has come."

Instantly, his numerous gold rings transformed into hideous worms and maggots. Shatiya shrieked as the earrings she wore transformed into enormous beetles and dropped to her shoulders, where they crawled disgustingly down her dress. She ceased her noise as her necklace turned into a black- and red-banded, hissing viper. Servants rushed in with bows to report the circumstances: every piece of finery in Shiloq's possession had turned into some nasty insect or other crawling creature. All of his gold, which he had so cleverly extorted from all the farmers, turned into a teeming mass of ants and scuttled away, and all the merchandise he planned to sell altered in like manner and either killed the men standing near it or crept, slithered, and crawled away.

"Aaiieee!" Shiloq screamed, "It is a curse come upon us! Our time has come! We must leave at once!"
He stormed out of the apartment amid the wails and shouts of his brotherhood, and began ordering the servants and clansmen to load the wagons with what was left.

"But Brother Shiloq!" one of the men who had escaped unscathed called out to the terrified merchant as the said land-agent scraped the slimy worms from his fingers and screamed for a handmaiden to assist his wife, who had fainted just before the viper slithered away. "We will lose our place in the market, and what about our clients!"

"May this curse be upon them!" Shiloq retorted. "Who knows but it will worsen if we remain! Load the wagons with what you can! Let us leave before the very lamps turn to vermin!"

The instant the words left his mouth, Shiloq regretted them. He turned, horrified, and saw that the twenty bronze lamps were now twenty fat, smelly, repugnant rats with little flames on their tails. Shiloq lifted the skirts of his robe as the rats ran from the apartment between his ankles. "WE LEAVE NOW!" he bellowed.

One hour later, the buildings once occupied by the riotous clan of Shiloq stood bare and silent in the dawning light.

[Read the full chapter -->HERE<--]

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "Focal Point", Revisited!


8:05 AM
"What Does Your Wake-Up Style Say About You?"

She rubbed her eyes, flailing blindly at the floating wall of text in her vision. The curtains on the east window slowly commenced their transition from opaque to translucent. Sitting up, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stared at her bare knees. They were looking a little bony today. The radio clicked on and an upbeat track from her favorite artist began to play. She landed on the floor, ignoring the flashing display "136 LB 22.6 BMI" by her feet as she staggered toward the bathroom. 

As she brushed her teeth, she stared past the streaming "Neighbor News Feed" embedded in the mirror and caught sight of her dark-rimmed eyes in the reflective surface. 

"How are you feeling today?" Prompted the wall console. Her choices were "Happy; Satisfied; Angry; Anxious; Morose," or "Who the Baal Cares?" She picked "Satisfied" with "Happy" as a secondary. According to her personality type, "A close connection to nature means that you reach peak rejuvenation faster when skies are clear and the sun shines." The closet offered her three options of outfits that suited her apparent mood, the weather, her personality type, and her features, so she picked the one with red skinny jeans, red slip-on shoes, and a pink shirt that said "Hug me I'm a JENA" in white appliqué. Accessory choices offered her pink tiger-eyes on fishhooks or red hearts on posts. She chose the hearts. 

"What Would You Choose For Breakfast?" asked her tablet. There were four photos to choose from: a bowl of cereal, a plate of bacon with a pistol next to it, a blueberry scone and a cup of tea, or coffee and a stack of pancakes swimming in butter and syrup. None of them looked particularly appetizing, but she chose the last one because at least there was coffee. 

"Which Daytime Activity Would You Prefer?"
She rested her elbows on the glass desktop and mused over pictures of supermodels lounging in picturesque reading nooks, athletic men and women grinning as they tromped under a blazing sun over bare rocks in unblemished designer activewear, at smiling juniors gesturing excitedly at browsers in the shopping centers, and elderly couples holding hands as they posed on a park bench. None of these looked particularly appealing today, at this moment, but she picked the image of the shoppers. Maybe The System would let her have some special deals because today was her birthday.
Sure enough, she flipped open her electronic mailbox and watched the advertisements tumble over themselves trying to upload all at once.
 
