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!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Insignificance of Earth

I've always found it profoundly interesting how people on this little planet think of themselves as so utterly important. So I thought I would write a post about just how insignificant we are in comparison to the universe, an idea spawned by this link.
Earth is but one planet in a our solar system. Our solar system has 8 planets--Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune--since Pluto is no longer a planet. Thanks stupid scientists and your anal criteria. There are loads of asteroids, comets, etc. too. Of our 8 planets, 6 of them have moons--one for Earth, two for Mars, 63 for Jupiter, 60 for Saturn, 27 for Uranus, and 13 for Neptune. Our Solar System has one sun.
Our sun is a star in the Milky Way Galaxy. There are billions upon billions of other starts in our galaxy, and millions of them are similar to our sun. There are hundreds of confirmed exo-planets--planets around other stars. Our galaxy is one of billions of other galaxies in our universe. In those galaxies there are billions upon billions of other stars, and since the Universe is so vast, this means there are so many stars and so many chances for life out there, that the thought that we would have been only intelligent life to emerge is absurd. (Note that we probably will never see those other lifeforms).
Now, here is where things get even more ridiculous in regards to our insignificance. Scientists are theorizing that our universe is not the only one out there. Now this could mean that maybe there are just many universes that act as big bubbles in the vastness of space, sort of like galaxies are in our universe, or it could mean that alternate dimensions are at work. This all sounds very crazy, but there is some real strength to the theories, most particularly the whole deal with the ten dimensions.
So how's that for putting things into perspective?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Changing WISB For All Mankind

Some of you might have noticed some serious changes around here. I'm doing some work on the blog to try to get new readers and the like and due to some suggestions some things are changing.
  • First, things have moved around a bit, and the archives are now a drop menu to save space.
  • Most of you never look down on the right hand side. Usually I have a group of image bars there from sites I am a part of. I try a lot of places to see what places seem to bring traffic to the site. I'm not trying to simply increase traffic, but what I'm doing is trying to bring new readers in to my blog. That's all. So I try various things, and from time to time I delete all the things that aren't doing anything for me from the blog. Which is exactly what has happened. All the links that weren't adding to my new readers are gone (I pay attention to sitemeter)
  • I've temporarily removed the word meters on the right hand side. Why? Alex suggested that perhaps they are misleading because they are expecting that perhaps those word meters refer to works that are on the site, considering that WISB is on the site. So I've taken them off for now. My other reason for taking them off was because, while they are nice, they are just too big for me. I wanted smaller word meters that take up less space. Thus far I haven't found any.
  • I'm trying a new thing called BlogRush, which you can see in the right. This is temporary, but it seems to be a way not only to bring readers of my blog to potentially awesome sites related to my blog, but might bring people from other places here. We'll see what happens with that.
  • I'm using Creative Commons at the bottom of my page now. I was using a different copyright before, but CC seems to be the common route for a lot of writers now, so now it's there.

    That about covers it for now. Hopefully things look okay. I'm giving this BlogRush thing a try, but if it doesn't prove useful, then it's gone.
    Thanks all! (Don't click the read more, there isn't any more after this)

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Solid Farewell To An Icon

It's really irrelevant if you liked Robert Jordan's work or not. You can't deny his impact on fantasy literature, one that while not as powerful as Tolkien's, is certainly recognizable. Jordan pioneered the massive fantasy epic series. There is no doubt that his writing (including not only the Wheel of Time, but various other work too) has brought rise to countless long-winded fantasy series. And like all literature, it's hit or miss. The impact is undeniable, whether or not you see it as positive or negative (though you have to admit that his impact is a little of both).
With his passing he has left behind quite a legacy, including an unfortunately unfinished fantasy series that we all of have heard of--The Wheel of Time. Like Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber...
I have never read any of his works, but I recognize his importance to the fantasy genre, much like I recognize Tolkien even though I was not a fan of his writing (the story was excellent, but it wasn't written very well in my opinion).
So with that, here is a wonderful adieu to an icon that seems to have left his mark.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Everchanging Space Economy

First things first, I want everyone to know that I did a review of Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret over at SQT's blog. Check it out please.

Now for something interesting! I'm sorry that it seems like all my little news things are all related to SF. Unfortunately there isn't really a whole lot of stuff that would pertain to fantasy that I'm finding. And what exactly would be good news stuff for fantasy? Anyone know? Other than literary stuff (such as Robert Jordan dying). So if anyone perhaps has some insight as to what you would like to see, let me know.

Now to another interesting article I found, located here. I'm rather optimistic when it comes to space travel, of any kind. I think one of the biggest issues we have today not only in regards to space, but even other technologies, is that we don't take risks. There are no more Thomas Eddisons in this country, or in a lot of the world for that matter.
So it came as a surprise to me that scientists think that it would cost us close to a trillion dollars or more just to get us to the Moon again. First, I see no value in going to the moon. Nobody has really come out and said why we should go there other than to just said "yeah, we can build a colony there". We can't exactly harvest the moon. That's too dangerous for the planet as a whole, and a risk not worth taking. I do however think we need to go to Mars. Why? Because we haven't put a person there yet. It's important.
So when I read that article and saw that with current funding it will likely never happen I was a little miffed. We have to go to Mars. Period. This article says that it could cost of ten times as much as NASA officials are saying. That's trillions upon trillions of dollars. NASA doesn't have that kind of funding and I don't think we need to give them that kind of funding.
What exactly would make such a project cost so much? And here's a thought, if it really will cost that much, why aren't we asked for an international cooperative effort to get this project hte funding it needs? Think, if we could send a couple Americans, a Brit, and a Chinese man or woman, etc. we could get massive amounts of funding! And it would look wonderful on a resume!
I think my problem is that I'm too optimistic about space travel. I think we can do almost anything if we just sit back and do it. I think space travel and understanding our own planet are paramount to the success of our species.
But maybe I'm just delusional.
And what does this do to all of us who are sitting around postulating advanced human societies that rule the galaxy? Yeah, doesn't bode well. Such societies would go bankrupt with space travel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Microbes Rule!

How many of you know what happens to the human body when it's subjected to the weightlessness of high Earth orbit? Well, to put it simply, the body actually starts to whither. It's not a quick process, and certainly not one that would prevent us from shipping people long distances in the solar system, but there is a noticeable effect on the immune system when astronauts return to Earth after a considerable stint in space. It's similar to AIDS. Your body has cells called T-cells, which have these little receptors whose job it is to basically tell other cells there is an infection in that particular cell. When someone is infected with AIDS, those receptors stop working. This is permanent in AIDS, obviously. So, when the body gets a cold, the cells don't know how to fight it because it seems to be replicating itself at such an alarming rate, which is true. Your body is no longer fighting the infection, basically.
Now, being in space is much the same, except that the effects don't remain when someone returns to normal gravity--as far as we know at least, considering we haven't exactly stuck someone up there for fifteen years to see what happens. So, your immune system weakens, those little T-cells and their receptors shut off, and your body becomes a happy breeding ground for all the little bacterium and microbes that float around in our air and make homes in our bodies.
This is where a new report from Universe Today comes in. Apparently bacteria--such as salmonella, which was used in this experiment--actually become more dangerous after spending considerable time in space. Astronauts took with them a group of salmonella filled containers with nutrients for the bacteria. What they discovered upon return to the ground was that the bacteria had changed expression in 167 of its genes and become three times more likely to infect. That's surprising when you think about it. Imagine having that floating freely in a space ship with a group of people who are immuno-depressed!
Scientists think it isn't directly related to the zero-gravity, not like it is in us humans, but it is indirectly related to it. They believe it has more to do with the movement of fluids, which on Earth is very low, but in space is probably considerably more active. Now that's some interesting news, eh?

Edit: I changed the phrase "altered 167 of its genes" because it was brought to my attention that that phrase may be confused with mutation, when that was not the meaning I was intending.

Updates, Changes, and New Writing Projects

So I am officially moved in to my new place for the next couple years. Well, at least for the next year. There is a good possibility I will be spending some considerable time in New Zealand next year, but we'll see.

Things are still a bit hectic. Some things are not yet unpacked, and things are a little misplaced and misshapen. I'm in a smaller room than I was before. You can see somewhat how things are progressing in some of the images at the end of this post. It's not perfect, but it will certainly do, and at least I have DSL, a roof, TV, my beautiful animals, and my schooling to look forward to!
So given that, it's been a rather stressful couple of weeks.

Now for an update on, well, stuff. I'm reading Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret for SQT's blog. It's a wonderful book and if anyone hasn't read the first you should. I also got a laptop, which I'll get a picture of eventually. I need it of course, because I'll be on campus quite a lot during the week.

