Sunday, February 26, 2017

The ReBible Series: "Professional Integrity" Excerpt--The President's Dream

 
Previous Excerpt: Kill Order
 
It took a moment for Daniel's eyes to adjust. A massive fire roared in the large hearth, so distended with propellant and chemical and mineral incense that it burned in a rainbow of many colors and gave off a bewildering mixture of scents. He could make out a massive desk strewn with packets and powders and still-smoking fumedants, but there was no sign of President King. A high-backed leather chair faced the back wall. Daniel waited a moment, but the pressure in his lungs grew too much, and he reluctantly drew a breath. A cloud of smoke billowed from the chair, and it slowly turned to face him.

President Chadwick Octavian Reginald King squinted from behind drooping eyelids. His puffy lips lay slack around a burning “fumer,” which glowed brightly as the substance inside slowly burned away. The light from the fire reflected off the shiny trail of mucous left under his nose. His hair hung in limp, greasy locks from his head. His hands shook from the number of drugs coursing through his bloodstream. 
The cigarette dropped from his mouth, and he stared at the figure before him. In a low, rasping voice, he spoke.
“I haven’t slept for three nights, did you know that?” He stopped with a chuckle that ended up more like a choking, rheumy cough. “Three nights, and the same cursed dream. I'm even starting to have visions of it when I am awake.” He flopped back in his chair with all the muscular control of a rag doll, and drew a long breath. “So unless you can say what no one else has--”
 
“Mr. King,” Daniel cut in, fighting to keep his presence of mind in the heady cloud of scents. “No technician, or dream specialist, or mystic, or psychiatrist can both tell you what you dreamed, and tell you its meaning.” The eerie eyes watched him quietly as Daniel continued, his voice getting stronger with each phrase. “But I am here to say that there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries so profound the human mind cannot even begin to conceive of them, much less a machine invented by human minds. It is this same God who has revealed to you, by your dream, a glimpse into the future of this company and the companies to come after it.” The mere mention of God in that dark, foul-smelling place seemed to invite a gust of fresh wind from some unseen quarter. Daniel felt much better as he drew another breath to launch into his presentation.
“Mr. King, I will now tell you the dream that has robbed you of your sleep for these last three nights.
As you lay in your bed, you were thinking about the future of Byblos Corporation, and--since we are at the height of our efficiency and the balance of profit--what the company might pursue in the coming years. Not even the most comprehensive prediction machine or any of those who claim to consort with the spirit world could ever tell you what would happen should Byblos ever fail--but I stand before you, able to do just that, not because of any superpower or any other kind of power I have beyond the limits of average human logic, but in order that you may know what it means, and to ease the confusion of your mind so that you can have the rest that has been denied you since the first time you dreamed.” Daniel took another breath and forged ahead.

"As you stood on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a huge valley, a terrible statue appeared, stretching from the valley floor, high over your head into the sky. At first, it seemed to be a statue in the shape of a giant man, but the longer you looked, the more it seemed to shift and change. The head, made of gold, was at first a man, and then a lion, roaring with all its strength. The arms and chest, made of silver, transformed from human form to the arms and claws of a bear."
It may have been his eyes adjusting to the darkness even more, but as Daniel watched, he could distinguish more of President King's eyes; they had lost their glassy haze, and he was watching this new recruit sharply. He continued.
"Further down, the statue had the flanks and haunches of a leopard, and the iron hooves of a goat."
The leather chair squeaked as Chad King flopped back. "Yes!" He gasped. "Yes, that's it exactly! How did you do that?"
Daniel raised a finger. "But that's not all you dreamed."
Chad nodded vigorously, pushing back the lank hair from his face. "Yes, go on."
"As you were admiring the statue and marveling at the detail, you became aware of a large stone rolling from out of nowhere, and not removed by any machine or man-generated efforts; it was something—Someone—else that cut the stone. That stone collided with the enormous statue, and instantly, the whole structure disintegrated into fine powder."
Chad was still nodding as if his head would fall right off his neck. "Yes, it just—" he gestured the explosion with his hands.
"And once the powder scattered to the four winds, all that was left was the huge stone, and as you watched, it grew and expanded till it became one mountain that took over the whole surface of the Earth."
 
Chad sniffed noisily and wiped the sleeve of his plush robe across his face. His eyes were so wide, Daniel almost wondered if he was physically capable of blinking anymore. He stared, mouth gaping, until his eyes rolled in his head and he slumped back in his chair. Daniel waited a moment, a bit puzzled by the response. Had he passed out? A grin unfolded over the emaciated president's face, and he opened his eyes.
"It's gone!" He wheezed. "Holy Dagon, it's gone! Once you said exactly what the dream was, it disappeared out of my head!" He clapped his hands over his scalp with a huge sigh of relief. "Well?" He gestured impatiently at Daniel. "Go on, Benedict Shafer! Tell me what it means!"
 
Daniel took a deep breath. The words came easier now. "You are the lion, President King, and God has seen fit to cause your administration of Byblos to make it the most successful company in the world—but there will come a time when the reign of Byblos will end. Your headquarters will be absorbed by a smaller company from Nevada, and this one will be taken over by a company represented by the bronze leopard, from Arizona. Last of all, the iron goat hooves represents a company based in Utah that will completely overtake the three that came before it."
 
Chad's face had wilted over the course of this interpretation; the frown that had begun at the mention of the fall of Byblos only deepened when he listened to all the companies that would continue to absorb one another. "And what does the giant magic stone represent?" He demanded in a dangerous tone. He stubbed out the cigarette, but his elbow jogged a mound of powder dispensers, sending a reeking cloud into the air.
 
Daniel coughed and prayed that the substances wouldn't affect his system, but he finished his interpretation anyway. 
"The stone is the ultimate community that will overtake all corporations around the world, will encompass all workforces of every nation, and it will change the face of employment forever, and there will be no more corporations. This, Mr. King, is the vision of the future that God has allowed you to see, and you can be absolutely certain that it will come to pass, in one way or another.”
As he finished speaking, Daniel noticed that the air, while still stiflingly hot, was not as heavy with the dizzying fumes; the flames had receded to gentle embers, and these were not the blazing, unnatural colors, but a gentle orange-golden glow. A digital tone signaled in the darkness, and the holoplast covers over the windows faded into transparency, allowing natural light to pour into the room. 
 