"SALE!" "BIG SALE!" "BIRTHDAY DISCOUNT!" "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TRICIA!" "SAVE 60 CREDITS!" "BOGO!" "TREAT YOURSELF!" 
 
She bit her lip at the series of advertisements specifically geared for the apparent tastes and preferences of Tricia Carson. 
 
She looked at herself in the mirror. Her reflection immediately overlaid itself with a "more desirable" model, complete with the recommended cosmetic adjustments handily labeled. After all, according to the goals and dreams listed on Tricia's personal profile, she was destined for greatness and needed the perfect appearance to go with it. 
 
The trouble was, she couldn't see what she actually looked like with the computer-generated model in the way. She reached to the backside of the "mirror." By twisting her wrist just right, she could flick the power switch with her finger. Instantly, the console powered down, and the display became a somewhat muted but still functional mirror. 
Her pocket buzzed. She rolled her eyes and opened the missive from TechChecker. 
 
A mellow, jovial voice announced, "Hmm, there seems to be a problem with your vanity console."
She rolled her eyes; rather an appropriate name for it. "No, no problems," she responded.
TechChecker persisted. "Would you like me to switch it on remotely?"
She ignored the question and went to open a drawer for a brush—but the console didn't respond. Dumb tech.
"No," she told TechChecker, reaching awkwardly around the screen again. "I've got it."
"All right," said the TechCheck representative. "Have a nice day, Miss Carson, and remember--Peres is The Name To Trust For Instant Gratification And Complete Satisfaction!"
 
She flicked on the screen, and this time when she tapped the drawer it slid open immediately.
 
As she brushed her hair, the mirror flipped through several stunning designs for her face—and as each one loaded, saw her real face for only a few seconds. Maybe she would look better if she started coloring her hair—but what would that hairstyle do for her face? Definitely it looked better on someone with a smaller chin–why couldn't that someone be her? Was it really all that wrong to just agree to some tiny enhancements? I mean, it wasn't like the full-body remodels most people went for, or even the way some of them seemed to change their entire faces as often as the clothing trends switched; just a touch here and there couldn't be as horrendous as her dad's old friends made it out to be.
 

#AskMeAnything


So I asked my friends on Facebook to "Ask Me Anything"... and here's how they responded!

What's your favorite/least favorite key to play in on the violin and why?—Anthony

First off, let me clarify that I play the viola. It looks like a violin, and it's in the same octave, but whereas the violin strings run G-D-A-E, the viola strings are C-G-D-A.
Favorite Key: D; major or minor doesn't matter. The reason is that if I play a low D on my C string, it leaves the remaining strings G (the subdominant), D (the octave), and A (the dominant)—and the whole instrument resonates!
Least favorite: B, because NO OPEN STRINGS. Boo. Actually, any key with more than three sharps or flats in the signature is generally a pain for a string musician.

The three worst movies you've ever seen.—Lauren

This is assuming I actually remember the bad movies I have ever watched... Oh, but now that I've thought about it for the last hour...

Avatar--SO much potential... and yet an epic fail from premise to end credits! I was willing to forgive the blatantly propagandist storyline for the sake of stunning visuals... and then Cameron lost me at "Unobtanium." UNOBTANIUM??? YOU HAVE AN ENTIRE FREAKING RACE WITH AN AMAZING-SOUNDING LANGUAGE AND YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST SETTLE TO CALL IT UNOBTANIUM???? By the end of the movie I had a list of names for this ultra-specific, rare, and vital mineral that could have passed for legitimate and totally fit within the world... and an even longer list of names for lazy-butt writers who think that spectacular effects and a star-studded cast is enough of an excuse for shoddy writing. NOT EVEN CLOSE. I paid 50 cents to see that movie, and I think I overpaid. I don't care how many awards it won. The movie was just bad.

