Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #35

Suggested by: +Cassie Greutman 

The List:
-7 in the morning
-a waterfall
-a glass globe

The Result:


First Officer Kenzi was not having a good day.
It started with her assignment to patrol the Nether—planets so far apace from the central Galaxy that it took at least a day to reach the nearest one, yet merely because they rested within radar reading, they were the property and jurisdiction of the Galactic Peacekeeping Force. The Nether was the duty given to officers nobody wanted to hear from for a while, those they wanted out of the way. She brushed a fringe of pink hair out of her face with a black-gloved hand. Who was responsible for nominating her? She wondered; she did her best to do her job well, to carry herself above reproach—but there were some people on the Force who merely resented others for existing.

The assignment itself was mundane enough; the day progressed from bad to worse when the delicate glass globe that served as the navigation system on her ship developed a hairline fracture. To save the globe, Kenzi was forced to land on the nearest planet. She checked the chrono—it showed 7 in the morning on the second day of her assignment. She had thirty hours left to return to the GPF garrison.

Heat radiated from the sandy surface as she disembarked, clad in the Peacekeeping-regulation armor that essentially turned the entire right side of the body into its own weapon and arsenal, while leaving the left side protected but free for ease of motion; the chest and abdomen were completely covered, too. Kenzi trudged back to the navigation nodule to see what could be done, but all the fragile part needed was a little rest. Kenzi rubbed her bright-green eyes; she could use a little rest too. She folded down the cot from the wall in her private berth and laid down for a little shuteye.

Her eyes snapped open just as she was beginning to relax. A soft, melodic tinkling reached her ears in the silence. What could be making that noise on a deserted planet? Kenzi sat up and glanced toward the navigation globe. It was still repairing itself. Kenzi stood up, stretched, and prepared to investigate.
She lowered the ramp, and she could hear the noise clearly. It sounded like someone singing with the most beautiful voice she had ever heard.
Stepping carefully over the dry, desert-like surface, Kenzi's quick ears caught a noise under the song. Following it, she came to a clearing with much more greenery than the rest of the place. Grass and trees grew sprawling beside a small mountain. In the midst of the green, a small river flowed, fed by a trickling waterfall tumbling down from the side of the mountain. Kenzi crept closer, as the music seemed to emanate from the recess behind the waterfall.
The spring-loaded pressure clamps on her armored boots bit into the rock as she crawled sideways along the vertical, concave face. Finally reaching the mouth of the cave, Kenzi gasped.

The space was much bigger than she anticipated, and lined with fantastic blue crystals. Water pooled in the middle, creating a small protected pond of sorts, shielded from the rest of the dry, dead world.
A movement in the shadows caught her eye, and Kenzi froze. The music stopped, and she heard a small splash in the distance, as the surface of the pool rippled.
Kenzi barely had time to realize that there was a creature moving in the water before its head emerged. Kenzi saw the long, dark hair framing a pale face. The seeming woman rose higher, revealing a long, naked body covered only by her thick hair—and instead of legs, she had a fish tail, blue and flopping.
Both females drew back from each other with a cry.
 "What are you?" Kenzi gasped, at the same time the other cried, "What are you doing here?"

The fish-woman bowed her head. "I am sorry; it has been so long since I laid eyes on another person that I almost could not believe—" she stopped.
Kenzi leaned upright once more, back to her knees, her eyes still fixed on the creature that she had only heard of in myths and legends. She gulped, unable to tear her eyes off the creature, lest it prove a hallucination and vanish. “Are—are you real?” she stammered.
The fish-woman smiled. “Of course; I am as real as you are. Here,” she reached toward Kenzi, “feel my hand.”
Slowly, Kenzi reached and matched the fish-woman palm-to-palm. Her lips twitched. “It feels human,” she muttered. “But—“ she glanced down to where the woman’s body melted into a fishtail. “How did you get that?

The woman smiled at her, nodding toward Kenzi’s face. “Where I came from, no one had pink hair—how did you get that?”
Self-conscious hands immediately combed the rose-hued tresses. “It grows this way!” she snapped defensively.

The smile fell. “I’m sorry,” she apologized a second time. “In fact, I happen to know why humans can suddenly have naturally-colored hair in every shade visible to man, and why I ended up with this tail,” she waved the azure fin, “trapped in this pool, unable to leave this cave…” she glanced around the area with a sudden grimace that vanished into blank resignation. Her eyes returned to Kenzi. “My name is Latisha, by the way; I was once human like you—a princess, in fact.”

