The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our World Changing--Writer's Be Aware

Well, it looks like things are making some interesting changes that I was completely unaware of.

1) Firstly, apparently scientists have developed a way to levitate things via sound. You can find the link here at Tales From the Raven. They levitated an ant, a fish, and a tadpole. I'm rather disturbed by it because, well, that's just creepy. Can you imagine walking around and suddenly get picked up? And who knows where this technology might go in the future. Perhaps we could use it for targeted attacks of some sort. Perhaps police officers will use it for something. Who knows.

2) Some things on writing of interest to anyone who writes. Over at Quantum Storytelling there is an interesting checklist of scene necessities, especially on the different conflicts necessary. I think it greatly applies to fantasy, but that's my opinion.3) New Links: You'll notice several new links over there -------->
Well, figured I'd explain what some of them are :). First there's Blogels, a nifty site that links to a bunch of other blog novels such as mine--although not in the same genres. They deserve as much attention as mine I gather. There's Blogging Poet, a lovely place with poetry, interesting news about poetry and things going on in the world, and it apparently has a poetry search engine that I have yet to use as of yet. Sword & Sorcery/Weird Fiction Terminus is a nice blog that has book reviews and the like--mostly related to fantasy of course. SF Bookworm is a bit misleading at first as the title suggests it is related only to SF, when in fact it is just a big blog about all sorts of speculative fiction writing. This post was about who won the grand master award at the latest World Horror Convention. Of Making Many Books is yet another writing advice blog and recently had some great info on "Show, Don't Tell". An Urban Fantasy is a blog by debut author Alan Campbell which is more or less related to writing, whether directly or not, and is rather entertaining to read. From the Cradle to the Slave is a fantastic beginning to a potentially thrilling scifi novel. Hopefully the author will get some more chapters up soon as I have quite enjoyed reading it. Pocket Full of Words is a lovely blog by a fellow writer of what looks to be fantasy. She's got three novels in progress, so best of luck to finishing all of them. After all, I'm doing one...
Heather Harper I managed to find by accident. She's also writing a YA fantasy and I look forward to reading more on her blog as she progresses in this endeavor. Lowe Brow is doing the same as the previously mentioned site, posted in installments and also podcasted. All the Billion Other Moments is another writers blog with some helpful insights into the writing life, progress, and the like. Scribblings of a Madman is a journal by a fellow amateur novelist about his writing life. Write, Pam, Write! is a blog by a three time NaNoWriMo winner. She's currently working on a novel called Eagle's Heart. And finally there is S. William Shaw, Writer!--a blog about the progress of his novel endeavors in the younger adult field than my own, but still worth a lovely read.

So, this is my midweek post for no real reason other than the fact that I am home and available to do it. Don't expect midweek posts often, but yeah, here it is.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chapter Ten: Turned Black the Old Oak and Farewell

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

Nub had tried hard to keep James in the room. She pleaded and begged, half dropping to her knee for him to stay. But he couldn’t. He had to know what the sounds were—the horns. He left the room; Nub refused to follow and curled in a ball near the door. Here and there he stumbled from weakness, succumbing to the effects of his wounds. It was all he could do to stay full upright, let alone see all that stood before. Each step, however, grew easier, and he felt his strength returning in groves.
Yet, he paused outside the door, using the corner of a nearby wall as a support and nearly fainted. Rays of light ran along his exposed skin and lit up the face of the wall so he could see the paleness of the stone. Dawn, inescapable and unforgettably true, came at him as if a call from the Heaven that only he believed existed. He faced the mountains beyond and became overwhelmed by the greatness of the sun as it passed between two peaks, lighting everything in its path. For the first time, looking east, he saw the wide expanse of farmland that extended down the backside of Arlin City and on past the walls and into the country beyond, meeting up with the Far’anon River. Part of the river had been diverted into a series of canals and irrigation ditches like a giant maze of sparkling pathways. The farmland ended in a series of thickets, each round and independent of one another. They dotted the landscape like a group of toadstools.