Flywheel--I realize this is the first film produced by Sherwood Baptist Church, who would go on to found a film production company and produce several more increasingly-professional films in the years to follow... but in the interest of filling out the quota of "Three of the worst films" this one makes the cut. The acting was okay, the writing was mediocre--the cinematography was home-video-grade for sure... but, like the unfortunate result of far too many "Christian" films, it fell flat as anything other than a "church flick."

Love Comes Softly--Gag me with a Hallmark film. So what if this is Katherine Heigl and Dale Midkiff? It's also Michael Landon, Jr.--the quintessential "one-trick pony" of the film-making industry. It's also a western romance (with profoundly misappropriated theological overtones!) that tries to put on its Sunday best and be a moral movie. News flash: it's a prairie soap opera, and has about as much intrinsic value. You're better off, oh, I don't know, living life in the real world, maybe.

What prompted you to start writing and reviewing books?!—Ronnie

Whoa, now! That's two questions in one, really.

As far as writing books... I think it is safe to say I started writing books (meaning "more than 20 pages"—what I used to think constituted a "book"... Yeah right...) probably when I was thirteen or so. The first book I wrote that was longer than 50 pages happened to be Chronicles of Narnia fanfiction... But the first original book I was inspired to write at about the same time was "Fairies Under Glass," and that sort of "broke me away" from writing the short stuff, and anymore it feels like my stories get so complicated I couldn't make them any shorter unless I tried really hard! (Fun fact: "Protective Custody" was one of those stories that I wrote on a whim—like in the space of two months, just because the idea would not leave me alone—that if you had asked me from the onset, I would have sworn it was going to be a short story... Seventy-five pages later... Nope...)

The reviewing thing, that came later. I had not really considered reviewing the books I read. My blog was just new, and I was working really hard and not getting a lot of followers or views and wondering what I could do to improve my readership. My dad was the one who suggested book reviews... And so I asked around in a writers' group on Facebook, just seeing who was recently published who would be willing, and to date about a dozen people have taken me up on the offer! I have thoroughly enjoyed the process, not just getting FREE BOOKS (always a plus!) but also being able to give direct feedback to the writer about their work. As a writer myself I know how valuable that feedback can be!

When are you going to publish a novel?—Shaun

WHEN I'M GOOD AND READY, DOGGONE-IT!

No, but seriously...
I have written a novella that is going to be (fingers crossed!) part of an anthology that is set to be released this fall... But first drafts aren't even due yet, and we haven't started the crowd-funding campaign so there's no telling where this is going to go...

After that, who knows? My biggest hurdle is knowing first of all which publishing avenue nets me the best deal—second of all, which of my dozens of good ideas can I feasibly finish in time and feel good enough about to put it forth as my "debut novel"?? Or should I go with an idea I have already finished—such as the ones I have used for Serial Saturdays? (At one point I was considering even publishing the Suggestion Box Series' as what they are: a string of short stories, and a couple really long ones; you all are welcome to let me know what you think of that idea!) I feel like once I've reached the end of a novel and I feel like "Yes! THIS IS THE ONE!" I can finally go ahead and publish it. Till then ... I'll just keep writing!

What is your favorite book from the old classics, and how did it influence your worldview?—Pamela

Hmm, this is a good question! I would have to say that, after growing up reading the pastel-colored, light and fluffy idyllic children's-literature-type stuff, finally reading "The Screwtape Letters" (how "old" are we talking, here?) really caused me to sit up and take notice of my writing. As far as influencing my worldview--I find that the best books always give me something to reflect on as I come away from them, and "re-enter" (in a way) my normal life. So in a way, nearly all the old classics helped shape my worldview in some little way. 
"Screwtape" wouldn't be my favorite, though. I would have to say maybe something more like "Eight Cousins" or pretty much anything by Louisa May Alcott. I love her characters so much, I have re-read her books like at least a dozen times each. (I may have even attempted adapting "Eight Cousins" for a radio drama at one point...)

