Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year....I Think

Here is a shining example of what I need to do. It's January 1, 2009. I hereby make a resolution to set down a goal--quite modest in nature---to finish the Wintersland story. No matter how long or short it turns out to be.

The story is intended to be a young adult, which should put it around the 80,000 range--we'll see. The story still feels thin in places, so I may need to develop a couple of characters beyond just the name stage.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

(Picture courtesy of Charlieonline Graphics)

As Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us, everyone!"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Love and I Hate This Time of Year....

I love Christmas-time, but I hate writing this time of year. Too many demands on your time, too much stress, too much food, too little exercise...

But spending time with family is great. That has to come first.

Brief snippet: First draft, please don't quote or repost.


The wind sprang from nowhere, gale-force, flinging snow in faces and tangling Katie’s hair. She heard people cry out. The wind circled the Wishing Tree, which remained untouched.

Snow whirled, coalesced into a visible shape. As Katie watched, Mel looked back at her, an agonized expression on her face.

Katie reached out.

“Don’t!” someone said.

Katie hesitated. The girl was again at her side, hanging on to her sleeve.

“She is a Yule Ghost! Touch her, and you will share her agony!”

“How can I help her?” Katie asked in a trembling voice. Her sister’s visibly tortured features shredded her insides.

“I—I don’t know,” the girl admitted.

The wind slowed, subsided to a sigh. Mel lost form and being, dissipating on the last breeze.

“Mel!” Katie whispered.

Leave me, Katie. Save yourself.

From somewhere the anger boiled to the surface, and Katie screamed at her sister. “How dare you leave me!”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

NANO--Day Whatever

I'm writing again, but I'm expecting a much more reasonable word goal from myself this time around. I had to backtrack about a 1,000 words and start again. I went wrong, and I couldn't continue until I got back on track.

My brother Mike would have been 39 today. The novel I'm writing is my birthday present to him, and will be dedicated to him once I finish. Here's a short snippet from it.

First draft. Please don't quote or repost. Thanks.

The sound of singing drew her. Katie stopped and listened. The singing seemed to come from somewhere to the right and up a short rise. Brush obscured her vision of what might lie beyond that rise. She hesitated, reluctant to leave the road, the only sign of civilization she’d seen, but the music was like a siren song. She plunged off the road and into deeper snow, picking a way through the snagging branches and uncertain footing to the top of the rise.

The first thing Katie saw was the soaring majesty of an evergreen, at least ten feet in height, perfectly shaped, and loaded with decorations on its lower branches. The next thing she saw was the people who surrounded the tree, placing decorations on its branches and singing a song that seemed full of minor keys but somehow didn’t sound like a dirge. Someone played a small tin whistle that inserted a metallic punctuation to the rise and fall of the voices.

Katie stood, her feet cold in the snow, astonished that anyone would decorate a tree out in the middle of nowhere and sing while they did it. At least thirty to forty people stood around the tree, dressed in warm fur coverings, leggings, and knee-high boots, and with colorful scarves covered with intricate designs.

Crunching snow to her left drew her gaze. A girl about her own age, red hair framing her face, freckles across her nose, approached her. The girl’s expression was open and friendly.

“Hello!” the girl said. “I’ve not seen you here before. Have you come to make your wish?”

“Wish?” Katie repeated.

“Yes. This is the Wishing Tree. Did you bring your decoration?”

“I’m sorry, I have nothing,” Katie said.

“Oh!” the girl said. She reached inside her fur coat and brought out a tiny doll made of sticks and cloth. “Here. I brought her in case someone lost or broke their decoration. You can have her.”

Since the girl held out the doll with an expectant look on her face, Katie took it. She looked at the doll and marveled over the handiwork. The doll wore a cloth dress that seemed to be made of some pliant leather and decorated with the same kind of intricate designs she saw on the girl’s scarf. The doll’s face was hand-painted and very detailed.

Katie looked up at the girl, lost. “What should I wish for?”

The girl cocked her head. “Surely you must have some desire in your heart.”

I only want one thing, Katie thought. I want my sister back.

The intensity of her expression must have caught the girl’s attention. She reached out and caught Katie’s sleeve. “Be careful what you wish for,” she said. “Do not wish for the impossible, for it can only lead to pain.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh, yeah. Happy Thanksgiving!

What I'm thankful for---that I still have something to say, even if I am typing like a one-handed juggler with an itch.

NANO Update---Arguing with Myself

Part of the problem, besides the tendonitis issue in the arm, is the subject matter of my new novel. I'm attempting to tackle suicide and its aftermath head-on, and I'm flinching.

I'll get around it. But it may take me a week or two. I am writing--but snails would walk faster on a sidewalk smeared with molasses.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NANO- Day Four - Moderately Upward Trend

Word Count: 580

Total Count: 3,380

Not a sterling word count, but at least it's going in the right direction.

First draft, please don't quote or repost.


The long howl of wolves broke through her shock. She ran, blind in her panic, slipping and sliding in the snow, trying to find a place—anyplace—to hide. The featureless landscape turned out to be not so featureless. She fell off a rise onto lower ground. She struggled to her feet, sputtering, cold snow finding its way beneath her clothing. Katie floundered in thigh-deep snow. To her left, a low stone retaining wall rose out of the snow, and to her right the land fell away to a deep ditch. She realized with a sense of shock that she stood on a road, and that the howling of wolves drew near on that road.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NANO Day Three--- Ick.

Count: 200 words
Total Count: 2,800

It's obvious the EDJ is going to interfere with the great word count I was getting over the weekend (notice how I've changed my tune about the 1,300 words?--looking better all the time!). Not just yesterday's count--I'm factoring in how I'm doing this evening, even though you don't see that word count yet.

I just can't take a marathon session of sitting and typing after doing that all day for the EDJ.

First draft, please don't quote or repost.


The farther she moved into the woods, the more strange they seemed. Katie had lost her sense of direction, and it added to her sense of strangeness to see no tracks and no other indication anyone was in these woods but herself. It came to her what a rash thing she did rushing after a unknown figure in the middle of the night. As the thought crossed her mind, she saw the dark figure ahead. Katie stopped. Mel stood there, her dark hair and clothing tossed by an unfelt, unseen wind. Her expression of pain and sorrow tore at Katie’s heart.

“Mel, it’s me,” Katie said in a shaky voice.

Her sister held out her hand, and started to fade from sight.

Mel!” Katie screamed, and she lurched forward, reaching for that outstretched hand.

Monday, November 17, 2008

NANO Day Two-- Well.

I eked out the same wordcount as yesterday.

1,300 words

Total count: 2,600

Guess that's twice better than nothing, which is what I have been getting.

Little bit of snippet--first draft, please don't quote or repost.
The crying drew her to the living room. Mel stood in front of the Christmas tree, trying to lift phantom ornaments to hang from its branches. Her long dark hair, once her pride and joy, nearly obscured her face in a tangled mess. She turned to look at Katie, tears running down white cheeks, eyes wild.

“Help me!,” she said. “Katie, help me, please!”

With a cry, Katie woke. A sense of dizzy disorientation shook her when Katie realized she stood in the dark living room near the bare Christmas tree. She turned to see that the rest of the house was dark and still. The hour must have been late. She could hear Dad’s light snore. They were in bed asleep. Katie turned back to the tree, and her gaze focused on the bay window beyond. Moonlight bouncing off the snowpack lit up the outdoors quite well. She had no trouble seeing the dark figure that stood by the barn and looked up at the house.

The breath left Katie in a rush, then returned with her deep inhale. “Mel?” she whispered.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NANO - Day One - Where the Rubber Meets the Road

So I got started late. I've been having difficulty lately with pain in the hips and back. The pain is starting to subside, so I'm hopeful I can spend longer sessions at the computer.

Here's a snippet from what I'm working on for How to Think Sideways. Doesn't exactly meet the NANO qualifications, except that I only put word one down yesterday, but hey, NANO is whatever you make it, right? This is my NANO.

Goal is 1700 words a day. Thankful for what I get.

November 15, 2008: 1,300 words

First draft, certainly subject to change. Please don't quote or repost.

Katie Medina gave Suttonsville a huge thumbs down. She called it Sucksville, but under her breath, where her parents couldn’t hear. The people were dull, and her new classmates uninteresting. Except when they were thinking of new and creative ways to snub her.

She stared out her bedroom window. Dad had brought them to live here—on a farm, of all things! Okay, a non-working farm, but still. Her bedroom looked out over the tangled growth of wood that stretched for miles from the backside of the decrepit old barn she could see to her right if she strained her vision. The woods drew her attention—the depths seemed to change with the movement of sun and shadow and become a completely different place every time she looked. As if it moved while she wasn’t looking.

Today, the woods were quiet. Snow covered the ground, painting the stark branches white on top. The interior of the woods seemed darker than ever against the white contrast of the snow in the farm yard.

Katie turned to her bedroom. Peeling wallpaper, deep casement windows with wood some enterprising soul had painted white, and wide plank floors painted gray. Highly unsatisfactory. The memory of her old bedroom, up-to-date and modern, with apple-green walls and windows that you could raise without jerking and straining brought a kernel of anger to the back of her throat. At least she had the second floor of the farmhouse all to herself. Her parents slept in a large echoing room at the back of the house at ground level.

Restless, Katie took the creaking stairs down to the main floor and through the hall toward the kitchen. The Christmas tree stood in front of the bay window in the living room, still unadorned. Katie passed by, hurt ballooning in her chest. Mel had always been the one to decorate the tree, harassing Katie until she helped. Not this Christmas tree. She realized with a sense of shock that Mel would never see her handiwork in front of this bay window, lit and glowing. Mel would never decorate a tree ever again.

Monday, November 10, 2008

By George, I think she's got it!

I think I've finally found the one--you know, the one idea for a story that grabs you and won't let go. I've been struggling to find the one story I wanted to write for the How to Think Sideways class. I've storyboarded two so far, but something about them just didn't appeal.

Then, yesterday afternoon, it hit me what I wanted to write about.

As soon as I have a substantial snippet, I'll post.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back--It's Most Important...

