Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #9



Suggested by: Jennifer R

The List:
Auryn
9:56pm
Brazil
A toaster
(Photo included)

The Result:
Title:
The Vanishing Nebula
("Soul Mates" Part 5) 
 
On the roof of the Universidad Astrològica de Brazil, a lone figure leaned, transfixed, over the eyepiece of a large telescope. Auryn Santos couldn't resist reveling in the thrill that raced down her back as she sat with her neck strangely twisted, one eye plastered to the scope. The jewel-toned celestial cloud twisted and danced almost imperceptibly before her vision. Auryn could have remained, mesmerized, for hours—if a shooting pain in her neck did not remind her that, should she choose that option, she would also be choosing potentially permanent damage to the muscles that kept her head from flopping to the side like a demented ostrich. Auryn pulled back and massaged the crook of her shoulder. Looking up at the sky with naked eyes, she could see no sign of the massive nebula she had been watching. The things she saw through that telescope were truly reserved for her eyes only; others could only imagine the amazing things she saw. Only she could prove and bear witness to their existence. Smiling softly, she moved to the small portable table beside her and jotted down a note.

9:56 PM—Auryn Santos Observation 21.1. Prism Nebula shows activity. Shifting consistent with gravitational pull of nearby celestial bodies.

The creak of the door broke the stillness of the night.
"Auryn?"

She looked up and smiled as a dark-haired woman emerged from the stairwell.
“I was wondering how long it would take,” Auryn remarked.
Her co-worker shook her head. “I thought everyone else had left by now; why are you still here so late?”
Auryn waved a hand carelessly. “Oh, you know me, Arielle,” she sighed, “burning the midnight oil.”
Arielle leaned over the table and sniffed at the toaster sitting next to the coffee maker, grimacing delicately at the odor. “More like burning the midnight toast,” she remarked.
Auryn gasped and flipped the lever on the appliance; she had completely forgotten ever turning it on. She gave her friend an embarrassed grin.
“Oops,” she remarked, removing the narrow slab of charcoal from the wiry depths of the toaster.
Arielle chuckled as she leaned back against the table and crossed her arms. She tilted her head back and regarded the Latina with a droll expression. “Suddenly I’ve figured out why all the professors prefer you to keep your work in areas completely devoid of delicate machinery or volatile chemicals.”
Auryn snorted. “One little mistake—“
“The bacteria cultures from last week?”
“How was I supposed to know they’d react so fast? Isn’t that why they call it an experiment? Because the outcome is uncertain?”
“Auryn! That’s why they want students to form hypotheses beforehand, so that when you do begin the experiment, at least you have some sense of expectation!”

Auryn stuck her lip out in a pout. “Anyway,” she changed the subject, “what are you doing here so late? Your project was done hours ago.”
Arielle fingered a lock of her hair as she got what Auryn called her “cute face”: the expression of love and longing tinged with admiration and gratification that always came on when she thought of her husband, thousands of miles away.
“I know,” said Arielle. “Kenneth called.”
Auryn raised her eyebrows and gestured with her open hand. “And?” she prompted.
Arielle still kept the smile on her face. “And we talked.”
Auryn reached over and gave Arielle’s shoulder a joking push. “And?” she repeated.
Arielle rolled her eyes. “And we said goodbye.” Her sparkling eyes danced as she enjoyed the effect her evasions were having upon her friend.
Auryn stuck out her tongue at her friend. “That’s not what I meant, chiquita linda; what did you talk about?
Arielle let out a sigh. “All right, fine; he was just asking how my project was going, and he just wanted to give me an update about how things are going back at home. Apparently he’s got another lecture series going on at—“

Arielle’s voice cut off and Auryn flinched as a blinding flash streaked across the sky. A resounding crack followed the flash, and Auryn thought she saw a sizeable explosion somewhere in the northeast, over the Atlantic Ocean.
“What was that?” Arielle squeaked.
Auryn was still watching the sky, wondering where the explosion had come from, and what it meant. “I don’t know…” her voice trailed off as her eyes wandered back to the telescope. Would she be able to see anything from there? “Let me check something,” she said, moving to the eyepiece.
Nothing but blank space and distant stars many thousands of light-years away met her searching gaze. Auryn adjusted the angle of the telescope left and right, but all to no avail. “Impossible!” she cried. “Where did it go?”
“Where did what go?” Arielle asked, moving to stand beside her.
Auryn backed away and gestured for Arielle to have a look. “Right there is the position where I’ve been watching this really gorgeous nebula all week long—and now it’s completely gone!”
“Auryn,” Arielle looked up from the telescope. “You sound ridiculous. How can an entire nebula just be gone? If it was one star in the last stages of its life, I could understand—but a nebula? That’s a whole bunch of cosmic dust right there!”
“Well,” Auryn threw up her hands, “where else could it be?”
Arielle shrugged. “How should I know? You might check meteorological sites or something. Maybe they would have more information on whatever that flash-bang thing was, too.”

Auryn opened her computer and started typing information into the search box.
“Okay, let’s see… here’s something: ‘Large Meteor Crashes Just Off The Coast Of Ireland.’ Oh, no way!” She grinned and scanned the article. “Okay, it says they’re not completely sure where it landed, but there are quite a number of smaller islands around the area within the meteor’s trajectory, so chances might be that the meteor struck one of those.”
Arielle was already reading over her shoulder. “Neat!” she said.

Auryn was already noting the event in her logbook.

10PM—Auryn Santos Observation 21.2 Loud explosion, lots of light and noises. Prism Nebula has disappeared. Why? When will it show up again?

Auryn glanced at her friend and smiled very slowly. “Hey Arielle,” she said, “wanna bail and go hunt for a meteor off the coast of Ireland?”
Arielle grinned. “I think that sounds like a great idea,” she yawned heavily, “but let’s get some sleep first. We can ask the Dean’s permission in the morning.”
Auryn nodded.


Previously in This Series:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reader's Review: "Foul is Fair" by Jeffery Cook and Katherine Perkins


Synopsis from Amazon:
Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they're little. Megan O'Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn't an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother's obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn't entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There's a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan's getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren't even supposed to be the good guys. As she's further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.
>>>>>>>

My Review:

I love it when fantasy writers delve into the unexpected whimsy of the genre. I love it when it's so new that you can't predict what's going to happen next, and yet so familiar that no matter what sort of creature or phenomenon crosses your path or page, you know exactly what the author is talking about. I love it when fantasy calls attention to the beauty of the real world.
 
