Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reader's Review: "Anamatus" by Derrick Tribble

Synopsis from Amazon:

In a world of extraordinary talents, she uses hers to create a monster.

On Biersheva, a colony world populated by God’s people, extraordinary talents have emerged. Everyone has something they excel at, but a few are blessed with “noble talents,” supernatural abilities intended for helping others and glorifying God.

Karina has one of these noble talents -- she can shape animals out of organic matter and animate them, giving them will and purpose. But pride and fear prompt her to reach beyond her God-given talent and animate a bronze statue. Her sin unleashes a monster, and she must put it to death before it destroys everything she loves.


My Review:

Well, one thing I will say about this book--it's a "sleeper" win!
I was intrigued by the premise, and got it in a giveaway several years ago, per a friend's recommendation. It's been a while, but I finally managed to read it now.
The first 100 pages, I still wasn't quite sure what I was reading. It didn't quite feel like totally a fantasy world, especially with the "flashbacks" at the beginning of each chapter talking about a mission to leave Earth and colonize another planet... and people on this new planet miraculously receiving superhuman powers... but the setting was more medieval-industrial, not cyberpunk as one might expect... It was intriguing to watch the situations hinted at in the blurb unfold, but at the same time, the pacing was very slow and I lost interest halfway through the chapter, and there were too many unanswered questions...
Of course, events happen about a third of the way through the book, and after that, things start picking up and we meet a whole bunch of amazing and entertaining characters, and the plot develops at a much faster pace and after about the halfway point I was delighted to find that I had a hard time putting it down! I just wish the first half was integrated a bit better, more concise... or something.
One thing is for certain: Anamatus is going on my hypothetical "List of Christian Books That Don't Feel Overtly Preachy But Do A Good Job Of Communicating Christian Themes." Karina's struggles don't feel forced or contrived--it's more like watching someone fumble and make mistakes, and you know exactly where the choices are going to lead because of your third-person perspective, but the person at fault, in the midst of their flaws and the emotional clouds over their decision-making, is blind to the consequences of their mistakes until they land right in the middle of a desperate situation. There's just so much that Karina never had explained to her, and she never bothered to reason out before her impulsiveness led her to make choices that carry into events much later in the book.
It's when the other characters, and other "talents" are introduced that Karina's small, cloistered world suddenly expands into this rich, vibrant community full of potential and variety. Sibyl, Claire, Zib, and Jude--and even Hester and Master Rodolfo--each have their own personalities and mannerisms and contribute to the story in some way. It's only about two-thirds (or even three-quarters) of the way into the book that any actual backstory comes into play, about the colony that left Earth (but whether they actually landed on a habitable planet, or just went out and back over a thousand years) and set up a new colony on the land they called "Biersheva", and once that is established, it begins to feel like a futuristic society, instead of a "retro-fantasy alternate dimension." Basically, the last half of the story does a good job of making up for the slowness and confusion of the first half--it's just that those who get bored and don't find anything interesting in the first couple chapters might miss out on the excitement that is not even hinted at in the beginning part. (Literally one new character that Karina meets in the second half has any connection to one character from the first half--and that connection is drawn in retrospect, never mentioned before then--it really makes it feel like this should have been two smaller books, instead of one thick one!) The title itself isn't explained until the start of "Act 3", stylistically speaking--I kind of like when a book does a better job of making its title a real theme through the whole story, instead of just making a reference near the end!
In light of all the positive characteristics it absolutely nailed: the characters, the dialogue, the interactions, the premise, the conflict and resolution, the unique setting--I would be inclined to give this book a full ****5 STAR***** rating--yes, not even the shortcomings I've mentioned here warrant a full docking, the way that the end makes up for the slowness of the beginning! Could it have done a better job from the first? Yes. Were there still some unanswered questions at the end? I mean... I still had a few... The concept of "The Lawless" wasn't ever clarified in any balanced way... Did I still enjoy it? YES. Did I close the book with a sense of satisfaction? YES. Would I consider reading more titles by this author? If the creativity on display in this book was any indication of the wealth of possibility for more--then YES, of course! It's a good, clean read and I can add an Upstream Writer Certified Wholeheartedly Recommended endorsement. If you're going to get into Anamatus, if anything I've hinted at or mentioned seems the least bit intriguing, I sincerely hope you find the culmination as worth your while as I did!
Further Reading: (Christian Authors/Wholesome Reads/Otherworld Adventures)

-For None of Woman Born--S. D. Curran
-Countless As The Stars--Steve Trower
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist 
       -The Pinocchio Factor
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
        -They Must Be Stopped 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow 
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust?
Verona: The Complete Mermaid Tales--Pauline Creeden
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence
The Painter Place Saga--Pamela Poole
       -Painter Place 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: June

Life Stuff

Summer is here, and I can't believe it! This month hasn't been as "busy" as others, but it's definitely flown by! Outside of writing and reading, I've gained a new nephew (and he's just cute as a button!), started harvesting the blueberries growing on the 6-foot-tall bushes in our backyard, since they're just becoming ripe, and finished off the weirdest school year ever--participating in at least one staff parade and two different video montages! I miss interacting with the kids, though... But in light of how much things changed over the last few months, I can only wonder how much different it will be by the time school returns in September!

Monthly Stats:
Words Written: 30,000 (and still climbing!)
Books Read: 5/5


The Last Inkweaver

Woot! I've successfully gotten through the irksome "beginning" and I have moved on to copy/pasting whole chapters from Draft 2 onto Draft 3! All told, I have added about four chapters' worth of information, I was able to reinforce Callista's relationship with her parents, and made her a more intentional character in the story, an active participant that makes choices that affect the events of the narrative, instead of one who finds herself shoved into events already in full swing.

Now, even though I'm copy/pasting, I still have to be careful of the way I have written these Draft 2 pieces--the difficulty in not writing it all over again (I will not! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!) is that I need to be careful about the way that I've written the characters.

Take Terra, for example. Since I added the plot point of a reported investigation into "possession of contraband items" on her family, I've turned her from a flighty, oblivious ditz who gets excited about doing the wrong things, to giving her a reason to resent the established norms, and a purpose in trying to pursue a "mission" into finding out about the Wordspinners--a people group she sees as a means of escape, a people who are "free" in a way that she wants to be. She's not likely to want to get back to going to Gramble City and the Finishing School, as much as Callista is, because that system just wants to conform her to their standards of what is "proper." She's thrilled at the prospect of digging beyond the face-value of things and finding out information and people that these authorities profess to seek out, but have been unable to find.

More and more, I'm excited with the success of the Notecard method I'm using. It's definitely helped me keep events moving in the right order, and with every notecard I can add to the "done" stack, I know I'm getting closer and closer to the end of a fresh, excellent draft!

Princess of Undersea: Revised Edition

The revised edition is off to the formatter's, and we're working on redesigning the cover! I commissioned some artwork from a local artist, and the result was AMAZING!! Stay tuned for a cover reveal sometime in the next month. Hopefully, if I can figure out what I need to do and get things lined up, I'll be ready to re-release in September--and I can say with reasonable confidence, a series is coming! In fact, just the other day I sat down and wrote out a climactic scene that I'm super-excited for in Book 2, and it felt really good!

I also got inspired to sit down and write fresh blurbs for all 4 books! Like this one, for the new-and-improved Princess of Undersea:

Deep under the water, Mermaid princess Ylaine has only ever wanted one thing: her father’s recognition and approval. King Davor of Undersea, however, is obsessed with launching a war against the ignorant, pact-breaking humans. Ylaine believes that if she can convince her father that not all humans are evil, he might listen to her, and call off his plans for war. Such a thing has been impossible, till the day he willingly trades a most precious gift to have the thing that she hopes will help her make peace between the realms: magic that transforms her into a human.

Safe in the palace of Overcliff, Prince Nathan seeks his own comfort, and dreads the day when the people of his failing kingdom will depend on him for their well-being. His father, King Theodore, remains distant and forgetful, while the Royal Council runs things—and as far as the Prince is concerned, he is free to continue doing as he likes. When a mysterious stranger arrives on the island, he begins to realize that all is not as it seems—and threats can come just as easily from across the sea as under it.

