Thursday, December 31, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 6 Part 3


Previously: Chapter 6 <Part 1> <Part 2>

Up on the surface, Carsius rolled body after body away from himself as he heard Laurel scream. He had no idea where she was, much less how he was going to be any help, when out of nowhere, Ra'dith appeared beside him and began improving the odds. Carsius looked up and found Captain Lyam, whom he knew had volunteered to assist Laurel.
"Lyam!" he cried, "Where is Laurel?"
Lyam pointed off to the leftmost doorway at the back of the room. "She said she had to get there!"

Carsius watched the Elf weed her way through thrashing Inoculates and disappear down the tunnel. He turned to Ra'dith, who busily mowed down (in a non-lethal way) hordes of Inoculates.
"You need to help her! Go help Laurel, don't worry about me!"
Ra'dith kicked a pile of Inoculates over while flinging another Overseer into a stack of Novices and their victims.
"Laurel is safe," Ra'dith replied simply.

Carsius glanced toward the tunnel. There was a grate across it now, but the Inoculates were throwing themselves against it, trying to break it down, while others headed into other tunnels. "They're going to get her! She can't make it on her own!"
"Laurel is safe."
"Confound you!" Carsius was going to show the little female what he thought of her cavalier manner. He got in Ra'dith's face. "You were supposed to protect her! You promised she would not be harmed! You said she wouldn't leave your sight!"

Ra'dith held his gaze like a seasoned general. "Laurel is safe," she repeated. "Laurel has not left Ra'dith's sight. Ra'dith has kept her word."
Carsius felt anger and concern swell inside him and threaten to choke him. He was so furious he almost could not form the words. "Then WHERE THE HELL IS SHE?"
"You must help her."

Carsius was beginning to lose his head. "What do you mean? How can I help her when I can't even get to her? I thought that was your task!"
"You must believe in her."
"Believing's not going to help!" Carsius snapped back. "Do you have any idea what she has to do?"

"Have faith."

Faith... Carsius calmed as he recalled what Laurel had said about faith, and now understood what Ra'dith was trying to say. He was master of his own mind once more, and resolutely Carsius thought, Hang in there, Laurel! The mind cannot alter what the heart knows to be true!

Down in the caverns, Laurel rounded another bend, one with almost no wyrts. She was almost grateful; she didn't think she could stomach the sight of another splattered lump of mutilated flesh Ra'dith would leave behind. She paused to discern the right direction—and suddenly collapsed.
Instantly, Ra'dith was at her side.
"What is wrong?" Ra'dith asked her.
Laurel couldn't answer, such an overwhelming dread had taken over her mind. That little place that she had been using to find the mother-mind had suddenly torn completely open, threatening to engulf her. Laurel could hardly raise her quivering finger to point toward an opening in the tunnel ahead of them, indicating that this was where the mother-mind tried to conceal herself. The mother-mind's assault on Laurel was so strong, Laurel could not even recall how to breathe. Ra'dith pulled out a small vial of her ointment and poured it over Laurel's head. Instantly, Laurel's body relaxed and she gasped great lungfuls of air.
"There!" she panted, still pointing. "In there!"
Ra'dith helped her to her feet just in time for another defensive psychological blast. Laurel cried out and leaned heavily against Ra'dith, who supported her staunchly and fairly dragged the beleaguered Elf-maiden toward the cavern indicated. A swarm of wyrts lined the cavern, but by now Laurel had begun to fight back, so none of them dared move toward her.

In the center of it all, the mother-mind sat, a squat, round shape covered in those same hypersensitive filaments. A shudder sent waves over her amorphous frame, and Laurel cried out again, but this time, she set her teeth and stared at the mass.
"You cannot have me now," she seethed, and abruptly fell silent.
Laurel held out her hand, unable to speak. Ra'dith understood what needed to be done. She picked a wyrt off the ground and placed it in Laurel's hand. Laurel focused her attention on the small creature, holding it out toward the mother-mind, but her enemy fought back, blasting her with a stroke so powerful that Laurel clenched her fist and when she opened her eyes, the wyrt was crushed to death. She could not open her fist, so Ra'dith did so for her, peeling back her fingers one by one and nestling a fresh wyrt within the remains of the previous one. Laurel focused again.

