Saturday, May 30, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 17

Part 17

Sleep might have made me smile at the very beginning, but once my subconscious took over, I tossed and turned amid fits of nightmares in which I was running through an endless maze with a ferocious monster at my heels, or I had to stand by and watch as one friend or another slowly drowned in quicksand, and no amount of effort on my part could rescue them... At one point, I ran up to The Bean in Millennium Park and it suddenly turned into an amorphous blob of quicksilver and swallowed me up... I awoke to the incessant and varied squawks and twittering of strange birds, and the rumbling roar of generators just a hundred yards away.

Jordyn was already up and dressed, and rubbing some taming product into her thick, fluffy hair as she parted it into two large poms behind her head. She grinned at me as I rubbed the sleep out of my skin.

"Rise and shine!" She chirped. "We have some digging to do!"

"Uuuuggggghhh...." I moaned, dragging my body out of the sleeping bag. I dug a patterned tee shirt and some bermuda-length shorts out of my bag and began changing out of my pajamas. As my brain regained focus, I forgot every single disturbing image I had dreamed about, except the one moment that stood out more clearly from the rest. At the very last instant before I emerged into wakefulness, I had clearly seen my mother's face, her dark eyes wide with worry. I could almost feel her hand gripping my wrist tightly as her voice intoned the words, "He's here."

He's here. The demon is here on the island, my thoughts clarified her words. Whether my mom truly had the ability to reach into my dreams and communicate, or perhaps that was my own sane brain trying to confirm the fear that had been brewing underneath all my thoughts ever since we left Chicago, I couldn't really tell. One or the other seemed more likely, depending on which truth I felt like believing!

I slipped on some socks and athletic shoes I used for hiking, and stepped out of the tent into the bright morning sunshine. The archaeological crew all milled around the camp, one group moving out to the trail leading to the dig site while another group gravitated toward the canteen area and the meal tents.

"Good morning!" a cheery voice greeted me, and I saw Alexandros smiling and waving as he walked by.

I waved back, but then the crunch of footsteps behind me jerked my attention toward them.

Professor Silver walked toward me, looking every bit the typical "city chaperone in the middle of nowhere", with his cactus-print polo, ridiculous cargo shorts, safari hat, and thick-soled hiking boots. He wore a grin like a kid about to enter an amusement park. "Ready to get going, Priscilla?"

I finished sweeping my hair up into a loose ponytail. "As ready as I'll ever be!" I said.

The professor gestured toward the canteen. "The guys--or at least Tony and Kayce--already had breakfast with the first shift because they were really excited to start exploring. What say we get in line to grab some food first, and then we'll discuss schedule and meeting points."

"Meeting?" Jordyn asked, coming out of the tent with a book bag slung over her shoulder.

Professor Silver ran a thumb around the rim of his hat. "Yes--this is still an academic excursion, so there are classwork assignments, discussion groups that we'll have each day, just so I can do my due diligence in keeping track of what you all are learning on this trip. We can arrange times within the existing schedule, in the morning and afternoon for the six of us to meet as a group, to have that discussion, do a little debriefing--that sort of thing."

Jordyn and I shared a glance, and she rolled her eyes. Of course college would find a way to work in a bit of humdrum schoolwork into a massive exploration into a landform in the middle of a foreign ocean!

We fell in with the group of hungry workers, feeling like the soft, entitled city kids they probably thought we were. Derrick was already seated at a table with a plate in front of him, though it was clear he was doing much more talking than eating, as the other shift had already cleared out but his plate was still half-full.

I finished my quick scan of the area, noticing Athanasios conducting a similar survey from the shade of the awning just beyond the artifact storage trailer. I tried giving him a smile and a wave when we made eye contact. I saw his crossed arms relax slightly, and he even took a few steps toward us, like he wanted to say something, but his eyes connected with something over my shoulder and he stopped. Professor Silver nudged me forward in line, and I stole a glance over my other shoulder.

Herrin, the commando from the beach access, stood beside the trees at the head of that same trail, watching the whole camp--but especially our group--with a cold glare in his eyes.

He's here, my thoughts repeated, and the cold realization washed over me: if indeed the demon was real, did he have a human form, like my divine parents--or was he possessing someone already on the trip? How could I know the difference?

"Yo, Pris!" Jordyn called from way ahead of me. She was staring back with a face full of concern. "You doing all right?"

I shook off my worried thoughts and trudged up to the table. The choices were bacon, sausage, and pancakes, or oatmeal. I picked oatmeal and loaded it up with the mix-ins.

"I'm okay," I said to Jordyn as she dished herself up from the opposite side of the table. "Just a little slow waking up, that's all." Whether the demon chose human identity or human possession, the mere fact that he could very well be on the island meant that I would need to be very careful who I talked to, and how much information I divulged.

We all sat down at an empty table, and I saw Athanasios walking over.

"Greetings, travelers!" He said in a boisterous tone. While he and the professor exchanged pleasantries, I snuck a glance over to the edge of the camp. Herrin had moved on, and the guard that took his place had no interest in us. Was that why Athanasios felt safe to approach?

"Are there any questions you would like to ask?" The dig chief prompted, looking around the table. "Anything you would like to know before we get going?"

"I've got a question," Derrick said, sitting down to join us at our table. He'd already disposed of his dishes, but he was still licking syrup off his fingers. "Are you really still looking for the temple, or have you found it? I noticed nobody was really talking about it yesterday."

"The temple?" Athanasios rubbed his mustache. "It is not a secret thing--we are looking for the temple, and the portion of land we have uncovered already is more of the communal village the worshippers stayed in--much pottery there, and shards of cloth, even some skeletons, bones and the like." He leaned in closer and his voice dropped to near-whisper. "The place these people want to find, though, is the actual place of worship used by the people--not just the statues they erected in honor of the gods, since we found the pedestals in a central location among the village houses, but the inner sanctuary, said to house all of the treasure dedicated to the gods over the generations of worship."

That got everybody's attention. I even felt a small tingle rush over my skin, raising goosebumps.

Professor Silver tilted his head curiously. "How much treasure are we talking, here?"

Athanasios shrugged. "There is no telling how much. The more powerful the gods, the more people could be persuaded to part with as much valuables as possible to appease them. Judging by the number and quality of coins we've already found, without discovering the literal sanctuary that was supposedly the resting place of the gods, where the ancient tabernacle was kept... we could be talking an entire room packed with the most valuable artifacts known to man." His voice dipped to a near whisper as he finished, "Whoever found this place would be the most powerful person to walk the earth."

Or most powerful demon, the voice in my head added.

"Hey guys!" A shout from Greg broke the transfixing energy of the moment. We all turned to see him waving from the middle of camp, dressed in a plain tee and khaki cargo shorts. "Ready to see the actual dig site?"

"We sure are!" Professor Silver responded. Our group dispersed to clear the table and gather around Greg.

Greg had Athanasios lead us down the dirt road rutted with tire tracks from ATVs running back and forth between the site and the camp. Athanasios pointed out different plants and landmarks to explain their historical and cultural significance. Some bends in the road had been flagged, and the dig chief explained that it wasn't so much due to the terrain, as it was the direction of the winds that buffeted the island. According to some legends, worshippers of the wind goddess Auraea believed that a breeze blowing on your left side was "unclean", so they took care to turn the very roads they walked on and frame the switchbacks across the precarious slopes so that the right side was more exposed than the left side. It felt a little awkward at times, but Jordyn did experiment with going off the beaten path a ways. She returned with surprise on her face.

"Wow, it might not have been originally intended for avoiding unstable ground, but it definitely feels that way now. The ground all around this path is really soft and would have required a lot of digging to shore it up enough for hundreds of people walking back and forth every day."

Athanasios glanced back as she said it, and I saw his eyebrows raise, and his expression seemed to indicate unintentional interest--but he said nothing and kept on walking.

"That's what Drea was saying the other day," Greg nodded his approval.