Kenzi sat in earnest now, dropping to a more comfortable position to listen to this strange tale. “I’m Kenzi; you say you’re a princess?” Suspicion crept into her head. Was this creature delusional? Should an officer of the GPF trust the word of this fantastic stranger?
Latisha nodded, curling her tail underneath her. “It’s true, and I can prove it—“ her voice trailed off, and she developed a gleam in her ice-blue eyes that Kenzi’s military instinct read immediately.
“You’ll need my help to get it,” she guessed wryly.
Latisha nodded. “My crown was stolen from me by the same man who injected me with the serum to give me this tail. I was escaping him with my steward when he caught us and… killed him.”

Phony or not, Kenzi could see that there wouldn’t be much reason for Latisha to lie—she was putting as much faith in Kenzi’s ability to succeed as she was asking of Kenzi herself. “Killed whom?”

Latisha’s lips trembled. “Barrin, my defender and friend. He gave his life to stop the evil man from taking me, so he killed him for it.” She glanced up at Kenzi, eyes full of expectation. “The only way I can ever escape this place and regain my human form is if he is defeated.”
Kenzi frowned. “But how do I know what you’re saying is true?” she made as if to stand.

“Wait!” Latisha made a small splash as she lunged forward to grab Kenzi's armored right hand. Her fingers caught on the edges of the plates, and Kenzi couldn't shake her loose. "Please!" she begged. "You're my only hope of survival, my only chance to become human again! Why would I lie to you?"

Kenzi jerked her hand away, not caring that the sharp plates left red cuts on Latisha's fingers. "You're crazy--"

She froze as a dark shadow peeled itself from the tunnels. The cloaked figure glided silently forward.
"Good for you!" the stranger soothed. "That's just what I said, wasn't it, Princess?" He addressed Latisha, who recoiled from him in terror.

Kenzi was just thinking about running into him and making a break for it--but as quickly as the thought came, her entire body went rigid. "Now, now," said he, turning his attention on the officer. "It won't do to leave before we've had a chance to get acquainted. My name is Denevar, and I would very much like to know what the Galactic Peacekeeping Force wants with my mermaid!"

Continuous Stories:

"Serenity's Light":  (Part 1) (Part 3) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7) 

Single Posts:

#26 "The Tides of Battle"

#19 "Story Time"

#1 "Red of Morning"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reader's Review: "Escape From Neverland" by Nils Visser

Synopsis from Amazon:
You don’t need time portals, magic wardrobes, rabbit holes or faery dust to experience a different world…all you need to do is walk into the Wyrde Woods. Chances are that they will appear familiar…we have all been there. That timeless dreamtime inhabited by archetypes where anybody can become the hero, especially those who consider themselves the least worthy.

Wendy Twyner certainly has little self-esteem when she walks out of the dilapidated council estate where she lives and strolls into the Wyrde Woods…only a few miles away but worlds apart. What she finds there challenges her perceptions, offers her a chance at change and gives her unexpected hope for a better future.  
My Review:
Without a doubt, "Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie is my favorite classic fantasy novel ever. As a little girl I would imagine my very own Neverland, and I would spend a lot of time there. Neverland had it all: fairies, mermaids, magic, and anything else I wanted to imagine. I adored the 2003 live-action adaptation, and all but shunned the Once Upon A Time (mis)appropriation for about the same reasons: the respect given to the original story and the preservation of the enchantment of Neverland. 

So when I began reading this book, narrated by a foul-mouthed, jaded, homeless delinquent named Wendy... I wasn't sure what to expect. Neverland was turned on it's head Lewis-Carroll-fashion, into a bitter nickname for a juvenile home in the middle of Nowhere Place, and Wendy wants an escape from overbearing social workers and counselors whose habit it seems to be to either browbeat and blackmail her into compliance, or string her along and break her heart when it hurts the most. She wanders into the Wyrde Woods and finds the home she had always wanted, the sense of belonging and acceptance that makes all the difference to her. 

This book was a fantastic twist; I loved all the characters involved, and I loved the way I was made to care for them, especially Wendy. I felt her struggle as she goes from a particularly crushing heartbreak to suddenly meeting a kindly old stranger and completely misjudging his motives. I experienced the Wyrde Woods through her eyes, taking in the rich detail and filling my imagination with the fascinating lore. The tale even represented the character of Peter, but in quite a different light than Barrie's eternal child: this Peter cared deeply for other people, and he is wise in his cunning. 
I am definitely enthralled by this book! All urban/contemporary fantasy enthusiasts would do well to purchase a copy for themselves at once! It does not disappoint!

