Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #31


Suggested by: Andy "+A.D."  Poole

The List:
-The Hall of Whispers
-Outside Time
-Midrealm
-A leather-bound book

The Result:
"The Siren Song" Part 2
(First, click here for "The Siren Song" Part 1)
Rushing water.... Scarred face snarling, pushed away by a muddy deluge... Pain in his wrists... Pulling his arms, the mighty river yanking him... Long scaly arms embracing him... Abandoning the rubble of broken cement and twisted rebar and dead bodies and torture and greed—

Air! His stomach heaved and he felt the salty, silty water mixed with bile burned his throat coming back up. The feeling of the hard ground registered as he rolled over to let gravity clear his lungs.
He inhaled just once—one shaking, gasping breath—and a loud scream erupted behind him. Instantly, claws dug into his back as a tremendous weight pressed the breath from him again. Huge paws rolled his battered body into his back as the large beast slobbered all over his face. Feebly, he tried to reach up and push the animal away.
"No..." He protested in a thin whisper. "Stop..."

"CARNOSSUS!"
The command issued in a voice so strong it could have shaken the cavern. Immediately, the moist, sticky torment ceased and the weight left him. He sat up and rubbed the saliva from his face before he dared take another breath. At last, he could have a good look at his surroundings.

They seemed to be inside an enormous tree of some sort. Winding pathways wound around the perimeter, built out of the very substance of the tree. A sense of ancient magic hung like the cloying scent of sawdust in the air. 
Just next to him was a wide, deep pool—probably their entry point. His rescuers awaited him at a respectful distance: one was a black panther the size of a Clydesdale with the temperament of a doting house cat; the other, a bronze-skinned woman dressed in animal pelts, nearly eight feet tall and busily trying to dry the pale-grey scales off her deep-brown skin. Her long black hair hung down her back in braided ropes woven with seaweed and studded with shells.
He tried to ease himself onto his feet, but a white-hot flash of pain burned through his muscles. The giantess shook her head.
"No, Benji; Carnossus will help you."
The panther bounded to his side, and Ben clumsily threw his arms over the beast's head. Moving slowly and smoothly, the enormous cat lifted its head, pulling Benji upright and guiding him toward the place where the woman sat. She had a pile of extra pelts ready, and laid him out on that. Benji sighed with relief as the softness relieved much of his pain.
"Thanks for the rescue, Onesha," he sighed.
The Amazon nodded. "I swore to you that whenever you played the song of my people, I would come."
Benji chuckled, a movement that reminded him of his still-swollen face and the cracked ribs from his lengthy torture session at the hands of the guerrillas. He looked around the tree.
"What is this place?" He asked.
Onesha produced a round satchel and began sorting through the pouches and vials it contained. 
"My people call it the Hall of Whispers."
Ben examined the wood a little closer; it wasn't any variety he recognized. "Are we still near the Amazon rainforest?" He asked.
Onesha began spreading the ointment over his ribs, binding them with a soothing cloth. 
"This is a place outside of time, yet folded within your realm," she answered, her warm, resonant voice resounding over him. "You are completely safe here."
Folded in, Benji thought. "So, it's part of Midrealm?" He guessed.
Onesha nodded. "The collision of our realms provided a safe space for me and my sisters to hide."
Benji nodded, sitting up very slowly as the Amazon's ointment strengthened his body. "Right up until the time it started collapsing," he grunted.
She nodded. "So long as we stayed within the water, we were safe within the boundaries of Midrealm, but some of my sisters were not satisfied, and sought to walk among the people of this realm, to war against them and conquer them as goddesses."
Benji could well imagine the sight of thousands of ten-foot mermaids crawling up on land and transforming into eight-foot giantesses; it was terrifying enough the first time he saw Onesha shift.
Carnossus returned, her muzzle the size of Benji's head as she nuzzled him. He winced as the pressure of her touch hit a bruise on his skull.
"Back, Carnossus!" Onesha hissed, shooing the animal away. She watched Benji with a face full of concern. "I am sorry you were captured."
He shrugged and bobbed his head. "That was my own dumb fault. I volunteered to be the bait, remember?" Benji smirked, while resolving in the back of his mind that he would never have to go through that experience again. He sighed, looking up at Onesha.
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
Onesha smiled at him, and pulled something else out of her satchel: an antique leather-bound book.
Benji felt an electric surge of anticipation as Onesha cradled it in her hands.
"You were right; the angry men did indeed hold the sacred book of my people." She traced the ornate emblem on the front with gentle fingers. "Within these covers is the secret that can safely separate our worlds before our warriors launch the attack that will wipe out all humans from this realm."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reader's Review: "Road Brothers" by Mark Lawrence


