Saturday, September 29, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 7

Part 7
"After The Party"

Just before they reached the center of the room where the dancers turned and stepped gracefully, Henrik stopped short.

“Uh-oh,” he muttered, ushering Stella off to the side, deeper into the crowd of spectators. “Let’s go this way.”

Stella noticed the way his shoulders hunched, because it was the same stance she took when she didn’t want Jacintha to notice her. The moment of Nadia Stevens ended, and Old Stella took over, keenly and painfully aware of absolutely everyone they passed.

“What are we doing?” she whispered to Henrik. “I thought we were dancing.”

He kept her close, at least. “We will dance, I promise, Nadia,” he replied. “But just now, I happen to be avoiding a certain relentless lady—“

“Your Grace!” A footman approached them. He noted the expression on Henrik’s face, and glanced at the unfamiliar young lady at his side. “Is there a problem, sir?”

“No problem,” Henrik responded, straightening and keeping a wary eye out for the “relentless lady.” “I was just trying to avoid the attentions of one certain—“ he pointed until the footman could make out precisely whom he meant.

Stella followed his gaze, too, and her heart just about sank in her chest. Agatha! She was looking, the long neck craned, the pink dress flouncing all over the place as she ignored all the bachelors crossing her path in the pursuit of one only—if anyone would know who she was, in spite of the Ring, it would be her!

“Ah, I see,” said the footman. “Fear not, good sir. Miss Farfalle will be departing shortly, and then you may move about freely.”

Henrik relaxed, but Stella could not. If Agatha was leaving soon, that meant she would need to depart sooner. She slid her hand out of Henrik’s grasp.

He frowned with concern as he watched her. “What is it, Nadia? Are you all right?”

Stella gulped. “I…” What could she say? “I don’t feel well.”

Henrik’s face fell. “I’m sorry I haven’t done enough for you tonight. I promise I’ll try to do better—“

“No!” Stella reached out and seized his hand again. “Henrik, tonight has been more perfect than any other night of my life! Please do not think me dissatisfied!”

Hope returned to his eyes. “Well then, is there nothing I can do to induce you to stay? Anything I can give you? I would buy you anything you wanted.”

Stella smiled. “But you see, you’ve already given me the most precious of all gifts tonight: you gave me your time.” Her voice caught as her throat tightened, but Stella steadied herself and kept going. “No one has ever given me a second glance, much less a moment where I could be important, and you have done that. Thank you, Henrik; I’ll treasure this night forever.” She backed away a step, looking for a chance to disappear without his pursuit.

The footman leaned in. “Incoming, your grace,” he muttered, and Henrik whirled around to locate Agatha—and happened to catch her eye in the process.
“Yoohoo!” she sang out, waving to him.

Cursing at himself, Henrik ducked to continue running, and when he looked back to where Nadia had stood, she was gone.

Down below the Drakistos property, just beyond the gate, a shivering girl stood concealed in a thicket, feverishly trying to cram a glittering golden gown into the bottom of a basket, and slip her arms into the sleeves of a tattered shift. Pulling the twists and braids out of her hair, she slipped out, lugging the basket behind her. Last of all, she pulled the Ring off her finger, and immediately her features changed from smooth, unmarred skin into a twisted, scarred, and garish appearance. Stella rubbed her thumb over the ropy, flaky patches along her palm, remembering the feel of Henrik’s hand in hers.

Behind her, the gate slammed shut.
“Lazybones!” barked a harsh voice. “Get over here!”

Agatha had arrived, and she looked to be in a sour mood, in spite of the magnificent dress.
Stella knew it wasn’t her place to speak up, so she meekly hoisted the basket into the back of the wagon and joined the young woman in the chaise. Wistfully, she did glance up just once, to see the glowing castle at the top of the hill, and remember the young man who had done the simple thing of enjoying her company.

“What are you looking at?” Agatha growled.

Stella shrank back and directed her gaze to her scarred, itching hands. “Nothing,” she muttered.

“I hope Mother won’t hear tomorrow of any trouble you caused tonight,” Agatha continued. “You were waiting for me the whole time, weren’t you?”

Stella could almost feel the tension building in that small place, but she remembered being Nadia, and the feeling dissipated. “Yes, I waited,” she answered softly. “Just as you asked.”

“Good.” Agatha smoothed her skirts and watched the scenery skate by outside. Altogether, it had not been the most satisfactory night, but there would be other opportunities, she was sure of it.

Henrik stood in one of the upper drawing rooms of the mansion. Guests still lingered below, but he wasn’t feeling very sociable just now. He stood at the window, watching the moon, and remembering the wonderful young lady he was able to share at least part of his evening with. Lost in thought, he raised his injured hand and picked at the edge of the dry patch with his thumbnail. My skin does the same thing, she had said. How was that even possible?

Someone coughed behind him. Henrik turned to face the other person, a young man not much older than himself, with the same fair locks, though the face was thinner, and the eyes dull with fatigue.
“Hello father,” said Henrik calmly. “Did you rest well?”