"The mind cannot alter what the heart knows to be true."
Laurel blinked. Where had that thought come from? It was as foreign as an attack from the mother-mind, yet rather than coming against her, this particular truth seemed to flow through her and blast the mother-mind. Laurel watched as the affirmation seemed to cause a physical divot in the mother-mind's surface, and the blob reeled with a groan.
Laurel felt new life flow into her mind and body. Again, she thought of the counters that she had used over the course of the mission. Using the truth from her heart, she advanced her own onslaught against the mother-mind.

"There is no being in any world of supreme intelligence; all beings may err!"

The mother-mind flinched.

"One must be tolerant of another's unique abilities and understanding!"

The mother-mind shuddered.

"It is the unique abilities of each being that contributes to the success of all!"

The mother-mind reeled.

"It is a being's responsibility to bear the blame for his own actions, and to make decisions for himself!"
The mother-mind quaked.

"In bearing the responsibility for his actions, one must agree not to set himself over another, or apart from others, but purpose to work with an among others, for unity's sake!"

The mother-mind was in such a state that her thrashing threatened to bring the whole cavern down upon them.

But Laurel had not finished. Rather than focusing her mind upon the mother, she reached deep within and unleashed her heart, thinking of the poor innocent Inoculates who had been so mistreated and deceived into their present states. Bolstered with the love she felt for her fellow beings, she declared with a loud voice, 
  
"THE MIND CANNOT ALTER WHAT THE HEART KNOWS TO BE TRUE!"

Laurel knew her words would be the killing blow, but she had not reckoned on the magnitude of it's effect. She barely took a breath after uttering the last word before Ra'dith's arms were around her, carrying her out of the cavern. The two heard a sickening burble and saw the flow of blood from the cavern as the mother-mind and all her wyrts exploded.
The river of blood rushed toward them, but Ra'dith's swiftness kept their feet on dry ground. They made it out of the caverns and emerged into the tunnels and halls of the Temple-University.

Laurel saw many of the Mentors and Overseers, but they all seemed living-dead, not acknowledging or attacking, merely sitting peacefully on the ground.
When Laurel and Ra'dith reached the court where they had left the others, the only people standing were the Resistance fighters. The Inoculates all sat on the ground with blank, empty expressions.
The operatives gathered at the center of the room. Everyone embraced Laurel and cheered.
"You did it!" Renata cried.
"Well done, Laurel!" Carsius congratulated her.
Laurel accepted their affection gratefully. "I could not have survived it without all of your help," she admitted,  "and—" She turned to indicate Ra'dith and stopped. 

All other noise died.

Laurel blinked. She closed her eyes, rubbed them, and looked again.
Querulously, she whispered to Carsius, "Tell me, do your eyes see also what my eyes see?"
Carsius could not find the words to reply to her.
"It's a bloomin' miracle!" Barmier gasped.
Standing in their midst, having the same clothes, the same hair, and the same silver eyes—were not one...but TWO Ra'diths!
>>>>>>

Say what now? How is this possible? Any ideas? Check back in the story to see if you can figure out the mystery--or tune in next week for the FINAL INSTALLMENT of the series! 


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How To Beta

What is "beta-reading"?
Beta-reading is the second line of defense for a writer. It's like editing, but you're getting the corrections and opinions of somebody who represents actual readers, not a completely disinterested, non-invested, third party whom you are paying to tell you everything wrong with your book. A beta-reader works most of the time for free, and a lot of times the ones who agree to beta are either huge fans of the genre, so are predisposed to like your book, or they are voracious readers looking for an excuse to read a free book and directly tell the author what they think, before the book goes to print. (Guilty!)
Yes, this is kind of what I have been doing instead of writing another chapter to excerpt for you all. I have been reading a book which I am bound not to divulge prior to its release... But when it comes HOO DAWGIES HANG ONTO YOUR BUTTS because I will be super-duper excited to share it!! (Can I at least say it's a sequel to a book I have already reviewed?)