Chad King sat with his eyes glued on the simple young man standing before him. Three days of every kind of dream recollection procedure known to man--and this young intern’s God had imparted every detail of the dream so vividly, that it felt like perhaps Daniel had experienced the same dream. Then, too, was the affirmation that the dream he saw did represent the future--how many fortune tellers could truly claim that? He knew their penchant for broad, general statements and vague predictions that pretended to foretell whatever eventually came to pass--but he, Chad King, had actually seen what was going to happen. True, it did say that Byblos would eventually fall… but that wouldn’t be in his lifetime, would it? Chad laid all this aside as he felt an incredible weight lifted off his shoulders. As he watched the sunlight drive away the shadows, it seemed as if he could really breathe again, after holding his breath for three days.
He stood up from his chair, feeling the soreness in his knees…. how long had he been sitting there? He blinked in disgust at the amount of drugs littering his desk, making him look like a junkie and not the president of the “most successful company in the world.” He came around the desk and took Daniel’s hand. He seemed to recall viewing that face several times in a personnel report somewhere… but he pushed that out of his mind for now. Daniel led him out of the office, and with every step, Chad felt a new strength enter his limbs. He saw the sunlight streaming, saw the fresh flowers, heard the soft twittering of the birds in his private aviary--
And in that moment, there were tears in his eyes.

Daniel wasn’t quite sure how to respond as President King suddenly threw his arms around him and sobbed on his shoulder like an addict coming very quickly off an especially powerful high--which, judging by the number of fumedants he had in his possession, was probably very true. Chad’s knees buckled, and he slid to a crumpled, kneeling position, still clinging to Daniel’s hands like a drowning victim.
“Thank you,” he sobbed brokenly, “thank you… Thank you, my savior!”
This was not at all the outcome Daniel had been expecting. “I’m not--”
“Yes, you are!” Chad jumped to his feet as some of the old, dynamic, charismatic leader returned to him. “You have saved me, and you have saved all of Byblos--this God of yours must be something amazing, if He can give you someone else’s dream and tell you the meaning like that! You have no idea how much I have wanted someone to be there for me, and do that. You have got to tell me all about Him!”
Daniel nodded, but Chad didn’t stop. “Here, come with me!” He brought Daniel over to a kiosk at the end of the hall. Placing his hand on the biometric scanner, he spoke into the microphone, “Chad King!”
The kiosk blinked and showed the symbol of an open lock. “ADMINISTRATIVE PRIVILEGES ACTIVATED,” said the kiosk. Chad grinned widely as he beckoned to Daniel, “Here, now you put your hand there,” he pointed to the glass surface.”
Reluctantly, Daniel complied. A bright laser scanned his hand, and the kiosk instructed, “PLEASE STATE ADMINISTRATOR’S NAME.” Daniel opened his mouth to announce the President’s name, but Chad whispered, “Now say your Byblos name!” 
Thoroughly befuddled, Daniel announced, “Benedict Shafer.”
The kiosk blinked again, and showed two open locks. “VOICE KEY ACCEPTED; ADMINISTRATIVE PRIVILEGES ACTIVATED FOR BENEDICT SHAFER.” Daniel drew back his hand as if the scanner had delivered an electric shock. He looked at President King. “Sir--”
Chad shook his head. “Oh no, Benny-boy! We’re both administrators now; I’ve just made you Executive Director of Human Resources, and given you a chair on the Board of Directors. You must call me Chad, and you now have administrative authority in every department in the company having anything to do with personnel and employees. No more seeking out superiors and asking permission or finding your protocols changed and privileges revoked. Now you can make your own rules! You are the superior! We’re practically equals, you and I.” Chad clapped him on the back.
 
Daniel felt his skin grow cold, and his head became suddenly devoid of all rational thought. “I… I don’t know what to say!” He spluttered.
“It’s the least I can do, after what you’ve done for me!” Chad said to him as they arrived at the front door. “Go ahead and enjoy your new privileges, Ben. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to do!” Chad began to walk away, but Daniel didn’t leave immediately. 
“Sir--I mean… Chad?” he called after him. 
Chad turned immediately. “Yes?”
Daniel tried in vain to swallow the awkwardness as he formed his request, “I would like… I mean, if I wanted to… promote some of my friends, can I do that?”
Chad smiled magnanimously and winked. “As long as I am president of this corporation, you can do anything you want, Benedict.”

Aaron was the first to awaken at nearly four in the afternoon. His glass tablet blinked with a new message. He opened it, and saw that the same message had been sent to Harry and Mike as well. 
“PLEASE REPORT TO THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE IMMEDIATELY UPON RECEIPT OF THIS MESSAGE,” it said. “YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO DINNER AT THE ADMINISTRATIVE LOUNGE.”
Harry and Mike awoke to the frantic sounds of Aaron fumbling around the room trying to find his best clothes. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!
Harry rubbed his eyes. “Whuzzat?” he slurred drowsily. A heavy sleep like the one he’d just had was difficult to emerge from.
“Check your tab!” Aaron called from the bathroom.
Both friends did so.
“Executive offices?” Harry blurted.
“Dinner at the Administrative lounge?” Mike repeated incredulously.
By then, Aaron was already dressed. “Get moving!” he told his friends.

By four-thirty, three very nervous, but neatly-dressed young men stood awkwardly in the foyer of the spacious lounge. The hostess emerged from the main dining area and beamed at them. “Shafer, party of four?” she asked.
The three friends looked at each other. The only Shafer they knew was Daniel’s Byblos name. Aaron glanced back at the hostess. “Yeah, we know Bene--” 
“Follow me, please,” she said, leading them back down an exclusive hallway. She opened the door. “Your party is here, sir,” she announced to the person inside.
“Excellent!” Daniel’s voice gave them all a sense of relief. Harry, Mike, and Aaron wandered into the room.
In this private dining space, there was only one table, and only four chairs. One was occupied by their friend Daniel Princeton. He was neatly dressed in the fanciest charcoal-grey suit the boys had ever seen. 
“What is going on?” Mike demanded suspiciously. 
“Where did you sneak off to while we were sleeping?” Aaron wanted to know.
“And exactly how long were we asleep?” Harry looked around the opulent room in confusion.
Daniel grinned and gestured to the chairs. “Have a seat and let’s eat, boys. Order anything you like. We have a lot to discuss now that I’m the Human Resources Director for all of Byblos.”
All three dropped as one man.
“You’re what?” Aaron squeaked. “How?”
Daniel demonstrated for his friends how to activate the digital menu embedded in the table. “Order up and I’ll tell you. There'll be promotions for everybody today.”
>>>>>>>
 
More Excerpts from "Professional Integrity:
 
To read more excerpts from the rest of the ReBible series, Click >HERE< 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Clan Of Outcasts" Season 2 Part 1-- "Upgrades"

Season 2, Part 1 
"Upgrades" 
 
Velora pulled up a corner of her cape to mop the sweat pouring down her forehead. The sun beaming down from the clear sky heated the armor she wore, creating an effect very similar to sticking a tin of sardines in the fire. She glared at Korsan, striding evenly before her.
"Take the Wilderness Route, he says," she grumbled. "It'll be faster, he says."
The mage wagged his head without turning around. "You know, you could take off that armor, if you're uncomfortable!" The portends delivered to him via his talisman troubled him. Something no one expected or wanted had happened at the White Castle, and things did not bode well for the Gifted outcasts.
Velora frowned and watched the way the sun glinted off her gauntlets. "I like it!" She insisted. "Even though it is better suited for forest travel and shadows, rather than rocky cliffs in broad daylight!"
Korsan stopped abruptly, and Velora nearly collided with him. Her lip curled in a snarl. "What now?"
Korsan waved her to silence and hissed.
Velora blinked, and in the same space of time it took her to refocus,  a man appeared. One moment, she and the Mage were the only two living souls in sight, and the next, a young man in light chain mail stood in the center of the path, turning round in dizzy circles. He seemed to be mumbling to himself as he spun, and with only a few paces, Velora's keen ears could distinguish his words:

"... Then I was alone in the woods with a message she said I needed to deliver." He stumbled around. She was close enough now to see the utter confusion on his face. "Now where am I?" He whimpered.