Ylaine’s reckless daring soon thrusts her right into the middle of a scheme more diabolical than she ever imagined. She has three days to find a way to make the Prince take notice and find the strength to lead his people, all without divulging her secret—or both their realms will be doomed forever.

For those who have read the book already--does the new blurb still feel relevant to the actual story? Even with the changes I made, the story itself is roughly 80% the same. There were just some interactions that never felt quite right, that I was able to change and improve--and also the addition of the short stories I think makes a huge difference!

If you haven't read the book: Does this spark your interest? I really hope it does!

I felt like the first blurb did more to highlight the "romantic involvement" side of the whole thing, which I was at first trying to circumvent--and the revisions helped me succeed even more in making their story less about the "falling in love" part and more about the "becoming good leaders and stopping a power-hungry villain" side of things. It's less of a "light and fun fairy tale" and more of a "inspiring fantasy" tale.

Anthology Submissions

Myths and Monsters has been out for nearly a month! Have you read it yet? It's still 99 cents--and when you do read it, please review! I'm really anxious to know what people think of "The Water-Man."

Meanwhile, I finalized the edits for Warping the Tapestry, the second anthology from the Tapestry Group. (Our first anthology was Cracks in The Tapestry) As soon as we have a cover, I'm only too thrilled to share it with you! I think you're really going to like the stories we've cooked up--especially "Finding Her Niche." It's not your ordinary superhero story!

Blog Serials: Priscilla Sum is nearing its end!

And it's about freaking time, am I right? Here's the thing, I've been working on this since January, and it's only now that I've gotten to the part of the story that inspired the whole thing!

Just to give you a picture of what shenanigans I go through for this story: I have used Google Translate for pretty much all the Greek phrases and words I've used thus far. In this last installment, the team finds an inscription on a cave wall that may or may not give directions on how to get to the inner temple they've been seeking. The only problem is, the inscription is all mixed up, so taking it at face value doesn't net any words. They have to sit down and figure out how to get the letters in the right order, before they can then move to translating what the inscription actually says.

That's what I wrote, anyway. It's one thing to write about a coded message; it's quite another to actually do the encoding myself. Oh yeah. Because I wanted to give readers a sense of what these kids were up against, I did that whole thing in reverse.

Step 1, I decided what I wanted the resulting inscription to say.

Step 2, I put it into Google Translate and swapped it back and forth to make sure the meaning stayed consistent. There is honestly nothing more damning than running a phrase through a translation software and it coming out the other side completely botched and you don't know because you didn't check. Well, that wasn't going to be me, so I checked and re-checked to make sure it still worked.

Step 3, Now that I had the finished inscription in Greek... I had to mix up the letters in exactly the way I described in the narrative, making sure each symbol was in the correct position so that the solution would produce the inscription. And, digital keyboards being what they are, unfortunately I couldn't just type things out, or even copy and paste... NO. I had to draw myself a grid, parcel out each letter in order, and then click each individual letter to place it correctly.

The result? Pretty dang legit, if you ask me! (Here's the link, I'll let you decide: "Priscilla Sum" Part 20)

Finally, I've gotten everybody down into the tunnel system that supposedly leads to the inner temple somewhere on the island. Finally, Pris is starting to get the picture that there is something not quite right about one of the members of their team--never mind the fact that she's convinced that the demon going after her parents just might be possessing somebody in the camp. Finally, I can start putting things in motion that will bring about the big climactic battle! FINALLY!

If everything cooperates, I should be done with it by about mid-August--we'll just have to see whether I can ride this momentum I've found and get the rest of the serial completed without needing to post it right away, or whether I'll end up needing to write really fast to get the first post of Clan of Outcasts, Season 3 written in time to post that when Priscilla Sum is done!


I've managed to get back in the habit of updating on Wednesdays again! Unfortunately, I've had to put Once Upon Love on hold, since I'm at a part in the story that REEEALLLYYY needs rewriting, and I just don't have the bandwidth to do that right now.

The "Return" of MacPherson is winding down--not that very many people are interested... But just last week I was able to add another chapter to Flashes of Inspiration, (since I have at least two new pieces that I've posted on the blog just this year) and I started posting Red, The Wolf on Wattpad, so you can read it on there, if you like my fairy tale twists!
(Speaking of which... there are more of said "fairy tale twists" coming as sequels to Princess of Undersea, so I can't wait to reveal what those are as they come out!)

I do have a question, for those who have Wattpad and follow me on there: Would it be helpful if I had a "How to Read My Stuff" guide? Like, just a quick read-through listing all the titles I have there, and roughly what categories they belong in, so you can know, "Okay, so The Day of Reckoning is a long one, and The Telmar Trilogy is a 3-book fanfiction, but if I want short reads of multiple genres then I should read a Suggestion Box or Flashes of Inspiration..." Would that be helpful?


And now we get to the tough part of the blog post of updates...

I'll be frank with you, I pretty much read all the quick stuff in April and May. That meant that the titles left for June were the really long ones, and frankly I've been pining after being able to go to the library.

HALLELUJAH, the wait is over!! Just this week, libraries opened up for "No-Contact Hold Pickups" so I can start placing holds again and getting some fresh titles!

But there are still some titles I want to read at least before I do that. The two indie "featured review" books allotted for this month were Excelsior by George Sirois and Anamatus by Derrick Tribble. The first one went pretty fast, since it was an ebook, and the second... it's a physical book, it's kind of small type... and the first 100 pages or so went really slow, making it hard to get into. Hence, I am only about halfway through it, but at least now it's getting quite a bit more interesting--we've left the realm of "the part of the story addressed in the blurb" and I'm finding it a lot more interesting with more characters to learn about and whatnot!

In slightly-less-interesting news, I finally made it to the end of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and it was every bit as sluggish and confusing at the end as it had been at the beginning. Like a "discount Lord of the Rings" but with half the solid lore foundation and virtually no characters who were truly interesting at all... despite the author's constant insistence throughout the narrative as to which characters the reader ought to find interesting... None of them were, sorry.

I did finally get so desperate to read something new earlier this month that I pulled out my copy of Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton, which I had pulled out of the "FREE" box at the last library book sale I went to (wayyy back in January, can you believe it???) and finished it in like two days.

I'm also reading The Fallen by David Baldacci, which is the fourth book in his Amos Decker series. I really like Decker as a character. He's got a fascinating dynamic, and I can really get behind the people interacting with them, the mysteries he encounters always tend to be on the more complex side, because it relies heavily on his perfect memory... which is, at the point I am in the book, kind of failing him a little, so he's having to deal with that on top of solving the case he's already on.

Goodreads is telling me I'm still behind in my challenge... but I think if I just manage to read before bed these last few days of June, I can finish the books I'm reading before the month is out, and be back on track for July!


So that's where I'm at with everything so far... I've got some exciting things coming in July, so be sure and check back in regularly so you don't miss anything! I'd love to hear from you! There are some questions I asked this month that could really use some feedback--about the "Wattpad Reader Guide" and about the new-and-improved Princess of Undersea blurb. If you could comment with your thoughts below on those things, that would be great! As always....

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 20

Part 20

The woman immediately whipped out a tablet like the one we'd seen before. "It's a theogram!" She began flipping through the familiar grouping of symbols to find one that matched.

I coughed. "You might want to search the minor gods for this one," I suggested.

"No need," said Tony, pointing to the wall. Up in the corner of the mosaic mural was another depiction of a god, marked on his chest with the same symbol. He stood near a shore of some kind, with his feet covered by water. "This one is Pylerion, god of the tides."

"Piler-what-on?" The man echoed. "How do you spell that?"

"Never mind, I've got it." The woman with the tablet finished searching and pulled up the entry with that very name upon it.

Tony's eyes kept moving, like he was looking for something else, and he ambled back to the main portion of the room. I scurried after him.

"Hey," I managed as we meandered around the different discoveries happening throughout the space. "That was pretty cool back there--how did you know what to do with the stones?"