What author has had the greatest influence on your writing?—Erin

Oh, this is a tough one! So many... But I would have to say that the few that have had the most influence--especially since finishing college--are Ray Bradbury (specifically Farenheit 451) and Isaac Asimov (his style, for sure! I have read so many of his novels, and I love them all!) in the sci-fi genre, Cornelia Funke (author of Inkheart and Reckless, two utterly FANTASTIC series!) and J. K. Rowling when I'm writing fantasy, and Marcus Zusak (predominantly The Book Thief). The thing is, I tend to "take on" the style of whatever I read or watch a lot of, so I would definitely attribute my style to a lot of sources. 
In particular, though, I list Farenheit 451 because of one specific quote from there that has stuck with me for the last five years since I read it, that has profoundly impacted my approach to writing: when one of his characters says, "Good writers touch life often." I read that and realized as I never had before that this is what makes the great literature so great. It was their use of language to connect the reader to real-life things, even in the most remote fantasy or sci-fi environment. Provided the writer stays in touch with real life, the reader can relate to the world within the pages, and it becomes that much more viable--but not as an escape from reality, rather a new way of understanding it. Touching life often means that the writer ensures that what he writes never loses touch with reality, so that leaving the world of the book is not like a culture shock that leaves one depressed and discontent with their lot in life, but graver and more grateful in their understanding of their own circumstances. 
The Book Thief was probably one of the first books with a completely unorthodox style of writing that I had ever experienced. It's hard to explain, so if you haven't read that book, you need to to understand--but rather than detracting or distracting from the story like you would expect, Zusak's clever placement and tactful writing--again, still ensuring that he is touching life--actually lent a deeper level of meaning to the book and its characters and events. It definitely came as a surprise, but I loved the experience of it!

If you could be any one of your characters, which one would you be and why?—John

Oh dear! Who to choose... You really don't know how many characters I actually have, do you?
Maybe I would be Melanie from the Telmar Trilogy, because I think it would be totally awesome to experience hearing and speaking for the first time ever, after a lifetime of not being able to do either; or perhaps Casey from "Fairies Under Glass," because I had so much fun developing that world and its creatures that I would love to actually experience it "for reals" and see if my ideas actually work!

How did you decide which degree to study for in college and why?—Rachel

Well, at the time I knew I wanted to go for something writing-related. For sure if I was going to have to focus on one subject for the next three to four years, it was going to be something I would actually enjoy so I would never get tired of it! (and at least for a few months after I graduated, I will admit I was actually tired of reading!) When I first started looking into starting college, I was deciding between three majors: Communications, Journalism, and English.
The trouble with Communications is I am perfectly AWFUL at public speaking. I detest it. So being in a degree where I would have to give speeches for my grade was not appealing.
As for Journalism, while the idea of calling myself a "journalist" was fun, there were classes like Statistics and Political Science that I would have to take... No thank you!
I chose English because it was a good "foundational degree" that I could then take into the teaching field if I so chose, it was good for lots and lots of writing and literature, which I loved, it was an easy degree—and the bonus was I only needed one math class, so I could just take the easiest one and call it good!

Thanks for your questions! Be on the lookout for more great stuff coming your way from The Upstream Writer! And if you have a question of your own, leave it in the comments and I'll answer it in the next #AskMeAnything post!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Serial Saturday: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar" Part 3

"Sobbing brokenly, running blindly, she staggered unseeing through the garden
until she collapsed to her knees at the foot of a tall tree...."

[Excerpt from Chapter 3]
The poor girl was tortured by her own memories as the mention of her unworthiness brought visions of Them before her mind's eye. Go away! she thought, Leave me alone!

But They would not leave, and remained, sneering at her, accusing her, putting her in her place where she belonged.

Suddenly, among Their leering faces, Melanie saw Taurin's kind face. The other faces dissipated like darkness around a candle. "Melanie," he pleaded, "what are you doing? Why do you refuse His Lordship?"

"I'm not w-worthy!" The words unleashed the sobs Melanie had vainly attempted to swallow. She sobbed to Taurin, "You are more worthy than I! You ought to be Lord of Nast!"