Anyway, I decided that today's post will focus primarily on the concept of beta-reading, not just because I have been the beta-reader, but also this year I have been in the business of seeking out beta-readers and editing a previous work (something I have not had a lot of practice doing; typically, my habit has been to finish a project and either abandon it for the next one or scrap the whole thing and rewrite it completely...) in preparation for publication! (ICYMI: "Princess of Undersea" will be included in an anthology to be published next year! Stay tuned!)

Anyway, back to beta-reading.

It's really an involved process—or I would like it to be. As a writer I know how it is to be so attached to this character or that one, or so steeped in a particular version of the story that, were anyone ever to object to it, I would be completely at a loss as to how it could possibly occur any differently. (This has happened to me before, and I have literally blocked that particular story from my mind... Have not thought about it in years!) 
At the same time, as a reader I also know what it is to be reading a published book and thinking, "Really? I mean, really? Did you have to do that? Did she have to say that? I am confused, why is this even in the book?"

Ergo, when I sit down to beta-read, I am marking the spots where this happens. I am combing for typos and repeated language (something no writer should feel compelled to do), I am looking for those spots that would make me roll my eyes in disgust at the character who should have been the hero of the scene. 
MAKE ME REPEAT MYSELF
ONE MORE TIME!
I am looking for those points where the info-dump is so boring that I just skim over it. I am looking for the confusing word choices, and also for the excellent ones. I am looking for the bad literary habits (such as using an apostrophe when the word ought to be plural... Makes me want to go all "Pulp Fiction" on the writer!) and reading twice to catch the glorious and devious moments of foreshadowing that readers will doubtless miss on the first time around... While at the same time making sure the story is worthwhile enough that readers will want to read over and over, just to prolong the experience. I am the front-runner well aware that I am representing everybody who will be reading the story after me, so I want their experience to be the best possible.

In short, I am the sort of beta-reader I want to be reading my books. 
There is a quote that goes something like, "If you are looking for a certain kind of friend, be the kind of friend you want to have." I think it applies in a lot of situations, including this one; if I want a certain kind of feedback on my work, I need to be giving that sort of feedback to others. If I want comments on my blog, I should be commenting on other people's blogs, too. (I do, and I am!) 

A beta-reader should read the book at least twice. The first time, to gauge the overall experience, and the second time to really get down to brass tacks and find all the little spots they missed. ALL of them. If there is time before the deadline (because often, a writer looking for betas has a deadline; I don't, but that's just me) then the beta-reader can set the book aside for a few days, and come back to read it a third time with fresh eyes. But the first and second reading should be done in quick succession. The third time is only if you are completely obsessed with the characters and would rather read a book three times than anything else.

A beta-reader should offer suggestions whenever possible. This is not to presume that the writer isn't doing their job, or that the beta-reader knows more about how the story "should" go than the writer who freaking invented the characters and the world does—but again, knowing myself and the "stuck places" I can get myself into when it comes to generating ideas, I know that I would greatly appreciate this kind of help in my writing, if anything is amiss. When I highlight a passage that has missing punctuation or a weak word choice, I offer the writer options of other words that would work better in the context; when I don't like a certain detail, I start coming up with possible solutions that I believe would strengthen the narrative. Who knows? Maybe my suggestions will help the writer in more places than just the one I am editing. Plus, often times correction is easier to swallow when it's less of "You're wrong!" And more of "Have you thought about it this way?"

Above all, a beta reader should absolutely be engaged in the reading that they are doing. There is something to be said for the writer to actively produce something worth reading... but even then, the beta-reader should let the writer know that their writing is that boring! The first time through, the beta reader should be focused on the emotions in their reading. How do they feel about the characters? How do they feel about the circumstances? Does the flow of the story make sense? Does the writer explain concepts in an understandable way? Does the ending leave readers wanting more, or feeling like "enough already"? 