He was staring upward now, toward the open shafts. More people were rappelling down to relieve some of the ones who had been there all morning, while the other one had several ropes that were apparently attached to winches at the top, with hooks at the end. Drea shouted orders and darted around the room as she supervised securing a load of jars to the hooks, sending them up through the shaft one by one.

"Careful! Don't break the seal on that!" she cautioned one of the assistants.

I looked at the jars, each plugged with what looked like a huge pool of wax over the top, and at the wide part just below the neck, different kinds of symbols--or theograms, as they called them here. I saw the mark for the fish god, and the tide god, and even a couple for Trikymios.

"What are these?" I asked Drea.

She grinned. "Sacrificial jars," she explained. "Some of them are sealed, so we don't know what's actually in them, but past research indicates that jars of this sort were commonly used to hold the food and drink dedicated to a god. The ones with broken seals," she showed me an open jar, "give us a pretty foul-smelling indication that these are most certainly the same kind of jars."

Even at arm's length, the stench made my face involuntarily spasm.

"Ugh, this one's heavy!" an assistant remarked, hauling it toward the hook mechanism.

Professor Silver stepped forward. "Here, let me help you," he offered, grabbing the other side of the jar. Too late, we heard it scrape over a protruding stone.

"Be careful!" Drea started to say, but as she was still speaking, the ancient jar suddenly shattered, and a load of coins spilled out across the dirt floor.

The assistant stared with wide eyes. "Oops," was all he could say.

We all looked at Drea. She wasn't as impressed. "Great," she moaned. "Now we have an even bigger mess to clean up. I should have known the sacrifices weren't all just food and drink!"

Someone else brought a canvas sack, and even Kayce, Professor Silver, and Tony all crouched down to help them gather the small coins from out of so much dust.

"Hey Pris!" Jordyn called to me from the edge of one of the tunnels leading out of the room. "Come see this!"

I left the guys to their coins and joined my friend. She was tracing a series of spidery silver-white lines with her finger. "It's a vein of some sort," she mused. "The rock changes from this point onward."

My lips just barely formed a smile. It looked pretty, but I wasn't a geologist. "What does it mean? Is there something down there that changed it?" I gestured to the shadowy tunnel in front of us.

Jordyn shrugged. "I don't know. Check and see."

We'd left our lanterns on the other side of the room, but I saw a sconce bearing a torch resting on the wall. It definitely seemed to have enough ash to work like striking a match when scraped along the flinty rock. "Here, we can use this--"

"Don't touch that!" Somehow, Drea had gone from standing in the middle of the room to holding my wrist in a death grip. Her face had gone white, and she stared at me with wide, panicked eyes.

Kayce jogged over to stand beside her. "What's wrong with grabbing a torch?" he asked.

Drea lost her open, friendly look as she peered at us with sudden suspicion. "The torch isn't the problem... it's what it's attached to." She pointed to the chalked X scrawled under the sconce. "The last time somebody disturbed a sconce like this, we experienced a cave-in that took several days to clear out!"

Jordyn shied away from the walls and pulled her arms close, shivering in her shorts and T-shirt. "We just wanted a light to look at this tunnel," she whimpered.

Drea seemed to recover her old manner in an instant, like a thrown switch. She gave Jordyn a big smile. "Well, if you wanted to do more exploring, all you had to do was ask! Wait a moment, I'll grab us a few lanterns and I can take you down this tunnel myself."

My instinct kicked in and alarm bells started ringing. I tried catching the gaze of any of my friends, but they were too busy looking in other directions. Professor Silver was the only one who looked at me, but his eyes stared right through me with a distinctly vacant expression in them.

Before I could say anything, Drea was back and passing out lanterns. "Remember, my warning still applies: don't do anything or step anywhere I have not shown you. We've almost reached the end of the dig anyway."

Now that the tunnel had more light, I could see the silvery streaks giving way to stone that was more deep-grey than light-brown as it had been so far. I asked Drea why the color changed.

"You might not realize it, because we've been walking underground for so long," she said, "but the pathways we've taken have ever so slightly curved more inland, toward the mountain jutting up in the middle. That's mountain rock mixing with the bedrock you're seeing here." She gestured to the dark-grey stone all around us. "The literal roots of the mountain!"

A few more paces, and Drea stopped. "Okay, this is the tricky part," she muttered. "Remember, always do as I do!"

Our senses went on high alert, as we prepared to navigate another gauntlet. I couldn't see much besides rocks strewn along the tunnel floor and the odd holes in the walls, but nothing screamed "booby trap" to me.

Drea wrapped her arms close around her body. We all followed suit, at least as much as we could. Jordyn tried, and her elbows still stuck out from her body. Kayce lost his sense of balance if his hands weren't hanging right in front of him. Tony just kept his body relaxed and his hands hanging loose at his sides.

Progress down the tunnel was much slower than we'd walked before, as Drea seemed to feel compelled to evaluate every single step. In the dead silence as we followed her, I could even hear her voice speaking in some sort of rhythm, as if she was counting the paces.

"Six alternating steps... Four in a box... two hops... and three-in-a-row--*No!"

Her hand whipped out, and grabbed Kayce by the shoulder. He flailed a little as his balance teetered precariously. His reach barely brushed a protruding rock--but it didn't look marked or anything.

Drea pointed to a small divot next to the rock. "You see that?" She hissed in his ear loud enough for the rest of us to hear. "It probably houses a skull-piercing dart on a hair trigger, just waiting for some unsuspecting soul to make the wrong move!"

Jordyn shrank closer to her. "Probably?" she squeaked. "Why not get one of those seismic imagers down here to check the walls before you start walking back and forth past them?"

Drea squinted at the young geological student. "Seismic imagers use *vibrations to test the soil--one blast could probably collapse this entire tunnel!" She turned her gaze on each one of us in turn. "The paths to many ancient tombs are littered with the bones of people who didn't take these warnings seriously!" With that chilling pronouncement, she resumed inching her way forward.

I couldn't restrain a shudder as I passed the rock while keeping my body well clear of it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tony deliberately separate from the tense group and reach out to lay a single finger on the rock.

Nothing happened. He saw me watching and he winked at me before sneaking back in line.

For myself, I watched the ground carefully as I followed Jordyn and Kayce's steps, patterned after the strange, almost dance-like movements of our guide. I only saw flat, consistent ground: no pitfalls, no hidden trip wires, no odd tiles, nothing. Even Jordyn stumbled a couple times and stepped on the wrong side of the narrow path, but no one noticed and nothing happened. Why all the theatrics, then?

I was still trying to work it all out when I came up beside Jordyn and she grabbed my hand. I stopped just short of slamming right into a wall. It kind of looked similar to the prayer wall we'd seen in the village--and there didn't seem to be any kind of lever or mechanism for moving it.

"Wait, that's it?" Kayce spoke up first.

Drea gestured toward the wall with a flourish. "Ta-da! This is as far as we've gotten."

"That can't be it, though," Professor Silver sounded almost frantic with disappointment. "What does the inscription say? Are there directions for how to get beyond this obstacle?"

Drea shrugged. "Beats me!" She shoved her hands in her pockets and seemed far less concerned about the wall than she had been over the entire tunnel. She even kicked it with the reinforced toe of her boot. "Dane and Tamis have been over it from every different direction: forward, backward, up, down, and diagonal. Not one part of it makes sense!"
The Stone Inscription (Made by me!)

It definitely looked daunting: just one solid brick of text, no word breaks, or punctuation, just ten even rows of Greek letters, with the exception of an extra letter on the third, sixth, and ninth rows. Was there some special significance to that? Was three an important factor in their modes of worship?

"I don't get it," Kayce was already pacing back and forth and muttering. "Why would a temple complex have a tunnel that just stops from here?" He measured with outstretched arms from one side of the wall to the other, as if that would help us figure out the mystery. Part of me wanted to inspect the wall closer; maybe there was something hidden in those shadows.

The problem was, Drea and her paranoia weren't going to let us touch anything. She pulled us back from the tunnel's end. "Talk to Greg; he seems convinced that there is some hidden temple area beyond this wall, not somewhere else. If only we could figure out the inscription..."

