Friday, July 31, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: July

Life Stuff

Oh this has been a strange month! Advancing slowly yet passing by far too quickly all at once, we've hit "critical summer" here which means it's hot outside, yet everything is still shut down so there's not a whole lot being done.

Except writing, that is!

Yep, I've managed to do a whole lot of "word-vomiting", it seems like, and I managed to clear 40K! It's a new record!

I have joined a book club with some ladies from my church, I've made it to the library at least once this month (and I'm going to need to stop in again at some point this week... that's the trouble with the new way of doing things... one has to put books on hold, and one cannot just stop in and browse to one's heart's content to get plenty of reading material in one fell swoop!) and things are happening, so let's get to it!

Monthly Stats:

Words Written: 40K!!

Books Read: 2/4


WIP-ping it into a frenzy!

Lol, lame pun, I know. But seriously, I have this thing where I can only focus on one particular project for so long before I start hitting too many walls and thinking about all the other projects I'd rather be writing! So the battle goes on!

There is The Last Inkweaver, which I'm still enjoying. I just had the most amazing breakthrough, actually, that I think will help explain a few things a whole lot better than I did in Draft 2.

One of the big things I ended up tackling this month is rewriting the part that was "Ronni the Robber Baroness" and "Tark the Trafficker" and turning them into the same event. Combining the experiences for Callista, I've found, ends up creating more of a definitive "Turning Point Moment" for her, in that she learns more about the Wordspinners and how they work, she gets a real sense of how dangerous it all is, and she gains the confidence to move forward instead of clinging to past ideals and regrets. Things go from "Callista worrying about what other people expect of her" to "Callista knowing what she expects of herself, and willing to face the consequences of it." Giving her a more active role to play in her own story just accentuates how much she's grown from the way she was at the beginning of the story, and gives her more of an arc than just "oops this happened now deal with it." Instead of throwing random "extras" around her, I actually gave the specific characters distinct backstories that affect how they interact and the way they view not only their captors and each other but Wordspinners as well. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I "discovered" that one of the prisoners who had basically been tortured out of his mind was in fact connected to the people the group is going to meet at the next stop, so that gave that part the direction and intentionality it needed!

But of course, I did mention that this is a battle, right?

Over the last couple months, I've been working on polishing and prepping Princess of Undersea to launch the new series, which I'm calling The Undersea Saga. Of course, everyone knows that one book does not a series make, so that means I have sequels to write, right? Being so immersed in the first book and throwing in foreshadowing (like the fact that one of the off-hand place names referenced in this first book will become a key location in Book 4!) wherever I can has distracted my imagination sufficiently so that in addition to trying to get all of The Last Inkweaver out in the right order... So now I'm coming up with random scenes from all Three ensuing books (boy I cannot wait to reveal the whole series plan to you all! It's gonna be goood!!) complete with discovering a premade cover that perfectly suits the premise for Book 3 AND gave me the breakthrough I needed for a crucial plot point in there... but folks, it's BOOK 3. I need to organize, design, develop, and write book 2 before I even have a prayer of getting there! So of course my obliging Muse is convinced that I should be writing that, and that I should just abandon The Last Inkweaver right in the middle of things... I don't know!

As if that weren't enough....


And apparently Priscilla Sum isn't as "passe" as I thought! I know I've been getting really excited about Clan of Outcasts 3, and really annoyed with how long Priscilla and the gang are taking to get around to the really complicated part of the story (the one where I probably could have benefitted from actually doing some freaking research but at this point I don't want to expend more mental energy--which I obviously do not have--on this "was-going-to-be-a-short-story-I-swear" than what I have already expended) that I actually put out a poll on my author page--and in four responses, three of them wanted me to finish out Priscilla Sum, so that's what's going on!

At this point, it looks like the remainder of the story might take at least seven more weeks of Priscilla Sum, to finish out the plot... which means we're looking at Clan of Outcasts 3 starting in September! That's the other thing taking up headspace, though--I need to have enough of the story written in advance that I'll be able to post it more regularly, without having the issue that I'm running into with Priscilla Sum, where I can't seem to write it and get things together fast enough to post every week, so I miss weeks... I don't like missing weeks!

Hence, I will be pushing to finish writing the serial in the next week, and starting next Saturday, I hope I'll have enough to be able to post every week for the next seven weeks till we're done!

Something tells me I need to have a better system so that I can produce all of these projects more efficiently without feeling guilty about knuckling down and focusing on any one of them because it means I'm neglecting the others, which also have pressing deadlines looming closer! I detest deadlines!!


Reading this month... didn't go so well. I'm about two-thirds of the way through the first of what should have been 2 indie ebooks read this month, Broken Empire: Aftermath by E. A. Copen, I just haven't had a lot of downtime when I'm in the mood for reading, especially ebooks, this month. (Maybe it's the fault of the fact that when I'm on my phone I'm thinking of streaming videos and whatnot... but we won't talk about that just now!)