"Melanie, I cannot be Lord! I have the school to tend. There is none to teach it if I do not. It has been closed these last few months as I have been here."

"Taurin, I am not worthy!"

"You are, Melanie! You are worthy because you saved Lord Fausberg's life!"

Melanie looked at him with wide, tearful, bewildered eyes. "But you were there too!"
 
"Yet every witness could only identify one person: you. Think Melanie: they identified you as my father's daughter. When they discovered you were gone, I—as the next of kin—was made heir apparent and forced to live here! I don't want to be here, Melanie! I want to go back to my school. You must accept this, if only to prevent Gatling from becoming the next Lord of Nast!"

The awfulness of such a day nearly convinced Melanie to accept, if only to prevent such a terrible, conniving man from achieving his diabolical end, but They returned, spurning Melanie in her mind's eye.

"No!" Melanie cried, standing away from Taurin, "I'm not worthy!"

Taurin grabbed her arms, "Melanie, you are worthy for us," he said gently.

Melanie shook her head as tears poured down her face. "No," she sobbed, "not with what I am."

The poor girl broke from Taurin's grasp and ran, as it turned out, out into the large castle gardens.

Sobbing brokenly, running blindly, she staggered unseeing through the garden until she collapsed to her knees at the foot of a tall tree. Their faces scowled at her in her mind's eye, and she accepted Their verdict. "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy!"

"Child."

Even in her mind's eye, Melanie saw the Lion, whose resplendent glory silenced all accusations and dispelled every last visage. Melanie opened her tear-filled eyes and raised her head.

Aslan stood before her, his magnificent face full of pity. "Why do you weep, Child?" he asked.

"Aslan," Melanie choked, "they want me to rule Nast, and be a Lady, but I cannot!"

"Why can you not, Child?"

"I . . . I—I'm n-not wo-worthy!" she wept.

"They do not seem to think so, Child. What is it that makes you so unworthy?"

Something within Melanie did not want to admit her deplorable condition to one so powerful, so pure, and so noble; yet something else convinced her that these very qualities were reason enough to tell him.
"I . . . I am . . . I—I'm cu-cu-cursed! If I rule this land, I will bring my curse upon them!"

Deep in her heart-of-hearts, Melanie realized how uncommonly insensible such logic was, but They had taught her such things since the day she was born. Why should she believe differently now?

"Melanie." Something in his tone compelled her to look at him.

"Let me tell you a tale: there was once a traitor so consumed with his own desires that he was willing to cheat and deceive his own brother and sisters to attain them. Such betrayal required his death as penalty. This death sentence was as a curse upon him. However, another man, a perfectly innocent one, whose every deed was righteous, stepped in and offered his life in place of the traitor. He died the accursed death, that by the righteous man's death, the law that once condemned the traitor would be fulfilled, and the curse would become a blessing instead."

Such a longing welled up within Melanie that she burst out, "Would that such a righteous one remove my curse!"
 
To read the full chapter, click -->HERE<--
>>>>>>>

[Excerpt from Chapter 4]
In addition to instructing her by the use of books, Leif occasionally accompanied Melanie on excursions around the province, provided for Melanie to increase her familiarity with the terrain and the inhabitants of the land she would rule.

It was on one of these outings, not two weeks since Melanie's lessons began, that Leif suddenly turned to Melanie with a very serious expression on her face. "Melanie, we have become close friends, and I would be honored if you would tell me truly the answer to the question that has been on my mind ever since I first heard about you: where are you from?"

Melanie, who had been expecting something much worse, laughed lightly at the question. "Well, I'm from England," she said.

Leif continued to stare at her strangely. "But where is England? Is it in Narnia? Is it an island in the Northern Sea?"

An odd fear clutched at Melanie's throat; what was her friend and teacher insinuating? "Well, it is an island," she answered vaguely, "and it is to the north . . ."

Leif had her cornered, and the woman was very well aware of that fact. "But it's not off the coast of Narnia, is it? It's not anywhere in the whole Great Sea."