"Ah-ha! That's a great idea!" Professor Silver declared. "All right, classwork time!" He gestured to all of us. "For our academic work this afternoon, I want you all to work together to solve this inscription. Use what you have learned from your mentors, use the resources they have available--see what you can come up with!"

Kayce and I both groaned at the idea of spending even more hours down here, mining for data and staring at this boring block of text.

Jordyn raised her hand. "Okay, but can we do it on the surface, outside? I'm starting to feel like a mole rat down here!"

Drea nodded. "Sure, we can go all the way back, I guess. I'm sure we can snag one of the networked tablets, to give you guys a photo of the wall to work from."

We made our way back up the tunnel in largely the same fashion we had gone down, complete with the silly hops and turns. This time, I occasionally let my feet slide in the wrong direction, but, like before, nothing happened. The uneasy, sinking feeling in my gut grew and spread.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Flashes of Inspiration" No. 23

Image Credit: Michael Komarck

#23: The Dragon In The Library

*Sequel to "The Castle"

The three siblings stood in that room for several moments without moving.

Lisa was the first to break the silence.

“Nope!” she yelled, marching out the door. “I’ve had enough. I’m done with this place!”

Mark lunged after her. “Wait! Lisa—“ he saw her turn in the outer hall and continued, “come on, you’re not just leaving us alone in here! Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

She shook her head. “Not any more! I’ll wait for you guys down where we moored then boat—but so help me, if it starts getting dark and you’re not down there with me, I guess I AM leaving you!” With that, she stalked back to the narrow underground stairwell.

Roger watched her leave and shook his head. “Too bad for her! I want to see if I can figure out this weird code.”

Mark snorted. “It’s a language, not a code.”

The sandy-haired young man was already squinting closely at the gold etching in the red cover. “Whatever—the principle should work the same, right?”

He turned back to the book. In the next moment, Mark grabbed the shelf beside him as the floorboards rumbled. Both brothers froze and locked eyes.

“What was that?” Roger stammered.

Mark lifted his gaze to the rafters still trailing dust down onto them. “This place is starting to give me the creeps.”

“Boy, you said i—“ A sharp pop interrupted Roger’s assessment, and suddenly a chair appeared beside him, where none had been before. He squinted at it. “Huh... Where did that come from?”

Mark wagged his head, moving toward the stone walls rather than near the precarious shelves. “It was probably there the whole time, you just didn’t notice.”

Roger hesitated, staring at the mysterious chair and prodding it with his finger. It certainly felt solid enough. “Only one way to find out,” he muttered. Turning around and taking the book from its stand, he sat upon the chair. “Ah, that’s more like it!” He resumed inspecting the strange runic language, looking for patterns and guessing at sounds.

Mark, meanwhile, did his best to inspect the view of the world outside through the thick, cut-glass window panes. Unfortunately, though they let in plenty of light, they were also thick enough to distort any view of the outside. He could distinguish colored patches of land, water, and sky, but that was it. Should they have gone back with Lisa? Why was this castle here, and what did all these strange things mean?


Mark felt the sting and whirled around just in time to see a pebble roll across the floor where it dropped. He glared at Roger. “OW!” he snarled. “That hurt!”

Roger raised his eyes with a bewildered expression. “What hurts?”

Mark crosses his arms and frowned at his brother. “Don’t give me that! You waited till my back was turned and you chucked a rock at my head!”

Roger set aside the book and scowled. “Did not!” He argued. “Where would I even get a pebble from?” His eye fell on the page he’d been reading. “As a matter of fact,” he mused, “I had just figured out that this word, kadag, might refer to stone...”

The moment he said the word, the very walls of the castle rumbled, and a stone from near the ceiling broke free of the mortar, crashing to the floor between the brothers.

Mark focused on the spot originally occupied by the rock. “I don’t like this,” he muttered. “This whole place is liable to come down.”

Roger was still looking at the book. “No, but I think I’ve cracked it, Mark! At least some of it. Let me try—“ He pointed to the large, blackened fireplace against the far wall of the library. “Rakhesh!” He said.

Mark heard a sound like a cough, felt a warm wind, and beheld a roaring fire in the hearth. He shoved his brother. “What is wrong with you?” he hollered. “You’re saying these words that we don’t actually understand, and things are just happening—we could get in some serious trouble!”

Roger snorted, flipping pages of the book, as the very floorboards seemed to vibrate under their feet. “Now you’re the one sounding crazy! It’s just a book, it can’t do anything! Watch! Here’s another word—Fulkat!” He turned back to stare at his brother, while Mark involuntarily held his breath as he waited for the walls to suddenly cave in.

Roger places his hands on his hips. “Do you know what that word meant, Mark? It meant protection. Aren’t you going to ask me how I know this? Well, I’ll save you the trouble—I don’t know!”

Mark’s eyes slipped to the book behind his brother, as Roger kept on raging at him. It could have been a trick of the light, but he could have sworn he saw one of the illustrations on the facing page actually start to move.

Roger kept right on speaking, almost without pausing. “It’s supposed to be this mysterious and other worldly language, but the more I looked at it, the more I could associate different sounds with the shapes, and it made sense—and then you start yelling at me like I’m the one who made all this stuff happen—“

Mark clamped a hand on his brother’s shoulder and pointed to the writhing picture as it abruptly lifted itself off the page and began to fade. “Roger! Look what it’s doing!”

Roger stopped and turned, but by that time, the illustration had dissipated completely. “What?” he asked. “What am I looking at?”

Mark felt the trembling even worse than before—how was Roger not affected by this? “That page!” he cried. “While you were talking, one of the pictures just crawled off the book!”

Roger squinted. “It did?” he asked. “What was it a picture of?”

“It was a—“ Mark stared at the gap, but it was as if the illustration had disappeared from his memory as well. “I... I don’t remember.”

The younger brother snorted. “And you’re saying I’m the crazy one... but hey, here are the words I figured out, at least some of them: “Fulkatta Kadapeg vash Rakhesh! Protect, stone, and fire!”

The shaking increased till the whole castle shook, and both brothers grabbed onto each other.

“Earthquake!” Roger hollered.

“Somehow I think it’s more than that!” Mark retorted. A flash of red streaked by the window—the same red from the illustration! “What was that?”

“What was what?” Roger asked, turning to follow his gaze as books tumbled off the shelves around them.

“Something flew by the window!” Mark answered, trying to work his way along with his brother, back toward the middle of the castle and safety.

“How is that even possible?” Roger queried. “You remember how high up this castle is! And there’s nothing but water all around!”

“I’m telling you, it’s—“

Just then, the mysterious thing appeared outside another window, and both brothers got a clear view of it.

They locked eyes and screamed together: “DRAGON!”

More stones began to drop, and they were still several yards from the door into the library.

“What have you done, Roger?” moaned Mark.

“How is this my fault?” Roger demanded.

Mark gripped his collar a little tighter. “You and your insatiable appetite for trouble—and you just HAD to pick out the words for stone, fire, and protection, of all things!”

“I’m sorry if those words offended you!”

“Listen, Roger!” Mark held on tight as they reached the safety of the small archway into the room. “What is this castle made of?”

Roger rolled his eyes. “Stone. But I don’t see—“

“And what would a dragon be doing around a castle that holds, among other things, books in an ancient or otherworldly language?”

Roger frowned in concentration. “You think it might be protecting this place?”

“Using what weapon?” Mark finished his last question as the dragon pulled up in front of a large window, giving them a full frontal view of it, even through the fractured glass.

Roger saw the open jaws, finally put the pieces together and gasped, ”FIRE!”

A brilliant, white heat blanketed the windows, but the fortification held, at least for now.

Roger suddenly gripped Mark’s wrist. “Wait—what about Lisa?”

Mark nodded. “We have to get down to her before the dragon finds her!”

No sooner did he say this, when the huge windows in the main atrium shattered, and the dragon burst into the space, trapping the boys in the doorway to the library, and cutting them off from the exit.