And then, like a massive blow to his gut, the reality of the situation presented itself. The euphoric moment ended and he realized that the sun was rising from the wrong side—the west. Panic struck through the inhabitants of Arlin City. He had been too blind to it to realize. People of all shapes and sizes ran frantically to nowhere at all. Below he could see nothing but chaos as men, women, and children of all races crowded around the western wall as far away from the main gates as possible. It was as if they hoped they could escape magically through the stone, but he could sense that the majority of them couldn’t use magic at all. Soldiers appeared from various sections of the city below, forming ranks and marching to the western wall, and though from this position he could not see the west, he knew there were more soldiers and people there.
He walked along the wall to find an open view of the western side of the city. A few women brushed past and nearly knocked him over. Finally he found an open alcove that ended in a curved balustrade of aged gray stone fitted with alternating pillars carved with armored horses rearing high and regal and bowing as if to a king. For a moment, James feared to look over the edge. He couldn’t be sure what he would see, and at the same time he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know what it was that everyone was so eager to escape from. But, he bit down and pushed away all the fear and limped until slowly the east side of Arlin City and the great green field beyond came into view.
As stunning as it was to see the sun rising from the west, the sight below caused every muscle in his heart to lurch as if he were having a heart attack. His throat seized up; a thick bulb that felt like a smooth golf ball swelled up there preventing him from swallowing.
Below he could see lines of soldiers lining up along the walls and below, catapults that had not been there before inside the excavated forms of buildings, archers preparing lengths of flaming arrows, and then…beyond the walls. For several hundred feet there was nothing but green and gold grass. Then, where the Old Oak stood, the same place where James had appeared in the Farthland, stood a black mass a mile wide and half a mile deep, interspersed with long squares of silver. Thousands and thousands of creatures, armed and shuffling impatiently, were there, part of an enormous army. There were men there too, normal men indifferent from those of the Farthland. Near the oak a small circle had been cleared, in which was a tall figure in a bright burnished silver suit of armor, helm removed and flanked by the lyphon, who walked in lonely circles in a motion of obvious discomfort at being held at bay for too long. Three massive wooden horns, now bellowing again in such a deep, resonating tone that he had to close his eyes to make it go away, and a series of tarred catapults made up the rear.
His heart sunk deep into his chest and he felt as if it wanted to trade places with his gut. An army, he thought. What have I brought down on these people? He started to cry, but stopped himself as the first tears slipped silently off his chin. Instead, he sucked it back; his muscles spasmed in protest. The army remained still, yet no messenger came forward asking for surrender, and neither did anyone leave Arlin City to suggest the same, or a different end. Luthien’s army simply remained still, anticipating, and antsy.
A long, black shadow appeared over his shoulder. He turned and met face to face with a dark brown gryphon in mid-flight, diving straight for him. Two fiery amber eyes centered on his face. It shrieked and raised its claws and, just as suddenly as it had appeared, so too did another figure, appearing over the roof of a nearby home, lunging through the air and ripping the creature out of the sky. Together the brown gryphon and the other creature—a golden gryphon—plummeted down twenty feet and crashed in a ruffle of feathers around the corner of a building on the main path. James heard the two beasts screeching at one another. It sounded like two people arguing and taunting, only in a language that he could never understand with the limits of his human hearing. The gryphons cast small shadows that he watched intently and fearfully, as he did not want to move to see the ensuing battle. Then, the brown gryphon shrieked again and the shadows indicated that he had lunged, only to fall dead from a movement that James could not discern. The head of the brown gryphon slumped into view, tongue hanging from its beak.
Then, clicking his talons rhythmically on the cobblestone, the golden gryphon walked into view. It was Tagron, and James’ heart instantly calmed. Tagron sat and began to clean the blood from his feathers and consumed the bits of flesh stuck to his claws and beak. James grew ill from the sound of Tagron slurping and gurgling the mess down.
“I hate to kill my own kind,” Tagron said, “we are so few. But her betrayal could not go unpunished.” Then, Tagron looked up.
James instinctually avoided eye contact, their previous encounter still fresh in his mind. “Thank you,” he said.
Tagron harrumphed, or least that was what it sounded like, and James could never be quite sure what the sounds coming from the creature really were.
“Come, you must go.”
“Go?” He chanced a brief look, then averted his eyes again.
“The city is going to fall.”
“How can you say that?”
“Luthien’s numbers are too great. Ammond cannot keep this place secure forever. But he will fight nonetheless, and if nothing else deplete much of Luthien’s military power.”
“How did they cross all this way without being spotted?” That thought had not crossed his mind until this exact moment. Luthien had to cross far too much land for not a single soul to notice a trail of soldiers that would have extended miles, and the supply trains even farther. And there would have been word if any of the other cities in the Farthland had fallen. Yet, here was Luthien’s army in full force.
“I-I,” he stopped. Nothing seemed to be making sense. The magic required to move such an army…it’s staggering. No single man could do such a thing, even if a thousand great magic users had willingly given their energy to a Fearl. No, it’s impossible.
“Come, quickly. Ammond awaits.”
Tagron hustled away and James looked back over the balustrade. Movement had taken place and now seven single robed men, evenly spaced some hundred feet apart, had found positions ahead of the main force. Together they each raised their arms and, preceded only by a powerful rumble, great plumes of black smoke poured out from their hands, roaring forward like great gaseous dragons. The smoke serpents roared and crashed into the walls of Arlin City sending vibrations up the entirety of the hill that the city stood on. Each vibration tickled his nerves. Then, the serpents disappeared.
The seven men were casting the same spell again when Tagron shrieked at him from a distance and he turned and ran. He rounded the corner and, a few steps later, wheeled around and back into the room. Nub lay shivering near the door where he had left her. He quickly gathered his things—the etiquette book, the black egg, and the new clothes that had been laid out for him—and, juggling it between his arms, headed for the door. His wounds ached, but, remarkably, he could feel all the flesh intact and the skin still connected. He simply hurt.
“Nub,” he said, “come on. We have to go.”
She chanted to herself. “The black one arrives. Death. Pain. The end of all. The black one arrives.” She bobbed back and forth and said the words almost as if they were a song in a minor key.
“Nub! We have to go now!”
She didn’t seem to be paying him any attention.
Finally, having grown irritated with the situation, Tagron burst into the room. “What are you doing?”
“Never mind. We must go now. There is no time for this.”
“But Nub, we can’t leave her here.”
“She is lost. Come.”
“No! I can’t leave her like this.”
Then Tagron groaned, or at least groaned in whatever fashion a gryphon could do such a thing for it sounded like a gurgling growl. James had less than a second to leap out of the way before Tagron pushed his way through and began tearing up everything imaginable. The search ended abruptly as a gray leather sack with a set of straps flew across the room and forced James to drop his possessions in order to catch it.
“I do not know how much clearer I can be when I say to be quick,” Tagron said, now back at the door.
Remembering the former bad experience he had had with the creature, James knelt down, hurriedly stuffed everything into the sack—putting the super tunic on quickly—and slung it over his shoulder. He stood and watched in horror as Tagron grabbed the babbling Nub in his pointed beak and flung her over his shoulder. Nub didn’t protest, completely oblivious to her surroundings.
“Now, come!”
With that James followed. He didn’t look back even as the plumes of smoke crashed once more, nor when the drumming thud of catapults from both sides roared and echoed through the city. He simply ran, following Tagron in desperation. I have to get out of here. It was at that moment that he could fully feel the terror the civilians of Arlin City must have felt. Adrenaline rushed through him, coursing like a river of fear. And he accepted the burst of energy, ignoring the shiver that attacked his stomach.
Tagron led him down a series of side streets, dark alleyways, and underground passages until they came to a tiny square courtyard. It was unkempt with trees, brush, weeds, and thick green vines growing in and out of the creaks of the weakening walls. Only a single ray of light struck the far wall leaving the rest in slight darkness. Pea, Darl, and Ammond were there waiting. He could sense how close they all were to losing their nerves. There was no argument; rather, the three of them simply stared at him with deep concern, something of which seemed to cause Darl great discomfort as his brow curled inward.
“Thank you Tagron,” Ammond said.
Tagron inclined his head—a symbol of respect. Nub fell to the ground, still bantering.
“James, you will be leaving now. There will be no wait for the supply train, or for a tomorrow that might not exist here. No, you must go now and swiftly.”
“Triska?” he said, letting every ounce of his fear and worry pour through his voice.
“Here,” came Triska’s voice, who appeared through the path.
He breathed a sigh of relief. “And Gammon?”
Ammond shook his head. “He is obligated to defend this city, so I cannot release him. It isn’t within my power.”
“And he wouldn’t go,” Pea said. “It would be a sign of cowardice.”
Then Darl grumpily added, “he would be condemned for as long as he could breath.”
I’ve brought this down on them. What have I done? He thought of Gammon, who would be among the soldiers along the wall waiting, anticipating the moment when the Luthien’s army would rise forward and attack. Then, he thought of all those that would die—good or otherwise; beings that he knew deserved no such fate, but rather deserved to live their lives fully some place safe and away from all this. He knew his presence had disrupted everything. To fathom that the makeshift peace that endured for so long would be so easily broken was an unbearable burden now. He wondered if Laura was worth the destruction that would follow. Deep down he knew the answer, but he also understood that no one else held the friendship he had shared with her. She…is family.
A series of booms followed by the unmistakable roar of the thousands of men and creatures beyond the city’s wall evoking their war cry’s set everything in full motion. Ammond stepped forward and bowed gently, praying safe passage to Arnur; James replied with a nod and thought to extend his hand in a shake, but caught himself when he recalled that such a pleasantry did not exist in the Farthland.
“Stay safe, young James, “Ammond said. “Perhaps we will see each other again soon.” With that, Ammond lifted Nub from the ground and forced her to walk, dragging her from the courtyard.
Tagron stood before him, eyeing him in such a way that he thought for a moment he was the gryphon’s prey. Then Tagron turned and ripped several old bushes from the earth revealing a large round stone tablet. The tablet was old, cracking, and had no recognizable markings other than a divot that ran along the edge. Tagron tore it from the earth with a single paw. There, looking gloomy and worn was a path barely tall enough for James to walk into.
“This will lead you out of the city. It opens up just beyond the Far’anon River. Be swift. Do not falter when you reach safety. Head to the mountains. Find the golden path. That will lead you to Arnur.”
James looked into the darkness of the tunnel. There was no room to carry a torch and he couldn’t imagine traversing such a great distance—well over a mile—underground with no source of light to speak of.