Now, for the darker news. My blog has been getting a few comments from people from TeenageWriters, a website I was a part of. Well, I am no longer a part of the website due to issues that I don't think need to be repeated in full detail, but I will give the gist of why this happened. I was the debate mod at TW. Recent happenings were causing the upper mods to begin breaking apart and I got dragged into the fray. Certain members proved to be incapable of trying to find a compromise, some members were trying to understand what was going on, and others were trying to explain it. Ultimately what happened was that all the upper mods were split right down the middle because of immaturity and selfishness. Everyone was bickering, everyone was arguing, and when someone tried to bring the argument to a close and resume finding solutions, the same people would continue bickering. So, nothing got done. Then a few members came back who had left before, some things were said behind my back, and I realized pretty quick with the beginning of 'mod elections' that things were going from bad to extremely horrible at TW. So, I made the decision to leave so as not to have to deal with the worsening condition of the site and the idiocy of holding 'mod elections', which proved actually to bring things even further down. I have left, several other members have left, and people who were very important to the site are now considering leaving permanently. So, that's that. The Anthology for the website is basically dead. I've pulled all my material off the blog and intend to place it elsewhere, and it's just a very bad experience. There will be more about this later, but for now, that's that.

Now for some changes. I have a new email. If you click the "Contact Me" link on the left there it will have you send to the new email. For now it is a account. That may change again, but because my account will be going away I have to switch up. I have to start forwarding about 300 emails too.

I also recently had a short story reviewed by Zen Pen and at some point soon I'll have to put a summary of what was said. The short version is that it was good stuff, but with some things that really got me thinking.

Now for my writing. I've got a few projects in the works now.
  1. I'm still working on my short stories. I am hoping to get several stories in final working order so I can start sending them out to magazines. I think I'll end up with about 4 or 5 good stories all going out at once.
  2. The Spellweaver of Dern is still in the plotting stage. I'm a bit stuck on it, but at some point I'll have to sit down and work out the entire plotline.
  3. I've taken an old unfinished story and have started turning it into a novel. It's a cross genre piece taking a lot of elements from both science fiction and horror, and there are little bits of fantasy in there, in some ways. I'm not sure how it will work but I have two storylines working right now and I am really enjoying writing it
That pretty much completes that. Now for pictures! All the ones of the bay and nature and what not are actually from the UC Santa Cruz campus. Hope you enjoy them. All the pictures of a room are ones of my new room. Those are the early unpacking photos. Things are a bit different now of course. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Update On Me

I just wanted to give everyone an update on what is going on. There haven't been any posts on here for several days and here is why:

I have moved! Yes, I have officially moved to Santa Cruz, CA. Well, technically I'm in La Selva Beach, CA, but it's right next to Santa Cruz and since I'll be attending UC Santa Cruz to get my BA, I figure it's easier just to say I'm in SC.
So, I moved Sunday, and the last few days have been rather hectic trying to get things unpacked and organize all of my stuff in storage. I'll have some pictures in a week or so to give a visual idea of what is going on.
So that's the reason for my absence. Things will resume eventually. I have a lot of news to bring up and the like.

Thanks for your patience!
(Don't click the read more, there is no more after this)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Amazon Bestsellers in Scifi & Fantasy

So, here are your top ten bestsellers on Amazon as of tonight. It's an interesting bunch I think.

10. The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien
9. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
8. Confessor by Terry Goodkind
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
6. Spook Country by William Gibson
5. Dark Possession by Christine Feehan
4. The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks
3. Making Money by Terry Pratchett
2. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

See what I said about being an interesting bunch? Some oldies, some new stuff, and some fantastic works in there. If you want to see beyond 10, go to the link here.

(Don't click the read more, there is no more)

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Power of Data

I was using StumbleUpon's lovely 'stumble' feature again, and came across something that got me really thinking not only about our preconceived notions of the world as it sits today, but also about what the world might become in the future. The link is here. Don't watch it yet. Read on first. I want to do a little test at the end of the post.
The ending was especially interesting, showing all the countries as they popped up on the chart as the use of the Internet spread from place to place. So, according to statistical data we are all somewhat misguided in what we think about the third world. It's apparently not as bad as it's made out to be. Obviously that doesn't refer to places like Africa where AIDS is wreaking havoc, and this shows in the data, but a lot of countries that I thought were exceedingly poor and unhealthy are actually somewhat the opposite. What does this say about the way our media or even our educational system teaches us about the rest of the world? Are we really all that better off than a lot of places? The data suggests that we're not. Yes, of course we have a lot more things that most countries, but on average we're not that far off from a lot of countries that I and apparently a lot of Swedish undergrad students once thought were near the bottom of the barrel.
What does this say for the state of the world in the future? There seems to be a trend in countries moving up the ladder. Families get smaller, people live longer, income increases, and the gap between the rich and the poor adjusts significantly. In the future a lot of countries that we see as somewhat below us on an economic and health scale, may in fact match us in their productivity and survival rates. Many countries already have, according to the data. Obviously the U.S. brings in a lot more income than most nations, but it's not looking at how much the nation brings in as a whole, but at how that income branches out to the people.
So, let's do a little test here.
Which countries do you think have the highest infant mortality rate? Don't look it up. Just guess three and post it in a comment, along with the other answers.
Which countries do you think today have a shorter lifespan and large families?
Which countries are the opposite?
Which countries do you think currently match, or are at least near enough to us, economically (by percentage, not gross income) and medically?

Post your answers or write them down and then watch the video. Maybe you'll be surprised! Tell me what you thought on there. I'd like to know what choices you made!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Art is Awesome!

This is topical because it's Scifi art! I was over at Astrona today and there were a series of videos of this spraypaint artist that does things with spraypaint I didn't think were possible. You need to to check it out. The first video is totally amazing! I especially liked the part when he started using fire to make what I assume was the gloss.

Also it seems that Michael Capobianco of SFWA has issued a statement regarding basically how SFWA intends to continue to protect author's rights here. I pretty much agree. One blunder should not change how SFWA intends to protect its authors. Of course they messed up, but that surely doesn't mean we should condemn the organization entirely. They've been around forever. Couldn't hurt to be nice to them a bit.
Now for some really bizarre news thanks to this Universe Today article. Sometimes stars eat up comets, asteroids, and planets, and sometimes stars get eaten up. Apparently, and I'm no expert here, scientists have discovered an instance of a star literally being eaten alive. Well, perhaps not literally, since a star isn't a live, but you catch my drift. Usually when you hear about stars being destroyed, it's either because they're at the end of their life or a lovely black hole or bigger star has taken care of them. Well, in this case, it's something a little smaller at work--a pulsar. The irony in this situation is that a pulsar is actually the remains of a star, rapidly spinning and emitting large amounts of electromagnetic radiation let off in pulses of radio waves. That's a pretty simple version. In any case, this particular pulsar has been sucking the life out of this other star. Initially astronomers were puzzled as to why the pulsar was speeding up. Generally they accelerate and then dwindle down. But astronomers knew that something had to be feeding the pulsar. Further study proved there was a object, and when they really looked, they realized that it was another star, rather what they initially thought was a planet. They believe that the star was already quite old, probably at the end of its lifespan anyway in the white dwarf stage, but the little pulsar sucking away all the leftover material is truly wreaking havoc.
Today they're so close that the pulsar produces a tidal bulge on the surface of the dead star, siphoning material away. Sometimes there's so much mass accumulated that it piles up and explodes as the outburst that led astronomers to the discovery in the first place.
Don't think of the companion as the planet. "Despite its extremely low mass, the companion isn’t considered a planet because of its formation," says researcher Christopher Deloye of Northwestern University. "It’s essentially a white dwarf that has been whittled down to a planetary mass."
Now how is that for a rude neighbor?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Review Up! Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell

New review of Ragamuffin here!

Check it out! There's a giveaway too! Details on that post.

(Don't click the read more...this is all there is)

Six Years: NYC Remembered

There's not much to say here. What can you say about something like this? We are fortunate and unfortunate to have been alive to witness, even from a distance, one of the most frightening moments in the history of this country. Are there words to truly describe what many of us felt then and feel now? I still can't watch the videos or look at the pictures for more than a few moments. I didn't know anybody in NYC, but for whatever reason just seeing it even in still form brings me to tears.

So, for this day and this day only, let's all forget the war inIraq and everything else going on in this country. Let's forget who's running for election, what new laws are coming in, etc.
All we should do at this moment is remember. Remember all the men and women in the trade center and at ground zero, alive and dead, who saw it happen.Remember the fire fighters who risked their lives doing what they volunteered to do.Remember. That's the only thing we as a people can do. Most of us weren't there. We feel something that we might not be entirely able to explain. So we do what we can. We remember.
To those who lost loved ones who are forced to relive this day over and over as a historical marker for this country, my heard goes to you and your family. My heart goes to the fire fighters who still live in NYC and everywhere. Thank you so much for everything you do for us. You do what most of us are no brave enough to do. For that there is no true repayment.

SFWA: My Thoughts

Alright, so it's probably somewhat old news, but so be it. I feel like putting my thoughts out there. I'm sure some of you have already heard about SFWA's little blunder in regards to For those that haven't, here is a very brief run down of what happened:

Some members of SFWA reported finding their material posted on Scribd and other similar sites to the SFWA e-Piracy Commitee and complained about the infringement. SFWA responded and sent a notice to the sites responsible and requested they take the material off else legal action be taken. The sites responded by doing exactly that (at least in the instance of Scribd, since this is where it all explodes from). Cory Doctorow had a fit, here, because his work was taken off even though he never gave SFWA authorization to remove it (because he had not authorized SFWA to act as his copyright agent, to put it simply), and apparently this has happened to several other authors. SFWA publicly apologized, here, for the incident. Of course the good Mr. Scalzi has already discussed the topic here. But, we're not here about what Scalzi thinks, we're here about...

