Category Archives: writing

Phantom Library

A bit of fluff inspired by Be Kind Rewrite’s Inspiration Monday prompt: Phantom Library

It is also a sequel to Raised by Dragons. The names of characters have been altered to protect their identity. Any resemblance to real people is unintentional and highly amusing. ;)

 

You know what it’s like in the morning when you really don’t want to wake up? Your bed is comfortable, the air is a little too cold on your face, your body feels twice as heavy as usual.

It’s even worse when you’ve been working hard, and I had been.

Some people talk as if magic’s the easy way to do things. But real magic is only easy in the same way that lifting a huge weight becomes easier once you’ve invented, and then built, a pulley. And of all forms of magic, wizardry is the most complex. With nothing more than a mediocre high school education under my cap, my teacher had me studying higher mathematics, the sciences, the arts, and most of all, philology. In some ways, I’d never felt more alive. But living is tiring.

I had been training for months, only getting breaks when Ren, or my foster-parents, would kidnap me for a holiday. Teemu, my teacher, didn’t seem to know, or maybe he just didn’t care, what holidays were.

So there I was in bed, with the morning light screaming in at the window. My blankets smelled faintly of cedar, I was warm, and the room itself was chilly. So I did the natural thing. I stretched a little, rolled over, and closed my eyes.

That’s when a sound like a large ball-bearing spinning against frosted glass made me leap up.

Never ignore a growling dragon.

Teemu was standing just outside my room, teeth clenched, lips barely parted. He was wearing human form, as he usually did for our lessons. A full grown Draconis Major in its true shape is awkward indoors, to say the least. Still, he had a way of being scarcely less intimidating as a ‘human’ than when he showed scales and row on row of teeth.

Without a word, he turned and walked down the hall.

I scrambled into my clothes, trying to ignore the twinge that suggested breakfast. It was unlikely that Teemu, already angry at my oversleeping, would wait for me to grab anything from the kitchens.

Maybe, I thought,  Tesni will bring me something…

I caught up with Teemu on the stairs and cleared my throat. “Sorry. I’m, uh, still not used to being without an alarm-clock. …Or electricity.”

Without looking around, he lifted one hand and spoke a word in Draconic that I didn’t know yet. Before I could react, he turned on his heel and planted one finger on my forehead.

Have you ever had an unpleasant encounter with electricity?

It felt like a combination of that moment when a roller-coaster starts to plunge, and being punched in the face.

The next thing I knew, Teemu was glaring into my eyes.

“Better?” he said, emphasizing the hard consonants, a sure sign of annoyance. “Don’t make weak excuses. Do you want to learn how to weave an alarm? Or how to power a toaster?”

I dug my hands into my pockets to keep from punching him. Speaking of which, just in case you’re ever tempted to punch a dragon in human form. Don’t. Remember, they may be smaller, but they still have the same mass.

I took a deep breath and answered him. “…Yes.”

“Then dedicate yourself to this apprenticeship. Potential is meaningless when not applied. And don’t give me disrespectful one-syllable answers.” He turned and continued down the stairs.

“Yes, teacher,” I said, following.

I had expected to stop, as usual, on the ground floor. Our lessons mostly took place outside, in Teemu’s workshop, or in the mansion’s little library. But Teemu kept following the stairs down into levels I’d never seen before. It was still clean and tidy, Tesni would have it no other way, but it was not as airy. We sank down into subterranean cold and scents of cavern and cellar. There were still plenty of lights, leaping up in niches when we approached, and falling into darkness again behind us.

“Where’re we headed?” I asked.

“I’m going to teach you how to use the phantom library. That way you can continue your theoretical studies when I’m too busy to give you practical lessons.”

“Phantom library?”

Teemu laughed, always a disconcerting sound coming from him, and gave no answer.

As we continued, I began to realize that I would have to climb back up the stairs in the near future. I wished I’d insisted on getting breakfast.

Two more flights down and we stopped. Water covered the steps a little way ahead.

But I soon realized that it wasn’t water.

It was translucent, and rippled along the surface, but it didn’t reflect the lights in the cavern walls, nor the helictite-encrusted ceiling above us.

Whatever it was, I could see slowly-moving blooms of glowing color, and pale points, like stars, beneath the surface. I wondered if these were living things, algae or fey, or chemical reactions of some kind, or simply images projected from who-knows-where.

Teemu turned left and stepped out onto the surface.