Melanie grew very flustered. "And what if it isn't? Why are you so curious about my origins?"

Leif sighed and cocked her head sympathetically. "Now, please don't be angry with me; I am merely curious. As one who has been many places, and seen many things, I have quite a store of knowledge about geography and demographics. But you, Melanie, are quite unlike anyone I've seen in all the world. Come now," she smiled playfully, like a fellow conspirator, "we are alone in this carriage, and no one can hear us. I can be trusted with secrets. Please answer me truthfully, Melanie, for I greatly desire to know: are you from this world or not?"

To read the full chapter, click -->HERE<--

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt: Clan Murgard (Part 2)


(See previous post for Part 1!) 

    I heard it before my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness and I could make it out: a gigantic bull dragon, easily five times the size of the she-dragon, lay unmoving at the back of the cave. Immediately when he saw me, he lifted his head and roared so loud in my face that my ears rang for a full five minutes and my head hurt. I stopped, but the she-dragon nudged me onward. I turned back to look at her, not sure what she wanted. The she-dragon leaned back on her haunches and spat a fireball at the ceiling of the cave. A massive wad of dry trees and brush hung there, held in place by large amounts of pitch. The fire caused the mass to blaze brightly, a makeshift chandelier that lit up the whole cavern. I turned back to the bull dragon.

    His side opened in a wide hole, probably a battle wound. All around it the scales were wet with blood, and when I saw movement in the wound, I peered closely and saw it was badly infected with large maggots. I turned back to the she-dragon, and saw that she now held a large spear in her mouth. She dropped it at my feet. What was I going to do with it? Was she asking me to kill the dragon? I turned back to the wound. It was not too deep (for the dragon, anyway! The wound was actually about a foot deep at its lowest point, and about that wide); if I could just clean it out, maybe the dragon didn’t have to die. Forthwith, I took the heavy spear and—as gently as I could—tried to scrape the maggots off.

    Just as soon as the spear brushed the first maggot, I felt enormous claws in my back, shoving me into the stone floor of the cavern. The she-dragon was on top of me! I couldn’t see anything; what was she doing? Her wing extended down in front of me, and beyond that I could see a bright light and I felt a terrible heat. I realized that the bull dragon had let forth a stream of deadly fire, and were it not for the she-dragon’s intervention, I probably would have been nothing but a pile of ash by now. As soon as he was done, the she-dragon flew in his face, forcing his head back down. She then sat on his neck, preventing him from moving his head. She nodded firmly for me to continue.
    I scraped some more, and of course the bull dragon flailed with his claws, and roared loudly the whole time, but at that angle, he could not reach me. Once the last maggot dropped off the wound, I turned back to the she-dragon.

    I needed water to wash the wound, but they had no cloths, no bowl, and nothing of that sort in this cave! How could I communicate this to her? I backed up toward the front of the cavern. By the light of the massive, nearby moon (it was so large I could see the furry Moon-Beems hard at work in its craters) I could see a valley outside. At the edge of the valley, I saw a huge, thundering waterfall. That was what I needed. 

     I pointed this out to the she-dragon, trying to communicate with signs that I wanted some of that water. She nodded in understanding, and roared something to the world outside. Ten minutes later, a third dragon flew to the cliff with a huge tree in its claws. I was slightly worried; had she misunderstood? I did not want a tree; I wanted water! The dragon set the tree on the cavern floor, and flew away. I saw that the dragon had hollowed out the tree and filled it with more than enough water. Now for a cloth; there was none in the cavern. I looked down at the collared shirt I wore. That would do; I stripped down to my tee-shirt and dunked my shirt into the water.

    The she-dragon watched silently as again and again I traversed between the tree and the dragon, cleaning the dried blood and the wet from around the scales. The water (and my shirt) grew blacker and blacker with the dragon-blood. At last, I dunked the shirt one more time and stuffed it into the wound, effectively staunching it.