I've been having problems with my back. Problems where I can't sit on a hard office chair for very long. Since this is what I do for my day job, you can see wherein lies the problem.

When I get home, I can't sit down and write at the computer. I can't believe how that one little act makes such a difference to me. I can't write--I can write by hand, but it's incredibly slow and Catch-22----one of these days, I'm going to have to spend hours at the computer transcribing what I wrote--the very thing that probably helped put me in the condition I'm in.


I'm sulking, so no snippet. Nada.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sing a Song of Sixpence.... Sunday, October 12, 2008

The things you stumble upon while doing research! The old familiar children's rhyme that begins: "Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye," was actually a coded message from Blackbeard the pirate to recruit new crewmembers. I always thought that rhyme made absolutely no sense. Turns out, all you needed was the key. (Grin).

Hmmm. What a story that might make...

(Slamming down the lid on yet one more plot bunny.)

A taste of the story I'm working on now---

First draft, subject to change, please do not quote or repost elsewhere.

“My daughter,” Morion said, a catch in his voice. “She looked into the eyes of the stone dragon.”

Dara got up and moved to where she could look into that small face and stare into those blank, opaque eyes that seemed to beseech the heavens for mercy. Only with the destruction of the dragon would those eyes see again.

“She won’t remember you”, Dara told him softly. “Her life will start over for her the moment she wakes.”

“At least it will be a life,” Morion said.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nothing to Say....

I haven't posted in awhile. Basically, nothing to say. I'm waiting to see how the election and the stock market do, and writing.

Here's a snippet of what I'm currently working on.

Please don't quote or post elsewhere, first draft.

Deyna opened the door, and a bell rang somewhere in the back of the shop. Except for a couple of comfortable-looking chairs and a table, the front was empty. She let the door swing shut and stood without moving.

Motion from the back of the room caught her gaze. A curtain swung in the draft created by opening the front door.

“You can come out, Morion Grey Cloak,” Deyna said. “I know you’re there.”

Some indeterminate thumps sounded. Deyna felt a twitch of amazement. Morion entered the room on crutches, dragging a useless left leg behind him.

She shook off the amazement and held up the knife. “Yours?”

“Mine,” he acknowledged.


His deep-set eyes surveyed her. “Right to the point. I like that. I had to make sure you came here and that you’d need my help.”

“Why in the name of the Great God didn’t you just ask?”

“Because you’d never have agreed,” he said, and gave her a faint smile.

That smile made her uneasy. His next words confirmed it.

“I need you to kill a stone dragon.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How the Current Economic Crisis is Like Jenga...

Remember that game? You build a tower with wooden pieces, and then try to remove pieces without the whole thing tumbling to the ground.

To understand the current Wall Street fiasco, imagine that derivative investments were those wooden pieces--remove the wrong piece and the whole tower comes crashing down.

Well, remove subprime mortgages from the picture--something which many of the so-called brilliant lights in Wall Street used to build their towering investment edifices--and you can see that collapse was inevitable.

If no one is buying subprimes, that particular wooden piece is removed from the game. Ergo, boom! Who couldn't have seen that coming? Apparently most of Wall Street's analysts.

Simplified explanation? You bet. However, if Wall Street investors had stuck to simpler, time-tested and tried stuff, we wouldn't have to be bailing their asses out with taxpayer money.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How time flies... Friday Snippet, September 12, 2008

I haven't posted in awhile, I see. I'm plotting. Trying to come up with scenes for the story I want to write as a part of the How to Think Sideways course.

There's so much in Holly's course, it would be difficult to convey it all, but the highlight for me so far has been the Sentence. Once I figured out that doing the Sentence correctly builds in all the conflict I need in a scene, it was like coming out of a dark room into daylight. Oh, yeah! That works! If I take nothing else away from this course, THAT will be worth the whole enchilada.

I started writing a story that's modeled after my childhood role-model Andre Norton. I think I caught the flavor of her technique--

Brief snippet--- please don't repost or quote without permission--the usual.

Jetan found Berek’s cruiser buried nose-first in the snow and ice. He stopped, hand on his holstered pistol, and looked for signs of life.

The cruiser lay, silent and broken and – empty? Had Berek survived what must have been a terrific crash?

Jetan would not be surprised. Berek had managed to survive worse and emerge from hiding just as the Academy considered him safely dead.

He triggered his communicator. “I found the cruiser. I’m going in.”

The communicator blipped. “Careful, Jetan. Berek’s been known to set booby traps.” Zed’s voice came over as tiny and distorted on the communicator’s speaker.

Jetan wasted a second trying to modulate the frequency. Something on this fierce, savage world interfered with the unit.

He stowed the communicator and drew his pistol. Moving slowly and carefully, his glance darting among the wreckage, Jetan approached the damaged cruiser.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Struggling, and Friday Snippet, August 22, 2008

Hmmm. Hit a road block on How to Think Sideways. I'm having trouble with my protagonist--figuring out what she wants, how she works--and I'm having this sinking feeling this may be my problem area. Or maybe it's a good thing that I've pinpointed the problem--thing is, I'm not sure how to fix it yet.

Brief Friday snippet. First draft only--please don't quote or repost elsewhere.

In the days when the world was new and djinn still called the deserts their homes, there arose a warrior so pure, so true that even the Emperor, whose life the warrior would have given his own to protect, grew jealous.

"Gaji will become Emperor in my place," the Emperor said in his heart. "I will destroy him."

So the Emperor confiscated Gaji's lands and worldly goods, and sent him to a far land to subdue the infidels with only what he could carry.

Gaji, pure and true and lacking any deceit in his heart, thanked the Emperor for his attention, promised to always honor the Empire in word and deed, and made the far land his new home.

Soon, so well had Gaji performed his duty to the Empire, that stories of his bravery and exploits reached the Emperor's ear.

Friday, August 15, 2008

To Cluster, Or Not to Cluster...Friday Snippet, August 15, 2008

One of the things we're doing in Holly's How to Think Sideways class is clustering. I've never been a big clustering fan---but since the whole class hinges on it, I started thinking about it.

In a way, clustering is like free writing. You don't censor what you put down, you just put it down. I've done sets of free writing before and have no difficulty, so really, what the heck is my problem with clustering? Is it the graphical nature of it? Does it seem more rather than less restrictive to me? Maybe. In any case, I've set aside my discontent with it, and did the exercise on the six questions. More later on how it worked to generate story ideas.

A tiny snippet of what I'm working on lately: First draft, please do not quote or post elsewhere

The first thing Mia remembered her father telling her was that her mother abandoned her.

This meant nothing to Mia. Never knowing a mother, she did not miss having one. When the village children pitied and shunned her, she became aware of a lack of maternal presence in her life, and wondered about her mother—who she was, why she’d abandoned her daughter.

At her seventh birthday, with no cake and no presents, Mia asked her father about her mother.

Her father flew into a rage, stomping around the room and throwing things.

“Don’t ask me about her! Don’t ask me about her!” he shouted, and shoved his face close to hers, hair standing on end where he’d clutched it. “A fickle creature, heart as insubstantial as a feather!” he raged. “But I was more clever than she! I never told her my name.”

“What do you mean, Father?” Mia asked.

But her father shut his mouth tight and left the house in a hurry. When he returned, he wouldn’t respond to any of her questions. Mia eventually stopped asking.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Deep Into It -- Friday, August 8, 2008

Look at all those eights up there! Would have been more, but I kept to my date format. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Emerson *sigh*

I'm deep into Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways class. As such, I've been writing material for the class. I have to say I'm liking it so far. The course is just as much about philosophy as it is about writing.

And, since it's Friday, here's a really brief snippet for you:

Anita Chavez knew the gunslinger rode to town long before he arrived. The peculiar smell of death assailed her nostrils, as it always did when she encountered those who lived by violence. And yet, a tangy odor she couldn’t identify mingled with the scent of death. Most reeked of carrion and old blood, but the gunslinger presented a different mix.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Voila! Tricked out Deck! Friday Snippet, July 25, 2008

And here is the finished project. Presto, chango.

Below is a snippet from a short I'm working on. Artemis Hancock is a gunslinger. The narrator--well, is something a little different. First draft--may change, please do not quote or repost. Thanks, and enjoy!

And I understood something about Artemis Hancock I hadn’t understood before. He had a purpose. That purpose might be the only thing keeping him sane. I gave that piece of data to the Keeper, not willing to risk losing a fact that would take me one step closer to fulfilling the terms of my punishment and returning home.

When he curled up in his blanket, I waited for sleep to take him. I dropped the girl’s aspect. Without the need to alter his perception, I could be myself.

I padded away from the campfire’s light. The desert night enfolded me in cool velvet, yet carried the sounds of scurrying creatures and the occasional snap of rocks losing the heat of the day. Somewhere in the distance, a creature sang its mournful loneliness to the stars. Coyote, scavenger, the Keeper supplied, but I had heard the sound numerous times and even caught glimpses of the slinking creature in the twilight hours.

I did not fear scavengers, or even the predators that walked this desert. My scent usually deterred anything that crossed my path. If not, my teeth and claws could take care of the rest. If anyone on this planet saw my true form, I would have been shot on sight. Or perhaps burned at the stake.

Stoneriver Valley up close did not impress me any more than it had at a distance. The town crouched in the darkness like some fantastic, sleeping beast on the desert floor. I could smell the fear that lay, pall-like, over the place. But here—here in this tiny collection of sticks where people huddled in the darkness with their fears of the unseen and the unknown—lay the answer to the riddle of Artemis Hancock.

The town had been laid out in a kind of crude cross shape, with the main dirt road serving as the shank of the cross. As I passed the buildings that lined this shank, I caught a familiar whiff. In my travels with Artemis, I had smelled the sourness of beer before.

I paused in front of the tavern. At this time of early morning, even the tavern was dark and silent. With the coming of daylight, that would change. The people would creep from their hiding places and find their courage in the bottles that lined the tavern shelves.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Idiocy, or Ignorance Ain't Bliss

Here's the latest idiot proposal to the American public:

Doing away with the 401(k) plan.