It is without hesitation that I give ESCAPE FROM NEVERLAND a full *****5 Star***** rating, and add onto that an Upstream Writer Certified Heartily Recommended (there is some language and discussion of "dandy bits", as it were, but oaths are minced and the discussion only happens once) rating, as well! Definitely not one to be missed!
Further Reading: Fantasy Genre

-The Starlight Proverbs--Darren E. Barber  
-Songstruck--Sofia Black 
-Foul is Fair--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins 
-Out of Darkness Rising--Gillian Bronte Adams 
-The Captives--Precarious Yates  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reader's Review: "After Impact" by Nicole Stark

Synopsis from Amazon:

Imagine a world where everyone you know is gone.

Avalon Adams wakes up 100 years in the future in a new habitat with few memories and lots of questions. At first, HOPE (Humanity's One Plan for Escape) habitat appears to be a well-oiled machine, preparing 5,000 carefully chosen inhabitants for a new Earth. However, a medical assistant named Ilium reveals that certain members of the habitat have been falling ill from a mysterious virus they were inoculated against. Soon, the tranquil illusion of HOPE habitat is shattered as Avalon plays a perplexing message left by her father. Thrust into this new habitat, Avalon must decide who she can trust before it's too late.

My Review:
Not long after I started reading ReAwaken, I received a message from an author I'd never heard of, requesting a review for her book. (I love that, by the way!) Never being one to turn down free books, I accepted. The fact that I was super-fascinated by the premise, and there were a lot of positive reviews got me really excited to read it. The premise at first glance might be similar to ReAwaken, but the same could be said for Hunger Games and Divergent, and look how well those turned out.

I have frequently said that great writing is a sort of telepathy—great stories plunge readers deep into the world of the characters, making them feel every sensation, every emotion. It's what makes the narrative come to life, to leap off the page and live and breathe in the mind of the reader. After Impact is a great example of the balance between showing and telling, and how important it is to have that balance.

Don't get me wrong, it started out okay: Avalon was disoriented, still learning, and a bit stiff from her long sleep. It was a neat way to introduce Illium and give her (and the reader) a sort of tour guide through the habitat that is the setting for most of the novel. However, Illium was a character that took a long time coming "off the page", as it were. The reader is told that Avalon developed sudden feelings for him, but I never really got a sense of what he looked like, much less his unique voice or any other kind of sensory description. The secondary characters were set up as one of two camps "Pro-Avalon" or "Anti-Avalon", and it was plain by the dialogue exactly where everyone stood.
I read features from various other dystopian novels, patched into this narrative in a very piecemeal way—it definitely gave the impression that the author is an avid fan of post-apocalyptic dystopian YA, and so she wanted a novella with all her favorite plot devices. However, these were so minced and piled into one another, rather than cultivated and explained as to "how" and "why" that it came off rather abrupt, and the ending fell flat.

In a sense, After Impact reminded me of my own early attempts at writing. Sci-fi is difficult, and with all the YA post-apocalyptic dystopian options out there, I understand the challenge of actually creating something new—but I also know that it is not impossible. I view this debut as very brave, even if a little rough, and I applaud it. In short, the novel left me wanting more: more about the setting, more variation between the characters, more emotion, more drive to the climax, and more closure in the ending.

I would give After Impact a rating of ***3.5 Stars***, but definitely I would also put Nicole Stark on a list of "Indie Authors To Watch", since this novella has demonstrated her marvelous creativity—so long as she continues to write, each successive release will be better than the last!

Further Reading: (Post-Apocalyptic/Conspiracy/Sci-Fi/Thriller)
Starstruck Saga--S. E. Anderson
The Children of Dreki--N. R. Tupper
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs 
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
        -They Must Be Stopped