Summary from Amazon:

Ten short stories from the lives of Jorg and his Road Brothers. Contains spoilers for the Broken Empire trilogy. Five of the stories have previously been published in anthologies, Contains the short story 'Sleeping Beauty' that is also sold separately. A total of 43,000 words or just over half the length of Prince of Thorns.
>>>>>>

My Review:
The above summary doesn't even begin to encapsulate the command of the English language this author has, that never fails to affect me deeply. 
This collection of tales is as stunning as ever, and poignant in their brevity! ROAD BROTHERS absolutely speaks to a writer's proclivity to knowing his characters deeper than anything that would fit within a broad narrative; here we receive those all-important glimpses into characters who perhaps only had a single role to play in one of the trilogies, but, as Lawrence quotes John Dunne, "No man is an island..." These characters may have had one role in Jorg's story... But at the same time, Jorg was merely a part of their stories. The same visceral, compelling prose that so drew me to devouring any story with his name attached still shines beautifully here.
"A Rescue" gives a glimpse into the past of Brother Makin, one of my favorite characters from the Thorns trilogy, and arguably the most upright. 
"Sleeping Beauty" plays off like a scientific horror from the perspective of Jorg, in one of those rare instances when he is actually vulnerable for a bit. 
"Bad Seed" turns to the little-known Red Kent for a brief time, telling the part of his past that shaped him into the man Jorg found. 
"The Nature of the Beast" explores a mission of Rike, and gives wonderful insight into such a stoic, ruthless man—as well as giving more "humanity", such as it is, to another character famous in the trilogy. 
"Select Mode" is about the only one of this collection that I actually read on Wattpad, and it fascinated me. Just the idea of near-future technology colliding with what we expect to see in stereotypical "medievalesque" fantasy never fails to blow my mind. 
"Mercy" revisits Makin, in the midst of the event alluded to in "A Rescue." 
"A Good Name" travels far south, to the land and the mysterious past of the Nuban, and some inspiration for his devotion to Jorg—plus an unexpected appearance of a character with ties to the Red Queen's War! 
"Choices" focuses on Gorgoth the leucrota, "The Secret" deals with Brother Sim, and "Know Thyself" is about the only time (probably) that readers actually get to "see" the Ancrath brothers alive together, and understand the connection between them... Along with some delicious foreshadowing of revelations reserved for the last book in the Thorns trilogy! 
Typically, I would take the time to gush over my favorite story in an anthology; however, I am in quite a bind, because there are several that I really loved, or little bits and glimmers in them that just gave me the sort of thrill that is the reason I enjoy this series and this world so much. An absolute win for any fan of the Broken Empire.

I give "Road Brothers" an unreserved *****FIVE STAR***** rating, and add an Upstream Writer Certified Highly Recommended for fans of deep, intricate sci-fi mixed with grim dystopia, dark fantasy, and sprinkled liberally with violence and language—but the prose is absolutely phenomenal, and more than makes up for the cursing and gore.
 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #30


Suggested By: +Lee Hawke 

The List:
-Archwilliams
-The Dream World
-1950s
-A clock

The Result:
"Perchance To Dream"