The second time through, the beta reader is reading for mechanics—repeated words, foreshadowing, misspelling, dropped punctuation, word choice, etc. Now that the reader is fully apprised of the events and the plot arc, it shouldn't be such a distraction, so the reader is free to focus on line by line, on the actual words of the story, not just the feeling of the story. 

So to sum up: how do you beta? Read; read intentionally; read with a purpose; learn to analyze and understand what you're reading and be aware of why you might be feeling a certain way. Beta readers are the foremost when it comes to a writer testing out their works on a non-related prospective audience member. A writer takes a beta's advice very seriously, so if you have something to share, even if it's going to change the whole direction of the story, do share it. We writers want people to be engaged and delighted by what we write; a beta reader can be the key to helping us do exactly that.

Sure, when I sent out my novel to beta-readers, I had a list of questions from somewhere that looked like they would be useful, and the answers I got back from the few who finished are definitely insightful (not quite in the way of suggestions, but definitely food for thought!)–but really, the burning motivation at the center of every post I publish on this blog is just this:

Is my writing interesting and are the stories worthwhile?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Few Of My Favorite Things Blog Tag


Yay! I haven't done a "blog roll" in a while... and recently I discovered that my friend Olivia had tagged me!

Rules:
Answer prompts with the wintery/Christmassy theme in mind. (Bonus points if you include pictures with your answers!)
Tag at least 5 of your blogger-buddies to take part.
Use the title picture I provided above.
Spread the love around!


Questions: 
1. Favorite "Snuggle Weather" books?
As far as "books-I-want-to-read-most-when-it's-all-blustery-and-grey-outside", there are a few that I own that I would read over and over again:

Once by Cameron Dokey, The Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier, Starlight Proverbs by Darren E. Barber, and any of the Mitford novels by Jan Karon.
These are WONDERFUL books and they always give me the "warmfuzzies" inside! So perfect for a cold, dreary day!
 

2.  Favorite wintery snacks?
toootally the BEST. :)
My mom has a lot of "traditional cookies" she ONLY and ALWAYS bakes around Christmastime. This includes "PeterPaul Yummies" (basically homemade Almond Joy), almond roca, peppermint bark, and molasses crinkles.




3. Favorite hot drinks?
I typically go for either a peppermint mocha or hot chocolate. 
 









4. Favorite Christmas movies?
Everybody, this is Bob from Nativity!Meet Bob. He is my favorite. :) 
Last year at the beginning of December, I posted a Hit List of my Top 5 Favorite Non-Disney Holiday Films that also do not revolve around Frosty the Snowman or Santa Claus. Of that list, my all-time favorite has to be Nativity! starring Martin Freeman!






5. Favorite holiday songs?
Christmastime is about the only time I listen to bands like Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix, The Vince Guaraldi Trio, Mannheim Steamroller, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Just because their Christmas songs are SO. GOOD. My favorite song would have to be Carol of the Bells. Any arrangement of that song is just chill-inducing and fantastic.
The video I'm posting, though, is one of the songs from Straight No Chaser, which, if you haven't heard of them, go listen to their YouTube channel right now! I heard this song... and now it's the only thing I think of when I hear this melody anywhere else. 



6. Favorite snow day crafts?
Knitting is something I like to do! Er... well, okay, "craft-loom-ing"... but I make lots of hats and scarves and it's really fun! (I also made the blanket in the picture... but it took me an entire year to do that one...) Other than that, I love to write and color. I say "color" not "draw" because I can't sketch to save my life... but I love a good coloring book!





 

7. Do You Want To Build a Snowman?

Yes. indeed! Especially if I have a magic-wielding friend to animate him! In all actuality, though, one of my favorite things to do in the snow is to roll a single snowball so big that I can't even move it anymore! I have rolled one almost as tall as my shoulder at least once!