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #34

Suggested by: Meaghann Ande

The List: 
-modern day
-a bridge in Manhattan
-a bullet

The Result:
"Here Endeth The Lesson"
The streets of Manhattan rang with the clamor of metro trains and honking cars, the hiss of pipes exposed by construction zones. 
A young man climbed out of the nondescript yellow taxi and glanced around at the tall skyline stretching above him. The driver eyed the erstwhile passenger, noting the blank-black slacks and generic collared dress shirt, far outstripped in quality by the custom-cobbled luxury Italian leather shoes. The fare appeared on the screen at the driver's elbow, and he saw the flashing platinum card as the young man swiped without even checking the price. He stepped away, picking his way across the dingy pavement. The cabbie shrugged and moved on. 
The expensive shoes strode down the sidewalk in a controlled haste. He glanced at the corner of every block till he found the street he wanted, then watched the building numbers carefully, counting under his breath till he found the one he sought. Ducking through the rusty iron gate, he slithered his way down the crowded, hazy alley, stepping around puddles and over people completely addled either by drugs or alcohol. Only one man sat serene and aloof against the wall near the back of the alley. A rat nibbled a piece of refuse at his foot.
The man crouched before him respectfully to deliver his message.
"She is here."
The man's eyes flicked up. "Are you certain?" He spoke with a thick Eastern European accent, that a few dozen decades of life outside his home country could not erase.
The man held his gaze. "You instructed me not to attempt contacting you until I was certain."
The weird, beady eyes fixed on him. "And you swore it would be so."
The messenger nodded. "I am a man of my word, Lord Rasputin."
The man scowled and his eyes flared. "Idiot! I told you never to call me by name! I should have cast a spell over you as Lutia has."
The man tipped his head at the unfamiliar name. "As whom, my lord?"
Rasputin waved his hand. "Never mind! I accept her terms and I will meet her at daybreak tomorrow, upon the Manhattan Bridge."
The young man gaped in surprise, as he had just been thinking about those very same arrangements but he couldn't comprehend them. Now the time and place of the meeting—and the existence of two very powerful wizards in the city of New York—vanished from his mind, and he was once again Nick Anderson, a cubicle grunt from upstate who had no business in the Bronx—so what was he doing here? He stumbled out of the grungy alleyway to hail a cab to take him home.

Alone and shrouded by his secrets, Rasputin mulled over the impending meeting. Lutia had been one of his best and brightest pupils, coming to him nightly for lessons in his craft. But he had seen too much ambition and jealousy in her, so he sent her away, and did not contact her again.
Rasputin chortled in vindictive mirth as the old wound in his chest stung at the memory. That fool Yusupov had plied him with poisons and shot him at point-blank range, but he should have known the most powerful sorcerer in the world would have a contingency plan for this: a cursed crown so powerful, a single touch and its magic would not fade. It did not heal scars, of course, or prevent diseases, but Grigori Rasputin literally could not die. He merely woke up again a few hours later and continued with his life. He had thought to live out the rest of his days in the seclusion of filth and decay in America, but the arrival of the messenger changed all that.

"Lutia," he mused. "What are you planning?"
She could not know about the crown. Rasputin himself did not know anything was amiss until he had startled awake in a ditch on the edge of an abandoned field, riddled with the scars of bullet wounds, but otherwise unharmed. She might have been bitter about the "payment" he had demanded for her lessons—but to seek him out when the world thought he had been dead for one hundred years? She had to know something.
"Lutia," he murmured, "what are you doing, my pet?"

The next dawn broke over the New York skyline, and two figures stood opposite each other on a bridge shrouded by fog. Rasputin could barely distinguish his former protege on the other side. Her long black gown and straight dark hair gave her the appearance of an angel of death. He smiled and raised a hand in greeting.
"Well met, my young apprentice. Why have you desired to meet me here? Have you come for more lessons?"
Lutia raised but one hand, and all of the fog gathered behind her, billowing in a black cloud.
"I have all the knowledge I need!" She fired back. "Now you will pay as you have not paid ever before!"
Rasputin took a step nearer to her.
"Look closely, Lutia," he replied. "I have lived one hundred years. Men have tried to kill me—Nature herself raised all manner of illness and storm against me," he pointed a finger at himself. "And yet I live!"
Lutia grinned darkly from under the lengthy tresses. "But no man can cheat death completely. You have lived thus far, my mentor, but there is still only one thing that can kill you."
Rasputin felt the cold chill of horror wash over him as she reached into the folds of her dress and withdrew an object, which she aimed at him.

He relaxed and laughed long and derisively. 
"A gun?" He crowed. "Need I remind you, witch, that I have been shot before!" He bared his chest. "No bullet can harm me!" He marched toward the middle of the bridge.
Lutia swept forward as well, keeping the weapon trained on his heart. "You are destined to live, by the cursed crown, till the Sword of Might be lifted against you," she intoned softly.

Rasputin stopped; curses! She knew about the crown! He fought to hide the fact that he had not heard the last part of the prophecy.
"Sword of might, you say?" He echoed. "Then we both know that gun won't kill me."
Lutia never wavered. She glared at him. "It will if the bullets are formed of the melted blade." She pulled the trigger.
Rasputin heard the report, staggered backwards as the old familiar ache spread and raged in his chest. He had been shot before. He knew what it felt like.