I will say that Broken Empire is definitely giving me STRONG Asimov vibes! The way the story is built, the rich and powerful seeking even more powerful, while the downtrodden "grunts" who see clearly what's actually going on are working in the shadows to upset that power balance... meanwhile there are characters who matter, characters you're drawn to root for... and they might not be the obvious "heroes" you would expect. Such is the beauty of Copen's writing--she makes you care in spite of yourself. Brilliant! I can't wait to see how this one turns out!

The only books I've finished this month are Funerals are Fatal by Agatha Christie and Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence.

The former felt more like a bust... because I went into it thinking I hadn't read it... only to find out, when I went to log it as "read" that I had apparently "read" it already... seven years ago... under a different title! Grrr... not cool!

Holy Sister more than made up for that though. Lawrence really built the story well, and his writing is still as spectacular as ever. "Men Writing Women" has long been something to point and laugh at, an absurdity of errors because of the numerous examples where men have done an abominable job "building" and describing their female characters... But if you're remotely interested in the new show Warrior Nun on Netflix... you might skip the disappointment and go straight on to reading this trilogy, The Books Of the Ancestor! Warrior nuns aplenty, and very real relationships, interactions, development... everything! His switch from a male-dominated cast to one that's mostly female feels almost seamless, as the girls seem every bit as diverse and strong and unique as his male characters. They're flawed and gifted in all the right ways. They make friends and enemies, they plot and plan, they share secrets and withhold information, they're just real, and it's wonderful!

I predict that I'm going to get to finish several more books in the month of August. I'm still working through Hercule Poirot's Casebook, and I've got a stack of books from the actual real library, no less, that I'll be working my way through as fast as I can: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter, Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, and Blood Rites by Jim Butcher.

Next up in the realm of indie books I've got Dawn of Destiny by Amy Hopkins and Michael Anderle, and a book that's been on my Shelf Of Signed Books for years... Deception by Katika Schneider. Some of you might remember my review of the first book, Devotion, and the way it kind of threw me for a loop, since I hadn't really read much of its kind at the time... I'm interested to see how the sequel reads, now that I've matured as a reader. Looking forward to it!

So there you have it... We are past the halfway mark for 2020 and making headway on the rest of it.... Tally-ho! And as always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 23

Part 23

I woke up feeling rested and refreshed...

Three seconds later, my cot tossed me out of bed. Jordyn landed on her shoulder beside me.

“Ow!” She snapped. “What—EARTHQUAKE!”

No duh; I guess I might not have known what it was until somebody screamed it in my face.

The ground rolled and rumbled beneath us. “What is the likelihood of the shaking opening a crack in the ground right under our tent?” I stammered, keeping my jaw tense to avoid chomping on my tongue.

“I d-don’t think we’re... on... a... fault line!” Jordyn answered.

Over the crashing of the trees and the roar of falling rocks, I heard people shouting and alarms blaring all over the place outside our tent. Jordyn and I curled up as small as possible under our cots until the shaking stopped.

I peeled my face from between my elbows and looked over at Jordyn. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m still alive,” she muttered from her fetal position. “How about you?”

“I think it’s stopped,” I said, slowly uncurling my body. My nerves felt like quivering even though I could find things like the hanging ties in the tent to confirm that nothing was shaking still.

Professor Silver popped his head through the door of our tent. "Are you ladies okay?" he asked.

"We're fine," I pushed myself up onto my feet. "What a way to start the day!"

The professor smirked. "I'll say! Why don't you both get dressed and we'll all group up in the middle of camp to get a damage update from Stephanie?"

"Will do."

I hauled out my duffel and picked out a tee shirt and shorts for the day's outfit. Jordyn sat on the edge of her cot, but she wasn't moving.

I slid on my clothes before turning to her. "What's wrong?"

She had a look on her face, like she knew a secret she couldn't possibly tell, or the same way Tony would look when he felt horrible but didn't want to have to explain himself.

"I... kinda don't want to be here anymore," Jordyn mumbled under her breath.

I came over to sit next to her. "Did talking to your mom make you homesick?" I asked. "Or..." I saw the way she crossed her arms over her middle. "Do you feel sick-sick?"

Just at that moment, her gut let out a resonant moan. We both giggled a little. Jordyn put a hand to her forehead.

"Maybe I am coming down with something," she mused. "But it's more like..." She searched my face. "Yesterday was weird, right? It can't be just me who thinks that... Everything that happened... and then the phone call just cutting out like it did..."

She broke off as I started nodding. "Derrick has been picking up on stuff too," I said, and filled her in on what he talked about while she was off making her phone call.

"Wow, that's super shady!" Jordyn mused when I finished. "I think this group might be a little too fixated on finding whatever treasure or something, and I've seen enough paranormal TV shows and films to know that never ends well for the people involved!"

I sighed and stood in the middle of the tent. "But we can't just say to the professor Um, actually, we're done being on the field trip now and we'd like to go home. We can't just leave!"

"But we shouldn't stay if there's something that could threaten our lives!" Jordyn countered. "I vote we take a boat to the mainland and try to call home from there."