And to do so in magic, well, he wasn’t sure exactly how that might work. He’d come to expect that he had an aptitude for physical magic, a form reserved primarily for combat. Special effects, healing, and other such peaceful methods of use were unlikely to be his forte. That much he understood.
“Be as fast as a gryphon in the sky. Luthien will have men by the river by the time you reach the other side. If he spots you then all hope is lost for you to find your friend.” This Tagron said stronger than the rest, making eye contact and staying fixated until James nodded that he understood.
He could fly me there. Mentally he hit himself, and a twang from the Fearl pounded the very recesses of his mind. If Tagron had heard his thoughts there would have been enough cause to remove one of his limbs. Gryphons were touchy about such things.
“Now I must fly. A battle awaits. Beware the eye. Look to the western sunrise!” And before James could mutter a goodbye, the gryphon leapt into the air and disappeared over the rooftops.
“Come, James,” Pea said. “We have to go.” Pea carried a pack stuffed full of food and items that James couldn’t make out. A single metal pan hung from the bottom. Darl carried a similar pack, only rather than a pan he had a pair of swords slung neatly over his shoulder. Having had only one lesson, James was weary that he might be forced to carry a real sword. He was further weary from the fact that he might be forced to kill someone with that same sword.
“Here,” Darl said, chucking another stuffed pack at him, “put your things in that.”
James began to do so until he suddenly realized that of the four of them Triska was the only one that didn’t have a pack. He looked at her, back at his pack, now half packed, and at her again.
“You’re not coming,” he said.
Triska sniffled. “No. I have to stay here.”
Another war cry rang, followed by an explosion of crashes as more catapults assaulted their distant enemies.
“But you can’t stay here!” He turned desperately to Pea, who in turn averted his gaze. “Triska, you’ll…”
“I know,” she interrupted. “I could die here. But I have to stay. Those men need me. I might save some of them. It is a risk I’m willing to take.”
James looked down, pushing back the emotions. The black egg, faintly glowing with a shiny blue tinge, sat nestled against his clothes in his pack. He stared at it for a moment as if he hoped it would give him the answers he wanted.
“You’ve been brave. Understand that if not for this being my home, I would fly across great lengths to help you on your quest. But, if there is hope yet, I will fight for it the only way I know how.”
A building collapsed in the distance, only noticeable by the huge plume of smoke that erupted up into the sky, spewing bits of stone into the air like a volcano.
Then, he lost control. He had never been good at suppressing his emotions. He grabbed the egg, lunged forward, and wrapped his arms around Triska. She held him and he wept.
“There there. Fear not.” He let go and looked into her eyes, saw the tears, and tried to smile. “Luthien may find this old lady a rather annoying nuisance. We may see each other again.”
“I forgot to give this to you. It was a gift from Darl.” He presented the egg.
Triska smiled the warmest smile he had ever seen. It filled him to the brim with every happy emotion he could imagine, even behind her tears.
“Keep it. It may bring you luck.” She smiled again.
“Thank you for everything.”
“Save your friend. And understand how much that means to you, just as this home means so much to me. Now go. Go!”
She pushed him away, not angrily nor in a fit of desire to get rid of him, but rather out of compassion for him and his well-being. He could feel it, see it in her tear filled eyes and in the puffs of red that had formed just above her cheeks. He tucked the egg back into the pack and slung everything over his shoulder. It proved to be lighter than he had expected.
“Goodbye old friend,” Pea said, stifling the tears that so desperately wanted to be let out.
“Goodbye. Don’t let that Erdluitle pride get you into any trouble now.”
Pea feigned a laugh. “Me? Never. Erdluitles don’t get in trouble. It’s simply an improbability.”
Together the two of them laughed. Then Pea turned and led James through the opening. Only Darl seemed hesitant.
“You take care of him.”
James turned back and saw Darl’s face, forlorn and sunken.
“You hear me? So help me if you harm another hair on that boy’s head I will find you and discipline you like you were a child.” There was a hint of seriousness there, but the overwhelming tone was in jest.
Darl motioned as if he were going to say something, decided against it, and followed into the tunnel. Pea produced a small torch, which he lit with a spell of flame. The torch blew up into a bright array of light, perfectly shining in every crevice. The little man looked infinitely smaller in the tunnel that forced Darl to crouch at an uncomfortable angle and James to crane his neck until his chin hung an inch below his shoulders. Together they traversed the tunnel and slowly, surely, the sounds of the ensuing battle died away. Soon only the vibrations and deep booms resonated along the walls.
* * *
James lost all sense of time in the tunnel. Without a watch and without the sun as a measuring device, he had no clue how long they had been underground, nor how far they had traveled. Regardless, it seemed like ages. The tunnel turned left, then right, up, then down. He half expected it to do a loop at some point having grown disoriented to the point where he had no idea which direction was north. The vibrations from the battle that doubtless still waged far behind them had long since disappeared. Yet, James expected that crossing under the river would have exposed the tunnel to different types of soil—wetter kinds. The soil that made up the walls was a mixture of rock and hard clay.
The light that protruded from Pea’s torch intrigued James. He’d come to terms with the limitations of magic, his included. Even the most powerful of users had a peak they could not surpass. Luthien might be capable of seeing the future, and could use magic to an extent that no known living being could muster, but it was focused in one direction. James’ magic was physical, entirely devoted to the exertion of physical force. He could not enchant gems, or conjure great monsters to fight his battles. This meant his need to use a sword became more pronounced. Pea, on the other hand, was multitalented. James had seen the Littlekind heal, create fire that lit brighter than any flashlight he could remember seeing, and close the mouth of an unsuspecting off-worlder. Yet, Triska and Nub were completely focused in the art of healing. Perhaps their focus allows them more power in that field. That makes sense. Focusing makes them stronger. So that means if I focus on my physical magic I will grow more powerful in it. Maybe I could lift a house. He smiled at that. He could imagine his parents throwing a fit after he had lifted their home and moved it a few inches for no apparent reason. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He could see the humor in doing something like that. If he were in need of a good laugh he just might do it, provided that no damage would come to his home.
The tunnel finally distinctly changed course, diving at a steep angle down, down, and down. James stopped behind Pea. The dirt at the edge slipped away and he could hear the patter of pebbles ringing and ringing until some time later the echoes ceased. A slick, smoothed out clay ran the length of the visible incline.
Pea whistled. “Well, that’s an unexpected surprise.”
“How far down?” Darl said grumpily. James was glad to hear the old Darl again.
“A good five hundred feet.” Pea shifted lightly along the edge; more pebbles fell and gave their final calls. “Might be a bit difficult to climb down. Nothing to really hold on to.”
“Trade spaces. I can dig footholds on the way down with a knife.”
“Just don’t fall.”
“Just don’t grow any taller.” Darl glared. The comment stung even James who knew full well that an attack on a Littlekind’s stature was insulting at best.
Then Darl slipped over the edge and began his descent. Every few feet he dug a moon shaped groove into the slick clay. When at least a man’s length was between Darl and the edge, James followed. The footholds were more or less useless. He could fit his feet and hands in them, but as he did so the clay broke or his fingers slipped ever so slightly so that he had to constantly readjust his hands to keep from falling. Most of the time he found that he had to use his own center of gravity to keep him at such an angle that his feet made indentations in the grooves. Pea on the other hand seemed to have no trouble whatsoever as his tiny hands and feet fit perfectly into the grooves and his lighter weight reduced the breaking of the already damaged grooves.
Down and down they went—Darl breaking and digging new grooves, James doing his best to cling to the only land he could, and Pea humming lightly to himself and carrying the tiny torch in his teeth. Luckily the light managed to travel deep into the tunnel so that even Darl could see where he was going.
James guessed they had gone a good two hundred feet before his arms and legs began to protest. He at first ignored it—a skill he had developed after all the great pains that had befallen him on his journey into the Farthland—and even now he ignored the quickening pace of a stinging crick from his wounds. Something told him that they might never heal completely and he that he might be cursed with the occasional pain much in the same way that a busted knee often led to further problems in the future. But he was alive, something he could never be adequately thankful for.
It was in this growing tiredness in his body that he realized he could barely hold onto the earth. His grip slipped, broke, or failed him with each step down he took. He willed himself to hold, could feel the same emotion evoked from the Fearl, and managed a few more steps before he leaned against the earth as best he could to rest.
“I can’t go any farther,” he said, “my arms can’t take it.”
Darl looked up. “Nonsense. Get up and move.”
He panted and took another step, but collapsed a moment later. “I can’t. It’s too far.”
“You choose a perfect time to become weak. None of us can administer the salve now. You have no choice but to continue moving.”
“I’ll fall!”
“Then you die. A hundred feet until you hit flat ground.”
“It would do us some good to rest,” Pea said.
“There is no time. We have to get across the river and out of sight.” Darl grew angry, his voice rising and echoing in the tunnel.
James looked up, saw Pea and the expression planted so firmly there, and took a few more steps. He pushed himself harder and harder, and down and down they went again. Darl grumbled and James pushed back the painful tears welling up in his eyes. He couldn’t help but think of all those that were dying simply because he had come to this world. And his parents. He prayed so deeply that they were safe and that some misfortune had not befallen them at the hands of the Council. Such worries permeated his mind; the Fearl quivered amiably. And he continued descending. He was determined to succeed in finding Laura and bring her home despite all the fears, doubts, and pain he had thus far endured. Something deeper than friendship; something he could only call a familial relationship beyond that of a relative, but…like a sister, he thought. She’s like the sister I never had.
Then everything failed him. He lost his grip, his left hand slipping from a groove as his left foot broke one of the grooves. He tumbled and caught himself momentarily. Then he screamed and dropped hard on top of Darl who, by some manner of amazement, held tight to the clay in a way that James didn’t understand. He crashed through Darl, tumbled over the man’s shoulder, and began to fall again. He cried out louder now, hoping someone could save him. Darl snagged him by his tunic, held him for a moment that seemed like forever, and as if in slow motion, lost his grip. James fell and fell and fell. He slid off the roof here and there. His pack acted as a quaggy cushion, breaking his crashes into the steep floor. Then he landed hard on the slick clay incline and slid, or rather, hydroplaned the entirety of the tunnel. Desperately he reached for something to slow his fall, but alas he could find nothing but the fear that continued his cries for help.
But something broke his fall. He hit it hard and writhed in the pain that followed, but he was alive. Cold enveloped him. He opened his eyes into the dark, pitch-black recesses of a nothingness he couldn’t comprehend. And he tried to breath, but there was no air, just the cold dampness of a black void.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Discussion of Changes - "Show, Don't Tell"