The blue mist swirled around his ankles as he stepped forward, believing in the firmness beneath his feet—or else it might turn out to be Void and he would endlessly fall until the moment he expected to hit bottom. He took a step forward, not even hearing his own footfalls on the invisible ground, as much as he wanted to.
"Seraid?" He called, but his voice came out a muted whisper. Sound did strange things in the mists of the Null. 
It didn't matter how far his voice carried anyway. Her face appeared first, right in front of him.
"Took you long enough, Alarin," she teased as the rest of her deep-indigo dress formed. She tossed her head so the pale-blond braid draped over her shoulder. "How you ever managed to achieve Archwilliam in spite of being so easily distracted is beyond me." She twirled easily and a tendril of mist wound around her legs.
Alarin cleared his throat and adjusted the collar of his Archwilliam cloak. "I wasn't distracted," he muttered. "That was a particularly nasty terror I dispatched!"
Seraid curled her lips in mock pity. "Yes, saving a little toddler from the big, scary shrub was much too difficult for a mere william!"
Alarin scowled. "I never said it was difficult! Just tedious—you know how foliage can be, in dreams. Leaves and twigs everywhere!"
Seraid bobbed her head and pretended to inspect her rapier. "Well, next time work a little faster, all right? A william's job is never done."
Alarin nodded. "So long as children dream, there will be terrors trying to mar those dreams."
"And as long as there are terrors, there will be an army of williams and Archwilliams to travel those dreams and defend them against it!" Seraid agreed with a keen, cold light in her eye. She grinned at Alarin. "Ready to go again?"
"Half a moment," said Alarin. His collar had gone tight again, and he fought to loosen the knot at his throat before it choked him to death—or at least to what the williams, the dream-walkers, referred to as Void.
Seraid rolled her eyes. "Must you insist on wearing that stupid tie? It makes you look like an old man."
"Does not, either!" Alarin ran his hands through his sleek brown hair. "My tie looks very dignified, thank you!"
Seraid wasn't listening. She clambered over the swirling, uneven clods of mist changing shape and shifting endlessly, eternally. "Whatever helps you sleep at night," she joked, knowing that a william never slept; it was always night somewhere in the world, and someone was always dreaming. It was their job to be ready when the terrors struck.

A flash of light parted the formless blue clouds in the distance.
Alarin pointed, the long sleeve of his robe flapping below his arm. "There!" He cried. "It's happening!"
Seraid drew her sword. It blazed with a brilliant white light. "That's our cue," she said. "Let's see what terrible beasties stalk this night!"

The two Archwilliams sprinted toward the light of an open portal. Their pace did not slack as they crossed right over the glowing space in the mists.

Within two paces they landed together in a sunlit realm. Green grass spread in graceful rolling hills as far as the eye could see. A brilliant rainbow stretched across the sky, teeming with resplendent butterflies—no, fairies with butterfly wings. The two Archwilliams stared in astonishment as a herd of milk-white unicorns galloped over the ridge and began grazing in the grass.
Alarin glanced at Seraid, who huffed and began tromping down the hill. In the valley at the base of a mountain range, a tall waterfall cascaded into a deep pool where mermaids frolicked.
Seraid snorted as she moved to sheath her rapier. "What is this? These dreams are in no mortal danger!"
Alarin pulled out a round, reflective surface—their scrying-screen into the real world. A young woman lay in a dingy apartment, tossing fitfully in her sleep.
"It looks to be about the 1950's, in England," he announced to his compatriot. "Maybe we haven't gotten far enough into the dream yet."
Seraid shrugged. "Where do we go looking for trouble, then?"
A chorus of terrified whinnies erupted from the back of the unicorn herd—the side closest to a lush, green, shadowed forest.
Alarin loosened his own blade as the unicorns rushed away from the forest, right in their direction.
"Looks like trouble has found us," he remarked.
Seraid rolled her eyes and charged toward the thing that threatened the tranquility of the girl's slumber.
"That's our cue!" She called over her shoulder.