I followed. The first step was the worst, for though I could see the edges of a platform about an inch under the ‘water,’ I didn’t really know what I was stepping into. Whatever it was, at least it didn’t seep into my shoes.

The platform led to an alcove, raised just above the surface of the pool. For being in a cave, it was shockingly homey.

There was a massive roll-top desk, well-supplied with notebooks, pencils, pens, and various old-school calculating tools. Several armchairs sat by a stone platform, like a coffee-table, and there was even a worn couch with a blanket thrown across its camel-back.

There was, however, only one small bookshelf. I found this terribly disappointing. Three shelves, none of them full of books, with book-ends and knickknacks taking up valuable space. The books themselves were an odd mix. An Ethiopian cookbook, a technical study on some planetary cataclysm, volume “Q” from an encyclopedia, and Through the Looking Glass were among them.

“This is the biped study,” said Teemu. “If we’d turned right, we would have reached the dragon’s study, but you wouldn’t be comfortable there. Still, if one of us is down here, you know where to find us.”

I moved over to the desk and picked up a yellow ruler-looking thing. More accurately, it looked like two rulers bridged together with metal brackets, and a third ruler between them that slid back and forth.

“Slide-rule,” said the dragon, pulling a worn book from the shelf. “You’ll figure it out. But first, let’s show you the catalog.”

I came up beside him as he knelt down over the edge of the not-water. Several pale, glowing points converged like nibbling minnows when Teemu placed his free hand against the surface.

“It’s a communal library,” he said, “shared among the Draconis Major and Draconis Minor as well as a few select members of other species. You won’t be allowed to access the restricted works, of course, but that leaves plenty of trouble for you to get into. So the first rule is: Theoretical Study Only. This is not the place for experimentation. If you defy that rule, I’ll know, and your free-study privileges will be revoked.”

“Yes, teacher.” My earlier anger had vanished. The only thing I felt at the moment was excitement.

“The first step is to identify yourself to the library. That’s what I’m doing, now. Place your hand next to mine.”

I obeyed. Little lights clustered around my hand, too. The surface of the ‘water’ felt like mist, insubstantial and a little warm. The lights dispersed, leaving a blank space around where we were kneeling.

Teemu began to write with a finger on the black surface, leaving a silvery trail. Title: boolean AND search.

A moment later, the images of several books appeared under the surface. Teemu flicked one of them and it opened. A few more flicks and he had ‘turned’ several of the phantasmal pages.

“This is how you select a book. Then, once you have found the one you want…” he dipped the physical book he was holding into the image of the book in the mist. When he withdrew it, it had become the book he had been looking at.

He opened it to the cover page, and I saw his name scrawled in Draconic runes. “This is my copy. That is the next important thing to know about the phantom library. You will not be able to draw my copy out. Instead, you will have your own copy where you can, if you like, take your own notes. And every time you draw out a book, it will be that copy, your copy, just as you left it. Do you understand?”

“I think so. What… what happens to the notes I’ve taken if, for instance, I die?”

Teemu smiled, as he only did when he liked one of my questions. “Marginalia is absorbed into the library and can be retrieved, if one knows how and has the right level of access. But this is enough to keep you busy for now, don’t you think?” He offered the book to me. “I suggest you read this, first. Otherwise you will find searching the catalog very hard. Dip it in to change it to your copy.”

I was obeying his instruction when I asked the wrong question.

“What happens if I fall in?”

The dragon casually batted me off the edge. For a moment I was in freefall, and I screamed accordingly. A moment later, and I was blinded as the bright points of light mobbed me. The next thing I knew, I could feel solid stone under me again, and my vision was full of afterimages. Teemu’s amused voice drifted to me from not very far away.

“The library doesn’t absorb life-forms.”

I answered him in language I won’t repeat here.

“If I hadn’t thrown you in, you’d have been curious. Now you know, and you can focus on your studies instead of wondering.”

My vision was clearing, and I looked at the book that was still in my hand. The cover was a patchwork, shreds of countless books mashed together, and the pages were sticking out at odd angles, words overlapping words until they were nearly black.

“Go ahead, dip it again.” Teemu backed up to reassure me that he wouldn’t push me off the edge again. Grudgingly, I obeyed.

“There is a water-closet over there,” he pointed to a little door beside the desk that I hadn’t noticed earlier. “The penalty for peeing in the library is a five-decade ban, so don’t be stupid.”