This time it was different. Rasputin coughed, writhed upon the ground, the embodiment of his own psyche scrambling to regain the lifeline that had been all but molded to its hands, now severed suddenly, for the first time.

Lutia stood over him, a leering vulture surveying a fresh new corpse. 
"Here at the last," she mimicked his final words to her all those years ago, "the spirits make clear who is the master and who is the pupil." She leaned in and whispered into his ear as the world faded far more slowly than it ever had. "Begone, I have no more use for you."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #33

Suggested by: Raven Ramsey

The List:
-a crazy scientist grandfather's house
-tea time
-a velociraptor egg

The Result:
"Natural History"
Lucia Montgomery leaned against the train window and watched the green hills rolling by. It was a long ways to Tipperary, but he had promised that their destination would make the journey worthwhile.

“There is such lots to see at my grandfather’s house!” Tobin had enthused. “He’s a massive collector of rare and valuable things—and interesting, too.”
Of course, Lucia sighed as she envisioned a crotchety old man, glaring at them over his hooked, warty nose, calling them children and sternly admonishing them not to touch anything. Who knows? Probably everything in there would be boring old portraits or naked statues—who would want to touch those? She sniffed and played with the folds of her blue pinafore. Well, she wasn’t a child, anyway! She was thirteen years old, and quite responsible enough to take care of herself—she’d come all this way, quite alone, hadn’t she?
Lucia shivered and glanced around the sparsely-populated carriage. Yes, quite alone indeed; these lot of strangers gave her sidelong glances but not much else in the way of “how-do-you-do” or any other social nicety. She only wished the train could move faster so that she could get off and find Tobin and be back with someone who enjoyed her company.
Tipperary Station! Tipperary Station!” cried the conductor, over the hissing screech of the brakes as the train pulled up alongside a small building. Few people milled about, mostly men for unloading luggage and maintaining a clean station, such as it was. Lucia stepped down from the train and stood on the end of the platform facing the road into town, carefully watching the faces of everyone around her, in case one of them might be Tobin. He did not appear to be waiting for her here—but then again, did he say he would be, or had she made that assumption herself?
Lucia sighed and sat on the bench outside of the station, kicking her black-booted heels in frustration. The sun was at its peak, it was nearly teatime, and she was wondering furiously whether this was such a good idea for one so young to travel so far with little means of being able to find her own lodging, in case something happened to the one she planned for.

A loud clatter disturbed her musings. Lucia looked up and shielded her eyes. A large wooden cart drawn by two horses thundered down the road, driven by a small shape she couldn’t quite make out until the cart rolled to a stop. The white-shirted figure looked out from under the brim of a wide straw hat and waved enthusiastically.
“Lucia! I knew you’d come!”

Lucia stood and carried her bags over to the wagon. Tobin extended a grubby hand to help her up. She saw that he wore his customary black breeches—but his feet were bare, as was the lower part of his legs. He smiled at her, taking off his hat to run his hand through his unruly black hair that insisted on sticking in every which direction rather than just one. “Are you ready to visit my grandfather?”
“Does he know that I am coming?” Lucia asked tentatively.
Tobin bobbed his head and snapped the reins, sending the horses forward and back down the road he had come. “Oh yeah; I told him once or twice—though if he was actually listening or not, I can’t tell. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” He reached over and grasped her hand. Suddenly, the three-year age difference between them didn’t seem so very great a gap, and Lucia almost felt more womanly for the way they were behaving like two adults, instead of a sixteen-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl riding together in a wagon to spend a holiday with some wizened patriarch in Tobin’s family tree whom he had never met, and his parents had not seen in years. Things were certainly different in the Montgomery household; in addition to Lucia’s parents and six siblings, there also lived with them three aunts, two of which had multiple children about the ages of Lucia’s younger siblings, her father’s father, and her grandmother on her mother’s side. All in all a rowdy bunch—Lucia could not imagine going more than a few months without seeing another family member. What sort of man must he be, to seclude himself so? Or perhaps, as Tobin alluded, he might have “forgotten” his family—but what could be so important that it consumed his attention so?