You read that correctly. The only truly portable, pay-your-taxes-later plan the working Joe has in place to save for retirement with the help of his employer and the comfort of ten to twenty diverse funds to choose from so he doesn't have to think about it too much and get a headache. That 401(k).

Here's the idiot suggestion for an alternative-- a government-mandated pooled fund similar to Social Security. The proposal is to remove the employer from any involvement and put the responsibility squarely in government hands.


Like the government has been really savvy on the way it's handled Social Security funds to date that I'm putting the rest of my retirement money in their hands. (Step right up, folks. See the two-headed dog! Satisfaction guaranteed! Only one thin dollar!)

The grumble has been that 401(k)s are nothing more than a tax dodge for the wealthy. What?! Only the wealthy can save money?! I find that assumption so ridiculous I'd laugh myself sick if it didn't infuriate me so much.

It's a kind of reverse discrimination. An "if I can't save money and don't have a 401(k) then neither should you" type of attitude.

Sour grapes, anyone?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Got Deck?

And this is the deck that Jack--- er, Greg and Cheryl, built.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Friday Snippet, July 4, 2008

And here's a snip from my latest short story....

First draft. Please don't copy or repost, subject to change.

Tara Medichi stood on the ship’s deck, dressed as the bride she never was, and pulled her skirt out of the sea spray that washed her feet. The wind whipped at her dark hair until it stood out like a pennant. She took deep breaths of the fresh air, glad to be out of the dank darkness below deck, even though she knew what she would face.

She glanced over her shoulder at Captain Ferrel and his crew, who watched her avidly, even while busy shortening sail in the stiff wind that snapped the sails and made the ropes groan.

He was coming. Wind and wave always preceded his arrival. She turned to face the sea and steeled her heart.

Cold billowed off the water. Her breath smoked in the frigid air. A geyser erupted from the sea, high as the mainmast’s yardarms. The geyser broke over the ship, drenching her and the crew. When the water receded, the deck around Tara glittered blood-red, and the sea wraith stood before her.

The crew blanched and shivered although they could not see the apparition. She knew they felt its cold and inimical presence. Captain Ferrel eyed the blood-rubies but made no attempt to approach.

“Jeryn,” Tara whispered, tears slipping down her cheeks. “Oh, my poor love.”

Her fiancé’s anguished, tortured features flayed her heart into a thousand pieces. The gaping wound of Jeryn’s slit throat grinned at her, maniacal and red. The deep slashes over his torso and arms oozed.

Have you found him? Have you found the one who took my life?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not quite Hoover Dam....

but the deck is built. All the boards together and level. Needs a few more screws in it, but I can essentially say I helped build a deck. Nearly killed my out-of-shape self doing it, but I'm here and still alive. Boy, do I feel a sense of accomplishment! When the camera gets charged up, I'll post a picture.

I think the Friday snippets have died. I'm still going to post--much shorter--snippets on this site, but not whole chunks of story, and probably not even whole scenes. Just some of what I hope is good writing for people's enjoyment. Whether I post something every Friday remains to be seen.

I'll definitely still check out the usual suspects' blogs because I enjoy reading them.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm building a deck. Whoohee. I should say my husband and I are building a deck--mostly my husband. Very busy.

I deleted the last half of the short story I posted a couple of weeks ago. I'm reading a very long rant on Forward Motion about publication or lack thereof, and what constitutes publication, and I decided to delete the post. While it's true that my blog might be read by the sum total of around ten people, it is an public site and I don't want to blow my First Publication Rights by being stupid.

Hope to post more of the short story I started last week, but right now, construction calls.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday Snippet, June 20, 2008

I've been writing short stories. This is another I have high hopes for. This Friday, I'm posting the first couple of scenes. Feedback welcome.

First draft. Subject to change. Please don't quote or post without permission.

The eager, the glory-seekers, the calculating—they come, numerous as grains of sand in the desert, and the gunslinger outdraws them all.

“Ghost,” the gunslinger says to me, “I think that gunslingers, if they live to think of themselves as old, don’t draw any slower—no sir, that’s not what gets them in the end. They lose the stomach for it.”

He stares off into the desert, his hard brown eyes never still.

“The older I get, the younger they look.”

And still, they keep coming.

Artemis Hancock is the gunslinger’s name. He calls me Ghost. I look like a girl he once knew. She is dead—my spies picked up that much, but missed that important detail. The gunslinger thought her apparition dogged him to remind him he once had a conscience.

I’ll let that stand. Ghost I am, and Ghost I’ll be. Artemis will never appreciate the irony, but I do. To my own people, I’m as much a ghost as they’ll ever believe in.


“Do you see that line of sorry-looking buildings down there?” Artemis Hancock asked.

He pointed. Down a natural slope in the land caused by a river valley struggled rude, hastily-assembled boxes made of wood.

I indicated I saw them.

“That’s Stoneriver Valley. I grew up there. I left when I was fifteen.”

“Why do you come here?” I asked. My voice sounded like that of the young girl he remembered.

“I promised I’d come back and make him pay for killing my mother and stealing my life,” he said. “I don’t know why I waited so long.”


“You should know more about vengeance than anyone, Ghost,” he said, and started his horse down the slope.

I kept pace easily, not hampered by the long skirts he’d imagined me in, following his horse as it slid down the loose soil to the solid footing of a dirt road. The gunslinger rode without speaking, withdrawn, as if his mind lingered somewhere in the past. The only sounds were the thunk of hooves in the dirt and the soft padding of my feet.

The wide, silent places of this planet sometimes made the hairs on the back of my neck raise.

The clear, clean air often made distances deceptive. Nightfall found us still some distance from the town. Lights in windows winked on one by one, like twinkling stars hugging the ground, hardly distinguishable from the multitude of real stars which stretched from horizon to horizon—an up-ended, gem-studded bowl.

Artemis built a campfire and knelt before it, cooking the slop he pleased to call food in a small skillet that had carboned over the years to a black crustiness. The contrast of the gleaming, well-oiled gun in his hands as he did his nightly check of its performance gave mute testimony to what he found more important.


He looked up, eyebrows cocked in surprise. I never initiated conversation.

“Why should I know more about vengeance than you, Artemis?”

His brows lowered. He slapped the chamber of his gun back into place with a controlled yet rough movement.

“You know why,” he muttered, then stopped for a long moment. “What I know about ghosts is what I hear around campfires on dark nights. Maybe ghosts don’t feel the need to take vengeance on their killers. Is that it?”

I considered my answer long enough that he grew restless.

“The needs of ghosts aren’t the needs of the living.”

He grunted. “Not much of an answer. What do you need, Ghost?”

“To understand. I need to understand you.”

“Do you? What do the dead need to understand about me? Or about any of the living?”

I moved closer to him. That always made him nervous.

“You deal out death and destruction as if born to it, Artemis. I wonder why?”

He looked at me, his face pale. “I survive, Ghost. I survive.”

He slid his gun back in its holster with a movement nearly too quick to follow even for my eyes.

And I understood something about Artemis Hancock I hadn’t understood before. He had a purpose. That purpose might be the only thing keeping him sane. I gave that piece of data to the Keeper, not willing to risk losing a fact that would take me one step closer to fulfilling the terms of my punishment and returning home.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

ConQuest 39

Chances are I won't get to the Friday snippet until next week sometime. I belong to Kansas City's SF & F Society, and we put on an annual convention around Memorial Day weekend.

I'm busier than a one-armed paper hanger right now.

Looking forward to reading what others post next week as well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Friday Snippet, May 16, 2008

Sigh. I'm late. The story isn't going as quickly as I'd hoped. I've written 90%, but I'm struggling over the last part. I'm going to post what I have. Maybe the feedback I get from you all will help me write the last 10%. I'm posting the first half of it, because it is going to be a little long for one sitting.

Thanks for reading and posting.

First draft and subject to change. Please don't quote or post anywhere else.

When Mora came to the Run of the Unicorns, the other girls laughed at her and made jeers and catcalls.

“Misfit Mora!” “Why are you here, Ugly?” “Not even a unicorn’s horn can make you beautiful!”

When Mora stood on the path, silent and stubborn, the girls threw pebbles at her.

I’m ashamed to say I threw one, too, but only a little pebble that I’m sure didn’t hurt her much.

And then the first wave of unicorns appeared on the path, running, running toward some unknown goal, for some unknown purpose. I stood, transfixed, watching the sea of white approach, the flow of long manes, the flash of dark eyes, the rhythmic rise and fall of wicked sharp hooves, the deadly gleam of bone-white horns.

A cloud of noise and dust enveloped me. I coughed and choked and could hardly see the straining white bodies all around me, dancing and swerving and leaping to avoid us. The feeling of wild magic and purpose ripped a longing cry from my throat—but a longing for what, I could not say.

I heard that same sound to one side of me and turned my head to see Mora standing nearly at my shoulder, her arms outstretched to the herd. She stood in the path of a unicorn that did not swerve to one side, but appeared ready to run her down.

Something brushed past me. Tarla, the oldest of us, thrust herself between Mora and me, directly in the unicorn’s way. At the last moment, the unicorn made an impossible leap over all of us, and Tarla sprawled in the dirt.

And the unicorns were past, white mass of struggling bodies disappearing as quickly as they’d come. Silence returned, dust settling in fine clouds.

Tarla jerked to her feet, angry, disappointed sparks in her eyes.

“If you weren’t going to try, at least you could have moved, Cali, instead of standing there like a lump!”

I looked around to see that every girl panted from her efforts for a slice, a graze, the veriest bit of drawn blood from the Touch of a unicorn—except for Mora and me—I because I didn’t, she because she couldn’t.

“And her! The great cow! Look at her! She can’t even stand on her own two feet!” Tarla gave a snort like an angry mare and stormed toward the encampment.

I blinked and wiped the dirt from my eyes. I gazed up the path, but the next wave of unicorns would not come through for some time yet.
I hesitated beside Mora. She lay in the rutted path and tears made clean tracks in the dirt on her face. She said nothing and would not look at me.

Squashing the impulse to help her up, I continued on. I looked back once to see Mora struggle painfully to her feet and shuffle away with a jerking, injured-bird motion.

As I neared the encampment, I could already hear Tarla raging.