Firstly, some notes of changes you might have noticed in the blog itself.

1. Chapter Quick Links: Mr. Bramage, my never failing and unrelentingly supportive fan that tells me how much he loves my work in comments (which I greatly appreciate by the way) had asked me a while back to put back links to previous chapters for quick reference. Well, now I have changed that entirely and put up an actual table in the side bar that will have all the links to all the chapters. Right now I have it set at 20 chapters simply because I haven't the foggiest of how long this story will be and that seems like a rather modest, if not under-anticipated chapter goal.

2. Novel Progress: A new interesting feature spawned from looking at all those nifty NaNo sites floating about. NaNo offers a little widget you can put on your blog or website that will show your progress in your attempt to write a novel in 30 days. I loved this idea simply because it gives me an interesting marker for people to see where I'm at. So, I put one up. It's not from NaNo, simply because I can't use one of theirs since I'm not doing this for that project. However, it will be tracking my progress in this endeavor with an expected goal of 180,000 words, which is quite a lot if you ask me. Whether I will miss that mark or cross it depends entirely on how this story goes. Nevertheless, it's there for you all to take a gander.
3. Copyright Info: It occurred to me that, although my work is technically protected by copyright law, I should put up some sort of copyright just as an added protection. No, I don't hold a patent or some such, and nobody can on a work of fiction simply because it's not a commodity that can be traded, however it is a warning to those that might potentially steal from me (for what reasons I will never know simply because it seems silly to steal from an unpublished author).

Alright, so now that that is out of the way. I thought I would have a short discussion on that infamous "Show, Don't Tell" rule, a rule which I am sure I have broken more than a dozen times in the span of these last 37,000 words.

This is, and probably always will be, one of those rules that everyone tells you that you have to follow strictly, yet, nobody really ever does. There are hundreds of published authors who 'tell' rather than 'show'. Why have we become so infatuated with this rule then? Because every single major publisher, editor, agent, and author has repeatedly crammed this rule into our heads for reasons I'm not entirely sure of.
Now, as a rule, you should follow "Show, Don't Tell", since obviously having an entire story of 'tell' would be absurd. But there are times when you can get away with it. Take for instance parts of a story where 'showing' would simply drag down the pace. Why bother having your character showing you why something is a certain when, when you can tell it in a single sentence.
Of course you'll not want to do this all the time, but if you come to a point where telling would simply make things simpler and keep your pace constant, then just tell. Let's look at some famous authors who don't exactly follow the rule.
Tolkien: We are mostly all familiar with his work, or should be, not necessarily because he is a fantastic writer (which he isn't by the way), but because his work was the dawn of an entire era of fantasy writers. His work is littered with telling. He tells you about EVERYTHING in the world of Middle Earth and doesn't use a lot of time to really show you much of what is going on. Take some of the big battle scenes that were glorified in the movie adaptations. The siege of Isengard is 'told' to us after it had already happened, for an example.
Diane Duane: I've recently become a fan of her work and while she sticks to the "Show, Don't Tell" rule more than writers like Tolkien, there are parts where she breaks away. Mostly this occurs when she refers to tidbits of information on the characters and things in their lives. Nevertheless, she breaks away from the rule on occasion, and, well, it works. I've been blowing through her novels so quickly I'm almost done with them.
John Connolly: I just recently read his novel The Book of Lost Things, a book which I recommend anyone to read. It is a thrilling retake on all those 'other world' stories involving fairy tales. There are several parts of his book where he has characters 'tell' you stories. Because his novel is designed somewhat as a twisted world of pre-existing fairy tales, there are points where certain characters (the Woodsman for example) actually tell you 'tales' that are relevant to whatever is going on. These are telling sections, and there is no way around it, however, they work. They draw you in, keep you interested, and altogether keep the pace of the story very smooth.
Those are just a few authors, and there's bound to be hundreds more (Paolini is an example, who is very adept at 'telling' us things, and despite what many may say about his work, he has gained critical acclaim).
So, should you start telling all the time? Of course not. That would lead to utter garbage, and we all know that it is nearly impossible to sell garbage, although I have to say that there are some novels out there that could be classified as garbage. You should always follow this rule, but you should also realize that breaking it isn't really that big of a deal, so long as you don't 'always' break it. This isn't to say that we aren't prone to making mistakes, something of which I am by far nowhere near above. I'm not an expert in the writing field, but I read quite a lot and realize how flimsy some rules are. I am lucky enough to say I have been published once in a College Literary Journal, which I am also capable of realizing is no marker of being an expert in the field, and in face I would say that now I look back on that writing and see the many mistakes that I would avoid in my editing these days.