All of these things can be said for "Foul is Fair." Megan is a girl struggling with ADHD, having to take pills that make her docile and hazy, but don't do much to improve her focus. Gradually, she begins to notice a change in her world, as glimpses of the existence of another realm in conjunction with ours begin to appear. She meets a pixie with butterfly wings riding a crow (the one who had been replacing her pills with normal vitamins so that this could be possible) and finds out that she is the daughter of the King of the Unseelie Court of the Fairies, the one in charge of the wind, who brings the balance of cool to the Seelie Queen's warmth. But her father is missing from his throne, and Megan must travel deep into the fairy realm to find him...

Or the consequences for her world will be devastating. 

 
I had never known much about the Seelie/Unseelie lore before reading this book. I just knew that the Seelie were the pretty, colorful, "happy" fairy folk, and the Unseelie were the ugly, dark, "foul" ones.

 But if that were still the case, it would be called "Foul is Foul", wouldn't it? Cook and Perkins conspire together to show the "foul" hiding behind a fair face, by giving us a heroine with a fair face attached to the supposed "foul" side of Faerie. The theme of "foul" and "fair" being in balance to improve the world is consistent throughout, and I loved all of the side characters—Megan's Hawaiian best friend Lani, who turns out to be Fae herself (a menehune, in fact), Justin of Ludlow, Ashling, Peadar the Redcap, Cassia the Satyress—everybody was absolutely fantastic. This is definitely an adventure I will want to relive over and over again. And I can't wait for the next one!

"Foul is Fair" earns *****FIVE STARS***** and an Official Upstream Writer Certified "DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED"! 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 1 Part 5

"Errors! Errors everywhere! Granthem lifted his wide eyes to the throng of students before him."
 Previously: Chapter 1  <Part 1> <Part 2> <Part 3> <Part 4>


Atis tugged the tight leather collar and squirmed under the leather epaulets, hoping to relax them over his shoulders so they wouldn’t feel so much like tools of torture. Sweat pouring down between skin and leather only made the experience more miserable. The young man glanced over to Barmier, who wore the same leather livery and yet remained as impassive as ever. What sort of man could stand this sort of outfit, one that bound and squeezed and rubbed furiously?

“Hey,” a whisper ahead of him caused Atis to cease his movements; the Black Hand commander, Carsius, was able to make himself heard to the young soldier without compromising appearances. “You’re attracting attention; stop wriggling.”
“Dumb straps are too tight!” Atis complained barely above a whisper.
“Hold still, that’s an order!” the voice snapped, and Atis responded automatically, straightening to attention.

The quintet made their way toward the small Training School—modeled after the Temple-University that crowned the horizon—near the south side of town.

Laurel, at the center, found it was no trouble keeping the appearance of a frail old woman; the successive failures of the morning had drained her energy and left her limbs very weak. With the althraxine fully in her system now, as well, the wyrts latched onto her easily. She fought to keep from shaking the annoying things off her skirts, knowing that their presents only served to reduce the suspicion of the people. The wyrts, of course, would not naturally go anywhere near the four men guarding her, but a bit of glue on the footpads of at least one wyrt each served to maintain appearances.

At last, they arrived at the foot of the stairs leading to the front door of the Training School. Carsius saw Laurel falter slightly, and moved to support her.
“Easy,” he cautioned.
“I’m—“ Laurel’s voice stammered windily, “I’m all—all right.”

They began the ascent. The guards in front of the door only glanced at this richly-garbed woman, not paying the least attention to her escorts, and allowed her entrance.
The doors opened to a cool, shady hallway with many doors and vaulted ceilings.
“Where to, now?” Augustus whispered, even that slight noise echoing off the stones.

“My Lady!” a loud voice cried, as a portly, well-dressed man emerged from one of the doors on the left. “My Lady Miligred! How kind of you to—“

“Yes, that’s all very well, Granthem,” Laurel snapped haughtily, entering into her character with a vigor that surprised everyone including herself. Where had she gotten his name from? Yet it had slipped as easily off her tongue as if she had known him for a very long while. Laurel knew it had to be the wyrt-influence; furthermore, she was aware that this wyrt, in accessing her consciousness, might have also “read” her desire to continue to the highest point in the school. She spoke the request as it came to mind.
“Which is the way to the bell-tower? I wish to meditate there.”

“The bell-tower?” Granthem blinked briefly; his eyes lit up, “Ah! Your usual retreat; it is that stairway right over there.” He pointed to a recess in the wall on the right, twenty paces on. “May I escort—“

“Thank you, Granthem, that will be all,” Laurel passed the blustering man over as if he did not matter in the least.

Granthem bowed to the train of her dress. “Thank you, your Grace.” His wyrt reminded him that he had so many books to read aloud to so many students. Granthem returned to the classroom without a second thought.

Laurel prepared to ascend the steps. She looked at her fellow operatives.
“Here we go again,” she sighed, trying to put on a bold face for their sake.

They knew she was faking it. “Be careful up there, Laurel,” Carsius cautioned her. “Are you sure you don’t want at least one of us to follow you, just to keep an eye on you?”

Laurel shook her head, “I’m fine! Now, the sooner I do this, the sooner I can get out of this beastly dress! You all guard the stairs, make sure no one gets suspicious.” She turned toward the steps.
“Um,” Atis cleared his throat hesitantly, “how will we know if you’ve succeeded?”
Laurel fixed him with a serious stare. “You’ll know,” she answered, and left the men.

She entered the tower. At the center of the room was a large, upright leather chair, similar to the furniture at Sister Miligred’s house, so Laurel understood that perhaps she did visit here regularly to “meditate,” whatever that meant. Half-melted candles, faded books, crumbling scrolls—and a layer of dust over it all. Laurel tried to sit on the chair, but the angle of the back coupled with the layers of fabric and skirt-hoops and bustles underneath her nearly prevented it. Laurel deliberately picked up a wyrt and held it in her palm, concentrating closely.

Almost immediately, her head filled with the droning voice of Granthem, reading the Detailed History of the World and Its Wars. Perfect! She listened as he droned on about how chaos and barbarism was the way of people before the Elitinati, and that it was the successful people who possessed any kind of order, which the Elitinati only capitalized and improved on to bring society to its current state of peace and order.
Laurel pulled out of the way of influence and quickly found the thought that would combat this Elitinati-induced belief. Carefully, constantly, Laurel focused on the wyrt and the teacher with her thought, pushing and prodding against the influence, knowing—hoping—that her actions would attract the attention of the mother-mind, so that they would be able to find it.