My thoughts:
No offense to Scalzi. It's a genius, but yeah.
So what do I think about it?
Well, to be honest, SFWA should be thankful that really bad legal action hasn't been taken against them. Maybe there has and it's behind the scenes, but they clearly made a mistake that no organization with that much respect should have.
I do think the apology says a lot about the state of things, though. The organization was quick to acknowledge their mistakes, something that certain politicians might never have done, and issued apologies not only to the public but to the individual authors. SFWA has ever right to protect authors they are authorized to represent, obviously, and they did do exactly what they should have done when they received the notice by removing many works that never should have been on Scribd and other sites to begin with. This is not Scribd's fault. If you look all over the net you can find pretty much anything anyway, so it's no surprise that a site like Scribd unintentionally let some stuff slip under the radar.
So SFWA really handled the issue poorly. They went ballistic when they should have looked at it rationally. Would it have been hard for the SFWA people to sit down and look at the list of alleged infringements to figure out which authors they were authorized protect? Nope. Probably would have taken 5 minutes with today's database technology. And in that instant they could have looked at all the other names and perhaps made a judgment call and sent emails instead of running out and demanding things be pulled down.
SFWA didn't do that, unfortunately. So, poor judgment call on their part, but thankfully they acknowledged their stupid mistake and made efforts to fix things. That takes some balls, in my opinion.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some Useful Links of the Week

Well I'm posting a lot of links and this post is basically just some more links to stuff that might be useful to some of you. Mostly I picked them because they're interesting to me. I'm also not trying to steal what Jason Penney is doing over at All the Billion Other Moments. He does posts of 'Links of Interest' on there. So my intention is not to seem like I'm copying, even though technically I'm doing the same thing here. So be it. His links are really good too! Plus I've become obsessed with StumbleUpon now, which is a wonderful site you should all be a part of because you can find some wonderful stuff just randomly surfing with the "stumble" button.

Also, I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I did do my first review for SQT here on Spin State by Chris Moriarty. Go check it out!

Alright, so some useful links!
1. 13 Things That Do Not Make Sense from New Scientist Space. This one really grabbed me because of the Horizon Problem, the Pioneer Anomaly, and the Wow Signal. Some crazy things going on there!
2. Magnetic Refigerator. What? Yeah, exactly. It doesn't need electricity apparently and the lovely people in Denmark came up with it. It uses magnets to keep the thing cool. This places higher importance on magnets and magnetism now doesn't it?
3. Discworld...the cake. This is an example of someone with far too much time on their hands.
4. The Evolution of the Alphabet. The short version really. This one got my attention. It shows you line to line how the alphabet evolved to what it is today from culture to culture, time to time. It's very basic and obviously a hell of a lot more is going on behind the scenes, but still, this is interesting!
5. Kinetic energy, living creatures. I'm not sure what else to even call this. It's so bizarre and yet amazing at the same time that I had to put it up for everyone.
6. eFanZines. I'm not sure how good this place is, but it does have quite a bit of literature on there and maybe there's some good stuff there. Anyone been? I've just discovered it. Gives me some material to read now that I'm not working.
7. Duotrope and Ralan. Both sites where you can find places to submit your work. Ralan is more for speculative fiction and Duotrope seems to be a bit of everything. Both lovely sites I think.

There you have it. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sad News For the Week and Some Happier Stuff

I just found out today that Lloyd Alexander and Madeleine L'Engle died this year. Read the post here at Wands and Worlds. Also here is the USA Today reports for Lloyd Alexander and Madeleine L'Engle. Sad day indeed for me. Both wonderful writers who did much for literature.

For happier news I guess:
Here is a neat bit on the Voyager spacecraft. I love the image. Very Scifi :).
Also an interesting read on magic is here at Karen Lee Field's blog. Good stuff there.

As part of my column at the TeenageWriters Blog, I've started an eight part series on beginnings. The first of them is here. Feel free to check it out! I also wrote a bit about the importance of places like TeenageWriters, Critique Circle, and the like here.

Also, at some point this weekend I'm probably going to babble about the latest SFWA issue. Some of you know about it already, but I feel like adding my two cents, even though I'm not a part of SFWA cause I don't fit into their strict guidelines yet.

Enjoy the links!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Design and Writing

Some of you who visit here may have noticed that the look of my blog has changed. This is only the start of the changes for it. I've decided to stick with Blogger for now. I imagine that while WordPress might have some amazing features, such features will end up being a part of Blogger anyway, and the idea that I can edit and change just about anything for free on Blogger is more important to me than having some of the neat features of WordPress under restriction.
First and foremost, what do you think thus far? I've added the left hand sidebar and was trying to figure out how to add another bar so that the left is identical to the right. This was hopefully to reduce the length of all the information so it is a little more accessible for people. Does it look okay? I don't want it to be incredibly cluttered and hopefully it isn't that way. The idea is so that things look a little smoother without a bunch of annoying buttons and junk or an endless sidebar.
What other improvements might you be interested in seeing? I'm contemplating trying to replace the current banner with something a little more flashy. Nothing spectacular, but certainly something that might be a little more 'me' in regards to the blog and what I'm using this blog for. I have an idea how to put it up there, but it will take me quite some time to come up with something that I actually like to put there. I'm not great with Photoshop so either I will have to learn some tricks or have to make due with what I know. Most of my experience with Photoshop is generally randomness that becomes art, or in the instance of some of my space 'paintings' some predefined methods that I fiddled with to get different effects. I would use those methods except this blog isn't really an SF blog and I don't know if space type stuff would be good for it. But, we'll see.

Now, currently I'm not writing anything. Mostly I'm editing and critiquing. I have several stories that are in need of some final edits and several that are going to some groups I'm a part of for crits. I have a lot of ideas mulling around in my head and I think before I start really digging in The Spellweaver of Dern, I want to get some other stuff on the page first. My goal is to start The Spellweaver of Dern around Christmas. The problem with starting sooner is that I want to be properly prepared with the story this time. WISB is going to have to go through some extensive edits, which means in the next month or so all the chapters will be pulled off. Those that are reading it may of course send me emails asking about the project, etc. WISB is not in a perfect state at the moment, obviously, but I intend to make it much better.
So, for now I'm working on other projects. Never fear, much will be done for the world in the satin bag. We'll meet James again, and Pea, Triska, Darl, Iliad, and of course Laura. We'll see a little more of this Captain Norp fellow and actually find out what and who he is, and more about who Darl is will be revealed. There will be many surprises and many things will be answered. The Lean will show up again, because the Lean must. I have to think a lot on this to figure out the best way to present all these things. The book may or may not be considerably longer than WISB. I don't know yet. That depends on where the characters take me.
So, stay tuned to the blog, because other stuff will be discussed!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Acknowledgments and Such

Now that WISB is finally finished it's time for one of those long winded thank you posts.
First, I'd like to thank anyone who has been reading this blog and the novel, even if you have never left a comment. I do check my sitemeter and there are several people who apparently stick around for a while and return at other times. Thank you for coming by and please leave a message some time.

Second, I'd like to thank Mr. Bramage for his support of the project. While I haven't heard from you in a long while, I still must thank you for keeping me writing in the beginning.
I'd like to thank Alex of SmackJeeves for drawing all those lovely pictures including the one that is in this post and for being a one man cheering squad. I hope to see more of your art soon! Make me a new banner! And a logo! And something else that's pretty!
Next I'd like to thank Imelda, Eva, and Calamire from TW for pushing me on to finish the novel even through the hardest times when my brain wanted to quit. Word Wars have been awesome!
And to anyone else that has come by here, read the novel, commented on it, linked me, or anything of that nature...thank you.

Thanks everyone! It's been fun. Now to working on SOD!

Chapter Thirty One: Of Captain Norp and the Last Journey

(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.)

They made camp the following afternoon after following the Nar River south and crossing a wooden bridge wide enough for two carriages to pass at the same time. Iliad guessed they had traveled a good sixty miles; James knew it would be several days before they reached Sem’pur. Along the riverbed they washed the filth from their clothes until the fabric no longer stunk. Triska took a moment to sprinkle the petals of little green flowers on their clothes, and before long all the stench of the sewage lines were lost.
The first night proved eventful. Nobody had asked James about his hand, and he had made no effort to discuss it. Even Triska, who normally seemed aware of injuries at all times, being a healer and all, was oblivious.
James sat in the dirt silently.