The pale, young version of Lord Sigmund rolled his eyes as he slouched in an armchair next to his son. “I’ll survive another cycle, at least,” he sighed, rubbing his face. He glanced wryly at Henrik. “Be grateful I used my immortality to find a way so that you would not have to suffer as I do, my son.” He nodded to the party clothes Henrik still wore. “How was the festival?”

Henrik wagged his head. “It was all right. I’m not sure about why you had to have it—“

“Henrik!” Sigmund frowned.

“What, Father? What else do you want me to say?” Henrik threw up his hands. “Why did you ask for it now, of all times? Could it not have waited until you revived? You know how much I dislike these parties—and to have one without you nearby, well…” Henrik faltered awkwardly and resumed itching his palm. He needed more of the medic’s balm that would help remove the scales. Thinking of the scales reminded him of Nadia, and he heaved a heavy sigh.

Sigmund’s lips tightened. To anyone else, it would be more than a little unnerving to see one’s parent appear so close in age to one’s child—but Henrik had grown up knowing that this was as much an effect of the “Drakistos Curse” as the appearance of scales on his skin. Sigmund would always emerge from isolation appearing as young and hearty as the day upon which he had inherited the curse, and after a while, he would age rapidly until he looked the part of Henrik’s father—but by then, it would be nearly time for him to isolate himself once again. Artists and stylists alike had done their best to produce paintings and alter Lord Sigmund’s appearance to match the expectations of his subjects, but recently they had found it easier to simply hide His Lordship from view, to let his reputation produce the desired effect.

He surveyed his son with a wise gleam in his eye. “I know that sigh,” he said. “You did meet someone, at last! Tell me of her!”

Henrik cringed at his father’s boyish interest. “Father—was that the whole reason for the festival? I was wondering why there were so many ladies flocking about! It was miserable!” Had it not been for Nadia, that is, added his psyche.

His father noticed, and the dark eyebrows danced. “Except…” Lord Sigmund prompted.

Henrik smirked. “Except for one girl I met—Nadia. I happened to be passing near the gate when she gave her name, so I vouched for her because her name sounded familiar. You once knew a woman named Nadia, didn’t you, Father?” Sigmund didn’t answer right away, so Henrik finally turned away from the window and looked at him. “Father?”

Sigmund sat as still as stone, an expression etched into his face that seemed halfway between elation and terror. “Nadia?” He gasped. “Did she say where she came from? Did she mention anything about the curse?”

Henrik felt unease at his father’s sudden urgency. “Well, she said she’d been living in Kadros her whole life, but as far as mentioning the curse… I don’t understand it, Father, but she seemed to know about it, and told me that her skin produced the hard, dry scales too.”

“She had… scales?” Lord Sigmund repeated hollowly. “You saw them?”

“No,” Henrik shook his head. “I didn’t see any; but she didn’t seem repulsed by my scales, either. It was strange. I’d never met anyone quite like her before.”

Sigmund recovered himself, watching his son keenly. “Henrik, I want to ask something very important, and I want you to remember it to the best of your ability: was she wearing any particular piece of jewelry that stood out in your mind?”

Henrik only needed a moment to consider. “As a matter of fact,” he replied, “the only piece of jewelry she wore was a ring on her finger. Nothing else.”

Sigmund licked his lips eagerly. “And this ring,” he said, leaning closer to his son, “do you remember what it looked like? Did it, perhaps, feature a dragon?”

“I don’t quite…” A moment after he began speaking, Henrik recalled the sight of Nadia’s ring, as she twisted it nervously while they talked. “Yes! I believe it did,” he answered his father. “A dragon clutching a fire-red gem in its claws, almost in the same manner as our family crest. Say!” He snapped his fingers and stared at his father in astonishment. “Does this mean she is somehow connected with our family, after all?”

Connected?” Lord Sigmund bounded to his feet. “Henrik, unless by some miracle there is another woman named Nadia with a ring just like the one you’ve described, this may be the very woman destined to lift our family’s curse!

Itching palm forgotten, Henrik joined his father on his feet. “The Dragon-Marked one? I never knew!”

“Quickly,” Lord Sigmund beckoned his son as he walked out of the room and toward the stairs. The party would be ending by now, and they needed to find Sir Travis. “Tell me everything you know about her, Henrik. Did she tell you where in Kadros she lived?”

Henrik furiously tried to recall every bit of their conversation. “She said it was her first official function, and that I would not have seen her around the Piazza much—no!” He thumped a nearby table with his fist. “She didn’t tell me anything about where she lived!”

Sigmund paced to keep up with his whirling brain. “But if this was her first function, and she met someone she could relate to—the governor’s son, no less—then perhaps she might be enticed to show her face a second time…” He stopped and snapped his fingers. “That’s it!” The spry, young Sigmund raced down the hallway to his stately study. “Where’s Travis?” he muttered, half to himself as he gave no indication that he was still addressing his son. A passing servant caught the comment and its urgency, and immediately set off to carry the message. “We need more posters, and we need an official letter to go out to everyone who entered the grounds yesterday!”

