Monday, June 26, 2017

Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: "A to Z Challenge"--Letter D

The List:
-Damaris, Denahlia
-Drawbridge, Dungeons
-Defiance, Dragon, Door
The Result:

"Damaris and The Dragon"

*This is a continuation of the previous Serial Saturday series, "The Clan of Outcasts"

Freedom, that's what he felt. Freedom and power.
"That's it, Damaris! Faster!"
The young Phoenix soaring through the sky squawked and dodged at apparently nothing.
If only he could be free of the Shadow's voice in his head.

Even from that height he could hear people below gasping in awe and fright. Damaris would have loved to stop and light a bonfire or two, but Troy had changed his form, and Troy controlled him now, pushing him farther and faster. He could see the spires of the White Castle. Was the Shadow planning to strike the castle a second time?

The brilliant purple of dusk unfolded across the horizon, but the deepest shadows couldn't touch the brilliant flames over Damaris' body. He wanted to keep flying, to just chase that last glimmer of the sun till he was far away from the Realm. As much as he would rather be here in the sky than buried under the building, left for dead by the only people in his life who actually cared about him—he wished with all of his might that his rescuer was anyone in the Realm except Troy, the meddlesome troublemaker. Being a true Phoenix felt dramatically different than merely existing as a “fireproof boy”—but Damaris wasn’t sure he enjoyed it one bit.

All too soon, the walls of the White Castle came into view. Damaris could see the drawbridge wide open, and a small group of figures heading across it. One of them was small and grey, blending well into the weathered wood of the drawbridge.

"Light it up!" Troy commanded.
Damaris dearly wanted to light him up, although he knew that would be impossible. The Phoenix screeched, and a jet of flame from his beak chased the figures across the bridge. Damaris swooped down and would have followed them through the gate itself, but the clatter of chains over cogs warned him away. He watched—not without some measure of satisfaction—as the drawbridge swung closed at a furious rate.

“Well,” Troy remarked beside him, “I suppose if we’re not going through it,” he gestured upward, and a thrust of force shoved Damaris toward the sky, “we’ll just have to go up and over!” They cleared the topmost turrets and Damaris spread his wings to adjust his flight.

The young Phoenix just about tumbled backward when a roar ten times more powerful than his screech thundered at him from the courtyard. A dragon, this time with glistening red scales, charged at him, spreading her wings wide in defense of the castle.

Damaris, the calm, quiet voice of Erlis reached his mind, in spite of Troy's presence. What are you doing? Stop this! She spat an angry plume of fire at him, but it just washed over him like a wave on the beach. Damaris hardly felt more than just pressure on his flaming feathers.

I can't! Damaris squawked back. He’s too strong for me! He’s in my head and he won’t stop!

Looking down at the courtyard as he flew, Damaris saw Beren ducking into an alcove, while Zayra remained in the doorway. Jaran lay crumpled on the ground—but from that distance, Damaris couldn’t tell if he was dead or just unconscious. The deranged Queen held in her hand a blue orb that looked like Jaran’s lightning power—had she somehow taken it away from him? Damaris let another jet of fire well up in his throat. If Troy wanted him to burn things, why not aim for the person who caused so much damage?

He sent the fireball racing toward her, enjoying the way she flailed her arms to dive out of the way. A sudden pull on his neck diverted the trajectory of the fireball to ignite the doors around her instead.
"Ah-ah!" Troy chided him. "Wouldn't do that if I were you!"

The dragon swooped in behind Damaris, driving him closer to the courtyard, where Denahlia, Edri, and someone Damaris didn't recognize stood braced to defeat him. Troy used a tether made of shadow to jerk Damaris around to face the dragon and fight her, but the Phoenix knew his odds of survival were dramatically shrinking.

In the courtyard, Denahlia spread her hands before her face. In between her outstretched palms, her vision darkened and shifted color, allowing her to see the winged avian body amid the hot flames.

“All right, Lizeth,” she said, “We need to take down the Phoenix. I’ll tell you where to aim, and you can—“


Denahlia nearly blinked her vision back to normal. She glanced at Lizeth, maintaining the dark-shaded coloring in spite of how bizarre it looked. “Are you kidding me right now?” she seethed.

Lizeth clenched her fists at her sides, and the blue flame unfolded. “He needs our help, not our enmity. If anything, we should figure out the best way of taking out Him.” She pointed to the flickering, incorporeal black shape wafting across the sky.

“Believe me,” Denahlia spat with an oath, “he’s untouchable! I’ve tried about three times, and failed every one!”

Lizeth smiled. “They said the same thing about a lot of the patients I treated.” She held her flaming blue hands in front of her. “This fire is about more than healing or activating herbs; with this flame, I can touch the untouchable.” She glanced at Edri. “The same way I touched you.”

Edri frowned and grunted, returning to directing the palace archers in launching arrows at the two beasts fighting in midair.

Zayra, meanwhile, had found servants to douse the flames blocking the doorway.
“Oh no you don’t!” she screamed at the Phoenix diving and swooping above. “That’s MY DRAGON!” She lifted her hands, and arcs of lighting streamed out of the crown on her head. Gritting her teeth, she thrust her open, crackling palms toward the pair.