I nodded and sat down in one of the armchairs. The book looked dry, and I don’t mean in terms of moisture. I began to regret, more and more, not having breakfast. Teemu seemed to be going over the list of things he meant to tell me.

“Oh, and I almost forgot.” He knocked on the stone coffee table, then wrote with the tip of his finger on the surface. A few minutes passed, and a knock sounded from the table itself as a cup of tea appeared on it. “There’s a direct line of communication to the kitchens. But don’t over use it, and always say ‘please’.”

“Yes, of course.”

He paused to think for a moment, then nodded. “Tomorrow, 8 am, sharp.”

“Yes teacher.”

As he turned to go, the realization of where I was, and what was now in my reach, began to sink in. Boolean method book notwithstanding, I was on the brink of a literal sea of books.

I called after Teemu, hoping he was still in earshot. “Thank you!”

No answer.

He probably heard, but didn’t bother to respond. I would thank him, again, in the morning. I settled comfortably in the armchair, with the cup of tea, and started trying to absorb the book as quickly as possible. It was going to be my map to this sea.


Reorganization

I realized, recently, that I’ve put quite a few pieces of original fiction on this blog. And that it would behoove me to make it more accessible.

Thus I have reorganized the navigation links at the top of the blog, and created this Handy Page.

Also, as I do periodically, because I love it, I am pointing you all towards Bekind Rewrite’s short, hard-boiled Noir Mystery, The Mysterious Case of the Marshmallow Mushroom Forest


Fallen Writer

~*GASP!*~

What is this? An original post? It can’t be!

Well… to some extent, it isn’t. The first part of this post was written a year and a half ago. The quoted text is not how I currently feel, so no prayers or sympathies are needed for depression as I am not presently in a depression (prayers and sympathy for stress, however, will be much appreciated!). The insights I apparently had during that grim time, though, are still relevant to my mind, and as I did not post it back when, I have decided to post it now and tie it in with my present thoughts.

And, uh, Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday-of-your-persuasion! It doesn’t look like I will be doing much Christmas-posting, but I will, again, re-post my carol countdown for any who are interested. :)

I am going through some stuff right now. Nothing is “wrong,” but then my brain chemistry doesn’t really care. It never has.

It’s moods like this that make me want to burn down the world. Luckily for me, and everyone else, global immolation is not in my power. Besides, I would probably remember who and what I love in time to stop me, even if it was.

Depression will pass. It always does. I have learned the hard way that the dimness of the world I see right now is no more real than if I were staring at it through rose glass.

If only knowing were feeling.

Different established aspects of the characters I write become more or less real to me depending on my mood, at least in the abstract.

I have found that I do not need to understand a character for them to reveal themselves in my writing, but the insights I get when I am not writing can help me see the “big picture,” what the characters themselves do not see. You know how we, as people, are often too “close” to our own lives to see ourselves objectively? It seems characters are usually like that, too.

Anyway, I’ve known for a long while that I am dealing with two protagonists who have a (mostly unconscious) deathwish. They have forgotten how to love themselves in the way that allows a person to really love their neighbors. In contrast, I have a protagonist who “loves his life” (John 12:25) so much that he is willing to do nearly anything to survive. Right now I can clearly see the irony of the fact that all three are, despite their differences, self-destructive.

If they change, it will be painful, but then processes that create lasting change are ALWAYS painful. Break the twisted bone so that it can heal straight. Even my dull-dark mood is not enough to hide from me the beauty and joy inherent in redemption.

Cheery stuff, no? Though I do touch on eucatastrophe at the end. It relates, in an acute-angle kind of way to what I will say next.

My stories, all of them, are rife with questions of redemption: what it is, what it means, how it works, if it works, what happens when it doesn’t come into play, etc. Being part of a Fallen race, the question is of deep importance to me.

What I’ve been pondering lately, in a more balanced frame of mind, is how to deal with the concept of Fallen Humanity in-story.

Stories are funny things, aren’t they? So many varieties, and yet so many common notes.

My genre is, I guess, Fantasy Fiction (or speculative fiction, if you want a bigger umbrella). Not particularly High or Low, Heroic or Dark. In fact, running down the list of sub-genres, I’m not sure where it falls. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way. Some of the best (and worst) fantasy fiction out there plays to type.

The reason is that each type has its aim and the formulas work. If you want a peanut-butter milkshake, you use ice-cream, milk, peanut-butter, and maybe some chocolate syrup. You don’t add chicken soup, or gravel.