“Why does she get to stand with us? She spoils our chances! The unicorns are attracted to chastity, aren’t they? Then why is she allowed?”

“She cannot be forbidden,” I heard Matron Aryn say in a hard voice. “And you would do well to bide your tongue, Tarla. Mora had no choice in what happened to her.”

I passed beyond earshot. My mother waited at the entrance to our tent with a damp towel, which she used to wipe the dust from my face, arms, and hands, and looked to see if any hint of blood lingered on the skin.

“Don’t bother,” I said with impatience. “I never even got close.”

My mother refocused on my face, blinking her eyes. “If you don’t try, why did we come?”

I was silent. ‘Because it’s expected,’ seemed like the wrong answer.

“Mora stood in the Run,” I told her at last.

She stilled, her hands clutching the damp towel. After a moment, she turned away and said, “That must have been difficult for her with that left hip and leg.”

I don’t know what I expected her to say, but I didn’t expect such a mild comment from her.

“The girls threw rocks at her.”

She drew a breath, but didn’t turn around. “Did you?”

“One. Very tiny.”

“Don’t do it again,” my mother said.

Something in her voice dried my throat and raised goosebumps in my flesh. I backed out of the tent. I could hear her crying before I hurried away.

Tarla found me crouching on a spot that overlooked the Run, watching the empty trail. She stood there, waves of anger emanating from her, until I turned my head.
“Your family has more reason than anyone not to want Mora here. Why don’t you speak up?”

I shrugged and dropped my gaze, drawing pictures in the dirt by my feet.

“You know that this is the one chance we have at the Run. The Matrons won’t let us return next year. We’ll be too old.”

“We don’t have the right to keep her out,” I said.

Tarla seethed. “If you don’t have the stomach for it, at least don’t get in my way.”

I watched her walk away, angry determination in every step. I sighed. If I followed the spirit of my mother’s command and not just the letter, I should do something to stop Tarla.

Mora was not in sight when the Hopefuls walked through the line of waiting Matrons. With blessings ringing in my ears and holy water trickling down the back of my neck, I stepped onto the Run to find Mora already there. The Matrons had blessed her onto the Run first.

I noted that she had not cleaned herself—swathes of dust still decorated her cheek and dress. The tear tracks stood out on her dirty cheek like scars.

As soon as the Matrons had finished and withdrawn, Tarla moved to stand in front of Mora.

“You’re not welcome here,” Tarla told her. “You’re not worthy to stand in the Run.”

“Why, because she’s not a virgin?” I heard myself say.

Tarla whirled on me, stunned and furious.

“That’s an old wive’s tale,” I continued. “I’ll lay odds half the girls here aren’t virgins. When Natina the Blessed was Touched, she was married. You know as well as I do that chastity has nothing to do with it, only age.”

“Why do you defend her! She destroyed your family!”

I made my eyes and voice cold. “You know nothing of it. And it seems to me you argue too loudly. Maybe we’re not having good luck because of you. You’re the oldest one here. Maybe you’re too old.”

Fright flashed in her eyes. “You’re just trying to stall us.”

The first tremors of the Run crept through my shoes and into the soles of my feet. I smiled at her. “The unicorns are coming,” I said softly.

Tarla turned aside, planting herself solidly, aggressively in the front, hands clenched into fists. The other girls fell in behind her.

Mora, after one unfathomable look in my direction, faced the unicorns. I found a position not far from her.

We stood like rocks in the stream, thunder beneath our feet, and the smell of magic in our nostrils.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No Friday Snippet

Since others are not posting snippets this week, I don't think I will, either. I'll try to get to those who do post a little later.

And, as incentive to come back next Friday, I have a new short story I'm going to post for exactly one week, then it comes down because I want to submit the story.

Any feedback on it will be welcome.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Snippet, May 2, 2008

Last night, at 1:50AM, a tornado passed through the area not far from us. The pump on our air mattress beeps when the electricity goes off. The pump is directly under my ear. Imagine being jerked awake with what sounds like a siren going off in your ear and the sound of continuous thunder outside, along with the nearly continuous flashing of lightning, like a strobe light.

We made our way to the basement with flashlights and cell phones in double quick time, let me tell you. The electricity didn't stay off long, and nothing happened to us, but the devastation in our nearby neighborhood was terrible---not Greensburg, KS terrible--but bad enough for those involved.

Please don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!

Serenity and Minna aren't getting along too well yet. This is from Chapter Five, earlier than the last snippet. Minna is also experiencing some strange events due to her connection, probably Birthright, to the land.

With a gasp, Minna came to herself. She felt strong arms holding her. She looked up to see Teo looking down at her with concern turning his hazel eyes dark.

“Minna! Are you all right?”

Minna sat up slowly, her shaking hand to her head. “I think so. What happened?”

“I was going to ask you the same question. After Nani said you had gone to Solly’s workshop, I followed and found you lying here.”

Minna’s brows drew together into a puzzled frown.

“You were in a trance.” Slowly, reluctantly, Teo released Minna and let her stand up. He stood up beside her, holding her arm to steady her. “You have Birthright, Minna. The only thing lacking is the priest’s formal ceremony. Your trance had something to do with that, I’m sure of it.”

“I had to do something—be somewhere. That’s the only thing I remember.”


Teo whirled and Minna looked over his shoulder to see a man running in their direction.

“What is it, Robins?” Teo asked.

The man stopped, leaned over with his hands on his knees, and drew in a deep, whooping breath before gasping out, “Miss Serenity’s horse… has returned to the…stables…without her, sir!”

Minna felt her spirits sink to the level of her shoes. Difficult as the girl had been, the thought of Serenity hurt or gone disturbed her.

“Good man,” Teo said. “As soon as you catch your breath, go inform Solly.”

Robins nodded, concentrating on breathing.

Minna followed Teo as he walked quickly around the house toward the stables. Before they even reached the long low building, Minna could see the seething activity concentrated in the area. A long-legged bay sidestepped and fidgeted, an outer ring of white around his eyes. A man held the reins and talked to the horse in a soothing voice. A couple of men with ropes stood nearby, nooses ready if needed.

As Teo approached, the older man turned gnarled, weathered features toward him. “I told her, Mr. Teo. I told her he was new-broke,” he said, agitated.

“I’m sure you did, Herron,” Teo said with nearly the same soothing tone as Herron had used on the horse. “Do you know what happened?”

“He’s gone down with her, sir,” Herron said in a grim voice. “See the skinned knees and how the saddle horn is damaged?”

Minna saw the twisted saddle, a sick feeling in her stomach. “She could be badly hurt, Teo,” she said in a soft voice.

Herron looked past them and a momentary look of dread crossed his face. His hand must have tightened on the reins because the horse shifted uneasily.

Minna turned her head to see Solly in the distance, running toward the stables, Robins trailing behind. She turned to look at Herron again, but his face now gave nothing away. She filed that look of dread for future reference. For some reason, Herron worried about what Solly would do or say.

Minna touched Teo on the arm and directed his attention toward Solly.

Solly’s long legs made short work of the distance. He slowed, his eyes fixed on the horse. He approached the animal slowly, hand outstretched.

“Steady, Malio,” Herron murmured. “Steady, boy.”

Malio moved restlessly, but Herron kept him under control. Solly touched the bay’s sweat-streaked neck. The horse quieted under his touch. Solly held out his other hand to Minna.

Surprised, she stepped forward and took his hand.

He turned and his gaze demanded.

“Help me,” he said.

Visible magic sparked from their joined hands and sank into the ground beneath their feet. The imprint of hooves in the ground flared to life, gleaming silver like foxlights in the marsh. The hoof prints led in a straight line toward the river. Another set led from the river to where they now stood.

Minna stared. The prints glowed softly even in the sunlight. By night, they would be like beacons. She felt suddenly tired, as if she’d done a full day’s work. She understood that Solly had just performed a transformation of some sort, but she’d never seen anything like it before.

Solly jerked his head at one of the stablehands. “Get me a horse.”

Eyes wide, the stablehand jumped to do as he asked.

“I’m going with you,” Teo said, and followed the stablehand into the dim stables. In short order, Teo and the stablehand came back with two saddled horses.

“Tell Lida,” Solly told Minna. “And get some food into your stomach. You’ll feel better.” He swung into the saddle and rode off, following the prints that still shimmered and shone.

“When you find her and bring her back, come find me,” Minna told Teo.

Teo nodded at her, and touched the horse with his heels, following after Solly.

Minna watched them as long as she could see them. She sighed, and turned toward the house. She didn’t relish telling Lida that Serenity was missing.

Lida met her on the veranda, her gray eyes dark with anxiety.

“Solly and Teo have gone for her,” Minna said, her voice quiet and as tranquil as she could make it. “They will find her and bring her back, Lida.”

Lida put a shaking hand to her mouth. “She’s as hard-headed as her father, she is,” Lida said, then looked at Minna with contrition when she realized what she’d said.

Minna gave her a wry smile. “According to my mother, that’s apparently a trait I picked up from him, too.”

Lida smiled faintly in return. She moved to the veranda railing and stared down the river road.

“Her mother should not have sent her here,” Lida muttered, evidently not realizing she had said that aloud.

“What do you mean?” Minna asked.

Lida stirred, uncomfortable. “Both of them lived in New Cordonia. Her mother did not like the company Miss Serenity was beginning to keep and sent her here to her father.”

“Why didn’t Serenity and her mother live here at Barr-Thorn?”

“You’ll have to ask Miss Serenity about that, Miss Minna,” Lida said, and set her lips.

Suspecting she’d get no more from the woman, Minna asked no more questions.

Lida’s eyes returned to the river road, searching. “I hope they find her soon. It’s the waiting I can’t stand.”

Minna nodded, and checked the sun’s position. Afternoon. They could be in for a long wait.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Friday's Snippet on Monday, April 28, 2008

So. We spent some time this weekend fixing up my mother-in-law's bathroom. More time actually running back and forth between the house and her apartment because the water was shut off. One forgets how much one depends on running water until it's not there. A basic. Life takes on a whole new complexity when you have to think about that one simple little thing.

First draft. Please don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!