“You came for me,” Laura said, cool and collected, looking at James with her bright green eyes.
He nodded.
“That’s amazing.”
“I don’t think so. I had to do it. You’re my best friend.”
“I know, but, I mean, you came all this way just to save me. That’s truly amazing.”
He nodded again.
“And…you…how did you do that back there?”
“Do what?”
Now he grinned. He showed her the Fearl and explained everything to her. He told her about his parents and the Council, and how he had come to the Farthland only to see it destroyed by Luthien. He explained how the Fearl worked and about Dulien. He went on and on, saying everything he could think of, hardly taking a breath. Then Laura jumped on him and hugged him. His mouth closed, his last few words muffled, and then he hugged her back.
When she pulled away a few tears fell from her face. She smiled warmly at him. He smiled back.
“Thank you.”
He nodded.
She looked at his hand. He tried to hide it, but she grabbed his wrist. “What happened?”
“It’s nothing.”
“What do you mean it’s nothing? It’s soaked in blood. You would have cried for hours back home.”
“We’re not at home.”
“You said Triska is a healer right?”
Laura walked away and called for Triska. When Laura returned, Triska pushed her gently aside. James raised his hand to her instinctually. The plump woman grabbed hold of his wrist. He winced. She untied the fabric and exposed the huge gash in his hand. The blood had begun to congeal, but he could see the flesh beneath the skin.
“You should have told me sooner,” Triska said.
“It’s nothing, really,” he said.
“Nothing?” Triska gently ran her fingers over the wound. “Don’t pretend to be tough around your friend. This could have gotten infected. And now it’s going to hurt like hell to heal.”
James didn’t say anything to that. He couldn’t imagine the pain being anymore than he had already experience. Triska set to work on his wound. Spurts of magic made the skin tingle. He sensed pain, but he ignored it, even when it grew in intensity. All he managed was a wince. He watched the skin as it slowly closed. He felt bones rearrange. Then a few minutes later Triska let go of his hand. He examined it. A scar ran from the beginning of the knuckle of his middle finger all the way to an inch away from his wrist. In a few weeks time it would be indistinguishable from the others scars on his body. When he flexed his fingers they only worked slightly. He touched the hand with his right. The sensation hurt; he winced and let go. He flexed the fingers again. They worked, but it felt as if all of his fingers had been jammed against something. He shook his hand and looked up.
“Thanks,” he said.
Triska started to walk away, placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder and gave a warm smile. Then she left to join the others.
“So you can use magic?”
“Yeah. It’s…”
He chuckled. “Yeah, it is.”
“So, do something with it. I don’t know, lift me up or something.”
“I don’t think I can right now.”
“Sure you can!”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not worth the risk. I’m not trained like Triska or Pea. They’ve been doing this for years and years. And with my hand mangled like this,” he held it up, “I’m at a disadvantage. I’m left handed.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. Then she changed the subject. “Where are we going?”
He explained the journey to Sem’pur and the Luu’tre and its captain. “We’ll be safe for a while,” he said after he had finished.
She nodded.
“Have you met everyone?”
She shook her head. “I met Triska. She’s very nice. I was afraid to ask the little guy what he was though, and the old man freaks me out.”
He laughed. “Well that sounds like Triska. She’s a nice woman. The little one is Pea, like the vegetable.”
“Why does he call himself Pea?”
“Pantifilus the Extraordinarily Abnormal. P-E-A.”
“Oh. Well that’s interesting.”
“Indeed. And the old guy is Darl. He’s known as the grumpy one around here.”
“He seems it.” She laughed.
“Iliad is the other fellow with the bow. I think it’s about time to eat actually.”
James led Laura to where the others sat. Together they all ate. Nobody said much of anything, not willing to discuss all that had happened until they were safely in the water. Then everyone went to their separate places and fell asleep.
The days went by quicker than James imagined. He was cautious every moment now. Iliad took watch on the second and third nights; Darl accepted the watch after that. James hoped that Luthien wouldn't come storming through the darkness of night and into their camp.
But as they pushed north, they saw no soldiers of Luthien, only civilians. Twice they saw a gryphon in the distance, but they paid it no head as it headed off east.
When they reached the Bay of Salm on the sixth day a thick cloud cover had taken over the day sky and small patters of rain now batted them. Fog flew in from the ocean, propelled by strong sea air and obstructing the only view of the great blue water.
It wasn’t until the seventh night that they reached Sem’pur. From a distance it didn’t look like much of anything at all. Small homes were scattered over the landscape overlooking the Sea of Loe. Off in the distance a new fog bank flowed over the sea. Any chance of seeing the Wunder Isles was dashed.
Among the houses were shacks and long buildings built like Native American long houses. They were stained and weathered, markings of long seaside winters. James could smell the sea air now, a strong salty scent that he had never smelled before. This was the first time he had ever seen the ocean outside of a computer or television screen. He marveled at the vastness of the blue water, how it seemed to go on forever even though he knew it didn’t. He had a strange sympathy for the people who once thought the world was flat. He could see how such bizarre thought could come about. People need an end to something. Part of being mortal. Everything has to have an end.
Beyond at the far edge of the city were the main docks to Sem’pur, skirting along the edge of the Bay of Salm where it met with the Straight of Loe. Several massive ships were harbored there, and a plethora of smaller ships were tied to smaller docks. The ships shifted, rising and falling with the sea.
As they entered the city of Sem’pur it became obvious that it was more of a slum than a city. While it could easily have been home to a hundred thousand men and women, it looked run down and without any defenses. There were no gates, no guards, and certainly nothing that looked like it could do the job. People roamed the streets wearing little more than tattered robes that hung loosely from their bodies. Dirt and grime riddled their faces making it impossible to tell whether they were male or female.
James made sure that Mirdur’eth stayed closed to the middle of the road, a slushy, mud filled dirt track that drove straight through the center of the city. He wondered how they were going to find Captain Norp in such a large slum, with all the people looking so alike in their dirtiness.
The main road was home to a flurry of houses, some of them shops, and none of them remotely kept in good condition. Doors hung from hinges, windows were boarded up, and roofs were patched with a variety of objects from the seats of chairs to bits and pieces of driftwood woven together and nailed down with so many nails that not even a hurricane could remove them. Where there were intact windows, big circles were cut out of the dust and grime where someone had attempted to wash the glass.
A few drunks wandered onto the street from a nearby pub, tripping and laughing as they tugged each other along into an alley, enormous mugs of ale in their hands. An inn—the Foreigner as it was called—was the only thing that looked remotely decent. It had a sign that looked freshly painted and while the doors were less than appealing in their random array of wood patches, the windows were clean and clear.
James felt strangely like he was in a western. At any moment he expected a sheriff to come rolling into town on a horse with a big black cowboy hat and a buttoned up black suit, silver star on his chest.
“This place is huge,” he said. “We’ll never find this captain.”
Darl grinned.
Pea rolled his little eyes and said, “Please Darl, enlighten us to the wonderful happenings within that mind of yours. Don’t keep us in suspense.”
“The one thing you have to learn about captains of ships like the Luu’tre,” Darl began, “is that they never stray far from the ship.”
“They don’t stray far because they’re usually drunk,” Pea said with a twinge of humor.
“Well, that’s probably true.”
Darl took the lead and took them north of the city towards the Bay of Salm. They crossed through roads that had turned into miniature lakes and random patches of tall grass where roads had once been. They weaved between houses and eventually came to an ill-traveled road that looked solid enough to hold the weight of the horses and steeds. There were pubs all up and down the road and above each bar was an inn, as if the pubs intended for their guests to stay. Wild laughter and rambling men cried out from several of the pubs, and others were completely silent but for the sound of lively piano music.
“Okay, so we’re looking for a drunken captain?” Laura said.
“We’re just looking for a captain. Ask for Captain Norp and don’t mention the Luu’tre,” Darl said.
“Okay,” James and Laura said in unison as everyone dismounted and tied the animals to a long post. Then they all split up.
James led Laura to one of the quieter bars. Pea and Iliad took one of the louder ones; Triska and Darl wandered into one that was right in the middle on the noise meter.
Inside they found that the lively music was actually being played by an old player-piano. The pub was relatively empty but for a few men at the bar drinking away their sorrows, a bartender cleaning a set of mugs, and a waitress who washed the tables with an old blackened rag that seemed to fall apart as she rubbed it against the wood.
The door closed behind them and they walked inside.
“We don’t serve kids here,” the bartender said. “Not since the last bunch.”
“I’m looking for Captain Norp,” James said.
“What for?”
“Personal business.”
“Never met him.”
James grimaced. The situation was remarkably close to a western, minus the guns.
A man at the bar leaned over to look at him, only it wasn’t a man, but a Littlekind with two slightly pointed ears and a long black uni-brow. Ale trickled from the little man’s mouth as he rocked back and forth.
“What business you have with the Cap…” the Littlekind said before hiccupping and finishing, “tain?”
“We’re here to barter for passage on his ship.”
“He don’t take kids on joy rides.” Another hiccup.
“We’re not looking for a joy ride. I’m here with several friends. We are in need of passage to the Wunder Isles.”
The bar went silent, except for the player-piano.
The Littlekind burst out in laughter. “Yeah, right. Hear him Gumbly? Wants to go to the Wunder Isles. Funny stuff that.”
Gumbly, if that was his real name, stood still.
The Littlekind closed his mouth and let his smile fade away before looking back at James. “You serious?”
James nodded. “Are you Captain Norp?”
“Might be. That depends on whose askin’.”
“I am.”
“Yeah, see that. Afraid can’t help you though. Like adventure just fine, but seen the Wunder Isles before. Not all that exciting.”
James turned to Laura. “Let’s get the others first.” He went to the bar. “Do you have paper and something to write with?”
Gumbly handed him a small scrap of browned paper, a quill, and a small ink bottle. He had never written with a quill before and it took him a few words to get used to it. He scribbled a quick letter:
To Tum Tum. Please take care of these horses and Blaersteeds. I trust you to make sure they are safe for whenever it is that I may return. Thank you.
He rolled up the paper and handed the quill and ink bottle to Gumbly. Then he turned back to Captain Norp and said, “We’ll be back. Please consider the offer.”
Captain Norp waved a disapproving hand.
James and Laura left the pub—a sign above the door said The Whisker Bin—and headed to find the others. James went to Mirdur’eth and looked the steed in the eye.
“Take this note with you. Find Tum Tum. Take the others with you okay?”
Mirdur’eth nodded with huge up and down motions.
“Good. Laura, start pulled off the packs. Stuff anything that looks important in them. Leave the food. We probably won’t need it.”
James left her there to find the others. He found Darl and Triska in the same pub they had originally gone in, and Iliad and Pea were in a nearby pub and more than ready to leave despite the rambunctiousness of the men inside. Before long all six of them were together again. James explained the situation. Everyone slugged packs over shoulders and James untied all the horses.
“Remember, guide them all to Tum Tum.”
Mirdur’eth grunted and turned. A few pushes and head gestures and all five of the creatures were trotting along the road and out of the city.
James led the others to The Whisker Bin. Captain Norp met them at a table in the center. He wore a dark red vest that bordered on blackish-brown.
“So, this must be your pirate gang eh?” Captain Norp said.
“Not exactly,” James said. “We need passage to the Wunder Isles.”
“You done said that before. And not taking the offer.” Captain Norp pointed a tiny finger at Darl. “You’re familiar.”
“We’ve met before,” Darl said. “Long time ago in fact.”
“Darl of the Farthland?”
Darl nodded.
“Well what a lovely surprise. The former seaman. Wonderful.”
“You were a sailor?” James said.
Another nod.
“Still not taking the offer. Old time seaman or not.”
James threw up his hands and looked at the others. Iliad watched the window suspiciously. “We don’t have time for this,” Iliad said.
“Well you try convincing him then,” James said.
“No, I mean we don’t have time for this because we’ve got company.”
“Company?” Darl said.
James, Pea, and Darl all went to the two windows in front and looked out. Four figures rode down the street. Three looked oddly familiar, yet not at the same time. Shadows flittered behind them like a cloak and great blades covered in black flames were in their hands. But it was the last figure that made him collapse backwards. He saw the white, dead eye, the scarred face, and the ethereal glow of the one good eye. A black cloak only covered part of the man’s overbearing appearance.
It was Luthien.
“How?” James said for lack of anything else to say.
“I don’t know,” Darl said, “but we don’t have time to ask questions. How many people does it take to get a pathetic little ship to sea?”
“Pathetic little ship?” Captain Norp said. “Well that might be a first. The Luu’tre is no little ship. She’s a galleon. Sixty guns strong. No little ship that. Takes quite a few to keep her running smooth. No easy task.”
“What do you want as payment to take us to sea?” James said, his voice bitter.
“More than a trip to the Wunder Isles. Aim for adventure, intrigued by it.”
James stormed over to where Captain Norp sat and grabbed hold of the Littlekind’s vest and lifted. He dragged the kicking and screaming Littlekind to the window.
“Let go of me!”
“Have a look first,” he said, shoving Captain Norp face first against the window. “How about that for adventure?”
The Littlekind’s eyes went wide as he caught sight of Luthien and the three shadow soldiers. Then his eyes curved down and a thing smile graced his face.
“Luthien! Ha!”
James dropped Captain Norp to the ground.
“You’ve got yourself a ship! A mighty ship! Come! Time to leave!” Captain Norp shook James’ hand and scurried away to the bar, tossing a pair of coins at Gumbly. “Take care of yourself there Gumbly.”
Gumbly said nothing.
James started to follow. When he and his companions reached the back of the pub, where Captain Norp headed to a backroom exit, the front door swung open and one of the shadow soldiers stopped dead.
He looked at the others for a brief instant, and then looked at the soldier. The soldier breathed and turned to give away their location. James didn’t hesitate any longer. He pulled magic through his right hand and flung it all at the soldier. The wall exploded outward, leaving a gaping hole where the door used to be. The soldier crashed through the wall of a pub across the road and disappeared in the debris.
Gumbly protested wildly. Darl tossed the remaining bag of coins at the bartender and said, “For the damages good sir,” with a wink and a smile.
Then they were outside and running along the coast on a thin path. James could see the docks ahead, long and wooden, connecting land to ship. A few men and women walked the docks; Captain Norp started yelling.
“Raise anchor! Set sail!”
A group of men suddenly dropped whatever it was they were doing and ran. At the far end of the nearest dock sat a massive ship with bold white and red letters that said The Luu’tre. It had two large masts and a series of small sails. James could see all along the side many closed doors where nearly half of the sixty guns would show themselves.
As they reached the dock he sensed magic flowing. He glanced back and saw Luthien and the shadow soldiers riding hard against a brisk wind. Their black horses fumed, but they were too far now. His feet smacked on the wood dock and soon they were clambering up the ramp and into the Luu’tre. He looked up into the tall white sails as they opened with a thundering boom. The anchor was raised and the ship suddenly yanked forward as oars protruded from sides of the ship and pushed her away from the dock. Men and women ran from one side to another, pulling and securing rope.
Captain Norp clambered aboard as he released the mooring. Someone else pulled the ramp up just as Luthien and the two soldiers made it to the dock and forced their horses onto the wood.
“Mind helping for a moment you two,” Captain Norp said to both James and Pea. The two followed Captain Norp aft where an old, rusty anchor sat. “Need you to chuck this at the dock. Wait for signal.”
Then Captain Norp ran to the middle of the ship and looked over the edge. “Not yet. Almost!”
James glanced over the side and saw Luthien and the two soldiers riding fast up the dock.
Together James and Pea pulled on their magic and the anchor launched high into the air. Pea looked through a hole in the railing to guide the chunk of metal. Luthien’s horse reared back and cried out as the anchor struck the dock. It crashed through and splashed in the water, then a moment later the dock tilted and crashed in a mighty heap of wood planks and boards. Luthien and the shadow soldiers followed suit and fell. The horses swam away as fast as they could while the men struggled out of their cloaks to be able to swim.
“Ha!” Captain Norp said, pointing a finger. “Have always wanted to do that! To the Loe Strait!”
James sat down on the steps of the quarter deck and glanced at the wheel as it was tugged clockwise. He let out a sight of relief.
The Luu’tre pushed out into the middle of the bay and caught an even stronger wind that pulled her to the mouth of the Bay of Salm. James stood up and walked to the bow, avoiding the working men and women. Laura followed him.
He looked out into the water. The sun was setting, a bright red orb on the horizon. He could barely see the swift currents of the Strait of Loe ahead. Thin clouds swept past the crimson sun. He looked at Laura and smiled.
“What?” she said.
“We made it,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
He gave her a big hug and laughed.
“What was that for?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Just glad to see you’re alive.”
She smiled. “I could say the same.”
He watched as the sun drifted lower into the horizon and grinned.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Chapter Thirty: Of Dark Interests

(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 sat on one of the ridges along the edge of the octagon. None of the others bothered sitting. Darl took a position behind Bourlinch as if ready at any moment to beat the memories out. James watched the water as it flowed down the tunnel off somewhere unknown. He was getting used to the smell now.
It had easily been twenty minutes of them setting around as Bourlinch argued with himself over which tunnel was the correct one. At one point Darl suggested they just split up into each of them, but that idea was quickly shot down as Iliad explained how unlikely it would be that they would find a way out doing that. James wondered what would happen to them if they never found a way out of the tunnels. Even if they were forced to turn back he wasn’t sure he could trust Bourlinch’s memory. What if he forgets? We’ll be stuck here forever.

Darl spoke in hushed whispers to himself. James could tell they were angry, bitter words, each phrase coming as a snap. Iliad tried going down one of the tunnels to see if there was an air current to follow, or some change of smell, but when he came back his face was as grim as before and going down the other tunnels proved just as useless. James felt helpless again. He sat alone and listened.
“What if you read his mind?” Pea suggested.
Triska shook her head. “The memories are buried deep. I don’t think I can pull them forward. I’d likely hurt us both by doing so.”
“Something will jar his memory. I hope.”
James wasn’t convinced. Triska was lying again, a white lie, but still a lie nonetheless. He wasn’t quite sure how he could tell, but something about the way she spoke when she lied gave her away and he took far too much notice in it for his own good. Deep down he hoped he could just believe what she said.
The time went from twenty minutes to thirty, to forty five, and then an hour. Darl was pacing, grabbing and releasing his sword rhythmically. Iliad tried going down the tunnels once more and came back empty handed.
James started to think. He wondered what would happen to Laura if they couldn’t get to her tonight. He wondered what would happen to him if they were caught. Tonight, he knew, might be the only night they would have the opportunity to search for her. Luthien would know what he was up to and would be sending a message east. Then he thought about the power that Luthien seemed to possess. It occurred to him that somehow Luthien might get back to Teirlin’pur overnight using some power that nobody really knew about, or didn’t discuss. Do the people here know about it? Are they keeping it quiet? What about the other cities in Angtholand? Do they know anything?
The questions came out of him in a hurry and he knew that neither he nor his companions would have the answer to them.
When the second hour rolled by without a single bit of progress, Bourlinch let out a cough and a murmur of words that nobody understood. Darl said something and then Bourlinch knelt down and dipped his hand into the water. James started to protest, but before he could do anything the crooked man drank and made an echoing ‘ah’ sound. James pursed his lips in disgust and saw the same looks on the faces of his companions.
Then Bourlinch clapped his hands together, flinging bits of water in every direction and said, “I know now! I see it. I see path. Yes!”
Before anyone could speak Bourlinch tore off down the left hand path. James got to his feet in a hurry and followed. But Bourlinch was too far ahead. The others were behind him, but as he ran the sounds of Bourlinch hiccupping and making odd noises dwindled. Then all the sounds disappeared. He continued, sloshing and slashing. The water grew deeper and deeper. Soon he found himself in waste deep water. The tunnel had taken a dive in altitude at some point behind, bringing the water higher and higher. A giggle sounded as he pushed as fast as he could through the water. He glanced back. Darl gave him a look of triumph. James frowned.
He moved on, pushing with all his might to get himself through the water as fast as possible. The waterline rose again. A pair of small arms wrapped around his neck—Pea. He let the little man climb onto his back. Then the water rose to his chest. He cursed to himself, under his breath. Darl cursed out loud.
It felt like forever. He led the others along the tunnel with Pea attached to his back like a little animal, torch held up to provide light. He groaned as his feet slipped on something gross at the bottom of the tunnel and he didn’t ask himself what it could possibly be. Soon his shoes were being encased in the mud-like goop and he had to fight even harder just to keep moving. He knew he could swim a lot faster than he could walk, but he refused to get any more of his body in the water.
At least I don’t have to worry about my armpits smelling, he thought.
The water let up slightly some distance away from when it had reached his chest. He sighed out loud and smiled faintly. The others seemed pleased too, especially Darl who let out a curse that sounded more like a cheer.
Then the water rapidly dropped to his knees as the tunnel regained altitude. He knelt so Pea could get down and continued.
“That little piece of…” Darl started, only to be shushed by Triska.
James knew what Darl’s next words would be and he grimaced at the thought. Pea would say that’s uncivilized.
The tunnel took a rapid turn and ended in another open space, this time round and without any additional passages. Sitting on a round stone in the center was Bourlinch, grinning with yellowed teeth and wrinkly arms crossed.
“Slow Farthland and Other.”
“I should have your head!” Darl roared.
Bourlinch flinched instinctually.
“Be quiet Darl,” James said. The words didn’t surprise him. He had said much worse and he knew it. “Don’t do that again, Bourlinch.”
“Stench. Filth. I am not. I don’t like.”
“I understand, but you can’t just go running off like that.”
“Not if you want our trust,” Iliad said.
“Come then.” Bourlinch leapt from the stone and went to the far side of the round room. There a gate stood, much like the one they had originally come in—a series of crisscrossed bars held together by bolts.
“Where is this?” Iliad said.
“West side. Just below. By north tower. Wanted tower.”
“Are you sure?”
Bourlinch nodded.
Before anything else could be said, Pea approached and began to work magic. Iliad helped, jamming his knife, in the same fashion as Darl, into the opening gaps. The two worked slower this time, moving the bars at a snails pace. One by one the bars separated, breaking away from the bolts that were fused into the metal. Metal whined and whistled as the bolts flew off, but no huge bang sounded. It took ten minutes to make a hole big enough for them all to cross through. Then Iliad and Pea slipped through; James followed after the rest, the last one to leave the discomfort of the sewage.
The gate opened up into an area covered in trees and brush. A single path led from underground up into the trees and disappeared. Iliad slipped into the shadows seamlessly, as if he hadn’t ever been there before. James followed into the bush.
The trees didn’t make up a large forest, but more or less a small patch of green and brown that would stick out like a sore thumb in the daylight. The western curve of the wall lay ahead and there the clink of armored men sounded too, but in the safety of the trees they couldn’t be seen.
Iliad took them to the opposite end of the tree line and crouched. James looked out into a maze of buildings that the sixteen towers—only five visible—surrounded like stone sentries keeping watch. Only a couple guards could be seen where the towers were, and he could easily find the dark shadows behind the towers that Iliad wanted them to traverse.
Iliad signaled to James and the others. James followed swiftly, keeping low as they slipped out of the confines of the trees and ran along the shadows of the wall into a huge black void. Something grabbed him and he fell hard, chest first, into a maze of leaves and branches. He managed to muffle his surprise by burying his head into his arm. The others grew still; no sounds escaped their feet.
He felt blind, unable to see more than an inch in front of him. The shadows obstructed his vision entirely. What lay before him was a mystery. After a brief moment of waiting, Darl grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him out of the bush swiftly. He waited to be slapped, but no hit came, no berating, no whispers or anything.
James recuperated, balanced, and followed the sound of the others as they gently tromped through the darkness. He bumped into another bush; a vine grabbed his foot as if alive and he tugged away. The shadows waned slightly; he could see again.
Two guards carrying small torches appeared from the opposite sides of the two towers immediately ahead. They marched in full armor, helms pulled back so they could see clearly in the night and spears held limply to their sides. James watched as they marched; the rest of the group paused. The guards walked and then disappeared around the tower. Iliad forced them on again.
Once they were immediately behind the first tower Iliad stopped.
“We split here. Wait for the perfect moment. The next guard should be walking the perimeter soon. Be patient.”
Iliad whispered so low that James had to hold his breath to hear. He let loose the air in his lungs and took in another deep breath. Iliad was gone before he could say or do anything else. Triska took off after him, Bourlinch crouching naturally low and scurrying along behind. They passed into lighter areas and James glanced up to the parapet. The guards there were facing away. He let out a sigh of relief as Iliad, Triska, and Bourlinch slipped back into shadow, only a moment before another set of guards at both towers appeared and walked by like stiff robots.
Darl tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and looked into Darl’s face.
“We take the next guard,” Darl said, whispering. “Pea, shut his mouth first, as soon as he reaches the center of the tower. Don’t let him say a word, understood?”
“Understood,” Pea said.
“James, just stay back.”
James stood still in the dark and watched as Pea and Darl moved fluidly forward like little wisps of wind in the black of night. They took cover near a small rock, using the shadows to hide their bodies.
He waited patiently. His legs grew tired, tingling and pinging with the onset of sleep. But he didn’t dare stand up or stretch. Such movement would risk making noise or exposing him to the guards walking the wall or the guards walking the perimeter of the towers.
Then the first set of guards appeared. He tried to look over to the second tower, but he couldn’t see the other three. He focused instead on where Pea and Darl were crouched. The guard marched, marched, and then suddenly stopped and touched his throat. The guard looked around frantically, dropped his spear. Then Darl slipped out of the shadows. The guard opened his mouth as if to cry out. Darl crashed a weathered fist into the man’s face. The surprised guard went limp—head flopped to the side—and began to fall. Pea stopped the crash that otherwise would have been inevitable and Darl slung the unconscious guard over his shoulder and ran back into the shadows.
James glanced up at the parapet. None of the guards there had seen or heard anything, or seemed at all interested in what went on inside the walls of the city. He then looked over to the other tower and saw Iliad slugging the other guard into the shadows.
The wait for the next guard seemed like an endless eternity. Time moved at a snail’s pace. James wanted desperately to stand and walk. He hated the idea of crouching in the shadows doing nothing. He wondered why they had brought him along if he wasn’t going to be able to do anything. They could have easily left him at Bourlinch’s shop. But deep down he was grateful that they hadn’t left him behind. He despised the idea of sitting around doing absolutely nothing and being completely uninvolved. At least here, in the shadows of a city at night, he could see what was happening.
The second set of guards appeared and much of the same took place. It occurred to James that no guards who could use magic were placed around the towers. He thought that seemed odd. Why would Luthien keep magic users away from his towers? What exactly is he keeping in there? Is it a weapon of some kind? Something that Luthien doesn’t want in the hands of others?
James stopped thinking about it and focused on Laura. He didn’t have time to worry about what Luthien was up to. This moment was the culmination of weeks of planning and painful journeying. He only cared about Laura now, getting her away from Luthien and away from all the dangers of a falling Traea. He could see the darkness descending over all that had been bright in the world. There was so much hatred and destruction. Arlin City, Ti’nagal, Nor’sigal. All of them destroyed to appease a mad man.
Darl tied to two guards tightly and made sure that they would be out for a while. Then, the old man led around the right hand side of the tower, counterclockwise. James saw the others doing the same, appearing out of the shadows and gliding along the side of the other tower. Then he couldn’t see them anymore.
James crept along the edge. He watched as Darl peered around the corner for a moment. Then the old man turned back.
“Pea, can you silence two at a time?”
“I don’t think so. It’s possible, but risky.”
Darl nodded. “Okay, you stay here. I’ll go around the other side.”
Then Darl was gone, disappearing behind the tower. James waited in the slight shadow along the tower where the light of torches along the road didn’t quite reach. Pea peered around the corner like Darl had.
Then suddenly there was a series of cracks. He stood upright, fully, and watched as Pea disappeared around the corner. He wasn’t sure what to do so he remained still. Then a sharp whisper told him he should move; he did. Once around to the front of the tower he had a clear view of the street. The center of the inner city was a series of buildings, tall and short, mashed together into a giant market. The tops of the other fourteen towers were in clear view and he could make out their crenellated roofs and see the small slits for windows on each of the floors. He thanked God that the lower extremities were hidden by the buildings in the center.
Darl and Pea stood at the front of the tower. From across the way he could see Iliad and Triska lugging two unconscious soldiers inside. Soon James was helping. Darl closed the door with a clank behind them.
“We haven’t got long,” Darl said. “A few minutes at most. Five floors to search. So let’s get at it.”
Then Darl was gone out of the main room—a small circle where several chairs were laid out and a long rug covered in diamond designs of red and silver sat—and up a set of spiral stairs in the back. James and Pea followed.
The first floor opened onto a ledge before becoming stairs again. There was a thin wooden door studded with metal bolts. A metal ring, like a giant earring, served as the handle. Darl tried it; the door clicked and swung open.
James doubled over and started to cough, averting his eyes from the room. Men, or women, he couldn’t tell which, were suspended in wiry contraptions from the ceiling, hung out like mutilated bodies. Only their bodies were not mutilated, not really, but distorted by something else. They were ghostly pale, skin sagging, eyes closed and drooping. None of them looked alive. Strange burns showed through their weak skin, burns on the inside of their body, as if their organs had been lit on fire. They were dead, all four of them.
Darl closed the door with a bang and spat on the floor.
“Those bodies were old,” Pea said reassuringly. “Maybe been there for months.”
Laura is alive. She has to be.
James lunged up the next flight of stairs, desperation gripping him. He took the steps three at a time. His legs strained, but he didn’t care. Pea and Darl were far behind by the time he reached the top. Here another ledge presented itself along with a larger door than the first. This door had no handle. James pushed it open before the others reached the top. He strode in and looked around. Here there were two others strapped and suspended above the floor. They were clearly men, both alive, but not well. He let his jaw drop and looked around the room. The two men were wide eyed. When he looked into their eyes he could see nothing. Their eyes were blank, unnaturally blank, as if the very colors that made up the eye had been sucked away, leaving behind a wide pupil.
He moved over to the arrow slit on the left side of the room and looked out to the other tower. He saw flickers of light and then Iliad looked out at him. The distance was not far enough to keep the look of utter disgust from being visible. James knew that the other tower had much the same issue as here.
Pea and Darl came into the room. Pea looked stunned, the little man’s face curved with the look of discomfort. Darl sneered bitterly, as if ready at any moment to snap.
“Help me with them,” James said, running over to the first of the men. He tugged on the chains and metallic ropes.
“Leave them,” Darl said.
James wanted to scream at that very moment. He cursed in his mind.
“Come, we have to go now. We haven’t time to save them all.”
“But it’s the right thing to do,” James said, not hiding his anger.
“Darl’s right James,” Pea said. “We can’t take them all with us. There’s no way.”
He let go of the chains and let his hand slump to his sides. His gaze fell to the floor, rose to the two suspended men, and then he walked out of the room and barreled up to the next floor. He tripped on the last step and fell, hands reaching wildly for something. The air left him and he coughed. Then he stood up and looked at the next door. Here another three were held; two looked as dead as in the first room. He didn’t wait for the others to catch up before taking the stairs again to the fourth floor.
The fourth floor proved to be much the same as the first three. He counted five more people here, two that looked like they could have been women at some point. He wanted to vomit now, disturbed by the idea that someone could do such things to another human being.
Then fear hit him and he found that he could no longer control his emotions. He let out a grunt and whirled up the last flight of stairs to the fifth floor. There the stairs stopped entirely, leaving a wide space where a larger ledge made its home. A door leading to another room sat there too and off to the side was a ladder that led to the roof where the glowing gems would be.
He tried to door, but it wouldn’t budge. He pushed it harder, no movement. Cries of anger escaped his lips and he began to bang and shove his body harder into the wooden frame. Each time he hit a tear slipped from his face.
Then a huge foot slipped into his vision and crashed into the door. The wood frame splintered and the door crashed to the ground inside, sliding a couple feet. James eyed Darl with a thankful glimmer in his eye and then slipped into the room. This room proved far different than the earlier four. Here there were several bookcases filled to the brim with old looking books. He didn’t give them more than a moment of his time. A lamp was lit in the corner of the room, casting dim orange light over the various chairs in the room.
Something didn’t quite feel right about the room. James couldn’t explain it, but a shiver traveled up his spine and he knew immediately that there was something abnormal taking place here. Pea and Darl were next to him and out of the corner of his eye he saw the little hairs of their arms rising. He eyed his arms and the hair rose there too.
“Something’s not…”
His words were suddenly forced away from him as something invisible struck him in the chest. He yelped and found himself launched into the air. He crashed into the far wall and crumbled to the ground. A sword crashed next to him and he knew that Darl had been disarmed. He looked up and saw crashes of light as Pea deflected pulses of energy from nowhere.
James stood up and marched forward. He looked around the room, trying desperately to see the origin of the magic, but nothing, not even his strange keen sense, gave that information away. More sparks and bolts of bluish light shot out mere inches from where Pea was launching wild shots of magic across the room, pushing aside spells as he went. Books shredded and fell to the floor and the wooden cases broke into smaller pieces and shot about the room as if something had caused them to explode. Then the lamp went out of its own accord. Complete darkness enveloped the room. James saw nothing, not even the night sky or the world outside of the tower. No more magic shot into the room. He could sense it, but it made no attempts to strike anyone. Then orange light filtered into the room, cascading down through everything.
Something invaded his mind. He fought against it. Sparks blew across the room as another furry of magic reached for Pea. The thing in his mind pushed against his barriers, searching for something.
He knew now what it was. It was Luthien, reaching into his mind from somewhere else. The room was a trap of sorts. He felt the wicked fingers of Luthien in his mind, tugging at some deep pool that he had no access to—he hadn’t the ability to read the future. Luthien pushed, pulled, tugged, banged, and prodded every inch of him. He opened his eyes and saw wicked, twisted shadows creep across the floor and form apparitions of living beings. The lamp flickered alive and tall flames pushed out of the glass chimney. He closed his eyes again and fought hard against Luthien.
Get out of my mind, he screamed within.
He opened his eyes again. The shadowy creatures collided, coalescing into one blob of black. Then the shadows formed into something physical, lifting up from the floor. Four legs formed, claws rippling into life as if they were being transported from some other location.
Then a head formed, and long, muscular shoulders. A tail slithered out from the black shape.
James focused on Luthien. He collapsed to the floor with the effort. The lamp flared brighter, pulsing with renewed energy. The shadowy figure became real as blood stained points came into focus in the thing’s mouth. Claws clacked on the floor impatiently.
“Nara’karesh,” he whispered.
Then the creature roared and the gaping maw of the lyphon spilled blood onto the floor. Pea let down his guard and a bolt of magic crashed into the Littlekind’s chest, launching him across the room. The wall stopped his fall.
Nara’karesh roared again, and then suddenly the creature was laughing darkly. James grew frantic. He looked down at Darl’s sword as another burst of magic crashed into a nearby bookshelf. He let Luthien in through one barrier of his mind and grabbed the sword.
The old man looked just in time as James launched the sword hilt first into the air. Darl caught it and twirled around just as Nara’karesh lunged forward. Then James rolled back into his mind. Luthien pushed against the last walls; he fought hard, closing his eyes again to focus fully. Nothing he did seemed to stop Luthien. He tried to trap the invasion in the darkest recesses of his memories, but it failed and Luthien slithered like a snake deeper and deeper. Something struck his arm and he risked opening one eye to see. A shard of metal had hit him, undoubtedly launched across the room because of magic. He didn’t bleed, nor did he feel pain, but he looked at the shard before closing his eyes again.
There were no words that came to him in his mind. Luthien couldn’t speak to him, and neither could he speak to Luthien. He wanted to scream at Luthien, scream out all his anger and hatred towards that man. He wished he had the opportunity to show Luthien the horrors that had been committed. Maybe it would open the tyrant’s eyes to reality.