Did you enjoy this scene?
Check out the Flash Fictions page for more epic serials and short stories!
You can find more prompt-inspired scenes and one-shots under the "Flashes of Inspiration" title!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 19

Part 19

"This is where it starts," said Drea.

We had just passed outside the threshold of natural light, where the shadows just barely exceeded the amount of light available. The walls near the beginning had been mostly dirt and stone, shored up by planks installed by the archaeologists. Here, though, part of the original stone still remained, a slab still embedded in the wall. It looked like the back wall of a firing range, peppered with holes all over this one area.

Kayce ran his fingertips over the design. "What made this happen?" he asked.

Drea smirked as she stepped forward and pulled a piece of chalk out of her pocket. "Just wait," she said. "It gets better." She began drawing lines between the sprays, closing them in triangular shapes. What at first seemed like a randomized design ended up creating a pattern of triangles pointing in various directions: some up, some left, right, down, and slightly canted on the diagonal.

"Wait, you're kidding," I murmured, "so there is a pattern here?"

Drea nodded. "We stopped digging for three months while we tried to figure this one out, and after one of our crypto team solved the arrows, it took us three more months and a whole lot of seismic imaging to work out that--"

"It's a map," Tony butted in, stepping forward to examine the arrows more closely. "More specifically," he pointed ahead of us down the shaft. "It's a map of the route to the Inner Temple."

Drea chuckled. "Well, so far we can only confirm that you're right about the map thing. See, we figured out that each arrow represents a certain length, about sixty meters or so. If we followed the arrow's orientation for sixty meters, we'd arrive at the next point in the pathway, and about the only clear path would be in the same direction as the next arrow, and we could progress another sixty meters, and so on." She pulled out another chalk color. "By this point, we've made it about to here," she circled the thirteenth arrow on the map. "But if Tony here and a team of researchers are right, we just might end up getting to the Inner Temple after all."

In the deepening shadows of the lantern-light, I saw that brief flash again--but still, I couldn't find its origin, other than it seemed to come from the same vicinity that Tony occupied.

"If you have a map," Jordyn almost couldn't take her eyes off the amazing wall, "then why wouldn't you be able to just follow it all the way to the end? What's taking so long?"

Drea pursed her lips. "I'll show you."

She led us through another archway, right under the jagged wave symbol of Trikymios. The next room looked like part of it had caved in, leaving lines of rock and slender wooden posts exposed.

Jordyn leaned toward them. “What are—“

“Don’t touch those!” Drea snapped.

We all froze dead still at the urgency of her tone.

She fixed us with wide eyes. “Okay, so one of the reasons it’s taken us so long to dig down here is because we’ve encountered similar, uh, setbacks to the ones we had when we first started trying to branch off from the village.”

Professor Silver swung the beam of his head lamp all around the area. “Setbacks? You mean, like, booby traps?”

Tony scooted closer to me, and I felt him grab my hand.

“Hey look!” Kayce crouched against a corner of the room. “What does this symbol mean?”

We focused on his position. He crouched before a small altar built into the floor of the tunnel, set before a picture of something humanoid with a sideways oblong shape over it. Inside the oblong shape was a series of squiggles.

“That’s not Auraea or Trikymios,” I blurted.

“Right, we saw the mark of Trikymios out there,” Drea gestured to the arch. “We figure that this was another deity these people worshipped.”

“Good point,” Kayce agreed, coming back to join us in the middle of the room. “The Microtheon had to have been at least as big as the main Pantheon.”

“That’s neat!” our chaperone responded a little too loudly. “Everybody be on the lookout for other altars on our way through.”

“Look!” Jordan cried, pointing over our heads. There, on the archway we were about to cross, was the sign of Trikymios again, but the sign of this other god too, plus a few more strange marks.

“Fair warning as we go through this next spot,” Drea told us as she very slowly inched her way through the wide hall. “Don’t touch the walls, and watch very carefully to only step where I step.”

It should have been getting warmer in the tunnel, the further we got from access to fresh air, but Drea’s warning sent a chill over my entire body.

We lined up in single file, eyes focused on the feet of the person in front of us. Jordyn and Kayce ended up behind Drea, while Tony stood in front of me, and Professor Silver brought up the rear. My heart just about jumped into my throat when Tony lurched away from me and landed on a tile off to the side, but he pivoted right away and hissed, "Watch out!"

I stopped immediately, and saw what he had avoided: a pit with gleaming spikes protruding from it. Ahead of me, the group had scattered in similar fashion, with Drea lightly hopping and skirting her way past what we could only assume was a gauntlet of booby traps, both un-triggered and already sprung. I followed Tony, matching his movements, until I heard Drea call, "Okay, we're fine from this point."

As soon as she said that, Kayce called out, "Jordyn, don't--"


We all braced ourselves. Nobody so much as breathed in the dead silence, as Jordyn's feet slipped off the tile and she stumbled into one that hadn't yet been disturbed. Sixteen agonizing seconds ticked by before Drea reached out her hand and yanked Jordyn to safety beside her.

"That was a lucky break!" the geologist sighed.

Jordyn nodded, her whole body shaking visibly in the lantern-light. I watched Kayce wag his head, while Tony just clapped his hand on our teammate's shoulder without saying anything.

"You know," Professor Silver coughed, "at some point you might consider clearing out all the dangers from that place--I don't see how you could get any kind of equipment down here!"

Drea shot him a scowl. "How do you think we discovered that this particular path was booby-trapped? You might say it's impossible," she ushered us through the archway into the next room. "But I can show you clearly that it's not!"

One by one, we stepped into the room and gasped. Compared to the narrow, cramped tunnel that we'd been in so far, the space was huge! Natural light filtered down from open shafts way above our heads, and small groups of three and four people worked busily, testing walls and un-burying jugs of every shape and size, prodding hallways and copying down any designs or inscriptions they saw.

Professor Silver placed his hands on his hips and squinted at the wide shafts from under the brim of his hat. "Huh... Well, I suppose that's one way to bypass the gauntlet of death."

Jordyn shot our guide a narrow look. "If there was a way to just rappel straight down here, then why all the theatrics with the tunnel?" she demanded.

Drea gave a wide grin. "My way's more fun," she stated.

I walked over to where a pair of archaeologists scanned a particular symbol on the wall with a specialized camera that seemed to filter through a whole bunch of different markings.

"Hey, that's that same marking we saw before," I mused.

The guy holding the tablet glanced at me. "On the first archway? Yeah, we're trying to figure out what it means." After a pause, he squinted at me. "And you are--"

"Pris," I introduced myself. "I'm one of the students joining you for the week."

"Oh." He returned to watching the flickering screen without bothering to offer the same courtesy I did.

"What's going on over here?" Without warning, Tony appeared beside me.

"They're trying to figure out what that other new symbol means," I replied in a low voice. Far be it from me to interrupt this important work! "They've got a special app that filters through different signs--"

"They're not going to find it, though." Tony cut me off--and, more importantly, I saw the orange flash again! I wondered if he was going to mention it, but he just stood there, shaking his head, just waiting for someone to prod him for more information.

The other researcher left off her scans of the ancient inscription below the symbol and stared at Tony. "What is that supposed to mean?" she said. "This is state-of-the-art equipment--"

Tony stood his ground. "The equipment's not the problem," he said, folding his arms. The orange light from the amulet seemed to reflect in his eyes as he spoke. "Your database is not sufficient. You're only looking through the known deities, the famous ones, the common ones. That symbol," He pointed to the wall before us, "happens to belong to Ichthykitos, a minor god of fish and whales."

Tablet Man scowled at Tony, but he did enter the name into a field on his tablet. The device let out a warbling chime, and a depiction of the very same god showed up on the screen. Both researchers stared in shock.

Tablet Man shook his head as he scrolled through the text. "I've never heard of this deity--how did you know?"

Tony shrugged as Kayce and then Jordyn joined us. "Well, it stands to reason that since Auraea and Trikymios belonged to the Microtheon, then maybe the group on Fourtouna would naturally end up worshipping other gods associated with them, as well."

The woman frowned. "Microtheon? I don't understand. What is that?"