~<>~

Down in the lecture hall, Granthem had the book in front of him, but he had been through it so many times he could drone it verbatim from memory.
…And so it was that the glorious Elitinati vanquished the oppression that had plagued the nation of Verax. The Elitinati soon established a more perfect form of government, one that kept all control firmly in the hands of specific individuals. Life improved for the Veraxines, and slavery and censorship eliminated the possibility of human error—“

The entire room chorused, “Amen!” automatically in the silence, but Granthem did not continue as he ought have. Something troubled him.
Slavery and censorship? Were they not the forms of oppression Verax had labored under for so long? Suddenly, Granthem found himself no longer droning or memorizing strings of words; he realized that before him lay something that no one had ever noticed before, something no one had ever thought the Elitinati capable of doing—

Granthem saw error.

Error! The Elitinati had erred? Impossible! Elitinati did not err!

And yet…human error. 

Did humans err? Was it possible for someone—even those living in the Enlightened City herself, to make even the smallest mistake?

Human error.

The thought occurred again. Granthem pondered: if humans could err, then quite possibly the humans who wrote these textbooks had been…wrong in their thinking. And if they were wrong about facts of history… could they be wrong about other subjects, too?

Granthem hurriedly closed the history book and pulled out one on science. He began reading.
“Since we know that the sun orbits the earth on a lateral axis, it must follow that the subsequent orbits of the planets occasionally overlap the orbit, creating phenomena like nighttime, the weather, and seasons…. The origin of life on Eillumaeia began with the impact of a meteorite on some latent biological material strewn over the surface of the planet. Depending on the location of the material and the angle of the blast, all creatures came into being from this same material…”

Errors! Errors everywhere! Granthem lifted his wide eyes to the throng of students before him. Their wyrts quivered, and the students themselves held their heads and rocked with the same realization:
Humans had the capacity to err. Not everything one said or read was absolutely true.

Human error.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Dragon's Quest" Excerpt: A Dragon and His Name

“What then? Shall the worm take up arms, that the battle may be justified?”
[Excerpt from Chapter 7]
 
          A shadow passed over us. I looked up, thinking it may have been a cloud or something, but I didn't see anything.
          Suddenly, Jerak whipped his head around. "Laura, look out!"

          Something swept my feet out from under me. I fell forward onto my hands and scrambled to get my feet under me. Something long and scaly struck me from the other side, sending me skidding over the ground on my back. A massive claw pinned me down, and I found myself staring into the huge, pointed face of a young—
          "Dragon!" I squeaked.

          Wriggling as hard as I could to curl up into the smallest size possible, I could hide under the "palm" of the dragon's claw. The huge, curving nails curled toward me in an attempt to flatten me out again, but I kept dodging them and tucking myself back under again.

        "Hold, Worm!" It rumbled. "Prostrate thyself, that I may slay thee and so make a Name for myself!"

          "Like heck I will!" I screamed back, still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was struggling under the six-foot-span claw of a dragon easily ten times bigger than that in the length of its whole body.
          The claw lifted slightly, and I saw my chance. I scrambled for the opening with every ounce of energy I had.

            Jerak, meanwhile, was rearing in the dragon’s face. He couldn’t hurt the dragon, and they both knew it, but at the very least his silver hooves presented an uncomfortable situation, and kept the beast from getting at me as I cowered behind the unicorn.
            “Hold, Dragon,” the almost-Guardian commanded imperiously, “Ye shall not slay a harmless worm, lest ye become a Worm likewise.”

             From relative safety, I could get a better look at the dragon; he was actually quite pretty, with scales of the deepest emerald sparkling in the sunlight. The thick neck swayed like a palm tree, and his yellow eyes peered down at the two of us. 
            The dragon picked up his head and sat back on his haunches. “What then? Shall the worm take up arms, that the battle may be justified?” A whiff of smoke escaped his nostrils, as if he found the idea arousing.
            I moved to speak, but Jerak beat me to it, working his way between the dragon and me. “Nay, but thou shalt find another deed than killing, for this is not thine to kill.”

            “Oh rot!” The dragon dropped his decorum and blasted a nearby tree with a fireball. “The ritual is tonight, and I have yet to find one more suitable deed to earn a name!” He flopped onto the ground and covered his snout with his claws. “I am doomed; I shall remain Dragon for the rest of my days!”
            I leaned close to Jerak, “What is he talking about?”
            “Here in Phantasm,” the unicorn explained, “Dragons must earn their names by doing noble deeds. Depending on how many or how important a deed the dragon does, he receives a name that will shape his destiny for the rest of his life.”
            Thinking quickly, I called out, “Dragon, I canst help thee!”

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Jerak hissed, but Dragon had already turned toward me. 
             
          He prodded me in the stomach with his snout. I could not keep my balance, and fell onto my rear. He chuckled.
            “You?” he mocked derisively, “What could you do to help me? A Dragon asks help from no one.”
            “That may be so,” I persisted, getting to my feet again, “But I know of a deed that may not require any killing, but will be recognized among your kind as a most noble deed.”
           
             He peered down at me, “Speak, worm; I shall listen.”

            “All right,” I began, irritated at the way he kept calling me “worm,” “First, my name is Laura. You must call me that; my plan is this: there is a band of trolls headed for the dark towns; they have trapped a gryphon for their entertainment. Your task will be to rescue this gryphon from them.”

          “A gryphon?” Jerak hissed. “Laura, I hardly think a creature that can’t even speak for itself is worth the effort it would take to save it.“
          I shot him a look. “Remember how you said you weren’t assigned yet?”

          “Not so loud!” Jerak scooted forward so that Dragon couldn’t overhear us. “What does that have to do with anything?”

          I shrugged, “Well, I’m just saying—what if you’re going to be a Mountain Guardian? Wouldn’t rescuing the gryphon and earning their respect today work out better for you?”

          Jerak sniffed. “If I am their Guardian, the would have no choice but to respect me!”

          I rolled my eyes and groaned. Stepping around the arrogant unicorn, I looked up at Dragon. “What say you?” I asked.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Reading List




*Books are listed in order, top to bottom, left to right; Not Pictured: "The Good, The Bad, and the Mediochre" and "Tiger's Paw" (ebooks); "Lions of Lucerne" and "Path of The Assassin"; P.s. Sorry for the poor photo quality... I ended up returning most of the books in the first photo before I remembered that I needed to re-shoot it...




