Saturday, October 31, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Series Finale!


The waves tossed underneath me, and the winds Auraea harnessed were beating on me from all sides—but every time, I felt a warm surge coursing through my body, radiating from my wrist. Trikymios churned up the sea, and near the edge of Fourtouna I could see what was left of the dock, and the short white boat bobbing in the choppy sea, containing my last few friends. I spread my fingers and made a smoothing motion with my hand. The water responded, receding and stilling next to the island. I saw someone poke their head out of the small door to the cabin, but I was too far away to distinguish their features.

“Well?” Phony-Tony’s voice railed against me, drawing my attention back to him. He had brought Tony off the pole, and now held him suspended in midair—along with a few trees and boulders. “I’m waiting!” He flung one of the boulders at me, and I dodged without losing any altitude.

I made a sweeping motion with my hand, and called up both a gust of wind and a massive wave at the same time. The elements followed my gestures, rolling up onto the cliff and smacking into Tony/Egamad.

“Honestly, you shouldn’t have picked a friend like Tony for your vessel,” I said to the demon. “You probably thought that I’ll go easy on you to avoid hurting him.” I pulled a cluster of rain drops together inside a funnel cloud, aiming right for Tony’s chest. “But the truth is, you are the one who wants him in one piece, because without him you have no choice but to use your physical form, and I care about him enough to want to get you out of him by any means possible.” 
Tony’s hands faltered and dropped as he couldn’t maintain the telekinesis under the pressure from both water and air. 
I smiled. It was like pushing my hands into a soft, fluffy pillow. “Good luck finding something to hold onto!” I said, pushing up with a wave from underneath us. 

The cliff gave a colossal groan and sheared away—driving him right into the path of the tornado. I pulled it closer, drawing Tony/Egamad into the frenzy. His limbs flailed loosely as his body whipped around and around.
I hovered in closer, completely unaffected by the awesome forces of nature firmly under my control. I reached out and grabbed Tony/Egamad with a whirlpool of my own, anchoring him within a spinning a wall of water. I pulled him toward me, seeing the bruises on Tony’s skin, feeling each twisted limb through the water, and the malice in his eyes that I matched with my own.

My jaw clenched and I could barely form the words. “Get. Out. Of. Him.”
Tony/Egamad scowled. “No!”

I tilted Tony’s body back so that the spray scraped along the back of his head. It was probably sharp enough to draw blood, or even scuff off some hair. He howled in pain that I knew the demon wasn’t feeling just now. I let up on the pressure and let him face me again. “Do it!” I commanded.

Tony’s body was dripping wet, but Egamad still had the audacity to spit in my general direction. “You might as well kill your friend, because that’s the only way you’re getting me out of here.”
I didn’t doubt he was prepared to force me to do just that. I hesitated, staring straight at Tony’s eyes, trying to see past the demon, see the guy I knew trapped inside—


Tony’s voice, clear and healthy, reached my ears, but on the inside, like imagining my own thoughts.
“Tony?” I gasped.

Egamad sneered. “Sorry, he’s unavailable!”

Pris, I don’t know what’s happening, but I can hear you. I can’t see you, and I feel like I’m stuck in a waterfall somewhere.

I thought my reply. Can you hear this?

Yes; what’s going on? What happened to me?

Tony, there’s too much to explain, but right now you need to fight!

Fight? Fight what? What are you—

That thing that’s taken your sight, it’s invading your body and you need to get rid of it!

How can I fight something I can’t see? Why won’t you tell me—

“JUST DO IT!” I couldn’t stop myself from saying the words out loud.

Egamad’s twisted face sneered, and he laughed at my desperation—but then he stopped. His face blanked for the span of two heartbeats, and when he focused on me with a grimace again, there was something shifted about his face, something weirdly out of focus.

He couldn’t say anything more. I held Tony’s body right so he couldn’t move, but a thin stream of shadow began to seep from his ears. 
Egamad flinched, whipping Tony’s head back and forth. “What are—no you can’t—argh!” He roared. “STOP!” 
I almost dropped everything as his skin burst into flames—not the kind that would be extinguished by all the water around us, but the Greek fire, burn-on-water kind. I could feel the heat in the palms of my hands!
I could see flames in his dark pupils as Egamad snarled, “WE HAD A DEAL!”

That’s it, Tony! I cheered on my friend. Keep pushing!

Pris... His voice in my head had grown weaker, I could barely hear it, with long pauses between the words. I don’t... think... I can... fight him off...

Yes, you can, Tony! I believe in you!

But it’s... my body... Tony replied. I was dying... without him... if he goes away... I’ll die...

No! I watched Tony’s form lose focus again, more black wisps leaching out of it. You don’t want to owe your life to a demon, Tony, you really don’t! Please! You have to fight! I can help pull him out but you have to push from the inside!

“This one’s fading fast, little one!” Egamad rasped. “His time is almost up, and your leverage will be gone! And then what shall I do with you? I’m sure some of my associates can suggest the perfect torture for such a pest as yourself. That petty amulet isn’t going to do you much good for much longer!”

I increased the height of the whirlpool, sloshing him in the face but making sure he could still hear me. “I’ve got power enough!” I tossed him into the whirlpool again, rewarded with the sight of an inky black mass belching out of Tony.

Atta boy! I thought to him. Keep pushing!

Egamad’s voice radiated out of the whirlpool, groaning in pain, far more dehumanized than it had been when he was using Tony’s voice. “What? Stop it! You can’t—“

“We can and we will!” I hollered back, keeping Tony’s body in a constant state of motion, pulling the demonic shadowy essence out of him.

“No! That’s impossible! NOOOO!”

A violent disruption brought the momentum of the tornado to a blistering halt. Something barreled into me, sending me crashing toward the ground.