Henrik caught up with his father in the doorway of his study. The sight of the young man racing around his father’s things—so different that the stately, mature magistrate that watched them from the painted portrait against the wall—never failed to send a shiver down his spine. What would he be without this curse? The young man shook his head.
“What are you thinking, father? Why do we need so many letters?”

Sigmund was already penning the first draft, which the scribes would copy. “A letter mentioning the Ring—of course no one would think of it until now! The Dragon is back—it could have been in someone’s possession this whole time, and this could have happened years ago, but we couldn’t be sure until the Dragon returned—the bastard!” Sigmund swore as in his haste, he let several large blots of ink drip onto the words he had already written.

Sir Travis approached the doorway. “You sent for me, sir?” He glanced briefly at Henrik, as if to remind himself that at least one of these youths experienced time appropriately.

“Come in!” Sigmund beckoned to him. “I need an announcement to go out to the visiting vendors and guests—the Festival has been extended for one more night.”

Henrik felt like a dog watching the doors of his kennel close. “But father! You promised it would be one night only!”

“That was before you went off and met the one person who could be our salvation!” Sigmund snapped. “Now, we’ll give them one day to produce the Ring, and if that fails, then we must hope that your good manners and charm will entice her to come out to the Festival again.” Sigmund grabbed his son by the shoulders, the gleam in his eye testifying his true age, in spite of the youthfulness of his face. “Henrik, this is the day we’ve been waiting for—don’t you want to be free of this curse?”

Henrik nodded emphatically. “I do, Father.” No more ointments, no more itchy, dry scales! “I’ll do what you ask.”

Sigmund smiled and gave him a light, genial cuff. “That’s my boy! Inform the servants that the house must be re-decorated—and get some rest! Your night has lasted long enough, and I’ve had enough rest for the both of us. We can’t afford to lose a moment—or this curse might remain for another century!”

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 17

Prompt: "You come from a family of highly respected heroes. All three of your big brothers are known as Powerhouses, but you rarely see them since they're always saving the world. One day, you realize that the only way to see all of your brothers is to become a villain. Turns out, you're better at it than you thought, and family dinners suddenly become the most amusing time of day."

#17: "The Legacy of Heroes"

What's it like being the offspring of two of the greatest generation of superheroes ever to save the Earth (and several alternates)? Let me tell you.
My father is Dynamo. With just a touch, he could tap into the volatility of any substance, superheating or exploding it on contact. That also meant he was, himself, impervious to heat, pressure, or any kind of shrapnel. My mother is Vitessa--She has the power to manipulate natural elements.
When Dynamo and Vitessa announced their engagement, the world collectively lost its shit. It was all anyone would ever talk about, people making predictions about how long the relationship would last, then posting "HASHTAG RELATIONSHIP GOALS" on every picture of my mother and father together. They were the world's Number 1 Cute Couple. People wouldn't stop reposting their engagement photos. After the wedding, things kind of simmered down as Dynamo and Vitessa balanced out their new relationship with their function as international superheroes.
Then when Dynamo announced that Vitessa was expecting their first child, interest resurged. Speculation ran wild as to what kind of combinations of powers the kid would have, since a union between two different superpowers had never happened before.
As it turned out, a child of two superheroes could still develop powers that were as unique to him as the individual powers of his parents.

By the age of three, James could punch through walls and lift cars.
Vitessa announced the birth of their second child, John, who wasn't even toilet trained before his ability manifested: telekinesis and teleportation. He could go anywhere and move anything with a thought.
By the time their third son, Joseph, manifested his powers of weather manipulation, it became clear that the three of them would be inseparable, and they were all ready at a fairly young age to take up Dynamo's mantle and continue the family legacy in their own right. They were known as The Powerhouses, and they each took on new Superhero names: Basher, Blink, and Billow.

Everyone was so caught up in the wonder and glory of it all, that hardly anyone noticed the announcement of a fourth child--me.

You'd think there would be a whole new swell of interest, since I was the only girl after these three hulking boys--but no. Even my powers seemed destined to go unnoticed. I had telepathy, of a particularly potent sort: I could make someone think or feel how I wanted them to think or feel, and I had the charisma to even tame wild animals to my will. I could alter someone's perception of me, so that I could talk straight to their faces for hours, and when I walked away, they wouldn't even remember what I looked like.

Did it get me any attention? Did anyone think it was cool? By the time I was self-aware enough to know what was going on, my parents were used to feeling a certain way around me, and they had long since took that to mean I didn't have any powers at all.
Of course, by then my brothers had established themselves as an unstoppable and inseparable unit. They were the ones the nations called when there was trouble, and they were so good at what they did that the world had no need for anyone else--least of all the Powerhouses' Little Sister.

So naturally, I did what any woman with inexhaustible charisma and absolutely no opposition would do in my situation: I tallied my strengths, took stock of my abilities, found my niche, and exploited it for all it was worth.