 
 
 The Sum of All Fears (Jack Ryan #6) by Tom Clancy
 
Too Freaking Long for the amount of actual plot it contained. I will admit, the scene between Cathy and Liz was DELECTABLE—and John Clark is boss. I'm just not getting the same plot-driven vibe from Clancy that I did from, say Crichton. While I can understand that Clancy's books are not science fiction (in fact, remove the fake names and I would submit that they wouldn't be much fiction at all!)... They aren't exactly the "thriller" Harrison Ford made Jack Ryan out to be, either. Come to think of it, the only two books I have actually enjoyed so far are Patriot Games for the thought of Mr. Ford in the lead role, and Red October, because I know the movie stars Sean Connery. Sum of All Fears was a bland disappointment.
 
As You Wish, by Cary Elwes
 
Lovely and funny and full of fangirl feels! Beautiful. Poignant. Hilarious. Golden. Poetic—

All the words I would use to describe "The Princess Bride" I would also use to describe this memoir. Cary Elwes, for all his "fanboying" over Bill Goldman, is a gifted storyteller in his own right. The nostalgic feels ran strong with this book! Discover a whole new side of the film "everybody" has seen with anecdotes such as:

-Andre and "The American"
-The Dread Pirate Roberts Battles An ATV And Nearly Loses His Toe
-THE GREATEST SWORDFIGHT IN MODERN TIMES was only just over a minute and a half the first time around
-Fart jokes
-The director (and Cary) couldn't be on set while Billy Crystal was filming his scenes... Because he was laughing too hard at the ad-libbed jokes!

That's only the surface, of course! I loved this book!

Code, Terminal (Virals #3 and #5) 
by Kathy and Brendan Reichs
 
Code was every bit as enthralling as I expected it to be. The Reichs siblings walk a tenuous line, hinging the success of the series not only on the likability of a quartet of under-appreciated, blue-collar Goonies, but also the use of a pretty unoriginal plot device with underpinnings of situations that only increase the danger level as the books progress. Today's villain-of-choice is a mentally-unhinged sociopath who basically travels the country killing people with pointless traps and impossible riddles they necessitate Totally Convenient Plot Devices Of Total Convenience every time...
But I like the characters, so it makes the whole thing worth it. I mean, I could do without Tori's constant cloud of "will-they-won't-they" with at least three guys she can't seem to get away from... However, the pacing is good, and if you just ignore the obvious tropes that necessarily come with this kind of YA, the bits of original plot and character development shine through like gold.
Terminal was a nice, concerted effort for closure, and succeeded well. On the whole, a better YA sci-fi series for those who like the "teens-with-superpowers" schtick!
 
The Magician  (Nicholas Flamel #2) by Michael Scott
 
Not bad. Not quite as lovable characters as Artemis Fowl, but a lot more character depth than Sisters Grimm. At least Josh and Sophie seem to like each other more than Sabrina and Daphne ever did. And hey, Josh has cool superpowers now too! I do still admire the way these books are introducing famous legends and supernatural figures, much like the way the show Grimm or Supernatural deals with lore, so there's no real actual turn-off... Yet...

Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon
 
Oh my goodness gracious! A phenomenal undertaking that I thoroughly enjoyed!
My favorite part? The camaraderie that surrounds the reading of this book. Gabaldon has absolutely NOTHING to be ashamed of in her writing. It is heartwarming and respectful, calling upon all of the emotions in a glorious cascade of imagery. Claire is a wonderful character, and the concept, though unorthodox and notoriously unmanageable by most authors, is handled with startling cleverness that keeps me wanting to read more!
 
Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson
 
Sanderson officially has my vote. EVERY. TIME. Seriously, he has nailed a perfectly endearing sort of hero in the delightfully awkward David Charleston. From all the bad metaphors that would give any self-respecting writer a stomachache—and yet they suit David's character so perfectly that he feels very authentic and real—to the sweet moments of David's effort to say the "right thing" that so inevitably fails... My favorite part is the exchange between David and Megan, when he finds out she hates swimming:
 
"You're from Portland, right?"
"So?"
"So, that's a port, isn't it? Wouldn't you go swimming there?"
"In the Willamette?" <--BEST. REACTION. EVER.

Glorious in all its imperfection. And only someone like Sanderson would ever be able to write like that. 
I CANNOT WAIT FOR "CALAMITY"!!!
 
The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy #3) by Shannon Hale
 
So funny and sweet and beautiful! I read it in basically one sitting!
I completely adore this series from Shannon Hale. It's magical, enchanting, hilarious and heart-warming all at once! Miri finds herself out of her depth once more, but this time, instead of the "hillbilly" come to live among the fancy courtiers, the fancy Tutor (Miri) is sent to train a trio of raggedy children living in a swamp! In this delightful turn of events, Miri learns important lessons on how respect that is demanded is not genuine, and that true respect has more to do with behavior than rank—among others. The three sisters made me laugh as Miri tries to train them in proper behavior, and I gasped at every plot twist. Fantastic story!
 
Armada by Ernest Cline
 
Nicely done! Once again, Cline takes a "canned" plot and actually does something unique with it.
I read Ready Player One a couple years ago, and I remember enjoying it. (Now I am listening to the audiobook because OMG WIL WHEATON!!) So when I heard about Armada I kept a lookout for it, hoping that the second book would be just as good as the first... And if nothing else, at least that it wouldn't be worse.
It wasn't worse. It was still really good. Super-dated references, but at the same time, I think (because I finished it a while ago) I do remember current pop references, so Cline adds that extra layer of relevance to his work, as opposed to the "distant future dystopia where everybody is plugged into virtual reality" of Ready Player One. People were comparing Armada to Ender's Game, but the key difference to me is that I didn't really like most of the characters in the latter, and Cline's characters were a great ensemble. This book is another win!


M is for Malice (Kinsey Millhone #13) by Sue Grafton
 
Grafton has done it again. I don't know how, but she did. You'd think she would be running out of plots by now, or at least that a character like Kinsey making the "same mistakes" over and over would become annoying, but "Book M" has got to be among the better installments in this series that I have read so far! The plot twists I never saw coming, the development of not only Kinsey herself but also the other characters in the book. Well played, nicely done, and all that! This series is certainly not one to be missed!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (Mitford #10)
by Jan Karon
 
Egh! Finally finished it! A sweet stroll through a little village that really appeals to this small-town girl! To be fair, it was an ARC copy I got as a door prize last year, so I feel like I can't vouch for the book because I don't know what was different between the advance and the final version... But I did notice there was a shocking lack of transitions. Some sections would just be two characters giving passing remarks, with no tags. Karon seems to pull off the "no tag" thing very well, though, because I could still track who was talking in all but a few times. So maybe that's just her style, and I haven't read a Mitford book in so long that I had forgotten that.