Tony's eyes shifted toward me, and I felt a lurch of fear well up inside me. He couldn't know! Nobody else was supposed to know my connection to this novel concept!

Kayce coughed, saving me from definite embarrassment. "I can explain that. See, the Patheon only contained the major gods, the ones most people know about: Ares, Zeus, Athena and the rest. But gods like Trikymios and Auraea weren't a part of that; instead, a sect of Greek worshippers imagined these lesser gods as a secondary pantheon, a Microtheon, who were connected to the main Pantheon by association, but entirely their own functional group as well."

Tablet Man was adjusting something on the device, frowning in thought as he considered this information. "This is all new to me, but it checks out. Looks like we have Auraea and Trikymios accounted for, and now Ichthykitos."

"What about the other unidentified symbols?" asked his partner. "The ones Lacey and Markus are working on?"

Tablet Man shrugged without taking his eyes off the new windows popping open on his screen. "Don't know."

His partner took off without him. "Lacey! Mark! Hey guys! We've got some new info!"

Tablet Man grinned at Kayce. "You must be one of the college students," he seemed to find more appreciation for him than he ever showed toward me. "Tell me more about this Microtheon stuff!"

I broke away to engage Tony next to me--but he'd already taken off to another area, where a group of researchers were arguing over the arrangement of a series of colored stones within a mosaic on the floor.

"Match the divots," said the first person, a wiry man with silver hair. "It's probably connected to the inscription on the wall here. The color doesn't really matter."

"Yes it does!" said another, a woman with wispy, fine hair in a ponytail down her back. "See? It's supposed to be a pattern--light, dark, dark, light, light! Your way would take ages to match each gem to a divot!"

"Well, your way doesn't take into account the evidence of prior placement!" The wiry man screamed. His eyes wandered over to us, as the new faces. "What do you think?" he asked, staring straight at me.

I pointed to myself. "Me? Oh, um..." I was really more of a patterns kind of girl--he did have a point about matching the shape of the divots. But what if the shape had changed through erosion over the years this tunnel system lay buried? "I'm not too sure about things like this..."

Tony dropped to his knees. I watched him pick up stones one by one, turn them over in his fingers, and then gently lay them to rest in a divot.

"What are you doing?" hissed the woman, but Tony kept working until he had used every last stone in the pile. He stood up and dusted off his hands.

"There," he said.

We all stared at the design very clearly outlined by the dark stones in their proper divots.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Reader's Review: "Excelsior" by George Sirois

Synopsis from Amazon:

A comic strip. An evil to defeat. Two planets to save.

High school senior Matthew Peters thinks he’s just writing some online fiction about an alien superhero, Excelsior. But when a woman arrives at his school claiming to be from the distant planet he’s writing about, he must think again. What’s more, she says Excelsior’s lifeforce lives within him.

As an alien assassin tries to kill him, Matthew must decide what is more important: to save his own life or to retrieve an ancient artifact that could save two worlds. To stay the guy with growing online popularity, or lose himself to something he can’t understand. Whatever his choice, he must face an enemy more powerful than him in almost every way.

Hold on to your seat as you race through the first book in George Sirois’ series, The Excelsior Journey, a story that will leave you gasping for breath and wanting more.

Put down the pen.
Pick up the sword.
Unleash the hero within.

My Review:

I have to admit, when I first read a description of this book and its premise, I got very excited. As a writer, I can attest to the fact that it would probably be both my wildest dream and my most terrifying nightmare if one day, out of the blue, some people arrived and said they were the characters in a story that had hitherto only existed in my imagination.

In the case of Matthew Peters, he discovers that not only is the story he is writing about something that actually happened in another dimension, but it came from the actual memories of their greatest hero--and he is the "chosen host" of that hero, the next incarnation destined to battle and destroy the vile enemy who strives to destroy the hero's entire world.

He's an innocent enough hero--high school senior, living with his uncle after his parents died, who started writing this comic since the age of ten, all centered around this mysterious and incredible artifact he saw in a museum once... thrilled about getting five thousand follows on his blog... Just trying to make it to graduation, so he can figure out what he wants to do with his life...

Is it just me or does this sound like a Marvel Comic Origin Story?

The dual storyline, telling about the scenes from this other dimension, and more importantly, the frantic search in a foreign planet for both the weapon and the hero to wield it, was a little hard to get into at first, and the names really did feel like they were "invented" by a teenage boy... but then again, I make it through the Chronicles of Lorrek and all those strange names just fine, so that part didn't bother me as much as it might bother someone else. If anything, the bizarre names lent an air of credibility to the fact that these characters weren't humans from Earth, but a humanoid race from an entirely different dimension!

The character interactions felt a little staged, like you knew where everything was headed most of the time--but it was the pacing that kept things from stalling out entirely. The fight scenes were well-framed and the twists just kept coming as the characters learned to work cohesively as a team, and the main characters stepped up to stand against the ruthless forces of evil. I felt like the important lessons Matthew (and even Jason) learned as they prepared for the battle and then went through with it were presented with a lot of intentionality, which was good. All in all, I did feel like I'd read your average superhero comic book--which I do not doubt (based on the sheer amount of references alone) was the author's objective, so to that I can say "Mission Accomplished!" Especially considering the real-life inspiration behind the creation of this novel... the story was not lacking in significance!

It is due to all of these factors taken together that I can give EXCELSIOR a solid *****4.5 STAR***** rating, and for the good, wholesome story, the excellent villains, the development of distinct characters rather than just faceless names that blend into each other... I'm going to add an Upstream Writer Certified Recommended endorsement. If you're looking for a light, fun, simplistic, superhero-type story in a brand-new setting, enjoyable for readers young and old, then EXCELSIOR awaits!

Further Reading: (Space-Based Adventure/GameLit/Sci-Fantasy/Young Heroes)
Puatera Online--Dawn Chapman
-Desert Runner
-Domechild--Shiv Ramdas
-Warriors of the Edge--Katie Bridges
-The Arena--Santana Young
Starstruck Saga--S. E. Anderson
The Children of Dreki--N. R. Tupper
Punk Anthologies--Writerpunk Press Group
-Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk, Vol. 1
-Once More Unto The Breach: Shakespeare Goes Punk, Vol. 2
-What We've Unlearned: Classic Literature Goes Punk
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
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
-Who Can You Trust?
-The Tannis Project--Daryl J. Ball
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
-Ghost Hand
-Ghost Hold
-Ghost Heart
-Ghost Hope

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 18

Part 18

We hiked back to the main camp and met Kayce and Tony just coming from among the RVs.

I joined hands with Tony when he offered. "So how was your morning?" I asked.
My friend had the biggest grin on his face. "Oh, you'll never believe what we found!"

"Yeah, us too!" Derrick looked about ready to launch into a recital of everything we'd just experienced, but Jordyn interrupted him.
"What were you two up to?" she asked.

Kayce swung his head to flick the hair out of his face. "Well, I got hung up on the idea of using the sun, after seeing that phrase yesterday, so Tony and I were going back over the last few attempts at locating the path to the Temple, watching to see if anyone else had tried to account for the sun's position in following the ancient records."
"Yeah," Tony chuckled. "No sense in trying to start from square one and do all the work ourselves if it's already been done!"

We reached the table of food and started dishing up sandwiches and fruit. I was happy to see a pile of loukoumades at the end of the table for dessert. They weren't exactly fresh like the ones we'd had on the mainland, but they were still delicious.

"Anyhow," Kayce went on. "I found a few rituals that mentioned the sun's specific position, and at least one account that talked about the angle of the sun as it appeared over the temple itself, so I think if we keep going on this, we might actually be successful in finding the temple!"

Jordyn looked a little nervous at this, and Derrick waved his fork at the two guys. "You might want to rethink that after we tell you what Athanasios just told us this morning!"

"Oh, hey you guys!" Laila came striding over and joined our table. "Guess what? I cracked it!"
"Cracked what?" Kayce asked. He looked confused for a moment, but then his face cleared. "Oh, you were the researcher who came in with that rubbing earlier!"