    The she-dragon stepped off the bull dragon’s neck. Sometime during the operation he had fallen asleep from fatigue, and I knew that his sleep was most likely more comfortable than he had been since receiving the wound. She looked at the bloody shirt in the wound, and down at me, scratched and bruised from the day’s events, splashing water over my own head and breathing hard because I didn’t recall breathing since I first touched the bull-dragon.

    The she-dragon stood over me and opened her mouth. I looked up and she breathed a puff of warm air into my face so suddenly that I gasped. Immediately, I felt a strange sensation in my throat, like a coating of some sort that no amount of throat-clearing, chest-thumping or coughing could dislodge. I looked at her, and for the first time, she spoke to me in her tongue, and I understood her.

    “I name you Strommblenarch. For your courage and your kindness to my father,” she growled, “I have given you Dragon Voice. We of clan Murgard are your clan-mates. I am Knassa, your clan-sister. If at any time you are in danger, you have only to call the name Murgard, and we shall fly to your aid from the far reaches of Phantasm.”

    I did not fully grasp the significance of her words, but I knew from her tone that this privilege was a rare honor, and I was grateful.
    “Thank you,” I said—or rather, I intended to say it, but all that came out of my mouth was a feeble groan. What was the matter? I saw her nod, and I realized with a jolt that I had spoken in Dragon! Was this the Dragon Voice she spoke about, by which I could now speak to and understand dragons? I tried to speak again.
    “May I return to my friends now?” I asked her, and again, my words came out in a series of grunts, growls, and whines, with no effort on my part.

    “In the morning I will honor your request and return you to your kind,” Knassa replied. “For now, you may sleep here. Caven Murgard shall henceforth be your clan-home, whenever you need rest or sanctuary. Sleep well, Brother Stormmblenarch.”

    I nodded in response and prepared to lie down on the stone floor of the Caven. Knassa seemed to smile and lifted me gently in her claw. Spreading her wing underneath me, she placed me softly on its flexible, sturdy surface. The sensation was one of lying in a heated leather hammock, and I fell asleep instantly.

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt: Here There Be Dragons (Part 1)

Image from DeviantArt

We heard a deafening roar before we saw anything.
    “Dragons!” Mark yelled, as the gryphons began flying in random patterns around each other in an attempt to shake them off.

    As if I thought I’d glimpsed every species in Phantasm, along came the scaly, winged behemoths, flying full speed toward us. It didn’t take long until they were among the gryphons, clawing and snapping at them. I knew the gryphons could not fight with us humans on their backs.
    “Put us down, we can run!” I cried, and Akhrie relayed the message to her friends.
    They set down in the middle of a wide field.

    “Okay, everybody run!” I yelled, swinging off Akhrie’s back and helping my wife down. The forest was less than a mile away, and I knew Linda was on the other side of it. If we could get among the trees before the battle between the gryphons and the dragons was over—
    Another loud roar caused us to turn. The dragons were alone in the skies! They had driven the gryphons away!

    “Incoming!” Sheerya warned, as a fireball landed in the grass not twenty yards away.
    “Keep running!” I yelled.
    Halfway toward the forest, the dragons caught up with us. Ironically, in that tense situation, the one thing running through my mind (besides, of course, “run!”) was, What do you call a group of dragons? A flock? A herd? Or would it be a drove, maybe?

    Meanwhile, we were getting closer to the forest, but the dragons were now close enough to dive-bomb us. We had the advantage of being able to spread out, stop, and change directions much faster than they could, but they were much larger and stronger than we were. They would fly low to the ground and swing their long necks like huge, flexible tree trunks and snapping at us.

    Dani’s hand slipped from my grasp as she clutched her right side. I stopped beside her. She was gasping for breath.
    “Come on, honey,” I tried to encourage her, to lift her back to her feet, “I’m not going to lose you again, we’re almost there! Just keep going!”

    “Look out!” Sheerya cried. I ducked and threw my left arm around Dani, also protecting my own head with my right arm. I heard the dragon roar as it swept over our heads so closely that a wad of spittle from its mouth dropped on the back of my shirt.
    “Ready?” I asked Dani.
    “Yeah,” she nodded.
    “Let’s go!” We took off together toward the forest.