Eroméni!” screamed a chorus of voices, and I felt a soft cushion of air impede my fall instead of hard ground. Water pelted down over me, but it wasn’t the topsy-turvy chaos of an outright storm. In fact, as I lay there, collecting my breath and trying to reorient my thoughts, I felt the tingling warmth of sunlight as the clouds rolled aside, revealing blue sky.

I blinked and caught my breath until my heart stopped pounding so hard. It felt like waking up from a bad dream as I slowly sat up. Not far away from me, the body of a young man lay sprawled face-down in the mud. Curiosity gave way to sheer panic as I launched myself over to it.
“Tony!” I screamed. “Tony!”

He flopped like a fish when I rolled him over. His eyes were closed, and his skin had a pale grey pallor to it. His hands were a pale purple color.

I prodded his cheeks, pulling down his chin and willing for the smallest puff of air from his nostrils. “Please don’t be dead!” I begged. “Don’t be dead, Tony! Not now! Not like this! Not after all that!” Memories of CPR training from my babysitting days came lunging back, and I placed my hands at the middle of his chest, just above the sternum like they showed us. Just knowing that the body in front of me was real, and not a plastic dummy designed to take and withstand right and wrong amounts of pressure made me second-guess myself for a few moments, but I managed a few compressions.

Nothing happened. My whole body shook. I think I was crying. Scratch that, I was definitely crying. “Please, Tony!” I begged, even thinking the words intentionally, as if he was in any position to reply. “Please be alive! Please let it be that I wasn’t the person to kill you after I jeopardized your life with that healing stone! Please!” I pushed on his chest some more, wishing that some of my friends were there to lend a hand, instead of probably halfway to the mainland by now.

He didn’t move. I wasn’t even sure if I was doing it right. Misery closed in on me. I might have bested Egamad—but in the end, it still felt like he had won, because he’d taken Tony from me.

“... Oh thank the gods, I found her; Priscilla!”
Alex dashed toward me from the trees, not a single scratch or bruise on him. I kept Tony’s body cradled in my arms as I squinted up at him in confusion.
He noticed and hesitated. “What? Did something happen?”
He was asking if I was okay? He was the one tossed into an actual forest like a rag doll! “How are you still alive?” I blurted.

Alex blinked, and realization dawned as he glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, that... Yeah, it’s sort of my thing, being a stírigma and all.”

I almost asked him what the Greek word meant, but just saying it to myself conjured up mental pictures of the other things I’d seen Alex do, and his use of the term for “foothold” seemed quite accurate, since his presence here gave Trikymios and Auraea someone in their corner, looking out for their interests.
Wow, and now I’m thinking like a Greek scholar! I thought to myself.

Alex knelt beside Tony, placing his hand gently beside mine. His warm eyes sought mine. “May I?” he asked.
My voice caught in my throat as my composure threatened to dissolve into tears again. “It’s too late,” I whispered. “Egamad was the only thing keeping him alive. I freed him, but he’s dead now.”

The corners of the young Greek’s mouth twitched. “Not entirely,” he murmured, spreading his hand over where Tony’s heart would be. 
My vision blurred and quivered, refusing to focus on his hand for some reason, and when I could finally see it clearly, I watched Tony’s chest rise and fall underneath it.

Tony and I gasped at the same time. He blinked and lifted his head a little. “W-what—“
Tony!” I just about shrieked his name, and threw my arms around him, feeling the warmth from his skin as he hugged me back. “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you’re alive!”

His breath tickled my ear as he chuckled. "Me neither--where was I? What happened?"

I pulled back, and Alex continued supporting Tony's back until he could prop himself up on his own. 
His dark eyes shifted between us. "How long was I out?"

I glanced toward Alex, to see whether he was afraid of me spoiling any secrets. How much did Tony remember from his whole possession--however long that had been? "What do you remember?"
Tony rubbed the back of his neck. "You mean, since we left camp in search of the temple? Well, it's a bit of a blur..." He scrunched up his face, trying to dredge up memories and distinguish reality from imaginary. "Like, literally. I remember walking in the woods, then everything just kept getting darker and darker, until I couldn't see anything... Then it was hard to breathe... I don't remember breathing... Almost like I--" He stopped and looked down at his rumpled, sodden clothes. I saw him glance over and see that Alex and I were both wet as well. "Did I drown? Or was it just raining really hard?"

This time, Alex and I shared swift eye contact. "Umm..." I stammered. "Both? Kind of?"

Tony jerked forward, and it took me a minute to realize that he was trying to stand up.

Alex reached over to steady his shoulders and I supported his hands as we eased him up to a standing position.
"That's kind of all that I remember," Tony finished. "Just being in the dark, unable to breathe, floating like I was surrounded by water, and then--" He gestured around us. "Here... Hey wait," His expression turned to a frown as he glanced around in bewilderment. "What happened to the camp?"

Alex coughed to command attention. "There's a boat waiting to take us off the island. I can help you down to the dock." He began leading Tony away, but my friend still held my hand.

"Hang on." He looked back at me. "Aren't you coming with us, Pris?"

I took a breath, buying time to figure out how I was going to answer that. "Well, actually, I--"


My mother called my name, and my dad hollered, and when I turned, there they were, walking down the beach, still in their usual "business casual" attire. Dad had on a suit jacket over a dark tee shirt, and Mom wore a chic shirtdress.
Mom threw her arms around me, and I just about lost all composure then and there. "Oh, sweetie! We came as soon as we heard! I'm so glad you're all right!"
It figured that she would know exactly what to say to cover up what really happened.

I turned to Tony with a huge grin on my face. "I'm going home with my parents," I said. "I'll see you in Chicago!"
Tony's face filled with skepticism, but he shrugged and ambled alongside Alex, toward the dock.

I turned back to my parents, and Dad wrapped me in a huge bearhug. "Your mom and I saw the whole thing," he said. "That was some hurricane you whipped up!"
Mom rubbed my shoulder. "We're so proud of you, honey! You faced your first demon and won!"