 
I never EVER want this series to end! Darn it, how does one write such meaningful characters all the while tossing in every pop culture reference to mythology IN EXISTENCE into a single burst of fun, exuberant, relentless (owing, I think, mostly to the utter absence of actual chapter divisions) reading? I still have yet to figure it out, but Cameron seems to have an utterly unshakable grasp on it! From a sympathetic character launching a preemptive strike on a mob while singing, "Are We Human, or Are We Dhampir"... to Mediochre himself remarking, "I hate mysteries... except the ones by Christie or Doyle." I unanimously approve of all references in this series. ALL HAIL MEDIOCHRE!

 
Gorgeous, marvelous, in so many ways! A genuine pleasure from start to finish! The touches of modern life mixed with the "old world" ethics and morals gave it a unique twist. Rogers really captures the hybrid of man and beast with her descriptions of the movements and habits of the therianthropes! Her characters are wonderful, and I can't wait for the start of the actual series!

Lions of Lucerne, Path of the Assassin (Scot Horvath #1 and #2) 
by Brad Thor
 
Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did read the last just-under-half of the first book in one sitting...between the hours of 10 and 12... So what? 
My thought upon finishing "Lions" was that, though it can't quite equal the character-creating caliber of Baldacci, Thor does all right, in his own way. A few misses, but plenty of hits! I was ready to believe that I had a new series to follow, after pining for the likes of King and Maxwell and Will Robie.

I start reading "Path of the Assassin", and... There he goes...
I have read books with hunky "ex-military" types, but always with a hot, sassy girl in the limelight with him. Thor fell into the cliche there... But with how many times he detailed his macho hero's workout sessions ("a couple dozen curls with the heaviest dumbbells, then he laid his super-muscular body on the floor to do enough crunches to make a regular man cry..." Not a real quote, but you get the idea) and exactly what he had for breakfast ("He was more of a waffles kind of guy, but since the Feds were footing the bill, he ordered eggs Benedict with Swiss cheese, and had it delivered to his room..." Again, not a real quote... Except the eggs Benedict part...) I quickly began to tire of the character before I had even been given a chance to actually become an invested reader!
 I have read books that deal with conspiracies within Federal agencies, but with a lot more finesse on the part of the Feds than the bumbling, blowhard buffoons Thor portrays. Heck, I've even come across super-skilled heroes who are so incredibly macho... But also still likable! Was not impressed with Horvath... Because he was too busy being oh-so-impressed with himself... Boo.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #8


Suggested by: Olivia C.

The List:
Name: Benji
Place: An underwater hideout.
Time: 3:37 A.M
Object: A small music box.


The Result:
Title: 
"The Siren Song"

The soreness in his shoulders and arms ripped him back into consciousness. His head jerked up as he gasped, twisting his arms further. With a groan he let his head hang limp. 
His wrists, he observed, were shackled to brackets on opposite sides of a room that was about twenty feet square, concrete walls and steel plates over the only openings that suggested windows and a door. A desk with a lamp stood along one wall, beside two chairs, but that was it. The chains pulled so tightly that he couldn't pull if he wanted to. He briefly considered breaking his own thumbs to slip out of the chains but—
Wait, why the heck would he consider broken bones a viable option? What kind of monster was he? He closed his eyes and fought to remember what he had been doing before the blackout.
Nothing.

Oh well, start with the basics.
Name?

....

Hair color? Eye color? Age? Weight? Occupation? Hometown? Favorite pet?

What was this, a military application?

Finally, the faint threads of another human voice reached his ears from somewhere beyond stone and steel. Flashes of angry voices and putrid breath fired in his head. A sense of urgency washed over him. 

"Have to find it..." He mumbled to himself.
Find what? What was he looking for? He tried focusing harder on the angry faces in his memory. At one point, he had encountered a tree—but wasn't there something different about the tree? Something not quite... tree-ish? There was yelling all around...

A click interrupted his thoughts, and the resulting flinch torqued his right shoulder. He looked back over at the desk. A digital clock blinked at him. 3:37 AM... 3:37 AM...

Great, it was about as busted as he was. There was no way to tell just what time it was, or where he was. It was just him, and a incessant dripping coming from somewhere.

The sound of heavy boots prompted him to let his head sag again. He stared at his muddy, sodden cargo pants as two men entered the room.

One wore a black ski mask and carried a gun. The other wore no mask and walked straight up to the prisoner. 
"Are you ready to talk, Benji?"

Benji! That was his name! And he recognized the voice as one of the men who captured him! But why—

Pain exploded across his head and he yelped.
His captor pulled back his fist. "I ask a question," he growled, "and you answer! Now," he gripped the hair at the top of Benji's scalp and yanked his head up. "What were you and your crew doing in the jungle? What's your business in the Amazon?"

Amazon! Benji felt his head drop and the man landed another blow. Amazon made him think of a woman—but who was she? Had she been part of his crew?

"Talk, darn you!" The man growled, lifting his boot and sending the reinforced toe smashing into Benji's ribs. "Where is it? Where is the treasure? Tell me where it is!"

Benji coughed as the air left his lungs and blood from his split lip trickled into his mouth, but he felt no fear of the man inflicting so much pain. Why was he so calm?

The man sighed heavily. 
"Oh Benji—may I call you Benjamin? You may think you're so clever, biding your time for some miraculous escape... But you see, that's where you are wrong." The man chuckled and continued softly. "Do you have any idea what you would find outside this room?" He gestured to the concrete walls, and signaled the guard at the door. 
Benji heard a soft click, and then a rumbling hum, as more light began to filter in around him. He raised his head and looked.

The steel plates retracted from the windows, revealing reinforced fiberglass panes. Beyond that was a wall of dark green-blue.

"That explains the dripping," Benji mumbled through swollen lips. Meanwhile, the water had triggered more memories. If they were under the water near the Amazon...

"What?" The man snapped.

Vague memories began filling in gaps, and Benji even managed a chuckle. "I think you may have a leak," he quipped.

Swearing furiously, the frustrated captor balled clasped both hands like a sledgehammer and raised them over his head. Benji's instincts told him that the blow would most likely land on the area at the base of his neck, just above she shoulders, and either dislocate his shoulders or knock him out completely.

"Sir!"

Benji was still bracing for the blow when he heard the scrape of the man's boots on the floor. He looked up.

The man had turned, and now addressed a second soldier bearing a small object.
"What?"

"Sir, we found this in a secret compartment in his pack. Jacapo thought it might be important."

"I guess we'll find out."

In two strides, the captor had returned. Slowly, he set the object down in front of Benji. It was a purple scalloped clam-shell, as large as a man's hand, with a clasp of pure gold. Benji gasped and tried to kick it away, but the man snatched it back with the reflexes of a snake. 