    Mark and Linnea were already among the trees, and Barbara, Tom, Chen, and Hammad were within the tree line. The dragons knew this too, for they began to drop back.
    Barbara turned around as she neared the forest. Her eyes grew wide and she pointed toward me. “Behind you!”
    I pushed Danielle into the tree line and crouched low, still running. Relief swept over me when I saw the hind legs of the dragon pass over my head. I was safe!

    Just as my feet hit the tree line, something caught my knee and jerked me into the air.
    “Aahhh!” I screamed.
    “Casey!” Dani shrieked.
    It was the dragon’s tail! It whipped me right into the hind-claws of the dragon, and the beast lifted straight into the air with its claws around my waist.
    “Keep them safe, Sheerya!” I yelled, and just barely heard her reply, “Okay!” before the dragon darted through a cloud and I could not see the forest any more.

    When we finally exited the cloud, a vast expanse of forest spread beneath me, and a gigantic mountain range loomed on the horizon. The dragon flew higher and higher until the huge forest look like a patch of moss under my feet. Then it descended so rapidly I felt sick. Very soon, we flew into the mountains. The grand, snow-covered peaks dipping into tree-lined valleys, and the orange sun setting on the horizon probably would have been gorgeous to admire if I had not been in such pain from the claws digging into my ribs and a savage dragon carrying me to some far away location. I took what comfort I could find in the fact that if the dragon wanted to eat me itself, it probably would have done so by now. Yet a little voice prevented any comfort by insinuating that perhaps it was a mother dragon, taking me back to her nest (if dragons had nests; I had no idea!) to feed me to her babies.
    The dragon took a hard right, and I saw a huge, hollow cavern looming before us.
    So dragons didn’t live in nests.

    A cliff extended about one hundred feet from the entrance to the cave. The evening sky blazed vermillion as the dragon honed in to land on the cliff.
    I was worried she was going to either drop me from a great height, or crush me under her claws, but just before my feet touched the cliff, she tossed me up to her left fore-claw and landed catlike on her other three claws. She entered the cavern and none too gently tossed me against the wall. I lay there, too weak and sore to move, as she turned away from me. To my surprise, I saw her glance out of the corner of her eye as her great tail came swinging right for me! I cried out and ducked as the heavy barb smashed into the wall over my head.

    The she-dragon whirled around and snarled at me as I cowered in a little ball against the empty cavern wall. Closer and closer she crept, growling fiercer and fiercer. What did she want with me? I tried to remember the stories my mom would read to me about dragons. What got their attention?

    In that moment, I remembered one tale that she would read all the time; I’d entirely forgotten the story, but at least I remembered that the single quality dragons respected in someone who was not a dragon was valor. I needed to show valor in the face of this angry dragon.

    I stopped cowering as the she-dragon came so close her breath felt burning hot on my skin. I stood up and looked her in the eye as she came closer. As soon as we made eye contact, she stopped. I sensed that perhaps this dragon was not a wanton savage; she was testing my courage!

    She reared back on her hind legs, sending a spray of fire in the air with a roar. I did not budge. Truthfully, I was more or less petrified in that position; I couldn’t move if I wanted to! She bent down directly over me, mouth wide open as if to swallow me. She brought her head down, and I suddenly threw my arms out, as if inviting her to carry out her apparent intentions. She let her head fall toward me—
    and snapped her mouth shut so close to me, I could feel her snout brush my chest.

    The she-dragon pulled her head back and looked at me with my arms still spread, duly impressed. She grunted and lost all aggressiveness. After how roughly she had treated me before, I was surprised at the gentleness with which she prodded my shoulder, prompting me to venture deeper into the cavern. I obediently walked ahead of her, unsure of what I would find in the dark recesses of the cave.

Did you enjoy this? Read more about Phantasm HERE, and check out other excerpts from "Fairies Under Glass" by clicking HERE!