The spikes on the amulet around my wrist pricked me, the pain reminding me of a certain other amulet that initiated this whole mess, which could have been avoided if I had just communicated honestly in the first place. "Mom and Dad, I--" My voice cut out and my vision blurred over, and the next sound out of my mouth was a choked moan as the weight of what I'd done crashed down on me in earnest. I slumped against Mom's shoulder as I burst out crying.

"I'm sorry!" I wailed. "I'm so sorry--for lying, for stealing, for sneaking around behind your back, for not telling you everything, or asking the questions when I should have!" I turned my head to look at Dad, coming in beside us to embrace me also. "I'm sorry I never believed you, even when the things you were saying were true!"

"Hush, child," Mom murmured, her hands caressing my face and wiping the tears away. She looked straight into my eyes, and I could see the power of her deity in her gaze. "We forgive you for everything."

"After all," Dad rumbled, "You must have started believing something, otherwise you wouldn't have found the temple, to retrieve the bracelet, and even if someone else managed to dig it up, you wouldn't have been able to activate it and use it like you did."

I took a shaky breath and wiped the rest of the tears from my eyes. I moved to un-clasp the amulet. Somehow, even though I'd felt the spikes embedded deep into my flesh, when I took it off, there wasn't even a hint of scabs or scars on my skin. "Here," I said, handing it to them. "I want to give this back to you, now that everything is over. I lost the locket... and I am pretty sure the healing amulet is long-gone, but--"

Mom took it, but she held it like a normal piece of jewelry, and not a priceless treasure. She smiled. "I suppose you're right," she said. "Everything is over--the bracelet did what it was supposed to do, and now it can go back to being just a simple, magic-less relic from an ancient era."
I rubbed my nose in confusion. "What does that mean?"

Dad grinned. "It means that from the moment you released the spikes, the amulet served its function and delivered our powers to you." He pressed a hidden catch somewhere on the design and the spikes retracted into the bracelet itself. "See? It can only be activated like that once, and once our blood is mingled, it can never be undone. That's why you didn't need the locket anymore." His eyes twinkled and he reached into the pocket of his slacks. "But if you wanted it, just for a keepsake..." He opened his hand over mine, and the locket dropped into my palm.

I felt a warm tingle radiate through my whole body as I closed my hand around the locket. How had he found it in all the chaos? More than that... The full effect of what Dad just said washed over me. I looked up.
"Hold up, you said our blood is mingled. Does that mean--" My thoughts scrambled so hard that my brain seized up. "Are you telling me that I'm--"

Dad nodded. "Walking around with divine blood in your veins? Yes."
I felt my heart pounding in my ears. "Does that mean... I mean, does that make me--" What even were words right now?

Mom laughed and put her arm around me. "You carry the blood of two gods, but you're not quite a natural-born goddess. More like a demi-goddess, actually."

I stared at my hands. "Does that mean I can--" I didn't even finish the question. The moment I thought about it, the ground pulled away from my feet, and I floated higher into the sky. 

Both my parents joined me, and we hovered in the air. Mom brought a cloud bank underneath us to obscure us in case anyone was looking up into the sky, and I studied the living map of Fourtouna below. Just off the coast, I could see a white dot making its way toward the shores of Thessaloniki. My friends!

"So..." I looked up at my parents as we watched the others making their way back to land, where they'd get a flight back to Chicago. "I guess the FRED organization was pretty evil, after all."

Mom nodded. "After we were free of Egamad's influence, we reported to the other gods of the Microtheon, and they confirmed that the leaders of the organization did indeed belong to the sect that was devoted to worshipping the demon, and their whole aim was to finish what he started through fraud and shady business practices--so of course, we set in motion plans to shut the whole thing down. That demon should have no more power here, and his followers should have no influence."

tilted my head. "What about Daeva-Staite? Was that a secret demon-serving organization, too?"

Dad smirked and Mom choked, "No, not at all--I thought I told you this! The Daeva-Staite Foundation was one that a group of our fellow gods started, just after we went into hiding, with the express purpose of partnering with known affiliates of demonic enemies, in order that we might surveil their operations from the inside, and make moves to stop them every time there's a play for our power."

A contingency plan! Not a bad idea. "And our guide, Alexandros--"
Mom didn't quite turn toward me, but I saw her eyes shift. "Yes?"
"How long has he been serving as your stírigma?" The word rolled off my tongue.

Mom lifted her eyebrows, impressed at my diction. "He told you as much, did he?" She grinned. "It's been a long time--in fact, ever since we left Fourtouna, he's been the guide for anyone looking to travel to the island, in hopes that one day someone he guided would be the one connected to us, empowered to stop Egamad from gaining dominion."

"So..." I shifted nervously. No wonder he'd been staring at me so strangely when we first met! "He's, what, immortal?"

Mom wiggled her eyebrows secretively. "Something like that," she answered.

I wagged my head, and my thoughts traveled back to Tony. "Oh, I almost forgot... Do you think--I mean... Is there a possibility that you might..." I felt so overwhelmed by what I wanted to ask, that I almost couldn't find the words. "I mean, T-Tony... I--" Crap; I was going to start crying again. "He's still dying, isn't he?" I sniffed. "I accidentally used Egamad to heal him, and now that Egamad is gone--"

"Oh, Priscilla!" Mom grabbed my hand and held it tight.

"Hey, kiddo," Dad said, coming alongside me. "It's okay. When Auraea and I met with the Microtheon, they gave us permission to offer you the chance to ask for a reward, in return for vanquishing Egamad." He winked. "We sort of already guessed the one thing you would want most. From here on out, Tony can live his life like a normal human being. He'll get illnesses and grow old and stuff, and what they granted him is not immortality either--but at least that blood disease will never affect him ever again."

The weight came off my chest, and the rush of relief overwhelmed me. "Thank you!" I flung my arms around Dad's neck and buried my face in his shoulder. "I promise I'll believe in you more, and I promise I won't be so annoyed anytime you want to tell me more of your stories!" I turned to look at Mom, coasting alongside us. "And Mom, I promise to come to you more often for advice, and to be more open about my thoughts and my life."