"Ah-ah!" He wagged a mocking finger. "Better not damage it!" He stared at his prisoner. "Tell me what it is, if you know it."
Benji thrashed once more and flared up at the leering, dark face above him. His eyes dared him to open the box.

The man took the dare immediately. "Fine, then; we'll just have a look."

The minute he shifted the hinge, the little room filled with a soft, tinny sound. The man opened the lid to reveal an enclosed mechanism turning around and around as the melody continued. 

Benji's eyes softened as the memory of the strange woman returned. Who was she? The music conjured the sound of her voice...

"Oy!" Benji grunted as the man kicked his knees. "You went through all that effort to hide a music box?"

Benji gasped for breath as the low, lyrical voice in his mind sang words to the tune.

"Hey!" The man yanked his head back again. "I'm talking to you! Where did you get that box? Was it part of the treasure? Talk to me!" The man got his hands around Benji's throat and began squeezing.

The shadows swirling in his vision only made the memories clearer. Benji now knew who he was, why he was there, and who else awaited him on the surface. The pressure ceased, and the man let him drop in disgust. 
"Useless..." He muttered as he signaled the guard to exit before him.

Benji closed his eyes and sang along with the music.

"Mystic currents carry me,
Through the wild and untamed sea;
Beware the sound of Ocean's call,
The Siren folk are in its thrall."

The man froze, turning a wary eye on his prisoner. He'd heard rumors... but those were just legends... not one bit of evidence. Benji grinned, in spite of his chains.

"Are you threatening me?" The man growled, glaring dangerously.

Benji chuckled.

The man darted back and hauled Benji upright by his collar. "You little snot-wipe!" He roared. "You think you can scare me with that mystic malarkey?" He spat in his face.

"Not at all," Benji replied, as the debris floating past the windows picked up speed. "After all, you're the one who let Her in."

As soon as the words left his mouth, every window crashed inward as the power of the Amazon River flooded the room, carrying a large figure with it.


Previously in This Series:
#7 "After All" ("Soul Mates" Part 4)
#6 "The Fairies' Keeper" ("Soul Mates" Part 3)
#5 "Soul Mates" (Part 2)
#4 "Inside The Impact Zone"
#3 "Soul Mates" (Part 1)
#2 "The Artist's Wife"
  

#1 "Red of Morning"
 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 1, Part 4

"Sister Miligred's many garments weighed on her like a mass of iron chains..."




Previously: Chapter 1  <Part 1> <Part 2> <Part 3>




Laurel sighed as she slowly made her way down the stairs. As if moving wasn't difficult enough, the sheer weight and stiffness of Sister Miligred's many garments weighed on her like a mass of iron chains. Laurel fidgeted with the unpleasant bodice, itching her neck under the starched lace collar. In one hand she carried the heavy black veil, which she would use to obscure her face when she emerged from the house.
There was only one thing left to worry her: between the five of them, only Carsius and Augustus could serve as escorts, but she knew that someone as prestigious as Sister Miligred would not dare show her face in public without four men carrying a canopy over her. And they must be men, not girls, Ewoks, or Kytarr in disguise; what would they do?
Laurel reached the parlor at the side of the house; speaking of the others, where were they? She had made it all the way there without seeing or hearing anybody. Why were they so silent?
Laurel sank gratefully onto the couch only to feel compelled to stand again as she saw the familiar silver device Augustus had produced the night of his arrival. The lights were still blinking. Laurel picked it up, intending to find a switch and turn it off when a noise in the hallway called her attention. She looked up, expecting to see Carsius and Augustus finally coming, but instead, two perfect strangers stood in the house. One looked to be about Renata's age, and his green eyes twinkled as he brushed light auburn hair from his forehead. The other cut a more menacing figure, dressed entirely in midnight black and wielding long, cruel-looking knives.
Laurel gasped as the two men gazed at her in wonder.
"Who are you?" she demanded breathlessly.
The younger man stepped forward. "Madam, was it not you who sent the distress signal?"
Laurel looked down at the device in his hand. "I—"
"Oh, come off it!" the dark one snapped, "Can't you see she's not even holding it right? She didn't send it—" he pointed a knife straight at her, "—so I'd like to know what she's done with the men who did!"
"They are whole and well, thanks to the hospitality of this Elf-maiden!"
To Laurel's relief, the others appeared at that moment, coming from the direction of the kitchen.
The dark man sheathed his knives red-faced, while the younger one gazed at Laurel in awe.
"You're an Elf? Are you a native of Eillumaeia, or have you been recruited by the Black Hand?"
Laurel smiled, choosing to overlook the young man's imprudence.
"I came here in answer to a distress signal before I had even heard of the Black Hand. I am my own agent," she gestured down to the stiff, uncomfortable dress she wore, "and the reason I am wearing this ridiculous outfit is for a mission we were just about to begin. My name is Laurel."
She offered her hand, and both men in turn took it and kissed it politely while introducing themselves.
"I am Atis, of Shinaa. It is an honor to serve with you."
"And I am Barmier, at your service, Milady."
Laurel smiled her acceptance, but as Atis and Barmier moved to greet the others, the smile faded into a frown and she stumbled weakly.
Instantly, Carsius was at her side, digging a wyrt out of the impossibly intricate collar where it had gotten in while Laurel was meeting new people and essentially learning new information.
Atis looked at them curiously as Carsius aided Laurel onto the couch.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
Carsius gestured to the chairs opposite.
"Sit down, Atis; you too, Barmier. I will tell you everything."
The men took their seats, and between them the five operatives explained the situation right from the beginning, from the Elitinati's oppression to the events of that morning.
"It's lucky you came when you did," Augustus observed. "We needed two more men for escorts, to pull off the ruse."
"Speaking of ruse," said Laurel, who had gotten some of her strength back after nearly being overtaken, "you four will not only be my bodyguards, but I do believe Sister Miligred has some livery her servants wear."
Augustus rolled his eyes, "You're just sore because you have to wear that dress!" he chided.
Carsius sided with Laurel, "No, she has a point; we must be in disguise too." he turned to the Elf-maiden. "What was your plan?"
Laurel nodded, "If I can get to the turret of the University, I think I will be able to latch onto that specific influence and turn it around. Once I do, the effect will hopefully begin to spread, and as long as I am engaged with pushing against the influence, you three," pointing to Renata, Gorrmunsa, and Deej, "can use some sort of method to fill the area with analthraxine vapor, to inoculate the people against being re-influenced."
Everyone nodded, but Renata laid a worried hand on her friend's shoulder. "Are you certain you'll be able to do this?"
Laurel nodded, patting Renata's hand, "The hard part was because the influences at this spot were too varied. Once I can get to a place with only one tendril of influence, that tendril is easily broken and turned back. Do not fear."
"If this is so dangerous," Atis wanted to know, "what kept you from dying earlier today?"
Carsius, Gorrmunsa, and Laurel glanced at each other; none of them had mentioned Ra'dith.
"My friends were always there to help me," Laurel explained. She stood. "It is the middle of the afternoon now. We have a few hours before eventide. We should depart as soon as you all are ready."
A short time later, Sister Miligred, garbed and shrouded, left her house for the first time in nearly a week. Inside her mansion, two furry beings and a redheaded young woman sat over a vat of analthraxine, loading it into carpules, which were then inserted into modified Kytarr T-703 Dispersor guns. Gorrmunsa took up his station by the window. As soon as Laurel entered the University, they were to follow, guns at the ready.
The Elitinati wouldn't know what hit them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Dragon's Quest" Excerpt--Underwater Rescue