They arrived at the foot of a very long hill with a winding path up to the mansion that crowned the hillside, so Lucia had plenty of time to imagine what sort of a collection this man might have.
“You’ll like it here, I think,” Tobin was saying. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things Grandpa has collected over the years; he was a biologist, you know—a real scientist. There are a lot of animal things in his house—practically a skeleton in every corner!”
Immediately, a terrifying vision of gruesome, morbid skeletons piled willy-nilly about a dark, stony, Gothic castle sprang to Lucia’s mind. She shuddered.
Tobin broke off his chatter. “You’re not cold, are you?” he reached over and tenderly swept a lock of her nut-brown hair away from her face.
“I don’t like skeletons,” Lucia responded in a small voice, afraid of announcing too loudly; who knew how well sound carried on a slope like this?
Tobin chuckled. “Not that kind, silly! I mean there are a bunch of animal bones—like statues of animals, but without the skin on.”
Lucia rolled her eyes. “If you can’t make it better, Tobin, dear, at least have the decency to refrain from making it worse!”
He shrugged and urged the horses onward.

They pulled up to the big black door. The house was very neo-Gothic in style, with high, vaulted arches and flying buttresses decorating the exterior. The door itself was tall enough that Lucia could have stood upon Tobin’s shoulders and still had plenty of room over her head. They made it as far as the foyer and stopped. Lucia gasped.

The entire house was crawling with the displayed skeletons of animals she hadn’t known existed. A staircase wound its way up the middle, but all around were skulls of every shape and size, including one with enormous tusks arcing out in front; the head of a moose stared at her from one side, while some large ancestor to the crocodile swam in midair far over her head.
Something brushed her ankles, and Lucia leaped into the air with a scream.
“Einstein!” Tobin cried, lunging for the small white shape. He stood with an armful of wriggling white dog. “Lucia, this is Einstein, Grandfather’s puppy.” He held the animal tightly until it calmed down, staring at Lucia with its tiny black eyes, wiggling its tiny black nose, and panting with its tiny pink tongue hanging out. It lunged for her hand when she reached out, but once she got her fingers buried in its fur, Einstein settled down and accepted the petting. Finally, Tobin set the dog down, but it kept fairly close to Lucia’s ankles.
“Here,” said Tobin, “Grandpa is usually upstairs; let me bring you to meet him.”
Lucia almost objected to being taken so soon to meet the crazy scientist who lived in such a terrifying house—but just then, both children heard a loud yell—but whether of surprise or pain they couldn’t tell.
Tobin’s eyes widened in alarm as they stared up the stairs, where the sound originated.
“Grandpa!” he cried, and charged up the steps.
“Wait for me!” Lucia cried, gathering her skirts and ascending after him.

They reached the top of the stairs, where total silence reigned.
“Grandfather?” Tobin called.
He received no answer. They moved deeper, past even more wonderful displays, to the little room at the back that held not another exhibit, but a desk and loads of books—obviously the man’s study. Slowly, the two friends crept inside.

Papers were everywhere—piled high on the desk, strewn on the floor. One half-filled piece of paper still rested on the blotter, with a thick stroke of ink right down the middle, as if something had interrupted his writing.
Lucia’s quick eyes found an errant detail in the room. She pointed. “Tobin, look!”
One of the paintings on the wall had been pulled away on one side, like a door. Inside the hidden compartment was a safe, also open.
“I wonder what Grandfather was keeping in there,” Tobin mused.

A whine from Einstein called their attention to another side of the room, just under the window. The little dog nudged at something round and whitish, like a rock. Closer inspection proved that it wasn’t a rock, it felt more like an egg.
“But what animal could lay an egg that size?” Lucia cried.
“I think I know,” mused Tobin, looking at the label left inside the safe. “Grandpa had been talking a lot about dinosaurs of late, but I always assumed he meant the fossils and the bones.” He brought the label for Lucia to see. “Apparently, he has found himself a perfectly intact velociraptor egg.”

“But what are we going to do with it?” asked Lucia.

Just then, the egg began to hatch.

Continuous Stories:
"Serenity's Light":  (Part 1) (Part 3) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7) 

Single Posts:

#26 "The Tides of Battle"

#19 "Story Time"

#1 "Red of Morning"