She chuckled. "And we promise," she paused to make eye contact with Dad and get his assent, "to involve you more in our discussions, and to really listen to what you have to say, and be more open and sharing about ourselves, as well."

I sighed. There was just one more thing nagging at the back of my mind. "So... Now that you don't have to be in hiding anymore..." I looked between the two of them, "Does that mean you are going to go back to--" I balked at their curious stares. "Whatever celestial dimension you live in?"

Mom and Dad shared a longer glance, and Dad coughed. "I don't know about you, Aurelia," he used Mom's mortal name with a cheeky half-smile, "but I'm kind of liking the retired life. I could stick around a little longer," he nudged my shoulder. "If you'll have me."

Mom smiled, coming in closer to us. "Well, Patrick," she gave him the same treatment, "I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. What do you say, Priscilla?"

I slipped my arms around both of them. I'd been looking for that sense of belonging, of family all my life--and here, miles above the Atlantic Ocean, I felt more "at home" in my own skin, right where I was, than I'd ever felt before. For the first time, I knew who I was: I was Priscilla DelVento-Thiele, daughter of Patrick and Aurelia--who also happen to be gods.

"I say," I declared, soaring high with my parents on either side, "that you two are the ones who made me who I am today--and I wouldn't trade having you as my family for anything else in the whole wide world."
We soared off together as the sun set behind us.



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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: October

Life Stuff

Okay, I'm saying it: furlough sucks. Shutdown sucks. I wear my mask. I stay healthy. For what? Libraries are closed, and there's a chance I might lose my job because the school administration doesn't think it's worthwhile to let employees like me continue to work if everybody's staying home... Even though we sure found plenty to do while the teachers were online for those first couple weeks! If they don't let us back in at some point, this will be the latest in the long litany of jobs I held till they "quit" me... Yeah, you heard that right. I've never actually left a job before. In-home tutoring, after-school tutoring... I kept clocking in and doing whatever was asked of me until the employer said "We're sorry, but this job is being discontinued. Good bye, see you never."

The one bright spot in this month is the fact that the day before my birthday, I officially announced Princess of Undersea and launched The Undersea Saga. You'll notice at the top of this page, where I've changed the name of the page tab, too--and now I've got all four books listed. You can still see the links to all the times it was mentioned and the rough-draft excerpts, like before... but now I'll be adding the cover art, any interviews and blog features linked to the specific books, and listing out the individual short stories attached to each book! Haven't made any sales yet, but I'm collecting names to place an order for anyone who wants signed copies--Respond to this post on my Facebook Page to reserve a copy for yourself!

Unfortunately.... Reading didn't quite make as much progress as I would have liked... I'm almost up to my 20 "Reader's Review" books... but still only managed about 3 books in this month! Hopefully, even with the added writing "workload" next month, I'll still find time to get all my writing done and be "awake" enough to read in the evenings, just to get everything rolling again! I blame the unsettling nature of the times... It's hard to focus on reading when you're mentally and emotionally drained from constantly worrying about things that you never had to worry about before!

Monthly Stats:
Words Written: 33K+
Books Read: 3/4


Coming Up: National Novel-Writing Month!

Speaking of The Undersea Saga, I decided early this month what project I'll be working on for NaNoWriMo this year (also known as "The month of November" in most circles) and I'll just go ahead and announce it now: Fugitive of Crossway, the sequel to Princess of Undersea! This cover is only a mockup, made by me, with whatever simple (and free) pre-made vectors I could find--which is why it's weirdly dark and stuff. The artwork for the actual cover is going to be much brighter, it's going to include at least one or maybe two characters--most notably Simon, the main character, and Mellisande, another POV character who's going to have a bigger role to play as the series develops!
It's not going to be a sequel in the conventional sense, in that it's not sticking with the main characters from the first book, but it's definitely connected in some very surprising ways, and you'll just have to wait and see what ways those are! The fairy tale inspiration for it is the story of Pinocchio--you know, the silly wooden puppet who makes immature and selfish decisions until he hears that his father was swallowed by a whale and he goes to rescue him, he's got a quest to become a real boy, and there's a Blue Fairy who helps him, and even after all the rigamarole of bad decisions reaping negative consequences, Pinocchio still gets roped into blowing off school in favor of going along with bad-mannered and devious boys to a "pleasure island" where boys who keep making these bad choices slowly turn into donkeys... Yeah, great story, right? My reasoning was that there aren't a whole lot of well-known fairy tales that feature males in the lead role--most of the time when one thinks "fairy tale" one also thinks "innocent damsel/well-loved princess, unjustly treated"; besides, this kind of fit the story I wanted to tell (a boy on a mission and on the run from an unscrupulous carnival ringmaster). I'm expanding the worlds, going outside Overcliff and onto the mainland, where we'll have places like Willemstone, Logosfold, Outwest, and Port-Town... and those who are familiar with the tie-in stories I wrote during the A to Z Suggestion Box Challenge will get to see more of Urcellus the "unlucky fisherman" (and yes, that is a reference to the Disney villain Ursula... but I "masculinized" the name and gave him more of a "comedic side character" role, rather than a villain!) and the mermaid he "accidentally" catches... so stay tuned for that!
The thing is, this story itself is probably not going to be the whole 50K, so I'll very likely be writing other things along with it... such as The Last Inkweaver (which I haven't touched in a while, I know!) and Clan of Outcasts, Season 3!