Which brings us to today, one of the monthly family dinners we would have, the one time my brothers would deign to set aside their superhero duties and give mom the attention she deserved for raising them, while also letting Dad live vicariously through their escapades.

Jim arrived first, careful to punch the reinforced gong over the gate that my parents had set up, after he broke the front door, shoved the doorbell through to the mudroom, and frightened my mom so badly when he just walked into the house "unannounced" that a giant beanstalk took over the family room and ruined dinner. The crashing metal absorbed and redistributed his powers, so that he could enter the house without crushing it.

"Mom? Dad?" His booming voice resounded through the house. "I'm home!"

I sauntered downstairs, giving him a shy grin. He had Dad's chiseled physique and stark-blonde hair that he kept gelled until it was stiff. He gave me the dashing one-hundred-watt smile that was basically the only way he could do it anymore. "Hey, Little Sis! How are things?"

I smiled. "Things are good, Jim. How is your life?"

He laughed and thrust his hands into the reinforced pockets of his jeans, his pecs and biceps nearly bursting out of the red t-shirt he wore. "That's going to have to wait till dinner," he reminded me. "Where's Mom?"

She came out then, holding a bowl while the salad practically manifested itself under her influence. "I'm here. Oh Jim, it's good to see you! Glad you could make it!"

He smiled again. "Of course I would! It's family dinner--and no crisis is more important than family!"

Mom chuckled, but then her face soured and she waved toward him. "Shut the door," she muttered quickly, "I smell your brother coming."

Jim just walked through the front room toward Dad's "man cave" at the back of the house as if he hadn't heard. I shut the door just in time to feel a heavy bolt of lighting slam into it, followed by a cascade of hail. I waited until I heard the doorbell ring, and opened it to behold my brother Joe standing there, tucking in the tails of his bright-printed shirt, while no less than three rainbows spread across a clear blue sky.

He smirked at me. "Did I get him? Please tell me I got him."

I shook my head. "Mom felt you coming and got me to close the door."

"Awww!" He whined. "I knew I shouldn't have taken the tornado! But I was in France and it was too far for a simple windstorm..."

"France?" I tilted my head and kept my voice casual. "What was in France?"

The smirk disappeared. "France? Who said anything about--I mean... Nothing. Just some, ah, routine... superhero... stuff." He fumbled over his words, fidgeting with his collar. "Mom need any help?"

I shrugged. "You could ask."

"I think I will."

Dad and Jim came out of the man cave, deep in conversation. "...And then I tossed him across two pyramids, and finally, the flames went out, and I could get my hands around his neck."

"You don't say! Man, I've been wanting to take a crack at the guy for years!"

"Well, sorry to disappoint, Dad--he's confessed everything he's ever done by now, so that threat's been neutralized."

"Lucky! It's not every day a hero gets to go up against a Pyro--and win!"

Jim ground his fists against each other, generating a wave of heat we could all feel. "That's why they call me a Powerhouse," he gushed.

Mom interposed with a grin. "Speaking of power... How are the steaks coming along, Dearest?" She nailed my dad with a look.

Dad practically melted in front of her. "Uh, just about ready!" He scurried out the back door, to the barbecue. Mom scoffed and started setting the rest of the food in the middle of the table set with plates.

I peeked out the side window. Dad hauled the frozen steaks out of the ice box, set them on the grill, and lit the coals with flames from his own hands. I saw him watch it heat for a moment, then--after checking over his shoulders without seeing anyone--he touched each steak and it instantly turned from red and ice-crusted to a nice, toasty brown.

"Vanessa!" Mom called from the kitchen. "Count the places at the table, I think we're short one!"
I did, and counted five plates. Of course we were short. I pulled an extra place setting out of the cabinets, just as Dad came waltzing back into the house. "Meat's ready!"

"Let's eat!" Jim cried happily. We all shuffled into the dining room.

"What about Blink?" Joe asked.

Mom sighed. "Late again, I suppose." She gestured to the living chandelier over the table, and the phosphorescent bulbs glowed as brightly as electric lights. We sat around the table, leaving a space open for Jack, whenever he cared to arrive. The empty plate happened to fall between Joe and I.

"Can I get the rolls?" he asked.

I went to hand him the basket, when another pair of hands intercepted it.

Jack--his red hair darker than ever, almost auburn--grinned like an amateur doing his first party trick as he appeared in the chair and snatched a roll as if he had been there the whole time.

"Mmm, don't mind if I do," he murmured. "Food looks great, Mom!" He glanced around as if he expected us to say something. One of us always did--but then again, he always did the same thing every time, and by now it was getting old.

At any rate, Dad could start the usual conversation, now that all of his sons were present. "How's the world-saving business these days?"

"As safe as it ever was!" Jack commented wryly.

"You and Mom left some pretty big shoes to fill, if you don't mind my saying, Dad," mused Joe.

Jim munched on his steak and said nothing.

Mom noticed. "Is everything all right?"

My oldest brother--and the recognized leader of the Powerhouses--gave a grim sigh. "We were gaining the upper hand on the Chaos Brotherhood, until Nemesis managed to get his hands on the Orb of Saint-Marceau," he confessed.

"The Doomsday device?" Dad gasped. "What would a villain like Nemesis want with it?"

"That's what I'd like to know!" Joe grunted. "I mean, we thought he was just another overlord bent on world-domination--but then why steal a Doomsday device that is basically a reboot on reality?"

"Maybe he doesn't know that it would kill him, too?" Mom mused.

Jack laughed. "That's impossible! Nemesis might not be noble or altruistic, but he's definitely smart enough to know what he wants."

"And that's what's hard," Jim went on, a faint whine creeping into his voice. "Every time we think we know what Nemesis is up to, he changes the game, as if this new thing is what he had been planning the whole time! He's got layers upon layers of shadow-puppet organizations that we haven't even begun to crack, and each time we get close, it's like he knows we're coming and already has contingencies in place for everything he does."

"Not this time, though," Jack declared staunchly, shoving a large wad of potatoes into his mouth.

"This time?" Dad asked, so thoroughly engrossed in the conversation that he wasn't even eating anymore. "What's different?"

"We have something that will up the ante," Joe said. "A secret weapon, if you will."

Mom raised an eyebrow. "Another piece of technology? I would think you'd have tried them all by now. Everything so far has been hacked by one or another of Nemesis' allies."

"I wouldn't call them allies, though," Jim mused bitterly. "Allies is too strong a word for the way he runs his network. Minions, more like. But don't worry; this particular weapon cannot be hacked."

"What is it?" Dad voiced the very question I had been thinking.

Joe grinned. "An Oracle--a girl in France who has visions of the past and the future."

Dad looked puzzled. "Not the present?"

"No, ironically enough," the youngest Powerhouse answered. "She's blind from birth."

"And sometimes she has trouble discerning whether the vision she sees is the future or the past," Jack noted. "But we have a cross-referencing team who can usually search the past, and if it's nowhere there, then we know that she is seeing the future."

Jim grinned. "And if we compile enough future-visions, we can predict when and where Nemesis might strike next."

"Wow!" Dad's eyes shone with pride. "To think that my sons will have a part in unmasking the identity of the worlds greatest criminal kingpin!"

"Oh you bet!" Joe waved his fork emphatically. "If anybody's perfectly suited to taking down Nemesis, it has got to be the Powerhouse Boys!"

"HOO-RAH!" Jack and Jim pumped their fists in the air, causing a small explosion to rock the room and extinguish the chandelier, plunging the room into darkness.

"Boys!" Mom complained. "How many times do I have to tell you, no extraneous use of powers at the table!"

In the scramble for another light source, I took the opportunity to excuse myself. Mom always made us keep our phones in the office during family dinners. She said it encouraged us to talk more--but I had a very important message to send. I selected the group text containing a select few of my most important friends.

Well, friends was a strong word. "Minions", I guess you would call them.

"Big News!" I typed. "Live Package Located France. Female. Blind. Need Verification Before We Can Proceed." After a moment of weighing the cost, I signed off, "-Nemesis"

Like I said: it's a niche, it suited my powers, and I exploited it. Besides, who says a girl in a family of heroes can't become the "world's greatest criminal kingpin"?

I kind of liked that moniker. I'd have to work it into an evil monologue at some point.

Did you enjoy the story? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Upstream Updates: September Edition!

I realize this post comes much later in the month than I ever intended... Very sorry! I've tried to update all the sections, as I accomplished quite a bit more than I initially thought I would. Let's get to it!


The Last Inkweaver

We have arrived at Chapter 20! Yep, there have been FOUR chapters since August's Upstream Update--I think it's fair to say that I am well and truly FLYING through this manuscript! After Aberon, Callista & Co. arrived in Criansa, a small town with a BIG secret! Fun Fact: "Criansa" is a name I saved from my early days as an after-school tutor; there was a girl whose name was "Crianca" (with the second "c" pronounced as /s/) and I loved it so much that I have now immortalized it in this novel. Criansa is also the place where they receive their third "gift" (the first two being the sword and shield), and Callista finds the motivation she needs to stop pining after any sense of normalcy, and just welcome the mystery of where the Tapestry will take them. Also, it's where the fantasy of what she wanted her relationship with Matthias to be ends, and hopefully they can start rebuilding their friendship on truth and companionship. So yeah, MASSIVE turning points all around, and I think we've officially hit the halfway point in our "Hero's Journey," so lots more fun and games in store for these four friends! Next up, Ronni the bounty hunter, new and vastly improved from Draft 1!

A Writer's Tale: The Series

Yes, it is now a thing! Just this week, I found the wherewithal to finish Book 2, "The Commander's Courage", which was my fun little space adventure, and now it's on to Book 3, "The Sheriff's Showdown", which takes place in the Wild West!

At least now Laura doesn't have to feel like she's on another planet... just another time period. What can a simple, introverted author who rarely likes traveling (though she claims to "dream" of traveling all sorts of exotic places!) do against a rowdy band of thieves and gunmen who continue to terrorize a small Western town through force and violence? Stay tuned!

Flashes of Inspiration

We've hit 16 flash pieces! I will say that No.s 15 and 20 are Parts 1 and 2 of a really exciting idea that kind of just flew together on a spur of the moment--and meanwhile, I need to hurry up and finish some of the ones in between that I kept "saving" because I would hit a snag or I would change my mind about them... But you'll like them once I finish, I am sure! Meanwhile, I want to know (if you're in the business of answering questions on a blog post!) What's been your favorite Flash of Inspiration so far?


Things are still progressing on that front--though viewership has seriously slacked, it seems. I'm on the sequel to my first Grimm fanfiction, FAIR TRADE--but somehow it feels like Wattpad readers aren't as excited about it as the FanFictionDotNet (as it's affectionately spelled out when one doesn't want to link it; a.k.a. "FFNet") readers were when I initially posted it. Also... If you're interested in reading A WRITER'S TALE--and not just the original, short version I have here on The Upstream Writer, but the Series that is what I am currently writing, then you'll want to follow that hyperlinked, capitalized text to the Wattpad story where I'm posting basically the whole thing.
Meanwhile, can I interest you in perhaps one of the 25 other books that I've posted over the last 3 years, that maybe you haven't seen? That's the beauty of having these monthly updates, I think--back when these were originally uploaded, I didn't even think about letting people know here on my blog! Well, no more! I'll just list all the stories I currently have on Wattpad and let you all have at it!

<> THE DAY OF RECKONING <> SINCE WE FOUND SERENITY (A Firefly Fanfiction) <>  <> PROTECTIVE CUSTODY<> POTTERLOCK DOWN (A Harry Potter/Sherlock Crossover) <> <>THE TELMAR TRILOGY: Vol. 1: The Legend of TelmarVol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar

*****Special Announcements!!*****


Go >HERE< to Preorder!

October 21 is the release date for yet another anthology I'm featured in--and this time, it's Heartsong, the story that started from a random prompt I came across, and it ballooned into a short story I serialized here on this blog--I cannot wait for you to read it in print! You definitely want to get this anthology--a couple of the participants are authors whom I have reviewed before; it's truly an honor to have my name listed alongside theirs! I'm really enjoying this whole business of short-story publishing; it's simple, the groups have been great, and it's a LOT of fun! Short stories really do give me a sense of productivity while I'm still plugging away at The Last Inkweaver.


October is sometimes designated "Blog-Tober", so me and the other members of Bookish Blog Hops are coming together once again to share book recommendations, favorite characters, and so much more! Since it's going to begin next Monday, I'll compile and official "launch" post (with all the questions and participant blog links) then, and you can revisit it all month long to follow the shenanigans! I can't wait!

Word Count 
Alas! This month, I suffered a really bad setback at the very start, since starting work at a new location was pretty stressful, I found my drive to write a bit stymied, so I am phenomenally behind on my goal. Here's hoping that progress on "The Last Inkweaver" will help make a difference, and I've even resorted to seeing if I can't finish "The Amazon Triangle", just to get all the words in before the end of the month!


In recent weeks, I've acquired some furnishings... namely, a small swivel armchair that is oh so comfy, which in turn inspired me to take this pink shelf that I was trying to install unobtrusively in my closet (but the Command fasteners didn't work out and I wasn't ready to commit to using screws just yet...), paint it PURPLE (because that's the accent color I've chosen for my room) and install it under the window for an extended Indie Bookshelf, so I don't have to worry about cramming books on the top shelf of my computer desk any more! And it makes an adorable little reading nook! Very nice for quietly humming through the many books I have yet to read!

That being said, a recent trip to the library netted me a few books I've been eyeing for some time--a new Anthony Horowitz book The Word Is Murder, a shining example of self-insertion done in a very non-aggrandizing manner! Very entertaining, and what a twist at the end! Meanwhile I'm still trying hard to plug away at The Sword of Shannara--it's picking up a little more in the pace, but I still find myself skimming a lot... those tiny Mass Market paperbacks are hard to hold when they're so thick, too! I'm making progress on Uncommon Type by none other than Tom Hanks--and it really helps to hear his warm, inviting voice reading his words in my head. UP NEXT though, I find I have to prioritize library books, or (as in the case of Death Masks by Jim Butcher) they come due before I've even read them--and it does me no good to see that pesky designation of DELINQUENT when I'm trying to check out new holds that have suddenly come in! So Tom and Terry are going to just have to wait while I enjoy A Sliver of Stardust by Marissa Burt, Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and The Fallen by David Baldacci!

On the ebook front, I've finished my 99th book! Chasing Rabbits by Erin Bedford is a twist on "Alice in Wonderland", and it's quite twisty, dark, and wonderfully entertaining! Now on to Book 100, an honor I've reserved for a very special book I cannot wait to read, Painter Place by Pamela Poole!

Whew! That's another month down! See you all in October! And as always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 6

Part 6

Stella kept her eyes fixed on her hands as she stepped through. Surely everyone was staring at her; surely she would be found out in a moment—was this all an elaborate ruse to allow her in the gate so that the Drakistos family could have her arrested and thrown into the prison they surely must have under such a grand house?

The young man bowed low, prompting Stella to curtsey. He offered his hand, and she placed hers delicately atop it.

“Forgive my intrusion,” he said. “I just couldn’t help catching your name, and feeling as if I’d heard it somewhere before. Have you been to many functions here in the Piazza, Miss Nadia?”

Stella could finally raise her eyes and stare straight ahead of them, as they headed through the vast maze of hedgerows leading to the garden behind the mansion. The idea of actually turning and looking him in the eye was still too mortifying at the moment.

“You would not have seen me much around this Piazza,” she answered truthfully. “And this is my first function. But,” she went on, before he could carry on with his conversation as if they were equals, “it is I who must be forgiven, because although you were fortunate enough to overhear my name and speak up on my behalf, I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.”

He stopped walking, as they stood under the waving branches of a magnolia tree. He gave a soft chuckle. “That’s hardly surprising, as my reputation tends to be more familiar throughout Kadros than my face. I’m Henrik Drakistos—Lord Sigmund’s son.”

Stella felt the shock ripple through her, and the shame crowded in on her worse than ever. “Henrik?” She squeaked, finally looking up at him. His emerald-green eyes stared straight into her, almost as if he could see right through her magical disguise. A man like him, used to the customs and expectations of high society, would surely suspect one such as her right away, if this went any further.

He gave a light chuckle. “The very same. Would you permit me to escort you to the banquet, Miss Nadia?”

The banquet? Stella’s heart began to pound even harder. There would be all the people there, and doubtless everyone would be watching Don Henrik, and they might even se her—Agatha might see her! “Er, no thank you,” she responded. “You’re very kind, but I’m afraid I’ve already eaten, so there really is no point in going—“ She stopped herself. Why was she correcting him? Who did she think she was? “Erm, what I mean is… With all due respect, sir…”

“Please,” The young man waved a hand. “Call me Henrik; tonight, I think my family will understand if I waive the use of titles.”

“Henrik, then.” Stella felt her anxiousness gradually ebb to a level of only mild tension. He was certainly more affable than Agatha or Jacintha would be in such a situation! “If you don’t mind, the only thing I would really like to do tonight is—“

“Dance?” Henrik gestured up the path, to the side of the house with windows down every wall. Faint strains of music rose above the babble of the guests. “There is a marvelous ensemble from Vienna tonight, and the floor is pretty clear.”

“No.” Stella shook her head. Her scars might be invisible, but what if the Ring didn’t hide the feel of them from his touch? “I heard there would be fireworks, and I’ve never seen those.”

“Ah!” Henrik nodded, pausing to point her down a smaller path that led toward the gardens lit by colored paper lanterns and torches. “Well in that case, I had better take you to the best place to view them. It’s perfect.”

Stella bit her lip as she followed him, not wanting to seem reluctant as they walked past more and more people who nodded respectfully to Henrik and stared at her with undisguised envy and curiosity. “Not too many people, I hope?”

Henrik laughed aloud at this. “Miss Nadia, I am getting the distinct impression that you are not one for being seen by the public eye!” He glanced at her with a tilted eyebrow. “Though if that were true, I am not sure how far you expected to go being ignored in a dress as stunning as that! But, to answer your question, you need not fear. Unless by some bizarre twist of fate others may have discovered it, we should have the place all to ourselves. This way!”

He led her down the garden path a ways, and from there, back up toward the top of the slope upon which the mansion stood. Just off the path, Stella saw a large, round boulder that was relatively flat on top, and level with the grass knoll above them.

Henrik pointed to the boulder. “There it is. We shall be above the heads of all the crowd when they gather on the patio down there,” he pointed toward the gardens, to the paved area that was already brimming with people, “and yet this particular place isn’t very well accessible from the house, so we can have our own, unobstructed view of the show happening there in the sky,” he indicated a patch of stars above their heads.

Stella noted the height of the boulder, much taller than her head, and bit her lip. The uneven surface of the boulder did seem to provide a bit of a path up to the top, but would it be ladylike to clamber up a stone in this manner?

“How are we going to get to the top?” she asked.

Henrik had already stepped up onto the lowest protrusion. “It’s easy,” he said, reaching out to grab the rock. “I’ll climb up, then I’ll reach down to help you up.” He glanced at her warily. “Unless you’re wearing those fancy shoes that could be damaged by the rock—“

“No,” Stella responded quickly, not wanting to show the muddy, worn, leather slippers she concealed under her gilded skirts. “I think I will be safe enough.”

She watched Henrik make his way up the side of the boulder, noting where he placed his foot, and whether it would be wide enough for her to step on. Once he reached a wider spot near the top, Henrik turned around and extended his hand to her.
“Now it’s your turn, Nadia,” he coaxed.

Stella took his hand and worked her way up the side of the rock. After a few steps, there wasn’t a handhold to grab, forcing her to reach forward and entrust her entire weight to the young man. At the worst possible moment, her foot slipped.

“Henrik!” she yelped.

“I’ve got you, Nadia!” he said, tightening his grip and attempting to secure his stance. Balance proved tricky, and his hand gripped a stone with many edges. Stella saw him wince as the sharp points dug into his hand, but he didn’t let go until she reached a secure position. Together, they worked their way up to the level top of the boulder. Henrik flopped onto the stone surface with a sigh.
“There,” he declared breathlessly. “We made it.”

Stella smiled, brushing the tiny bits of gravel off her hands. She saw Henrik grimace as he clenched his wounded hand into a fist. “Oh, is your hand all right?”

He noticed her watching, and tried to hide it. “It’s fine; no harm done! I bet it’s not even bleeding.” To demonstrate his point, he opened his palm and surveyed the damage.

Stella peeked over his shoulder and gasped. Rather than a series of red cuts and punctures, as one might expect to see, Henrik’s hand now sported a thick white patch of dead, leathery skin, spreading over almost his entire palm.

He tensed at her gasp and hid the hand away. “It’s nothing; this is normal—“

Stella’s cheeks flushed to see how uncomfortable he felt that she had seen such a hideous deformity. Oh, if he only knew! “Henrik, you don’t have to be ashamed of it.” She reached over to take the injured hand gently. With soft, tender fingertips, she traced over the dry, leathery scales of skin. “My skin does the same thing.”

“It does?” Henrik’s response rang with incredulity. Stella raised her eyes and found him staring at her with a mix of awe and confusion. “I thought it was just my family’s curse.”

“Your family?” Stella caught her breath. Did that mean she was a Drakistos? Then how did she end up so poor, while the Family was so rich? Was it possible that Henrik might not be a blood relation to the Family? Regardless, she did feel a surge of relief--if another person with the same affliction existed, then her ugliness could not possibly stem from a personal flaw. “What do you mean? Are there others with the same condition?” Perhaps she could get some answers! Henrik certainly didn’t look as scarred as she was—was it possible that she didn’t have to be this way?

Henrik shook his head, dashing her hopes. “No; only my father and I have it. It is why my father never remarried after my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. Something about the curse only affects him and his offspring, not the other descendants of our ancestor, Chief Gabbaldur Drakistos.” He slipped his hand out of hers and gave her his other hand, the unscarred one, to hold. “And now, I suppose you claim to have it?” He smirked. “Impossible! You’re so beautiful, I just don’t see how you could ever have these scales and scars.”

Stella’s heart gave a wrench; of course he couldn’t see it! While she wore the Ring, he couldn’t see any of her scars—and yet she couldn’t risk taking it off, either, lest her disfigurement repulse him. “You can’t see the places I have my scars,” she said, dressing the lie in a measure of truth.

Henrik tilted an eyebrow skeptically as he ran his fingers through his tousled, dark hair. “You expect me to believe that you, a complete stranger, somehow inherited the same curse that has afflicted my family for generations?”

Stella let out a nervous giggle. “Everyone in Kadros is related somehow,” she said. “Perhaps I might be a long-lost cousin twelve times removed.”

Henrik opened his mouth to respond, but just then a terrific crash drowned out all other sound, and a cluster of tiny red sparks illuminated the night sky.

Stella stared up at the sky, a mixture of thrill and terror rushing through her veins. The fireworks had begun! Golden flowers, blue-green showers, crystalline towers exploding in red fireballs thundered over their heads. Stella gasped and clutched Henrik’s scaly, rough hand, drinking in the beauty of this moment. She looked beautiful, she wore a pretty dress, she sat with someone who enjoyed her company, and most of all—she could be the sort of person she always wanted to be, without worrying what others would think.

All too soon, the thunderous spectacle came to an end, and the only gleaming things left in the sky were the tiny stars and the pale moon. The two of them sat there, basking in the memory of such a wonderful experience.

After a minute, Henrik coughed, and staggered to his feet again before offering his hand to Stella. “Well, those were your fireworks,” he said. “Now, will you do me the honor of accompanying me into the ballroom for some dancing, Miss Nadia?”

Dancing! Stella’s heart raced. Still heady with the excitement of the fireworks, she envisioned the two of them whirling about the ballroom floor, the golden dress glinting in the lamplight. She smiled and took his hand in answer.

Henrik led her closer to the high, arched windows, the gleaming, vaulted ceilings, and the buzz and titter of conversation. Stella caught herself wanting to duck and shrink back as people stared at her, or glanced and gestured in her direction while they talked—but the feel of Henrik’s arm over hers, the sweeping of her skirts over the floor, and the fingers entwined with her hand reminded her what they truly saw, and she lifted her chin, ignoring everyone. She wasn’t Stella, the servant girl of Lady Jacintha; she was Nadia Stevens, mysterious visitor appearing "out of nowhere," just like the other Nadia in her dream. Stella might not belong among these people, but Nadia fit right in.

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