Korsan had already consulted his talisman and deemed this man as no threat to them. He held up a salutary hand.
"Well met, friend!"

"Don't!"
The man stared at them with wide eyes, and instantly brought up his hands in front of him. Velora felt it like a powerful gust of wind pushing against her. Try as she might, she could advance no further down the path.
He trembled now. "Stop!" He said again.
"We mean you no harm," Korsan assured him.
The stranger blinked, and Velora felt the pressure pushing against her lift ever so slightly.
"I know," said the man. He carefully balled his hands into fists and brought them stiffly to rest at his sides. He shrugged his shoulders. "You're probably the ones I am supposed to find."
He didn't have time to so much as draw a breath before Velora struck. She rammed him with her whole body, her armored claws digging into his shoulders, drawing blood.
"Who sent you?" She snarled in his face. "Who is looking for us?"
"Hey!" The stranger scowled right back, and opened his hands again. One slight motion of his arms, and Velora felt the strange force lifting her off him—but she didn't sail through the air and crash to the ground. Instead, the mysterious pressure left her dangling eight feet in the air, utterly helpless. She tensed and curled her legs under her, bracing her knees for impact.
"What—are you doing this?" She eyed the stranger. 
He dropped his hands, but she remained hanging in thin air. "Yes; If you would just let me explain—"
"Do so quickly," Korsan prompted, ignoring both the furious glares from Velora, and the warning glance from the telekinetic stranger that said he was one wrong word away from joining her. "We are in a bit of a hurry, and—"
"A hurry?" The man snorted. "A mage and a—" he lowered Velora slightly to his eye level, still an inch or so above the ground, peering at her closely. "Whatever you are..." his eyes fell on the clawed gauntlets. "Wait," he said quickly, looking back up at her face. "Do I know you?"
She nodded to the livery he wore. "You're a knight of the White Castle," she observed. "We may have crossed paths."
"Paths?" His voice came strangled and faint. "Knights at night..."
Velora felt her feet touch the ground as the strange man left off holding her to clutch his own head. She took hesitant steps toward Korsan, her senses keen for any shift in the man's mood.
"Claws and blood," he whimpered. "So much—" his voice stopped abruptly.
His eyes came up at the same instant Velora felt a massive fist drive straight at her, clouting her from her ankles to her face. The momentum plastered her against the cliff behind her, as the man glared wildly. 
"You attacked my unit three nights ago!" He screamed. "You and the others with you killed everyone—killed me!" Harder he pushed, forcing the breath from her lungs, grinding her spine against the rock. Velora couldn't move
"STOP!" Korsan waved his staff and a blue light flashed, negating the telekinetic force. The man staggered back at the sudden absence of his power, and Velora dropped to her knees, coughing and gasping. 
The man pointed his finger at Korsan, but his power had stalled. "You!" He snarled. "You are in league with this fiend, this monster, this... this—"
"Wolf?" Korsan supplied, helping Velora to her feet. "Yes, and you should be too. We have stared we mean you no harm, and that is twice you have attacked her." He shifted his grip on his staff, letting this stranger know that he could cast a spell on him at any moment. "Now," said the Mage calmly. "Suppose we start back at the beginning. My name is Korsan, and this is my friend Velora. Who are you?"
He sniffed, scrubbing his grimy nose with the back of his hand. "Justin," he said.
"Well then, Justin," Korsan continued in a pleasant tone, "perhaps you can tell us why you are meant to find us, and what you mean by saying that Velora killed you." He raised his bushy white eyebrows dubiously.
Justin shrugged. "The answers to your questions are both the same," he said. "I was part of the unit working for The Hunter, and she," he nodded to Velora, "along with some other Gifted freaks—"
He broke off as Velora bared some very savage fangs at him, but he didn't amend his words, "—attacked us, and I saw many of my brothers fall before everything went black, and I awoke in the presence of an Angel."
"An Angel?" Velora scoffed.
Korsan glanced at her. "Do not forget so hastily my friend," he cautioned her. "Do you not recall the being we saw yesterday?"
Justin's eyes grew wide. "Fair hair, pale skin, large white wings?"
Korsan nodded. "It appears we have met the same person, though we were not able to get her name before she vanished."
"It's Jade," Justin supplied readily. "And she wanted me to tell you that her brother is loose, and that we need to find him before he causes trouble."
Velora stared at him, eyebrow raised in contempt. "She didn't happen to tell you how we are supposed to find this brother of hers, did she?"
Justin shook his head. "I wonder if her brother is also an Angel like her," he mused. "What say you, Mage Korsan?"
The old man didn't seem to hear him. His talisman sat in the middle of his hand, and he seemed to be muttering to himself. "Coin... It's a coin, it must be!"
"Korsan?" Velora asked.
Korsan looked up at the two of them. "I see a coin in my visions of Jade. We must assume that she and her brother are as alike as two sides of a coin—which is to say, not at all. If she is white and Angelic, he must be dark and shrouded in shadow. If it is in her power to give Gifts, it must be his nature to corrupt them. The only thing that they hold in equal measure is power; her power to restore and heal must not be overwhelmed by his propensity for destruction and chaos." He looked straight at Justin. "I believe you were meant to join us on our way. King Beren will want to hear of your news."
"King Who?" Both Velora and Justin spoke in the same moment. 
Korsan had already started down the path. "No more time to waste! We have a coronation to attend! Keep up, children!"
Velora sneered. "Who is he calling child?"
"I know a guard at the castle," Justin said. "She was fortunate enough not to get assigned to my unit—though I will admit to wishing she had at first. If we're going to the castle, I can introduce you. She also is Gifted, though I can only assume her powers were deemed useful by the Council, and thus she escaped falling under the Outcast Ordinance."
"Lucky her," Velora snarled, effectively quashing further conversation.
<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>