Priscilla Sum

I'll tell you what I won't be writing, come November, though: Priscilla Sum! Yes, it's been a long time coming, but we're finally closing in on the last scenes! There's just some final exposition, the denouement, that I have to get all the information so that I can tie things off while keeping it natural, not seeming forced at all!
That final battle against Egamad went really well, I have to say! Much better than the flash-fiction scene I wrote a year ago! I tried looking at it to see if I could segue into the way I'd written it before and then just copy-paste, but as it turns out, the characters and the order of things changed so much from when I'd written that scene, and everything was in a much different place than I anticipated, so I couldn't really use much of it!
This has really been a fun series, and I'm glad I did it--even the head-casting! The main roles were obvious, since the whole thing was inspired by the idea of Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot in the roles of Aurelia and Patrick, gods in hiding as mortals, and their adopted daughter, as "played by" Emelia Clarke-- but Charlie Rowe as her best friend Tony, Austin Butler as Kayce, Anthony Ramos as Alexandros, Rachel Nichols as Stephanie, and a few others that I found who I either forget the names or I just swiped a random photo from a Google Search and I don't know their names... But anyway, having a head-cast was pretty awesome! It's fun to look up the descriptions you came up with for a random side character, only to find actual actors with those same features... especially when you find The One that makes you go "Yes, I could totally see this person taking this role!" Fun times!

Clan of Outcasts: Gearing up to Full Steam!

With the ending of Priscilla Sum, I can transfer all of my "blog serial writing" energy toward Clan of Outcasts! I've finally pieced together mostly what I'm planning on doing, haven't quite settled on exactly what the ending is looking like--this series is definitely more spread-out and scattered than the first two! I think I've got just about as many new characters as old ones--and that's a lot of people to handle! The other thing I'm finding out is that in setting it "three years later", there's a whole lot more room for "flashbacks"... but so far a lot of my flashbacks have been pretty detailed! Very much not like the flashbacks I was writing when I first started this series--but I'm glad to know that Elves totally fit into my canon now! And pirates. And magic articulated clay "golems." Interesting, too, exploring the concept of Abnormals further as well: Shadows and Angels were introduced in Season 2 as the celestial beings tasked with regulating the supernatural Gifts among mortals, and at the same time the characters had to deal with a noble Angel trying to stop and evil Shadow... Well in Season 3, they're going to encounter a noble Shadow, and the villain is somebody who wanted to misuse the power of a Shadow and an Angel together, to be able to force a Gift into someone who wasn't Gifted originally... and thereby rendering the villain unstoppable by anything short of sheer Abnormal power.... But more on that to come! You'll just have to wait and see--and I really hope the payoff is worth it for all of you readers!


Over on Wattpad, I have some continuing projects and some that could use some extra views!
Poor Unfortunate Soul is not attracting as much attention as I would have thought, based on the responses I'm still getting on fanfics I posted years ago! Some fun facts about it: I really regard this fanfic as "draft zero" of Princess of Undersea. I wrote it as a fun way of introducing Ariel and Prince Eric in the style of the first two seasons of Once Upon A Time--and also as a means of explaining how Rumplestiltskin got ahold of the magical squid ink that was such an important part of his spells later in Season 2, but got no reasonable explanation. (Granted, perhaps they retroactively "explained" it much much later, as with just about everything else mentioned in the show... it was the constant "retrograde continuity" that really got on my nerves and prompted me to stop watching it, in the first place! When the show becomes more about "rehashing" old seasons and less about producing new content and moving stories forward... you've got to wonder if it isn't just an easy cash-grab for the writers, rather than actual creative productive work...) So instead of a sea witch being the key to Ariel's problems, it's a deal she makes with Rumplestiltskin, which unwittingly makes Ariel a pawn in his schemes of hindering Evil Queen Regina in whatever she wants to do... and as Ariel finds herself the focus of the Queen's ire, she becomes desperate enough to be willing to trade Rumplestiltskin what he really wanted from the beginning: the ink from the magical squid (named Ursula--see what I did there??), who had been basically trained to only respond to a song only Ariel can sing.
On the Storybrooke side of things, Ariel is "Hillary", a young girl with a fantastic voice who dreams of attending Julliard, but she's "trapped" working for her family while unscrupulous bureaucrats are "fees and license"-ing her family out of their business which is their only way to make money... but if Henry Mills can find a way to connect Hillary with Prince Eric's counterpart, a theater owner named Rick Royal, then perhaps the music of her voice will convince him to sponsor her, so she can fulfill her dreams!

I also recently decided to start posting Priscilla Sum from all the way back at the beginning--so if you're interested in reading it all the way through, but trying to hunt it down on my blog seems daunting, you could always look it up there, and get it at a speed that you can keep up with!

Finally, I want to drop a mention for Clan of Outcasts again--it's not new, I realize that, but it hasn't been receiving a whole lot of visibility, so if you're interested in reading it, you might check it out on Wattpad, where I have all the pieces and parts in order--maybe even "upvote" your favorite characters, so I know which ones are more popular with people! The whole first "season" (the first 12 or so chapters) are the ones with the flashbacks to introduce the characters that become the main cast in Season 2, so if you come across one that you like and you'd be interested to see them come more to the forefront, all it takes is a simple click! I submitted it for the Watty's award, and I'm really curious to find out if something like this would be interesting enough to win, or at least become as popular as some of my other stories--I really think it's on-par with the fanfictions I've written, for sure!


Which brings us to the reading updates!

I managed to finish up at least one book by the end of last month, Deception by Katika Schneider--and I definitely had a better time with that one than its predecessor! Check out the Reader's Review (hyperlinked above) to find out why I'm a "new believer" in the Tales of the Fallen series! Then at the same time, I was reading Ace of Clubs by Patricia Loofbourrow--always a glorious steampunky, Victorian crime thriller pleasure! That one definitely kept me up late.

Currently I'm reading Song from Jesse Teller's Manhunters trilogy--the first sentence in the Foreword was "Marvel superheroes in a fantasy setting" and I immediately thought "SOLD!!" I haven't gotten very far into it, but I have high hopes, what I've read so far! Kind of a grimdark take on the whole superhero genre (more "Avengers 4" and less "Avengers 1"), but not too shabby! We'll see if the "timeline hopping" gets to me...

