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.