A massive branch as big around as she was split across the space in front of her, crackling and absorbing the energy from the bolts. It burst into flame, but thickened and spread, covering over the burned areas with fresh, new bark. Zayra couldn’t so much as turn to defend herself before a thick tree root sprouted from between the flagstones and wrapped around her body.

More roots seemed to emerge from down below the castle, from the dungeons. Two figures calmly walked among the winding, rending wood: Kaidan and Javira Clissander. Javira twirled her hand with a casual air, sending tree roots spiraling in all directions.

Her brother had other plans. He marched straight up to the trapped Queen Zayra.
She blinked in disbelief. “I don’t… I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “How did you get more power?”

Kaidan shrugged. “We are only as powerful as we ever were—but now we have our original abilities back, rather than the ones our father forced on the two of us.”

“Original?” Zayra hated being this close to anyone over whom she had no control—but she was far too disoriented to try and exert her will over the man before her.

Kaidan smiled. “Tree roots is Javira’s capability. Mine is, of course, much different.” He slid his hand along the smooth bark of the root gripping Zayra tight. “My touch can read memories.”

“Memories?” Zayra echoed in a tiny voice.

“Memories,” Kaidan confirmed. “Something you don’t seem to have a lot of—so let me help you see what you really are!”

He clapped his hands over Zayra’s ears and the young queen screamed.

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A* ]     [-Letter K* ]          [-Letter T*
-Letter B* ]     [-Letter L* ]          [-Letter U
-Letter C   ]     [-Letter M  ]         [-Letter V
-Letter D   ]     [-Letter N* ]         [-Letter W
-Letter E   ]     [-Letter O   ]         [-Letter X
-Letter F   ]     [-Letter P   ]         [-Letter Y
-Letter G  ]     [-Letter Q* ]         [-Letter Z
-Letter H  ]     [-Letter R
-Letter I* ]     [-Letter S*

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reader's Review: "Cadeau, Volume 1: Who Can You Trust?" by Connie Olvera

Synopsis from Amazon:
A millennium has passed since humans arrived to colonize the planet Cadeau only to find several indigenous species with higher intellect and psionic abilities peacefully cohabiting on the world. Fighting soon broke out over land and resources across the continent of Mardeaux.

An ancient telepathic people from another dimension brought peace once again when they developed a symbiotic relationship with the alien humans. This cooperation between the species had lasted hundreds of years, however, bigoted human factions now seek to profit by eliminating all who stand in their way. The tenacious young duchess, Naomi, is trying to save her territory and the species that live there from these partisan forces.

Raised as a sagoron prince, behind the guardian border, Tobin’s life as a half-breed—or graftling as the sagoron children taunted him—was lost and friendless. At the age of fifteen he ventures beyond the protection of the sagoron’s forest, out of a hunger to know his human mother who abandoned him. His search breaks the carefully erected barrier between the sagoron and human realms, and leads him to join the divergent group of resistance fighters supporting Naomi. 

My Review:

What was the last book you read that made you think, "Oh yeah—this is definitely a book that's going to be around for generations!"
Cadeau definitely filled that role for me. It was a rocky start at first—the blurb didn't seem to match the story I was reading for about the first seven chapters, and there were so many questions I couldn't find the answers to—

But I kept reading, and boy, am I glad I did! The more I read, the more I understood. Cadeau unfolded wider and wider as this rich and vibrant world that arriving humans had only begun to probe. It was a world of kingdoms and duchies, with political unrest and Marquises jockeying for power, while the humanoid race on Cadeau, the sagorons, demonstrated incredible feats of supernatural power which they were now forced to employ against the invaders, to protect the land they had regarded as their home. Not only that, but it falls to some humans and sagorons to receive telepathic abilities, which both increases the potential for peace and also makes it all the more difficult to know whom to trust, as those most skilled in reading the minds of others are equally adept at hiding their own thoughts.
A half-blood sagoron prince and a young noblewoman both seek peace between their species, but he is the son of the sagoron leader who would just as soon have nothing to do with the humans, and she is the daughter of a cruel and vicious Lord who seeks to corrupt and destroy all who hinder him in his push for more power. A savage betrayal thrusts them together, and—along with the Duke's daughter, exiled and forced on the run from a murderous enemy—they must trust each other, and learn how to discern the truth in a vast sea of lies.

I loved all of it. Even the first bit that left me confused—after finishing the book, I went back and re-read the beginning, and the new understanding I had gained really helped! (So if you start reading it and get very confused... don't worry! Just keep reading till you get it, and then you can go back and read the beginning part again) 
The pacing is carefully constructed—while not completely perfect (the feeling of "jumping around" does take some getting used to) in the end it's worth it, to see the story that unfolds, to follow the characters and see their storylines intersect in exciting ways.
The wealth of new species impressed me the most: the Ancients, with actual musical notes representing their names in the text, the sagorons and their "powers" of Ker'ah, which is to literally pray and cause a thing to happen; the mysterious, aggressive Ren and their connection to much more of the history of Cadeau than anyone realizes... and those are just the non-human sentient races! Many more creatures leap from the pages in full, breathtaking detail, drawing the reader in, immersing them in this creative new world.