Together they entered the forest, only to dodge and parry as a flurry of gnarled claws sailed at them from every direction. The monster in the shadows roared viciously, threatening to break from among the trees.
"All right now, Archwilliam!" Seraid grunted as she whirled and swiped with her sword. "Do your thing! Figure out what is causing the terror!" She dropped from the branch she held as a jet of flame headed her way.
Alarin used his intuition to slow dream-time down so he could get a good look at the monster. Everything—including Seraid, mid-bound—froze in suspended animation. 
Alarin saw a massive body made of darkness, with myriad bony arms, each bearing a at least two savage claws at the end. Everywhere he looked, a claw headed right for him. 
"She feels trapped," he murmured. "Unable to get out of the situation she is in."
What else? There was something still; he moved closer to the monster. He stood right beneath the distended, muscular body when he saw it: embedded in the monster's chest was a large clock, and even in the stopped-time, the hands glided smoothly around. In normal time, the hands must whirl at a discomforting rate.
"Time!" Alarin cried. "That's it!"
Just then, his intuition wore off with a rush, and the william went tumbling head over heels. Alarin tried to rise, but a searing pain sliced across his middle.
"Alarin!" Seraid yelled, dropping to the ground a few feet away.
Alarin placed a hand on the pain and felt a deep gash from the monster's claw. He coughed as Seraid struggled to right him and fend off the beast. Waves of pain threatened to overwhelm him—a dangerous state for a william inside someone else's dreamscape. He pointed with a hand red and glistening with his own blood.
"Time," he gasped.
"What?" Seraid smacked away another attack. "What did you find, Alarin?"
"Time..." He found it harder to speak. If they didn't resolve this now, he would be trapped there forever. "She needs time," he told Seraid. "You need to give her time to get free!"
Seraid sliced off another claw and peered closely at the spinning clock. 
"I know what to do!" She cried, jumping and dancing to avoid the raking claws. "Stay with me, Alarin! Stay..."
  


Monday, February 15, 2016

Reader's Review: "ReAwaken" by Autumn Seigel

Synopsis from Amazon:
Arianna Montgomery has no recollection of her past life when she discovers she has a part to play in the new human race. As much as she tries to fight the cause, it may turn out she has a much bigger role to play than she realized. But can Arianna handle the responsibility that’s been thrust upon her?

The end of the world is near...will they be ready?
>>>>>>>
My Review: 
There is something to be said for a YA centered around the (often) trope-laden premise of "teens-with-superpowers-saving-the-world".... And even just in the last year, I witnessed it done exceptionally well (Ghost Hand by Ripley Patton) and also very, very badly (Sevara by Damian Wampler)

New author Autumn Seigel throws her hat into the ring, and shows great promise in this debut—though not the rousing triumph I may have been looking for.

The story itself was reasonable enough; it used shades of all the great sci-fi dystopian worlds to create a unique flavor: a group of select members intended to repopulate a dead earth also receive treatment that eliminates emotion and erases memories. The main character, however, gets stronger flashes of memory surges and sensations of feelings. She is destined for greater and deeper things than just preparing to live on this New Earth, so she and a group of other gifted friends plan on escaping the compound where they live to find the answers they need—but the ones who control them are willing to hunt and kill to keep the (not so) long-buried secrets from being exposed...

I can't say any more for fear of spoiling the entire book; therein lay the biggest flaw-that-really-isn't-much-of-a-flaw-really: The book was basic, simple, and succinct. There is something to be said for not over-complicating things so much that one needs to bring one's heroine back from the dead just once, not twice (here's looking at you, Mr. Wampler!), but the idea of "leave your audience wanting more" should not strike such fear that the author ends up "leaving the audience feeling gypped"! 
I did feel a little gypped; I wanted more of what life was like in the facility; things moved too fast, I felt like I wasn't able to get as emotionally invested in the characters as I probably should have been, or at least as much as the other characters were! I felt clueless most of the time; rather than being a participant engaged in the adventure, I was the character in the background watching the events and thinking, "Huh???" I wanted more about the special abilities of the kids instead of just a quick, on-the-run, see-it-in-action summary; most of all I wanted to understand Arianna's feelings for Mark, to know how conflicted she felt over Trey and Earth... But though she described her feelings in the narration, and it may have been stated openly so that I was informed of her feelings... I could never quite relate, myself. And the wrap-up at the end felt a little bit trope-ish... Some revelations were shocking and beautiful but passed so briefly they lacked the full emotional effect.