So, the moral of this long winded tale is this: "Show, Don't Tell" is a rule you should follow, but don't be afraid to bend the rules a little bit, because after all there are so many writers who are making a living writing that do exactly just that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Chapter Nine: On the Brink

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

James quickly came to realize that he had not entered into the same sort of paralysis he had when Dulien had spoken to him. Even so, voices rose up inside his mind and his vision went from clear as day to dismally blurry. He could see a flurry of figures, moving so fast he started to think that time was either passing him by at an alarming rate, or skipping like a rock on the water. From moment to moment, depending on the pattern of his vision, he could hear voices spoken from the real world, but before he could make out what was being said, the world of chattering entities drew him back into the fray.
There were so many voices. He couldn’t focus on any one of them. Some were male, some female, and some even inhuman. Together they formed a loud, animalistic roar, all begging for his attention. He dared not focus, but for reasons he couldn’t be sure. A deep yearning inside his very person wanted to speak and mold with those within his mind, converse with them, but his mind fought against it as if it knew that nothing good would come of it. If he tried, his mind resisted, forbidding him from doing anything it disapproved of. He could only assume that this side of him represented logic, his logic.

His vision faded back into the real world again. A scene played out before him, as if from a movie he had once seen. Triska and Pea—as best he could tell from their blurred appearance—spoke over him in sharp whispers.
A lyphon,” Triska said, her voice warbled. “Here? How?
I don’t know,” Pea said.
Then the scene continued, muffled beyond his recognition, until it finally receded as his vision phased out again. His mind felt utterly cluttered, as if he could focus on nothing. He started to sense that he was moving, up and down, up and down, in a swing-like fashion. It was dizzying. Pulses of sound, as if someone were barking orders through water, overcame the voices. He was not grateful, though, as the pulses furthered the nauseating dizziness.
His vision returned to the real world, now a different scene. Someone, a woman, crouched over him, her giant eyes hovering inches from his face and her twisted nose nearly touched his lips. He couldn’t feel her, but in his hazy vision could make out the wiry hair that ran along her ears and down her neck, ghostly white.
Virnum,” she said, and then the scene passed away and he found himself back amongst the voices, the throbbing, and the pulsing.
A flash of light filled the foggy world, and, to his delight, he found himself slipping from the state of paralysis and into a deep, rejuvenating, and altogether amazing sleep.
When James broke away from the nothingness of his dreams he was overcome with pain unlike any he had ever felt before. Searing, agonizing, and unrelenting pain that made it altogether impossible to determine the origin. His head hurt. His body hurt. Even his jaw muscles hurt, preventing him from groaning or making any unnecessary motion that might trigger further pain—though he couldn’t fathom any pain more excruciating.
While his eyes were in working order, he was unable to truly make out his surroundings. The room seemed…different. He couldn’t quite explain it, partly because the pain prevented him from focusing fully on any one thing at a time. Eventually he managed a tiny cry. Inside he cheered at the monumental feat.
The wiry-haired woman from before appeared, poking her head into his field of vision like a giant bird. She eyed him; he tried to look back. Then in a tiny, whispery voice she said, “Virnum,” and the pain subside enough so he could bear it. He finally managed to see the features of her face. She had a long, thin face that forced her mouth to look as if it were constantly wording an ‘o’. Her skin was darker than his, but he couldn’t tell if it was because of her race or from exposure to the sun. For clothes she wore a pair of tattered robes over a supertunic that failed to hide her worn and beaten body from years of age and hard use. The robes were burned at the edges of the sleeves.
She has lived a long, hard life, he thought.
The woman walked away to a nearby table where she poised herself over a stone jigsaw puzzle.
James felt ignored, but thankful nonetheless that he could now manage to move with only minor discomfort. The pain had gone from unbearable to livable. He hoped it would go away completely.
Sitting up, he took in his surroundings. He was no longer in the dining floor of the keep within the Lord’s Hold. Rather he had been taken during his slumber to a small, yet cozy little room with one window next to a shining iron door opposite where the wiry-haired woman mused over her puzzle. He shook his head to find that the darkness still prevailed outside. The room itself was lit by several enormous candles twice as large as his arm, irregular numbers of wicks stuck into them—nine, four, seven, twelve, and more. The stone walls were covered in framed paintings of armor clad soldiers, noblemen, and gryphons. Among the furniture were two round tables, a pair of gold-lace covered rocking chairs that looked comfortable enough to make even the most raggedy old person feel at home, and two straw beds—one of which he lay in, covered in three layers of quilted blankets. Other than the wiry-haired woman, he was alone.
“Where am I?” he said to himself, not expecting a reply.
To his surprise the woman spoke in a soft, collected tone. “North of Naz’ra, and just a hair below Ammond’s glorious quarters.” She didn’t look up from her puzzle.
“Oh. How are my friends?”
“They will survive. For now at least, though I cannot say what lies in their futures. Only one can do such a thing.”
“Aye, the black one himself. An ashen coal dispensing his hatred as far as his wide plumes of smoke can reach.”
James looked down for the first time and examined his shoulders, remembering the attack from the night before. He had been bandaged tightly. He couldn’t see the wounds and with the pain running through his entire body he had no way of knowing how well they had been healed. It concerned him enough that he had barely escaped death, but mostly he was concerned with the condition of his body. There’s not much more I can take.
“Will I be okay?” he managed to ask.
“You will live, doomed as you are.”
“The touch of the black one resides within you. He knows your soul. He now knows your blood and flesh. You are doomed.”
“What was that creature?”
“One of the race that does not exist. A lyphon.”
He was confused. “But they do exist.”
James groaned. The woman wasn’t making any sense. From the way she spoke to him he had gotten the impression that she was either strange or completely mad. Either way led him to stop asking questions under the assumption that he would get little useful information from her.
He took in his surroundings again, doing his best to ignore the pain that had now become a dull throb. Next to his bed was a small oak table. Engraved in each of its four corners were simple shield knots that resembled tic-tac-toe boards with the four corners closed by half-circles. On top of the table were his book, a fresh change of clothes including another cowl of dark blue, and the blackened egg that he had forgotten to give to Triska. He started to think that he might be stuck with it for the duration of his stay in the Farthland, and probably on through any travels he might take in other parts of Traea.
Feeling lazy, he imagined his book floating across the floor and into his hands. Nothing happened. He tried again with the same effect. Disappointment filled his face as the spell failed over and over, yet he couldn’t be entirely sure he was actually casting anything at all. Finally he rolled the covers from his legs and started to get up until a knock on the door drove his, and the wiry-haired woman’s, attention away. The woman stood and let in Pea who ambled past her cautiously and greeted James as warm as possible. She sat back at her table and resumed putting together her puzzle.
“James, my dear little lost boy, how are you?”
James couldn’t help but smile. He was ecstatic to see the Littlekind again. “I’m in a little pain, but I think I’m alright.”
Pea nodded. “Ammond will be visiting you as soon as he finishes with the other council members. Nora is in a bit of a mood. Then again, she’s always in a bit of a mood now isn’t she?”
He and Pea both snickered at that. Then Pea told him a story about Nora before she became a council member. She had once had the brilliant idea of using her abilities in healing to put a stop to the horrible mistreatment, as she put it, of livestock in Nirlum, a large village within the next valley. Her spells had backfired and rather than stopping the animals from dying she’d increased their fertility rates astronomically so that by the beginning of the second season it wasn’t the livestock who were suffering. The people of Nirlum had plenty of meat, but in the process had lost nearly all of their crops to the overwhelming numbers of animals that were impossible to keep track of and control. In the end, hunters and the like had to be called in from nearby villages and cities to help with the issue. Thus began the Feast of Kings, a celebration held once a year at the start of spring in which villages and cities eat, drink, sing, and dance for two days as a marker of the day when Nora had left Nirlum with her metaphorical tail between her legs.
“So you see, Nora is mostly bitter because we all celebrate the time of her failure. It’s quite ironic really. She wanted to stop the bloodshed, but instead managed to spark an entire tradition of bloodshed.”
James laughed, then feeling somewhat guilty said, “Were the animals really being mistreated?”
“Oh, I really doubt it. They’re killed quickly. Nobody likes hearing animals suffer.”
He agreed. He had never been to a slaughterhouse as there wasn’t one in Woodton, and he had never actually left the valley where his home sat. Somehow he knew he didn’t want to go. Something about knowing how an animal was killed and prepared so he could eat made him think he might lose interest in meat altogether. He saw that as a loss, for he truly enjoyed the flavor of meat.
“Pea,” his tone serious, “that thing, lyphon, or whatever you call it. It came here for me. Luthien sent it. He had orders to bring me alive, or kill me.”
Pea’s face went flat. “Yes, I imagine so. Lyphons are an interesting breed, for sure.”
“She said they do not exist,” he indicated the wiry-haired woman, “but they do exist.”
“It’s not a matter of whether they exist or not. James, they can’t exist.”
Pea took a seat on the small table nearby. “There’s a reason why they are not written about in that book of yours and why people are so inept at dealing with them. In order for them to exist means that the fabric that holds this world together is torn. They are much like you, not from this world, but they come from a world that can be entered, but cannot be escaped. They live among the dead. Feeding. Murdering. Torturing. They are the faces you meet upon your death if you have led a life of evil.”
“Hell?” Pea looked put off by the word. James decided to explain. “Where I come from some believe there is a place called Heaven and a place called Hell. If you are good, you go to Heaven. If you are bad, you go to Hell. Heaven is supposed to be paradise. Hell is much like what you just described. A place of pain and torture.”
“This Hell is much like the world lyphons come from. We call it the Land of Our End. Loe. But this Heaven you speak of is not like anything we in the Farthland believe. If you lead a just life you ascend into the Halls of the Great Father’s and cease to exist altogether. You become the energy that fills the void in the sky.”
He thought about that. It seemed so dismal to think that when you died you could either be sent into a land of pain and torture or cease to be at all. Then again, he concluded that such beliefs made living life to its fullest a more serious statement than back home. Any moment could be your last. He wondered what other beliefs the people and creatures of Traea had.
“One cannot escape Loe, not even the beings that are born there. No. This is why lyphons cannot exist here.”
“But they do exist.”
“We know that one exists. They are fast creatures, vile, and altogether unpleasant. Gryphons are at least regal. Capable of dignified behavior. Lyphons are just…horrid. How it exists I cannot say. Something is amiss.”
And disgusting looking, he thought, recalling the face of the one that had attacked him. The thought sent a shiver down his spine. He dared not face such a creature again, not so long as he had the will to prevent it. His shoulders ached as if in agreement.
“When it had me against the wall. I tried to use magic. I’ve used it before, just a little bit, and mostly by accident, but,” he paused for the right words, “this time it didn’t work. I felt the magic leave me, and then, everything began to leave. I felt my very life being torn out of me as the magic poured into the lyphon.”
Pea nodded as if he understood. “There’s not much we know about lyphons, but you cannot use magic directly on them. They cannot use magic either, but they can kill you if you misjudge and attack them directly with a spell or use an enchanted weapon.”
Another knock on the door forced the wiry-haired woman to get up from her puzzle. She glared angrily as Triska came into the room, then returned to the puzzle once again.
He didn’t immediately stand, but rather beamed brightly at Triska, who in return hustled over and started to give him a hearty hug before he yelped in pain. She let go of him and covered her mouth in apology.
“Thank goodness you’re alright,” she said as her eyes glazed over as if she were about to cry.
“A close one indeed my boy,” Pea said.
“Indeed,” and he broke out in laughter. He discounted the sharp pains that came with each expelling of air. “How long was I out?”
“The better part of two days I would say. But who can really tell?” Pea shrugged his shoulders, pointing a tiny finger to the window.
“Two days?” It seemed like such a long time to be sleeping. The longest he could ever recall sleeping was just over thirteen hours on the first day of summer vacation. He had been so tired from running around like a wounded animal at school. By the time the final day had ended he could do little more than lift his arm, which gave him a sense of joy because that meant nobody could force him to write anymore essays that day. Then he started to think about how many days he had been in the Farthland. Six, he guessed, though he gathered he would never be quite sure.
“Part of it was because of Nub,” Pea indicated the wiry-haired woman who didn’t seem at all interested in the conversation. “She’s a spellweaver. She put you into a very deep sleep.”
He stopped himself from asking why, thinking better of it. After all he had been in a horrible state after the attack. He knew that being in a deep sleep made it far easier to heal his wounds and for his body to battle the infections or bacteria that might have found their way into his bloodstream. Then again, the deep sleep hadn’t rid him of the pain he knew his wounds were causing. Perhaps an infection had already set in, something of which he wasn’t sure how to combat. Back home doctors would have examined his blood, injected him with a cocktail of antibiotics, and sat back like the scientists they wished they could be watching for results. Here in the Farthland—or anywhere in Traea for that matter—the best he could expect from modern medicine were healers who, while entirely capable of caring for wounds and common diseases, were likely incapable of understanding the complexities of the human body, nor the possible complications that might arise due to an attack by a creature that otherwise shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Essentially, he was skeptical of how well Triska, or even the wiry-haired Nub, had taken care of him.
Finally, after all those thoughts played around in his mind and a soft nod from the Fearl approved, he said, “her name is Nub?”
“Well, according to her,” Triska said, looking at Nub briefly as if questioning it as well. “There’s no real way to know her real name if she’s lying.”
Triska started to speak, but was abruptly cut off by Nub. “Because we’re completely mad.” She said it proudly as if it was her one claim to fame.
“It’s a common thing among spellweavers,” Pea said. “I’ve only known one spellweaver. He was partially sane. Then again, that means she was partially mad as well, which defeats the purpose.”
James went back in his mind to what he had read in his book. Spellweavers were restricted magic users. They grew up like any normal person might until at some point before they turned ten voices and uncontrollable fits of insanity overtook them. Words flowed through their minds and mouths as if something entirely alien controlled them. It was a wonder that any of the spellweavers could end up anywhere close to sane. Then it all abruptly stopped. On their tenth birthdays they were gifted with an Oere—a single word by which all of their magic would be placed. But they didn’t call them spellweavers simply because of that. No, spellweavers were just that, weavers of spells. They designed blankets, hats, and anything imaginable through the process of weaving, all the while humming or singing their Oere. When it came time to use their Oere for magic, their woven things would burn or disappear entirely. A spellweavers’ life depended upon the breadth of their weaves, for if all of it were to burn away, the weaver would die. Somewhere nearby Nub had a place filled with the things she had created. And, some of those things had burned away. Guilt and sadness hit him, for he imagined they had been beautiful items that were long gone because of him. But, such was the lot of spellweavers who’s craft developed and brightened even as they knew one day those things might never be seen again.
“Now, my boy,” Pea started again, patting James on the leg, “you rest up a bit before Ammond comes in to interrogate you, and we’ll see you around dinner time. Whenever that may be.”
“Oh, he’s just joking of course,” Triska said reassuringly.
“We Erdluitle’s are quite fond of jokes.”
“But not necessarily good at them.”
Pea scowled at her. “Yes, well I must say we sure have a better sense of humor it than some.” James knew he was talking about Darl.
With that, they said their goodbye’s to James and quickly left, leaving him once again alone with Nub who had by then nearly finished her puzzle. It was a large puzzle, but upon further inspection James realized that it envisioned nothing but a shimmering silver color. Each of the thousands of pieces was the same color, and when Nub put them into a proper place, the lines faded away creating a single solid structure. At one point she attempted to place a piece that didn’t belong. In response, the puzzle spat it to the side and she angrily grabbed it and glared down like a child in a staring contest.
James had suddenly grown very fascinated with Nub. There was so much magic in Traea, yet, despite that it seemed so limited. Here, someone who might very well be capable of constituting enormous amounts of stored energy, was limited by her sanity. She could make spells, sure, but because of her inability to fully devote her mind to the entireties of magic she could never really do anything. Her mind limited her to one major talent, in this case the art of healing. He realized that at home, someone like her would have been institutionalized, deemed completely insane and locked away from society or dosed up on drugs. Yet, here in this far-reaching and different world, she was recognized for the talents she truly possessed. He wondered what other insanities, quarks, and the like were seen as redeeming qualities, or were gateways to the seemingly unending knowledge of magic. The magic he had been given hurt him if he used it too much and made him fuzzy when he tried to use it sparingly. And it seemed to fail him in times when he didn’t truly need it. Perhaps that is another limitation. It can’t be used for unnecessary things.
He admired Nub, though he couldn’t be sure why. She could do things that he couldn’t, then again so could most around him. But, like him, she seemed in a way to be lost in a different world, the world of her mind. He too had that, both in his Fearl and in the fact that he was an off-worlder.
James eventually found it in him to try to sleep again. He felt awake, but couldn’t help thinking that his body could use the rest. So he lay there attempting various tricks to force himself to sleep. He tried reading, a trick he had once learned by accident once when he had the desire to stay up all night on a weekend. When that failed he counted imaginary sheep. He saw them as clear as day in his mind jumping over a white fence onto a grassy knoll. That too failed and he quickly ran out of options. He just lay there staring at the ceiling.
Then, as unexpected as it could be, sleep came to him, driven by a deep desire from the Fearl and his body combined. His eyelids drooped and then he was out.
James hadn’t slept long before a loud pound on the iron door rang through the building. He woke with a start and Nub, who still sat at her puzzle, slammed her fists into the little table, groaned angrily, and stood, cursing all the while. She reached the door and let Ammond in, who turned and gestured for several men outside to remain there. Nub glared rudely and returned to her puzzle.
James smiled and started to get up to bow before Ammond stopped him.
“Please, stay. You’ve been through far too much to bow to me now.”
He leaned back again.
“I see you are better, though not all too well.”
“I feel okay,” he said. It was true, the pain had gone down several notches, but it still lingered sharper on his shoulders where the lyphon had dug its claws.
“Good, that is very good. James, I am afraid that we cannot keep you safe here. Not for long at least. I’ve arranged for you to be taken to Arnur. It’s a sacred place, but I think we can keep you protected there until we know fully what to do.”
“Where is it?” For he had not read about such a place before.
“High in the Lor Range. It’s a temple from a time when many still believed in gods. It’s a far and difficult journey, but there we can keep you safe, secret, and out of Luthien’s hands.”
“What of my friends?”
“Pea gratefully agreed. Darl, though rudely, stated he was obligated to be there. They will resume your training there. Gammon wished to remain here with his family, which I am happily willing to allow. He has vowed secrecy. Triska has yet to decide.”
“She has a business here.”
“And family.”
“She has a brother. They seldom see each other, but they are family after all.”
James never knew she had family in Arlin City. He knew about her children, at least a little, but not of her brother. I wonder what he is like. Is he like her? Warm? Kind?
“You’ll be sent with the next shipment of supplies tomorrow. If all goes well. Sometimes things go a little slower than expected.” At that Ammond beamed, and James returned the gesture. “Still, you will be safe until we know what to do.”
“Thank you.”
“Of course,” again Ammond smiled.
“I really am grateful for all you have done. Truly,” Ammond remained silent to let him finish. “You’ve given me such hospitality. Treated me better than I could have ever hoped. You are a great leader.”
“Well, don’t count me into the hall of great leaders just yet. I may be a lively old man,” there was a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “but I’m not short of mistakes. None of us are.” Ammond patted James on the arm. “In due time you will learn that even the greatest of leaders are really just normal people like yourself.”
James believed it.
“Have you eaten?”
He shook his head.
“Then I’ll have some food sent up. You need to rest. Those wounds will not heal lest you do. Take care James.”
Then Ammond left the room, much to the dismay of Nub who became irritated as the iron door slammed shut. Then, in a glorified celebration of triumph, Nub jumped up, wailed joyously and presented the completed puzzle to James. He looked and marveled at the scene now shown in the silver sheen. A great mountainous landscape filled with emerald green trees that stretched all the way up to the snow line, reflected in the pale blue waters of a shimmering lake. Before he could ask where this place was, Nub lifted it high above her head and threw it across the room. The puzzle crashed into the far wall and shattered back into its original pieces.
James looked back at her. “And what purpose did that serve?”
She shrugged. “It’s easier to start over this way.” And as if she had done it a thousand times over, she went to the wall and began to pick up the pieces, placing them in a small tin bin.
Then something echoed through the silence. At first it sounded like a deep rumble, as if an earthquake were shaking the earth somewhere beyond. But, the sound came again, and this time he listened, hearing the deep brass of a horn. Another horn, higher and brassy sounded in response. The deeper horn blew again, resonating so loudly that he could hear each of the vibrations. And again, the high horns, close and within the walls of Arlin City, called out.
Nub looked him in the eye, and he knew immediately that something was wrong.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Reviews and Decisions