TAGS:

All right... I know it's a little late for the Christmas side of things... but "winter" still applies so here goes! I'm tagging +Kimberly Rogers , +Raven Ramsey , +Ryan Paige Howard , +SarahJayne Coder , and +A Girl With A View ! I look forward to reading all your answers! 

Catch you further Upstream!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Reader's Review: "Ghost Hand" by Ripley Patton

 
Synopsis from Amazon:
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Black has a rare birth defect known as Psyche Sans Soma, or PSS. Instead of a right hand made of flesh and blood, she was born with a hand made of ethereal energy.

How does Olivia handle being the girl with the ghost hand? Well, she's a little bit morbid and a whole lot snarky.

Her mother thinks her obsession with death, black clothing, and the local cemetery is a bid for attention. But when Marcus, the new guy in Olivia's calculus class, stares at her like she's a freak, Olivia doesn't like it. And when her hand goes rogue, doing things she never imagined possible, Olivia finds herself running for her life with Marcus from a group of men bent on taking the power of her hand for their own nefarious purposes. 

>>>>>
 
My Review: 
 
I am slowly discovering, the more I read, that the single consistent feature of the books I really liked, and conversely my biggest complaint in books I did not like, is the proper care and presentation of the premise. It really doesn't always matter what that premise is (hence the reason I have given high marks to romance and horror novels, in spite of my typical aversion to those genres) but if it's presented right, I can usually tell within the first chapter or so, and it is usually a good indicator of whether or not I will actually enjoy the rest of the book.

When I read YA specifically, I am looking for the portrayal of the teenage characters. My pet peeve is when the assumptions of adult authors seem to infuse the portrayal of the teens with awkward cliches and lackluster stereotypes. This will also affect my enjoyment of a novel, notwithstanding a solid premise.

Chapter 1 of Ghost Hand starts with a clear presentation of how the condition of PSS functions in the parameters of the real world, and it introduces a few, distinct characters: the Narrator, the Best Friend, the Wild Card, and the Plot Twist Reveal Character. In essence, Chapter 1 did everything exactly as it was supposed to.
I knew I was going to love this book. I was not wrong.

Patton draws the reader in with a credible premise: there is a rare condition in which a part of a person's body is replaced with incorporeal energy—in Olivia's case, her hand. 
She adds a compelling conflict: there are those who want to either harness the "power" generated by having a "ghost" body part that is virtually indestructible and can travel through solid objects... Or remove it from the person entirely. And yes, they will kill to get what they want.
She builds a solid team of allies around the main character—including one or two that might end up betraying her later. Those allies are as diverse as they are entertaining! 
The struggles are realistic, and the commentary of personal thoughts provided by the narrating main character are relatable and poignant by turns. The way Olivia's psychiatrist mother tries to rationalize Olivia's feelings over losing her father to cancer, while subsequently repressing her own--to the detriment of actually understanding her daughter--is just one of the many issues Olivia faces outside of her PSS, which many readers can identify with.
I laughed, I gasped, I cheered, I booed—this book took me through all of the feels, and best of all, I am completely attached to the characters and I want to find out what happens next. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I am giving *****5 STARS***** to "Ghost Hand", and also adding an Upstream Certified Officially Recommended. If you like paranormal YA with a side of romance (and don't mind some cursing) then you might seriously consider returning to the top of this review and getting your own copy today!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #22






Suggested by: Jess R.

The List:
-Baxter Higgins
-Moscow, Idaho
-Post WWII
-A pillar candle

The Result:
"In Loving Memory"

His shoulders slumped and his knees bent and swung as he walked, like old, rusted gate hinges after years of use. His eyes twinkled keenly under the brim of his hat—not that anyone saw. The smooth black bowler was uncommon enough that the sight of it would send folks skirting in a different direction. The town of Moscow, Idaho was not quite large enough to swallow such a man as he.
 