Not as strong an opening as I would have liked, but a very good start all the same. A solid ****4 STARS**** from the Upstream Writer, and I am looking forward to more from Ms. Seigel!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #29


Suggested by: +Kileah McIlvain 

The List:
-Lady Jocelyn Stark
-Brussels
-1897
-an onyx cameo ring

The Result:
"Serenity's Light, Part 6"



Winter, 1897

The snow lay thick and powdery over the Parc du Cinquantenaire, the crown of Brussels. People bustled to and fro among the shops and museums, concentrating more on keeping their footing and seeing the displayed diversions than they were on the others of the crowd. No one noticed the veiled woman with the two stoic, muscular Doberman Pinschers, except to stay well clear of the keen muzzles. Where she had suddenly sprung from with such brutes on leather leashes never quite crossed the minds of the passersby.
She smiled to herself and sat upon a bench, keeping her charges tightly reined. Only her eyes saw the small, human-like form land upon the head of the nearest dog.

"Report," she murmured softly, after making sure they were well alone.
"Milady," said the ethereal form in a deep, masculine voice, "We have found no trace of the Relics or the Light-Bearer in this time."
The red lips tightened and the flawless cheeks blazed a bright vermilion.
"How could this be?" She seethed. "I thought you were tracking the Norseman! He must be here, this is the portal he should have taken!"
The form wavered and blinked, causing some unease in the beast underneath him. The woman kept the leash firmly in hand, channeling her anger into pulling on the dog's throat instead of squishing the pixie as she longed to do. The Doberman yelped, attracting the attention of the other one, who noticed the strange creature perched on the head of its mate.
The woman saw the hound leaning in for an experimental sniff and hastily spat a word.
"Verassillimon!"
Instantly, the hound's body stiffened and snapped back into the posture of a patient dog, staring blankly ahead and waiting till its mistress lifted the spell.
"How?" She huffed. "How did she get him through another portal? How could she give us the slip? I had the Spaniard practically eating out of my hand—what could have happened to make him lose his nerve?"
A tiny flash of light and a pop resounded behind her, and a second. Two pixies hovered in front of her, weaving madly to keep from dropping out of the air with fatigue.
She glared at them, expecting no better news than the others.
"What is it?"
"Milady," gasped one. "I found them."
"Who?" She leaned in sharply.
"Not who," the pixie made a quick figure-eight, "what; I found where the Relics will be."
Her face lit up and she grinned. "At last! Tell me where!"
The pixie's movements slowed. "They are on display in a museum in the realm of New York—"
She stood, forcing the pixies to the side of her. "What are we waiting for?" She raised a finger to inscribe a circle in the air.
"Wait!" Shrieked the pixie. "I wasn't finished! They are at the Museum of Fine Art... A little more than one hundred years from now."
She let her knees buckle and collapsed onto the bench. "Why?" She moaned. "I try so hard, and yet I am foiled at every turn!" She shifted her gaze to the second pixie. "I don't suppose you have any better news?"
The pixie bobbed uncertainly. "Well... You might not like it..."
"Give the report; I am already feeling foul."
This pixie actually managed to stay in one place. "I found the Light-Bearer." He released a series of bright, paper-thin films into the woman's lap. She picked them up and they each coalesced into a photograph. There was the Light-Bearer... And the Norseman! "But who are these others?" She pointed to the photographs of an old woman, a small girl, and a young man. "And what are they wearing?"
The pixie landed upon the stone-faced dog's head. "That's the problem: from what I could discern of their conversation, she thinks she has found the Lore-Master."
This time, she forgot herself completely, and screamed, "NO!" Real flames danced over her skin, and a purple light glowed in her hands.
"Milady!" The pixie hastened to finish his report. "They are in the same time as the Relics! If they find the curator, they will have access to them!"
"FOOLS!" She screamed, blasting the pixies with her magic. "Cualcorpavernoth!"
The pixies squealed as their essences drained into the eyes of the frantic hounds. The animals thrashed as their bodies warped and changed. When it finished, the lady unveiled stood with two very serious men in black suits on either side.
"You will do exactly as I say," she she commanded. "And you will. Not. Fail. Me. Again."
One of the men growled in response.
She snapped her fingers. "Speak."
"As you wish, Milady."
She nodded. "Now, go get me that curator; she must be persuaded not to help them. Use any means necessary." A touch of the smile came back as she glanced over the art gallery at the park. "The Relics are on display as fine art, you say?" She mused. "Well, what if the museum had a donation it couldn't refuse?" She paused and looked at her hands as an idea formed. Slipping the onyx cameo ring from her finger, she paused to make sure a second one appeared in its place; since it was part of the illusion she used, that illusion could not be altered in any way. She handed the ring to the other henchman.
"Show her this ring as proof; if she is as pliable as we need her to be, she will be frightened out of her wits."
"How do you know?" Asked the other man.
She smiled coyly at him. "Because here in this realm, I am Lady Jocelyn Stark, heiress of a massive fortune. I will have my portrait painted, and then I will write a letter. The curator is mine!" She sent the newly-formed men away with a wave of her hand.
>>>>>>

Summer, present-day New York

Kenneth paced in front of the door while Agnes waited patiently.
"Are you ready?" He called up the stairs.
"Forgive me if I am baffled by these strange garments!" Jens bellowed back. "The strange stitching itches me far worse than coarse wool ever did!"
"Nakoma does not see why the own clothes are not sufficient," cried another voice. "There is too much cloth in these ones."
Kenneth huffed. "Quit complaining and get down here! We need to find this woman before the fall equinox!"
Jens emerged first, dressed in modern street clothes that were so tight on his burly frame, the effect was almost comical. Agnes gave him a sympathetic expression as he squirmed to get comfortable in the jeans and tee shirt.
"I'm sorry I don't have anything more your size," she murmured.
Jens shook his head and pulled his long brown hair back into a tail, which he tied easily with a leather thong. "Lay not the blame upon yourself, milady; it is the Lore-Master who insisted I adopt this useless manner of dress." He glared at Kenneth, who only shrugged and glanced back up the stairs.
"Where is—"
"I am here." In spite of the fact that she now wore jeans, sneakers, and a bright-pink girl's top, Nakoma still managed to move without a sound. She looked about as pleased with her outfit as Jens was, though hers fit better on her.
Kenneth balked under the animosity. "Look guys; we're going to attract a lot less attention if we are all dressed in modern clothes. Now let's go!" He pulled out the piece of paper with the address of one Sarah Brighton, curator of the Celtic Antiquities exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.

Less than an hour later, the whole group approached the front steps of a nondescript New York townhouse. Kenneth rang the doorbell and heard movement inside. He eyed the others.
"I'm the professor, so just let me do the talking, okay?" He said as the door opened.
A slim woman with highlighted red tresses took one look at the motley group and gasped.
"No!" She slammed the door.
"Sarah Brighton?" Kenneth knocked again. "Mrs. Brighton!"
"Go away!" She yelled.
Agnes sighed and crossed her arms. "Have you two met?" She quipped dryly.
Kenneth backed away when all attempts at an exchange produced no effect. "No," he said softly. "I've never met that woman in my life."
"She was afraid," Jens noted as they stood on the sidewalk, hoping that perhaps she would reemerge and give them a chance to explain. "Why should she have cause to fear us?"

"She wasn't afraid of you," said a voice. The foursome whirled around as a young woman with dark red hair approached them. “She’s afraid of what might happen to her family. She’s been threatened.”
Jens gasped. "Freya!" He spat like a curse.
A smile played around the woman's lips as she nodded to the big Norseman. "Yeah, sorry about that; how's the head?"
Jens made as if to lunge for her, but Kenneth stopped him.
"She is a liar and a thief!" He snarled.
The girl's blue eyes flashed. "I did what I had to do to keep the Relics safe from one who would unleash Darkness in this realm!"
Kenneth looked at her sharply. "You know about the Relics? Who are you?"
The girl flinched as a car passed them. She shook her head. "Not here," she murmured. "Follow me."
"Not so fast!" Agnes chided her. Something about the way this girl moved made her pretty suspicious. "How do we know we can trust you if we don't even know your name?"
The woman stared at them, then pulled on a chain around her neck. Hanging from it was a gem that shone brightly with its own light, like a star trapped in crystal.
"My name is Nerissa, and I bear the Light of Serenity. I know that you are the Guardian," she nodded to Agnes, "The Warrior," to Jens, "The Sprite," to Nakoma, "and the Lore-Master," she smiled at Kenneth. "And I have been searching through time for you all, to help me acquire the Relics and return this light to my realm." She held forth the pendant and demanded, "Now do you trust me?"

Previously in This Series:




Single Posts:
#26 "The Tides of Battle"



#19 "Story Time"