Well, it seems that I've come to a different conclusion over the possible creation of an overall map for the world of Traea--of course including Angtholand, the Farthland, and the other two major countries and their prospective landmasses. I was looking around quite a bit online, mostly at other maps from series I've either read, heard about, or simply have yet to read, and concluded that while a map may come in handy for readers, it's also a terrible issue for me as a writer. The story is not finished, so I don't honestly know where all the landmasses are--only the ones I've written about or intend to write about--and to draw up a map of things that have yet been placed in the story itself--whether in my mind or in the plot--would put a terrible restriction on my ability to change things. I can't draw up a map for all my readers to see, and then simply change it within the story or the map itself and expect readers to remain. So, what I have decided to do is wait. Whatever part of Traea James and his friends happen to wander will be noted and put into a map whenever I happen to finish this book--which may put a conclusion to the entirety of the story, or may just place me into a position to continue writing more on these characters. After I've finished the book I can at least draw up a map of the 'known' locations and landmasses according to what has been written. That way there is no concern over changing things, since they have already been sealed in stone within the writing.

And on to other things...

I just finished reading Eldest by Christopher Paolini and have to say that I very much enjoyed it. I'd already become a fan of the first book, Eragon, and this being the second in the trilogy I was pleasantly surprised by it. My biggest complaint is that much of the book could have been edited out for sake of space, or for the sake of adding more riveting elements to the other storylines. However, this is a great work, I must say, and must give the young lad a bit of credit for his excellent grasp of language and emotion.
The book is, as most fantasy stories are, very much 'derivative', but then, so is most everything you will ever read within this genre. This is something that many complain about in reference to his writing, and I find that to be rather deplorable. First off, there are few, if any, great works of fantasy that do not acquire their elements from things previously written or discussed, or that have previously happened in the past. That's impossible. I'm sorry if you think that everything within the fantasy genre is capable of being purely original, because nothing is original anymore. You might have a few elements nobody has ever done before, but you are following a heroic archetype that has been used by thousands if not millions of people before you. So, right from the start you are already sitting in that derivative bin. Even my own work can be called derivative, something of which I don't much like. If you look at it, I've drawn up elements from all sorts of stories already told, taken some things from English mythology and folklore, and of course fallen into some already used heroic archetypes, which cannot be helped mind you. Tolkien's work is derivative, drawing many elements from heroic poems and mythologies that he had read throughout his school experience and after. So for anyone to say that something is derivative should probably take a step back and realize that everything is derivative. Even regular fiction...or literature.
Now, as for Eldest. There's much to be said about this. First, Paolini has put Eragon into some terrible positions within this book and by the end of it you start to think about whether or not Eragon and those that follow him have much of a chance against the Empire. That is an incredible thing to do when you've gone throughout the book thinking he might stand a chance to realizing he hasn't the ability as of yet to do much of anything against Galbatorix or his minions. I was drawn very closely into Roran's story and found that to be one of the most riveting parts of this second installment since much of the work with Eragon is rather dull. You start to actually want to learn more about what Roran is doing--and Paolini does a great job doing that for you.
So I have to say that if you liked the first book, give this one a go. It is more than worth the time and effort!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Chapter Eight: Swords and Things

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

As soon as he had finished his meal James slipped out of the keep and searched for Darl. He found the old man swinging a battered wood sword near the eastern wall. A soldier, who should have been walking the walls on lookout, seemed fixed on the activity. James found the situation laughable, after all Darl looked no more fit to swing a sword in battle than he. In a wide circle where Darl stood were a series of evenly spaced torches laid out specifically for the lesson.
When he approached, Darl tossed another wooden sword up at him. He grabbed at it out of instinct, managed to knock the hilt clumsily with the back of his hand, and groaned as the flat end of the blade smacked him on the crown of his head. His Fearl quivered, but to his dismay did nothing more. A feeling appeared deep in his mind and he tried to decipher it. I’m on my own here, he thought.