So, I am not writing dark, cynical fantasy because my aim isn’t deconstruction. But most of the alternatives have heroes that, while flawed, are still… well… heroic. And their villains are villainous. And I look at them and wonder: how much difference is there, really?

In one sense, of course, there is a vast difference. I am not attempting to diminish the importance of choice and freewill. But the Fall cuts through everyone. In a sense, it brings us all close together, even if we’re together in bondage. I may cheat, or lie, and another person may commit mass murder, but without salvation, we’ve both walked through the gates: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”* If we both find salvation, we both find salvation, regardless of what we’ve done. In this sense, at least, there are no levels.

We’re all sinners. But the world, as a whole, rarely seems to agree. There’s a persistent feeling (one that I have to fight in myself) that some things just aren’t forgivable. That some marks, once made, are indelible.

So what does this mean for my writing? I guess it means that I’m walking a fine line. On one hand, I want my reader to like and sympathize with the “good guys,” to be horrified by the destruction wrought by their antagonists, and for the two sides to be quite clear (well, most of the time, anyway). But without ever being able to forget that the degree of separation is not as wide as it seems. I’m not necessarily talking about anti-heroes or anti-villains. I’m not exactly dealing in gray and gray morality.

I guess, maybe, I’m asking how we approach the Fall. How, if we believe in true Good and Evil (as I do,) and know that we’re Not Good (yeah, that too), do we view those whose Not-Goodness horrifies us?

I know that, for a lot of people who share my faith, this may sound stupidly obvious, but I’ve always believed that the obvious needs saying sometimes: I feel like this is Important. Not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

How do we love our enemies? How do we face mass murder, exploitation, corruption, and cruelty? We must condemn these things because we know them to be evil. To excuse or ignore them in a story, as in real life, would be a sin. But in real life we’re forbidden to judge the perpetrators. Part of that may be because of our human limitations. We can’t really understand our fellows. But maybe it’s also because, when we come right down to it, “we” are not as far from “them” as we would like to think.

To an ant the size of a pin-head, an ant the size of  a bean seems huge. To a human they’re both very small, nearly the same size, even.

The Fall makes us all ants.

And so, dear possible-future-reader, if you ever think it strange that I touch on a monster with sympathy, or deal harshly with a protagonist for a comparatively “small” fault, remember that it isn’t because I’m a relativist.

It’s because I’m not.

 


 

*Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”


 


Spider’s Ransom

Happy Halloween, folks! And yes, I know it’s late.  But really, is it ever too late for Gothic story goodness?

This is, technically, a response to an InMon prompt, from BeKindRewrite, but I have to apologize for the length. The characters involved are not particularly cooperative in that, or any, regard.

Allergy Warnings: some violence, implied murder, Enfant Terrible, a really big ethereal spider, and ye olde speeche.

Disclaimer: The names of the characters have been changed to protect their identity. Any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional and potentially disturbing.


I write this days late. Before, I could not hold my hand steady.
My sons, forget what has gone before. I forbid you to sink your lives into this pit. I forbid it.

The gods cannot be so unmerciful as to expect us to shed what remains of our blood in a vain attempt to destroy evil that, I now believe, was not of our making.

Yes, the spirit of our ancestor spoke truth. This monster was born of our house. But he is ours no longer. If the gods wish him destroyed, let them send one of their own.

I made an oath, and I must keep it, but I will not sacrifice my sons.

The rumors I followed led me, in time, to Aldryd’s Keep. It is a new fortress, high-walled and well guarded. The Lord Aldryd’s reputation is good, but disappearance and death spread out around his stronghold. As he is near to the Maidenwoods, local rumor lays the blame on that twisted haunt rather than at Lord Aldryd’s feet. Still, I wondered at any man of power and influence choosing such a territory.

I had my answer when I entered the gate. The sword, Eleri, burned against my back. All but the grip was hot so long as I kept within the walls.

I took a place in the stables and I listened and watched. Einion the stable-master is an ugly brute, but not unkind. He speaks freely while at his work and I soon learned much of the keep and its folk. Unusual and unnatural death have left them largely untouched. The dangers, Einion told me, lie outside the walls.

Poor fool. But that is unjust of me. I would think the same, in his place.