We came upon small groups of people working on things by the sides of the road.

"We must be getting close," Professor Silver remarked.

Greg swung off to the side and gestured further down the road, where the groups got bigger and thicker. We heard the rumble of an engine, and stepped to the shoulder just in time to let a loaded ATV down the narrow road.

"We are close," Athanasios confirmed. "The dig is just ahead."

"Greg! You're just in time!" a woman just opposite us called, waving as she did. Beside her, three men worked very carefully around a large stone with plenty of markings etched into its surface. It had been chipped in some places, and worn down in others, but most of the marks were there. The woman beamed proudly and wiped a dusty hand across her brow, leaving a rust-red streak. "Look what we found!"

The crew finished rolling the waist-high rock onto the road. The woman ran her fingers lightly over the surface. "A way-marker! We're headed in the right direction for sure!"

Greg rubbed his finger over it. "Wow, Laila--nice find!"

"Question from the back!" Derrick hollered, waving his hand in the air. "What's a way-marker?"

Jordyn scooted forward, her eyes wide. "It's a direction-finder, right? Way-markers were placed on important paths, as signals to stop and perform some kind of ritual at certain stages along the path, but mostly as route-markers in case the original path washed out, right?"

Laila nodded, tucking loose hairs up under the dingy ball cap she wore. "Yes, exactly--it totally makes sense that an island dedicated to the worship of wind and sea-storms would have measures in place to withstand the constant barrage of weather!"

Greg huffed as he helped the workers load the stone onto a pallet for easy access. "Yeah, except for the fact that weather on the Aegean Sea is relatively mild for most of the year!"

I leaned in close as Laila began copying down some strings of symbols from the rock's surface. I recognized some of the Greek letters, and a few symbols that I had definitely seen on the map of Fourtouna from Mom's office--just how close had these people gotten to whatever Mom and Dad wanted to hide?

Behind me, Jordyn piped up. "On the other hand, maybe there's something to the legends surrounding this island, after all--there was that freak storm that came out of a windy blue sky on our way here!"

I let out a gasp and tore my eyes away from peeking over Laila's shoulder, in case anybody happened to notice me--but they were all looking at Jordyn, especially Athanasios. I couldn't quite read his expression behind his bushy facial hair, but I had a sinking feeling it wasn't good.

"That's interesting," Greg mused, regarding the young geologist with an air of fascination. "A storm on your way? That would have been yesterday morning... We had no such dramatic weather shift here on the island."

Jordyn shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny, and she dipped her head, digging the toe of her shoe in the mud at her feet. "I dunno, I thought it was weird too."

"All done!" A machine beeped, and one of the workers gave Laila a hand-held scanner of some sort. She gestured to them. "Okay, you guys can put that back exactly where you found it. I'm going to take these scans back to base and see how much of it we can translate." She clutched the notebook and the scanner to her chest with a cheery grin. "I love my job!" she gushed.

Athanasios and Greg watched her fairly skipping back to camp, and then the dig chief turned back to us and nodded. "Shall we keep going?"

Professor Silver gestured onward. "Lead the way."

We moved down the dirt path, past more groups who were busy combing the area for more artifacts and evidence of the island's previous residents. I saw workers making heaps of tiny, dirty coins, a few digging out pottery shards, and still more of those "way-markers" and other stones bearing similar markings to the one Laila was translating even now.

Finally, Athanasios reached an abrupt ledge with plenty of caution tape strung on wooden stakes around it, and stopped. He gestured wide with his hands. "Behold--the Sacred Village of Fourtouna!"

The whole clearing was about the size of six city blocks, sectioned off into about ten squares within it, at various levels deep. Different groups worked around the remnants of crumbling walls denoting the dimensions of different houses arranged in lanes, where they were busily uncovering pottery--both whole pots and shards--and every so often, small pieces of shiny jewelry. One of the sections had a whole pile of various bone shards stacked next to it, awaiting their turn to be carted away to the cleaning station off to the side of the village site and identified, tagged, and packaged back at the camp.

Just like the map had shown us, I could see the trailheads marked on various paths out of the village and further into the jungle, with different colored flags.

"What are the different colors for?" I asked Athanasios.

He bobbed his head and rubbed his chin again. "The FRED team uses a different color for each new attempt at finding the path to the Temple. Each flag has a distance marked on it, saying how far they attempted to clear a path into the jungle before they encountered some difficulty that forced them to stop."

"What kind of difficulty are we talking?" Derrick wanted to know. "Like, they ran out of time? Or the path wasn't clear enough? Or--"

"Well," The burly dig chief rubbed his hands together. "Let me put it this way. The team who placed the white flag there," he pointed to one of the stakes, headed east into the jungle, "made it about five miles into the jungle when they encountered a nest of tree vipers. Three of the ten people bitten that day ended up dying by the time they made it back to the mainland."

"Vipers?" Jordyn gave a visible shudder. "Yikes!"

Athanasios nodded sagely. "The green flag there?" he pointed to a path directly across the village from our position. "I went with them--they had about six people and a map that promised to take them on a direct path to the Temple's position. We made it about an hour."

"What was it this time?" Professor Silver joked. "Spiders? Bats? Killer monkeys?"

Athanasios looked him straight in the eye, and there was no laughter. Only confusion, and fear. "To be perfectly honest with you, Professor, ever since that day, I have never been able to understand what exactly went wrong. Our vehicles had full tanks of gas when we left the village and started down the trail. One hour later, on the dot, both vehicles came to a dead stop. We could not move forward. We had to abandon our rides, and we attempted to push through on foot, but we couldn't make any headway through the jungle at all. We gave up trying after a dozen or so attempts to make it any further." His eyes lost focus, as the memory resurfaced. "We tried and tried, but nothing worked. It was as if we had run into a wall of some kind, an impassible barrier that we could not see or feel. We walked back to camp."

I stared down the shadowy trail, as if I had the ability to see the two ATVs still sitting in the middle of the trail. "What happened to those vehicles? Did you ever recover them?"

To our surprise, Athanasios nodded. "Oh yes! They brought a truck with a tow hitch, intending to drag the vehicles back for inspection, but as soon as they got both transports turned around and faced back toward the village, they started right back up again, like there wasn't anything wrong at all."

"What?" Derrick hooted. "How does that even happen?"

The Greek dig chief shook his head. "I cannot tell you."

Below us, a motor started up as a group of workers climbed into the back of a pickup truck and headed back toward the camp. We heard the faint klaxon resounding over the camp speakers.

Athanasios squinted in that direction. "Ah, it is time for lunch already. We ought to head back to the base camp."

Professor Silver coughed. "Ah, yes, you're right--and students, we'll have our first educational meeting this afternoon, right after lunch. I think we've had a pretty exciting and informative morning, what would you all say?" He nudged Jordyn with his elbow, and she gave him a half-smile.

"Boy, I'll say!" Derrick agreed. "Invisible walls and poisonous snakes, a hidden temple--this trip just keeps getting better and better!"

<<<<< Previous                    Next >>>>>

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: May

Life Stuff

Wow, it's the end of May already? HOW? I call do-over on April! I can't believe the whole state has basically been in a holding pattern for almost an entire season. Seriously, schools shut down just before the beginning of spring... now here we are almost into summer! At least I have warmer weather coming our way... I just need to figure out some method of getting my word count in while soaking up the sun!

Speaking of Word Count... I am still riding that high after last month's record for Most Words Written Outside Of NaNoWriMo! May is looking pretty snazzy:

Words Written: 33,000 (and still climbing)

Books Read: 3/4 (eh.... you can't win them all... I have a good excuse, okay? Keep reading to find out what it is)


Current WIP: Princess of Undersea--Revised!

So, this is probably the thing that has me the most behind, as it was taking up a whole lot more time than I anticipated, even though I basically put all other projects on hold for it... But yes, "Princess of Undersea" is getting a snazzy new re-boot! I alluded to this a little bit last month. It's not going to be a total rewrite, so if you've already got the "First Edition", you're not missing a whole lot... but then again, there were quite a few "minor tweaks" I made.