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #32

Suggested by: Me

The List:
-empty house
-a cell phone

The Result:
"Serenity's Light" Part 7
The motley group of tentative allies gathered in a nearby empty house within sight of Sarah Brighton’s front door. Kenneth looked around at all of them: the old woman who had seen him emerge from a magic portal with a wood-sprite in tow and acted like it was all in a day’s work for her; the burly warrior, who had rapidly adjusted to his new life, and was even picking up more English words than he ever thought possible; and now this strange woman who looked like she stepped out of a fantasy novel and knew everyone in the group by their roles, even if she didn’t know their names.
He sighed. “All right,” he said to the woman. “We’re alone, and we won’t be overheard. Now will you tell us how you knew who we were, and what you know about the Relics?”
The woman turned her strange gaze over everyone. “It is most peculiar,” she breathed. “You are all not remotely the sort of beings I envisioned you to be.” Nerissa dropped the somber demeanor and smiled at Agnes. “Please, tell me your names!”
Kenneth pointed to himself and then to each of the others. “I’m Kenneth, the wood sprite is Nakoma; that is Agnes—and apparently you have already met Jens.”
“What do you mean, you envisioned us?” Agnes demanded. “How did you know who we would be?”
Nerissa leaned back in the plastic lawn chair as if she was lounging on a throne. “I could identify you all because I devised the roles I would need to succeed in my quest, and set events in motion that would bring you all together right where and when I needed you.”
Agnes gasped, “You’re the one who sent the letter telling me about the Rift?”
“Then you also must have been the one who commissioned the exploration trip that brought me to the Duirfin forest, where I would cross paths with Nakoma,” Kenneth guessed, even as his rational mind tried to make him realize how bizarre the theory sounded as he spoke it.
Nerissa nodded. “I was the one, also, who struck the Northman here and left him at the site of the portal you knew as the Rift—and I was the one who sent the Relics to the museum you were just trying to get access to.”
Kenneth huffed, “So, what are these Relics you speak of? And why exactly did you need someone like me?”
Nerissa grew serious again as she watched him. “I am sorry for your loss, Kenneth; for you, this mission is much more personal, because you need at least one of the Relics, even more than I need all three of them.” Their eyes met, and Kenneth knew that she understood his desperation. Nerissa continued, “The Relics are three enchanted items that have as their source the light that I now carry: the Light that once gave light to all who lived in my realm: Serenity.”
Kenneth pulled out the brochure that displayed the three items in their display case. “So the collar I know about, because Nakoma told me,” he pointed to the item in question.
“The crown,” Jens supplied, “I touched the crown and it gave me eternal life.”
“Really?” Agnes asked, staring at him in surprise.
Jens nodded. “I was set upon by a pack of wild wolves, and rather than dying, I awoke some time later, with the scars you no doubt saw when you found me.” He pointed to his chest, where Agnes and Kenneth well remembered the state of his body and his clothes when they found him.
“What about the sword?” asked Kenneth.
“The sword holds the power of strength,” Nerissa answered. “It gives the bearer the courage and fortitude to achieve their goals.” She looked up at Jens. “I was the one to carry the sword when the Darkness first attacked in the Forgotten Wood, and it enabled me to acquire the Light of Serenity. I gave it to my friend Relaya, a Fae—and the next time I saw it, you carried the sword. Tell me,” her gaze narrowed, “what did you do to my friend?”
Jens drew himself up defensively. “No more than you did to me!” he protested. “The witch who discovered me and told me of the crown sent me through one of your portals, and she appeared in front of me. I knocked her down and grabbed the sword, and a large bird chased me through another portal, back into a time very close to my own.”
Nakoma perked up at the mention. “This bird you speak of, did it cry kharrie, kharrie?”
“Yes it did,” Jens looked at the little brown sprite warily.
“Please, can we return to the matter at hand?” Nerissa raised her hand urgently. She turned back to Kenneth. “As I was saying, these three Relics are parts and aspects of the power within Serenity itself, that divided when the Darkness took hold. Our legends spoke of a Lore-Master from another dimension who wanted neither power nor immortality, nor the destruction of memory, who alone would have the ability to use the Relics rightly and unite them once more to bring back Serenity and restore my realm.”
Kenneth pointed to himself. “And you think I am that Lore-Master from your legends?”
Nerissa shrugged. “You are the only Lore-Master for whom these Relics hold any kind of relevance.”
“Behold!” Jens cried out before Kenneth quite finished considering the ramifications of his new position. “The curator emerges!” He pointed out the window facing the Brightons’ house.
Everyone watched as Sarah scurried out, garbed in a heavy coat that obscured her face, and clutching something in her arms. She must have seen them enter the house, because she made straight for the front door, left her burden on the front porch, and departed down the street.
Kenneth stood up, but Nerissa put out her hand to stop him.
“I’ll go,” she said.
The others waited till she returned with a yellow mailing envelope. Inscribed in black marker across the front was the message, “WAIT FOR MY CALL. –S”
Inside the envelope was an old cell phone. Nerissa held it between two fingers.
“What manner of device is this?” she asked.
“I’ll take it,” said Kenneth, grabbing it from her.