Laila nodded. "Yeah, I got those from a way-marker we found on the trail out toward the village. And you'll never believe what Dane's team figured out from the markings on that stone!" She laid a piece of paper out on the middle of the table. It had some kind of picture key, and a few lines of text written on it.
"This is just a partial translation," she explained, "but it looks like the stone definitely uses this mark," she pointed to a whorling spiral design, "to represent the wind goddess Auraea, and this one," she pointed to a jagged crisscross symbol over a series of wavy lines, "to represent references to a storm god named Trikymios. And then look what the stone said along with it!" She pointed to the translated text.

Tony leaned in to read it out loud to us. "Whoso comes upon this path, him shall lightly tread; make supplication and turn aside for your fate... Is that all?"

Laila's hazel eyes danced as she drummed her fingers on the table. "That's as far as we've gotten since this morning. But isn't it just so cool?"

Kayce was still squinting at it. "What does it mean, though?"

The researcher gathered up her materials and stood. "We're still working on trying to make sense of the thing, so we're not exactly sure what the markings themselves mean, but one thing's for sure--we're definitely on the right track!"
She practically skipped away from us, and as everybody went back to eating their lunch, I stole a glimpse at the locket hanging around my neck.

Whorls on one side. Jagged lines on the other. Auraea and Trikymios.

"Hey," said a voice next to me, and I looked up into Tony's eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked.

I pressed my tee shirt collar over my locket and nodded. "Yeah, I was just... checking to see if I spilled anything on myself."

He was staring at my collar too--was it wrong to feel so uncomfortable about a locket I'd been wearing around these people for as long as I'd known them? Finally, his eyes returned to my face with a smile. "Nope, looks fine to me!"
I rolled my eyes. "Thanks for that," I said, and popped the last honey donut into my mouth.

After lunch, we separated, Derrick heading to the generators, Tony over to the research RV, and Kayce headed to the surveillance RV, mumbling something about satellite imaging. That left me with Jordyn, who was so excited she practically jigged from foot to foot as we waited for Athanasios to show up.

“I just can’t help it!” she squealed. “We’re finally going to see that Temple site Drea talked about—with the underground tunnel and the archways and everything!” She grabbed my shoulders and practically screamed in my face. “We’re gonna get to be just like Indiana Jones!”

“Geez!” I sighed, pushing on her arms. “Back up a little, would you?”

She did, withdrawing a couple paces—but the glee on her face didn’t leave.

I noticed Alexandros standing beside the shipping container with the artifacts, hammering the lid of a crate into place. A strange sort of relief built inside me—he might have been sending off weird vibes on the trip over here, but at least he didn’t make me uncomfortable in the way Athanasios did.

“Hey Alexandros!” I called as I approached.

The tanned young guide set down the hammer and smiled at me. “Hey! Storm girl! What do you think of the place so far, eh? Not bad for a bunch of foreigners digging around!”
I glanced around; storm girl? Did he call me that merely because of the storm we went through to get here? Or what made him associate that with me?
I turned the topic of conversation back to him. “I think this place is pretty neat,” I replied. “And what about you? I thought you were just the guide—I didn’t know you worked here!”

Alexandros shrugged. “I do sometimes, especially when they’ve got a lot of artifacts to ship.” He patted the crate beside us.

I looked for a shipping label on the side. “Where does FRED send the things they find?”

Alexandros pointed to the large white stamp on the side, that gave an address in Albany, New York, United States. “From Thessaloniki on the mainland, these things usually go to FRED’s main research center, in Albany.”

I squinted at the address, wishing for cell service so I could verify—after all, hadn’t both Chelsea and I tried to look up the address for the facility? Hadn’t we been unsuccessful? Now here was an entire shipping container destined for who-really-knew-where. “And then what? Do they keep all this stuff? Collect it?”

Alexandros laughed and took a seat on a short crate nearby. “Boy, you never stop with the questions, do you?”

I shrugged. “My mom is an antiquities curator for a museum back in Chicago, so I’m familiar with how archaeological discoveries are handled.” And the fact that this organization might be stealing priceless treasures because no such research facility actually exists, I wanted to add.

Alex raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Well! You are a very surprising girl, Despoinida! I am sorry I cannot tell you more beyond what I have said. I only help it leave this country. I do not know what happens to it when it arrives in your country.”
In the pause that followed his comment, I heard my name hollered from the edge of camp.

“PRISCILLA! ARE YOU COMING?” Derrick had his hands cupped around his mouth like a bullhorn.

I turned around and waved at him. "Yeah I'm coming!" Something in the bushes caught my eye and I glanced directly across the camp.

Herrin stood just within the tree line, his hand resting on the gun slung across his chest. I could feel the intensity of his stare from way over here.
I did my best to ignore him and focus on joining the rest of the group. Tony and Jordyn were already on the back of the slow-rolling ATV. I opted to stay on the ground and walk along with Derrick, Kayce and Professor Silver. The stories about the equipment failure Athanasios told were too fresh in my mind.
Derrick slapped the back of the ATV as if it were a pack mule. "Let's go!" he hollered. Apparently he didn't think twice about our safety. He ribbed Kayce. "Just wait till you see it. The dig site is awesome!"
Kayce snorted and glanced up the trees, where birds screeched at the invasion of their peaceful habitat. "Yeah, I've been hearing a lot about the village they found."

We followed the ATV into the wide clearing. It definitely looked less eerie in the morning than it did the previous evening. Teams of "combers" were already hard at work, digging carefully, in small sections. A table at the center of the deep, wide pit that ran the entire perimeter of the village held the freshly-unearthed artifacts: coins, pottery, shards and the like. Tony and Jordyn hopped down as we all headed to that table first.

"Good morning to our esteemed guests!" Drea greeted us. She had a notebook out, and she was carefully examining each trinket on the table and recording it.
She noticed me staring with my head tilted as I tried to read upside-down, and she rotated the notebook for me. "Wanna see?" She asked. "I'm just keeping careful notes of exactly what we find, and exactly where we find it."

One of the workers behind us gave a chuckle. "Yeah, Drea goes above and beyond the fact that we keep digital records of everything, with video and still cameras."

Drea fiddled with the ends of her sleek brown ponytail. "I just like to be precise, that's all!" she glanced toward Jordyn. "I assume somebody's told you of all the problems we've encountered with technology over here."
I nodded. "Athanasios was saying some weird things were going on."
Derrick laid a finger on a two-handled jug and tilted it to peek inside. "Yeah, but that could have had any number of perfectly logical causes--unexplained doesn't necessarily mean spooky."
Drea arched an eyebrow and moved the jug a little further away from him. "To each their own," she muttered.

"Hey guys!" Dane's voice carried over from another quadrant of the dig. I saw him standing with a few others, everybody covered in a fine layer of dust, their legs streaked with mud. He waved to us. "Come over here! We found something!"
Professor Silver ushered us over to the place where two guys crouched over the ground.
"What is it?" Jordyn asked.
"It's big," Derrick whistled.

It took the two men a whole lot of digging and pushing and heaving to unearth the thing: a large, round stone, with bits of colored glass embedded in it.

"Oh, no way!" Drea gasped as the men hauled the stone out of the dirt. She kept a watchful eye on the berm over our heads. As they shifted the stone, the whole ground seemed to move. "Careful--we don't want to displace too much of the land."
They slid the stone halfway out, and the dirt began to shift and fall, when Dane suddenly lunged forward and caught the stone's edge. "Wait!" His eyes were fixed on the wall of dirt behind the stone.

Everyone froze. Dane reached out to touch the uneven wall--and as he did so, the realization filtered around the group that the cracks and lumps in the wall were not random texture, but an actual inscription.

Drea took charge. "Okay, get some boards in here, I want this wall shored up so that nothing dislodges it till we can get a full scan of this! Somebody get me an imager!"
Dane helped the two guys gently shift the wheel out of the way, as a team of workers moved in with boards and tools to brace the dirt around the inscription.

Jordyn stood back with Professor Silver and some others. "That's so cool," she mused. "But why would somebody be inscribing on a wall?"