Denahlia watched the strange glowing letters scroll across her vision, supplying her with what might have been information, but she did not comprehend it. All she knew was that when the words "SYSTEM CHECK" appeared, that was her cue to get to a safe place and close her eyes, because she would be vulnerable and unresponsive when the letters began to stream. She waited, feeling her head clear, her focus sharpen, and her vigor increase. When the glowing vision declared "ALL SYSTEMS RESTORED" she could open her eyes and be on her way, feeling very much restored, indeed. 
Except this time, a shadow detached behind her, and Troy materialized in the room. Denahlia whirled on him and stared. She blinked to the red, expecting the sight of him to erupt in a symphony of reds, yellows, and greens as people normally did when she saw them like this. But as black as he appeared, the closest color she could perceive was a deep blue-violet around his hands and face. The rest was black and shadow. What manner of man was he?
Troy grinned. "Done with the inspection, then?" He asked.
Denahlia blinked back to normal vision. "Who are you, again?" She demanded.
He shrugged. "Somebody who's going to make you very rich and very successful. Sir Rayne!" He addressed the man before Denahlia had heard him approach behind her. "How kind of you to join us."
"Uuggghhhhh...." Rayne moaned, shuffling into the room and covering his puffy eyes with his hand. "I feel terrible."
Troy glided over to him, guiding him into the empty chair. "No," he said with a chuckle, "what you feel is sober. Your body is still trying to remember how to exist without the liquid fortification."
Rayne finally lowered his hand to stare at them with glassy eyes.
Troy nodded to Denahlia. "Madame Hunter here will need a few improvements before we get going—"
"Going where?" Rayne blinked, looking more alert, the longer he kept his head up.
Troy still leaned against the shadowy wall. It blended exactly with the color of his clothes, so that the longer he stood, the more he seemed to meld with the wall. "To catch your dragon, of course," he said.
"Still insisting we follow you on your fool's errand, are you?" Denahlia sneered. She blinked to the red, enjoying the rainbow of colors slumped over the table in front of her. Troy's figure behind it remained a deep, enigmatic shadow
"Dragon? So, wait, that whole conversation in the tavern was real?" A shift of the colors, as Rayne's face warmed considerably, and his body went cold.
"Of course it was real," said the deep, cold shadow. "In any case, we're going to need more than thermal and night vision to catch our dragon—wouldn't you say, Madame Hunter?"
Denahlia blinked and her vision shifted one too many times. Now she was using the green sight, the one that enabled her to pierce the darkest shadows. She immediately looked at Troy—but he appeared no different than Rayne in the green vision. She blinked, and the colorful daylight returned. "Your words mean nothing to me," she muttered.
Troy persisted in grinning at her. "That's not surprising. After all, you were born with it, weren't you? Of course most Gifted children born to unGifted parents would have no idea how to identify their Gift, since the parents would have done anything to conceal the existence of the Gift—if they had known about it."
Denahlia gasped. "How did you know about my family?" She growled. "This thing I can do?" She pointed to her face. "It's not a Gift! I hunt Gifted people!"
Troy didn't flinch. "If it's not a Gift," he said, "how am I able to do this?" He waved a hand in front of Denahlia's face, and everything went black.
She forced herself to remain calm. She was still aware that she was standing. She could hear Rayne's uneven huffing beside her, smell his heavy, unwashed, drunk-sweaty body odor.
"What have you done to me?" She demanded, forcing the calm to subdue her voice. "I cannot help you if I am blind."
Troy chuckled darkly. "My dear, compared to what you could be, you've been blind and deaf your whole life."
The words "SYSTEM UPGRADE AVAILABLE; APPLY? Y/N" appeared in the blackness. In the whole statement, "SYSTEM" was the only word Denahlia understood. "Give me my sight back!" She demanded.
She felt the brush of gloved fingers on her ears, and Troy's voice reached her, faint and small. "You must accept the upgrades first; do you want what I can give you? Yes or no."
Yes or No; Y or N. "I do not know what upgrades are!"
"Yes or No, Denahlia?"
"YES, DAMMIT! YES!"
The words vanished, leaving Denahlia with the cold realization that she had just displayed desperation and vulnerability before someone with very obvious power over her. Her vision returned gradually, fading into full color till it did actually seem as if what she had considered "normal" just a few minutes ago was actually foggy, and washed out.
Troy was grinning at her. Rayne wore a frown.
"Well?" Asked the former. "How do you feel?"
Denahlia shook her head. "I feel no different." She gave him the satisfaction once, she would never let him see that side of her again.
Troy laughed. "Oh, go ahead," he goaded her, "try the x-ray vision!"
Denahlia had never heard of such a thing. "X-ray?" She asked. Her eyes blinked, and Denahlia screamed. 

She now sat in a grey world populated by skeletons. One sat on a slate-colored form, its grisly, grinning skull facing her. Troy at least appeared normal, having his skin on, instead of the bones exposed. All around them, the building had vanished. Other skeletons milled about, some on the ground, some floating in midair—including below them, and over their heads. Nothing was hidden from her. She could see what people did behind closed doors, what they carried covered by blankets or locked in iron chests. Denahlia regained her composure, only to look down and see the bones of her own hands! She could see every hidden knife and gun on her person, hanging as if from her exposed frame. She looked out over the expanse of the harbor. A long, sinuous shape wavered in the distance, no bigger than a speck to the southeast.
 Another blink brought everything back to normal. Denahlia gave a huge gasp of relief, running her fingers over her palms and her arms, enjoying the sight of her flesh where it was supposed to be.
"Well?" Troy grinned even wider. "What do you think?"
Denahlia wagged her head. "You are insane," she muttered.
"Well? Tell me what you saw!" He said, finally coming to sit by Rayne.
Denahlia pursed her lips. "I may have seen the dragon," she said, "but it was too far away. I couldn't be sure."
Rayne looked around the room with a puzzled frown. "She could see a faraway dragon from in here? The windows are still shuttered, for crying out loud!"
Denahlia watched Troy carefully. Why did he continuously seem different than everyone else? Well, not everyone, she realized. "I also saw someone who looked different than the others," she said.
"Different, how so?" Troy asked.
Denahlia shrugged. "Well, different from Rayne and me. She looked like you, though. I couldn't see her bones except in her wings."
"Bones?" Rayne grunted.
"Wings?" For he first time, Troy's swagger vanished as his eyes opened in alarm. "Where was this person you saw?"
Denahlia relished the fear on his face. Finally, payback for what he had just put her through! "She should be here any moment. It looked like she was headed this way." A small smirk played around her lips. "Why so afraid?"
Troy scowled at her. "I am afraid because I know what she is capable of," he snarled. "You think I am some kind of twisted miracle-worker? That's nothing compared to what my sister could do to you."
Denahlia's eyebrows raised. "Sister?"
Troy pinched his lips. "We should get out of here before you two become collateral damage when she tries to kill me."
"Hey!" Rayne cried, shambling after them as Denahlia led them with her night vision down a light-less path out the back of the inn. "Don't I get some of those upgrades?"
Troy sighed. "Unfortunately, since you are unGifted, I can do nothing for you. The best we can do is get you armor and weapons, right?" He looked in Denahlia's direction as if he could see her.
"Yep," she replied tersely. "There's an armory down the way."
"Perfect!" Troy laid a hand on the shoulders of both his companions. "Let's go!"
Everything went black.
<<<<<<<>>>>>>>

The King-to-be frantically paved in front of the floor-length mirror, half-dressed and much too agitated to progress any further. Clothing lay strewn about the room, shirts in five different shades and trousers in three. A dozen neckties hung lazily out of an open drawer on the bureau, like a monster with so many tongues.

"Try the yellow ones, they're regal."

Beren whirled around at the sound of a female voice, covering his nakedness—but he stood alone in the room. He shook his fist toward the window. "Stop it, Azelie!" He snarled. "I don't need your help!"
 
The door opened behind him, and Beren twisted around and promptly tripped on a discarded outfit laying in a heap on the floor.
Jaran, his younger brother, smirked at him. "She's right, though," he mused, brushing stray lint off his midnight-blue suit.
Beren scowled. "I am not going to appear at my coronation looking like a man-sized banana!"
"Fine," Jaran shrugged, slinging a pair of brown trousers at his brother. "Wear these, then, and a green coat—you'll make a fine tree!" He laughed at his own joke, only to splutter and cough as his mouth filled with water. "Hey!"
"You shouldn't address the King that way," Beren grumbled.
Jaran waved a hand. "Whoa, slow down! You're not King yet!"
"But I will be," Beren protested, "by sundown!"
"Very well," Jaran sighed, stretching and yawning, "at sundown, let me be the first of your subjects to grovel and kiss the ring!" He reached out to touch the fantastic array of jewelry, only to see a brilliant web of sparks suddenly spring from his fingers at the presence of metal. "Oops!"
Beren selected a burgundy coat and a gold cravat to match, but didn't tie it. He slumped into a chair. "What am I thinking, Jaran? Do I really have what it takes to rule the kingdom as our father did?"
Jaran shrugged. "I wouldn't know," he mused. "They died when I was born."
"And I was too busy being a fool to pay any attention to the legacy intended for me," Beren noted with a wag of his head.
Jaran sat forward and regarded his brother. "For what it's worth," he said slowly, "I think you'll do just fine. You're pretty smart when it comes to these things."
Beren glanced sidelong at him. After being so convinced he was all alone with only a fairy for company (Jay! Oh, he was such a fool for sending her away; he hoped she'd survived the ice at least, whether or not she ever wanted to see him again), having a brother and preparing to lead a kingdom was wholly new.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Jaran gave a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Absolutely; we're with you on this, brother." He stood with a jerk, and trudged to the door.
"Is the kid with the flames still working on getting the castle in order?" Beren asked before Jaran exited completely.
"Damaris?" Jaran stopped to answer. "Yes; the Council have all been informed that now instead of ruling for themselves, they must prepare to heed you as king."
Beren smirked. "I bet that didn't go over well," he remarked.
Jaran returned the grin. "It didn't, but don't worry, I shocked some sense into them." He let a blue spark play over the metal fixings in the door.
Beren frowned when he saw the burn marks in the wood. "Oy! Look what you've done!" He huffed. "What about Azelie? Has she gotten any closer to finding the Twins?"

"I'm still trying," the voice responded. "They can't have left the Realm so quickly."
Beren flinched. "We really need to get you a voice box so you can stop doing that."
"Who says I wanted to stop?" Came the retort. "No, wait!" She continued in a more frantic tone. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty; that wasn't supposed to come out. I didn't mean it."
Beren shook his head and stood before the mirror to tie his cravat. "What's the difficulty with finding the Twins?"
"Their Gift, I suppose."
Beren'a fingers fumbled. "They're Gifted?"
 
"You didn't know? I suppose they hid it well. They both have Charisma, which means they can enthrall people into doing what they want by manipulating their emotions. It also makes them hard for me to find, because their minds are nearly impervious to detection and influence."
 
Beren blinked. "No wonder they were able to hoodwink the Council so fast."
 
"While creating a Council of unGifted may have seemed like a reasonable safety check at the time, it also created a liability, because the unGifted are all the more susceptible to corrupting influences."
 
Beren tightened his lips. "We'll have to do something about that," he murmured. "What about Aurelle? What is she up to?"
 
"I don't know," Azelie answered. "I have been wholly focused on finding the Clissanders. She is still in the castle, but I can't focus on her while my mind is spread elsewhere."
 
Beren nodded. "Understood. No worries, I'll look for her myself. Just tell me which tower she's in."
 
"The north one, I believe."

Beren exited the room and headed for the North tower. He knew it housed the royal library—somewhere Korsan and his father always encouraged him to go, but Beren had always avoided.
The hallway seemed too dark, after the brilliant glowlamps illuminating the rest of the castle. Beren paused as he felt a gust of warm, musty wind—blowing from within the hallway! He reached the door and pushed it open.
"Aurelle!" He gasped.
Books and scrolls sailed off the shelves of their own accord, swarming around a white-haired figure standing at the middle of the room. Instead of her simple jacket, she now wore a long gown resplendent with silver threads. A gleaming silver circlet crowned her head. 
"Beren!" She cried. "Help!"
<<<<<<>>>>>>

From her perch on the dragon's back, Zayra saw the trees first. They had made it out of the abominable wilderness! Soon the castle would be hers! Down on the ground below, the twin ex-Regents slumped against the first tree. As much as Zayra knew there was plenty of room along with her and the dragon more than capable of bearing the weight, there was still most of her psyche that enjoyed seeing the ones who had caused her such pain now experiencing discomfort of their own.
 
She paused, cleared her throat, and announced, "I am ready to continue!"
Kaidan looked up at her first. "Well, we are not!" He shouted back.
Zayra rolled her eyes. The insufferable idiot persisted in reminding her that she could not enthrall them as she had the others.
"Well then," she sighed as her Dragon picked up its head and began flexing its wings, "I suppose I will just have to make the rest of the journey on my own—"
"Have fun trying to overthrow the castle full of Gifted heirs with nothing but a dragon," Javira called sweetly up to her.
Zayra glared at her, wishing she had enough control to make her head explode.
"If you will not let us ride," Kaidan called to her, "then you must wait while we rest."
Zayra folded her arms, but allowed the dragon to slump into a sitting position. "I'm tired of waiting!" she grumbled. "I've waited far too long already!"
Javira stiffened, peering deep into the forest. "Someone's coming!" 
The twins scooted under the cover of the dragon's massive body. 

A young woman dashed into view, wearing the livery of the White Castle--and the same scars on the side of her face as Zayra had, though where Zayra's looked the pink of only a few days old, the scars marring the newcomer had faded to white already. 
Zayra grinned and dismounted to welcome her. "Captain Edri!" she gushed. "What a pleasant surprise!"
The young female soldier knelt in the presence of her queen. "My lady Zayra," she said. "I have come to once again pledge my service to you."
The twins regarded her closely as Zayra raised Edri to her feet and stroked the scars on her face.
"Wait, is this not the captain who interfered with the circus some months ago?" Javira enquired.
The dragon bent its head toward her, and Edri reached up to stroke its nose. "Well met, Erlis," she murmured, though the growl she received in response seemed more angry than congenial. To the twins, she said, "That was indeed me; I intervened because I did not believe in the destruction of Gifted people for the sake of entertainment."
"Were you not recently in league with the band of Outcasts led by the one known as Harlock?" Kaidan asked slowly.
Edri shook her head. "I know no one by that name. The only Outcast I know is Erlis, and she sits before you as a dragon." She gestured to the scaly creature beside them.
Kaidan flinched in surprise. "This is Erlis Irrya, the King's onetime healer?" He stared at the creature as Edri nodded. The dragon would not meet his gaze.
"Why have you come to us, Captain Edri?" Javira sidled up to her with a sly smile.
Edri remained resolute. "I have come to swear fealty once again to my Queen." She turned back to Zayra and met her gaze. "These Outcasts are to blame because they killed the only friend I had in my unit. I will serve you, and aid you in meting out justice upon them for their crimes."
Kaidan tilted his head as Javira and Zayra both smiled. "What is your Gift, if I may ask? I confess I only saw it from afar, and would love to know more about it."
Edri slipped off her glove to reveal the glowing blue hand. "I have the power of healing; it is nowhere as strong as that of Erlis, but I am able to mend broken bones and temporary ailments."
Javira grinned and wrapped her hands around Edri's arm. "Oh, I think you'll do nicely on our side!" she mused.
"Excellent!" cried Kaidan, the respite having restored him. "Let us depart with all haste to the castle, then!"
<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>
 
The Clan of Outcasts Series
 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The ReBible Series: "Professional Integrity" Excerpt--Kill Order (Pt. 3)


Previous Excerpts:
 
Daniel and the others made their way out of the room. The corridors were silent save for the low buzz of the survivors thanking whatever powers they believed in for their continued existence. There weren’t many bodies still about--and the ARICs had switched primary directives, to cleaning up the mess they had made.

They weren’t too far down the hall when they spotted the ARIC carrying Carissa’s body. Before Daniel could react, Aaron trotted over and--without disrupting the robot’s movements--slipped something out of Carissa’s pocket. 
Daniel frowned at him when he rejoined the group. “What did you take?” he asked.

Aaron shrugged. “Weren’t you wondering how the robots still found us, even after Carissa told us that room would be safe?” he asked. “And why the robots targeted her first? And why she wouldn’t just come out and tell us what department she worked for?” He showed his friends the object in his hand.

It was Carissa’s ID card, the one she’d used to seal the door, the one that held her identifying information and personnel file. Under “DEPARTMENT” it clearly displayed the word “MYSTIC”; her specific division was “DREAM CTR.”

“Well, no wonder she was so scared of the ARICs! And how she knew the inside scoop behind the death threats!” Mike exploded. “She could have been one of the ones responsible!”

“And now she’s paid the ultimate price,” Daniel cut in before his friends could continue venting against the young woman. “Let’s not get carried away in blaming her.”

Harry tilted an eyebrow as they entered their room at the back of the Employee Residence section. “And let’s not suffer the same fate,” he muttered.

Daniel closed the door behind them. “We’re not going to die,” he assured his friends. “We’re going to solve the mystery of the President’s dream.”

Aaron flopped on the bed. All of them felt the slow, heavy drag of adrenaline withdrawals and the lack of sleep. “What makes you so sure?” he grumbled.

Daniel waited till his friend sat up again before tossing the soft-cover Bible at him. “There’s why,” he said. “We don’t have to be afraid because we know The One Who sends dreams, and we know that He will make it known to us if we ask Him.”

Mike rubbed behind his ear as the four of them gathered in a circle on the floor. “Isn’t that presuming a lot from God, though? I mean,” he shrugged, “why would He just tell us the answer? What’s so special about us?”

Daniel shook his head. “You’re asking the wrong question, my friend. If there’s one thing I believe with absolute certainty, it is that God wants to bring Himself glory through those who believe in Him. It’s not about us being special; that’s not why He’ll answer. I believe He’s going to answer because this is an opportunity He’s given us to bring Him glory in a place that has totally rejected Him.” He nudged Aaron sitting next to him. “Don’t you think that might be a reason we, of all people, are still here?”

Aaron shrugged. “Maybe,” he sighed.
Daniel accepted this with a nod. “Let’s pray,” he said.

All four bowed their heads and Daniel began to pray. “Dear God,” he said, “You are the God of dreams. You have given a dream to President King and it has brought about an extreme response. We pray that the dream and its interpretation may be revealed to us now, that we may relieve the terror of Mr. King’s heart, and that You may be glorified…” Daniel let his words trail off. In the silence, he could hear the steady hum of the air conditioning unit Harry had refurbished to cool their apartment in the warm California summer. As he waited, the hum faded into total silence. Daniel felt the floor tilt underneath him as his center of balance slid sideways, and he could hear his friends’ voices calling his name, but when he opened his eyes to answer, he saw only darkness.

Aaron felt Daniel slump beside him, but his friend was usually a bit limp during moments of extreme, silent prayer, so he thought nothing of it till he heard Mike call out, “Dan!” just before the thud of Daniel’s body hitting the floor jerked everybody out of silent introspection. The three friends gathered around the prostrate body, chafing his hands and checking his pulse.

“He’s out of it,” Harry murmured, pulling up an eyelid and checking the pupils.

“Daniel? Can you hear me, Dan?” Aaron felt along the jugular vein. “He has a pulse.” He put his hand over his friend’s lips. “And I can still feel him breathing.”

“What happened?” Mike asked him. “One second he was praying, and the next, I look up and he’s totally passed out. Did he, like squeeze your hand or say anything to you before it happened?”

Aaron shook his head. “Man, I was sitting right next to him, and I had no warning. You know how floppy Dan gets when he prays!”

“Here, let’s get him up on the bed,” Mike suggested.
Together, the three friends hefted their companion onto Aaron’s bed. Harry kept calling his name.
“Daniel! Daniel! Wake up!”

“This is bad,” Aaron muttered. “His skin is really cold. What do we do if he doesn’t wake up?”

“Here,” Harry began tossing blankets from the other bed. “Try wrapping him with these.”

“Come on, Dan,” Mike said loudly, “Snap out of it!” He clapped his hands over Daniel’s face. His friend didn’t respond.

For three hours, the friends kept constant vigil, trying every remedy they could think of: strong smells, loud noises, everything short of administering medical injections, which they did not have access to. Daniel’s skin had gone pale, and his lips were deepening to a bluish-purple tint. Aaron still had his fingers over his wrist, under the blankets. “Guys,” he said quietly. “I can’t feel a pulse.”
The minute the words left his mouth, a rush of color spread over the prostrate body, and Daniel’s eyes popped open and he gave a heaving gasp.
“Daniel!” chorused three relieved voices all at once.

Daniel Princeton sat up and threw the blanket off, eyes roving in bewilderment. “What in the world--” he stopped when he saw the three anxious faces hovering around him. “What’s the matter?” he looked down. His clothes were a little rumpled, but he wasn’t wounded or deformed or anything.

“We thought you were dead!” Mike blurted.

“You passed out while we were praying, and you started going all cold and pale!” Aaron added. “I just lost your pulse right before you came to just now. What happened?”

Daniel smiled and accepted the glass of water offered by Harry. “Guys,” he said, “God answered my prayer. I saw what President King dreamed last night, and I know what it means.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Aaron jumped to his feet. “Let’s go tell him!” He went to the door and pressed the “exit” frequency--and smacked his head on solid holoplast. “Hey!” Aaron rubbed his face and frowned, punching the button again. “What’s the big idea?”

Mike activated his glass tablet and checked the notifications. “Looks like, as a repercussion for the rampage earlier, corporate instituted a building-wide forced lockdown. Apparently, it is scheduled to last,” he turned and looked at Daniel, “for about 24 hours.”

Daniel nodded. “That sounds about right,” he said. “I was going to suggest that we hold off for a while before going straight to Mr. King; I mean, it’s only been about,” he glanced at the clock, “four hours or so since we made the bargain.”

“You mean,” Aaron flopped on his empty bed, “we have to stay cooped up in here for another twenty hours? Are we going to starve?”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “A twenty-four-hour fast never hurt anybody,” he chided his friend.

Aaron jumped to his feet and started pacing. “Look out,” he warned melodramatically, “I’m feeling the cabin fever setting in already! I’m going stir-crazy just thinking about it!”

A pillow sailed through the air, catching him in the face. “Well,” Harry muttered from his bed, “go crazy quietly, because if we aren’t expected to be anywhere, then I’m going to use at least some of this time to catch up on my sleep!”

Aaron collapsed into the armchair and pretended to suffocate himself with the pillow. “Oof!” he cried, dropping the pillow onto his lap. “I shouldn’t have mentioned eating; now I can’t stop thinking about food.”

“Shut up!” Harry barked.

Daniel remained sitting up as Mike took the last available bed. “What are you going to do?” Mike asked.

Daniel shrugged. “I feel like I’ve been sleeping for an entire day,” he admitted with a chuckle. “I don’t need the extra sleep like you all do.” He smiled at the concern on his friend’s face. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Mike nodded and rolled over. Soon he was snoring peacefully.

Daniel spent the better part of an hour saying a prayer of thanks to God; his heart overflowed with gratefulness that he should get the opportunity afforded to nobody else. After he finished praying, he activated a simple text entry box on his tablet and began writing out the images from the dream, in preparation to present them before President King. He made sure to get all the details recorded, and paid especial attention to the interpretation. He sat and considered the significance for a few minutes. Dark times were coming for Byblos, Inc.--so what did that mean for him and his friends?
The clock on the wall read one in the afternoon when Daniel--amid the snores of his slumbering friends, slipped out toward the door. Activating the videoconferencing screen, he put in a call to the building security. As he expected, an ARIC had been posted in place of a live guard, and it responded. Text scrolled across the screen.

“STATE YOUR NAME AND REQUEST.”

Daniel made sure that the camera could register his face clearly. “Daniel Princeton, requesting an audience with President King.”

“WHAT IS THE NATURE OF YOUR AUDIENCE?”

Daniel smiled grimly. “Tell President King that I have the answers he seeks.”

PLEASE STAND BY.”

Five minutes later, the holoplast door hummed softly, and Daniel slipped out. Two ARICs awaited him in the hall. “YOU HAVE BEEN GRANTED AN AUDIENCE WITH PRESIDENT KING,” one of them intoned. “PLEASE DEPART IMMEDIATELY. WE WILL ESCORT YOU INTO HIS PRESENCE.”
Daniel nodded and complied with the directions.

The ARICs led him out of the Executive Trainee Residential Block. The bright sunlit afternoon belied the quiet, “ghost town” atmosphere in all the buildings and on the empty streets. Across the main courtyard stood the grand mansion where President King and his closest executive officials lived. The ARICs continued straight inside the grand house, the whirring of their mechanics echoing through the empty halls as their metal feet clanked on the marble floors. They stopped when they reached the massive double-doors that led to President King’s office.

PLEASE PROCEED,” said an ARIC as the two robots took up their posts on either side of the door. The other ARIC emitted a digital signal, which caused the handles on the doors to turn, and the door hissed open on hydraulic pistons.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Reader's Review: "Dangerous Ways" by R. R. Virdi




Synopsis from Amazon:

Jonathan Hawthorne has lived over a century beholden to one rule: do not meddle in mortal affairs. He's broken it twice. So when he crosses paths with Cassidy Winters, he's forced to interfere again.

Strike three. And the third time's not the charm.
Hawthorne is swept along as Cassidy slips through the cracks in reality.
And being hunted by bands of monsters doesn't help.

To find the answers they need, they'll have to play in a dangerous world. One where the odds and rules are stacked against them. They will have to navigate magical courts, queens and lords all while trying to keep Cassidy out of their scheming hands.

If they fail, she will end up a pawn in a plot that will consume them all.
Hawthorne will have to face the consequences of his past, and risk his future to ensure Cassidy can have one of her own.

For a man with all the time in the world--it seems to be running out--fast!

>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

I have been an ardent fan of Virdi's books ever since I read Grave Beginnings--back when I was new to book reviewing and still not sure about the whole thing, since up to that point, I had read mostly classics and books recommended by other people--known and trusted authors. I read that book, though--and it was easily the best book of 2014. Two years later, I eagerly licked through Grave Measures which was every bit as entertaining, if not more so!