Before long I had seen Lord Aldryd and all his kin by daylight. They are mortal enough. His eldest son, Heulyn, is a fine horseman and befriended me for my skill. We rode together often, even up to the eave of the woods.

Once, I asked why his father had chosen such a desolate place to lay claim. I saw his bright eyes fade a little, as with a wandering mind, and he shook his head.

“The hills are fertile,” he said, and that was all I could glean from him. The more I came to know the family, and all the people of the fort, the more they seemed like tethered beasts. They moved, in their minds, so far and no farther and had no power to ask questions of themselves.

When work was slack I took to wandering, befriending the soldiers and servants in turn. If it had not been for the angry heat of the sword, I might never have guessed anything was amiss. The signs are subtle.

At night, the watchmen patrol only the walls, never the grounds, and when asked why, they show only blank surprise. No one else stirs between dusk and the hour before dawn.

No one save, occasionally, a strange young woman called Briallen. I had seen her in the daylight, and thought her one of the ladies’ maids.

Then, one night, she waked me with singing as she wandered through the moon-bright grounds. Wildness, like that of a wren, is what marks her.

Her song was desolate, but her voice and eyes were not. I knew her for something brilliantly alive, and when she saw me, she smiled. If your mother’s guard over my heart were not so strong, she might have bewitched me.

At the end of her song I gave my traveling name, and asked hers. She answered without fear and asked why I had come to the keep.

I scarce remember how I answered, but she looked at me with dark, bird-like eyes.

“You are looking for someone?”

I shook my head, and she frowned.

“Lying is no way to make a friend.”

What could I say? I told her that I was, but that I would not tell more.

“I know who,” was her answer. My face must have betrayed my fear, for she smiled and touched my arm. “I’ll not tell him. He has no hold on me. But you should go. He sees you, and I know he suspects.”

“Tell me of him,” I pleaded.

She lifted her chin and shook her head. “I’ll warn a man to save his life, but I’ll not betray my friend.”

“Friend?” Yet she claimed he had no hold on her. I could not then, and still cannot, believe it. Some spell or madness rests on her.

“Friend,” was her answer, firmly given. Again she smiled at me. “Why not? He could kill me, and I live. He could enslave me, yet I am free.”

“Lady, he is a kinslayer, marked with his own brothers’ blood. And by some devilry he has learned to prolong his life by murder. I cannot even count the lives I know he has taken.”

She dropped her gaze from mine. How could she not? But she said, again, “he is my friend,” then curtsied and left me.

I saw her again several times, most often bright and smiling. The folk in the keep take no note of her unless she speaks to them. When asked, they do not recall her. Whatever enchantment rests on them, I think it was only Eleri that protected me from it. Briallen seemed protected too, the only one fully awake in the stronghold, beside myself.

Me, and one sweet, mad young woman.

Among the rest, though they were kind enough, I was soon lonely. I never knew when their minds would wander, and deep conversation was impossible.

Briallen begged me, time and again, to simply turn and leave. I knew, despite the disease in her mind, she spoke wisdom. Even then I guessed that I could not win, but I was bound by my oath.
Despairing of any other course, I resolved to find the monster in his den. Broad daylight was my safest choice, for if he sleeps at all, it is under the sun.

By this time there was only one place in the keep that remained a mystery to me: the central tower of Aldryd and his household.
Heulyn allowed me entrance to share a meal with him. To my frustration, though not surprise, my one attempt to wander from him led me to his mother and sisters, weaving. I was forced to bow and retreat back to my friend.

That evening I could not sleep. I lay trying to think of a way in.

Eleri quivered in its sheath, knocking against the wall where it was laid. I leaped for it, but too late.

A small, powerful hand caught my wrist and wrenched my arm back. My feet were swept from under me. I fell hard, my shoulder knocked loose.

The monster, still grasping my injured arm in one hand, took my hair in the other and threw me against the far wall, away from my sword.

Before I could recover, I heard a light voice. Its first words were addressed to Eleri, as though I were a servant, beneath notice.

“You again? And here I thought you would rot with my brother.”

I thought madness had taken me. I saw my own son settle himself between me and my only defense.

I say “my son,” for in that instant of terror I thought it was. Our ancestor’s ghost, may he rest, should have warned me. This monster is, after near two-hundred years, still a child. My youngest is ten as I write this, and the creature is of the same build and size. The same hair, like fresh rust, the same eyes and a freckled face. At first, only a faint scar across his cheek, the expression of his face, and the horror I felt assured me that he was not my own. Though, as I think back with a clear mind I see other, more subtle differences.