Minutes later, a shrill trilling rent the nervous silence. Kenneth answered it.
“Is this the man who wanted to speak to me?” Sarah’s voice sounded hushed, scared, and breathless.
“Yes,” Kenneth answered. “Why won’t you—“
“I don’t have much time,” Sarah interrupted him, “and I wanted to explain myself. I don’t know much about what is going on, either, but I just want you to know—I have been warned not to cooperate with you, and I am afraid they’re watching my house, which is why I had to contact you this way.”
“Warned by whom?”
“I’m getting to that! So you know about the artifacts that I have on display at the museum where I work—I’m assuming that’s what this whole thing is about, though I cannot fathom why!”
“Yes, the artifacts,” Kenneth confirmed. “Go on.”
“So anyway, I never connected the two events before today, but a few months earlier, around Christmastime, two men came to my door, showed me a ring that apparently belonged to a very important lady, and asked about a shipment. Of course, there hadn’t been any shipments like the one they described, so I had no idea what they were talking about, but then they told me that when the shipment came I was to be on the lookout for a gang of thieves—and the pictures they showed me were of every one of you!”
“What is it?” Nerissa had seen the startled look on Kenneth’s face.
Kenneth shook his head, wanting to get the whole story before Sarah had to leave. “How did they get our pictures?”
“I have no idea—and that’s not even the crazy part. So just a few weeks ago, I went to the exhibit hall to check on the artifacts, like the instructions told me to do—and there was this huge portrait in there that had not been there the day before. I asked my boss and a few others about it, but they just acted like it had been there this whole time, and I just never noticed it, when I swear it was not there!” She sighed. “What freaked me out was that the lady in the painting was wearing the same ring that those men had shown me! But the painting was from the end of the nineteenth century—how could that same ring still exist, and how could the people who have it find me?”
“So there’s this painting,” Kenneth prompted the frightened woman back to the story.
Sarah took the hint. “Okay, so there’s this painting just magically showing up, so I just took it down to examine it closer—and there’s a letter, addressed to ‘the curator of the Museum of Fine Art in New York,’ taped on the back! It had no date, but it was signed ‘Lady Jocelyn Stark.’ She said something like this was her painting, and that she was watching me, and that if I didn’t do exactly as she said and refuse to cooperate with a group of five strangers wanting my help for something connected to the three artifacts, then—“ Fear overtook her once more and she choked on her words. “Then she could put a plan in motion that would grant her legal custody of my daughter, Lilly. Please,” she begged, her voice very close to a sob, “you have to believe me; that’s why I put on that big show of slamming the door on you, and refusing to help. I want to—I just don’t want anything to happen to my family!”
Kenneth met the eyes of the people gathered around him. Nerissa had chosen them all—everyone knew the importance of this mission. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Brighton—“
“Sarah, please,” she allowed.
“Sarah,” Kenneth amended. “We will make a plan, keep you informed, and we will make sure nothing happens to jeopardize you or your family. Is this cell phone all right for us to keep in touch?”
“Yes, I’ve memorized the number, and nobody knows about it. You can call me at the museum and act like a patron setting up a tour, it would be much more difficult to track you that way.”
“Good idea. We’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you! And good luck!” She hung up right away.

Kenneth set the phone down and looked at the others. “That was Sarah,” he said, and filled them in on the whole conversation.
“This Lady Jocelyn Stark,” Nerissa mused, “she is, after all, the enemy who wants to acquire the artifacts for herself?”
Kenneth nodded with a pensive expression. “Something else she said,” he recalled. “This Lady Jocelyn who had her portrait painted almost two hundred years ago somehow had modern photographs of all five of us.”
“Does this mean she is immortal, as I am?” Jens guessed.
“Or perhaps she is Fae, and can travel through time with portals,” Nakoma added.
“How are we going to help the poor woman when we risk her losing her daughter every time one of us makes contact with her?” Agnes fretted.
As if in answer, a screech, “Kharrie!!” sounded over their heads as a large figure flew down toward the group.
“Kharrie!” Nakoma cried in answer as the golden eagle landed next to her and leaned over her shoulder. The two soul mates embraced.
When everyone looked back to Nerissa, another woman had joined her, with pointed ears and a dress slightly soiled as if she had come a long ways on foot. The second woman smiled at them, and Nerissa gestured to her as she spoke.
“Here is our answer,” she said. “Lore-Master Kenneth, you say that Lady Jocelyn has five photographs? Well, here is our sixth member, whom she does not know. Everyone, this is Relaya, and she will help us reclaim the lost Relics and outwit our enemy.”

Previously in This Series:

Single Posts:
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#19 "Story Time"