Shortly after the snippet before last. Teo is the Barr-Thorn estate's foreman, Randa is its healer, and Solly is its resident alchemist.

Teo could feel his heart breaking.

Minna lay so still that he couldn’t tell if she still lived. A distressing amount of blood pooled around his knees, and his tears mingled with the rain on his face. He angled his body to deflect as much of the rain from her as he could.

Behind him, he could still hear Bevley raging as several field hands held him down. He wanted to get up and smash the man’s face until it was unrecognizable, but right now his place was at Minna’s side.

“Mr. Nalone.”

Teo didn’t look up but he recognized Randa, Barr-Thorn’s healer, by her voice. With a rustle of skirts, Randa came up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Teo. Let Solly and me try to help her.”

Her voice was rough with sympathy, and Teo heaved a great sigh. He gently reached out and smoothed back a soaked strand of black hair from Minna’s pale face. Moving like an old man, he got out of the way and let Randa and Solly kneel at her side.

“We need to get that bleeding stopped,” Randa said to Solly.

The two had slit into Minna’s clothing and peeled the blood-soaked material back from her skin. Solly formed a ball of mud, rolling it back and forth in the palm of his hand. As he did so, the ball of mud changed color and consistency. Teo watched, fascinated, as Solly placed the mud over the wound in Minna’s side, where it blended into her skin, nearly invisible.

“That should hold so we can get her moved to the house,” Solly said. “She needs to get warm and dry as soon as possible.”

“I swear to God it wasn’t me!” Bevley howled. “I didn’t do anything!”

Murder in his eyes, Teo whirled and strode to where the man knelt in the mud, his arms held out at an uncomfortable angle from his body by his captors.

“Let go of him,” he told the fieldworkers.

“Now, Mr. Teo--”

“Let him go!”

The fieldworkers let go of Bevley’s arms.

Teo grabbed Bevley by his collar and twisted, ignoring the man’s flailing fists as they thudded against his face and shoulders. His air shut off, Bevley hung in the air, face turning purple, his blows becoming more feeble.


Solly’s voice rang out sharply behind him. Teo hesitated, glaring into Bevley’s congested face.

“I know you want him dead, but we need him alive, Teo,” Solly said. “We need to know why he would do this. But later. Right now Minna is our main concern.”

Teo let go and Bevley sagged between the two fieldhands, taking great, whooping breaths and coughing as his lungs filled with air. Teo turned his back on him, contemptuous.

“Take him to the cellars and shackle him,” Teo said to the fieldhands. “I’ll be along later.”

The field hands hauled Bevley to his feet and marched him away. Teo swiped at his mouth, surprised when his hand came away bloody.

More fieldhands arrived with a makeshift travois. Teo and Solly lifted Minna with gentle hands and placed her on the travois. Randa securely tucked blankets around her. Willing hands grabbed the poles and swiftly drew the travois toward the main house.

Teo started to follow when he saw two kneeling women out of the corner of his eye. He looked and saw the women tended to someone else who lay in the mud.

“Who is that?” he asked, voice sharp.

“One of the indentured servants, sir. Her name is Guia. That pig slashed her across the face when she tried to help Miss Minna,” the woman said, and spat into a mud puddle.

Teo stared at the moaning girl. The women had wrapped bandages around her face until he could see little of it, but he noted the name. “Do what’s necessary to help her, on my authority, and let me know how she fares,” he told them. The woman who had spoken nodded her head at him.

Teo moved. His foot struck something. He looked down and saw a glint of steel in the mud. He bent over and picked up a knife with a long blade, still stained with red. He shuddered, and his fingers closed convulsively over the hilt.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Out of Town

Check back on Monday for Friday snippet.

Hmmm. Kinda sounds like the routine "Who's on First?"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Snippet, April 18, 2008

This is another snippet from the same story as last week. This character is actually one of the villains. I like her, though. She turned out to be a pretty complex character. Obviously, she has issues.

First draft. Please don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!

Background: Shelawn is in Tiberus looking for people to medically experiment on--she's actually a medical genius, but she has little to no empathy for any of her patients...

Shelawyn stretched and yawned. The morning sun peeked over the horizon, lighting up the harbor water. Even this early in the morning the docks were busy. Porters hefted baggage and deck hands loaded cargo on ships poised to set sail. The cargomasters oversaw the loading of cargo, their faces earnest and anxious in the morning light.

And children. The docks swarmed with children of all ages, ragged and dirty. Shelawyn hefted her bag and a secretive smile crossed her face at the sight. She looked them over. That one had a cut on his arm with a little bit of infection; this one had a growth on his neck; many had runny noses. Her hands itched. Shelawyn rubbed her hands on her skirt.

She knew her face didn’t engender trust. She put down her bag and spread out the blanket she was carrying and seated herself in a likely spot, then busied herself spreading the candy and the toys from the bag beside her.

Before long, she had an audience. The children crept closer, eyeing the candy and toys with greedy eyes.

Shelawyn picked out one of the smaller girls, one with a cut on her leg that looked red and inflamed, and smiled at her. “Hello. Do you like dolls?”

The girl looked at her with huge brown eyes, mute.

“She don’t talk much,” an older boy said.

“What’s her name?” Shelawyn said.

The boy shrugged.

“Her name’s Nora,” someone said near the back of the crowd of children.

Shelawyn picked up a colorful rag doll and held it out enticingly to Nora. “Wouldn’t you like this doll, Nora?”

“Here now, what we gotta do to get it?” the biggest boy said, suspicion in his voice and wariness in his eyes.

Shelawyn looked him over with something close to approval. Life had knocked out some of his innocence.

“You’re right, boy, nothing in this life is free. Do you know what a healer is?”

“Sure enough,” he said with scorn. “They fix you when you feel bad.”

“I’m an Alchemist that heals. To get this candy and these toys, you have to let me try and heal you.”

“But I’m not sick,” the boy said. “Besides, if you’re a—an Alch—a healer, why can’t ya heal yourself?”

“What’s your name, boy?”

He straightened and said proudly, “My name’s Chez.”

“Well, Chez, I’m not sick, either,” Shelawyn said.

“You got scars all over. You gotta be sick,” Chez said, stubborn.

Shelawyn had long ago learned patience at this game. “I was sick once, but I’m not sick anymore. These scars are left from when I was sick.”

“How’d you get ’em?” another boy said, fascinated.

From nowhere, ugly rage came and sat on Shelawyn’s face. Some of the children moved back. Shelawyn struggled to get the rage back in control. She smoothed her features.

“Some very bad people made me sick. It’s up to me to see that doesn’t happen again.”

Nora darted in and snatched the doll from Shelawyn’s hand and took off down the dock. As if that had been a signal, the children scattered, some slowly, looking back.

Shelawyn watched them go, a satisfied little smile tugging at her mouth.

They would be back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Urban Jungle

I read a post today that reminded me of why I think the city is like a jungle. It's noisy, crowded with wildlife, and full of sudden death.

I passed a wreck the other day. Obviously, people had died in the accident. All I found myself thinking was how inconvenienced I was. Sort of like while trying to get from Point A to Point B, someone left a comma in the road.

When I realized it, I felt a good, healthy dose of shame. Those folks were only trying to live their lives and get somewhere, too. I felt like some little monkey, curled up on my nice branch in the darkness, hearing some other monkey's short, sharp scream, suddenly cut off---sitting, shivering, glad it wasn't me.

The Jungle.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Friday Snippet, April 11, 2008

This novel is halfway done. Somewhere around Chapter Eleven, I lost my way. I think if I threw out about 10,000 words, I might be able to finish this one. This snippet is somewhere around Chapter Five.

First draft. Please don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!

Background: Minna is the illegitimate child of a deceased landowner in Tiberus. Her mother was from Kalibarra. She has come to Tiberus to claim her Birthright. Birthright is land magic that chooses its next owner and keeper from among those people presented to it. That means an illegitimate child half breed has just as much chance as a blood child to inherit an estate. The question is, does Minna have what it takes? FYI: Barr-Thorn is the name of the estate she has come to claim. Teo is Barr-Thorn's Foreman. Serenity is her half sister, the blood child.

Minna struggled to place a sandbag. The brown sacks lined the earthen levee at the lowest point of the field she and Teo had inspected earlier, like so many soldiers lined on a battlefield. She gave the river an anxious glance. Was it higher than it had been? What were these people going to think of her if the river didn’t rise? What if she and Teo were wrong and she didn't have Birthright?

A young indentured servant, about sixteen, passed her another sandbag. Minna gave her a keen look. The girl’s face was white and pinched-looking. She moved as if she felt a great deal of pain. Minna managed to brush the girl’s hand as she took the sandbag. A sudden vision of a whip rising and falling, and a wash of pain, transfixed her.

Anger colored Minna’s face a heated red. How dare that person! She despised anyone who would mistreat a servant just because they could. By God, this estate, and everyone on it, was her home, her family! Anyone who caused her family pain caused her pain.

Minna drew in her breath. Passion. Where had that come from? Passion usually came from others. Her ghost-like life in Kalibarra hadn’t engendered deep feelings. She slammed the sandbag home, marveling. When had she started to care that deeply for Barr-Thorn's inhabitants? And yet, hadn’t she come here with the express intent of caring? She’d been looking for family when she came.

When the girl returned with another sandbag, Minna gave her a smile. The girl smiled back, tremulous and uncertain.

“What’s your name?” Minna said, her voice soft and gentle.

“Guia, ma’am,” the girl said, giving a little bob of a curtsey.

“That’s a pretty name. My name is Minna."

"I know who you are, ma'am. Folks say you have Birthright now."

Minna searched the girl's face. "Guia, I’d like you to come to the main house and see me. I think we can find something for you to do in the house. I’ll make it right with your master. Do you understand?”

Guia looked up with fear and a wild hope in her eyes.

“Do you mean that, ma’am?”

“I don’t usually say something I don’t mean.”

“Thank you, ma’am. If you’ll give me a chance, I promise, I won’t let you down.”

A rumble of thunder brought Minna’s gaze up to the sky. Clouds lowered overhead. The first large drops of rain fell, cold where it struck her heated features.