I'm trucking my way through Blood Rites by Jim Butcher--and I gotta say, "HARRY DRESDEN YOU ABSOLUTE HOBGOBLIN!" The central mystery/crime is most mysterious indeed, and the extra surrounding goings-on just make it that much more interesting and make the whole story pass by faster as I keep right on reading without feeling like anything is dragging! After Dresden comes Masked City by Genevieve Cogman, and it's about dang time! Once I've finished these, it'll be the last of my library checkouts, so that means it's back to "reading all of the unread books on my shelf!" Including a Reader's Review signed copy, Behind the Mask by J. D. Cunegan--his Jill Andersen series gives me all the good Castle vibes, and that's something I really need right now, since I am all out of current TV shows to watch, guys!!

I got a new book for my birthday, the second book in the Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman--that'll be one that I'm reading, for sure! I also went to a book sale on Monday (the first one I've been to since the libraries closed!! It was glorious!) and picked up a Michael Crichton book, the novelization of Ocean's Eleven (which is kind of like the movie in narrative form, but also has some of those "extra details" that are so difficult to portray in movies!), and a Simon Tolkien novel! (I got really into his Inspector Trave series, but haven't really found any of his other books in the library system, so it was really fun to be at a book store and see his name!) So I have plenty of fun to look forward to in November! Tally ho!

Get ready for bigger numbers in writing, and hopefully I'll actually be able to read all the books I've mentioned as "to read" in this post! Thanks for stopping by, and as always....

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Reader's Review: "Ace of Clubs" by Patricia Loofbourrow

Synopsis from Amazon:
The one secret which could destroy everything ...
After financial disaster and the zeppelin bombing, the far future domed neo-Victorian city of Bridges is reeling. Three of the four Families are implicated, and an inquest is called to investigate.
But private eye and mobster's moll Jacqueline Spadros has had enough. While she and her former lover Joseph Kerr try to learn who killed their family friend, they also begin making plans to leave the city.
Her tormentors, however, are just getting started. As their web of lies and forgery draws ever tighter, Jacqui begins to see how deep the conspiracy against her and the Spadros Family really goes.
When she's called as a witness in the inquest, the secrets Jacqui has kept over the years come back to cause her serious trouble. Will she be able to escape Bridges? Or will she be forced to face the terrible consequences of her lies and trickery once and for all?

My Review:

It's one thing to write a story and include all of the pleasurable tropes that people come to expect from that sort of book.
It takes guts to look those tropes in the face and solemnly declare that you are Not That Kind Of Author and this story is Not That Sort Of Book. And mean it.
Loofbourrow means it. Look out, world!

I am deeply invested in this Red Dog Conspiracy--I, the person who tends to avoid a lot of political machinations and back-and-forth, who rolls my eyes at every "new inconsistency" and new person that comes forward with "damning evidence" to refute everything that was considered "proven" up to just ten seconds ago; I, the one who doesn't like a whole lot of strategy games, and prefers puzzles with a definite end-goal and pattern-finding and mazes... I'm enthralled by this "socio-political poker game" and the stakes have never been higher, and I'm still finding characters to root for and others to disparage. Loofbourrow piles on the twists, unlike most mystery dramas with a thick layer of romance "just for the spicy"--romance in the world of Bridges takes on a character distinction of its own, aiding some characters and destroying others. It's highly prevalent in the plot, but it's by no means the main thrust--Jacqui's in this to save lives and right wrongs, not just to "be with the man she loves."
The emotional connections are just effusing from every page; every line of dialogue strikes a relatable chord within us as readers. I'm three books (four, if you start with The Alcatraz Coup) deep into this mystery and I'm still guessing and being shocked at each new move. I'm not much of a chess player, or a poker player--and I'm playing with a master, watching the pieces move and inherently knowing deep down that the person on the other side of the board knows every single move in the entire game on instinct... while I have no clue what even my next move is going to be! The fact that the "Red Dog Conspiracy" might not actually have anything to do with the actual gang known as the Red Dogs, but someone acting in their name and using their mark as a misdirect... The fact that after everything that "hit the proverbial fan" in the last book is reaping consequence after consequence in this one, none of which I could have ever seen coming... and poor Jacqui, in her vast attempts at maintaining a network of secrecy and covering her tracks, and ensuring that no one involved could suspect in the least what she is truly up to... Ends up with everything crashing down around her in the most spectacular way possible, driving her to desperate deeds I would have never expected of her, and losing all those things she sought to preserve. I'm trying not to spoil too much, but just know that this series is epic and well-timed and masterful in all it's rich detail and complexity!
Loofbourrow and the Ace of Clubs delivers in every beat, on every level. I give it a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and add to it the Upstream Writer Certified DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. For each smattering of answers and resolutions to a previous question, there are just heaps more mysteries and problems! I positively cannot wait to see where this series goes next!

Further Reading: (Also By This Author/Steampunk/Complex Plot/Strong Heroines)
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup (prequel) 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
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
-Sky Knight--Sandra Harvey 
-AmsterDamned--Nils Visser 
Dawn of Steam Trilogy--Jeffrey Cook
      -First Light
      -Gods of The Sun 
      -Rising Suns

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 Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 32

Part 32

I emerged from the jungle right next to the first dig site—but it was nearly unrecognizable. The massive ditch that so many people had excavated over the course of a couple years had been completely filled in and leveled in just a couple hours. I kept running, scanning whatever patches of sky I could see for any sign of my parents, and keeping the debris at bay with Auraea’s wind powers.

The sprites surrounded me too, batting aside tree branches and nudging me out of the way when huge boulders rolled past me. One of my steps missed the ground and hit a massive pothole surrounded by rocks—but in that moment, I felt two wind-sprites like wind gusts press against my sides and lift my arms, and suddenly I was floating! My legs dangled in midair as the sprites all but carried me the remaining distance, setting me down on the outskirts of camp.