That being said, I would give CADEAU a *****4.5 STAR***** rating—with the stipulation that pretty much the only thing keeping it from a solid 5 stars is the fact that the story is not quite as fluid as it could be. Perhaps it is just the nature of a world existing in two dimensions that run on different timetables, or perhaps it is something that could be amended with a few minor tweaks—but be that as it may, I still loved it very much and I would add an Upstream Writer Certified WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you love creative fantasy worlds, strong moral principles, engaging characters and a story worth reading over and over again, CADEAU is definitely the book for you—and I might add that it's only the beginning of an epic series! I can't wait to see more amazingness in the books to come!
Further Reading (Amazing Fantasy or Sci-fi/Marvelous Characters/Excellent Worldbuidling)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist
       -The Pinocchio Factor
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul 
 Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4"--A to Z Challenge: Letter C

The List:
-Crow, Jonas
-Corvallis, OR

The Result:
"The Corvallis Catastrophe"

Jonas slumped down in his seat. The others had cracked every window on the bus, but the temperature just kept climbing.

“Sorry, folks!” the driver climbed back into the bus. “As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be anything broken or leaking in the engine compartment, I just can’t get it to turn on. I’ve put in a call to the repair shop in Corvallis, but there is no telling how long it will take them to get a mechanic all the way out here.”

The elderly couple from Connecticut gripped each other’s hand. “We’re all going to die!” the lady yelled, quivering in her Cancun t-shirt.

Jonas crouched even lower and cranked up the volume on his headphones. He didn’t need to hear this, on top of everything else that had just happened to him. He was going to Canada, and that was that!

The driver pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his face, but it was already so saturated that the sheen of sweat remained.

“What can we do?” demanded the father of two who had been looking forward to vacationing in the Columbia Gorge with his family. “Do you expect us to walk all the way to Corvallis?”

The driver shrugged. “I’m saying we probably have enough to survive a few hours, but these buses are not typically equipped for a lengthy emergency situation—so you best prepare for that possibility.”

“Daddy? I’m hungry!” the little girl whined.

“I want water!” her younger brother chimed in. “Great,” whined the young man traveling with his girlfriend, “Now I’m thirsty, but my water bottle is already empty!”

“I’m so hot!”

“Why isn’t anybody coming? What’s taking so long?”

“Excuse me,” said a middle-aged woman to the passenger sitting next to her. “I need to use the facilities.” She stood, edged out of the row, and turned toward the tiny lavatory at the back of the bus.

The driver grimaced. “I wouldn’t, ah, do that, if I were you,” he muttered.

Her jaw tensed and she turned to him in agony, holding her legs close together. “And why not? Isn’t this exactly why buses like this even have a toilet?”

“Yeah, but,” The driver gestured to the front of the bus. “With the system outage up front, the, ah, filtration system would be non-functional, as well.”

Her face melted at the realization. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” she cried. “Can we get off this bus already?” She sat in the nearest seat, but did not dare relax.

“Great,” muttered the man sitting behind Jonas, “now I have to pee too…”

“Hey!” A man in a sweaty business suit leaned forward, “I have a friend waiting to pick me up at the bus station!”

“Any chance of that repair truck showing up?” somebody else joined in.

The driver patiently checked his phone. He prayed that the blinking battery symbol in the corner had only just begun, that he would at least have a few more hours of juice left till help arrived. “No word yet.”

“Should we be calling 9-1-1?” somebody piped up, only for those around him to start yelling objections as the young children burst into tears at the suggestion.

“Ugh, I hate this bus!” an impeccably-dressed woman with a pinched face complained. “Here I was, trying to be economical, but hey, I guess you get what you pay for!” She stood up and nailed the driver with a steel-eyed glare. “Serves me right—though if I end up surviving this hellish trip, I promise you I will demand a refund, and I am never taking the bus again!”

The driver held up his hands as the palpable agitation thickened all the more. “Now, now, everyone,” he tried to maintain an air of professionalism, “just stay calm. We will make it through—“

“Do I smell burning?” A man three rows from the back jerked up straight.

In seconds, everyone was sniffing and staring.

“I smell it too!” Cancun Lady wailed, and the driver leaped to maintain control of the situation. “All right, everyone, we’re going to evacuate the bus—“

“Evacuate?” Mr. Dad cried. “Are you kidding? I just got the kids to settle down!”

Smoke!” Bathroom Lady shrieked, pointing to the windows on her side.

Panic set in, and every passenger rushed for the tiny steps leading to the narrow door—every passenger except one.

Jonas was focused on being as invisible as possible, making no noise and pretending with all his might that he didn’t even exist, when a shove on his arm nearly sent him through the window beside him.

“Dude, are you crazy?” the guy demanded. “The bus is on fire! We’re getting out of here!”

Jonas felt his heart catapult into his throat. Fire? How was he going to get to Canada? How was he going to survive now?