Shouts up and down the line of people placing the sandbags greeted the rain. With a sense of racing against time, Minna reached for the sandbag Guia held. Soon, she slipped and slid in the mud created by the rain, her hair plastered to her face, the muddied, soaked hem of her skirt slopping wetly against her legs. Doggedly, with aching back and shoulders, Minna took sandbag after sandbag and helped build the fragile protection between the river and the lowest sugarcane field.

The rain came down in sheets of water. Minna could barely see the people next to her, and all but loud voices were drowned out by the sound of the rain. She turned to take another sandbag, but Guia had not yet returned with another. Minna paused to catch her breath, rolling her head to relieve her stiff neck and shoulders.

A dark figure loomed out of the rain. She squinted, and blinked water from her eyelashes, trying to see who stood there. A sense of extreme danger made her heart race. For an instant, the face she had seen in the crowd gathered at the bell materialized in front of her. Minna caught her breath, eyes wide, and then something glinted in his hand.

Just as Minna realized the glint was a knife, the man slashed outward, lost his footing, and slammed into her. Both of them fell in the mud, Minna struggling and kicking and trying to scream. The man’s weight drove her into the thick mud and standing rainwater. Minna tried to open her mouth to draw air into her lungs, but all she received was a mouthful of dirt and water. Bright lights burst behind her eyes as her air-starved lungs strove to inhale.

A full-throated scream rent the air, and the man’s weight left her. Coughing, choking, confused, Minna rolled to her hands and knees. Someone struggled with the man, and Minna realized Guia had returned.

“Guia--” she said, her voice a hoarse croak. “Run!”

The knife slashed, and Guia slid into the mud, limp.

Horrified, Minna tried to gain her feet. The man leaped at her, and viciously drove the knife into her side. Minna gave a gasping grunt, transfixed with the pain.


Teo’s voice seemed to come from a long distance. She lay, staring up at the weeping sky. Rain blinded her; she heard the quick exchange of blows, fists thudding flesh, the grunts of pain; then she drifted outside of herself and seemed to sink into the ground.

Birthright swept her up like a bright light, cradling, holding, trying to anchor her. As her blood spilled on the ground in a crimson pool, the magic that tried to sustain her bubbled up and coursed through her blood. Minna knew she could rip this magic from the ground and live—but if she did the ground would die and become nothing more than a piece of dirt with no life left in it. She hovered on the edge of taking the magic to save herself, the will to live strong.

A memory of Barr-Thorn as she had first seen it surfaced in the murky depths of her mind. Her father’s land. Serenity’s land. Her land. Her life.

Minna felt more than saw Teo fall on his knees beside her. “Minna! Don’t go! Stay!”

With a sob, Minna let go of the magic. She would live or she would die, but she would not live at the expense of her land and her chosen family.

She spiraled down into the blackest night.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Friday Snippets, April 4, 2008

Yep, I'm really scraping the barrel this go around. This is a piece of flash fiction I did for a contest. I read over it, and it's not so bad.

I'm struggling to get words down on the page. My depression is making that difficult, but at last I've pinpointed what's causing it. My GP doubled my blood pressure medicine a few days ago. I had a long conversation with him today, and the bp medicine is cut in half as of tomorrow, thank God.

Below are the parameters for the piece. Don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!

My main character/protagonist is a male. My main character is a reporter. An archetype present in my story is Performer. A key object or symbol in my story is a pillow. My story will be set in a library. My story is about escape.

Jay Streeter didn’t know why he’d come to the library. He stared at the ivy-covered façade of the stone building. Perhaps it was a rumor or story he’d once heard about people vanishing from the old place. He didn’t know. As a reporter, he picked up a lot of unrelated tidbits of information. Sometimes it all became one big jumble in his head.

He even remembered coming to this library as a kid. Growing up, he’d read a few books until his stepfather ridiculed him for being a sissy, so a lot of time had passed since he’d stepped foot inside. He recalled reading Peter Pan several times that terrible year his father died and his mother remarried.

Jay climbed the stone steps hollowed over the years by the passage of many feet. The smell of must and old books greeted him at the door. Silence rolled over him like a smothering pillow—he jerked away from that line of thought.

A bright-colored sign near the door drew his attention. Children in a well-lit, modern-looking library smiled at him below the words, “Escape—Read A Book.” Jay’s lips twisted. Escape. What an apt choice of words. Escape was why he was here instead of at the TV station listening to the congratulations, the fake adulation, the lies backed with envy, or at home staring at four white walls and trying to understand when his life had turned to dust and ashes in his mouth. Here, in this library, he could be merely Jay Streeter, not the cool, calm, crack reporter in public, or the miserable maudlin mess at home.

The librarian looked surprisingly young. She sat behind a massive oak desk that looked as if it had been made from wood used during the same era as the Mayflower. He guessed her to be no more than mid-fifties, hair beginning to gray around the temples, eyes warm and blue and wise as all librarians were reputed to be. After he asked her where to find the mystery section, he lingered.

“I used to come here as a kid,” he said. “I don’t think the place has changed at all. More mildew, perhaps.” He smiled at her.

She returned his smile, faintly, and said, “Yes, I remember you, Mr. Streeter. You used to take a section of books out of each shelf in a direct line and try to shoot spit wads through the holes.”

Jay’s smile wavered. “Yeah, that sounds like me. That was a long time ago. You couldn’t have been so old yourself, then. Bet you thought, ‘there’s a houligan who will never make something of himself.’” Jay felt himself slipping helplessly into his well-worn role as “poor, tough kid turned ace reporter.”

“I know who you are, Mr. Streeter, and I know what you’ve become. I saw it in your eyes last night when you had to report that story.”

Jay’s composure cracked around the edges. “What did you see in my eyes?” he asked in a hoarse voice.

“Horror. Pain. Despair. The feeling of being trapped on an endless wheel where you report how much people hurt and torture each other every day, and tell the story as if you’re feeling no pain yourself. You wished that had been you that mother had smothered with a pillow instead of that innocent baby.”

The blood roared in Jay’s ears and tears stung his eyes. “How could you know all that?” he whispered.

The librarian’s blue eyes were compassionate. “It’s my business to know. Just as you know which stories make good news stories, I know about the desire to escape, to become someone else for awhile. That’s why you came to me, isn’t it? The desire for escape?”

“I want---I want--” Jay couldn’t say what he wanted. He struggled to regain control, to smile his cool reporter’s smile, to deny he had any needs at all as the instinct for self-preservation kicked in.

“It’s an interesting little prison we make for ourselves, isn’t it?” the librarian said. “The walls are as soft and yielding and smothering as that pillow you held in your hands last night. The prison of doing something you don’t want to do, being someone you don’t want to be, just because you’re successful at it.”

Jay stared at her and saw complete understanding of him in her face and let go of the need to cloak his inner self—let go of the need to present to her the persona he showed the rest of the world. “I need to be someone else—live another life for awhile,” he burst out. “I need to see if being someone else is better.”

The librarian reached into her desk and brought out a library card, handing it to him. Jay noted with a sense of unreality that it was his library card from years ago.

“Go pick out a story you’d like to live and bring the card back to me,” she said softly. “When you use the card, you’ll live the life of a character in that story until the book is due. A word of caution. Those who tell stories sometimes have characters that experience Life as bloody, as awful, and as full of suffering as anything you’ve seen. You never know which character you’ll be. Any and all of that could happen to you. Do you still want to escape?”

Jay clutched the precious library card in his hand. “‘First star to the right and straight on ‘till morning,’” he said softly.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oh, for the love of ....

I'm so tired of these sex sites trying to hijack my site! If we all wanted to see some naked girls, we know where to go! Stay off my site.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Friday Snippet, March 28, 2008

I'm tired. Bone tired. The kind of tired that makes it difficult to get up in the morning and go to work or do anything else. I'm not writing much, either. I guess it's a kind of mild depression. God, I hope it goes away soon.

Anyway, this passage from an old work speaks to me of that same tired feeling. Maybe next week I'll have something new.

Please don't quote or repost anywhere. A first draft, and subject to change.

“The meaning of my life got lost somewhere between the moments, Carlie,” her mother said. “I can’t find myself anymore.”

Carlie stared at her mother, watched while her mother’s claw-like hands plucked restlessly at the dingy hospital sheets. Hospital white wasn’t the clear, pure white of snow, Carlie thought, but the off-white of the used and abused.

“You’re not lost, Mother,” Carlie said. “You’re right here, in this bed, in this hospital, right now.”

Her mother’s vacant gaze caused Carlie to look away. The lucid moments came and went with greater frequency now. Dr. Fanning had said it wouldn’t be much longer.

“No, I’m lost,” her mother said. “If you forgive me, I might know where to look.”

Carlie opened her mouth, but the words wouldn’t come. She tried to force them past her teeth, but all she did was let out a hiss of breath.

The flash of movement at the door caught her eye. Dr. Fanning stood in the doorway.

“And how are you fine ladies today?” he asked, voice cheerful in that false way some doctors have about them when talking to the walking dead.

“You tell me, you’re the doctor,” Carlie’s mother said.

“Now, Mrs. Andrews,” he said. “I’ll let you know the results of your tests when I get them back from the lab.”

“Don’t call her that,” Carlie said involuntarily.

Dr. Fanning raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“Don’t call her Mrs. Andrews.”

“Why not, Carlie?”

Carlie paused, said nothing. Somehow “because my father’s been dead for years” didn’t seem to be an adequate explanation.

“You can call me Annie,” her mother said. “That’s what people used to call me.” Her voice was wistful.

“Feeling pretty good, are we?” Dr. Fanning asked.

“Not so good. I hurt,” she said.

“Let’s check your heart, Annie,” Dr. Fanning said, pulling a ubiquitous stethoscope from under his coat.

Carlie slipped out, as much to escape as to give them privacy.

Long, empty corridors stretched on either side. It was so quiet the susurrus of the air conditioners sounded like wind sighing in the trees. It must be later than she thought. Hospital halls were rarely empty.