Let me explain: I knew I wanted to add things like the short stories and the epilogue to the book. In order to do that, the formatter needed me to send her the whole interior as a Word document, so she could load it into her template (or however it's done... I don't know, that's why I planned to hire somebody!). Dutifully I went back and hunted down the document I still had, of the "original" Princess of Undersea draft (or at least a few drafts in...) and--

It was at least old enough that there was quite a bit of missing material from the final version, sometimes whole scenes that I would need to add back in. I pulled out a "bum copy" of my book (I'd been signing it for a friend and not only messed up the greeting message, but also BOTCHED MY OWN SIGNATURE IN PERMANENT MARKER *facepalm* Needless to say, I'd used that copy as my "work marketing copy", bringing it with me and letting students read it if they wanted) and started jotting down notes in the margins with a pencil, of little tweaks I wanted to make... little tweaks turned into whole conversations... and pretty soon, I ended up changing a few details "here and there" throughout the whole thing!

Among the changes:

-I've made it more obvious that Ylaine's motivation is primarily focused on trying to figure out what evidence she needs to convince her father to abandon his ideas of war. It's Nayidia's idea that as long as a human is devoted to her, she can extend the time she remains human--but love is the means to fulfill her motivation of reconnecting with her father, not the sole purpose of becoming human, nor the reason she stays ashore.

-The conversation between Nathan and Ylaine when she's giving him "civility practice" by pretending to be a princess visiting from another kingdom has changed, also. This is due to a previous conversation she has, which brought up a distinction between ruling with power and ruling with wisdom. The first mention is just a comment: "King Davor has built his entire reputation on the idea that he's a very powerful ruler. No one ever mistook him for wise." But later on, when Ylaine is seeing contrasts between the way King Theodore rules Overcliff, and the way her father rules Undersea, the fact that she brings it up again to Nathan, and they discuss it a little, shows how her understanding has grown, and she's really thinking about these things. Nathan even makes the comment ,"For a fish merchant's daughter, you seem very keen on matters of state!"

-I changed the demise of the villain at the end--using the plot device of "character turning into sea foam" from the original fairy tale! As opposed to the original, which was more along the lines of "the witch tried to touch Ylaine but she couldn't, and she swam away shrieking horribly and was never seen again." SUPER LAME, I know! But much better now!

That's as much as I can reveal for now--wouldn't want to spoil too much before it's even out! Oh, and I also attached the Epilogue, so those who get the Revised Edition will be able to read that, as well!

The next phase of production would be to get everything lined up for self-publishing through Kindle Direct--I want to be able to get it all rolling as soon as the formatter finishes getting the files all done up pretty!

The Last Inkweaver

As I said before, I kind of put this one on hold while I was working on Princess of Undersea--but before I did, I really got things humming along! I managed to expand things all the way to several chapters, giving even more of a sense of what Callista's academic life was like, and improving the order of things--she's not just "someone things happen to because she's the main character", but I really feel like I've established her as somebody with something to hide, and given her more of a motivation to hide it. The dream she has about Terra's dress (which is also the moment she crossed paths with the Inkweaver, though she didn't realize it at the time) comes about because her parents warn her to stay away from Terra--and then the next day, she can't seem to get rid of her! Giving her a reason to be in the library, too, by having a teacher assign her a research project with an "approved" source, was another change that worked in the story's favor, because then it was Terra's interposition, too, that leads to her finding a secondary source, which nearly brought disapproval from the instructor... and all this provides ample motive for Callista to try and hush things up at the beginning, because she sees it as more of a liability than an asset.

I've come to the realization that this is her perspective for just about the whole first act: this strange connection to the Wordspinners that she has is a liability, not an asset. Act 2 is when she first gets to experience it as more of an asset--except that she learns this by herself and others trying and ending up abusing her ability, which almost convinces her that her initial mindset was correct--but then in Act 3, she finally learns the correct use of it, and just how valuable it is, and her mindset has grown and changed because of what she has learned over the journey. I'm learning so much more about the story in this third draft--it's wonderful, and I really think you all are going to find that this is worth it!

The tricky part is knowing how much of the original to keep--so far, it's only been small bits of it, here and there, which makes it feel like a "total rewrite", even though I keep reminding myself that it isn't. I'm hoping that as I go through I can find ways to segue back into the Draft 2 bits, just to avoid rewriting them all completely!

Anthologies: One Down, One To Go!

That's right! Starting Monday, the limited-edition anthology Myths and Monsters goes live, and you'll get unprecedented access to my short story, "The Water-Man"! I have mentioned it several times on the blog, especially when I first wrote it, exactly because I never posted it here, as I have done with so many stories in the past. Instead, I called it a "Wattpad Exclusive" in a bid to try and get readers over there to read it... but it's in the anthology now, so you'll get to see it in print! Fun Fact: even if you have already read it on Wattpad, you'll want to get the anthology anyway and read it there, because I made some pretty substantial changes to some key moments in the story, based on beta-reader feedback, and it made a much stronger story because of it! Plus, I know that the anthology includes stories by Pauline Creeden and C. A. King, whose works I've read and reviewed on this blog, so just for that, I can say for certain that you're in for a treat with this anthology!

The second anthology that is still "to go" doesn't have a release date, but I was just recently notified that it was moving ahead at long last, so I'm totally thrilled! The anthology is a second volume of stories by the same editor who helmed the anthology Cracks in The Tapestry (pictured), which had a fantasy theme to it. This one is called Warping The Tapestry, and it has a more sci-fi focus, so instead of using a pre-written story (since most of the ones I have are largely fantasy-oriented!), I took a flash-fiction piece with a "superheroes" theme to it, and used that for inspiration to write an all-new short story! It's called "Finding Her Niche" and I really hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

Blog Serials

Prisicilla Sum
is almost done! I'm excited for how far I've been able to get in the story. True, it's not quite as strong as, say, a Rick Riordan novel, but just you wait! The group is about to run into some very stiff obstacles... After all, they haven't encountered the demon yet, have they? So you still have that to look forward to. I know that at least today, maybe tomorrow, I'll be writing the part where things start to ramp up--there's arguments, and suspicious behavior that only Pris seems to notice, a thwarted escape attempt... and somewhere deep under the island, a mysterious door appears where there wasn't a door before. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile I've got most of the plot for The Clan of Outcasts, Season 3! There's going to be a sea voyage, I'm borrowing place names from one of my Flash Fiction pieces (specifically, "Gybralltyr") and there's a mansion nearby the place that I'm calling "The Roque"... because "The Roque of Gybralltyr" was just too good of an opportunity to pass up!

I've finally got names for all the characters--I'm debating whether I should do an introductory post, kind of like what I did when I first started the Clan of Outcasts series, introducing all the "Outcasts." They aren't Outcasts anymore, but there is still trouble brewing in the Realm. I think those who follow my author page on Facebook already know all the names--but if you would like to know them here on my blog, in their own posts, let me know! If you'd rather just "meet" the characters in the series itself, then I won't do an intro post. But I promise it's coming, and I think you are going to like it!

I... haven't been as consistent as I want to be about posting. But then again, it hasn't seemed like much of a big deal, because other readers are adding my old stories to their lists!
Once Upon Love (the "fanfic" adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac) kind of fizzled to a standstill because I realized very quickly that I'd written a drinking scene... as a teenager... having no idea how alcohol actually works or feels... so yeah, that is definitely going to need to change before I let anybody see it! You don't have to know the particulars, just know that with my current understanding of inebriation, 17-year-old me got it VERY WRONG.
Meanwhile, we're just getting to the good part of my Warehouse 13 fanfic, The "Return" of MacPherson. If only I could stop forgetting that it's Wednesday until too late in the day! The Warehouse gang has split up to figure out what went wrong at an art museum in Ann Arbor, and to try and track down the potential artifact in Chicago... Meanwhile, a certain Phantasmian werewolf has awoken and is trailing our intrepid heroes... Fun times!
The Amateur's Dungeon

Forgot I was also trying to make a foray into Dungeons & Dragons, did you? To be honest, me too--since for a while there, meeting up for a party was out of the question! I also didn't know how to proceed with our existing campaign, and I very much wanted to just be able to at least look through an actual campaign, since I didn't even know how to format an actual campaign, much less how one should be run.