"...I was still close enough to the surface to stay above water just long enough for a single breath..."

I was still worrying over how to escape the trolls who had captured me when the wagon jerked to a crawl, and I heard a lot of voices saying something. I would have thought we were making camp again, but we had been traveling only a few hours—and the wagons didn't actually stop.
One of the trolls peeked out. "Garn!" He spat. "It's the Patrol! They've spotted us!"

I heard a yell, "Cut the milk-horn loose!"
A terrific crash followed, coupled with a loud whinny, and Jerak calling my name.
"Laura! Get out of there!"

But I couldn't move. I was still bound and gagged. My heart skipped a beat as the wagon veered onto a dramatically different course and began bumping over the plain instead of the road. I bounced so hard I was almost upright a few times. At least the trolls with me could hold onto the sides of the wagon and thus keep their seats.

I heard a rattling next to us, and Griggum's rumbling bass voice.
"We're coming up on the Lake, fellas, and we need to ditch the human."

I failed to see the relation between the two, but the trolls understood. I faintly distinguished the rushing of a distant waterfall as one troll hefted my shoulders and another grabbed my ankles. They carried me to the back of the wagon, gripping me so tight that no amount of wriggling could loosen their hold. Smoothly, they lifted me up and chucked me off to the side.

As I flew through the air over a glittering blue pool, I could see at least one unicorn with a sapphire horn, and I heard a voice announce, “Halt! It is I, Undaglen, Guardian of the Lake! I command you, come forth!”

I hit the water and the sticky substance sealing my mouth dissolved immediately—just in time for me to inhale the water I was currently sinking in.

I choked and spit, but I was still close enough to the surface to stay above water just long enough for a single breath. The weight of my still-bound limbs dragged me back under. I fought and writhed as much as I could, but the rope didn’t budge. Looking at my legs, I couldn’t even see that there was a knot in it. The rope circled my legs in one continuous circle. How had the trolls tied it, then?

I was so focused on my legs that I nearly opened my mouth to scream when something large bumped against my back. The added momentum sent me sprawling headfirst toward some rocks—but my reflexes kicked in just in time and I put out my arms to steady myself. Then I had to stare at both hands before I realized what I had just done. Whatever bumped me had untied my arms! 

I whirled in a circle to see if the thing was still around, and when I turned back the direction I had been facing, I saw a creature easily twice my size headed straight for me! I hastily waved my arms to try and swim away, but the thing had long arms and it caught me around the legs—and when it let go, I was free.

By now my lungs burned for breath. I could see the sunlight streaming down from the surface, but every movement just made me sink lower. I was losing strength; it was becoming harder to hold my mouth closed against the water. I saw the creature come toward me again, this time from behind, and I felt long limbs wrap around me like a blanket—a wet, fish-like blanket.

A webbed hand gripped my chin while the other smeared a leaf across my face. The leaf left behind a snot-like jelly coating on my nose and mouth. I twisted hard, and the arms finally released me as I shot away and turned back to face my captor.

I saw, but I could not comprehend. The creature before me was neither fish nor human, but a mix of both, and very tall (or long, as the case may be), too fish-like to be described in human terms, and too human-like to be dismissed as a mere fish. She had bulbous eyes, gills instead of a nose, and a mouth constantly in motion. Violet hair was piled on top of her head, bound and fastened by strands of seaweed and starfish. She maintained her position by softly waving colorful fins spanning the space between her arms and her sides. The legs were separate, but each ended in a long fin, like flippers. I banked on the creature’s desire to rescue me as I waved my hands, trying to signal that I wanted to be taken up closer to the surface.

The bulbous eyes watched me carefully, as the head tilted to one side. The body was almost fluid in motion as she twisted around to get a good look at me from all sides.
“I was under the impression that land-dwellers possessed the ability to speak,” she said abruptly.

I stopped moving; she could talk—but how was she going to know that I could, if the problem was being able to breathe underwater? I tried bobbing my head and pointing to my mouth, humming to let her know that I had a voice.
The creature blinked at me in what could only be construed (owing to the lack of eyebrows and eyelids) as annoyance. She made a rattling sound that could have been a sigh. “The uandino over your mouth enables you to breathe, crawler. If you can talk, then talk!”

My mouth flew open on its own, and I felt a sudden heaving rush of air enter my lungs—but no water. I stretched my lips as far as they would go, but the gel over my mouth did not even crack. I could breathe normally with the coating on my lips, just like she said.

My rescuer folded her arms and regarded me dubiously. “My name is Shirill, and I am a maiden in the court of Her Ladyship the Mer-Queen, whom land-dwellers know as the Lady of the Lake. Who are you and how did you come to be bound and cast into the Lake?”

A small thrill ran through me; so this is what mermaids looked like in this world!
“My name is Laura,” I said, “I’m a human, and I came to this world by mistake. I was captured by some trolls, who tied me up, and they tossed me into the Lake when the Patrol spotted them.”

Shirill gasped so hard that I could hear her gills flap closed. “A human? It has been many ages since a human has been in our midst—and the last one certainly didn’t have any business with the Lake.” She swam in a slow loop, her body forming a wide, graceful circle. “You say you are here by mistake—but perhaps you are here to unite the Phantasmians and free us from the Underworld oppression!”

This was the third time someone assumed I was here to “save the world.” First of all, that sort of a plot was so overdone I didn’t want any part of it myself; secondly, my whole goal was only to get out of this world by any means possible! I shook my head.

“I seriously doubt it,” I said. “I am not here to start a rebellion or anything like that; the unicorn I was traveling with seemed to think that this Lady of the Lake whom you serve could help me figure out how to get back to my own world. We were on our way there when the trolls waylaid us.”

Shirill was too attached to her idea to pay me any mind. “Oh, but don’t you see? You, the human, are a stranger to every creature, and so your abilities could be the key to sending the Underworlders back beneath the surface, where they came from.”
“What abilities?” I objected.
Shirill swam around behind me, reclining in the water as if on a bed. “The last human was the one to summon the Underworlders; do not all humans have the same powers?”
The perfect plan for a fantasy story unfolded in my mind: a wicked magician in search of ultimate power summoning an army of dark creatures, and an innocent hero tasked with stopping him—

I shook my head and turned away from her. “Oh no you don’t!” I said, both to myself and to the mermaid.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #7

 
"Love is An Art"

Suggested by: S. Rose LeClaire (Aka "VelvetFaeling" on DeviantArt)

The List:
-A Name: "Brighton, Sarah, Lilly"
-A Time: "Valentine's Day"
-A Place: "Suburban home"
-An Object: "A Gift"
-Title: "After All"

The Result:

Title:
"After All"
("Soul Mates" Part 4) 
 
"Ahh, that's good."
"Right here?"
Sarah Brighton wriggled and kicked her foot as his fingers traced her ticklish arch. "Just keep rubbing the toes, smarty-pants," she told him.
Her husband obliged, his strong hands massaging the balls of her feet.
"Ohh, man! You have no idea how good this feels," she sighed. "After the day I had!"
He grinned at her. "Lemme guess, another field trip day?"
Sarah shook her head. "No, even weirder—and I was on my feet the whole time in those gawdawful pumps." She scowled at the offending shoes laying on the floor.
"Why did you wear them, then?"
"Ugh! The pitfalls of ladyhood." She let her head flop back against the cushion.

"Mommy!" The family cat, a calico named Shade, bounded into the room. Close on her tail trotted a young girl in a pink tee shirt. The curly bow holding her hair bounced as she curled up on the couch next to Sarah.
"Well, if it isn't my Lilly-belle!" Sarah crooned, stroking her daughter's light-brown hair. "Why aren't you in bed, munchkin?"
Lilly twiddled the pink, heart-shaped fairy wand she'd gotten just the other week for Valentine's Day. "Daddy and I talked to Poppa Paul and Nanna Betty!"
"Oh yeah, your folks called," Tyler said. "It seems Paul is having another exhibit on Friday and wanted to know if you can be there."
Sarah nodded, "I think that would be fine. I'll check with Larry and see if it would be okay to get someone to fill in for me that day."
"Hey, it's not every day that the daughter of NewYork's own P. R. Williamson gets to attend her father's exhibits; after all the hard work you’ve put in at the museum, how could he refuse?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "He's turned me down before." 

It wasn’t easy being the daughter of a famous artist—and the fact that she never cared to follow in his footsteps only made it harder. The progeny of a world-class artist demeaning herself to the level of tour guide at an art museum? A lowly fate indeed! But what her hands lacked her eye could see. She had a knack for “reading” paintings and arranging pieces in an exhibit hall at just the right positions—and the hours let her have time at home with her family. She looked down at Lilly, who was busy waving the wand just beyond the reach of Shade. She didn’t need to paint; love was her art—and this was the beginning of her masterpiece.

"Okay, time's up, Lilly!"
 "I'm just not tired!" whined the little girl.
"Well, mommy is," Sarah gave her a little push. "And it's after your bedtime, missy!"
"Aww, please, mama?"
Sarah sat up. "Nope; bed."
Tyler stood and took his daughter's hand. "Come on, I'll tuck you in," he said.
"I wanna stay up! I'm in second grade!"
"Second graders need sleep," Sarah responded as Ty swung Lilly up into his arms. "You'll thank me when you're older," Sarah grinned and blew a kiss, which Lilly obligingly "caught" and pressed against her cheek.

Alone in the silence, Sarah mused over the strange day she'd had. In all the years working at the Museum of Fine Art, they had never received an endowment quite like this one. Absently, she replaced the lid on the box of Valentine's chocolates and brought it back into the kitchen.

Without warning, strong arms wrapped around her waist and she felt someone burying his face in her curly red hair.
"Eep! Tyler!" Sarah turned in his arms and snuggled against his chest. She sighed, and all the troubles melted away.
His chin rested on the top of her head. "Wanna talk about your weird day now?" He offered.
"Yeah." Sarah walked with him back to the couch.

"So what happened?" He asked.
Sarah huffed. "It wasn't weird, it was just dumb! So this package arrives from, I dunno, somewhere in the UK—"
"Really? Why ship it here?"
"Pssh! How should I know? Anyway, it's supposed to be a gift from some eccentric billionaire or something, and there are these three antiques in there, already cased up and everything, along with—I kid you not—a small novel of care and display instructions." She indicated the thickness of the pamphlet with her fingers.
Tyler snorted, "You're kidding! Display instructions? What were they, Crown Jewels or something?"
Sarah shook her head. "No—well, there was this crown, and a sword, and a necklace thing, but they were all really old and kind of tarnished." She sighed and leaned back on the couch. "So they came with their own plaques and everything, and they had to be displayed at a certain height and they could not be within a certain range of any windows and doors—"
"What?"
"I know! And they couldn't be displayed together, and there are like a dozen parameters for when we can display them—like if there hasn't been a break-in for six weeks or something, which kind of makes sense, but still! They all had these funky names, like the Collar of Cuimhne, and the Diadem of Baetha Sìoraì, and the Sword of Láidreacht—but nothing that says who any of these people were, or why they have things named after them."
Tyler nodded pensively. "You're right, that is a little strange."
Sarah ran her fingers through her hair and shook her head. "Whatever, I'm done thinking about that right now." She stood and tugged on Tyler's hand. "Come to bed?"
He smiled and joined her. "Right behind you."
>>>>>

(Six months later, in August)

A young man, an old woman, and a small pixie sat around the little kitchen table, staring at the weathered letter.

"The one who wants it doesn't need it," Kenneth read. "That must be me, because I want the collar, but I don't need it for myself."
"Allyra need, but she no want," Nakoma pointed to the next line.
Kenneth snorted. "No, I don't imagine she would, if she knew we were doing this—at least, not the way she is now," he frowned.
"So how do we figure out who has it?" Agnes said. "It's not as if we can just look for scenarios of people miraculously recovering their memories—"
Kenneth nodded, "Right, because the riddle says that the one who has it can't use it."
The question remained: who could it be? In what sort of scenario would a person unwittingly own an ancient Celtic necklace without using it?