That being said.... DANGEROUS WAYS blew me away.
First of all, the tone of the book is so solemn, so mature, that whereas one might feel like Vince Graves invites all manner of snark and eye-rolling--when Jonathan Hawthorne speaks up, you listen. Not just a reluctant "immaterial soul", Jonathan is a Timeless immortal, capable of being wounded, but also of superhuman healing, enabling him to live for at least a century.
Secondly, Virdi has expanded the world to truly Tolkiensian proportions. In Grave Measures, Vince deals with a sidhe and only dabbles slightly in the Neravene. Here, we get to explore more about Ways (the portals to enter the Neravene) and the Fae realm in real, conscious, physical depth. The number of mythical creatures Hawthorne encounters, the ones he knows about and the ones he meets for the first time, far outweighs anything I've read before.
Most of all, I was profoundly enthralled by the prose: The observations by Hawthorne, the various characters surrounding him, the twists and turns their quest takes as they dig to uncover the antagonist (a truly terrifying character you won't see coming!) and all of the heart-wrenching moments, cleverly relieved with much humor and delightfully geeky references! (Joss Whedon would approve!) Badass men and women populate this new world: Tatiana the Norse Shieldmaiden who owns a bakery above Jonathan's living space; George the quirky "doctor" who brooks no complaints from his clients and heals via some rather unorthodox methods; Quentin, the effortlessly British immortal, a Timeless and Jonathan's mentor; Toshiro, the Japanese samurai with a fixation on maintaining balance between the human world and that of the Fae--and Cassie Winters, the girl with more power than she knows what to do with. And those are only some of the human characters! There are trolls, goblins, Gremlins, Dark Elves, dewdrops, and Fae of every sort as well!
There is much careful deliberation behind this story, which makes it all the more compelling! The solemn, heart-wrenching, gallows-humor tale came like "a roundhouse kick to the feels-box"--I laughed at the references, I squealed in delight and in terror, I swore at the characters, and I blew through it in only a few days because I couldn't stop! It's long, but it is so worth it! You do not want to miss this epic journey through a fresh take on urban fantasy!

In all the sixty-plus books I've featured on this blog, there are a handful that, if I could give them more than five stars, I would. This is one of them. But, as matters stand, I must resign myself to giving DANGEROUS WAYS only the fullest *****5 STAR***** rating I can manage, and couple that with an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement! Anybody who enjoys a rousing good urban fantasy adventure simply MUST READ this book without delay! Follow the hyperlinked text at the top to order your copy from Amazon today!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

WIP-Of-The-Month: Of Cynics And Cinnamon Rolls

January's WIP-of-The-Month... Still unfinished...

Those who saw my Writer's Resolution blog post at the beginning of the year, when I would normally announce any resolutions (if I have them) are aware that, in an attempt to keep myself focused, accountable, and to improve my record of "actually finishing something", I listed out the six WIP's I have yet to finish, and I resolved to focus on each one for a month in the hopes of actually bringing that first draft to completion.

It is now February, and I have not finished a bloody thing.

January was an almost complete bust. I had 3 chapters left, in The Commander's Courage, and a whole month in which to finish it (not to mention quite a few unexpected snow days I could have spent knocking it out in a relatively short amount of time!) and just how many chapters did I manage to finish?

One. Just one stinking chapter, and every phrase was about as easy as a headache.

At the advice of my "Motivational Team" (it's up to 5 people, now! And at least ONE of them checks in regularly, which is exactly what I need!) I went ahead and set aside January's WIP to move on to February's.
February's WIP-of-The-Month (KartheyM is my Wattpad username, which is where this story can be found)

Yeah, this is going a lot smoother.

I just have one question nagging me:

WHY?????

Why is the new one so much easier? What was getting me so stuck on the Commander's Courage that I just never felt compelled to write it? One would think I would have had an easier time with that one, since it's basically already written and pretty much the only thing I ought to be doing is making it longer and more wordy (something I've never struggled with)... But no, the words just would not come.

I was reflecting on this last night, as I was drumming away at my phone (where I do pretty much all of my writing), plugging away at the next chapter for The Water-Man--

I think it's the characters.

In "A Writer's Tale", Laura tends to be pretty cynical about these amazing worlds, the characters she's interacting with tend to be kind of "downer" folk, especially at this point in this particular installment, there aren't any more "fun" scenes or endearing characters--those happened earlier in the book. She's getting reamed right now by the arrogant Commander, and she's trying to outsmart a particularly devious enemy who has hitherto operated entirely under the radar--but how to expose this impostor, when the impostor holds literally all the cards? And how to do so in a way that doesn't feel forced, rushed, contrived, or obvious? How can I, the writer, make this believable and compelling? No clue.

In "The Water-Man," however, I left off at a really good part. The main character, Celian, is finally getting to develop a relationship with Agatha, something he's waited a long time to do, things are falling into place and once I set things up like a row of dominoes in this chapter, it's going to be really fun to watch them all tumble down in the next chapter which will be full of feels and awesome--but also, Celian has been described by a reader as "a precious cinnamon roll." (For those unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition according to Urban Dictionary: "Someone who is very sweet and innocent, yet has bad things happen to them. Often used in reference to fictional characters.") I couldn't agree more; this is exactly where I was going with this character, and I am very pleased that he has won the hearts of my readers.

Cinnamon Rolls are easier to write than Cynics. Come to think of it, they're also a LOT more fun in general, as real people. The Cynic is the one questioning EVERYTHING, the one who short-circuits if they don't know ABSOLUTELY EVERY TWIST heading their way, the one who just picks apart the people and circumstances around her till everybody's at an equal level of miserable.
By the same token, however, the Cynic is also quite relatable, because--let's face it, there is a Cynic in all of us. We criticize our surroundings, we analyze and judge the differences in people around us, we get uncomfortable with the unconventional. That's Laura; I guess I'm sort of disenchanted with Laura--I could really use something to give me back the mojo for that one, if only just to finish it so I can move on to the next one in that series. I'm ready for a change of tone, of scene--and I'm ready for more Cinnamon Rolls! (Just thinking about it now, there are more Cinnamon Rolls in this series, they just somehow didn't make the cut in this particular installment...) Maybe Laura was who I was a while back, but I've done a bit of maturing and changing since then. I'm only just beginning to realize that now!

Meanwhile, I am pretty confident that I can whip out the next couple chapters to finally finish "The Water-Man" and bring that lovely little fairy tale to a close before the month is up. Celian is quite the Cinnamon Roll! We enjoy having those kinds of people in our life: the ones that perpetually find good and maintain a level of calm in the most chaotic situations, the ones that can watch a tornado rip through their lives that would leave the Cynic catatonic on the floor, and just blink twice, laugh and say "Well... that is a thing that just happened." Most of all, the best Cinnamon Rolls are champion "Triers." They try to find the good, they try to do right, they try to stay sane. And you want to know the key ingredient in EVERY CINNAMON ROLL? Cinnamon. Spicy, kicky, warm cinnamon. While Celian isn't your typical "spicy" personality, he's definitely cute and endearing and Agatha can be the Cinnamon to his precious sweet-fluffy-glazed roll-y self! She's definitely the spicy one, and I love it!

ALSO, I am going to be more proactive about these check-in posts! I completely dropped the ball last month (probably would have helped... maybe) so from here on out, I'll be better at letting you all in on my process!

As always....

Catch You Further Upstream!