Thanks to Wizards of The Coast and their "Stay At Home, Play At Home" program, I happened upon a simple little campaign, and so all that remains for us is to actually run the campaign, get a feel for what it's like to be an actual DM, and then use what I learn from that to re-vamp my own campaign to be more along the lines of a true playable experience! Already, I can identify a few things I did wrong, and how I can make it better--so that's already a step in the right direction!


After the rousing success of last month, this month's progress has slacked off somewhat--but at least I'm still on track!

With the completion of Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster, I officially came to the end of my library checkouts. That's the main reason why I haven't read so much: I don't have as much to read anymore, and I can't "replenish my stash" until the libraries open! Meanwhile, I was also taking the opportunity to read the novellas I missed in the Verona: The Mermaid Tales series by Pauline Creeden--and both of these were not originally listed in my "official" Reader's Review TBR list, so that's a couple bonus books I've gotten through, and now I'm back on track to blaze some trails through the books I've actually listed!

Meanwhile, since it's going to be at least another month before libraries open again, I've resorted to reading the big "chonky" books I have on my shelves... which is the main reason I haven't completed very many books this month! I'm working my way through Hercule Poirot's Casebook, which is basically a collection of short stories by Agatha Christie, featuring everybody's favorite Belgian detective--it's a lot different than reading a novel, since you don't get a whole lot of backstory and intrigue, before Poirot just waltzes in, solves the case, and lays it all out. I'm also bound and determined to get through The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks--in spite of the fact that the writing is still so confusing and very dry, I still get lost a lot of times and start skimming... I've tried going back and watching Season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix, but the more I watch it, the more it's obvious why this show got canceled! But I'm almost done with that, and then I can get onto something more enjoyable... like the handful of Baldacci books I still haven't read!

So that's where I'm at, five months into 2020--how are you doing? Let me know in the comments what you're reading/watching/writing! I'd love to hear about it. And as always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reader's Review: "Empire of Shadows" by Miriam Forster

Synopsis from Amazon:

"...a spellbinding journey into a world with a divided society, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and deeply laid conspiracies."

Cast out by her family three years ago, Mara turned to the only place that would take her—an order where students train to protect others. But Mara is stunned when guarding a noble girl in the Empire's capital turns out to be more dangerous than she could've imagined. More shocking still, Mara finds the boy she thought she'd lost forever outside the gates of her new home.

Mara knew the dizzying capital city would hold dangers. How could she have known that her heart, as well as her life, would be at stake?

My Review:

I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to be somebody who got stuck in the middle of a long series as long as there were other books to read. I purposefully read a series one book at a time, waiting gaps between each installment, reading other books before returning to the series again. Sometimes that worked, as I would be able to keep myself occupied, as it were, while waiting for the release of the next book in the series. It also really put the nature of sequels to the test: of I could pick up the next book a year later and feel like almost no time had passed, it was a good sequel!

In this case, I read City of A Thousand Dolls because it had been sitting on my Kindle app since 2015... and then almost immediately upon finishing it, lo and behold I discovered the prequel (so, not totally a sequel...) on the library shelf! So, naturally, when I had exhausted all my other checkouts, I read that one too.

It took a moment to realize just how Forster connects the two books—not just in the matter of location, but another, brilliantly subtle way that I won’t spoil here, but it is really brilliant, and when I figured it out, it made the adventure all the more fascinating!

She takes a people group that was almost an enigma in the first book and features them in this one, creating a sense of familiarity, and a deeper perspective into the world she’s created. The allure of it all lies in how much we don’t know about certain characters, how much we think we know, and the vast amount of backstory that lies hidden in the shadows, waiting for its moment in the light. She balances the perspectives of her two main POV characters, Mara and Emil, with deft precision, and paints the emotional journeys of both with deeply sympathetic colors. We watch them react to mysteries, to conflict, and to loss, and we see them coming to terms with new realities and dealing with betrayal in different ways—and yet the feeling is still there, that these fantastical situations are at the same time not unlike feelings we’ve all had, situations that can and do happen in the real world; so the question we might ask ourselves, after reading this book, is do we stand our ground and fight, or do we blend in and hide?

I love this world of the Bhinian Empire. It’s structured and yet vivid enough that I could definitely see myself writing fanfiction for it—which, if you've seen my take on fanfiction, means that Forster has done a really great job! he characters definitely run the gamut of fascinating to wonderful. The story itself gives plenty of food for thought among the masterful visuals, the pleasant humor, and the fight scenes that will keep you in the edge of your seat. If you are looking to be transported to an amazing fantasy world, even for a little while, the Bhinian Empire awaits!

EMPIRE OF SHADOWS earns a definite *****5 STAR***** rating, and I would throw in an Upstream Writer Certified DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED. It fulfills its duty as a prequel, while satisfying the need to see more of the rich fantastical world we had only glimpsed in City of A Thousand Dolls. If you like rich storytelling, excellent character arcs, fantastic magic concepts, and a bit of cool world-building on the side, then do yourself a favor and pick up EMPIRE OF SHADOWS!

Further Reading: (Also By This Author/Clean Reads/Fantasy/Vivid World-Building)
The Bhinian Empire--Miriam Forster
-City of A Thousand Dolls
-Empire of Shadows (*This book) 
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
-The Emergence
The Painter Place Saga--Pamela Poole
-Painter Place
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
-Leopard's Heart
-Wolf's Path
-Tiger's Shadow
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
-Someday I'll Be Redeemed
-I Still Have A Soul
-I'm Still Alive
-Do You Trust Me?
-You Left Me No Choice
-They Must Be Stopped
-Countless As The Stars--Steve Trower
-For None of Woman Born--S. D. Curran
-Thimblerig's Ark--Nate Fleming
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
-Who Can You Trust?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Prisicilla Sum" Part 16

Part 16

I blinked at the implication behind the dig chief's revelation. Mom was right. They are after more than just historical relics. But what else could they be searching for? What did she reveal in the rest of the letter, that the demon didn't want me to find? Not knowing irked me, and I couldn't just hang back.

"Can you show us the artifacts they've found so far?" I said, gesturing toward the storage tent.

Athanasios still watched the trail, like he couldn't hear me. Something in the air snapped, and he looked straight at me. "Oh, of course. This way."

We walked over to the artifact storage unit, and Jordyn gave me a nudge. "Nice going," she muttered. "I wanted to see if he would take us to the dig site."

I shook my head. "Not till we're with everybody else," I whispered back. "It's almost dinnertime. The dig site can wait till morning."

The RV in question had several tables set up under tents, and crates stacked around it, carefully labeled with some kind of alphanumeric code.

Athanasios pointed to the map mounted on the side of the RV, split up into quadrants and littered with tiny symbols scattered all over the place.

"Here's where we've been keeping track of the dig site, where different items are concentrated, where we find things like building remains, foundations, walls--"

Jordyn ran her fingers over the precise topographical measurements. Some places indicated depths of up to ten feet, while others listed measurements in so many dozen inches. The color of the region seemed to indicate which level the artifacts were found in: knives, hair combs, and ceremonial necklaces, as well as pottery shards, dishes, tools, and even bits of clothing.

"These lines," I remarked, tracing the collection of outlines traced over the map, "Are they houses, perhaps?"

Athanasios nodded. "Our findings indicate that these were used as living spaces, for sure."