Dane came walking back, a huge grin on his face. "Prayer walls, we call them," he said, noting our interest in the wall. "It was an ancient practice for some sects: inscribe an important prayer into the wall of your house, and it would supposedly bless the structure of the building, while also creating a consistent orientation for the prayer time. If you always face the wall, you will always be facing the same direction. I don't know about you guys, but I can't wait to learn what this family valued so much to pray about that they'd make a prayer wall in their home!"

"It's the wrong way!" A voice--Kayce's voice--shouted from the other side of the dig. I looked from Derrick and Tony standing next to Drea on one side, to Jordyn and Professor Silver beside Dane on the other. When had Kayce separated from the rest of us?

We shifted out of the corner of the dig site to see the platinum-blond kid staring at the burly dig chief Athanasios as they both stood at the mouth of one of the paths marked by a staff with many colored flags.
Athanasios crossed his arms and glowered at Kayce. "These people have spent many hours researching multiple sources; they have much evidence to support this path to the Temple."

Kayce shook his head. "Yeah, but they're still wrong! Look at the sun!" He pointed up to the sky, where the sun hung toward the eastern side, not quite up to the midday position. "The text we found yesterday mentions the morning sun glinting off the high trees, but look at it!" He gestured to the area, where the vast array of undergrowth and foliage would necessarily prevent the sun from actually glinting of much of anything. "By the time the sun gets to the right position, it'll be way past midday! I'm telling you, this village might be here and that's all well and good, but if you're looking for the Altar of Auraea and the Temple of Trikymios, you're completely on the wrong side of the island!"

"No!" Athanasios cut him off with a wave of his hand and turned away. "We dig here, because here is where the ground is best and most even--the other side of the island is unstable and overgrown, there would be too many problems to even consider building there. What you say is impossible, and I think you do not know what you are talking about!"

Kayce opened his mouth to say more, but Dane walked over to him. "Hey, kid!" he beckoned to the young student. "Why don't you come over here and tell me what you're thinking."

Kayce's narrow shoulders slumped, and he regained some of that bored, scornful expression that he first wore in class when we were all selected. "I was trying to tell him about some of the things Tony and I found yesterday, about the sun and all," he said.
Dane braced his hands on his hips and glanced up toward the sky. "And you really believe that we're not going to find anything remotely temple-ish on this side of the island?"
Kayce wagged his head, and a lock of hair fell into his face. "No, I don't think so."

Athanasios made a scornful noise and rolled his eyes. "All of this work for nothing, he says."
Dane turned and squinted at the dig chief. "But if he's right, then it won't matter how far we dig or how much we discover, if it means we're never going to find the one thing we'd most like to find."

By now, we'd attracted quite the crowd of onlookers. Only a few people were really committed to actively digging things up in various corners.
"Kayce," I murmured. "What about those things Laila was saying? About the waystone and whatnot--"
He shook his head. "It's the wrong place. I know it is!"

Drea walked over from delivering scans of the prayer wall on the far side of the dig. "What's all the commotion over here?" she asked.
Athanasios stomped toward her and threw up his stocky hands. "This boy says we have dug in the wrong place, he expects us to fill all of this back in and set up a new camp on the other side of the island."
Drea tilted her head and squinted at Kayce, who wasn't looking at anybody much anymore. "Oh, really?" she mused. "Then I suppose the tunnel full of religious iconography and sacred relics we've been unearthing in the last week is just a fantastically-crafted decoy."
The anthropology student lifted his head, and his eyes gleamed once more. "The what?"

Jordyn gave a subdued squeal beside me.
Drea grinned and she beckoned to us. "Follow me. I've got something to show you guys."

The geological supervisor led all of us back toward the main road. When Derrick started drifting toward the ATV again, she said, "Don't bother with that. It would only be a short ride before we'd have to go on foot anyway."

Derrick pulled a weary face as he rejoined the group. Just then, Kaity came walking toward us down the road we were about to take. She had some kind of mechanism in a cart she pushed in front of her, stopping every few paces to make sure the uneven ground didn't tip the whole thing over.
The mechanic gave a grin and a nod as she trundled past us, but as she did, the cart gave a lurch, and Kaity stumbled--but Derrick moved fast enough to catch the cart before it tilted too far.
"Oh frack!" Kaity gasped, coming to a stop. She raised her eyebrows with a look of approval at Derrick. "Thanks for saving me."

"What's that, Kaity?" Drea asked.
Kaity nodded toward the thing in the cart. "The engine from one of our, uh, generators was acting up," she stammered. "I've gotta take it back to camp to figure out what's wrong with it."
"I'll go with you!" Derrick volunteered.

"Dude," Kayce needled him, "I thought you were all pumped to see the tunnels."
Derrick tilted his head toward us. "No, Jordyn was excited to go underground. I, um, don't do well in small spaces." He locked eyes with the professor, as our chaperone. "So, can I go?"
Professor Silver shrugged. "Suit yourself. We'll be back by dinner."
Derrick nodded and snapped a quick salute. He held the cart steady as Kaity pushed, headed back the way we came.

"Let's keep going," Drea called to us. "We've only got a few hours before sundown, and I want to be back by then."

As we made our way down the sloping, winding path, I noticed Professor Silver glancing around at each of us every few yards or so, like he was keeping a head count. Was he afraid of losing one of us or something?

We arrived at the mouth of the tunnel: a high stone arch that seemed built right into the slope just above the village dig site. I noticed that the stones had ridges and shapes carved right into them.
"What do these mean?" I pointed at the array of hand-sculpted stones.
Drea pursed her lips and shook her head. "You know, I noticed it too, at first--but I haven't been able to make sense of the shapes. Not even Tamis, who is usually our patterns guy, can make head or tails of it, so we figure if it's not natural erosion, it must just be for effect, without any real meaning.

It's not like a culture this ancient and devoted to just make pretty things for the sake of having pretty things, I thought. Not when everything else on the island has some kind of significance.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Tony called after us, as we all gathered inside the tunnel. He remained outside, tracing his finger over some of the rocks while fiddling with something in his other hand. "Some of these rocks have a pattern that's also on this coin here." He held up the other object that glinted in the sun.

My first thought was How did Tony get away with taking one of the coins from the village dig site? but Drea didn't seem to notice that in favor of the connection he'd just made. She took the coin and examined the rock closely.

"Wh--I don't believe it!" She gasped with her eyes wide. "You're totally right! Our artifacts team had been wondering about some of the strange coins that didn't match the other drachmas and obols that actually had monetary value--but I see it now! These rocks correspond with those strange coins!" She whipped out her radio. "Village, this is Drea, come in!"

A gravelly voice responded, "This is Village, over."

"Athanasios," she instructed, "send a couple of your crew out here with those coins carrying the odd stamp. I want them comparing the stamp to the carved rocks around the entrance to the tunnel."

Tony grinned slyly as he took another coin out of his pocket and flipped it, watching it twirl in the air before catching it in his hand. "Who would have thought it, am I right?" He murmured casually.

Jordyn was beside herself. "Oh my gosh, this is so exciting!" she gushed. "What if there's some special significance to the value of these specially-marked coins, that help us understand their connection to the proposed temple?"

Tony rubbed his chin. "Yeah, or to the worship of Auraea and Trikymios? That would be something, wouldn't it?"

Drea was still wagging her head. "Okay people--they've got head lamps and hard hats for everybody. Let me show you what we've found so far." She gave Tony an appreciative grin. "And if any of you see anything else," she addressed us as a group, "don't hesitate to say something! Looks to me like FRED has been coming to this same spot for so long, we've taken quite a few things for granted!"

A flash of orange caught the corner of my eye, but when I strapped on my hard hat and turned to follow it, I found myself looking at Tony, and no part of him was glowing. Where had that flash come from? The amulet on his wrist? I'd all but forgotten it. My mom's warning came up in my mind again--what if the very real magic of the amulet made him a target for the demon? 
I scooted closer to him, glad that our preexisting friendship allowed me to stay close to him without feeling like I had to explain how I was protecting him from the potential of a demonic attack from somewhere on this island.


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