"Whatcha got there, Higgins?" A voice hailed him from the doors of the bed and breakfast.
He lifted his eyes, but the robust woman who made the breakfasts and supervised the cleaning staff wasn't even looking in his direction. She stood, chatting merrily away with the young college student staying in the place. When she did finally divert her gaze, Higgins almost waved and answered her, but he caught the dark sneer on the student's face. He dipped his head again and continued on. As he passed the pair, he could hear the young man ask, "Is that dirty old coot a friend of yours?"
The landlady laughed. "No, that's just Old Baxter Higgins; he's something of a town staple. He's one of the few here who has survived both wars, dontcha know?"
"And he came all the way back to Moscow?"
 
The mention of war sent cold shivers down his spine. Baxter hunched his shoulders even tighter, holding the package in both hands before him as if to remind himself why he even bothered to leave home today, anyway. The glittering red paper crinkled under his hands and he ventured onward with renewed purpose. They saw him as a man well past his fifties, wizened and embittered by not just one but two World Wars... When in fact he had not seen either of them.
They saw him as a familiar figure in this small town; the truth, though, was much stranger. He would never have remained if it had not been for her.

He traveled down the path that would take him to her dwelling, hardly noticing the soft white snow swirling from the grey clouds as he lost himself in the memory of her. She had seen him enter the room at the Yuletide ball two years prior, and had immediately greeted him with a kiss. It was only much later that he realized how hideously malformed he had become. Out of all the people in Moscow that night, only she could see the man beneath the wrinkles, the prince in pauper's clothing.

Baxter tapped his cane on the cobblestones of the street. It irked him that he should need it, but the enchantress's curse had been as thorough as it was brutal. The psyche of a young man in his prime had been thrust into the brittle frame of a man on his last legs. When she looked at him, though, he could feel his true self slowly working its way to the surface again. Prince Bastian, if he only understood it, could have spent more time with her, and perhaps he would have been wholly restored. Now he would never know.

He arrived at the edge of the forest; he was almost there. His shoes crunched in the snow. He could see trimmings on some of the wild trees: glass balls, garlands, even some tinsel. It was always the most magical part of the season, she said, seeing the forest resplendent, as if the woodland creatures secretly harbored admiration for the human convention of trimming the tree.

He found the bench that was their customary meeting place, marked by three pillar candles, which he stooped to light. Positioning his withered body carefully, he sat with as much princely grace as he could muster. Setting the gift on the seat next to him, he began speaking.

"It's getting near time for the ball, Princess."
She always blushed when he called her that—which was why he never bothered to learn any other name for her. He closed his eyes, picturing her flowing white gown, the one with the rosebuds, and her pale-pink shoulders rising from it.
"They still don't see," he murmured. "You saw right away, but nobody else—" the words caught in his throat, and his chin trembled. Bastian continued.
"How?" He choked. "How could you see me? How did you know I was a prince under a spell? I dare say you could have been the one to break it, if—" he could not bring himself to finish. She was so close to him, barely ten feet away. He could picture her wide eyes and gentle smile fixed on him, allowing him to continue on his own terms.
 
"I'm sorry!" He blubbered at last. "I know I say that every time, but I want you to hear it; I want to keep saying it until I have atoned for the abominable way I treated you, Princess."
Indeed, rather than welcoming her and seeking her out as he should have, his reaction to having such attentions paid him was to withdraw and rebuff her. Surely she was just patronizing him; the magic was too strong, nobody could see the prince under the monstrous exterior.
"I didn't want to believe anybody could see me for who I was," he admitted softly. "I told myself that your kindness was a farce." He stared at the ornate gravestone, etched with her name. The last date engraved upon its surface had been two years ago, when she had suddenly taken violently ill.
Bastian had worried about her then, but not enough to overcome his pride. He was still ugly, after all. The magic of true love's kiss really existed in his dimension. It could have saved her—saved them both. In the end, she gave up her life, and a loneliness such as Bastian had never known settled over him.
He dug the end of his cane, making little furrows in the grass.
"I..." How should he say this? "I've been doing better," he told her grave. "I've been looking for someone who sees like you do; by... By being kind, like you were, Princess. You taught me that much: kindness means nothing if not given, and it means more if reciprocated. I treat others with respect, now, regardless of their status. You taught me—" his voice caught as tears spilled from his eyes. "You taught me to see the prince in everybody. My own subjects wouldn't recognize the way I behave now!" He hung his head. "I'm sorry! You were right; I'm so sorry!" The light of the candle flames glinted off his tears.

Footsteps crackled in the frozen grass behind him. Baxter turned, but his weeping eyes beheld nothing. His heart, however, felt the presence of her spirit, standing there, dressed as his best memory of her, watching him mourn.
A warm breeze—quite impossible for the dead of winter—brushed past his cheek, and one of the pillar candles extinguished. He could well imagine her smile as she did this.
Baxter Higgins stood up. He carefully placed the package on the grass before the stone.

"Merry Christmas, Princess."


Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)

 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 6 Part 2


Previously: Chapter 6 <Part 1>

The two sides clashed in a broiling melée. The Novices didn't actually resist when attacked and forced out of the way by the frantic crowd of villagers. For some of them, Carsius noticed, it was as if they did not know they were under attack until someone touched them.
He ducked and twisted as a pair of arms flailed toward him like an undead thing.
"Why do you do this?" he asked the Novice who had no thought but to lay hands on him. "Who has tricked your mind?"
The young man did not answer. When Carsius evaded his reach, the Novice flailed pathetically, though his quarry stood but three paces away. Carsius prodded the unfortunate individual out of the pathway for Laurel.

Gorrmunsa and Hunter ended up side by side. The Kytarr lashed out viciously, but with his claws retracted, so the prey only found itself stunned and bruised instead of slashed to ribbons. It seemed that for every Inoculate they pushed aside, three more took his place.
Hunter, for his own part, fought valiantly, using his girth and considerable reach to beat back the fumbling crowd. One enterprising individual attached himself to Hunter's leg. Hunter tried to shake him off, but to no avail.
"Ho there, friend!" he hollered at Gorrmunsa, "Get this thing off me!"
Gorrm immediately snatched the Overseer bodily away, only to feel him lurch out of his grasp and fall on Hunter, this time landing on the unfortunate man's head.
Gorrm could only stand back and watch as the Overseer and Hunter grinned as one. Still stacked as they were, the two reversed and returned to the fight, both men functioning with the same senses and mental capacity, as the Overseer used Hunter's eyes and ears (and feet, as matters stood) to fashion a sort of four-armed beast with one mind and one objective. Hunter moved wherever the Overseer wished, without even knowing he was doing anything out of the ordinary.

Laurel watched him stumble past, watched the Overseer latch onto another victim, adding another pair of eyes and hands to the conglomeration.
"Eyes but they cannot see," she murmured to herself, "ears but they cannot hear; mouths but they cannot speak." She pushed the horror aside and focused on getting through the crowd without being touched. True that Ra'dith's serum was powerful enough to rejuvenate her, but there was no telling what might happen if one of the Inoculates laid so much as a finger on her. The villagers were accomplishing this task admirably, but short of killing them, there really was no way to stop the onslaught of human-wyrts, who seemed to know her intent and desire above all else to stop her.
Lyam showed up on one side of her, and a merchant named Wynter on the other.
"Do you really think the Brethren would resort to this?" She asked Lyam.
The young soldier gazed over the crowd. "Indeed, you are right, there is something wrong. For even as we soldiers were Inoculated as these are, we still possessed the power of speech, something that seems strangely absent here."
Laurel shivered, "So you are saying that even the Inoculation still gives the victim the same abilities as the one controlling him."
Lyam nodded, "Yes, though why it has affected these differently, I don't—"
"Watch out!" Wynter cried, throwing himself on Laurel. Lyam moved in and tossed the Novice away, and the little band trudged forward another step.
"We'll never make it," Laurel sighed.
"We shall," Lyam disagreed. "Which way are we headed?"
Laurel paused to reflect on the pull of the influence that had plagued her for so long. Though it had been eradicated from her mind to the point that Atis' scanners could find no trace, she felt as if some part of her were only loosely fastened in the right direction, needing only a small nudge to turn it back. Laurel carefully folded it aside now, reigniting the dangerous flame while keeping firm control over it this time.
"Left," she gasped to Lyam and Wynter. "We need to go to the left!"
Lyam glanced in that direction. "Are you sure?" he queried. "That will take us right through the thick of the battle!"
Laurel nodded. "I am certain. The alcove on that side leads to a secret tunnel, which will bring us to the caverns where we will find the mother-mind."
Wynter and Lyam glanced at each other, but there was nothing else for it. This was their only choice.
They forged ahead, pushing madly for every step. All around them, Inoculates were creating conglomerate groups of affected people, ensuring that they could see in every direction and making even the touch of a friend that much more dangerous.
As they neared the center, it became much more difficult to progress. Laurel was practically squashed between Lyam and Wynter as they protected her with their bodies to beat back the Inoculates.
She could only look on in horror as her defenders were swept away from her by a rush of hands and bodies. Laurel flung her arms over her head and kicked away anyone who tried to grab her shoulders. She could not kick fast enough.
"Help me!" she screamed as the Inoculates and their wretched influence threatened to overwhelm her. "SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!"

Bodies, legs, hands, and every once in a while, a face fell very close to hers, staring wildly out of sightless eyes. Laurel could do nothing to protect herself beyond curling her body as tight as it would go and praying for a swift end—
Then, suddenly, the bodies were no longer swarming, and a pair of very strong, deft hands grasped Laurel's wrist and coached her back onto her feet. Laurel looked up and only saw a black shadow—until two silver eyes glinted back at her.
"Ra'dith!" she gasped.
Ra'dith did not waste an instant. From somewhere she produced a length of silvery rope, fastened already to some unreachable part of the vaulted ceiling. She wrapped an arm around Laurel's waist and murmured, "Hold on."
Laurel threw her arms around Ra'dith's neck as the mysterious woman lifted off and fairly flew over the heads of the dull Inoculates. They swung off toward that left corner of the forum. Laurel cringed as with a sudden upheaval, a veritable stack of Inoculates and their recently-turned victims rose up in front of them, too quickly for Ra'dith to avoid them. Laurel screamed as they both plummeted into the waiting crowd.
Still Ra'dith never left off holding Laurel or standing against her as she fended off the hungry mob. Noses shattered, bodies fell, and arms twisted as Ra'dith employed her astonishing fighting skills, all the while keeping Laurel perfectly safe. Laurel only noticed when they at last entered the tunnel that Ra'dith had also somehow managed to herd them both in the right direction. Ra'dith activated a panel on the wall and a gate slid into place, keeping a majority of the Inoculates at bay, in the outer court. She glanced at Laurel, panting softly but showing no weariness on her face.
"Go," Ra'dith urged softly.
Laurel nodded and took off down the tunnel, where she knew she could find the entrance to the cavern holding the mother-mind. It made sense, what with the Inoculates behaving like wyrts—they must be controlled by the mother-mind, who had no mouth to speak, ears to hear, eyes to see, or thought for anything but her own survival, which she understood Laurel intended to jeopardize.
Laurel rounded a corner and nearly collided with an Inoculated Mentor. Before he could make a move toward her, Ra'dith slipped between them and shoved the blind man out of the way. She nodded calmly to Laurel.

It happened this way every time Laurel came across an Inoculate or, as they drew closer to the deep caverns, any racing wyrts. The humans Ra'dith spared, but the wyrts she killed. Laurel rarely had to break her stride as Ra'dith hovered around her like a cloud of smoke, removing obstacles without becoming one herself. Deeper and deeper they traveled; Laurel dimly wondered how her friends fared, now that the largest threat was no longer present.