Carlie made several turns around the halls, moving around her mother’s room in a big circle, as if tied to a pole. The night shift nurses looked up as she passed their stations, and then dropped their eyes to the tasks in front of them, disinterested.

She found herself back at the door of her mother’s room. Annie slept fitfully, hair spread over the pillow. Carlie noted that it needed combed. She supposed that the funeral people would comb it. That was when the pain hit her, and she gasped aloud, startling her mother awake.

“What is it?” Annie said, fretful. “Who’s there?”

Carlie stepped back, turned, and fled to the bathroom down the hall. She lost the contents of her stomach, and leaned against the cool metal wall of the stall, and concentrated on just breathing.

Eventually, she made her way back to the sitting room not far from her mother’s room and lay down on the couch. She dozed. A hand touched her shoulder and she startled awake. One glance at Dr. Fanning’s face told her it was over. She had slept through her mother’s last moments.

A bubble of hysterical laughter tried to break free, but Carlie ruthlessly dug her nails into the palms of her hands until the impulse to laugh disappeared. No use giving the hospital staff the impression she might be as insane as her mother.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Friday Snippet, March 21, 2008

A little bit of philosophy over dinner.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

Sabri found the dining room by following the sound of voices. When she entered, Mother and Papa stopped talking. Mother stared at her, a sad expression on her face. Papa smiled at Sabri. She paused, uncertain where to sit. Mother made an unobtrusive motion to the place setting across from her, and Sabri slipped into the chair. The cutlery and the glasses winked at her in glints of light and hints of reflection, intimidating her with their multitude and variety.

…a bowl with indeterminate contents. A chipped plate and a single fork, carefully hoarded, set in lonely splendor on a dirty table….

Hedi came into the room, sullen and silent. She avoided looking at Sabri as she sat before the remaining place setting.

Sabri put a hand over her mouth for a moment, trying to hide the trembling of her lips.

“Everyone is very quiet this evening,” Papa said.

Mother stirred, tried to smile. “Perhaps you should tell us about your day, Hayden.”

The door at the far end of the dining room opened. Sabri watched in astonishment as carts of steaming dishes, pushed by two women dressed in immaculate white aprons over full skirts, arrived. The women served the dishes to the family and withdrew with the carts. The whole thing had been done in silence. She picked up a fork and tasted the food and found it delicious.

“Perhaps I could speak about my day, Calli. We are dealing with an interesting case. A relative of our client has brought a petition before the court. She is contesting her aunt’s will and wishes the court to have her aunt declared unfit.”

Mother looked up, brow creased. “What will happen to her?”

“If she’s declared unfit? She will be sent to a sanitarium. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea. She lives alone and has nearly a dozen cats on which she spends lavish sums of money.”

“That’s not fair!” Sabri burst out. “It’s her money! She should be allowed to spend it on what she wants.”

And could have bitten her tongue when Papa stared at her in surprise.

“You feel she should be allowed to spend all her money on the cats and leave her niece with nothing?”

Sabri found herself swimming in a philosophical morass, uncertain how to continue. She fell back on muttering in a stubborn voice, “It’s her money. It isn’t fair.”

“My dear, fair has nothing to do with the matter. One could argue that it isn’t fair that the aunt has everything and the niece nothing.”

Sabri stared down at her plate, searching for words to continue the argument.

Hedi unexpectedly came to her rescue. “But we have more than the Millers. Should we give the Millers some of what we have?”

“I believe we did that very thing this morning,” Mother reminded in a gentle voice.

Papa stirred, tried to smile. “The matter is complex, and not just a simple division of belongings. Does the aunt have a right to keep what is hers to her niece’s detriment? Should the niece be given the power to control her aunt’s destiny? These are the questions I have been asking myself for several days.”

“Do unto others,” Sabri said, and felt a surge of elation that she’d remembered what she wanted to say.

Papa looked at her, curious. “Beg pardon?”

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” Sabri said.

Papa gave her a slow smile. “And that is the dilemma, Sabri. The aunt is “doing unto” the niece by giving her nothing, and the niece is “doing unto” the aunt by trying to take it away.”

“Philosophy over the dinner table causes indigestion,” Mother said. “Let’s enjoy the food instead. Sabri, what will you have for dessert?”

Sabri ate her piece of cake put in front of her and considered what Papa had said. It hadn’t occurred to her before that fair could switch sides.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Friday Snippet, March 14, 2008

Late, late! Still dealing with the aftermath of having the house broken into. The guy didn't get much, but it's the principal of the thing. Been buttoning up the house much tighter. Anybody thinking to break in now will find it tough going, that's for sure.

Okay, back to the snippet. I'm back working on my Vagabond story. Here's a snippet from that. January 3 was my last snippet from this story. It follows fairly close in time from that snippet.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

Sabri climbed the stairs to the third story. By not thinking hard about it, she found the room she was sure belonged to her. The room was large and well-lit by two floor-to-ceiling windows. A large fourposter stood between the windows. The whole room was done in serene green.

She paused in the doorway for a moment and just looked, then she hurried forward and began opening drawers and examining the contents of the room in a frenzy of activity—as if by touching everything and staring at each object she could find out who she was.

Her hand brushed against something on top of one of the tallboys that gave a chirp of noise. Sabri froze. Slowly, she moved her hand and felt something hard and circular in shape. She picked up the object and brought it down to eyelevel. The music box played a couple of notes and fell silent.

A dancing ballerina stood on one foot atop the base, her other foot resting near the knee of her leg, arms extended in front as if just beginning a pirouette. The slightest movement of Sabri’s hand caused the ballerina to tremble, as if she wanted to spin but was held back by invisible bonds. Her tutu fell in graceful rose and pink tulle folds from a black bodice. A shimmer of something that looked like real diamonds glittered on the material.

Strange emotions stirred in Sabri as she held the music box. Gently, she wound the key. The ballerina twirled as music emerged from the box. Sabri closed her eyes as the haunting melody washed over her. She found herself humming and moving her feet in a complicated rhythm.

And, for no reason at all, she started to cry.

Sabri opened her eyes as the music stopped. The ballerina trembled on her hand, eager to twirl around once more. She carefully set the music box back on the tallboy.

“You used to dance just like that every time I wound that music box.”

Sabri turned to see a tall man in his late forties standing in the doorway. He saw the tears on her cheeks, and his thick brows creased.

“Why do you cry, pet?” he asked in a gentle voice.

Sabri looked at his face with the crow’s feet around his kind brown eyes and cried harder.

He held out his arms. “Come here, my dear. Papa will hug it all away.”

Sabri flew into his arms and felt an instant comfort, as if she’d been accustomed to coming to this man with all her problems and fears. She looked up at his face and opened her mouth to tell him what was wrong, but stopped, the words unspoken. How could she tell him what was wrong when she didn’t know herself? Mother’s request that she not ask questions in front of others floated through her mind. The remembered venom in the voice of the unknown person in the hall reinforced her silence. What if he turned against her? Where would she go?

“…people that don’t work don’t eat. I can’t have no freeloaders around here. Your ma ain’t coming back. You gotta start pulling your weight…”

With a kind of fear in her voice, Sabri said, “Nothing, Papa. I’m all right. I guess I’m just tired.”

He gave her a searching look, then told her, “All right, pet. Why don’t you wash your face and come down to dinner.”

Sabri gave him a watery smile. He returned her smile and flicked her nose.

“Everything looks better on a full stomach. I promise.”

She nodded. “I’ll be down in a minute, Papa.”

When he left, Sabri scrubbed her hand across her wet cheeks and felt like a criminal.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Friday Snippet, March 7, 2008

Another quick little snippet in the Quen & Quill story.

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

Quick synopsis: Quen and Quill are traveling to Blackrock and have their horses stolen in a small village where they stop for the night. To avoid trouble, they're resuming their travel on foot when the horse stealers try to take the rest of what belongs to the Sunmaster and the Shen Warrior.

In which Quen and Quill travel to battle with the evil Sunmaster Aster, and meet trouble along the way!

Quill found himself talking to empty air. Quen had left his side, silent as a drift of poisoned air. He halted, surveying the immediate area. He knew better than to call out. The small hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

The sound of galloping horses made him drop his pack and stand with empty hands. He had no time to run and hide, no time for anything but his own defense.

Four horses came into view back along the path he and Quen had just traveled. He recognized his horse first, and then recognized the men they had encountered hours ago in the little village. Quill’s lips tightened. He felt a surge of the Sunmagic he carried inside, ready at his beck and call. If they looked for an easy mark, they wouldn’t find one here. The use of magic would tell Aster exactly where he was, but better that than dying.

Quill crouched as the horses picked up speed. The grin of the lead horse’s rider grew. He drew his sword and bore down on Quill.

A dark shadow seemed to leap from the very ground. The shock of impact was audible to Quill even from this distance. The man gave a surprised cry as he and the shadow toppled off the horse. The cry was quickly cut off. The riderless horse sailed past Quill, the wind of its passage tugging at his clothing.

A flash of steel, and the second horse stumbled heavily, squealing, hamstrung, and slammed shoulder-first into the ground. Another flash of steel and the horse stopped squealing. Neither horse nor rider rose from the ground.

The two remaining horses veered to the side as each rider tried to avoid the mess in front of them. Quill watched, frozen, as the shadowy figure charged straight at the horse on the right. The horse spooked, rearing up into the air. The rider frantically kicked free of his stirrups and threw himself out of the saddle just as the horse fell over backward. The rider rolled and valiantly tried to defend himself, but the shadowy nemesis made short work of him.

The survivor wheeled and fled.

The shadow darted to the horse that struggled to roll over, and floated into the saddle as quickly as the horse gained its feet. The horse squealed and leaped after the disappearing survivor, covering the ground in cat-like jumps.

Numb, Quill watched as the pursuer overtook the pursued. A knife found his back, and the man’s arms flew into the air. He rolled from the saddle, limp as an empty sack of flour. Dust rose from the point of impact on the ground.

The shadow secured the reins of the second horse and rode back to where Quill stood, rooted to the ground.

Quill looked up at Quen’s face and said nothing. Her eyes were as bleak as an ice-covered pond. He felt his Sunmagic retreat from the exposure to such cold. The horse she rode panted and heaved, a rim of white around its eye.