“Expect more where that came from boy,” Darl said.
He glared and picked up the blade. It was long with enough room on the handle for two hands, and when he lifted it he found it to be far heavier than expected.
“First things first. Stances. There are five basic stances. Do as I do.”
First Darl raised his sword so it ran parallel with the ground—left arm at the end of the hilt and right arm at the front, right foot straight back and body facing towards the blade. This he called the ox and James mimicked it as best he could. Then Darl showed him the plow—the hilt near the waste and the blade pointing at an angle upwards—the fool—the blade pointed towards the ground from the waste—and then the roof—the blade pointing back at an angle away from the shoulder. The final position Darl called the near guard, holding the hilt to the side so that the blade ran back behind him towards the ground. He attempted to mimic them all.
“Pathetic, but good.”
“How could it be pathetic and good at the same time?”
“It’s pathetic because you have no concept of what you are doing, and it’s good because you’re at least attempting to do something you are completely incapable of doing properly. Now, again.”
James repeated the five stances and again Darl insulted him. As frustration built up inside of him he pushed himself harder and harder to get the stances correct. The motions seemed to get easier, only after a while the muscles in his arms began to protest. At first he ignored it. Then the pain forced him to groan and he dropped his arms from the ox stance.
“A few minutes of hard work and you fall apart. That’s wonderful.”
“Get off my back Darl!” he snapped.
Darl grinned wide. “You think that Luthien’s men will just get off of your back when you cannot defend yourself? Do you think his assassins will give you time to rest before killing you? No, my boy, there are no breaks in the real world. And to think you intend to use magic. Magic will suck you out from the inside. Imagine that. Now you feel physical pain, but what if your insides felt like they were boiling? Perhaps you enjoy the sensation of your brain cracking down the middle?” Darl jammed his blade into the earth and let it stand.
“I get it.” James lifted the sword and started again. He tried to let his mind wander, to avoid thinking about the aches in his muscles as he continued to push them beyond their limits. He hadn’t thought about what magic could do to him. Every time he had used it, there had been side effects. Mostly blurriness in his vision, but that had been on relatively simple spells. What if I have to kill someone? What pains would I feel then? Would I even survive? He came to realize the limitations of magic, above and beyond what he had learned in the book. Magic could kill me.
After what seemed like hours, Darl stopped him and let him rest. He dropped like a rock to the ground and panted heavily. His arms burned like fire and he dared not touch them for fear of making it worse. A soft sigh of relief escaped his lips. How long must I stay here before I can save Laura? How much can I possibly learn in that time? It had occurred to him that he might be in the Farthland for many months. It would take twenty days to reach Teirlin’pur, assuming he could acquire a horse and ride from dawn to dusk, and even if he could reach that far unseen, his chances of ever reaching Laura were slim at best. He had no friends in Angtholand, and the Farthland had no allies there. He would be utterly alone.
Darl came to him with a large clay bowl filled with water. He thanked Darl and drank quickly, feeling the cold liquid pour through his body as if it were rejuvenating his tired muscles. The aches remained, but he sighed deeply nonetheless. Then Darl snatched up one of his arms. He protested angrily, trying with what little energy he had to get his arm back. But Darl refused to let go, instead producing a small, round wood box. Inside was an off-white cream, which Darl dug his fingers into and began to rub over the sore muscles of James’ arms. Immediate relief came to James and he resisted no more. The salve, whatever it was, had a pungent odor, yet he ignored it as the soft sensation of relief filtered through every inch of his screaming arms. Then Darl stood.
“Thank you.”
“A good concoction to have around. I won’t tell you what’s in it. You’d probably get sick.”
James didn’t much care what was in the stuff, and even if he did, he knew from the seriousness in Darl’s voice that he likely didn’t want to know anyway.
“Alright, that’s enough resting. Up.”
James rolled to his knees and stood, half expecting his muscles to flare up in protest. The salve had completely rid his arms of the exhaustion that should have been there. In is head, however, he knew better. The salve had masked the tiredness in his arms, not relieved it like some magical potion. No matter how much he did for the rest of the day, he knew he would hurt horrendously the following day.
“Now, for a little sparring.” Darl plucked his sword effortlessly from the ground and beckoned James forward.
Despite his mental protests, James picked up his sword and came within two blade lengths of Darl.
“Defend if you can.” Then Darl lifted the blade, bounded forward, and swung. James dodged it, barely, blocked a blow to his shoulder, and managed to get a few blades of distance between he and the old man. He blocked another shot, the blades making loud thwacks as they collided. Darl came at him again. He moved out of the way of one blow, then saw an opportunity to strike as Darl swung too far and left his right side wide open. He took the shot and snapped his blade sideways from the ox position. His hopes were dashed as Darl saw his plan, slipped to the side like a cat and hit him square in the back with the middle of his blade. James heard the blow before he felt it. It sounded like a squishy thud. Then the reality of the situation hit him and he toppled over onto the ground. He desperately tried to ease the pain, rubbing his hands and fingers on what little he could in the small of his back where the blade had hit. A loud whine escaped through the bulb in his throat.
“Get up boy.”
He faced Darl, but didn’t stand.
“When you plan to take advantage of an opponent, don’t leave yourself defenseless. You should have jabbed me in the chest. That was a foolish move. Now get up!”
Another groan broke free as he tried to force himself up. Throbbing pain shot up his back with every motion. Finally he managed to stand, sword in hand. Darl didn’t waste a moment, moving fluidly to attack. James slid sideways, going this way and that, trying desperately to avoid the old man. It surprised him how well Darl could move. He hadn’t expected such powerful and smooth motions from such an aged person.
Darl succeeded in closing the gap and James finally had to raise the sword to defend. He blocked two blows to his chest, sidestepped a thrust to his gut, and somehow slid underneath Darl’s guard. The advice Darl had given him came to mind and he continued forward and extended the blade so it would hit the old man in the stomach. Just as he extended his arm, a powerful thud resonated through his head, a searing jolt of pain shot out from his neck, and he crashed like a lifeless body to the ground.
* * *
When he woke, Triska leaned over him, a soft moist cloth in her hand. She patted his forehead with it. A soft bed had been strung up in the center of the dining floor within the keep where he now lay. Then the familiar sound of Pea and Darl arguing sounded through the room and he regained all his senses—including the endless throb in his back and the new sensation of a concussion.
“I was teaching,” Darl said.
“You were showing off!” Pea said, voice raised high and mighty for a creature so small. “James has never lifted a sword in his life and you expect him to suddenly know the entirety of sword training in a matter of hours.”
“You gave him that little book. He likely read something on it already.”
“That is irrelevant! Beating him senseless doesn’t teach him anything!”
Darl snapped at Gammon next. “You went through similar training, Gammon.”
“Many years ago,” Gammon said.
“Tell me, do you think I am being overly harsh in comparison. Or should I go easy on him so he can dance like a little pixie in the evening light?”
That sarcasm again, James thought. He truly is rude.
For a short while Gammon fidgeted, as if unsure how to respond. Then he said, “I think you have been a bit harsh. Most of us that become soldiers are groomed to do so from birth. James had no such upbringing.”
“Bah!” Feet stamping, Darl stormed up the stairs. The ring of footsteps echoed through the stone walls like rhythmic drumbeats.
Triska put a wet cloth gently over the knot that had formed on James’ head. He winced and then felt a soothing sensation run through him. She rolled him gently to his side and applied another to his back and loosely tied the cloth. Relief rolled through him completely. She had used the salve, mixed in water so it could be soaked into rags. He relished in the powerful sensation that ran along every inch of his aching body. A sigh escaped his lips. Then he laid back.
Pea came over to his side and said, “I don’t think we’ll be doing much magic today. Darl overstepped his bounds and subsequently put you in this terrible situation that, unfortunately, requires time to heal.” He sprung up to speak, but Pea stopped him with a wave. “Not today. Tomorrow we’ll have your first lesson. For now, you need rest. I want you full of energy when we start your training. Swordplay is nothing compared to what you’ll be subjected to tomorrow.” Then Pea left his side and found a seat near the fire.
Triska still leaned over him. “I think it best you sleep for now.” Her beaming face filled him with motherly warmth. For a moment he forgot where he was, enjoying every moment of that emotion as if he were home.
“I think I’ll read for a little first. If I can’t have my first lesson physically, I can at least educate myself more on the subject. Would you mind getting it for me?”
“Of course.” Triska disappeared up the stairs, returned a few moments later with the book, gave it to him, and joined Pea near the fire.
He opened it and immediately recognized something new. On the first page, written in shiny black letters that gently glistened, were the words “Updated by Azimus Barthalamule on One Three Twenty Three”. The first day of the third month of the twentieth year in the third age. He recalled the short bit he had read about the calendar of the people of Traea. It, surprisingly, bore striking similarities to the calendar he was most familiar with. The only difference, he had noted, was that for the people of Traea, it was March, and the weather indicated that it was nearly summer. This meant that the seasons, while close, were just slightly off in comparison to Earth. Spring started sooner.
His little book had been updated. What that meant he couldn’t be sure. Does the publisher have a way to magically edit or add new material? He flipped to the chapters list and found little marks next to several chapters. When he went to those chapters he found that new sections had been added in bold type, which, as he read, slowly lightened until they were the same color as the rest of the text and he had finished. There were new chapters as well, but these he did not read. Instead, he went to the sections on magic, refreshed his memory on chapters he had already read, and read new chapters in the process. He’d come to understand that every magic user, whether born with the ability or enchanted with it, had limitations. Even the most powerful of users could kill themselves if they weren’t careful—the more elaborate or magically taxing a spell, the more damage it could do to the casters physical person. His Fearl was no different. Every time he had cast a spell, his vision had gone hazy. And those instances were for relatively simplistic spells.
Except in the instance of Mr. Aldridge. Nothing had happened to James when the Fearl had thrown Aldridge high into the trees. Nothing at all. He couldn’t quite explain it. Perhaps this Fearl has a reserve supply of energy for itself. Ammond said it was powerful. Maybe, he moved his arm in front of his face so he could see the Fearl, there is something else to this thing.
After what seemed like an hour of reading a slight sensation of tiredness came over him. He set the book down and closed his eyes. Magic, he realized, would be the most difficult thing he would ever learn. He thought it hard to deal with Darl’s training, but after reading how harsh magic could be to one unprepared, and how easily it could be for him to become overwhelmed and destroy himself, he had second thoughts about learning at all. Magic, if he was unable to control it, could very well build up within him and leave him little more than a vegetable. He gulped back his worries. I’ll be okay. Pea won’t let anything happen to me. He convinced himself as best he could. I can control it. I’ve already used it. I’ll be fine.
All I have to do is imagine and it will happen.
He closed his eyes and let his mind wander so he could sleep.
* * *
James opened his eyes and saw the familiar stone ceiling of the keep, but he didn’t wake, not entirely. The Fearl called from the back of his mind, beckoning him to wait. And he did, sitting there in a paralyzed state of consciousness, fully aware of where he was, but unable to move. The airy voice of the Fearl came out from the back of his mind and spoke. He’d heard it before back home, but this time it actually spoke clearly.
“James,” it said.
He didn’t respond, unsure of how to do so.
“Think the words, I will hear you.”
Wh-what are you? The words stuttered in his mind as if he were really speaking them.
“I am the voice of your Fearl, the entity that has bound so closely to you.”
I don’t understand. He had read nothing in his book and only remembered Nora mentioning such a thing before when she had failed miserably to remove the Fearl.
“Every Fearl has a…guiding voice if you will. It is a connection with the person who’s magic was placed within.”
I thought many could place their power within a Fearl.
“Yes, I am simply the dominant voice. Quick, there isn’t much time and I have much to speak. You must take heed of what Pea teaches you. It is of the utmost importance that you learn to use my magic effectively. Dark times are coming, perhaps not for you, but for many. My magic will keep you alive and you will be able to save your friend.”
“I cannot say. As your Voice I speak only on what little resides within you and from what I know. I cannot see the future, nor can I tell you how you can achieve the things you learn in my guidance. That is all I can give short of the few treasure troves of knowledge left within this consciousness.”
What is your name?
“I was once known as Dulien of Northshire. But that was long ago.”
How have you bonded to me so closely and why?
“Those who have questioned you were right to do so. There is much more to you than even I understand, and whatever that is has accounted for this bond. From the moment the Fearl touched your skin I could sense something great. You possess a gift. Just as you are ignorant to it, I am completely in the dark.”
Pea and Triska appeared in his field of vision. He saw them like moving glass sculptures, speaking to him as if he could hear them. But the only sounds that resonated through his eardrums were the deep breaths of Dulien and his own long-winded breathing.
“This is our first contact. I am afraid it will not be a long one. Such things never are. Just remember, when you desire my council, you must achieve this state after slumber. Only then can you fully hear me.”
How can I do it again?
“Just before you drop out of sleep you must push away the waking world. Call to me and I will come.”
Why did you choose me?
“I didn’t.”
Before James could inquire further a high-pitched whistle rained through his head, culminating into a loud pop. He felt as if he had gained tremendous altitude too fast for his body to adjust. Then the paralysis broke. The waking world hit him like a brick, smashing into him wildly. His arms and legs moved as if they had minds of their own. The spasm went on into his chest until finally it all stopped and he could breath. His head swam in dizziness.
“James?” Pea said, concern deep in his voice. “Speak to me my boy.”
For a while James just stood there, looking into their faces. Triska no longer beamed brightly at him, rather her face looked contorted. Pea, too, looked at him, brow folded down so that long wrinkles appeared.
“Come on now. Snap out of it.” Pea shook him slightly.
Then it seemed as if everything came back into complete focus. He blinked his eyes a few times, looked from Pea to Triska and back again. “I think I’m alright,” he said.
“Thank goodness!” Triska said, breathing a sigh of relief. “What happened?”
“Well, I’m led to believe that he has just discovered what a Voice is,” Pea said.
James grinned.
Triska’s eyes shined with enthusiasm. “Who is it?”
“Dulien of Northshire,” he said.
“Oh, what wonder!”
“What power!” Pea and Triska clasped hands like two little children and laughed.
“Who is he?”
Pea stopped. “He’s quite a known name if you’re one of Luthien’s men. If it weren’t for him, I think the first invasions by Luthien’s army across the Fire Rim would have succeeded.”
“Such luck this little boy has…”
“How is this luck?” Anger welled up inside him. “Look at everything that has happened. Laura was taken. I’ve been marked. How can you say this is all luck? Darkness has overcome the land and you think it luck? I’m a curse here!”
But he cut Pea off. He sat up. “Pea, everything I’ve ever known is gone. I may never return home. I could be here forever. And what if we can’t save my friend? What is going to happen to her? She is the only one I have.”
“You have us.” Triska said softly.
“It’s not the same! She is all I have. All I truly have. I have no family, no mother, and no father. If I can’t save Laura, I cannot return home. I can’t go back without her. But if I can never return home it would be unbearable to live a life here without her. She is my best friend and the last bit of home I have left.” Then he dropped down into the bed, tears welling up in his eyes. All that had happened and would happen fell down on him like a mountain of cold stone. He sobbed, unable to control his emotions any longer. Nobody judged him for it, he could sense that, and that allowed him to weep freely.
Then, slowly, he calmed himself. The tears stopped. He wiped his face. “What was I thinking coming here?”
Pea came close to him and took his arm. “You did a noble thing. The only way you could save your friend was to come here. That is bravery at its best.” Triska hugged him
“James, you brave little boy. Fret not. I promise you that if there is a way to get you home, all of us will help you find it.” A tear formed in the corner of her eye. She brushed it away. “Trust in this new friendship. We are here for you.”
James mustered up a smile, sniffled. He wasn’t alone, not really. Home was as far as it could possibly be from him; yet, a great many were willing to help him in some way. That thought brightened his mind until it clouded the dismal reality set before him, as if it were a cloak laid over a light. I am not really alone in this.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Pea and Triska nodded their heads as if to say, “It’s okay.”
“I think I should go lay down in my room. Clear my head.” He ran his fingers through his hair. They all agreed and helped him up. He accepted the gesture, though no pain stung him thanks to the salve. Then he retired to his room, slid like a snake into his bed. He didn’t change his clothes; instead he pulled the hood of the cowl over his head and slept.
* * *
James woke up in agony. The salve had worn off. He groaned and dared not touch the bruise that had formed across his back and the knot that had found a home on his head. Instead, he climbed out of the bed, battling with the pain that each movement brought, and went to a mirror. Lifting his shirt, he tried to see the bruise. It stretched wide in an inch thick line across the entire expanse of the small of his back, purple and black. He couldn’t see the one on his head, but knew it had become a thick bulb that, if he touched it, would erupt in sharp pain.
With nothing but darkness outside he couldn’t be sure of the time. Nothing indicated if it were day or night. And he wasn’t sure how long he had slept. An hour, or two. Maybe more. Either way, he was up, and he didn’t feel much like sleeping anymore, mostly because the pain in his back and head left him with the desire to find more of the salve.
James walked over to the window of his room and peered down into the ward of the castle. The gates had been closed, two guards walked the walls on opposite ends, four were down near the gate talking, and four more were in each of the wall towers. A couple of burly laughs told him that there were other soldiers out of his view on the opposite end of the keep.
Something glimmered and caught his eye. He looked out beyond the keep. Nothing. Then, something. A black shape leapt and crawled its way along the roofs of several buildings, slipping in and out of view of the various torches strewn across the cityscape. Silently it bound like an animal until it disappeared below his vision. He listened, but heard nothing. Down below the guards seemed oblivious. Not even the guards on the walls seemed to see what he was seeing. He tried to find the figure again. Nothing.
Finally he called out. “There’s something coming! East of Naz’ra!” At first the guards directly below him paid no attention, then a command came from the northeastern most wall tower and the entire castle bustled with activity. One man pointed in one direction, and a moment later pointed in another. James had no way to see, but began to think there had to be more than one of the figure, whatever it was.
Suddenly all was silent. No arms pointed; no arrows were strung. James felt as if everything were moving in slow motion. Along the side of the wall appeared the black figure, only now he could see it clearer. It bore no resemblance to a man, but looked almost like a dog and cat put together. Its face was wide and scrunched up like a cat, it’s fur slicked back along its muscular canine body. Two feline ears curve back into slightly curled points along the crest of its head and rather than a proportional mouth, it bore a wide, gaping grin filled with dozens of pointed, bloodstained teeth. Each of its four feet ended in long, sharp claws. A smooth tail swung fluidly behind it.
The creature made little noise as it snuck up behind the closest guard. In one motion it bit down, taking the man’s whole head in its mouth. The guard barely yelped before the creature reduced his head into a mass of flesh and blood. Before the next guard could alert the others, he too fell, his neck ripped to pieces by a swift slash from the creatures claws. It stopped there, having cleared a path to the keep, and took three bounds until it slipped out of sight. James breathed in to send out the alert, but a third guard beat him to it. Soon six of the castles men drew up bows and arrows and launched them across the face of the keep. He closed the glass and latched it, thinking that perhaps it would stall the creature. Ear splitting screeches forced him to cringe as each of the creatures claws dug into the stone. The thin thuds of the arrows resonated along the walls. A short moment later and he could hear deep, wet breaths, followed by a sepulchral pant that gave him an impression of what the creature would sound like if it growled—a hollow, saliva filled roar akin to a lion.
James turned and ran to the door of his room. He flung it open, but before he could take a step outside it slammed shut, nearly taking his fingers with it. Pulling on it did not good; something held it shut. Magic. He searched around the room, desperately seeking something to defend himself with. Whatever it is, it’s after me. In a corner he found a broom, which he took and broke the head, turning the handle into a makeshift spear. He backed up against the far wall near the door, holding it nervously.
The clawing and scraping grew in intensity until the creature appeared in the window. It took one look at James and seemed to grin maliciously. Two quick motions and it tore the window—frame and all—off of the stone wall and flung it to the ground. A loud smash glided through the air as the glass shattered shortly after.
James’ heart leapt; his throat went dry and sweat rolled down the side of his face. He watched as the creature clawed its way through the window. A pair of blood red, cat-like eyes overwhelmed him. Fresh blood and bits of flesh fell from its mouth.
Then it broke through and landed with a thud. Its claws clicked as each one tapped on the floor. Each step it took made James flinch. He clasped the broom handle like a sword. The creature made a half-circle around him, moving back and forth, back and forth, as if it were playing a game.
“This is the boy that Luthien desires?” It spoke with an airy hiss. James shivered. The voice sounded like a cougar, in a range that made it sound intensely sinister. “Just a boy. Afraid.”
“Wh-what to you w-want?” he said. His body shook.
The creature laughed, circling. “I’ve come to bring you to Luthien. Safe and sound. Though I’d much rather taste your flesh and lap your blood from the floor.” It took a few more steps closer and circled again. “You can put that tool down. My orders are to bring you in unharmed, but I will cause you harm if I deem it necessary.”
He refused to drop the handle, still holding it forward shakily.
“Foolish.” Then it laughed and lunged forward. A huge claw swiped through the air and ripped the handle from James’ hands, and a moment later the creature lunged at him. It dug its claws into his shoulders and pushed him hard against the wall. He yelped as every inch of his body rebounded with pain. He tried to move, but couldn’t. The giant mouth of teeth sat within inches of his face, dribbling blood down the front of his clothes. The creature sniffed him, then licked the side of his cheek. It seemed to take satisfaction in the act, eyes closed, a faint purr emanating from somewhere within its muscular throat.
James tried to recall what he knew and what he had read on magic. Imagine the spell. Then cast. He thought that over and over until he had the courage. He imagined a force throwing the creature away from him. The event played in his mind. Then he placed his hands out and tried to cast. Nothing. No energy erupted from his hands.
Sudden dizziness came over him. The dizziness grew exponentially, and he sensed his consciousness slipping. A presence lingered in his mind, something other than his Fearl. Magic left his body; he could feel it, pouring out of him with his very life in tow. The creature bellowed, breathing in deep breaths. It’s sucking away my life. His senses diminished; everything became a whir. He tried desperately to cling onto the last bit of magic left.
An explosion rang through his head—sounding distant—and he saw through his blurred vision the particles of the door to his room thrown wildly in every direction, leaving behind a dark gray smoke. Something silver appeared and slashed down through the creatures’ paw. It roared in pain and leapt back, removing its remaining claw from his shoulder. He dropped to the floor, unable to stand on his own. Darl burst into the room, swinging the silver object—a sword, James guessed—and closely behind him was Pea. Then Triska and Gammon appeared, grabbed him by the shoulders, and dragged him out of the room. Just before they pulled him around the corner a piece of furniture crashed into the creature and ejected it from the room. Pea and Darl both came out of the room after him.
James couldn’t hear their voices, though he could tell from his diminishing vision that they were speaking to him. He maintained consciousness nonetheless, though completely unable to move more than a few fingers on his own. It was as if he had been given some sort of drug.
Gammon picked James up over his shoulders and carried him down the steps into the dining floor, then set him down on the bed that had been made for him earlier. Pea and Triska both began working over him. He could feel Pea and Triska using magic, trying desperately to break him from the weakness that consumed every inch of his body.
Then, with what little energy he had left, he pushed himself into paralysis.