That the gods allow a monster to have such a nest is more horrible to me than all terrors of claw and fang. I begin to understand Briallen’s madness. What more is needed to drive a young woman so far, but a hellish thing that wears such skin?

“Who are you?” he asked.

I made no answer and looked away that he might not compel me.

“Tell me who you are and how you come by my brother’s sword.”

“I… am a grave-robber, though trying to be an honest man.” It was as much truth as I would spare him.

He snorted at it. “What grave-robber steals a wooden sword? None, unless he knows it is more. Only three know. I am one and I killed another. If you will not say who you are, perhaps you will tell me where to find the third. Where is Aislinn?”

“Who?”

Something black as soot reached through the wall at my back, across my chest. It was like a spider’s leg, long and jointed, but as thick as my own arm. Several more legs quickly pinned me. I cried out and struggled, bruising myself, and I might have been crushed to death had the child-monster not walked up and laid a hand on my chest.

I never looked into his eyes, but it did not matter.

The next thing I recall is sitting before him, the spider’s legs still clasped loosely round me. Fear was gone and I felt adrift.

“How came you by Eleri?” he asked.

Gods have mercy, but the monster’s voice is soothing as the whisper of falling snow. I told him all; how I had been lured into the Maidenwoods and found our ancestor’s cairn beneath the fern. How his ghost begged me to finish his work. I told how his sword recognized my blood and bound itself to my service. Every second question sought after Aislinn, but the name was, and remains, strange to me. At last satisfied, the little monster released me from enchantment. I have rarely felt so weary.

When I raised my head, he looked at me as a hawk eyes a rat, hunger that despises what it eats.

“Ciarán?”

It was Briallen’s voice and it broke across the monster like a wave. He startled and turned.

“Haven’t you killed enough of your kin?”

The monster looked at her as she stood in the stable door. His eyes were sharp.

“He is under oath to kill me.”

Her face was troubled. “Surely he’s no threat. Take the sword from him and let him go.”

“I cannot take Eleri from a living man.”

“Even with it, what chance has he?”

Ciarán, or so she calls him, turned to me again and smiled so like a child that, weary as I was, I shuddered. “Very little.”

After a thoughtful silence, he sighed. He seemed to grow more pale and his eyes darkened. He reached out a hand to my face and I saw, from the corner of my eye, something glint in the moonlight. I scarcely felt the cuts, but warm blood ran down my cheek. He caught my gaze and trapped it, but this time my mind remained clear. His words cut far deeper than his claws.

“This is your ransom, cousin. Pay it and I will let you live: Strike my name from our line. Break your oath and turn your sons away from me. If you persist in hunting me, I will free myself of my father’s House by destroying what remains of it. I have often wondered how far his offspring have spread, and if the savor of their blood has changed.”

I found I could speak, though I hardly had the courage. “I will do as you say, only I cannot break my oath. Let me go and I will warn my kin away and bear the burden alone. They will be no threat to you.”

For a moment, I thought he would refuse. He laughed and patted my head like a dog. “Honorable man. Be sure to tell your sons the consequences. If they break the ban, I will have no more mercy.”

I knew nothing more until I came to myself hours later. The sun had risen over the keep and folk bustled about, taking no notice of me. My shoulder was returned to its place, but it ached and the blood had dried on my cheek and neck. Eleri still burned angrily until I left the keep.

I am unsure of my next step. How such a thing is to be fought, I do not know. Clearly, he has more sorcery than rumor grants. And what am I to make of the great spider, strong as iron, that can reach through walls? Perhaps I should seek out the Aislinn of which he spoke, though I know nothing of her but the name.


Raised by Dragons, and Other News

The Mythgard Institute’s Writing Contest, mentioned before, is still going strong. This week, Twitter Fiction! My muse growled at me last week, and it doesn’t seem to like 140 character limit of this week, but we will see if I can goad it into being poetic without losing fingers (or a limb). It has been voracious and unruly. It had me writing snippets from what will probably be book 4 or 5 of my W.I.P. when I’ve yet to complete books 1 and 2, though I should also blame one of the characters involved in that little detour. I’m looking at you, Kee, and shaking my fist. No, you cannot pacify me with cookies!

In the Mythgard contest I am thrilled to say that I won 1st runner up in week 1, and 2nd in week two! (Yeah, so much for keeping my name away from this blog, but hopefully I can bury this post, or at least edit it later). This means I get to be published in their special-edition e-book!  My 2nd entry for week 2 also made an honorable mention, and I will post it below for your reading enjoyment.

Is it weird that, in the face of all of this, my brain is trying to tell me that I can’t write anything worth printing? Because it is. Somehow, I think that brutal voice will follow me all of the days of my life no matter what comes of my scribbling.

Brenton Dickieson has also won the privilege of publication twice! You can read his devastating and humorous tales in the linked pdfs above, as well as the other fantastic winners. Enjoy the honorable mention: Mud, by my good friend, David. Hopefully a wonderful dragon story of his will be published to his blog soon, too. Other honorable mentions are being posted at the Oddest Inkling: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4. I don’t know the author of this one (though after reading this, I want to!) but it is brilliant: There is Not a Unicorn in the Bookstore. If any of y’all post a story for this contest to your blog, let me know because I want to link it here!

And now, for my own honorable mention. Sørina Higgins said that it made her cry, which is an overwhelming encouragement to me! Brandi, and anyone else who reads this who knows a certain dragon-connected wizard from my canon, here’s his origin story. I bet you didn’t know that fudge pie and E. A. Poe played such important roles in his wizardy history.

Raised by Dragons

At eighteen, my world popped like a bubble. I was standing in a cavern where I thought there was an ordinary basement laundry-room. That is what it had been the day before.

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In my hands I held my first grimoire, my birthday present, heavy and bound in old leather and brass filigree. In my ears echoed the revelation: “You have wizard’s blood in you. You have to choose. Leave this world, and follow your blood, or stay and ignore it forever.”

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But what held me rooted was the sight of my foster parents. Until yesterday, they were nothing if not ordinary. A middle-aged husband and wife, counselors for “at-risk youth.”

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“At risk” would be a mild description of me when I came to them. Before that, my life was a succession of strangers, some nice, some cruel, most in between. I ruined every good situation. There was too much anger and far too much fear to control.

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But they were different, strict, but also dauntless. After a while, when nothing I did seemed to rattle them, I settled in.

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Then the blackmail began. I hated reading. Books were boring. “Fairytale” meant “Disney,” and dragons were only tattoo designs.

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He handed me a book of short-stories and pointed one out. “We can discuss it over dessert.”

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What he meant was “if you can’t discuss this with us, there’ll be no dessert.”

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After months of similar extortion, he handed me Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” My foster-father smiled and said “we can discuss it over dessert. I’m thinking hot fudge pie and ice cream.”

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I wanted to punch his smug face, but I wanted that pie more, so I sat down to suffer through another story. I was bored, at first. Archaic language, weird names, references I didn’t get, and this mysterious “armadillo,” but, by the end, I was caught. No spoilers, but the gothic darkness of it all, the tension, the subtext, left me chilled and hungry for more. He had dog-eared several other stories, the beast. I read the next one. And another.

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After that, I looked forward to dessert discussions.

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As I approached eighteen, I feared I would have to make way for the next “at risk” kid.

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The night of my birthday, I came home to find my foster-mother waiting by the door. Without a word, she took my hand and led me to the basement stairs. I figured they had a surprise waiting. I wasn’t wrong.

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And then they stood before me in their true forms. Dragons are like living cathedrals, with wings of stained glass, Byzantine mosaics for flanks, smoking-censer mouths and eyes that glow with soft, prayer-candle light. I knew I could not go back.

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“I’ll follow my blood. Tell me how.”

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My foster-dragon-mother nosed the nearest cavern wall. It opened on a grassy field at night.

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Late InMon!

Stephanie, of BeKindRewrite assures me that even late InMon submissions are acceptable. I have, therefore, used last-week’s prompt: “Narrow Future.” Here is a grim, but determined submission from my only character, as of yet, who absolutely insists on a first-person perspective. If nothing else, it is good practice.

Though the hall was full of Death’s Clerics, it was nearly silent. My sharp hearing caught the sound of their breath, but no one shuffled or sniffed, there was neither whisper of cloth nor creak of sandal. Only staring eyes and pricked ears. They all waited to hear my answer.
     Where once I thought of my future as an open field, full of roads and possibilities, I now saw that each turn, each choice made, had narrowed it down to a single forked path. Each drop of blood, each dying breath had closed a gate, not only on those I killed, but on me. Rhos tried to tell me, she saw the walls closing in, but she was young, it was easy to dismiss her worries. At least, until Bre killed her. That was when I finally understood. It was the turn, the fork in the road that lead me here, to one final choice.
     Two paths left, and one would be very short. How I wanted that way. Execution, judgment, to be shut out of the world.
     The other path was a narrow hunter’s track; I could not see the end of it. I shuddered.
     There was work to be done and I was suited for it. I had suited myself for it, all unaware. The clerics had, in their mercy, given me a choice, but I knew I did not deserve it. I had forfeited any right to my own life, they had every reason to bind me to their purpose, yet they gave me a way out.
     But to ask for execution was the coward’s way. To choose death over work would be, as ever, to avoid responsibility.  I am a murderer and a kinslayer, but I was not then, and am not yet a coward.
     “I will hunt at your bidding until the task is done or I am killed.” I had not spoken loudly, but in that silence my words startled like shattered glass.
     The high priestess stamped to quiet the flood of whispers, then she spoke.
     “You will not hunt at our pleasure, but at Death’s. But first you must face the fire and be purified. Remember the suffering you have brought upon others, it will help you to bear your own.”
     I shivered and bowed my head.
    But I am not yet a coward.

Double Mind

Sometimes I wonder if the only difference between an author’s mind and someone with multiple personalities is awareness.

Of course, this won’t apply to all authors. There seem to be as many ways of writing as there are people who write, but I know at least a few others who have the same sort of relationship to characters as I do.

Yeah, I said “relationship,” and that really is the best description I can find, for my characters seem to occupy a niche in my mind, something that separates them from me and allows me to mentally engage with them.

For instance, I can enjoy a piece of music, and I am the one who is enjoying it. But sometimes I will sense a reaction to the music that I associate, not with myself, but with one of my characters. They stir, sometimes they even “claim” something, and forever after I will associate that thing with that character.

One example is that I cannot read or watch any form of vampire-related story without the running commentary of one of my particularly reactive characters. He finds Anne Rice humorous, he snarkily calls the Twilight brood “My-Little-Vampires” …which is, I think, rather unfair to the My-Little-Ponies of this world, he says True Blood makes him want to beat his head against a wall for the next fifty years, and he’s rather intrigued by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though he rolls his eyes at certain excessively Victorian passages. On the whole, he insists that vampires are monsters and is not a fan of humanizing them. Considering what vampires are like in his universe, and the fact that he, himself, is one, I can definitely see his point of view.

And yet, it isn’t really my point of view. I agree with him about some things, and disagree about others. That wouldn’t be so disconcerting if it were objective. If I were able to step back and think “this character would react to this thing in this way.” That would be character-building in the way most non-writers I know think it works (and that may be how it works for some lucky people).  But no. It’s a feeling, a sense that comes unbidden. I don’t think about it, I feel it, and the only thing that separates it from my own feeling is a conviction that it belongs to one of my characters.

No, please! Don’t call the men in white coats. I only do what the voices tell me to do on paper. Er, you know what I mean. I hope.

I think this process makes me a better writer. It certainly makes my life interesting.

Today, one of my character’s “discovered” a poem I’ve known since childhood. I like the poem. It means things to me, has a certain texture and light. But now I see it also through another set of eyes, and evermore I will associate it with her, and her feelings, as well.

She has a different relationship to roads than I do. She is always looking for the road home, a road into the past. Sadly, for her, all roads only lead into the future, and she knows it. But knowing something is impossible does not take the longing for it away.

In other words, to her, this poem carries with it a deeper poignancy, a kind of sadness I, as myself, would never quite find in it. Isn’t that one reason people read? To share experiences that they, as themselves, will never have? Perhaps, too, some of us write in order to walk, for a little while, in another’s boots and see the world through other eyes.

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The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
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Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
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And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
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I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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I’m always interested to hear how other writers relate (or don’t relate) to this kind of interaction. So, please! Comment! And if anyone has questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.
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Apart from being generally talkative, sometimes my characters seem a bit authorcidal. More thoughts on influence and inspiration can be found here.
If you’re interested in fiction tidbits, or more thoughts on writing theory, prod the tabs up top. “Fiction” under “Words and Faces” is my stuff. “Writing” and “Writing Theory” have my musings about the craft itself.
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I know I’ve said, before, that I plan on adding new mask-pics to this blog. I promise that I still plan on doing so soon!
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