“Get your pack and let’s go, Sunmaster,” Quen said, and her voice would have frozen stone.

Nausea roiled in Quill’s stomach, but he picked up his pack and took the reins from her. He avoided looking at the bloody long knife she still carried. His jaw knotted.

At least this time she didn’t suggest looting the dead.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday Snippet, February 29, 2008

I thought I'd give the elementals a rest for a bit. This is a piece of story I wrote some time ago---it's very traditional sword and sorcery, and has all the story tropes in place--mage/warrior, evil mage, bar fight---I hope I put enough of a twist on it to make it a little more current. Let me know what you think. Although the story might never find a home. S&S is not selling well now. Most of all, I hope it will be a fun read.

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

In which Quill is sent to deal with Aster, a rogue Sunmaster. Only one Shen warrior protects him. A story about trouble, and lots of it.

Quill let the warmth of the spell build in his left hand enough to heat his flesh—not enough to be seen but enough to thaw out his cold fingers. When his left hand no longer felt numb, he moved to his right hand and gave it the same attention.

He looked over the ship’s rails, but fog prevented him from seeing more than a few feet. The air had turned cold enough to turn the condensation on the metal rails to ice and cover the decking with a thin sheet of slickness, making movement hazardous.

Quill sighed and put his hands on the railing where their heat melted the ice. Moisture dripped and ran from his fingers. He stood on the port side of the Merry Maid. From his vantage, he should be able to see the coastline of Navarr. He eyed the murk. The fancy that nothing existed but the ship and a small area of surrounding water lurked in the back of his mind.

Movement caught his eye. He saw Quen emerge from the gangway that led to passenger quarters below. Sure-footed and solid, she made her way to the captain who stood not far from Quill. Quen said a few low words to the captain, and started for the gangway.

“Ignoring me won’t help anything,” he said to her.

She paused and looked at him with those clear, cold blue eyes. “When I have something to say, Sunmaster, you’ll hear it.”

“Not one word of strategy, Shen warrior? Not one plan of action?”

“My plan of action is simple, Sunmaster. If it breathes, I kill it.”

Quill shook his head at her retreating form. The absolute certainty that force solved every problem echoed in her words. Not all Shen warriors espoused that philosophy—but clearly Quen did.

Not for the first time, he questioned Sunmaster Laketa’s decision to send Quen with him. He thought the idea was to bring Aster to justice, not kill her.

He hoped they made landfall soon. The constant pitch and roll of the ship left his stomach queasy. Even an uncivilized back-country like Navarr appealed by comparison.

Quill rubbed his forehead. The spell that hid the Sun sign on his brow made him itch.


“Two gold? That’s outrageous,” Quill said.

The innkeeper shrugged well-padded shoulders. “Take it or leave it, Varchenian. They’re the best nags in town. I’ll even throw in the tack for that price.”

Quill looked at the horses in the innkeeper’s fenced enclosure. If the sunken-flanked, mean-eyed mares were the best the whole town could offer, that didn’t speak well for the level of clientele in the area.

He gave Quen an uncertain look, but she watched five or six men entering the inn and paid no attention to the business of buying transportation.

Reluctant to part with that much of his stash of gold, Quill handed the innkeeper the two gold. “See that they both receive a good mess of oats before we leave in the morning.”

The innkeeper pocketed the two gold with a speed that rivaled the circulation of the collection plate at the temple. “Nice doing business with you, Varchenian.”

“Why did you tell him we’d be here overnight?” Quen said in a disgruntled tone of voice as they walked toward the inn.

“What’s the problem, Quentina?” Quill asked.

Quen glared at him. “Call me that again and I’ll leave you minus something very important. It’s Quen. And you don’t ever let anyone know when and where you plan to be. Especially in a place like this. And, most especially, after you’ve been flashing gold around.”

“I had to buy the horses!” Quill protested. “Would you have us walk all the way to Blackrock?”

“Keep your voice down!” Quen said.

Quill, angry, entered the inn. The smoky, dim atmosphere lay heavy on his lungs after the crisp outdoor air. Six pairs of eyes found them. Uncomfortable, Quill turned aside to the bar. Quen followed and stood to one side of him, eyes scanning the room. For once, since they left Varchenia, Quen’s presence at his back felt good.

A barmaid stood behind the counter, watching them with interest. She eyed the long sword that hung across Quen’s back within easy reach of the Shen warrior’s right hand.

“Ale,” Quill said.

The barmaid drew his ale without looking away from Quen or her sword.

“That extra?” Quill asked.

The barmaid looked at him, confused.

“The sword,” he clarified. You seem to be staring at it. I’m wondering if we have to pay extra for it to sleep here, too.”

The barmaid flushed, set his ale in front of him, took his coin, and turned away to studiously wipe down the counter. Quill took a drink from his glass.

“Maybe you do,” someone said behind him.

Quill turned, his eyebrow raised, to see that one of the six men in the bar had turned his chair in their direction, a challenging look in his eyes.

“Beg pardon?” Quill said.

The man nodded to the sword. “Maybe you do have to pay extra. Someone who can afford a Shen warrior to guard his back shouldn’t miss a few extra coins.”

Quill couldn’t resist the opportunity to send an ironic glance at Quen. She gave a faint shrug.

“I’m sorry,” Quill told the man. “I didn’t realize you were the owner. You can, of course, set whatever price you want for your rooms.”

“I’m not the owner. But I think you’ll be paying an extra six gold for the sword.”

Quill found himself faced with a choice. He should let this ride. He was after far more important prey than these barheads. Irritation colored his thoughts. Why should he let these small town fish shake him down for his gold?

He barely paused. “I don’t think so. Not to any of you.”

Quill didn’t dare look at Quen. Unless she helped, this would be a real short fight. He had no intention of using his magic to even the odds. He had hidden his Sun sign and stopped doing any magic but the most minimal since stepping on shore. Aster probably knew he was here, but if she didn’t, alerting her of his presence would be stupid.

“I’ll wager six golds you will,” the man said.

“If I win the wager, you pay me six golds?” Quill hazarded.

“No, you just get to keep yours,” the man said.

He got up from his chair. To Quill, it looked as if he kept unfolding parts of himself until he stood as high as the ceiling. He easily overtopped Quill head and shoulders. Quill didn’t much like the odds.

“Try not to kill him, Chase,” one of the others said.

The barmaid ducked behind the bar.

“Don’t try fisticuffs with him, Quill,” Quen said. “His reach is about six inches longer than yours. Try to get him off his feet.”

Quill had time for one horrified look at Quen before Chase rushed him. He ducked under Chase’s swing and slipped out to dance behind the larger man. All right, he was faster. And he would have to be in order to not get his head knocked off.

Chase turned to face him, a set grin on his face. He came at Quill, using his superior arm reach to force the smaller man back, trying to box him in between the counter and the wall. This time, as Quill slipped past, Chase tried to grapple with him. Quill pulled away, leaving part of his clothing in Chase’s hand.

“Don’t let him get you in a hold!” Quen yelled.

Quill gave her a harried, disgusted look before dancing back in time to avoid a meaty fist that would have caved in his face had it connected.

Some of the men yelled out gleeful encouragement.

“Break his face, Chase!”

“Just fall on the little bug, Chase! You outweigh him a hundred pounds!”

Perhaps overly enthused by the coaching, Chase leaped at Quill, arms outstretched. Not sure what to make of Chase’s new strategy, Quill dropped and rolled. Chase smacked the floor so hard dust rose from his clothing. Quill shuddered. That could have been him under there.

For such a big man, Chase could move fast. He was up and Quill, who had stopped to brush the dust off his clothing, found himself neatly boxed into a corner. He attempted to duck but Chase had him by the collar and slung him like a slack of flour. Quill landed onto a table and a set of chairs that splintered to kindling.

Quill floundered in the wreckage and his hand fell on a sizable chunk of wood. He waited for Chase to come for him, aimed the wood, and knocked Chase’s legs out from under him. Chase hit the floor hard again. This time, as he struggled to rise, Quill whacked him on the head with the chunk of wood. Chase collapsed, unconscious, and the fight was over.

Quill climbed to his feet, his panting loud in the sudden background silence. No one said anything or offered to move, so Quill retrieved his drink and waited for Chase to wake up. Quen maintained a silent watchfulness.

The barmaid appeared again, this time staring at Quen and Quill with equal intensity.

Chase groaned and lifted his head, squinting his eyes at his surroundings. Quill offered him a hand. After a moment of consideration, Chase took the hand and allowed Quill to help him to his feet.

“You’ve got spirit, little man, I’ll say that for you,” Chase said as he wiped the blood from the cut on his forehead.

“Do I get to keep my gold?” Quill asked.

“A wager is a wager,” Chase said. “I’ll even throw in some free advice. Get back on the Merry Maid and go back to Varchenia.”


“Go back to Varchenia while you still can, Sunmaster, and take the Shen warrior with you. Blackrock is closed to you both.”

“How did you know who we are?” Quen said, eyes boring a hole in Chase.

“Warning them is not part of the bargain you made, Chase Durin,” the barmaid said.

Quen and Quill turned to see her standing, hands planted on the counter, glaring at the big man.

Chase shrugged. “I agreed to delay them. That I’ve done. He won fair and square, and without using magic. So I warn them. If the witch has issue with me, then let her come and find me.”

“Sunmaster!” the barmaid spat. “And don’t you forget that.”

Chase gave her a hard smile. “I don’t care if she’s the Emperor. She doesn’t rule me.”

Quill felt his head swim. “Wait a minute. I’m less than two hours setting foot on Navarr and Aster already knows I’m here?”

Quen cut to the heart of the matter. “Why were you to delay us?”

Chase considered her for a moment. “She sets her spells to close Blackrock against the assault of an army. Two people won’t stop her, even if one is another Sunmaster and the other is a Shen warrior.”

“Do you know what she plans to do?” Quill asked.

“No. I figured you would.”

Quill had to shake his head.

Chase looked at him with a kind of grim humor. He motioned to the other men and they prepared to leave.

“Best of luck with that, then, Sunmaster.”