"Why are some places deeper than others?" Jordyn asked, noting the areas that seemed to be sectioned off, with no dig markings at all.

The dig chief grinned. "That's what this group is capable of, with the modern technology they use. They're equipped with seismic imaging machines, to see what is actually in the space they want to dig. If they penetrate a ways, and there is nothing up to a certain depth, then they know not to dig there. Now these spaces," he pointed to some blacked-out bits, "were blocked off by the team's geologist, because they were deemed unsafe, so we're not even touching those. That way, we only dig in places where the land can handle it--really cuts down on the number of accidents that one might usually see at an archaeological dig!" He chuckled to himself, but as we didn't share in his mirth, he let the sound fade off into a short wheeze and then silence.

I broke away to look at some of the objects in the tops of the crates as Jordyn asked more questions.

"So, what's this path over here?" she pointed to the map.

Athanasios rubbed the back of his head, and stroked his mustache before answering. "Well, we're not entirely sure. Some of FRED's researchers found different accounts that mention some temple on the coast of Macedonia... Your teachers told you that Fourtouna used to be connected to the rest of the continent, right?"

I ran my fingers along the edge of a crate containing a pair of brass candlesticks, etched with beautiful designs. I didn't dare touch them--but they were fascinating to look at, and imagine them sitting in the middle of a rough-hewn table, supporting tallow candles that were the only light source in the dark nights.

"Yeah, we heard about that," Jordyn answered. "So this trail is, what, the path they took to the temple, then?"

Athanasios paused again, and he sounded a little more hesitant as he replied, "The only way to know that, really, is if we actually found the temple site--but we haven't yet. We've been a few miles into the forest already, and a few times, we changed directions because of some new information they found, or our geologist was able to say definitively that a certain path was too overgrown or unstable to have ever been used with any regularity. Nobody's found it yet--but something tells me it might happen very soon."

A huge klaxon ground out in the air overhead, and only then I noticed how dark it had gotten, with the sun nearly setting behind the mountain peak. Daylight gone, the entire camp was now illuminated by electric floodlights on those poles all around the perimeter--and everything beyond those lights was shrouded in heavy shadows.

Athanasios turned heel and waved to us. "Well, that's the signal for dinner. Come, I'll take you to our canteen area. You can meet other members of the FRED team, and ask them your questions as well."

We came down past the RVs, to an open area, more like a plateau, where half a dozen tables stood in two rows. The food was set up on a row of tables under canopies along the forest side, leaving an unobstructed view of the twenty-foot cliff that dropped off into the ocean.

Professor Silver waved to us from the line, where the rest of our group was just a few positions away from reaching the table.

"Jordyn, Priscilla--you're just in time!" He called as we walked up. Athanasios continued walking to another area of camp without saying a word to us.

"We were just learning more about the dig, and what progress has been made so far," Jordyn explained as we grabbed the thick paper plates. Dinner looked to be spaghetti and meatballs in a red sauce, dinner rolls, a salad mix that looked like it wasn't doing too well in this environment, and a small brownie for dessert.

"That's great," Professor Silver responded, heaping on the salad. "Stephanie arranged for us to be at a table with the people who have been selected as kind of mentors for each of you--so we should learn a lot more while we eat, too!"

Sure enough, five other people sat at the table with us. Tony took a seat opposite me, with Jordyn next to him, while beside her sat Greg--the researcher from earlier. He grinned at us. "Nice to see you all again, and have the chance to officially meet," He said. "I'm Greg, and I'm a researcher here on the Fourtouna dig."

Professor Silver sat at the far end of the table from me. He pointed around the table at all of us. "Okay, so, for those who don't know our names yet, we have Tony and Priscilla over at the far end--Tony's studying history, and Priscilla has her focus more specifically on archaeology. Then there's Jordyn, our geology major--"

"Right on!" Said the girl on my side, sitting between Kayce and Derrick.

"--Then over here beside me we have Kayce, who's our anthropology major, and the student beyond him is Derrick, our engineering student." Silver let all the new people look us over and said, "Say hi, guys."

We all gave awkward little shoulder-waves and mumbled "Hi."

Greg took charge. "That's great! All right, so from our team we have Dane, our cryptologist and linguist," he pointed to the guy with dark, close-cropped curly hair and tanned skin sitting on his other side from Jordyn.

Dane nodded to Kayce. "I think it sounds like you and I are going to be working pretty closely, and that's awesome."

"Then next to him we have our mechanic Kaity," Greg went on, gesturing to the girl next to Dane.

I liked her open, friendly eyes and her springy blonde ponytail. She giggled a little at Derrick's expression. "We've got a lot of equipment around here--I can show you how we keep things running smoothly out in the middle of nowhere!"

"Then on that side," Greg pointed across the table. "We have Drea, our geologist--"

She put her hand up, and Jordyn gave a shy high-five, "and last of all," he indicated the guy sitting next to me, "Our historian, Tamis."

Tamis had the dark skin and mono-lidded eyes I recognized from some of the Filipino kids I'd met at school growing up. He grinned and shared a quiet nod with Tony.

Greg, meanwhile, looked at me. "Since you're the archaeology major, you'll be working closely with me," he said.

Jordyn turned back from glancing around at the other tables. "And all these other people," she gestured to the full crowd. "Do they have specific roles here, too?" People chatted, laughed, argued, jostled each other, and generally acted like students in the campus food court, themselves.

"Yes and no," Greg answered. "Some of them are part of one team or another, but a lot of the people you see here are the ones who do most of the digging, in the places we tell them to."

"Athanasios showed us a map of the dig site," I said, breaking open my roll to pull off bite-sized pieces. "The site itself looks pretty big, but it kind of branches off in different directions. What's the significance of that?"

Greg and Dane exchanged a glance, and Tamis spoke up. "That more has to do with the varying interpretations of the texts we're using to guide our excavations."

Dane wiped up the last bit of sauce with the rest of his roll and added, "The language we've found that mentions the island of Fourtouna at all uses a dialect of Greek that's so old it's fallen from use--and Greek, as you know, is one of those languages where not just word form changes meaning, but syntax as well."

Kayce nodded, but Jordyn tilted her head. "Syntax?"

Dane leaned in, warming up to the subject. "Think about it in English. We have specific rules for how we phrase sentences, like My dog is brown. Those rules are consistent, and changing the word order would not change the meaning of the sentence--it would remove meaning altogether."

Derrick snorted. "Is dog my brown," he quipped.

The cryptologist nodded. "Exactly. Well, in Greek, the syntax is usually given in order of significance. For example, if the Greek person wanted to place significance on the dog, they would say Dog brown is mine. Or perhaps they considered it most important that you knew the dog belonged to them, so they would say Mine is brown dog. Get how that works?"

We all nodded. Broken down like that, suddenly the parts of the Greek passages I'd seen in my mom's book made sense. A lot of the sentences did begin with the word Fourtouna, or some other reference to storm, wave, or rain. After all, those were the most important words in the sentence.

Dane pushed aside his plate and pulled a pen out of his pocket as he flattened a crumpled but still clean napkin in front of him. "Well! In this dialect, not only are the words sorted in order of importance, and meaning is derived from that," he began scribbling down a string of symbols. "But certain words change meaning based on where they are in the sentence." He showed us the block of text. "This is what we've had to go on, the principal passage we're using for direction-finding."

Jordyn leaned forward and squinted at the napkin. "What do you mean, sentence?" she asked. "There's no punctuation."

A few groans issued behind us, and I glanced over to a few people at the next table, elbowing each other and gesturing to the napkin in Dane's hand. I guessed they were part of the linguistics team, and I could tell they were struggling with the same problems that we students found totally mystifying.

"Exactly," Dane grunted, laying the napkin down among us. "There are a few words that are close to the modern Greek words, like plai for side, and kato for down, peripatos for walking..." he circled the words in question. "But at the same time, Greek is such a complex language, that the same words could have several different meanings--side could refer to your side, or it could mean *the opposite side of something beyond you, or down could mean across the hill or straight through the dirt... All dependent on which words were most important, and which order the writers recorded them in."