He hobbled after the guy. In the bright light of high noon, he saw the driver and about five passengers frantically unloading all of the luggage, piling it on the ground as others formed a chain to transport them to the shady side of the bus.

Bathroom Lady came around from the front of the bus, looking very relieved.

“Thank God no one saw me, but I hope I never have to do that again!” she told the harried mother who was in the middle of trying to console two very cranky, very overheated kids. Jonas saw Businessman pace by him, phone pressed to his ear.

“Yeah, hi! We are on…” he looked around, as if the name of the road would be posted somewhere obvious. “Well, the main road into Corvallis… That’s the one! Yeah, our bus broke down and then we smelled smoke, and—yeah, we called them, but there doesn’t seem to be any… Well, not exactly—I know that, ma’am, but if you cou—What? I couldn’t quite ca—“ he peeled his phone away from his ear and stared at it. “Oh you have got to be kidding me!”

“What happened?” asked a young woman.

The man clenched his jaw and his fists, though the hand that held the phone looked about ready to snap it. “Stupid, piece-of-crap junk phone!” the Businessman seethed. “I just upgraded last week and all of a sudden now it doesn’t hold a charge?” He stopped to kick a clod of dirt. “What else could go wrong?”

“Daddy?” the little boy whimpered, ‘I’m hungry!”

Jonas huddled at the back of the crowd, trying his best to be as inconspicuous as possible. What if Deus Maximus was behind all this bad luck they were having? What would these people do if they found out he was to blame?

A stiff wind swept through, making everyone shiver. The bus driver glanced up at the sky as clouds skated across the sun’s light. “Hey, at least it’s cooler now…” he began, but no sooner did he say this, than a young passenger cried out, and people dashed for their coats and any sort of cover as a sudden rain poured out of a once-clear sky.

All forty passengers huddled fruitlessly against the side of the bus as the downpour intensified.

Oh God, WHY?” somebody wailed, and immediately, everybody started yelling out to whatever higher power they believed in.

Jonas felt a jab in his shoulder. Bathroom Lady squinted suspiciously at him.

“Hey, why aren’t you praying?” she hissed. “It seems about the only thing we can do. Maybe your contribution would bring good luck to the group!”

“All right, here it is!” The driver announced, backing up to where the whole crowd could see him. “There has got to be something seriously wrong with this trip, and only one person responsible for all the weird coincidences that have left us stranded.”

Businessman wagged his head. “You’re crazy! How can you just assume one person is at fault for all this?”

Thunder boomed overhead. “You have a better theory?” the bus driver yelled. He pulled a comic book out of the inner pocket of his jacket. Jonas recognized it instantly: B.Y.B.L.  Issue No. 29. “I have been reading this comic since I was a little boy, and it always seemed like there was some higher power like Deus Maximus watching out for some people and dealing judgment on others in the real world, just like in these comics.”

The passengers began shifting apart, glancing suspiciously at one another.

“So how do we find out who is responsible?” somebody asked.

Jonas mouthed the words as the bus driver said them. “Cards of Fate!” He listened with a sinking stomach as the driver explained.

“The hero, Remus Hemptor, would use it when he was out in the field, cut off from Deus Maximus, and he needed to figure out which choice would be the right one.” The driver squinted at the group before him. “Anybody have a deck of cards?”

“I do!” The mother dug through her daughter’s travel pack till she found the slim box.

The driver took the deck. “All right, here’s how it works: I’ll pray to Deus Maximus, because that’s what Remus does, then I’ll shuffle, and each one of you will take the top card. The person who ends up with the Jack of clubs is guilty of bringing the wrath of God on this trip.”

“I still think you’re insane!” declared the Businessman.

The driver ignored him, clasping the deck in both hands. He bowed his head and whispered discreetly to himself for several minutes. When he finished, he shuffled four times, and moved to the far end of the crowd. Once forty-one cards had been handed out, he announced, “All right, show!”

Everyone turned over his and her card. Jonas knew exactly what his would be before anyone registered what he was holding.

“Jack of clubs!” Bathroom Lady shrieked. “It was you all along!”

As one body the whole crowd converged on him, the questions coming as thick as the raindrops.

“Who are you?”

“What do you do?”

“Who do you work for?”

“What kind of karmic being did you anger, that would invite consequences on the rest of us for it?”

The driver waved his hands. “All right! All right, let him speak!”

All voices drifted to silence as all eyes focused on the young man in the grubby tee shirt.

“Um, hi?” he stammered in the silence. “I’m Jonas Crow; I’m a blogger, and I write about the hidden messages and theories that I get from the B.Y.B.L. series.”

“Hidden messages?” the driver blinked. “Like they have on the official Remus Hemptor blog?”

Jonas could feel his face flush bright red, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. “Um, actually, that’s not an official blog—that’s my blog.”

The man’s eyes snapped wide. “You’re the blogger for Remus Hemptor?”

Jonas nodded. “Yeah, and I was supposed to be on a mission for Deus Maximus—“

Deus Maximus gave you a mission?” The driver’s face was so purple Jonas wondered if he was going to pass out before the end of the conversation.