I tried to picture how that kind of thing would go down. Would it be as dicey as the trip over here? And our grinning native captain wouldn't be able to help us--would we have to get Alexandros involved? "By ourselves?" I pointed out to Jordyn. "Who would drive the boat, if we did manage to steal one from the beach?"

"Kayce knows how to drive a motorboat," Jordyn supplied. "He goes surfing and waterskiing all the time." She sighed and pulled her bag up onto her lap. "I just know that for some reason, every time I think about going back out to that dig and discovering something else for these people, I feel like I'm going to puke!"

An idea unfolded in my head, from a story my dad told. I recalled his deep, sonorous voice telling me a hilarious anecdote about some ancient hero who had a detachment of soldiers pretend to be sick to avoid getting captured by enemy forces.

"Maybe that's it!" I snapped my fingers. "We can pretend to be sick--some more than others--to avoid suspicion and to get the professor to let us stay back from the dig today."

"Today?" Jordyn repeated, skepticism written all over her face. "Wait, you want to do this thing today?"

I shrugged. "If not today, then we'll just prep today and leave tomorrow before anyone realizes what we're doing."

Jordyn gulped and started pulling on some Bermuda shorts and a striped tee shirt. "I don't think I could fake it that well--"

"You don't have to," I said. "Just hang out in here, I'll tell Professor Silver you're sick, and after breakfast I'll bring you some and let you know what the others say." That way, if she really is sick, it might add credibility to what we're trying to do! I thought.

Jordyn twisted a lock of hair around her finger, and finally nodded. "Okay... I don't feel like eating much right now, anyway." She sat on her cot and flopped back onto her pillow.

I moved to the front of the tent. "Just rest up; we'll figure this out."

In the main camp area, the damage from the earthquake was more apparent. One of the RV's had its awning torn halfway off, and there was a lot of equipment smashed and scattered over the ground. Most of the eating tables had escaped harm, but the ones closest to the trees had branches and debris scattered all over them. The food service line was in slightly a different configuration, to avoid the piles of broken things.

Derrick whistled as I joined the group to look around in confusion. "For a short quake, it sure did a lot of destruction!"

Stephanie came walking over to join us, with Greg in tow. "Oh good, you're all here," she started, but then she frowned as she did a head count. "Five--where's Jordyn?"

Professor Silver blinked like he only just noticed the absence. He narrowed his gaze on me. "Yeah, where is she? I thought you said you guys were both fine."

"Well, it wasn't the earthquake that did it," I replied, shrugging my shoulders. "Jordyn just woke up with a belly-ache, so I left her to rest and I'm going to take her some breakfast a little later."

Stephanie pursed her lips as she watched me. "Oh, that's too bad," she crooned. "We were hoping to bring you all out to the dig this morning and try some of the translation attempts for the wall into the temple area this morning."

Derrick leaned forward. "Wait, you guys cracked it?"

Stephanie nodded. "Thanks to your friend here," she gestured to Tony, "We know it talks about Trikymios, the God of Storms, and mentions something about tides and one and four, so we were sort of hoping to use your sleuthing skills down in the main hub room."

Kayce lifted his head like he was going to say something, and I caught his eye. Moving as little as possible, to not attract attention, I gave a tiny shake of my head, and glanced toward the table we were sitting at the night before, when we all agreed there was something shady going on with this group.

"Well, sorry to disappoint," Kayce said. "Honestly, I've been feeling pretty yucky myself, since yesterday afternoon."

Professor Silver raised his eyebrows. A career in the field of Medieval History didn't prepare him for situations like "mass sickness spreading among students. "You too?" he asked Kayce incredulously. "Why didn't you say something sooner?"

"Ohhhh--augh!!" Derrick wailed all of a sudden. He bent double, with his arms wrapped around his torso. "It burns! Oh gods, what did I eat?"

Stephanie switched from staring in bewilderment at the two young men rubbing their stomachs with sour faces, to Tony and I, who still stood with blank expressions on our faces. "And... you two are still fine, right?"

I shrugged. "Yeah, as far as I'm concerned; I really want to check on Jordyn."

Stephanie nodded. "Yeah, good idea--in fact, we have a nurse on the team, Trina. She works in the cataloguing segment. I can send her out to the tents to check on your friend. We have medications--"

"Oh, that's all right," I shook my head and picked up the tray of food for Jordyn. "She already had a dose of the anti-nausea medication she brought. Probably all she needs is rest."

Tony stepped forward and looked at Professor Silver. "Is that all right, sir? Can we take the day off of participating in the dig and just relax for today?"

Professor Silver hemmed and hawed for a moment, looking at each of us to see if he could catch us lying, or something. I was almost worried that one of the guys might crack, but at last he said, "Oh, what the heck... I wasn't aware that the work we did yesterday was so strenuous, but I guess one day at camp won't hurt."

Stephanie shot him a look, but she recovered her composure right away and said, "All right, it's your call. I'll radio Drea and let her know you won't be coming."

"Thanks, Steph," Professor Silver called after her as she walked away.

I carried the tray back to our tent. As soon as I approached the door, I heard the cot creak as Jordyn flopped onto it. She even gave a couple loud moans for good measure.

"You don't have to fake it," I said, pushing open the flap. "It's just me."

She sat up right away and grinned. "Oh good!" Her eyes lit up when she saw the tray of pancakes, yogurt and granola, and a juice box. "Far from being actually too sick to stand," she said as she grabbed a pancake and spread yogurt over it, "after you left I got really hungry all of a sudden!"

"Yeah, well," I mused, sitting on my own cot, "Kayce and Derrick caught on, started faking being sick too, so that at least bought us the morning to plan how we're going to do this."

Jordyn licked her fingers and sipped from the juice box. "Do what? I thought we would just get down to the dock, steal a boat, and leave."

I shook my head. "It's not going to be that simple--what about our luggage? What if something happens and we find ourselves in a survival situation? We'll need gear and stuff."

Jordyn leaned back and drummed her fingers on the side of the juice box. "What about Tony?" she asked. "He's usually pretty good at logistics and stuff. What does he think of all this?"

I glanced over at the dusky-skinned girl. First recommending Kayce to drive the boat, and now pointing out that thing about Tony that I kind of always knew but never fully acknowledged--maybe that was her skill, the ability to notice traits in other people to delegate. "I haven't told him anything yet," I admitted. "He was not around when I had the discussion with Kayce and Derrick, and then I just talked to you about it this morning..."

She rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't just leave him behind with everything going on, would you?"

"No, absolutely not." I tapped my chin. "I just hope I can get him away from Professor Silver long enough to explain things to him."

"Okay, so now we know what we need to do," Jordyn sat up and crossed her legs. "Now how do we get everything we need without anyone noticing?"

I heaved a sigh and brushed my hair out of my face to help me think. "Okay, I think the way it would work is if we pack up and sneak our things out one at a time. They already know you're in your tent, so nobody would miss you if you packed up first. Then you should sneak in and tell Derrick where you hid the stuff, so he and Kayce can get their things. I'll find Tony and explain to him, and then when Kayce is done, he can pass it on to me. By the time Tony and I are packed up, all that's left is to have lunch like normal, and then sneak out."

Jordyn nodded. "Sounds like a plan."

I stood and picked up the tray. "I'll take this back to the canteen area. Remember, pick a place that's hidden enough that no one will find it, and yet close enough to the dock."

"Got it."

"Oh, and," I stopped to catch her gaze. "Don't get caught."

Jordyn smiled. "That's the idea, isn't it?"

I took a minute after leaving the tent to put all thoughts of sneaking off the island out of my head. It would be easiest to pretend that everything was normal if I wasn't self-conscious of the secret plans we'd just made, and the only way to do that was to not think about it until I absolutely had to.

I dropped the tray at the cleaning station, and wandered back to the middle of camp. Everything was weirdly calm, with most of the workers out at the dig.

Tony sat with a group of linguists, and they all had copies of the translated inscription in front of them, with the English translation underneath:

βασιλιάς των τρικυμίων κοιτάξτε τον ήλιο αφήστε την παλίρροια να ρέει και τρέξτε στο δεξί σας χέρι ένα τέντωμα και τέσσερα

Vasiliás ton Trikymíon, koitáxte ton ílio, afíste tin palírroia na réei kai tréxte sto dexí sas chéri éna téntoma kai téssera

"King of Storms, face the sun, let the tide flow and run to your right hand one stretch and four."


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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 22

Part 22

We had almost reached the end of the line when Derrick ran up to join us.

"Guys!" He gasped, panting heavily with wide eyes. "You won't believe--"

"Derrick!" Jordyn cried, interrupting him. "How was your afternoon back at the camp?"

"Boy, did you miss out on a bunch of stuff that happened to us down in those tunnels!" Kayce needled him.

Derrick wagged his head and joined us in line. "I think I might have seen something..." he began, but as he glanced over my shoulder, I could see him flinch, and he stopped talking.

I glanced back at the line behind us. Herrin wasn't there anymore, but I saw Stephanie talking to Greg as they joined the back of the line. Did he find out something concerning the cheery camp coordinator?

Dinner tonight was fried chicken and mashed potatoes and peas, with a sundae bar for dessert. I selected a breast and drizzled it liberally with the savory brown gravy. Derrick seemed more guarded than I'd seen him before as he stayed close to our group and led us toward an empty table.

Professor Silver stopped next to a table occupied by Dane and Kaity. "Hey guys," he waved to us. "Why not sit over here?"

He might not have been talking to them, but his shouting certainly seemed to disrupt a conversation underway between the mechanic and the linguist.

We ignored the professor and sat down at the table anyway. Derrick started eating for a while, at least until it didn't feel like people were watching us. Finally, he leaned in.

"Okay, so I went back to the mechanics station with Kaity because she had a motor that needed fixing, right?"

I nodded. "Yeah, it was a generator thing, wasn't it?"

I couldn't read the expression on Derrick's face as he nodded slowly. "That's what she said... but the thing she was working on had nothing to do with generator components."

Kayce wrinkled his nose. "What?"

Derrick leaned in and his voice got even lower. "What I'm saying is, whatever they're working on here, it's not just about digging for artifacts and discovering history. They've got equipment here like you wouldn't believe!"

Jordyn toyed with her fork in her mashed potatoes, doodling, I noticed, Greek letters in the foamy white surface. "It's just, like, digging equipment and seismic scanners, isn't it?"

Derrick shook his head. "More. I saw--"

"What are we talking about over here?" Professor Silver appeared, standing over us beside the cheerful Stephanie. He didn't seem aware of what we were talking about, but he pointed to us. "Are you telling Derrick about the cool inscriptions and puzzles we found? Or how about that gauntlet of death we had to travel through to get there?"

Derrick's head whipped around to face him. "Gauntlet of what now?"

"It's just some booby traps we had to walk through," Tony waved his hand. "Half of them were already sprung, and so we just had to be careful around the rubble that they left behind. I want to hear what you saw back here at camp, though, Derrick!"

Derrick hunched his shoulders. "Nothing..." he muttered. "It was nothing. I saw the back-up generators and the motorized winch and stuff, that's all."

Stephanie sidled over to him, her face full of concern. "You're looking a little nervous there, Derrick. Anything going on here in camp that you feel puts our safety in jeopardy?"

Derrick shook his head. His shaggy hair hung in his face as he mumbled, "No ma'am."

His eyes lifted and he met mine with a gaze that said there was most certainly suspicious behavior going on, but he didn't want her to know about it.

Jordyn cleared her throat. "Well," she declared loudly, "I gotta say, you really missed out when you left, Derrick. That temple zone below was so cool!"

I caught her drift, and fell into the conversation. "Yeah! There were jars of sacrifices, and this big room with a mural on the wall that showed two other gods from the Microtheon."

Derrick posture relaxed, and he picked up our enthusiasm. "Oh wow! Which gods were they?"

We blabbed back and forth about the afternoon's discoveries, trading back and forth about the booby traps, the different deities represented, and especially the wall with the strange inscription on it.

"Oh man, that sounds cool!" Derrick gushed for the benefit of the adults watching. Only those who knew how disinterested in archaeology that Derrick was detected that layer of sarcasm in his voice. "Man, now I really feel like I missed out."

"Yeah, you did!" Jordyn laughed. "All three of us worked on that inscription, since Professor Silver said we could use that for extra credit work," she jerked her thumb in the direction of our chaperone. "In the end it was Tony who figured out what the inscription says before we could even get anywhere close!"

Now it was Tony's turn to shrug. I watched his face carefully, but it didn't look like anything was glowing at the moment. Was it something to do with being surrounded by ancient things?

"I don't know why that's so impressive to you," Tony murmured. "All I did was take into account the concept of threes that we'd noticed--"

"Okay, yeah, we get it," Jordyn cut him off with a congenial laugh. "Say," she turned to Stephanie with a huge grin on her face. "I'd really like to call home and talk to my parents, and I can't get a signal on my cell phone out here. Is there any way I could use the satellite phone to make a call back to the States?"

Stephanie grinned and nodded right away. "Sure! It's not a problem at all! I'll go with you." She let Jordyn clear her things from the table. While she waited for the girl to return, Stephanie nodded to Tony. "Oh, hey--Greg was asking just before dinner if it would be all right to discuss with you possible implications of the inscription you all deciphered this afternoon. He was really impressed when he saw it!"

Tony nodded. "Fine by me," he said, clearing his plate.

Professor Silver fidgeted a little before blurting out, "I'll go with you!"

With Tony, the professor, Jordyn and Stephanie gone, that left me sitting with Kayce and Derrick at the table.

Kayce reached across and slapped his buddy in the shoulder. "Okay, spit it out, man! What did you see that's got you worked up so bad?"

Derrick stared at the two of us with serious dread. "Drones," he said. "Cameras, recording devices... Equipment for probing volcanoes and seismic drills..."

"We already knew about the seismic imagers," I pointed out.

Derrick shook his head. "But these things are not just measuring earthquakes, Pris. They're causing them."

"That's crazy!" Kayce hissed. "Why would they want to cause something so dangerous?"

Derrick snorted. "Exactly my question! Whatever their reasons, at least this tells us that this operation is much bigger than just a simple archaeological dig!"

I recalled the erratic behavior we'd witnessed down in the tunnels. "You should have seen the way Drea acted down around the buried temple site," I murmured. "There was that last hallway that hardly had anything dangerous, but she was counting her steps and freaking out at the least little stone out of place."

Derrick fidgeted with the extra napkin from the middle of the table. "Almost like she knew more than she was letting on, right?"

I nodded. "Right. I'm beginning to realize that more and more."

"Here's what I don't get," Kayce said, raising a finger. "If they have all this extra equipment that they're not telling people about, then why would Athanasios be so incensed at the prospect of moving the dig? Sounds like they'd be well prepared to dig in any kind of terrain!"

Nothing more than a ruse... The words of my mother's letter popped up again in my mind. If Athanasios was working to support the cause of the demon, his behavior toward us and toward the archaeologists of FRED did make sense, after a fashion. "Maybe," I mused slowly, "Athanasios doesn't want them digging in another spot." I looked at the guys as the idea took shape in my mind. "Maybe he's keeping them in this area because he knows it's the wrong spot for what they're looking for!"

Kayce stared at me. "You mean he fought with me in front of everyone, all the time knowing that I was right? That was all just fake?"

I just shrugged, not wanting to let on that I knew more about these people than anyone else realized. In my mind, I wondered if Zella would know if Athanasios was one of the descendants of the original Microtheon-worshipping sect, like she was. If he was one of these "faithful", then he might be trusted. If not, we'd know he was probably here in league with the demon--so why would the demon who was after the secret of Trikymios and Auraea not want FRED to find the temple and dig it up for him?

I fidgeted with a loose splinter on the edge of the wooden table. There were just too many unsettling things going on... I felt like I was drowning in questions.

"I think..." I said slowly, "I want to call home."

"Good luck with that one," said a voice behind me, and we turned to see Jordyn, Tony, and Professor Silver walking back to the table. She looked like she'd been crying.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "Did you get to talk to your parents?"

Jordyn nodded her head, her face twisting as she fought to maintain her composure. "I got through to them for a few minutes, at least. But the connection kept clicking off after a while, and right in the middle of talking about the dig, the line went dead!"

Derrick stood and eyed me sharply, as if Jordyn's problem had something to do with the things we talked about. "What do you mean, dead?" He asked. "Like someone tampered with the phone lines here?"

Jordyn shook her head. "No, Stephanie checked that. She said it was more likely that something went wrong on the other end." She shivered as a gust of wind tossed her hair to one side. "I just hope that it was nothing serious, like a dead phone battery or a short power outage."

A mischievous smile played over Derrick's face. "If it'll make you feel better, we can find a radio somewhere and I bet we can get news from back in Chicago."

Jordyn nodded wordlessly.

"As a matter of fact," Professor Silver swaggered forward under the high beams of the floodlights illuminating the camp for the night, "I've got a small portable radio right in my tent. We could use that." He put his arm protectively over Jordyn's shoulders.

We all filed as a group to the tent area, none of us really feeling the need to be overly obnoxious, with all the closed doors we saw.

Inside Professor Silver's tent, he pulled out a small green box with a speaker, antenna, and dial. He eyed Derrick skeptically. "Think you can get it to reach all the way back to the States?"

Derrick nodded. "I built one just like it in AV club. You'd be amazed at what these babies can do!"

He fiddled with the knob and the antenna, adjusting length and frequency until we heard voices in English talking. "... Great Lakes in pretty bad shape. They say the Windy City is getting EXTRA gusty, and the winds don't seem to show any sign of slacking!" the reporter was saying.

I held up my hand. "Wait, stop! That's it!"

We all held our breath and listened as the voice continued to talk. "Thanks Steve," said another voice. "For those just tuning in, that's Steve from our Weather Channel team, reporting on a series of storms centered around all five of the Great Lakes currently, whipping them up into a frenzy that is, quite frankly, only ever seen out in the middle of the ocean. Several lakeside properties across all seven states flanking the Lakes, from east Minnesota all the way to here in western New York have sustained considerable damage, from flooding to high waves, and even reports of small typhoons over Lake Huron and Lake Superior. We'll update you as the situation developsskskshshskskkshsh....." The rest of the broadcast dissolved into static.

"Typhoons?" Jordyn squealed.

"Dang..." Kayce murmured. "Storms over the Lakes isn't anything new... but all five at once? In the middle of spring? What kind of a weather pattern causes that, I wonder?"

I could feel my heart sinking down into my shoes. Not a weather pattern, I thought. Try a god and goddess of sea storms and wind. At least I knew where my parents were... but why would they be causing so much destruction? Was the demon controlling them, or something?

We all dispersed to our respective tents in uneasy silence, and as I curled up in my sleeping bag, I felt for the locket hanging around my neck.

Mom, Dad... if you can hear me... I thought desperately, pinching the pendant with my parents' symbols (theograms, I thought to myself) so hard that I probably left an indentation on my thumb and index finger. Please stop destroying things. Come back to me! I need your help!

The wind rushed around the tent, pushing against the fabric sides and whispering through the trees surrounding us. This time, instead of caressing me with comfort, it felt like the wind stayed outside my tent, pushing and shoving, trying to get in and hurt me. I huddled under the fabric and held my breath, rubbing the locket between my fingers and thinking hard about my parents.

A memory sprang to the surface of my mind.... Once, when I was ten years old, a huge storm whipped through Chicago, making even our large house creak and groan under its weight. I was terrified of the lightning and thunder, worried about things falling and breaking, shattering the window, but my dad came in and wrapped me in his arms. I remember pressing up against his body as his low, rumbling voice told me a story about two brothers, Keravnos and Astrape, who wanted to play a joke on their neighbor Pylerion... "Pylerion liked to have everything just so, but Keravnos and Astrape were noisy fellows, who loved to hide until Pylerion passed by, and they would jump out and yell 'RAHHH!' and they'd make silly faces at him. Poor Pylerion would fall flat on his butt, he was so surprised!" By the time he finished the story, I wasn't scared of the sudden noises anymore. I fell right to sleep in his arms... just as I always did...

All sound died with a rapidity that left a ringing in my ears as the memory finished. I listened as hard as I could, but I heard nothing but crickets and frogs, and the hooting of strange birds in the night. I relaxed onto my pillow as my eyes drifted shut.


Deep underground, near the center of the island...

The central temple area had lain dormant for centuries, ever since the last true worshipper of Auraea and Trikymios had departed from the island. The mountainside rumbled, and among the gnarled roots of the trees, a short inscription in Greek flared to life on a blank surface. Hidden gears and metal implements clicked and groaned, shifting into position. Deep within their midst, out of sight from all but the most worthy to access the innermost sanctuary, the smooth surface of the rock wall congealed and formed the shape of a door in its blank surface.

All would be ready in preparation for The Heir...


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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 21

Part 21

I didn't realize how long we'd actually been underground until we reached the surface. The sun was already nearing the horizon, and the shadows were growing longer and deeper by the minute.
"Okay, students!" Professor Silver assumed the role of instructor as soon as we passed by the tunnel entrance. The staff had a folding table set up for us off to the side. "We only have a couple hours till dinnertime, so use it wisely."
Drea handed each of us a print-out of the inscription, as well as a digital tablet we could share if we needed a closer look. "The tablet is also equipped with reference materials, if you need it," she said, showing us the location on the tablet menu.
Jordyn's eyes lit up as she accepted the tablet first. "Okay! If nobody minds, I'm just going to--heh-heh..." She chuckled sheepishly as we all watched her open a Basic Greek lexicon.
Kayce snorted. "Seriously?" he muttered.
Jordyn assumed a defensive stance. "What's the problem? I figure if we're supposed to be finding Greek words in all this jumble, I need to learn how Greek spelling conventions work!"
I laughed. "Let her do what she needs to, Kayce," I said. "I'm pretty sure she's the only one of us who didn't major in a subject that required a course in Remedial Greek."
"Hail Geology!" Jordyn crowed.
Kayce wagged his head and bent over the inscription, circling letters and connecting them with lines till it made quite the kaleidoscopic design on the page. "Well," he mused. "I found the letters for Trikymios and ilios, so there's definitely something about the storm god and the sun."
I started copying his method, finding words of my own. "But then again, I can pick out letters that spell Fourtouna, and also Vasilias, which means king.Does that mean Fourtouna was a city-state with its own ruler?"
Kayce shrugged, running his fingers through his hair again as he puzzled over the strange inscription. "Who knows? I just wish we knew of some kind of system these people had for writing out their messages--it probably didn't feel like a code to those who knew how to read it!"
Tony had been silent for a while, working away at his copy. He picked up the tablet and scrolled through the menu, scrolling through page after page of historical references and science journal articles. There was a lot about Ancient Greek culture at large, but not very much specifically relevant to Fourtouna, nor the peculiar practice of worshipping a Microtheon.
"You know what would be really handy?" He placed the tablet back in the middle of the table and resumed studying his copy of the inscription. "I think what we really need is a book that just deals with Fourtouna and its customs and culture."
Kayce bobbed his head, swapping for a pen of a different color as his inscription copy became more and more indecipherable due to all the markings on it. "You said it! Too bad such a book doesn't exist."
My heart began thumping at triple speed. I immediately thought of the book I'd brought, back in my duffel kept securely under my cot in the tent. This was the second time Tony had said something to make me feel like he knew about it--but how was that even possible? And where was this inordinate shame coming from? Sure, I had a reference book and I brought it... So why did I have to feel bad about that?
You know why, the small voice in my head reminded me. It's because if anybody were to read that book, they would figure out your parents' secret, and their connection to this island... and they would ask you too many questions about it, and you're afraid to face the notion that they might actually be gods...
I distracted myself by doodling over the blank space in the margins of my inscription copy. My eyes slipped over to Tony's paper.
He had most of the letters circled, and he was already writing down an entire phrase in Greek! "Vasiliás ton trikymíon, koitáxte ton ílio..." "Wait," I muttered, leaning in closer. "what are you..." I got too busy reading what he was writing to even finish my own question. The circles on his page fell in a repeating pattern--every third letter!
Can you figure out the inscription? 
How could I have missed it? I grabbed a new color of pen and began copying his method,
a series of Greek words unfolding before my very eyes. P...α...λ...ί...ρ...ρ...ο...ι...α... 

Palirroia! The tide! I kept counting every third letter, going back up to the top of the inscription every time I reached the end. It worked!

I felt Kayce lean over my other shoulder and mutter something, as he frantically flipped his over-marked paper to the blank side and began copying down the letters I marked in the correct order, dividing them up into words as he found them. "Oh dang!" He exclaimed as he watched the thing unfold. "I think we've cracked it!"

Jordyn squinted at the three of us: Tony, who hadn't looked up at all since he started writing stuff down; me, the one who was still just writing down random letters as they came up; and Kayce, who had skipped going over the inscription altogether, and was supplying translation for each word as I wrote down the letters, listing out their English meanings to try and piece together what the inscription might actually say.

"What do you mean, you cracked it?" she smirked. "You mean Tony cracked it. But how did you figure it out so fast?"

She obviously meant to address Tony, but he was still wrapped up in writing stuff down, totally oblivious to the conversation happening right next to him. I glanced over to prod him--and noticed once again the faint rim of gold around his irises!

My only hope was that neither Jordyn nor Kayce had noticed yet. I spoke quickly, drawing their attention away from him till hopefully the weird glow faded. "Guys, just think about what we saw all through the temple area! Everything came in threes, right? Even the map at the very start was arranged in triangles, and there were at least two other gods affiliated with Trikymios that we saw--which makes three gods. Frankly, I'm just surprised that none of the professionals thought of it before we did!"

In my anxiety, I didn't even realized I'd been gesticulating while I spoke, until my hand connected with Tony's shoulder. He blinked and finally looked up at the rest of us, his eyes their natural brown color. "Hmm? What?"

He already had the complete translation written on his paper, and the light was fading from the sky. I lifted it, waving it like a victory flag.

"Professor Silver! It's done! We figured it out!"

Our chaperone walked over to us from watching some workers unearth another way-marker. He read Tony's work and just about choked. "You did it? Already?" He wagged his head. "Wow--this is amazing! Good work, everybody!"

Drea approached, looking significantly more composed than she'd been down in the tunnels. "The ATV is back. Who's ready for a ride back to camp to get some dinner?"

Jordyn's hand shot up. "I am!" She answered.

We all piled onto the vehicle, Professor Silver taking the seat up front, while Kayce and Jordyn sat in the second row, which left Tony and I on the back end.

I watched Tony, as the distance between ourselves and the ancient village lengthened. He looked around the forest with great interest. It was only our second day here, yet it still hadn't fully sank in that we were actually here at such an exotic location, digging for the potential of buried treasure.

There was that business of the glowing eyes that still haunted me a little.

"Hey," I murmured softly, reaching over to put a hand on his knee. "Are you okay?"

He turned his head quickly, and his eyes focused on me with an intensity that almost made me afraid to hold his gaze. "Huh? I'm fine," he delivered his answer in terse, rapid tones. "I've never been better!" He tried to laugh and lean back a little to show how relaxed he was, but it felt a little forced, like there was more on his mind than he wanted to let on.

I sighed; what was his deal? "So... you're really not going to talk about it?"

Tony quirked an eyebrow at me, and in that moment, it felt like talking to the same old Tony I knew back when we were both freshmen and he wasn't visibly dying and then miraculously coming back to life before my eyes, and there wasn't this bizarre trip into an all-but-deserted island in the middle of the Mediterranean. "Talk about what?"

I tried to imply the obvious by nodding toward the amulet on his wrist and moving my gaze up to his face. "You know... The eye thing."

He smirked and repeated my words in a mocking tone. "Oh... *The eye thing... Like I know what that means. Come on, Pris, what do you mean? What eye thing?" He closed his eyes and rubbed them, as if I'd been alluding to his smeared makeup or something. He opened, and blinked, and asked, "Did I get it?"
I rolled my eyes. "Forget it... Just..." I debated bringing up the other thing that was bothering me, as the ATV pulled into the main campsite. The savory smell of dinner filled the air, and I knew it would only be a matter of time till we couldn't talk without being overheard--but I had to know. Before I could quite decide how best to bring it up, my mouth blurted, "How did you know about the book?" I mean, that's what he'd been hinting at this whole time, wasn't it?
Tony climbed off the parked vehicle and turned back with a confused tilt of his head. “What book?”
“The book about Fourtouna that I brought, from my mom—“
The words died in my mouth as I realized he hadn’t been making a crack about me when he mentioned a book or knowing specifics about the Microtheon and Fourtouna... He hadn’t known about it when he brought it up, and I had told him myself, just now!
“Why would your mom have a book about Fourtouna?”
I caught the golden rim around his eyes again. What did it mean? “Not Fourtouna exactly, of course,” I tried to be all casual about it. “But she had one book that I thought might mention it, I guess because of an installation at the museum of Greek religious artifacts. Just something I brought it along in case it had anything useful... but FRED might have everything we need already...” I realized I was babbling nervously and tried to giggle and pass it off like I wasn't completely mortified at the topic.
Tony smiled, and folded his fingers in between mine as we sauntered toward the dinner line. “Still... I think I’d like to see this book of yours, if you brought it all this way.”
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled, and I glanced over my shoulder. Herrin, with his steely glare and all-black fatigues, stared right at me from the shadows at the edge of camp, his thick arms resting on the butt of his rifle slung across his chest. If anybody looked like they were in cahoots with a demon, it was this man.
I leaned in close to Tony and whispered, “Okay, but not here. Later.” I pasted on a casual smile, but on the inside, I wanted nothing more than to be away from here, secret treasures or not.
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