Tamis wagged his head. "That's what makes this so hard, and why we have to keep changing direction and shifting back and forth. We head back to our base in the States, work over every permutation of the passage that we can, come back to the island, dig for two weeks, adjust our heading, looking for any more signs, figure out something new that tells us we're headed in the wrong direction, and pack it in to go home again so we can start the cycle all over!"

"That's not saying we haven't made some awesome discoveries while we're here," Greg concluded. "I mean, you could fill a whole museum exhibit hall with the stuff we've found, and every time we're about to give up, some new piece of evidence emerges that seems to tell us we're on the right track." He caught Professor Silver's eye and chuckled. "Don't worry, even if we don't find the temple, we can still make sure you all learn enough about archaeology to make this trip worthwhile."

"That's right!" Drea cheered. "In fact, we just broke through a tunnel last week--you can't really see it on the map, but it looks man-made, down past some of the dry wells we've encountered. I can't wait to show you!"

"Oooh! A tunnel!" Jordyn gushed. "I bet it leads right to the temple!"

The geologist chuckled. "That is, if we don't hit a wall of dirt where it collapsed or something!"

"Oh, there you all are!" Stephanie came walking up behind us, with Athanasios close behind her. "I see you've been making introductions!" She grinned at us and came to stand at my end of the table. "Who's excited to get started tomorrow?"

Jordyn's hand shot up. "I am!" she squealed.

Kayce, meanwhile, was examining the napkin Dane had written on. "Oh, hey," he looked up and tapped the papery surface. "There's this word, ilios--that's sun isn't it?"

Dane nodded. "Yeah, but then there are a bunch of positional words, and we haven't been exactly sure where the sun is supposed to be. We've tried angling our digging according to the sun's position, but there are so many variables. Plus, if one considers that the gods they specifically worshipped here were storm gods--there's not a lot of sun to be had during a storm, let me just say!"

I glanced up to the starry night sky spread over us. "Do you think they used the sun for direction-finding, the way sailors used the stars?" I mused.

Kayce was still scratching out English phrases under the block of Greek text. "It's possible. I mean, it would be interesting to see how much significance was placed on the sun in the historical texts--"

"Okay, whoa!" Professor Silver cut in with a laugh. "I think that's enough fun and games for one day. We should really get some rest, so we can capitalize on an early start tomorrow."

I caught the low rumble of Athanasios' voice behind me, and when he finished, Stephanie spoke up.

"Tell you what--Kayce, after breakfast tomorrow, you and Tony can head over to the library bus, and Greg can show you around--I think your idea bears merit, and I can't wait to see what comes of it!"

We all stood up as the kitchen staff stopped by with plastic tubs to clear away the dishes.

"Hey." Tony stepped closer to me, and wrapped his arms around me. A shiver seized my whole body as I suddenly realized just how much the temperature had dropped due to nightfall. "Want to show me that map you were looking at, and those crates of artifacts?"

I nodded, my head rubbing against his shoulder. "Sure, it's this way."

We finished looking over the map of the dig site, where I could kind of see the discolored trails marking suspected lengths of tunnel, under the markings that delineated the surface-based digging, while Tony whistled in appreciation over the gleaming jewelry and pots and dish fragments they'd found.

In the end, I yawned too many times and didn't quite get his quips, so the two of us wandered back to the tents.

"Goodnight, Pris," he murmured softly.

"Goodnight," I whispered back.

Inside my tent, Jordyn had climbed to the very corner of her bed and was lifting her cellphone at an awkward angle, her hands shaking as she tried to hold the phone still and send the text.

"Almost... got--no!" She dropped her hand and shook it out as she tossed the phone, the "Failed to Send" notification clearly visible on the screen. "Darn it--cell service is so spotty out here!"

"Yeah," I murmured, slipping into my pajamas. "They really do depend on satellites for more than just imaging."

Jordyn sighed. "I was just trying to send my Mom a text, telling her that we made it and I'm really excited for what we're going to be doing." She crawled into her sleeping bag and fluffed her pillow.

I yawned again. "I'm sure Stephanie has a phone in that fancy RV of hers--she'd probably let you use it to call home if you ask her tomorrow."

"Yeah!" Jordyn seemed to like that idea. "We can go together--I'm sure your mom would be really excited to hear about the cool artifacts you're going to get to find out here."

My mom... "Sure," I murmured, and rolled over to signal that I wanted to sleep.

My chin trembled, and I felt my throat tightening as I thought about my parents. Where were they? Had the demon really taken them? I reached up and grabbed the locket hanging around my neck.

"Mom, Dad..." I whispered, as if they could hear me. "If you're listening... I miss you. I wish I knew what happened--and I wish I could see you again!"

I heard the rustling of the trees outside just before a gust of wind blew back the tent flap, and pushed its way up to my face. A cool breeze fluffed my hair, and I felt a warmer sensation, like a hand, caressing my cheek at the same time. I looked up, imagining where my mom's face would be, if she stroked my cheek like that. I could clearly picture her smiling down at me. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.


<<<<< Previous                         Next >>>>>

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 15

Part 15

The dock creaked under my feet as I stepped off, with my hand safe in Professor Silver's grip. Jordyn was already out and looking up at the high cliffs that towered over the jungle spread just off the wide sandy beach. We could hear the rumble of machinery in the distance, and saw several trucks parked along one edge, with a few motorboats and canoes docked along another pier several yards away.

Derrick let out a low whistle. "Wow, they've got quite the operation going here!"

Jordyn popped up alongside me and grabbed my hand. "Ooh, isn't this exciting?" she squealed, forgetting all about how weird it was that an island this size wouldn't show up on any kind of satellite imaging. "I never imagined it would be so huge!"

Alexandros handed our bags down to the professor, who directed us into bringing all the luggage to the rocky, packed-sand surface of the shore. I could hear the slight warble of a walkie-talkie over the racket, and as we waited in a hesitant cluster to make sure we all made it off the rickety dock and didn't leave anything behind on the boat, three people came out of the fringe of bushes just beyond the tree line above us. A woman wearing a blousy linen jumpsuit and thick-soled boots, a man dressed in a loose cotton shirt and cargo shorts, and a second man wearing a dark muscle shirt, bulky black cargo pants and cargo boots, toting a large gun and an expression that said he meant business.

As they got closer, I could distinguish their features better. The woman looked pretty fair-skinned, lightly tanned but not too sun-burnt around her fine features. Her light-brown hair was rolled and twisted up and fastened at the back of her head. I could see her counting with her eyes and consulting a clipboard in her hands, writing things down with a pen she kept tucked behind her ear. The man's face was craggy and dark like Alexandros, and the large nose gave away his distinct Greco-Roman heritage. The thick mustache bristling between his nose and lip was black and streaked with silver. I made a point not to examine the man with the gun too closely. I could feel his piercing eyes fixed on me anyway.

Alexandros waved to them as he made his way toward the newcomers. "Hello--we have arrived at last!"

The woman smiled. "Welcome! You must be the college group sent to join us this week. I'm Stephanie Jennings, the Director of Personnel for the Foundation. This," she gestured to the man standing next to her, "is Athanasios Marinos, the dig chief in charge of the actual archaeological space."

The craggy man's smile lifted his mustache slightly, and his eyes watched each of us. "Kalos Irthate!" he reached to shake hands with Professor Silver. "Welcome everyone. I hope your time on Fourtouna will be, ah, most educational!"

I inadvertently glanced off to the side, where the gunman stood, watching each of us with a face that looked like it was molded out of clay. A breeze blew past me, and my attention swapped to Stephanie, who saw the shudder and assumed I was disconcerted by the stoic man.

"That's Herrin," she said, as if knowing his name would humanize him at all. "He's part of the security outfit we have at the camp--just a handful of guys."