Half the tents were already torn to shreds and scattered over the main area. The RVs were gone, as well as the bank of generators. The only things left were the huge floodlights, still on somehow in the swirling storm.

“Priscilla!” someone screamed. I had been through so many surreal moments in the last hour that it felt weird to hear my own name. I turned and squinted through the monsoon to see Derrick slipping and sloshing his way toward me.
We caught each other by the shoulders.

“I was scared you didn’t make it!” he yelled over the roar of the rain.
“Where is everybody else?” I hollered back.
“FRED and the dig team left as soon as the storm rolled in!” Derrick replied. “Silver is with Kayce and Jordyn on the boat. Alex is there too.”

The rain beat down on me, pushing my hair low against my face. I reached up to push it back.
Derrick’s expression changed as he noticed the large bracelet around my wrist. “What’s that?”
The churning sea sent waves crashing over the side of the cliff we were standing on. If there really was a boat down there, I seriously doubted it would be there for long! “I'll tell you later!” I said. “What do you mean about a boat? I thought FRED would take everything with them!”

Derrick grinned, even as water streamed down his face. “Remember the one with engine I tried to repair? Well, Professor Silver convinced Stephanie and her group to leave it behind, and I guess Alex figured out how to fix it! Now come on, we’ve gotta go!” 
He turned to pull on my shoulder, but I held him back. “Wait! Where’s Tony?”
Derrick hesitated, a confused look on his face.

“Tony’s right here!”

A bubble of dryness enveloped us, pushing sound away with a suddenness that left my ears ringing, like stepping into the eye of a hurricane. Derrick’s line of sight shifted over my shoulder to the sound of the strange, guttural voice, and his expression morphed into one of panic. I turned to look.

Tony strode out of the forest toward us—but it wasn’t the same guy who had gone into the temple with us. His clothes were trashed, his arms and face were all scuffed up, and his eyes had turned bloodshot, almost the same way he’d looked when I first tried to get the amulet away from him.
Derrick spluttered several times in an attempt to produce the words, “What... the...”

Tony’s eyes focused on me, and his face split into the most terrifying smile I’d ever seen on a person, much less Tony.
I could feel the sprites tugging at me, even if Derrick was too shocked to do so.
It hit me in that awful moment as Tony shambled three steps closer.
The quiet, the stillness, the forest... It all made sense.
“That’s not Tony,” I whispered.
“Huh?” Derrick wheezed.

Phony-Tony stepped closer. Egamad had taken over my friend’s body. Taking over my dad was one thing, because he was already a god—but Tony? I felt violated; I felt sick, seeing the face and body of my friend and knowing that he wasn't the one in control.

I turned back to the young mechanic. “That’s not Tony. Go to the boat, I’ll handle this.”
Derrick gripped my hand, his face full of confusion. “But—“
“All right!”
Derrick scrambled off toward the cliff as I turned to face Egamad/Tony.

“How dare you!” I shouted at the thing.
Egamad/Tony cackled. “What do you mean?” he called mockingly. “It’s just me—your friend and lover!” His voice barely sounded like Tony’s, overlaid with Egamad’s own sickening, rasping tones. "Thanks for freeing me, by the way! I always knew that it would be someone close to my enemies who would end up betraying them--but that it would be you, so desperate to save your friend's life that you never even noticed how I made sure that misinformation about the stone that was my prison was planted in mortal legends millennia ago--it was too perfect!"

I felt the thrum of the bracelet and the gust of wind from so many sprites bolstering me, fueling the strength that came from my outrage. “Can’t face me yourself, Egamad?” If he was trapped in Tony’s body, then perhaps the mural on the cavern wall wasn’t actually a prediction. “You just had to go off and get others to do your bidding.”

Tony's throat let out a moaning laugh, and he thrust his hands forward. In the sky over our heads, Auraea mimicked the motion, and a massive gust of wind blasted against me. I could hear the sprites screaming as the powerful wind ripped them away from me. My feet slid along the ground, back closer to the edge of the cliff. I needed to deflect the wind somehow.

Fighting to dig my heels deeper into the slick, soft mud, I reached for the amulet and dug the locket out of its divot with my frozen fingertips. I slapped it into the divot marked with the sign of Trikymios, and I felt the familiar lurch in my gut as the waves responded to my signal. I called up a water-spout that swirled and built higher and higher, drawing all the force of the wind in its direction--away from me. Egamad/Tony bounded closer to me, striking forward with a flat hand. A wind moving crosswise to the direction of the water-spout sliced through it like an invisible knife, splitting the one large typhoon into two standing whirlpools. The energy tugged on my hands, pulling in opposite directions. I already needed two hands to control the spinning column of water--there was no way I could be strong enough to handle two with just one hand each! I left them to keep spinning as I called up a ball of water, desperately lofting it in Auraea's direction.

She didn't even break focus from trying to blow me off the edge of the cliff as she batted it away.
"Nice try!" Egamad taunted. "She's in too deep now--I've got her right where I want her, my very own goddess!"

"Mom!" I screamed as I felt my heel recede over the very edge. I was running out of room, and soon I wouldn't be able to resist at all. "Please! You have to hear me!"
"She can't!" The demon roared. "You're too weak! I've won!"

I reached for the amulet again. I was getting better at feeling for the divots and swapping the locket around without breaking eye contact with Egamad/Tony. I flipped it over to the wind side, and prepared to form a tunnel between my hands. The chain from the locket came loose and smacked against my fingers.

"Heads up!" Egamad snarled, and I whirled around to see an entire tree rip free of the ground and sail straight toward me. I dove forward, away from the edge of the cliff, as it crashed down behind me, right where I had been standing a moment before. I struggled to get my feet under me, and staggered to the side to avoid a large boulder rolling down the hill in my direction. Egamad/Tony had moved somewhere else in the chaos. I couldn't find him, but his voice reached me.
"Run, run as fast as you can, little bug!"

A gale-force wind struck me right in the chest, and I tried to form my hands around it, to coax it into a smaller area that I could control--
But nothing happened. I looked at the amulet and my heart sank to my toes. The locket was gone! I had no power without it, no way to resist or fight back against the onslaught. Where had I dropped it?

"Please!" I begged, willing myself to see the wind-sprites around me, even if I couldn't hear them without the power of the amulet anymore. "You have to find my locket! Help me!"

Egamad materialized on top of one of the defunct floodlight poles. "Aww," he mocked, "Is the baby tired of fighting? Is the little weakling calling it quits already?" He reached down and yanked up one of the electrical cables, his telekinesis forming the loose end of it into a lasso. "Well, I suppose it's time for us to wrap this up!" He threw it at me. I could do nothing but throw my arms over my head and brace for impact.

I heard it sail right past me, but I felt nothing. A hand rested on my head, and I looked up.
Bright eyes, dark skin, and a wide smile greeted me.
"Alex?" I gasped.

Our erstwhile guide from Thessaloniki turned back to focus on Egamad's attack. He held his arm bent in front of us, and I could see a soft, shimmering light spreading over the space between Egamad and us--an energy shield of some kind?
"But..." I stammered. "How--"

"Shh," Alex soothed. "It's all right. I know what you've been fighting, and you need to know that you're not alone." He gestured around the edge of the shield just like Egamad did, and one of the boulders rolled back up the hill, toward the demon-possessed guy standing on the light pole. Alex had telekinesis too! He turned back to me. "I can't do much to fight him without hurting your friend," he admitted. "Do you still have the amulet?"

I showed him the bracelet cuffed around my wrist. "Yeah, but I lost the locket--"

"It doesn't matter," said the young-looking Greek.

Did he not understand how it worked? "Actually it does! You see, that locket had symbols on it--"

"Priscilla, listen to me!" Alex gestured with his shield-arm, and the pane of sheer energy spread in a canopy over us. He took my hands. "The gods blessed it with their blood, did they not?"
I blinked. "Well, yeah..."

"And they explained how it worked, yes?"

I flinched as another tree rammed against the energy-shield, but it didn't go past it. "Auraea said it was activated by blood--what are you getting at?"

"Priscilla!" Alex winced every time the energy-shield sustained damage. I had a feeling that it might even be his own life energy fueling the shield. "Don't you understand what this means? You carry the blood of the gods!"
"No I don't!" I said. "Alex, I'm adopted--we aren't related..."

"Use the spikes! Claim their blood!" Alex shouted as a bolt of lightning zapped the energy shield, tossing him aside like a rag doll, and removing the last of my protection.

A towering whirlpool rose up behind me, sucking me in like a dust-bunny into a vacuum hose. My arms were trapped against my sides. I could feel the spikes resting against my skin, but by clenching my fist I could keep them from breaking the skin.

Egamad/Tony hovered in the air right in front of me as I twisted and wriggled against my watery bonds. It was almost like being trapped in a giant fist.

He brought his hands together in a slow clap. "Well, I must admit, you put up more of a fight than I anticipated from a mere mortal," he growled. "But as you now know, I'm much too strong for you. The only reason I haven't crushed you outright is because, after all, you did free me. But in the end--"

"This is not the end and you know it!" Maybe if I bought enough time, Alex could revive and jump in to save me. "You've been using my parents as your weapon, and the body of my friend as a shield--without them, you wouldn't be able to touch me!"

Tony's eyes blinked, and Egamad threw back his head and laughed. "Big words for a small girl! You fool! I could crush you with only a thought!" The watery grip tightened, pressing my fist against my sides, making my bones ache. "You call them your parents, but I have more claim to their blood than you do! They belong to me, and once you are dead, I can possess their essence, and no one--mortal or divine--can stop me!"

Claim their blood... The words Alex used returned to me, and I remembered how the bracelet had glowed and soaked in the blood of the two gods... Maybe I did carry their blood after all! I released my clenched fist, and the press of the water shoved the spikes against my skin. I flinched and tried to hide it. "Tony doesn't belong to you!" I hollered back. "You possessed him by force!"

"HE LET ME IN!" Egamad roared, zooming in close so I could see the deadness in his eyes. "Without me, your pitiful fellow meat-sack would be rotting in a grave right now! I'm the one keeping him alive! He owes me for that! And just think," he saw my discomfort and relished it, licking Tony's lips with a tongue dark with blood, "This is ALL YOUR FAULT!" He laughed in my face, his breath smelling like rotten eggs. "Face it, girl--I'm smarter than you, more cunning, and more powerful! You can't do anything about this storm I've wrought!"

I knew what I had to do, even though every instinct screamed at me not to do it. I relaxed my hand, and the spikes sank directly into my skin. I felt a sharp sting as the seawater connected with my exposed flesh, but I didn't pull away. The amulet--and the blood it contained--was a part of me now.
"You're right, Egamad," I addressed the demon directly. "I can't do anything about your storm--but that's not because I'm not powerful enough or smart enough."

Egamad/Tony crossed his arms, glaring at me. "Oh indeed?" he retorted.

I lifted my hand... and felt the whirlpool give a little around it. I kept my arms relaxed, waiting for my moment. "I don't have to control your storm--I'm going to fight you with one of my own!"

The confidence oozed from him. He spread his arms--Tony's arms, strained so much that I could see the blue network of veins just below his skin. "Where is this storm you're going to fight me with, puny girl? I know you've lost your precious locket!"

I held his gaze, and put on my most devious grin. "I don't need the locket anymore," I declared. I watched his face as I brought my hands in front of myself, and parted the waters as easily as pushing through a field of tall grass. "And I don't need to borrow power off my parents anymore." I spread my hands, and two typhoons, larger than the one Egamad had trapped me with sprang up, along with a tornado touching down just in the middle of the forest and ripping its way toward us. The power coursed through my whole body, and I could hold myself up in midair with it, free of all restraints as I stared that demon in the face and bellowed, "I AM THE STORM!"

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