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to do it, so I ended up on this bus because I’m running away.”

The driver hauled out his comic book. “So let me get this straight,” he said slowly. “Deus Maximus himself gave you a mission, and you decided to run away instead—so now we’re getting punished with bad weather and a broken bus just because you're here instead of where you’re supposed to be?”

Jonas nodded miserably. And the Award for Idiot of The Century Goes To….


This excerpt is a scene from an unfinished novel I started a couple years back, The Astonishing Adventures of Jonas Crow, which would be a modern-day adaptation of the Bible story of Jonah. In particular, this scene is the famous "Storm on the way to Tarshish", where Jonah tries to run from God and gets found out, just before getting swallowed by the whale. Enjoy! If you would like to read more excerpts from this story, click the hyperlinked text >HERE<

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A* ]     [-Letter K* ]          [-Letter T*
-Letter B* ]     [-Letter L* ]          [-Letter U
-Letter C   ]     [-Letter M  ]         [-Letter V
-Letter D   ]     [-Letter N* ]         [-Letter W

-Letter E   ]     [-Letter O   ]         [-Letter X
-Letter F   ]     [-Letter P   ]         [-Letter Y
-Letter G  ]     [-Letter Q* ]         [-Letter Z
-Letter H  ]     [-Letter R
-Letter I* ]     [-Letter S*

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4"--A to Z Challenge: Letter B

The List:
-Bronwen, Brethan
-Before dawn
-Beside a Brook
-Butterfly, Bear, Badger

The Result:

"Braving the Bear"

(Sequel to "His First Quest")
The babbling, silver brook wound silently through the old, overgrown forest. All was still and peaceful—up until the moment a young knight crashed through the bracken, gasping and muttering to himself.

“Merciful Lord in Heaven!” he groaned. “There must be a way to save her! I must find a way!” He collapsed to his knees next to the brook, tearing up the sod with his hands and marring the thin, glittering surface with clods of dirt. He cast his arms wide and roared to the heavens, “Why, God? WHY? IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT ME TO BE? A simpleton who betrays the trust of the very first being I encounter? I shouldn’t wonder if she had been an angel sent to guide me, and I have delivered her into the claws of a demon!”

His shoulders sagged as he bent over the rippling water. The ancient forest, once so full of promise, now only served as a painful reminder of his failure, and the innocent creature he had lost.

As he tried to regain his composure, a flash of color caught his eye. Sir Martin stilled and held his breath as the largest butterfly he had ever witnessed wafted into view. Its wings bore streaks of every color imaginable, in no particular pattern that he recognized, but it struck him as beautiful, nonetheless.

The butterfly wafted closer, coming to settle on Sir Martin’s pauldron. A tiny face not unlike Bronwen’s grinned up at him. Her dark hair, rather than tumbling around her shoulders like the young sparrow-fairy’s, stood up from her head in a sleek, curling point.

Sir Martin flinched and drew back, leaving the butterfly to flap faintly in midair before winding soft curlicues over the surface of the river. The tiny face gave him a tender frown of deep concern before she turned away and began fluttering down the course of the brook.

“I’m sorry!” Sir Martin blurted, reaching toward her. “I was just startled! I didn’t mean to frighten you. Please come back!”

The butterfly-winged fairy circled back around in wide, gentle loops. She settled on Sir Martin’s outstretched hand, and regarded him solemnly.

“Sir Knight,” she said in the same gentle tone Bronwen had used, “why are you so sad?”

Sir Martin fought to speak as the guilt formed a stone in his throat. “I… I have betrayed a fairy of this forest, and I have failed in my first quest.” He hung his head. “I am not worthy of the knight’s noble reputation, being nothing but a coward.”

The fairy tucked her wings up and settled onto his fingers as a seat. “How have you betrayed us? It could be that there is some way to redeem this circumstance.”

Sir Martin shook his head. “No, there is no redemption for me! It was the Beast of the Forest, which she described to me, who fooled me by changing his guise, and though she warned me plenty of times, I did not heed—and now he has her!”

The Butterfly crossed her tiny arms, resting her hands upon her pale shoulders. “That is no great trespass, nor are you particularly weak, Sir Knight. The Beast delights in making fools of the strongest men, tricking them into underestimating him. It will be more difficult than you can face to rescue this fairy, if that is what you desire to do, because once the Beast has one of us in his clutches, he can make it very difficult to let any of us back out again.”

Sir Martin felt the wild surge within himself as the stone left his throat, and he inhaled deeply. “Whatever price, whatever task is required of me, I will do it!” he promised. “Even up to yielding my own life, to make up for the damage I have caused!”

The fairy laughed lightly. “There is no great damage, Sir Knight! In truth, very few who visit this forest and encounter the Beast so desire to reclaim a fairy he has taken—I sense much bravery in you, sir!” She flapped her wings and tapped her chin. “Perhaps there still resides more nobility in your heart than you realized before!”

Sir Martin nodded bashfully. “It is kind of you to say that,” he admitted. “So what must I do to hunt down this Beast and rescue the fairy he has taken?”

The Butterfly lifted off his hand into the air. “The first thing you must realize,” she began, “is that you cannot face the Beast alone. He is far too clever for just one man, now that he has discovered a weakness in you and used it successfully against you.”

Sir Martin shook his head. “What then? Will you go with me, to fight against him in some way?”

The fairy wavered gently in place. “I am also too small to assist you, and it would be far too dangerous for me to venture close to the Beast’s domain, because fairies are the one creature in this forest that he desires the most, so he has invested much time and effort into developing lures and traps that we cannot resist or escape.”

The knight frowned and clenched his fist, feeling the armor plates pressing against the leather inner glove. “Is there another assistant I must seek in the forest, then? For I swear I will not leave here until I have vanquished this Beast once and for all—this I have undertaken as my first quest, and I shall not turn aside until I accomplish it!”

The Butterfly sighed, as if Sir Martin had not been the first knight to make such a declaration—only to fail and turn aside from his quest. “In order to find the Beast in his domain, you will need the Bear.”

Sir Martin squinted in confusion. “A bear?”

“Not just any bear,” The Butterfly continued. “This Bear is particularly strong, and particularly persistent, and he has aught against the Beast, and so will serve any who desire to confront it. However,” she hastened to add, as she noticed the reckless gleam in the knight’s eyes, “you must face him first—and there, many have failed, and been eaten for all their boasting and confidence.”

Sir Martin felt the dread building inside him, but he purposed to maintain his valor. “What can I do, then, to accomplish this feat?”

The Butterfly flew high up in the air, joining a few other dancing splashes of color among the treetops. “Watch carefully, and you will know,” she said. “Follow the brook to find his den.” With those words, she flew away.

Sir Martin remained at the water’s edge, wondering at the way his quest seemed to be taking the most unexpected course. After a few moments, he decided to take the Butterfly’s advice, and followed the Brook down to where it rushed by a large cave that could only be the lair of the Bear he sought. Sir Martin crossed the brook and drew his sword. He could hear the Bear’s claws scratching the stone floor of the cave.

“All right, you Bear!” he cried, holding his sword aloft. “Come out! I would challenge you!”

He heard snuffling from inside the cave, then with a terrible roar, the Bear rushed out. Sir Martin tried to attack it with his sword, but the Bear reached past the length of his weapon and clouted the knight over the shoulder. His armor was the only thing that saved his life. Lacking any kind of defense, Sir Martin turned and ran from the cave, crossing to the other side of the brook to make his escape. He counted it good fortune that the Bear did not appear to follow him.

A little later, Sir Martin again crept back to the point on the other side of the brook where he could remain hidden and watch the cave, but the Bear didn’t let its guard down again. Sir Martin decided to wait until nightfall, to see if he couldn’t subdue the bear while it slept. He settled against the tree and closed his eyes.

When he awoke from his slumber, the moon shone down into the forest, and Sir Martin could detect little movement from the surrounding area save the rushing brook between himself and the cave. A second time, he stole up to the cave, sword extended in front of him to feel around in the darkness.

He stepped fully over the threshold without meeting any resistance at the tip of his blade—and just at that moment, the Bear rose up behind him, and roared again. This time, Sir Martin found it more difficult to defend himself in the darkness, while the Bear didn’t seem to have weakened at all, striking at him with the same fury he had shown in the daylight. Sir Martin barely escaped the savage animal, but at last he made his retreat and withdrew to the same hiding spot from before.

By now, Sir Martin could not understand what the Butterfly had said about gaining an ally to defeat The Beast. Day or night made no difference to the Bear, and there would be nothing Sir Martin could do to so much as approach the den. He sat and pondered late into the night. He hated the thought of giving up on his first quest so easily—but what other choice did he have?

The twilight of night’s last hours remained, but Sir Martin leaped up as he heard a rustling sound coming from the other side of the brook. He squinted hard in the half-light, and saw a squat Badger waddling right toward the Bear’s cave. As he watched, the Badger crawled into the mouth of the cave, and very soon the Bear emerged, as docile and as mild as he had been angry and fierce just hours before. The Badger seemed to hold a sort of audience with the Bear, and then continued on its way, unharmed and unhindered.

Dawn had only just begun threading its way across the horizon when Sir Martin, witnessing the departure of the Badger, came out of his hiding spot and crossed the brook. Full of confidence, he traced the path the Badger had just taken.

The Bear rushed out almost immediately, roaring and bracing itself to attack. Sir Martin doubled back and ran away from the cave, taking the small, narrow pathways to deter the Bear from following. When at last he could stop, he threw himself down at the base of a beech tree to puzzle over what he just witnessed.

“I don’t understand!” he cried. “Every time I try to approach, the Bear attacks and strikes me—these last two times, I have not threatened the animal, and yet it is all fury and strength against me! Yet the small Badger seemed to have some sort of pact with the Bear—I have never heard of such a thing in my life!”

After the last two failures, Sir Martin dared not approach the den for the rest of the day. As the sun set and night fell around him, the stalwart knight struggled to stay awake and watch for the moment when the Badger would come. Many times, he nearly fell asleep, but he would catch himself and shake himself awake again.

At last, in the moments before dawn, the Badger returned. This time, Sir Martin followed it toward the Bear’s den.

He could feel his own heart pounding against his breastplate as he drew closer and closer to the den. Would his presence invite the Bear to attack the Badger, in spite of seeming so peaceful toward it the day before?

The Badger paused at the mouth of the cave, just as it had done. A few moments later, the Bear came lumbering toward it. As soon as the Bear saw Sir Martin, it stopped and began growling, but Sir Martin stood firm as the Badger moved on.

“Please,” it said, as the Bear, for once, did not charge him, but continued to growl. “I am here on behalf of a fairy who lives in this forest. Her name is Bronwen, and she has been captured by the Beast. I am told you are the only one who can help me save her.”

Still growling, the Bear stalked forward. Sir Martin held his breath, but forced himself to resist the urge to flee as he had done. Closer, the Bear crept, until it was close enough for Sir Martin to feel its breath on his face. He did not move as the Bear sniffed his scent, and once it finished, it calmly walked past Sir Martin, out into the forest. It took a few paces, turned back to glance at the shocked knight, and grunted. Sir Martin moved to follow it, and the Bear continued back the way Martin had come.

The Butterfly came fluttering to join him in the light of dawn.

“Very good, Sir Knight!” she congratulated him. “You have earned the trust of Brethan the Bear, and he will defend you against any threats you will face here in the forest.”

“Truly?” Sir Martin felt almost giddy with relief. “That is all this ordeal required, to merely find that one time when the Bear would remain quiet, and now he is my protector?”

“What more did you expect?” The Butterfly replied.

Brethan stopped just ahead. Sir Martin recognized the area: this was the place he had first met Bronwen, trapped in a poacher’s net. There on the ground lay the broken net where he had dropped it. Next to the net was one of Bronwen’s wingfeathers.

Brethan bent down and sniffed closely at the net and the feather. A slow growl resonated in the Bear’s throat, but Sir Martin knew it wasn’t directed at him any more. Brethan immediately set off in quite a different direction, deeper into the forest.

Sir Martin glanced to the Butterfly for advice.

“He has Bronwen’s scent, and that of the Beast as well,” she said softly. “He will lead you to where the Beast has hidden her. Fare you well, Sir Knight.” She flew off toward the lighter part of the forest, leaving Sir Martin to follow The Bear into the shadows, to confront The Beast of The Forest.

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A* ]     [-Letter K* ]          [-Letter T*
-Letter B* ]     [-Letter L* ]          [-Letter U
-Letter C   ]     [-Letter M  ]         [-Letter V
-Letter D   ]     [-Letter N* ]         [-Letter W

-Letter E   ]     [-Letter O   ]         [-Letter X
-Letter F   ]     [-Letter P   ]         [-Letter Y
-Letter G  ]     [-Letter Q* ]         [-Letter Z 
-Letter H  ]     [-Letter R
-Letter I* ]     [-Letter S*

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box" Vol. 4--A to Z Short Story Challenge: Letter A

The List:
Names: Archimedes, Ashuria
Places: Athens, Acropolis
Time: Afternoon
Objects: Arches, Apricots, Almonds

The Result:

"Answers in the Arches"

The bright afternoon sun glinted off the white walls of the Acropolis crowning the highest point in Athens. Blue stenciling along the edges provided a pleasing visual for the eyes, while absorbing some of the glare that would otherwise blind its citizens.

Under an arch at the edge of an apricot grove, a young girl munched on a handful of almonds as she stared out over the Aegean Sea. So intent was her focus, that she almost missed the approach of an elderly man in a grey toga.

“A pretty aster clings to the wall, growing taller and more beautiful every day!” he mused.

The young girl glanced up and smiled. “Oh, hello, Master Archimedes.”

The old man stroked his bushy white beard. “Ashuria, my dear, what’s the problem?”

Ashuria sighed and tapped the heels of her sandals against the wall. “I have a dilemma that I am not sure how to answer,” she confessed.

Archimedes took a seat next to the girl. He gave a low chuckle. “So you would seek out a Sicilian astronomer for advice, as if I could read the answers you seek, hidden among the stars?” He shook his head. “Why not turn to your mother instead?”

Ashuria rubbed the hem of her mauve-colored dress. “My mother and father are in accord.”

Archimedes frowned. “And this does not satisfy you, to see your parents agree on a matter?”

Ashuria shook her head. “Not if the thing they agree on is wrong!”

The old man leaned out to pluck a ripe fruit from a low-hanging branch. “How is it wrong? Does your father intend to break the law?”

“Not the law of the land,” Ashuria admitted, “but is there not also a moral law that people must follow?”

Archimedes nodded. “So the philosophers would say—and each would have a different theory about the parameters and implication of this moral law.”

Ashuria moaned and covered her head. “Then I am afraid the moral law of my parents is different than the one I hold—so what am I to do?”