"Security?" I echoed, slipping into the role of excessively curious college student, "Are there a lot of threats to the site on this island?"

Stephanie shook her head and prompted me further up the beach, behind Athanasios and Alexandros. "On the island? Perhaps the odd animal or two, but not a whole lot. No, our threats sometimes come from the mainland--a too-curious boatman, or a passing tourist charter that thinks this is just another public beach in the middle of the ocean. They are more here to prevent anything from happening, not as a result of something that did. That's why there aren't many of them. They rotate--mostly for watching the dig teams, safeguarding the equipment, and scanning the beach, like Herrin, here." Stephanie made a point of pulling out the pen from behind her ear and running it down the paper on her clipboard. "Ah, so let's see, we have Professor Edward Silver--"

The professor waved in a manner he probably assumed made him look "casual and suave" but actually gave off a more "gangly and goofy" vibe. "That's me! I go by Ned, most of the time."

Stephanie nodded and noted this, then continued down the list. "Okay, and who's the archaeology student?"

I raised my hand. "That's me. Priscilla Del Vento-Thiele."

Stephanie tilted an eyebrow, but gave me a smile and nod. "Okay, Priscilla T... and the mechanical engineering student?"

"Yo!" Derrick called, standing between Tony and Jordyn. "Name's Derrick."

Stephanie nodded to him as well. "Thanks for that. Okay, Derrick on the engineering team... and then--" She squinted at the remaining three, and pointed at Jordyn. "Are you Chelsea?"

Jordyn blinked and shook her head, darting a furtive glance toward Professor Silver. "Umm, no I'm Jordyn--the geologist."

Athanasios snorted, muttering something under his breath, while Alexandros rubbed the back of his neck.

Professor Silver cleared his throat. "Ah, I can clear that up--Chelsea had to cancel at the last minute, so the university allowed Tony, here, to take her place." He clapped the young man on the shoulder.

I saw a brief look between Stephanie and Athanasios, and I wondered if they were going to be as uncomfortable with the change in situation as Alexandros was. But our guide recovered and pasted on a winning smile for our sakes, and said, "Okay, and what's your area of study, Tony?" She made more intense notes, crossing out text and scribbling words in the margin of her paper.

"I'm studying history," Tony answered.

Stephanie nodded quickly, "Okay, so you would be the historian--"

"Um," Kayce spoke up from beside Professor Silver, "but I'm studying anthropology, so I think I was supposed to be the historian."

Stephanie stopped and blinked. "But the last remaining position is the computer technology--didn't you have a Computer Science major in your group?"

"We did," Jordyn started speaking up, but when everybody looked at her, she clammed up and didn't expand further.

Tony shrugged affably. "If the team needs to be divided evenly into the different roles, I am pretty competent around computer equipment--"

Stephanie gave a little shake of her head. "Oh... No, that's all right, we can be flexible. That's the name of the game on an archaeological dig!" She let us all start walking again, up to the top of the ridge and through the forest, closer to the revving motors and rumbling rocks. "We might make neat and tidy plans from our offices and lay out hypothetical, best-case scenarios, but in the end, we get what we get, and we work together to make things happen. Besides," she shrugged. "I don't think the computer technicians we have on site will have very much to do unless by some miracle we find what we're looking for!"

We emerged into the main camp of the dig site. Off to the left, closer to the middle of the island, was a bank of large canvas tents, with several people walking around them. Immediately to our right was what looked to be the motor pool: several ATVs, some boats loaded on trailers, and a couple large pickup trucks. Beside the motor pool stood the generators--large roaring things, with many cords hooked to them, and spider-webbing in all directions throughout the camp. Six floodlights mounted on tall poles ringed the edge of the camp, and there were several large RVs directly across from us.

Stephanie pointed to each of these areas as she gave us the quick visual tour.

"Sleeping tents, and you'll find the bank of portable toilets set up beyond that," she started on the left, "then we have the artifact storage van where we clean, tag, and store all the bits and pieces we find, and next to that the library, holding all our written records, with linguistics resources and anything else research-related. Next to that," she pointed to the RV with the most cords and antennas extending from it, "is our tech hub--all the computers, satellite feeds, digital docking stations, all the tech-related stuff."

Derrick tilted his head and nodded to the fourth and final RV in the lineup. "And what's that one for?"

Stephanie chuckled. "That one's my office, mostly--and the place where we let important guests stay when they come to visit."

A bug whined past my ear, and I flinched and batted the air beside my head. "So... where are we going to stay?"

Stephanie led us toward the tents. I noticed that Herrin wasn't behind us anymore, but I could see a few more black-garbed men with large guns, either standing at the edge of the camp or calmly walking through it, watching everything around them carefully. I had a feeling these guys didn't miss much--but would that be a good thing, or spell trouble for us?

Stephanie pointed out three tents that had blue flags hanging over the doors. "We've set aside a couple tents for your use. You can stow your bags in there, and rest assured, all your belongings will be very secure." She caught a few suspicious looks from Kayce and Professor Silver, and rolled her eyes. "We're all adults here--we know how to respect each others' stuff. Trust me when I say that everybody here knows that there are consequences when we go poking around in business that isn't ours." Here she leveled a glance toward Jordyn and I--but I couldn't figure out why.

"Stephanie! Hey, Steph!" A fair-haired man jogged up, pushing a pair of glasses back on his face with one finger every third step. He stopped when his eyes landed on our awkward little group. "Oh hey, are these the college kids?" His face broke out into a huge smile.

"Yeah, Greg," Stephanie answered. "These are them." She showed him her clipboard. "I've got everybody's name and group designation." She glanced back to the professor. "We can work on group-specific introductions over dinner, which will be in about an hour or so. That will give you guys time to get all moved in and settled. Any questions?"

"Oh!" Greg snapped his fingers before any of us could speak. "Yeah, I have a question--actually, it's more like the guys had a question for you, about that thing we were working on... The--"

"Yes, I know what thing you're talking about," Stephanie cut him off a little too quickly, I felt. She didn't look back at any of us. "Why don't I go with you?" She looked back over to us and gave her welcoming grin. "If you have any questions about our progress on the dig, or about the camp," she nodded to the grumpy-faced man that had been kind of lurking behind us the whole time. "Athanasios can answer them. I'm sorry, but I've got to take care of this." She stomped off together with Greg, never bothering to elaborate on what "this" was.

Professor Silver regarded Athanasios. He was busy looking every single one of us over, squinting as he watched us.

"Okay!" Our intrepid chaperone declared. "We'll do this just like the hostel, girls in one tent, guys in the other two."

Both Kayce and Derrick grabbed the same flag. "Dibs!" they cried in unison.

Jordyn snorted, and Kayce caught the sound. He looked over. "What?" he muttered, as Tony and the professor broke away to their tent. "Silver has this really annoying snore that he does--we'll all still probably hear it tonight, but it'll be easier to block it out if we're not in the same tent, I think!"

I followed Jordyn into our tent. There was a bare cot on either side, with space underneath to stow our suitcases. I pulled out the sleep sack I'd brought, spreading it out over the cot.

Jordyn followed suit, and after just minutes in the stifling canvas, she was wiping sweat from her brow.

"Whew! These tents sure bottle up a lot of heat!" she sighed.

I wagged my head, feeling the the wet, sticky beads forming along my scalp as well. "Sure it's hot now," I mused, "but once that sun goes down, I imagine it gets pretty cold out here."

Jordyn pulled out her pillow and journal--she'd already begun chronicling our experiences, even on the plane ride out here. She scribbled a few notes on the next blank page. "True that. I think we'll be grateful for the residual heat when it's time for bed!"

I glanced at my own bag, with the history book from my mom's office waiting just under the top flap. Would I even need to use it out here? What were the odds that this group already had their own copy in the library?

Jordyn finished writing, and looked up, meeting my gaze. I smiled. "Ready to see what this place has to offer?"