But he could do none of those things, and slowly it became obvious that he could not beat back Luthien. Whatever it was that was buried in his mind, whatever future that Luthien could glean, Luthien would have it in moments. His barriers were falling like trees in a massive wild fire, like buildings in a demolition. Whenever he put a new wall up, Luthien broke it down. His head throbbed; pings of sharp pain hit his mind. Pain surged through his arm. He looked down, tears bursting from his face from the pressure in his head. He had gripped the metal shard and now his hand bled. New pain shot through him as he realized this.
Then Luthien pulled back suddenly. The connection remained, but it was as if the presence had sensed something and been forced to retreat.
James looked at the shard again. Small trickles of blood dripped to the ground. Luthien surged into his mind again. He squeezed the shard and grunted with the new pain. Luthien fell back again.
Then a smile crossed his face. He looked up at the others, but they were too busy to notice his sudden glee. Darl dodged and blocked swipes from Nara’karesh and Pea slumped over a twisted, splintered chair, fending off further attacks.
James pulled the shard away from his hand and held it up. A deep gash lay there, bleeding small globs of blood. He put his hand down flat on the ground. Luthien pushed again. Then James yelled and plunged the shard deep into his left hand, pushing the blade straight through the back. He cried in pain and more tears came. The connection with Luthien exploded into a myriad of sensations. Pain and confusion twisted through his mind and then the connection suddenly ceased. All he could feel was his hand and the mild throb in his head.
With another yell he yanked the shard from his hand. Blood poured in rivers from the wound. He used the shard to cut the sleeve off his shirt and pulled the fabric away. He took a deep breath and tied it tight over the wound. He gasped for air afterwards and then stood up.
Pea looked on the verge of passing out, desperately fighting off the invisible energies. James gazed around the room. Then the lamp flickered again.
He didn’t hesitate. As Pea fought off the magic, he called upon his own magic and thrust his left hand forward. New agonizing pain attacked him. It was so strong that he couldn’t make a sound. The wall of magic crashed into the lamp. The lamp exploded backward, shattering into a thousand molten shards. The wall collapsed and shot out in a blaze of fire and debris. Smoke flew into the room and dissipated quickly. The darkness of night took over.
Pea fell to the floor. Their eyes met and James could see the stunned, yet grateful look on the Littlekind’s face.
It took more effort than he was prepared to use to move himself across the room. Darl danced with Nara’karesh, bounding nimbly one way and then another, failing to show an ounce of age. Yet Nara’karesh was strong and nimble too, swift and powerful unlike a human being. While Darl had a sword, Nara’karesh had two sets of claws.
Before long, Nara’karesh stripped the sword from Darl. The blade bounced off the floor, landed with a thud, and slid. James stopped the hilt with his foot.
“It’s over for you,” Nara’karesh said, spitting blood. “This is the end of you and your friends.”
Darl said nothing.
“The time has come for the land of the dead to rise. Not the time for Man. Man is over. Man is finished.”
Darl took a few cautious steps back.
James picked up the sword. He knew if he moved too fast Darl would be dead. If he moved forward at all and drew attention to himself, the lyphon would strike Darl down with a single claw. He weighed the blade in his hand. Then he lifted it and took a small portion of magic and fed it through his right hand. He couldn’t grip with his left and refused to try. Being left handed made him feel inadequate as he held the blade like a spear. He pulled a little more magic into the blade. The edges shimmered and then the blade sang as if it had been struck—a tuning pitch.
Then he took a step and threw the blade. Magic coursed through him, through his hand, and into the sword. The blade spun rapidly and shot through the air across the room. Nara’karesh looked over just in time to see the blade as it struck the beast through the upper torso. The force sent the lyphon crashing into the floor and then into the wall.
James stumbled over, feeling the affects of all the magic and pain passing through him. He and Darl looked down at the struggling lyphon. He took hold of the hilt and started to pull the blade out.
“Never threaten my friends,” he said. “Not unless you want to pay the consequences.”
Nara’karesh started to laugh, but could only cough blood. James pulled the blade out and in one long strike he drove the blade deep into the exposed neck. He felt the blade hit bone, pass through and hit the stone floor. The head rolled away, tongue drooling out and eyes wide with fright. Black blood poured from the open neck. He handed the blade to Darl.
“Get Pea,” he said. “Laura isn’t here.”
As he said those words a strange wind passed into the room, carrying with it a collection of leaves and twigs. Then light spilled from a single point in the center. It was white light and soon the light was spreading and pouring into every corner until no shadow existed whatsoever. The light flashed and there in the center of the room appeared Laura, strapped securely in the chains. Her eyes were open, but blank, and her mouth hung loose.
James ran to her.
“Laura! It’s me. Wake up!” He patted her on the face, but she didn’t stir. “Help me with the chains Darl.”
The old man marched over and together they began pulling and working on the chains and the locks that held them. James used what magic he could and split several of the locks in two. Then the last chain fell and he caught Laura in his arms. Her eyes closed suddenly.
Pea stumbled over, suddenly awake. James held Laura and begged her to wake. He could feel her breathing.
Then her eyes fluttered and opened. For a moment she looked up into the ceiling in the same way someone looks into nothing. She glanced around and then she looked at him. He could do nothing but grin wide and toothy. A tear fell from his face. Laura smiled.
“Can you walk?” he said.
She nodded. “Get me the hell out of here.”
James stood her up. He thought for a moment she might fall—she teetered to one side and then caught her balance—but soon all three of them were walking to the door.
Darl went to the closest of the windows and roared, “Iliad, move! We’ve got her!” When James and Pea looked at him reproachfully he said with a shrug, “there’s no use keeping quiet now. He’s already woken the whole neighborhood.”
“And the one next to it,” Pea said delightfully.
For a moment they shared a laugh, but it was short-lived. They ran down the stairs, James close to Laura just in case she fell. They flew down the five floors and were out of the tower in a flash.
“You came for me?” Laura said as they ran into the shadows.
“I had to,” he said. “Nobody else would.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Pea said sarcastically.
Iliad, Triska, and Bourlinch appeared through the shadows. A cry from the guards on the parapet immediately told James that they had been spotted and the gig was up. He didn’t hesitate from running to tell the others what had happened. Instead, he gestured for them all to follow.
“There’ll be time to talk later,” he said.
When they reached the entrance to the sewer system there were four guards waiting. Two had arrows drawn. Before Iliad could draw his own bow, the arrows were let loose. James thrust his magic forward and shoved the barrier into the arrows, which splintered and shot over he and his companions. Laura stood behind them all. James could see her utter surprise, as if she were in a dream.
Pea used a little magic, along with Triska, and before long the four guards were subdued and unconscious from a collection of magical blows and punches from Darl.
Then they slid into the darkness of the tunnel and Pea lit his torch, brighter than before. Laura coughed and complained about the smell, but nothing else was said. Bourlinch led them back, guiding them wildly through the tunnels. They soon came to where the tunnel had dropped low and the water had risen high. Laura lost her balanced and stumbled into the water. Her eyes were glassy. Iliad picked her up without hesitation. James knelt and let Pea climb onto his back. Iliad did his best to keep Laura up. Voices cried out from behind, the sounds of soldiers following in after them.
Then the same thing echoed ahead. Bourlinch paused;
“Tell me which way to go,” Darl said, taking the lead.
Bourlinch nodded.
Then they were moving again, Darl thrusting hard through the murky filth of the sewers. The voices behind grew stronger as more and more people entered. The voices ahead grew louder.
Soon they came to a long stretch of open corridor. Two armored men appeared on the opposite end, each carrying a torch and a small sword. Darl lifted his sword and ambled forward.
“Stop in the name of Luthien,” the first guard said.
Darl didn’t stop. The old man barreled into the two soldiers who were far too surprised by the action to raise their swords. They fell over together, the first guard unconscious from a blow to the head by Darl’s hilt. The other struggled desperately and swung his distinguished torch upward. It hit Darl in the arm, but the old man didn’t pause for an instant to consider it before he smashed the helpless soldiers in the face. The guard went limp and a small trickled of blood fell from his face.
Darl led on and the others walked over the two soldiers. James stumbled on an arm and then passed with Iliad in tow. Bourlinch spouted orders. They followed the same winding pattern they had when they had first come in to the tunnels. Then, as if it had all happened in an instant, they were at the entrance. The gate had been torn completely off and three new soldiers stood outside. They held their swords at the ready and Darl didn’t wait a moment before plowing through the tunnel at them.
The first soldier crashed to the ground with a gash to his sword arm. Iliad put Laura down and James helped her by putting her against his shoulder. Then Iliad drew his bow and launched two quick arrows into one of the other soldiers. Darl took care of the last.
“Pathetic,” Darl groaned.
“Quick,” Iliad said. “Get to the horses, don’t stop for anything. Mount up and go!
Iliad took Laura from James and ran. James followed. They ran straight down the thoroughfare, avoiding all side passages and alleys. There wasn’t any time for detours or to keep out of site. Alarms sounded from the inner city, giant horns blasting echoing notes across the landscape. Nobody stopped or ceased moving for a moment and no soldiers obstructed their path.
When they reach Bourlinch’s shop, Iliad took the moment to untie all the horses while James, Pea, and Darl ran into the building and started shoving everything into their place. The horses were ready and mounted in five minutes; a feat that James didn’t think was possible. He hoped that they had done it all correctly; else a pannier might slip and fall.
“Take Laura with you,” Iliad said to Darl. “You’re a far more accomplished horseman than I.”
Darl didn’t protest; there was no time for it. Bourlinch scuttled in his shop.
“Thank you,” James said to the crooked man. “Thank you for your help.”
“I will distract. Yes. Distract. You are welcome other.”
That was all that was said to Bourlinch, and Bourlinch did not speak again.
Once Laura was secure with Darl on the saddle of Arna’tu, James mounted Mirdur’eth and turned the steed away from the inner city.
“We ride hard, and don’t stop until I say so. The horses will make it. Trust me,” Iliad said, then kicked his horse and burst down the thoroughfare.
James didn’t have to say a thing as Mirdur’eth and the other Blaersteeds took off after Iliad, with Triska in tow.
The open air of the fields filled his lungs. Outside of Teirlin’pur dark shadows were cast. Thick clouds covered the moon. James glanced up and then back at Tierlin’pur, now lighted by torches. Nobody had seen them leave, but he knew that Luthien had seen this at some point.
They rode hard into the night, traversing the distance to the river in a matter of hours, and following it south.