“Tell me, child,” Archimedes offered her an apricot, “would great harm come to anyone if you simply laid aside your misgivings and followed your parents in whatever they have asked you to do?”

Ashuria’s lips twitched. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I am very afraid because no one else has ever done this thing before, so I do not know what harm will come of it.”

Archimedes wiped his hand on the loose fold of his toga. “It could be that no harm may come at all... yet you are still too much afraid of it. Why can you not find peace in minding your elders like so many others?”

Ashuria drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs, hugging them to her chest. “Something still stops me, Master Archimedes. What they want to do is wrong, and nothing I can think of can change that sentiment in me.”

Archimedes shrugged. “Well then, my dear Ashuria, if nothing can change that, then there won’t be any need to worry. Your conscience is clear enough to prevent you from violating this moral law of yours.”

Ashuria tilted her head, letting her pale hair drape across her face. “What does that mean?” she asked.

Archimedes patted her on the shoulder. “It means, dear child, that you only need to go as far as you feel you may safely do so. Your own spirit will guide you in doing what you think is right.”

He squinted up at the sun, noting the angle of the shadows cutting under the arches. “I must meet with the Assembly,” he explained. “Is there anything else you wished to discuss?”

Ashuria shook her head. “No,” she said. “Thank you for your wise words.”

Archimedes shrugged. “It is only in application that we discover how vital the advice of another really is.” He trudged further up the road, while Ashuria scurried back home.

“Ashuria!” her mother met her at the door, her head wrapped in a large cloth that hid all of her hair. “Come quickly! Preparations are underway. Where have you been?” The tall woman’s firm hand swept the young girl into the room.

Ashuria stopped short when she saw her father in his white tunic and purple sash. “Father!” she cried. “Your hair! What happened?”

The entire top of his head matched the color of his sash. Ashuria’s father smiled at her, beckoning her forward. “It’s going to be the new fashion when we get to Natalys!”

Ashuria frowned. “But… why?”

Her mother entered, pulling the cloth off her head. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders and back in luxurious waves—that same unnatural violet color. How many pounds of dye had been wasted on this frivolous fashion statement? “Because we are going to lead the new colony, Ashuria, dear! As its leaders, we needed some way to stand out—and purple being the herald of royalty, we decided that purple hair would signify our rank among the citadel!” She stroked Ashuria’s pale golden curls. “Your hair would look so lovely—“

“No!” Ashuria felt the tightness in her stomach, the ache that spread through her whole body at the overwhelming wrongness of the whole situation. “I will not be going with you!”

Her mother’s face fell. “But Ashuria,” she pressed, “you must come with us!”

Her father nodded. “Yes, the Assembly has decided that everyone who has drunk of the Fountain must return to Natalys and live there permanently.”

Ashuria felt her back press against the wall behind her. She was still within reach of her mother’s long arms. “But that was one drink!” She said, the tears climbing into her eyes. “I didn’t know!”

Her mother smiled, gliding ever closer. “One drink is all it takes.”

Ashuria clapped her hands to her mouth. What would happen to her now? Her whole body trembled. “No! I don’t want it!” she cried.

“Oh, darling!” Her mother pulled her close into a tight embrace. “Come, relax with me. You’re just tired, and the thought of such a long journey frightens you. It will be all right, I promise.”

Ashuria wanted it to be all right. She prayed for it harder than she had ever prayed for anything else in her life. One drink is all it takes. She had drunk once, and would serve that punishment forever.

“One drink, one forfeit,” she whispered. It was a fitting consequence, and that made it just.

Ashuria looked up at her mother. “For my trespass of drinking from the Fountain, I will allow the servants to dye my hair.” She cringed inwardly at the way her mother sat up with wide, hungering eyes. “But,” she forced herself to finish, “I will never drink of that fountain again!”

Her mother huffed. “Oh, Ashuria, how can you say that? Why, in Natalys, the very ground is saturated by water from the Fountain of Youth! Crops are irrigated by it, food and clothing is washed in it, the wines are made with it, and it is the only thing to drink there!” She patted Ashuria’s head. “I understand how you would like to keep your principles, but the fact is, dear, you won’t be able to resist for long.”

Sitting at the edge of the pool, watching her reflection as the servant spread the heinous purple paste over her wet locks, Ashuria felt her conscience harden within her. They think I will eventually approve of what they have done, she thought. They have no idea how strong I really am. Someday, I will find the chance to stand up for what I believe in. I will show them what I am made of, she promised herself. Someday.

To find out what happens in Natalys, and Ashuria's ultimate choice, Click >HERE<

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A* ]     [-Letter K* ]          [-Letter T*
-Letter B* ]     [-Letter L* ]          [-Letter U
-Letter C   ]     [-Letter M  ]         [-Letter V
-Letter D   ]     [-Letter N* ]         [-Letter W
-Letter E   ]     [-Letter O   ]         [-Letter X
-Letter F   ]     [-Letter P   ]         [-Letter Y
-Letter G  ]     [-Letter Q* ]         [-Letter Z 
-Letter H  ]     [-Letter R
-Letter I* ]     [-Letter S*