She grinned. "Ready!"

We exited the tent. The guys had already moved in, and I saw Kayce and Derrick heading toward the RV with the tech equipment.

I saw Athanasios coming from around the far side of the artifact storage trailer. As the dig chief, he would no doubt have all the information we could want about this place--whether or not he was affiliated with FRED, I couldn't say. Jordyn followed me as I walked over to intercept him.

"Hello," I said, waving as we approached.

Athanasios looked up, and the frown on his face only relaxed somewhat. "What can I do for two such omorfes kyries?" he asked.

Jordyn tilted her head. "Alexandros used that word, kyries," she pronounced the word to rhyme with "curious." "What does it mean?"

Athanasios lifted his bushy eyebrows, impressed. "Despoinida has a good ear for the Greek tongue! It means lady." He nodded his approval, and directed his gaze to me, just as I was about to form a question. "And the word Despoinida simply means Miss, our word for young, unmarried girls." He glance between us. "You are unmarried, are you not?"

I nodded. "Yeah, we're single!" I logged the two terms away in my head, and continued onto the subject I actually wanted to discuss. "My name's Priscilla, and this is Jordyn. We wanted to find out more about the archaeological experience, and this camp, if you don't mind." I gave him a big smile to prove I wasn't looking for trouble, and I suspected nothing, even though every other thought through my head was What if the demon is here in the camp? How would I even know? For crying out loud, I didn't even have a clue that my parents were ACTUAL GODS and I lived with them for most of my life!

Athanasios dug his hands into his pockets, glancing around at the few people still milling about between the RV's. I could hear sizzling and see smoke coming from a tent a ways off, behind Stephanie's RV and closer into the forest.

"I suppose I have time," he answered. "Dinner is not for another hour at least, so things are winding down for the day."

I nodded. "Great, because I have a lot of questions! After all, archaeology's kind of the thing I'm studying."

Athanasios raised his eyebrows again, and he nodded along with me. "Is it now? I have not seen many young people your age so fascinated with my culture, unless they had come from a Greek heritage. Is your family Greek?" He turned from me to Jordyn, with her dark skin and thick, frizzy hair.

She shook her head. "No, my family is American."

I tilted my head. "I'm actually not sure where my family comes from, besides America. I'm adopted, so I don't know much about my birth parents."

Athanasios must have sensed the discomfort I felt, because he pulled his hands out of his pockets and held them in front of him. "Well, it is wonderful to see such eagerness to learn in two young kyries," he winked at Jordyn as he repeated the word from earlier. "I will try to answer your questions as well as I can."

"Great!" I said, glancing down at my notebook page where I'd written some questions.

"So tell me, how long has this specific dig been going on? When did it first start?"

Athanasios shrugged. "This site isn't exclusively owned--a few other groups have dug here in past centuries, but this particular group of Americans began digging in the middle of March--two months ago."

"How long does an average dig usually last?" Jordyn added.

Athanasios rubbed his chin. "I've been a dig chief for several historic sites around Greece for many years now, and I've never seen one group dig in a certain site for longer than a few weeks--but these people," he waved to indicate the RVs and the workers just starting to filter back in from somewhere deeper into the forest, "keep coming back, again and again, and each time, they contract with my company, and that company sends me to be their dig chief--I'm the one who directs the workers, makes sure things are done safely and we do not exceed the permits or infringe on any boundaries."

"So you're like the local liaison for these archaeological groups," I mused.

Athanasios nodded. As I scribbled down a few notes, I saw his gaze sliding over to me, with that strange glint--almost like the way Alexandros looked at me.

Jordyn piped up before he could say anything.

"Why do you suppose this dig has lasted so long?" she asked.

Athanasios shot Jordyn a glance. Was he suspicious of her, or something? If so, why? After a moment, he shrugged his burly shoulders. "Who knows? They keep researching and digging, further and deeper--almost like they are looking for something, but they have not yet found it."

Jordyn squinted against the setting sun, up to the peak of the cliff looming over the forest. "Our guide, Alexandros, was saying that this island used to be a place of worship--could they be looking for the temple, then, or something more specific?"

Again, I saw the weird tension flicker across the dig chief's face, and his eyes wandered a little as he replied, "They have found remains of what might have been the temple already--a few small altars, some remains of pedestals where the statues of the gods once stood. But..." His voice trailed off, and he stared off toward a wide path that led further into the trees. I could see lots of tire tracks, which meant that was probably the way to the main dig site. When Athanasios turned back to us, there was something almost secretive in his expression. "I do not believe that is all they are looking for. They seek something else, something deeper and more hidden, according to the research they have gathered. Every time, there seem to be more riddles to solve, or something prevents them from going as far as they want--and when they return, they seem to know more about the region, and its history."


<<<<<<< Previous                      Next >>>>>>

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Reader's Review: "They Must Be Stopped" by Kelly Blanchard

Synopsis from Amazon:

Sometimes your best intentions can lead to a world being obliterated.

Five hundred years in the past, Lorrek seeks final clues as to how to defeat the Thymord Order.

Rilolean Warthon quit the Order after his brother died on a mission. Suspecting the Order knows more than they admit, he conducts a secret investigation against them.
To his surprise, the Order assigns him one last mission: return to his homeworld and rescue a former teammate trapped in a land from which no human has ever returned.
Does Rilolean help the organization behind his brother's death, or does he let his friend die in the world Rilolean had hoped to one day save?

My Review:

Absolutely delightful! There's just something so incredibly awesome about diving into a series with a scope this huge... and yet Blanchard situates her novels so well that the "present day" of the plot still moves forward somewhat, and meanwhile it can go all the way back to centuries in the past and fill in details for the reader without skipping a beat.

That's right. Books 1 through 3 gave us a story arc that starts with Lorrek's return and what ensues from there... and then Books 4 through 6 fill in the information that is needed to understand what's going on. It's "old" events that we're viewing through "magic realm time travel", but it doesn't feel old, and it answers some questions and gives context to the shocking twists we encountered in those first three books--while delivering twists of its own!

We're surveying the point in Thymord history intending to explain, as Lorrek puts it "where things went wrong"--and even at that stage, the level of technological advancement satisfies a cyberpunk itch in a major way (just wait till you meet ELF!!), while also delivering magical duels galore!

This book just proves, like every other book in the series thus far, that Kelly has somehow cracked a world-building code, and she knows exactly what she's doing--whether we're dealing in millennia, centuries, or merely decades. On the one hand, I'm starting to "miss" the favorite characters from the present age (even *gasp* some of the antagonists!), but on the other hand--Thanks to Lorrek, I've been given a birds-eye view of this amazing backstory that contains so many references to things that caught me by surprise at the beginning of the series... and now I'm absolutely dying to know what Lorrek and Radella are going to be able to do with this information!

The story in itself serves up its fair share of fascinating, eclectic, and marvelous characters: from beings who cannot die, immortals who refuse to stay dead no matter how much the reader wants them to, one character in particular whose natural lifespan is devastatingly short--and so many more that I wouldn't be opposed to meeting again! In all of those, there were heroic protagonist characters I connected deeply with, and it did get to a point when "a few chapters before bed" just wasn't viable, and I ended up finishing the last half or so in one sitting!

They Must Be Stopped is a bold display of a keen grasp of continuity--and that alone is worth a high rating, but to add to that a stellar story, relatable characters, and a rousing conclusion, and this book maintains the series-spanning *****5 STAR***** rating without showing any sign of slacking or flagging, and I'm just going to put out the Upstream Writer Certified COMPLETELY RECOMMENDED, because how could I not?? Every word of it is pure genius, and there isn't enough I could say about it, except that every lover of fantasy, cyberpunk, and every speculative category in between absolutely needs to read this series!

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Addictive Reads/ Clean Reading/Superb Characters)
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
     -A Splash of Truth 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
Starstruck Saga--S. E. Anderson
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence