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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Official Notice of Nothing Whatsoever

Alright all, I've sat around arguing with myself for the past week and a half now about whether to jump to WP or not. SQT has given me some great advice on what I could do. As of this moment I am doing nothing whatsoever. I've searched the net for an easy template to fiddle with that has a built in top bar (which you apparently can have with Blogger and which I can actually create alternate blogger accounts to go with those links), but quite honestly, it's all a lot of work I'm not willing to do for a blog, at least not right now with my schedule and with all that is going on.
So I have some questions.
Is anyone really all that bothered with the layout now? Are there things you would like to see improved? These are serious questions. It won't hurt my feelings if you mention what you don't like. In fact, I would appreciate it if someone said something
One thing I was considering is using a 3 column version of this particular template, but at the same time I think such a template would be rather cluttered. Another thing I'm considering is trying to figure how to stretch the header bar and the section where all the post text shows up across the left side so it is somewhat larger. I don't know how to do that, but maybe someone else does. What about a different template that is a 3 column? Would 3 column with small left and right columns and a larger text section look okay? My hope is to at least make this blog look more original. I don't want to have a template a million other people have. So, what are you thoughts?

In other news the TW Anthology is technically coming to a close. I've accepted 3 fiction submissions--all rather good I think--and 5 poems--which were phenomenal poems to be honest and were instant acceptances without even an iota of thought. The deadline obviously is right around the corner. Yes, there is a possibility that I will be extending the deadline to a later date. However, this is pending what happens over this weekend, obviously.

I'm also currently reading Crystal Rain by Tobia Buckell and will finish that this weekend so I can get to Ragamuffin. I'll be doing all book reviews at SQT's review blog. I've done one review there already. It's for Spin State by Chris Moriarty. Check it out here! I will keep everyone informed of my reviews as they come available.

So, for now, that's it. More blog posts will come this weekend. I've got some links buried in my bookmarks to share. Also I have two chapters due of WISB to finish it out. Hopefully I can manage it.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chapter Twenty Nine: Of Journeys in the Dark

(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.)

“Marked?” Pea said, showing remarkable control of his voice.
James nodded.
“Assuming this is true, this is a horrendously negative turn of events. Marked…by Luthien. We have to presume that Luthien is reading his future too. Which means that Luthien must know this creature.”
“No,” James said. “I don’t think Luthien knew him, probably never even heard of him. Most likely anyway.”
“The laws of magic…”
“I know the laws.” In fact, he did know the laws, most of them at least. He had read them in the etiquette book. They were more general understandings that laws. Nobody had set down the rules of how magic worked. It had always been there. In a strange way, James thought of magic scientists casting out theories, digging up evidence, and doing experiments to prove some point. “Magic cannot be used on the unknown.”

“Which is precisely why Luthien must know this man.”
James didn’t argue because he couldn’t. He didn’t truly know enough about magic or Luthien, only what he had read, and he had learned already that books didn’t always have the answers.
Pea split away from him and sat down on the opposite end of the table. James gave Bourlinch food and water and dug up the etiquette book from his things. He flipped it open and began reading through the new entries.
A hundred pages slid by before James realized that night was falling thick outside. The room had been lit by candles and lamps at some point during his reading, and he assumed it was Pea’s doing. Concern came over him. Triska and the others weren’t back yet and the street outside was strangely silent. Bourlinch lay with his mouth gaping open, drool dribbling from his mouth; Pea slept against the back of a chair, head tucked low and little murmurs and snores escaping his lips.
James stood up. He wished for a moment that there was a window in Bourlinch’s shop, but for some reason no one had ever built one. It was like being in a giant box with only one exit, or like being in the belly of a ship in a locked room with only one porthole to look through. He imagined the road as the ocean, empty and blank, and calm.
He went to the door and opened it. Outside the night air was cool and a soft breeze blew, lifting the loose strands of his hair. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. The air smelled sweet and unpolluted. A faint scent of pine was there too. He took a few more steps outside. The horses shifted uneasily as if afraid or bothered at his appearance. The three Blaersteeds only looked at him.
He gravitated towards Mirdur’eth and gently stroked the steeds’ nose and mane. Mirdur’eth showed no fear, only the intelligence of a beast who could think underneath deep, brown eyes. James smiled faintly and laid his head against the steeds’ nose. He sniffed the fur. He would have cringed long ago in Woodton at the scent of a horse, hay, and horse droppings, but tonight he could only feel calm with it. For a moment he felt like he was out of body, being whisked away to some other world, somewhere happier and without the darkness he had experience. He imagined home without the Council. He imagined his life with Laura and his parents and how one day he and Laura would go to the same college and grow up together as best friends. A broad smiled graced his face now as he thought about this. He saw himself for a moment on a stage accepting a degree and being cheered for by family and friends.
Then he came back to reality, dropping from the fantasy world he had created in his mind. He leaned back and looked Mirdur’eth in the eyes again. The steed understood somehow. He knew far too well how smart the Blaersteeds were. His gazed drifted down the long thoroughfare. All the shops were closed up; faint, glimmering lights shined in a few. Many homes lines the streets farther down and the crisscrossing network of alleys created numerous dark places where anyone still wandering the streets that traveled there would be considered suspicious.
He put his hand on Mirdur’eth’s nose, rubbed gently. Then his mind suddenly became numb. His crippled left hand came up and touched his forehead, but for some reason he couldn’t recall moving it. Then everything went blank and his eyes closed. Dark encircled him and then a flash of light, a flicker of something, and he was in the strange room again, transparent wall and all. Luthien was there, eyeing him with malice.
The vision cleared suddenly and all he could see was the horrid, frightening look on Luthien’s face. He shivered and realized he had been tapped again. He wondered why. Why does he keep looking, he thought. He should know my future already. It can’t change if he already knows it. Why does he keep at it?
He couldn’t answer the question; he had no theories. A small dribble of sweat rolled down his forehead, to his cheek, and fell to the earth. Mirdur’eth grumbled and neighed gently. Then a strong hand gripped his shoulder and he found himself being yanked out of the dark, away from the street, and into Bourlinch’s home. The door slammed violently, knocking some things from the walls.
The arm tossed him to the ground and he looked up into the raging face of Darl.
“What the hell are you doing?” Darl said, raising his hand. “No, don’t speak. You know better than to be out. I don’t want to hear your excuses either!”
“Sorry,” James said distantly, lying. He wanted to say something else, but bit his tongue.
Pea woke with a start from the commotion and so did Bourlinch, both making a disturbingly wet gurgling noise as they broke away from slumber and nearly choked on drool.
“Pea,” Darl said in reprimand, “I have much higher expectations of you.”
“What happened?” Pea said, clearly disoriented.
“He was out.”
“Out where?”
“Outside you idiot. Wake up!”
“Darl calm down,” Triska said.
“I won’t calm down. Not now, and not ever. He’s jeopardizing this entire operation. He’s going to get us all caught and killed and I damn well will not calm down and take it. We’re risking our lives to save his pathetic friend.”
“Don’t!” James had had enough. He raised his hand and felt magic coursing through his veins. “Don’t you ever talk about her like that again!” He wanted so desperately to fling Darl into the wall, to show Darl how strong he had become, to put real fear into the old man. But he didn’t. Instead he lowered his arm and let the magic roll back. “Go home if you don’t want to help me anymore. I don’t care. I’m tired of being treated like this. I’m tired of seeing the way you all look at me. It’s like the first time when you all learned what I was. I can’t take it. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to have my best friend brought here or for Luthien to destroy your lives or mine. I want to save my friend. That’s all. And if you all share the same sentiments as Darl, then leave! I don’t care. Not anymore. I’ll die if I have to. I will. But I will save Laura.”
“You’re a fool,” Darl said, turning on his heel and storming to the other side of the room.
“Then go, Darl! Go off and do whatever it is you want. You didn’t have to come…” He let his voice trail off, realizing that he was yelling too loud and with too much emotion. His entire body shook with it.
Triska watched him with a worried expression; Pea and Iliad too.
“What? You all can go if you want. If all you can see now is the fear of the power I control. Power I didn’t ask for. Power I never would have asked for. If all you can see is how difficult this journey is or how I’ve ruined your lives. Then go. You all have looked down upon me since that day in the Fire Rim. Don’t pretend you haven’t. I’ve seen it!”
Darl stepped rapidly across the room. James didn’t see it until it was too late and the old mans’ hand crashed against his face. He winced and stumbled back.
“You should be grateful for what we’ve done for you! How dare you show such disrespect!”
James caught himself against Bourlinch’s chair, stopped it from toppling over, and stood upright. He rubbed his knuckle over his lip. He was bleeding. Bourlinch mumbled something.
Something came over James. He couldn’t explain it; he lost control. He took two huge steps forward, pulled magic upward, imagined and shot it at Darl. The force crossed the room in a matter of seconds in a slightly visible distortion and then blew out in a series of sparks as Triska and Pea slipped into the middle of it all. Before he could do anything, magic gripped him—Triska’s magic—and drug him into the air, his arms and legs stuck. He saw Darl suspended too. Iliad got out of the way in a hurry.
“That is enough!” Triska said with a bite that stung James. “From either of you. Is that understood?” She looked from James to Darl, neither made any motion. “We didn’t come all this way and go through all we’ve gone through just to bicker.”
“I’m not leaving you James,” Pea said, turning just slightly. “I made a promise to you that I would help you find your friend. We have a deal, remember? Darl made a promise too. He swore to Ammond he would keep you safe.”
“I made the same promise to Lord Falth,” Triska said.”
“And so did I,” Iliad said.
“We’re not leaving you. Not now. Not ever.” Pea curled his lip slightly, a near smile. “You’re stuck with us.”
“Fear won’t cloud that.” Triska sighed. “It will hurt friendship. I’m not afraid of your power, James, I’m afraid of what would happen if Luthien could capture you.”
“He has enough power as it is,” Pea said. “If he could control you there would be no way to defeat him, not by a long shot. He could destroy everything I have come to love about this world. And he would destroy everything else too. That’s what tyrants do. They mold things into their vision.”
The magic in the room let up and James found his toes touching the floor. Then the magic slipped away and he could stand on his own. Triska dropped her hand; Darl grumbled.
“I think you owe James and apology Darl,” Triska said. “A truthful one.”
Darl grumbled again.
James didn’t feel much like apologizing for anything. Anger welled up in him. This had all been coming for a while, he could feel it as if it had come at the right moment. As much as Triska and Pea were trying to defuse the situation, he wasn’t sure that Darl would ever let up. Both of them were angry beyond reasoning.
“I’m sorry Darl,” James said half through clenched teeth. “I didn’t mean to drag you into this. I didn’t come here expecting this. I didn’t expect,” he raised his left hand and exposed the scars to everyone, “that all this would happen either. How was I supposed to know the power I could control? There’s no magic on my world. Probably never really was. It’s not written in a book. Not any book I know of.”
James was surprised at himself. The words had come out of him before he could stop it. His face frowned in apology. Deep down he was sorry. He hated that he had tried to use magic on Darl. The betrayal of that loomed within him, deep and unending. He couldn’t let it go that he had truly intended to hurt Darl. It wasn’t like him. Maybe all this violence is getting to me, he thought. His mind wandered to the destruction of Arlin City, to the undead Masters, to Nara’karesh, and Ti’nagal. He thought of all that violence and all the dead out there, those who had died not necessarily because of him but because of a madman bent on hunting him down and destroying everything that was good in the world, only to create something twisted.
The look on Darl’s face proved to James exactly what he was feeling. Darl didn’t trust him. In some ways Darl never had, not really, and James had always seen it. Darl was a cautious old man, angry, bitter at the world and at life. But he could see the last glimmers of what had made Darl such a good ally dwindling away in the old man’s eyes. James kicked himself inside for what he had done.
Then Darl’s brow uncurled and softened, as much as such a thing was possible for the old man.
Darl said out of the blue, “I apologize as well.”
The old man turned and walked to the opposite end of the room and began rummaging through his things.
Triska, Pea, and Iliad all sighed with relief. James dropped into one of the chairs and put his face in his hands. He wanted to cry, but couldn’t, that emotion lost to him now. He had cried so much already and it seemed to him that he would never be able to again. Nothing seemed to dig into him like it had before. He had grown, even he could see that. So much of what he had once been—a geeky boy oblivious to what was going on in the world—had changed into this hard version of himself.
“Everything is well James,” Pea said.
“Darl doesn’t apologize often,” Triska said.
“I’m sorry. I am. I just wanted to save my friend.”
“Yes, yes.” Pea waved his little hand in dismissal. “I already told you once how admirable your actions were. You were brave to come here for your friend. Few people would ever have done that.”
Iliad stepped forward and crossed his arms. “We’re all brave, you see, for going on this journey in the first place. The odds are horribly against us, yet we prevail.”
“We have to succeed,” James said. “If I fail this whole journey will be for nothing.”
“Not for nothing. Everything has a reason. We’ll find your friend.” Pea walked over to him and laid a hand on his knee.
“Oh, yes, I think we’ll find your friend alright,” Iliad said. “This little tiff seems to have derailed the urgency of our return, and a lot of the tension.”
“What is it?” James’ face perked up.
“We’ve narrowed it down to two towers.”
It was late by the time everyone was brought to the table and Iliad began to explain everything. Darl was grumpy, per usual, but James was glad to see that the tension had somewhat been relieved between everyone. He had been so close to storming out of the building to find Laura on his own. As it was, Iliad sat at the head of the table with a crudely drawn map on a piece of wrinkly parchment in the center. A series of circles and squares along with little squiggly black lines made up the map, defining the features of roads, buildings, and the sixteen towers in the inner city. Iliad passed his hand over the map, using his finger to point out different things, and a small quill dipped in dark ink to make marks.
“There are two towers where she is likely in,” Iliad said. “First is this northern tower on the far end.” He drew a wide circle around another circle at the edge of the map.
“I saw some added activity there. Some trays were brought there at some point before night. I didn’t see what was in it, but the guards took it in and returned empty handed,” Darl said.
“Right. The other is this southern tower, which I believe holds at least three prisoners, or guests, or something else.” He circled another circle on the edge of the map. “This proves to be beneficial for us because both towers are right next to each other and easily navigable. We can split up there and search tonight.”
“Tonight?” James said. “Wait, how are we going to get into the inner city? Aren’t the gates closed?”
“There’s a series of sewer canals that go under the wall. We’ll navigate those to the far side of the city if possible. With three magic users, me, and Darl, I think we’ll be able to take care of the guards without stirring up unnecessary trouble.”
“Wait. Wait. We’re going to go into a bunch of canals without any idea where they open up to? That’s…”
“Crazy,” Pea said. “You know, this journey is becoming rather predictable. It’s either insane or crazy, or both. Sort of odd I think.”
“Well, yes, but moving on. We have several hours before the sun comes up to move through and find an exit that is suitable.”
Darl coughed. “Most major cities have multiple openings to the canal systems that run beneath them. They have to for easier access when maintenance is needed. So, theoretically there should be a central opening here,” he pointed in the center of the map with a quill and drew a small mark, “and four more here, here, here, and here.” He drew four more marks at the four different corners of the drawing. “Now, there may be more openings depending on how this city was built. It’s old, before Luthien’s time, but not nearly as old as Arlin City was. So, likely the tunnels will be fenced off, perhaps barred. We’ll have to take those off if we plan to keep moving through in a timely manner.”
“That’s where the magic comes in use,” Iliad said, grinning at Pea and Triska.
“James, I don’t want you using your magic for this,” Triska said. “Right now it’s too uncontrolled. You might wake up the whole neighborhood.”
“And the one next to it,” Pea said humorously.
“Let Pea and I handle it.”
James nodded.
“Okay,” Iliad continued, “now, once we get to the opposite side where these towers are we need to stick to the shadows. Split up here.” Iliad pointed and left a small dot. “I think Pea, Darl, and James should go to the southern tower. There were four guards, two on the perimeter and two guarding the door. Two with spears, two with swords. You should be able to pick the patrol off one by one in the shadows near the wall. Stay out of sight of the guards walking the parapet. It’ll be a little difficult getting the guards at the door, but you should be fine with Pea there. He’ll know a bit about keeping them quiet.”
Iliad quickly switched gears and turned to Triska. “You and I will take the north tower. There were three guards there. Two on perimeter, one at the door. The perimeter guards should be relatively tired by the time we get up there. That applies to all of them really. I expect we’ll be there a few hours before sunrise. That means most of the guards will be exhausted from the overnight watch.” Iliad turned back to the front of the table. “Any questions?”
“Yes, actually,” Pea said, “What happens if we cannot make it to the towers at the times you’re hoping for? What if we’re lost down in those sewers for hours like James is suggesting?”
“Then we turn back.”
“Oh,” Pea leaned back in his chair, “great, that sounds lovely. Waste five hours wondering around in the dark disgusting musk of feces and other undesirable items of discomfort and then turn back with our tails firmly tucked between our legs. Yes, nobody will notice the smell. Not at all.”
Iliad glared at Pea. James snickered at the sarcasm.
Then a muffled voice sounded from behind. James turned to face Bourlinch and grinned wide.
“I almost forgot,” James said. “I think he knows of a way into the inner city.” He indicated Bourlinch. “He spoke to me of such a place. Maybe he knows the way through the tunnels.”
“We can’t trust him,” Darl said.
“We might be able to,” Pea said. “He’s been marked.”
“So he says.” Darl slammed his hands on the table. “Can you prove his words are true? Can you?”
“No.” The little man’s eyes narrowed. “But Triska can. She can read his mind.”
James noticed his mouth was gaping open. He closed it. Disbelief welled in him. He recalled the last conversation that he and Pea had had on the subject, about how Pea wouldn’t ask Triska to go into Bourlinch’s mind again.
“And I thought you were the perfect semblance of manners.” Darl leaned back in his chair.
“Triska,” Pea said, pleading, “Consider it. Find out if he’s being true. Maybe he’s telling the truth, and has been all along.”
“He says he’s seen visions of Luthien,” James said. “Like mine. Maybe he’s being read by Luthien too.”
“And if he is, we cannot stay much longer anyway. We have to go. Because Luthien will know what we’re planning and he’ll be coming here.”
“This is…” Darl started.
“Hush,” Triska said, her voice sharp and controlled. She stared down at the table and said, “If I do this, none of you can ever ask me to do what I have done or to look into someone’s mind unless it is in life or death.”
“Agreed,” Pea said.
Darl grunted acceptance; James smiled lightly.
Then Triska stood and walked over the Bourlinch. James could see her reluctance to make eye contact with the Daemonkind. Even Bourlinch seemed to flinch and move back in the chair, even though there was no place for the man to go—the ropes were still tight over his body.
“Are you pain?” Bourlinch said, his voice stuttering.
Triska shook her head, looked away, and then back. Tears were in here eyes. “No,” she said. “No more pain. Not from me.”
Then Triska closed her eyes. The same familiar movements cascaded over her visage. She flinched and raised her hand to Bourlinch’s forehead. Bourlinch was stationary, unmoving at all like a mannequin. They stayed that way for several minutes, and then Triska leapt back and rammed her open hand over her mouth to stifle the scream that erupted from her vocal chords. Her eyes were wide. She toppled to the ground.
James stood quickly and tried to help her up. The others only looked at Bourlinch, fixated on the twisted looking man. Triska couldn’t stand. When she tried her body crumbled beneath her. Goosebumps covered the entirety of her skin, from head to toe. Shivers and shakes erupted through her at random and beads of sweat formed on her face.
James tried whatever he could to comfort her, to help her, but as he watched her fall apart beneath him he had the feeling that nothing he could do would help her.
“What did you see?” he said, calm and collected. He hoped that his voice would sooth her, even if only a little.
She didn’t speak for a minute. Her pupils grew and shrank rapidly. Then she finally looked up into his eyes. The features of her face, once charming and motherly, fell away to grim terror.
“He’s coming,” she said. “He’s coming for us all.”
Then her face drooped further, her eyes closed, and she fell into a heap in his arms. He could only turn to the others helplessly.
* * *
It was some hours before Triska woke again, still lying on the floor, still in James’ arms. His legs were asleep, but he made no motion to move. All he could do was think of the words she had said, the last words before she slipped into unconsciousness.
“Triska,” he said in a low tone.
She looked up at him, her eyes half-closed. “He knows everything.”
“What do you mean he knows everything?” Darl said.
She looked at the others and then back at James. “Bourlinch is being truthful. He’s marked. Luthien has been watching him. Reading his future. To get at you.” Her eyes bore into James.
“How can you tell?” he said.
“There are signatures left behind when someone invades a mind, no matter the method. I can feel him there. I can feel the hatred and insanity. He leaves that mark on you too, James. He’s met Bourlinch before. Someplace. I don’t know where.”
“When did he start reading this one’s future.” Darl stood up.
Triska eyed the old man. “The day before we arrived.”
A hint of fear bubbled in James’ stomach. “You can see that.”
She nodded.
“We have to go. Now. How long would it take to warn the people here?”
Iliad spoke next. “That depends. Worst case scenario, if he was in Nor’sigal when he started reading Bourlinch. Four or five days. Not many birds pass over the Fire Rim, only specially trained birds. It would be a risk though. No guarantee the message would ever get here.”
“They could know already then?”
Iliad nodded. “It’s possible. They won’t be expecting us to go into the inner city the way I’m suggesting.”
“There’s more,” Triska said, interjecting. “Bourlinch knows the way into the city through the sewer system. It’s buried in his memory though. He remembers knowing, but at the same time he doesn’t.”
“What do you mean?” James said.
Triska stood up on her own and rubbed her forehead. “Sometimes you have memories of things, but you can’t remember them specifically until something knocks it loose. He remembers the way, but he needs to see the tunnels to know.”
“Out of the question,” Darl jumped in.
“He’s trustworthy,” Triska said, though with little confidence.
James could hear the lie behind her words, except it wasn’t a full lie. Part of it was true. He could tell that she wasn’t convinced in his trust of Bourlinch, not entirely.
“Alright, we bring him with us then,” Iliad said, crossing his arms.
Darl slumped back into his chair and turned to Bourlinch. “Know this, if you betray us I will kill you.”
“Yes, well I’m sure threats will make him much more inclined to help us,” Pea said bitterly.
“Are you sure he’s trustworthy,” Darl said to Triska.
“Yes,” Triska said,
There it is again, James thought. She’s not sure. She’s lying to the others. But why?
Triska stood up and brushed herself off. James got up a moment later, Bourlinch firmly planted in his peripheral vision.
“Cut him loose then,” Iliad said.
Darl produced a small knife and walked to where Bourlinch sat tied to the chair. Bourlinch flinched nervously, gray tinged skin quivering, then Darl cut the rope and flung it onto the floor with a scowl and sat down once more in his chair.
James gestured for Bourlinch to come to the table. He gently patted the Daemonkind on the back, a gesture to move forward. Bourlinch walked to the table, hands folded by his chest and a skittish motion in his eyes.
James couldn’t help but feel satisfied. He had made the others release Bourlinch, even trust the twisted man. At least somewhat, except for Darl. He knew Darl trusted nobody, not really and not in any true fashion. Thoughts came to mind about what they would have to do now. Iliad started off by explaining the mission to Bourlinch; Bourlinch seemed interested, but it was hard to tell. The Daemonkind always had a strange glassy appearance in his eyes.
Then Bourlinch nodded in understanding.
“Then it’s a go,” Iliad said, slipping away to bring out his bow and arrow and a knife.
James quickly went to his things. He strapped his sword to his side, scabbard and all. Darl did the same. Pea and Triska stood by watching, having nothing of their own to prepare.
James pulled his sword from the sheath. He examined the blade. It looked clean, fresh, as if it had never been used before. And it had that strange sheen to it, an ethereal sparkle he couldn’t quite explain, yet had seen before. He watched the edge of the blade light up, then he flicked his index finger against the metal and listened to it sing. It was a perfect pitch. He recognized the C note, the tone so good that an orchestra could tune to it. Then he sheathed his sword and walked back to the table.
“Bourlinch will come with Triska and I,” Iliad said.
Darl grunted at this.
“Yes, we all know your discomfort, but could you please be silent about it,” Pea said.
“I don’t trust him.” Darl glared at James and then at Bourlinch. James looked blankly back. He didn’t want to start another argument.
“Of course not.”
“Alright, then let’s move. Stay in the shadows. Remember that.”
Then Iliad led them outside. James stayed in the middle of the group, trying his best to stay as much out of sight as possible. He didn’t want to be found, not by Luthien and certainly not by any of Luthien’s men.
They took the thoroughfare west towards the inner city, then Iliad slipped into the shadows of a long alley that took them south for several blocks. When they came out again they were in a thin road where the moonlight cascaded over one side and the other was a wall of dark. They took to the dark side and glided along. Bourlinch forced them to slow down as they went, unable to keep up with their quicker movements.
Iliad took them through another alley, across a wider road, and then stopped suddenly at the edge of a corner. Voices range out from the other side; Iliad peered around.
James nodded his understanding with the others.
They quickly backtracked down the road and slipped into another alley, only to come out into a road where two pubs were lit up like bright yellow stars in the middle of a blackened sky. Nobody stood outside; the street was utterly empty, devoid of any life. Voices spilled from the pubs, raucous laughter and incomprehensible banter. Iliad motioned for them to follow his lead and then took to walking down the street nonchalantly.
James did his best to make it seem like he was taking a stroll with family or friends. It was an odd feeling, but it didn’t last. As soon as they passed the pubs, where two windows exposed the joyous parade of men in drunken stupors, they were running again, fast and smoothly. The road ended in a T and some distance down they could hear the yells of the men that had caused them to divert in the first place. Then they were across into another alley and then into an open courtyard.
The courtyard was unkempt. Weeds and grass overran everything. A single fountain, dry as a bone, sat in the middle. It was a white stone monument of a child holding his little hands to the sky, a butterfly sitting on his palms. The rock had been badly beaten in areas—a foot was missing, and noticeable chunks of rock had been chipped away. The courtyard—fitted for a small group of people at most—led backwards into an open hallway covered from wall to wall with a ceiling of green vines. Trickles of white-blue moonlight filtered in through the cracks, casting lines and circles along the stone pathway. At the end was a wrought iron gate fitted with tall spikes at the top covered in the green vines. Iliad pushed it open slowly. The hinged creaked loud and the sound echoed down the open hallway. Then Iliad shoved it and it tore away from the vines, raining down leaves and dead plant matter. They passed through into another road, this one in particular covered in strange green trees that grew haphazardly along the edges, their branches and limbs winding over the road to wrap around each other to create a canopy of twisted wood.
Iliad took them down this road, pausing only for a second to make sure they were behind him. A few houses were dispersed between the trees. James looked as he moved. Behind, just barely visible, where small rays of moonlight struck stone, was the wall to the inner city. The houses were nestled against it and great emerald green vines with small pink flowers ran in and out of the cracks. Above, just barely audible, he could hear the sound of a guardsman clinking in full armor.
The tunnel of trees ended abruptly where the thoroughfare met up with the main gates to the inner city. They were closed and barred. Strips of metal and bolts supported the frame. No designs were on the wood.
Iliad slipped away from the wall, making sure to keep them all out of site. James followed into the maze of trees. No houses were here, but he could see some distance down along the side of the wall the homes they had passed. Along the wall, a few hundred feet from the gates, was a u-shaped structure near the ground. It dropped suddenly into a tunnel and a foul smell erupted from it. He knew immediately that this was the sewage line. A series of metal bars, crisscrossed and held together by a welded series of flat bolts, covered the entrance. A small pool of water sat in the front of the bars. He couldn’t see the color of the water, but he knew that it wasn’t clear. Far from it.
Pea and Darl slid into the tunnel next to the bars. James sensed magic as Pea began working on the bolts. Darl took out a knife and slowly forced it between the spaces where the bars met. Inch by inch the bars parted. Pea stifled a cough and then suddenly the bars lurched out with a bang. Darl caught himself against the side.
All stood still. James didn’t dare move or whisper. He looked at Triska and Iliad with a bit of fear in his eyes. Then Iliad sighed. No other sounds came, no call to arms, and certainly no warning of any sort. The gates to the inner city remained closed and no patrols were issued.
Pea and Darl were the first to step inside. Pea indicated his disgust to James; James wanted to make a face, but decided to smile instead. Then they were all in the tunnel. Pea lit one of his torches, but only slightly so it provided enough light to see by. Iliad brought Bourlinch to the front.
“Alright, lead away,” Iliad said.
Bourlinch nodded and started to walk, slowly at first, and then more swiftly.
James trudged through the murky water. The stench wasn’t nearly as bad as he had expected. A slight current took the water down a side passage some distance into the tunnel, and with it went much of the worst offenders of his senses. Somewhere else fresh water flowed in. He could hear the trickle as it poured from the ceiling in the dark.
They came to a wide octagon where three different tunnels led in opposite directions—north, south, and west. Bourlinch paused, rubbed his crooked nose, and sped off west. The rest followed.
By the faint light of Pea’s torch, James examined the walls of the tunnel. They were old, beaten and grimy. Stains where condensation had formed and slid down in a gooey mess covered the walls at eye level. At the ground level a few rats scurried away along lips of stone. He coughed as something new struck his nose. Then it passed. He prayed to be out of this mess soon.
Bourlinch led them into another octagon of tunnels and then they were moving south. At a t-section they moved east, and at another they went south again. James assumed that Iliad hadn’t known the extent of the maze of tunnels beneath the inner city. How could he, he thought. He could only guess that they had been under the city for twenty minutes by the time Bourlinch stopped dead in his tracks at a room where three paths diverged northwest, north, and northeast.
“What is it?” Pea said.
“I remember not,” Bourlinch said.
“What do you mean you don’t remember?” Darl said.
Bourlinch turned and looked at the others wide-eyed. “I remember not. Not here. Not this place. It’s been long. Long since I was here.”
“Well that’s perfect.”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Argument Continues (with some tips thrown in)

First, because this whole thing about WordPress and Blogger might annoy the crap out of you, or bore you, I'm going to give away some interesting links and information.
First is the TW Blog. I've become a weekly contributor there, partly because I've become a mod at the TeenageWriters site and partly because I'm editing their first anthology. I do the writing tips/discussion type stuff. Two posts of interest to anyone that reads this blog would be The Golden Rule and Enemy #1: Info-dump. The former is about none other than that infamous "show, don't tell" rule and the latter is quite obvious I think. Check them out because I think they are rather helpful, and perhaps if you have any comments I'd love to hear them.
Another thing of interest is that I have volunteered and been accepted to help do book reviews with SQT at her F & SF Review Blog. She's becoming very active in the SF/F community and trying to get her foot in the review door by asking for ARC's and the like. She recently sent me an ARC of Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell and in response I've started on Crystal Rain. SQT will be reading Crystal Rain as well and I'll simply add in my thoughts after she does her review. Ragamuffin is my primary review focus for the moment though, and perhaps other books will show up and I'll have new things to read. I'm very honored to be a part of this project and would like to thank SQT for letting me join up. It's something I really want to be able to do, but never new how. Now I have that opportunity. So thanks again SQT!

Now for my rant about WordPress and Blogger. I mentioned it earlier that I was considering going to WP. The reason was because WP offers some features that are not available in Blogger and may never be available. So I started researching and playing around with WP and Blogger to see what my limitations of both were. And now I'm at a stalemate on the issue.
One of the things I really liked about WP was that it allowed me to have separate pages where I could put links and the like so they don't clutter my main page. This would allow better organization and such. Blogger doesn't have this feature. But Blogger allows me to upload for free my own CSS and XML templates and to customize almost without limitations my webpage. I can move columns, etc. WP doesn't have this feature unless you pay for the CSS function to be added to your free blog, or if you get your own webspace and download the WP PHP set, which means far too much work for me.
It would not be an issue for me about switching if I knew that WP had more functionality in regards to their templates, but unfortunately they don't. In fact, the templates provided by WP are rather bland and boring, which means that despite having those lovely extra pages and uncluttered main pages, I won't be able to do much to the look of my template other than changing the header image, which is easier to do than in blogger. So I'm in a predicament here. I really would like to have those extra pages. Maybe Blogger is planning to do this, and if they are, I'm sticking around forever. I do like how there are many features built into WP that you have to add to Blogger, but I lose so much functionality in such a trade by not being able to customize the way my blog looks in regards to colors and the like. This is rather annoying to me because WP does have quite the reputation.
Another problem is the apparent frequency of WP not working, as in the server is down or some such. I've never had this issue with Blogger. Well, that's not entirely true. Over the course of almost a year Blogger has been down maybe twice, once at a god awful hour that I shouldn't have been online anyway, and the other was a technical issue. But in the last month of using WP (for the TW blog), I've had two separate occasions where the site wouldn't work or it was horribly slow. Is this common in WP, or am I a fluke?

So, to say the least, I'm a little stuck on this issue. I may not be moving any time soon. Likely in the next 3 months or so you might see my blog here at Blogger change significantly from what it is now to something with 3 columns so that I can organize all my stuff. I just wish I could add pages to the site instead.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Start Wars and Write Better

Yes, the title is intended to make you blink twice. I wrote it that way on purpose. How can wars be good for writing? When they are "Word Wars".

So, what exactly is a Word War?
A Word War is essentially a no pressure contest between two or more individuals, all writers for obvious reasons, who decide on a set amount of time, stop everything, and write. Technically speaking, the person who has the most words at the end wins, but really, if you write 100 words and your partner writes 1,000, it doesn't really matter at all. Why? Because you wrote something!
Sessions can be 5, 10, 15, 20, even 30 minutes. If you're brave you'll go for an hour, but I recommend doing two 20 minute sessions with a 5-10 minute break in the middle.

How are Word Wars helpful?
Simple, they actually make you write. The object of a Word War isn't to make you write something that is superb and amazing, it's to get you writing in the first place. Forcing yourself to just write something with a surefire deadline truly can aid in sparking creativity. You might find yourself suddenly drawn into a new story. In that case, you just ask your fellow Word Warrior if you can sit back and write for a bit, or go for another 20 minute round and see if the creativity continues to flow.

Most likely you won't churn out anything Nobel winning, but again, that isn't the object of the game. If it was, well it probably wouldn't be all that fun.

So, go start a war!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chapter Twenty Eight: Of Stranger Friendships

(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.)

By the time dinner had come and gone James had a sense of accomplishing absolutely nothing. He hadn’t contributed to the plan to spy on the towers, nor had he been involved. He had simply sat around doing little of anything for an entire day. Even when Iliad, Triska, and Darl had returned from the inner city he remained, to put it simply, antisocial. Something inside him made him not want to be involved with the others. He knew it had to do with the way they looked at him. For some reason it felt much like how he had been looked at when those he had first come to know found out he had been marked by Luthien. He still didn’t know what that meant for sure, but he knew all too well that Luthien wanted to know about him. He wondered what it would be like to know the future.
Dinner turned out to be far more respectful than in previous nights. Bourlinch’s shop had a wood stove and a modest supply of wood and kindling. Before long the flames were crackling, pots were steaming, and a meal of rice, eggs, and salted meats were laid out on the wood table. James ate his fill.

Mirdur’eth rustled outside, perhaps sympathetically or out of irritation at being tied up for so long. The horses and Blaersteeds had been relieved of their panniers. James proceeded to unpack a blanket, found a spot on the far side of the room, and laid down. He didn’t sleep, or rather, he couldn’t. He watched the walls while the others muttered to themselves, then soon everyone had found a place on the floor and all the talking ceased.
Silence did not reign. Bourlinch, still tied up on the opposite side of the room, sobbed and whimpered. The sound traveled over the room as if it were a roar. James could hear Triska sniffling. He sensed the melancholy that had come over the room. He frowned at not being able to see some joy in what they had accomplished. They had crossed the Fire Rim, escaped Luthien, and run all the way to Teirlin’pur. Laura was so close he could almost see her as a real being before him. Her face was forged in his mind, a constant reminder of the one thing he had promised to do and that the entire town of Woodton told him he couldn’t.
The night was wearing thin by the time he fell asleep. REM took him for a ride, but it all seemed so short. He dreamt of Luthien again, in the same strange room with the same bizarre transparent ceiling. Then he woke with a start and it was morning, the rays of the new sun sending a soft glow into the room. He wasn’t sure how long he had slept, but he knew that Luthien had tried to read his future again.
James sat up and looked around. Bourlinch’s head slumped over to the side and a thin trail of drool wandered from the gag, to his lip, to his chin, and onto the front of his tunic. James might have found it comical if last night had never happened. He looked over at the others. Darl lay with his mouth hanging open and blankets half covering his pasty white upper body. Pea lay curled in a ball like a cat, occasionally fidgeting, and Triska faced away from him, but from the way her chest moved up and down in slow motions he knew she was asleep. Iliad, on the other hand, slept with his back propped up again a wall, bow and arrow in his hands, and his eyes half open, like something from a horror movie. James shivered.
He stood up and stretched. He sniffed his armpit and cringed. They smelled distinctly like rotting onions, having not been cleaned in a long while. Somehow he knew he was getting used to his own filth, though, or at least would get used to it soon enough.
James walked over to the wooden table in the center of the room. He ran his fingers delicately over the wood, feeling the cracks and bumps. His eyes wandered to the scars on his hands. He flexed his fingers; his left hand was still in the same condition.
I wish I were right handed, he thought.
Then he looked at Bourlinch. Bourlinch coughed and startled awake and in that brief instant their eyes met, as if Bourlinch had known who was staring at him before waking. Crust had formed under the Daemonkind’s eyes and long streaks where tears had flowed discolored the already grayish skin.
James walked over to where Bourlinch was tied; the Daemonkind flinched as if expecting to be struck at any moment. James simply leaned low enough to make eye contact. For a moment he was mesmerized by those eyes, curious even of who this creature was and where he had come from. He pondered what sort of life Bourlinch would have without magic.
“I’m…sorry,” James said, for lack of anything else to say. He spoke soft and calm, pulling up a chair and sitting down nearby. “I am. I don’t know what you must be feeling. I don’t know what it must be like to know you have had everything taken away from you. Not in the same way at least.”
Bourlinch looked at him with peaked interest, eyes wide and fixed.
“Have you eaten?”
Bourlinch shook his head.
James stood up, went over to the stove and produced a small chunk of bread from a loaf and filled a wood cup with water. He gestured at Bourlinch.
“If I remove that gag, you can’t make any noise. Okay?”
Bourlinch nodded.
James set the items down and gently lifted the gag and let it dangle around the Daemonkind’s neck. For a moment he thought Bourlinch would start screaming, but when the silence persisted he tipped the cup to Bourlinch’s lips and let the man drink. Bourlinch gulped the water like it was his last. James took the cup away and pushed and let Bourlinch chew on a chunk of bread.
“Where are you from?” James said, trying to strike some sort of conversation.
A long pause ensued before Bourlinch said with a mouth full of bread, “Peren.” He slumped back as if afraid that James might do something violent.
“Is that by the coast?”
A nod.
“You already know about me.”
Another nod.
“All of it?”
A shake of the head.
“Probably a good thing.”
“Luthien. Hunting.”
He nodded understanding.
“By the Eye. As they say.”
“I hear. Rumors. Things.”
James perked up, his brow raising slightly with interest. “What sort of rumors?”
“Other. Not Farthland. Not Angtholand. Visions.”
“Visions of what?” he said anxiously.
“Men. Women. Luthien. Dark. End.”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking about? What men and women? Why do you keep saying ‘end’?”
“He is end. He is all. Bringer. Stealer.” Bourlinch quivered.
James paused, somewhat awestruck by the tension in Bourlinch’s voice. “You fear him,” he said.
Bourlinch said nothing, but James could see in the man’s eyes fear and something more—terror. He knows something that many others must don’t, he thought.
“You’ve seen something. Something bad.”
A nod.
“About Luthien.”
Another nod.
“And nobody will believe you because you’re a Spellweaver.”
He hesitated for a moment, taking a couple long breaths in apprehension before saying, “Tell me.”
“Visions. Torture. Pain. Capture. Others held. Others held in…stasis. Asleep, but not. Awake, but not. I saw. Visions of Luthien planning…something. Planning the end. Turning light for dark, dark for light. Sending armies to destroy. No saving. No living. He brings Zagra. Al’na ner’avón ul al’soral la’muért!”
He went still. His hands started to sweat. “Where did you learn that from?”
Bourlinch only looked at him with two quivering eyes.
“You read that from my mind. Who is Zagra?”
Bourlinch shook his head, but James wasn’t sure whether it meant that Bourlinch hadn’t read it from his mind, or that Bourlinch didn’t want to talk about Zagra.
James grimaced and leaned back in the chair. He ran his right hand through his hair and left his other hand on his knee. His brow curled in thought and his eyes watched the floor. Then he looked up at Bourlinch again.
“What is Luthien keeping in the towers?” He spoke sternly, straight and to the point. His voice didn’t falter.
“I…” Bourlinch coughed and started to mutter.
“Bourlinch, tell me. What is Luthien keeping in those towers?”
“O-others…” A couple tears fell.
“Others like me?”
Bourlinch nodded.
Something banged in the back of the room and before James could turn to see what it was a hand flew past him, followed by an arm, and a long body. In a matter of seconds the gag was over Bourlinch’s mouth again. Bourlinch whimpered; James looked up into Darl’s eyes.
“You’re a foolish boy,” Darl said. “Don’t ever trust the words of a Spellweaver. He weaves lies, deceit.”
James started to speak, but a stern look from Darl cut him off.
“What did he tell you?”
“What did he tell you?!”
James relayed everything that Bourlinch had said. Darl’s face contorted into a scowl, which looked to James like nothing more than an even wrinklier Darl look, all the little lines in the old man’s face increasing and lengthening inward and to the sides.
Then Darl raised his hand as if ready to strike. James and Bourlinch flinched at the same time. Darl let his hand fall.
“What’s going on?” Pea said from behind, little footsteps sounding, and then Pea was next to James.
“Apparently our little hero has been conversing with the enemy.”
“Conversing how?”
“I was only asking questions!” James said, upset at being singled out.
“What sort of questions?”
He told Pea the same thing he had told Darl, only now with a hint of attitude in his voice. He tried his best to convey his irritation with the situation.
It worked. Pea eyed James with a glimmer of anger in his eye and James only stared back. James couldn’t accept that he done something wrong, and wouldn’t.
“You’re questioning reason, James.”
“Who’s to say that there isn’t some truth to what Bourlinch is saying? What if they are keeping people from my world in those towers? What if Luthien is torturing them or using them for something? It’s possible!”
“It’s also possible he’s lying to you,” Darl said, snapping the words angrily. “We can’t trust him. He invaded your mind. He tried to glean information from you, and succeeded. Or have you forgotten?”
“I haven’t forgotten. But you seem to be forgetting that he’s a Spellweaver. Nub wasn’t exactly normal either.” He had to force his tongue to mentioned Nub. Deep down he grimaced at the thought of her dead someplace, and he could see her empty, lifeless, dull face sitting amongst other faces, just as empty and lifeless.
“I think there’s one thing you are forgetting most of all, James.” Now Pea had come forward with a curled brow, lips pursed, eyes narrow—the face of an irritated Littlekind. “You’re not from this world. You might think you know everything, but obviously you do not. The enemy is sitting right outside your door, sitting right before you tied to that chair, around you, and everywhere. If we trust Bourlinch, we’re putting our fates in the hands of someone who may very well stab us where it counts. I’m not prepared to die for a risk. I’m not prepared to trust anyone but those I have come to trust.”
James held his tongue. There were so many things he wanted to say. His anger would have loved each and every word, but he didn’t let that emotion control his mind. He pushed it back and encircled it in happier thoughts.
“I think there is one thing all of you are forgetting,” he said, crossing his arms. “I was under the impression that people aren’t our enemies, only a ruthless dictator! Someone once told me that the people of Teirlin’pur are good people, only misguided. Maybe that person was lying to me.” Then he walked away, fuming. He went to the far side of the room with teeth clenched and put his hands on the wall, his eyes to his bag, the etiquette book, and the egg-like rock. Then his eyes wandered to his Fearl and for a moment he thought St. Brendan’s Cross glimmered as if Dulien were somewhere in his mind listening in on everything.
James watched Iliad, Triska, and Darl leave once more for the inner city. He watched as they gathered their things, worked out yet another plan, and made new excuses to go buy supplies they didn’t really need. Then they walked out of the building and shut the door. He glared at the door handle for a while before passing a glance at Pea. Pea hadn’t talked to him in hours, and James had no desire to open a conversation. Then he looked at Bourlinch, who watched him intently, begging with narrow eyes to be freed again.
“You know,” James said bitterly, “I’m a little tired of being left out of things.” He didn’t really mean it. It had only been one day and while he did dislike being stuck in Bourlinch’s shop, he could handle another day of it knowing that doing so would help save Laura. Still, he was bitter from the argument earlier, angry and upset that nobody seemed to take him seriously and that Pea and Darl had dismissed him without even second guessing.
James stood up, dragged the chair he had been sitting in with him, and walked over to Bourlinch. He sat down, reached over, and before Pea could utter a word he removed the gag.
“Don’t!” Pea said.
“Why not? He knows something and I’m going to find out what it is.”
Pea started to argue, but stopped for lack of words.
“Tell me more Bourlinch.”
The Daemonkind’s mouth hung open in surprise and awe. Foul breath hit James in the face and he secretly wished he had a piece of gum stowed away someplace.
Bourlinch immediately began to ramble, incoherently at first with words that weren’t really words, and then in such a way that the words didn’t seem connected at all. Then slowly things began to make sense, as if the flow of thoughts were winding down enough so that Bourlinch could actually speak them properly.
“What kind of vision did you have?”
“Death of others. Death from Luthien. From powers. But some live. Some live in towers. Others live.”
“Which towers?”
Bourlinch shook his head. “You cannot go. Not now. Not through gates. They see. They know. Take paths. Under. Below. You cannot go like everyone. Not at night.”
“James,” Pea said, appearing at James’ side and looking up. “He can’t be trusted.”
James stifled a glare. “And what if he’s telling the truth? I have to know if Laura is alive.”
“And what if he’s lying?”
Bourlinch looked from one to the other as they spoke.
“Have Triska check him then. She did for me remember?”
“You ask her when she gets back then. I’ve asked enough of her for this part of the journey. You can bring up what will obviously bring her discomfort.”
Then Pea walked away and slumped into a chair on the other side of the room.
James turned back to Bourlinch. “Tell me about this other way. Tell me who Luthien killed.”
Bourlinch spoke clearly, smoothly, or at least as smoothly as a Spellweaver could. James listened with great intent and he didn’t let his attention slide, not through Pea’s obvious displeasure with it all, nor through the sounds of bustling streets and neighbors sticking their noses into business that wasn’t theirs as they knocked on the big wood door and called out Bourlinch’s name.
“I,” Bourlinch began, “am marked. Marked by Luthien.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Random Bits and Links of Potential Interest + Ranting Goodness

Thanks for the fan art!
Thanks to everyone who has been coming to this blog and thanks Tobias Buckell for actually paying attention to all the times your name pops up on the net and dropping by to leave a comment. That was really cool. And yes I will continue to listen to your Podcast sessions!

Now for some other stuff here. I've had a lot of thoughts going through my head lately about this blog and about WISB. One of my thoughts involves this newfangled thing called Podcasting. TW has been putting together a Podcast for the site. I don't know why they thought of doing this, but more power to them. The idea got me thinking about Podcasts and I started Googling them. I had already heard of I Should Be Writing and The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy (which I am listening to now and catching up on), and happened to find this one I previously mentioned called Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing. I thought for a moment that Podcasts were just these dorky things that idiots did that didn't really amount to anything, and I was completely and thankfully wrong. I'm hooked. It started with Adventures and moved on to Survival Guide and will move to others as well. So, my first idea was this whole Podiobook thing. Podiobooks are basically just audiobooks but in Podcast format. Some damn good authors have done it this way (John Scalzi for example, and I'm sure others too), and I thought of turning WISB into one. This is still only a thought. I don't know if I'll ever do it, but it's such an interesting idea and something that might be a lot of fun. One of the things holding me back is the fact that WISB is young adult fantasy. I would want people to play the various voices of the characters--perhaps some people tripling up--because I certainly could not do a Triska.
The other idea involves WordPress. I've been with Blogger for almost a year now, but so many writers are going to WordPress because it is such an easy system with a lot of features that Blogger doesn't have yet, not normally anyway. I don't know if I'll move. I've noticed that WordPress tends to have more down time than Blogger, but when I look at the features I can use in the standard templates it is somewhat overwhelming.

I've also got some links of interest.
The first is something called Literature Map, which I may or may not have linked before. I'm not entirely sure how it works because I've only fiddled around putting author's names in, but give it a whirl. It gives you authors that might be similar to your entry. For an idea of how amazing William Gibson is, there isn't a name that really sits close to him on that site. The central idea is that the closer a name is to someone, the more likely you are to like that author in comparison to your original selection. Check it out. I've enjoyed it and maybe you'll find a new author you like!

The second link for today is this thing called AutoCrit. Now, I cannot say for certain how well it really works from a literary perspective, but I did enjoy using the free function for it just to see the percentage of usage in some of my writing. Give it a shot. I'm curious how helpful it is to other users. I found it rather interesting and intend to make some use of the free function for a while and perhaps I'll try the full function some day (which isn't free of course).

That's all for today. Another chapter should be going up tomorrow I think.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Proverbial Million Words

I heard Tobias Buckell say in an interview at Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing that most writers need to write a good one million words of crap before coming up with anything publishable. Obviously this isn't always the case, but it got me thinking of how many words I have written.

My total?
276,377 words! Is that a lot? Granted, I've written loads more short stories than novel attempts, but that means I'm a little over a quarter of the way to that million. Is that a good thing? I don't know. Perhaps I'll break the mold with some short stories, but perhaps those aren't generally counted and Tobias was referring to novels, which would make sense.

What about your word counts? Count everything that is fiction! All of it, even unfinished stuff!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Interview w/ Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer has graciously allowed me to interview her after reading her recent book Life As We Knew It. So, without further adieu, here it is!

SD: First, tell us a little about yourself. A brief history if you will of why you started writing and why you continue today.
SBP: I wrote my first book, Just Morgan, my last semester of college (NYU). It was published when I was 22, and I never looked back. Since then I've written over 70 books, all for children and teenagers, and can actually claim to never having had a day job.
I'd always wanted to be a writer, and have been incredibly fortunate to live my dream.

SD: What are you currently reading? What's your favorite book?
Right now, I'm between books (I finished one on Friday and spent Saturday reading newspapers). I'll probably read a fairly junky novel next, and then I think I'll read a book about Alan Freed and the radio payola scandal. I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction.

I don't really have a favorite book, but Long Day's Journey Into Night is probably the twork of art that's had the greatest influence on me (not that I'll ever write anything that good).

SD: When you see people reading one of your many books, what do you think?
I don't think I've ever seen anyone reading one of my books. But thanks to the Internet, I get to read people's comments about Life As We Knew It. As long as the comments are favorable, I love it!

SD: What exactly sparked you to write Life As We Knew It?
I'm embarrassed to admit it was watching the movie Meteor one Saturday afternoon. It got me thinking about what an end of the world story would be like from a kid's point of view.

SD: Life As We Knew It is a science fiction book, but at the same time it is a very real book. Unlike a lot of science fictio ntoday, though, it doesn't need the presence of science in order to work. There is the whole problem with the moon forced into a different orbit and screwing up practically everything normal about earth, and then you have the physical effects on your characters--starvation, illness, etc. Did you have to do a lot of research before writing it?
Not a lot. Some of the things I put in the book, I knew before, from a casual interest in astronomy and world catastrophe. My brother supplied me with a few details--the off shore oil rigs going down and the communication satellites, and the dormant volcano in Montreal (he lived there for a while).
A lot of it was just common sense. If there's not enough oil, then trucks can't run. If trucks can't run, food can't be moved. If food can't be moved, people'll be weak and more susceptible to illness.

SD: Was there any point in which your characters did something you hadn't expected?
I don't think so. I do a lot of pre-writing before I ever start a book, and even though I don't know all the stuff that's going to go into the middle of the book (I'd be too bored if I did), I keep a day or two ahead of the book at all times. There may have been some small things (and dialogue almost always happens spontaneously), but nothing major.

SD: Do you intend to write more books in the science fiction genre? Why or why not?
My next book, The Dead & the Gone, is a companion volume to Life As We Knew It. It starts at the exact time the asteroid hits the moon, and follows a teenage boy in New York City and what he and his family go through as a result. So I guess that qualities as another sci fi book.
The Dead & the Gone will be published by Harcourt spring 2008.

SD: This is probably a rather generic question that you've probably been asked before, but seeing how I am part of TeenageWriters, a forum for young writers, what advice would you give to other writers out there, young and old, about their own writing?
I can only suggest what has worked for me. Find the themes that resonate most within you, and never lose sight of them. For me, the themes that are most important are families and consequences. Life As We Knew It focuses on both and was a joy to write.
The great thing about themes that resonate is you can use them in any genre or any story. A western can be about a father who's a gunfighter and the effect on his son. Or it can be about the consequence of a gunfight, which starts the story, and then the plot moves from there.
Those are my themes. But everyone has one or more.

SD: And for a rather random sort of question, what is one phrase you would like to be quoted by?
Well, it's not original with me, but I am very fond of Impeach Bush.

Thanks so very much to Susan for doing this interview and I hope you all enjoy it very much!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chapter Twenty Seven: Of the Inner City

(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.)

There was a knock at the front door to Bourlinch’s place of business. Everyone stayed still for a moment, then another knock came and Darl got up and opened the door a hair.
The conversation that started was loud enough for everyone to hear. James knew immediately that the person at the door was a soldier. He could hear the gentle rustle of chain mail and the light tapping of the wooden end of a spear on solid ground.
“What?” Darl said.
Great, James thought, just start off with rudeness.
“Sorry to bother you sir,” the soldier said with a voice that gave away his youth, “but old Early from two doors down reported some unusual activity here.”
“What kind of unusual activity?” Darl’s grumpiness increased.
“Magic being used. Old Early is sort of a sensitive man. Knows a lot of things most people don’t that are Blood-less.”
“I see. Well, this is a healer’s shop.”

The soldier was silent for a moment. “So it is.”
“So, magic would not be all that uncommon in a place like this now would it?”
“No sir, I suppose not. Mind if I come in?”
“I do. This is a rather private affair and I prefer not to share it with someone who hasn’t aged enough to grow a beard.”
“I see, sir. I do have the authority.”
“I realize this, but I think it rather rude to impose upon someone who has no desire to share personal information outside of these walls. Would you think it fair and wise for me to show up at your home and start gallivanting into your little private world? Perhaps you’d see it fit to allow me to watch you sleep at night?”
“Forgive me sir. I meant no offense. Just doing my job.”
“None taken, but do work on your manners. Good day.”
“Good day.”
Then Darl closed the door and latched it. The old man turned and headed back into the room, a slight grin underneath his beard.
“You learned that bit about manners from me,” Pea said.
“No doubt.”
“I hope you know that plagiarism is the third cousin of Evil.”
James gave Pea a confused look. “Then who is the second cousin?”
They all had a laugh at that, even Darl. Triska made effort to suppress her laughter, but couldn’t.
When the laughter subsided James became serious; his smile faded away and he waited for everyone to calm down or take a seat in the few chairs around the long wood table before speaking.
“Iliad,” he said, “are you sure she is in one of the towers?”
Iliad nodded.
“How can you be sure?”
“Of all the places that Luthien would or could keep her, the towers are the safest.”
“They’re well guarded,” Darl said. “More so than in Arlin City, and for good reason. The Adul’pur in Arlin City was powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the enchanted gems that protect Teirlin’pur. The Adul’pur could protect little more than the keep and the highest most regions of Arlin City, but with the number of gems that Luthien has fixed in place on each of the towers, it would be impossible to use magic of any sort against the inner city. The walls would be undamaged. Not even a scratch”
“It only makes sense he would put her in the most fortified and hardest to get into place in the entire country.”
“The question is how do we get in.” James let his gaze fall to the rusty wood table, eyeing the scratches and cracks.
“We have a few days at the most before someone really begins to suspect things are out of place. Healers don’t just shut up shop unless it’s a serious emergency.” Darl glanced over to where Bourlinch fidgeted with his binds, tears still streaming from his face. A gag had been put in his mouth so he couldn’t do much more than mumble and sob. “We close up the shop for now.”
“Put up a sign,” Triska said. “James looked bad enough when we came in to require deep healing. Such processes can take a few days, sometimes.”
James looked at his arms. Most of the wounds had healed, some were scabbed. He ached but didn’t feel the horrid pain he had been living with for what felt like ages now.
“I look like I could still use some healing,” he said. “It might work for a little while.”
“Okay,” Pea said, “now that that is solved, how are we going to figure out which tower this girl is held in? We can’t just waltz up and say, ‘gee officer, I’d sure love a tour’.”
“Surveillance. If the girl is in one of the towers, they’ll be bringing food no doubt, or attending to her somehow.”
“Unless she’s already dead,” Darl said.
“No! She’s not dead!” James screamed at Darl.
“It’s possible James, and you damn well know it.”
“She’s not! She can’t be dead. Don’t say that!”
He glared at Darl; Darl glared back. But James refused to lose this match. He fixated his eyes on Darl’s and never faltered, until ultimately Darl looked away.
“So, how do you propose we do this?” Pea said. “It’ll look suspicious if we just all sit around watching.”
“Oh, yes I know this. There are five of us. James, you have to stay behind. It’s too much of a risk to have you walking around.” Iliad took a moment to clear his throat. “Pea should probably stay behind as well. Unfortunately it looks like Littlekind are not all that common here. It may mean nothing, seeing how few Littlekind are found out this far east anyway, but it’s better not to risk suspicion. So, Triska and I will pose as a married couple. Darl, you’ll be Triska’s father.”
Darl grunted. “Yes, I must be very fit to play the old man.”
“Hush,” Triska said, the tears no longer flowing from her face, but her cheeks still glistening.
“There’s a market in the inner city. Well guarded, well policed. It’s a market for the wealthy, generally; at least according to the last few accounts of Teirlin’pur from before this all happened. We’ll go along with the story that we’re in for supplies, living in Nar’koreth.”
“Alright,” Triska said. “What if someone recognizes us?”
“Like who?” James butted in. “The only people who talked to us more than a few moments are miles away or tied up to a chair.” He glanced at Bourlinch. The Daemonkind eyed him with teary eyes and he briefly felt sorry for the crooked man.
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Great,” James said, somewhat saddened by the thought that he would not be a part of it. He desperately wanted to find Laura, to get her home and safe with her parents. If there was one thing he wanted to do more than anything else, it was that.
“You’ll need this,” Pea said, tossing a large faded-brown string-tied bag in Iliad’s general direction.
Iliad caught it effortlessly and said, “What’s this?”
“Bourlinch’s stores I assume.”
“Where did you find it?” James jumped in.
“On the floor.”
“On the floor?” He came close to laughing.
“Well, obviously. You shouldn’t repeat things so much. It indicates a lack of hearing and civility. Besides, only someone illogical and verifiably insane would leave a bag of coins lying on the floor.”
“Spellweavers are crazy.”
Iliad, Triska, and Darl set to preparing for Iliad’s scheme—sharing ideas, information, and the like. Nobody seemed too concerned with James, not in the way that he wanted. The fear of what he had accomplished still loomed in their eyes, and even more so in Pea’s and Darl’s. Iliad gave only a mild indication that he was concerned, but it was enough that James felt trapped by it all. He never would have thought he would possess such power, or would be able to tap into it. And he hated the way that the masks over their eyes failed to hide how they truly felt. They cared for him and that was what made their masks fall away so readily. It wasn’t just that they were scared of what had happened and what could happen, they were scared for what would happen to him. The thought that he couldn’t alleviate those fears made him even more self-conscious. He didn’t know what to do to reassure them. He would never fall prey to evil, not like Luthien or others. His mind was too strong for that. Nothing could turn him from what he knew was right, short of someone actually controlling his mind. That he hoped would never happen.
James didn’t say anything for the next hour, even when Pea tried to open a conversation with him. He just watched as the others prepared for a trip that he wouldn’t be able to take. Yet he understood why, and that understanding allowed him to at least see reason. He didn’t want to be captured by Luthien or by Luthien’s men. He didn’t want to face Luthien at all, in fact, and staying behind while the others did the dirty work meant he would stay safe for the time being.
When the others had left—leaving him, Pea, and the mumbling, crying Bourlinch behind—his mind shifted to concern and fear. He could only hope that they would be safe wherever they ended up. They were walking on a thin line that could waver at any moment. If one thing went wrong it all fell to pieces and there was no way for him to know about it.
He looked outside through the single porthole window above the door. Bending his fingers became a chore, and he sat there flexing in and out. His right hand worked better than the left, but when he touched his left and tried to massage the joints, sharp pains shot up his arm. He examined his left hand, looking at the scars and the scabs, at the joints and the bruises that were now forming. How was Bourlinch able to do what Triska couldn’t? Is it because he is a Spellweaver? Maybe he has skills that Triska never learned. Or is there some other reason for it? Another sharp pain ran up his arm. His left hand was in horrible shape, and he was left handed, always had been and always would be. He could bend the fingers slightly, but the right seemed to work nearly perfectly now.
I wonder if I can still use magic.
James took in a deep breath. He eyed one of the chairs piled up on the side of the room and raised his left hand. He concentrated, pulling up just enough energy to make the chair move, and then he imagined it and let the magic go.
He screamed before he knew what had hit him. The pain was so intense that he didn’t have time to do anything else. His mind sent signals that hadn’t come yet, as if somehow his mind knew beforehand that pain was coming. His skin seared and burned as if his hand was on fire and his bones felt like they were cracking in half, even though neither was really happening. He shut off the magic quickly. The chair fell to the floor, and he only noticed it by sound, completely unaware that he had moved it in the first place. He gripped his left hand with his right in an attempt to ease the pain. Blood pumped at alarming rates, as if his body were trying to fight something that it didn’t realize wasn’t there. His fingers twitched and trembled.
“What happened?” Pea said, alarmed.
“I-I…” he stammered. His whole body shook.
“You shouldn’t be using magic. You’re still weak.”
“S-sorry. I just had to know if I still could.”
“Well if you keep stressing yourself you’ll never be able to use it again.”
“Like Bourlinch.”
Pea only nodded. “Just calm down for a while. Let yourself heal.”
“What if I never heal Pea? What if I can never use magic again? What then?”
“It won’t change anything about who you are.” Pea curled his lip gently. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to put up a lovely, well thought sign about why exactly it is that Bourlinch’s shop will not be open for the next couple of days.”
Pea hopped off of a chair and ambled through the building, rummaging through anything and everything until he found a flat, blank board. Then he set to his plotting. James watched, a bit perplexed by what was going on. Pea used a little magic to carve a very well drawn message in clean cursive font and, before James had a chance to see it, the Littlekind lifted the board, went outside, and came back in empty handed, brushing his hands off in the process.
“There, that should be more than sufficient.”
James leaned back in his chair and tuned out his surroundings. He assumed Pea would give him some time to himself, so he sat there and watched the wall. Then he found himself tired and closed his eyes.
A loud bang on the door woke him. James started and began to topple in his chair and some how managed to catch himself with his foot before falling over. Another loud bang and the wooden door shook. Pea ran forward.
“It’s us,” Darl’s voice boomed at an even angrier tone than when he had left.
Pea unlocked the door and Iliad, Triska, and Darl plowed into the room. A pack was slung over Darl’s shoulder, sagging with the weight of unknown items. A soft, sweet smell wafted into the room. Pea shut the door behind them and locked it.
“Well that was fast,” James said.
“Fast?” Darl had to contain his voice; he was obviously flustered. “We’ve been gone for four hours. Nice touch with the whole ‘gone due to family infection’ thing.” He passed a mild grin in Pea’s direction.
James rubbed his neck. It was sore from resting in an awkward position. “I didn’t realize I’d slept that long.”
“No matter. We’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Naturally I would want the bad news first,” Pea said. “The good news softens the blow.”
Everyone took a seat around the long wooden table, dragging chairs from other parts of the building to do so.
“The bad news is it’s going to take another day or more to figure out which of the towers she’s mostly likely kept in. We watched for about two hours on the northern side, and then I took a twenty minute hike to the southern side just to double check. She could be almost anywhere really.”
“Okay,” Pea said, “that’s not all that bad. What’s the good news then?”
“The good news,” Darl grunted and cleared his through, “is that we think she’s in one of seven towers.”
Iliad started to speak but Darl broke him off.
“Iliad thinks it’s narrowed to four, but unfortunately there’s no way rely on that assertion.”
“Seven towers?” James said with melancholy in his voice. “There are eight towers on the northern side alone.”
“Well that’s not the half of it. Three of the towers are on the southern side.”
“I thought you said you were sure that she was in one of the northern towers,” Pea said inquiringly.
“I did,” Iliad said, irritated.
“I watched the southern side. Three towers showed the same sort of activity as the four we watched in the north. Frequent guard changes and waste disposal.”
“She’s likely in the northern towers though.”
“That may be, but it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility.”
“I’m not sure you understand the meaning of good news,” Pea said sarcastically.
Darl ignored him. “Now, there’s more good news.”
Everyone, even Iliad and Triska, looked at Darl with confused looks.
Darl slung his pack onto the table with a thud and said, “We officially have enough dried fruit to last us for a month. Courtesy of our host, Mr. Bourlinch, who so graciously donated his earnings to the cause.”
“Darl…” Triska trailed off and shook her head.
Pea glared at Darl reproachfully.
Darl shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Sorry.”