Fact in Fiction

Hey everyone! My apologies for my random long absences. Since clearly I am one of the world’s worst at keeping up with my social media, I thought I would carve out some time today to give you an update on my writing status and talk a little about some of the new aspects I’ve been adding to my most recent projects.

To be honest, I don’t have one particular project I’m working on right now, though there are, at least, only a handful that I have been focusing on.

On the not-so-serious front, I’m just about finished with my Skyrim fanfic, which is currently sitting at over 117,000 words (longest single project I’ve written so far).

I also have the sequel to Prism World still in the works, though the story has taken several twists that have stumped me and, as such, I’ve put it on the back-burner for now.

The second book in the Star Trilogy, The Secret of Erris, is also on my list of things to write, but with all the changes that occurred in the rewrite of the first book (and a fair amount of pressure to maintain or improve the quality of the writing in this newest one), I’ve been a bit slow. (I’ll try to post some of the rewrite for The Secret of Erris here pretty soon, though).

And so, for the time being, my main writing focus has been on my 2015 NaNoWriMo project, Infinite.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you may remember that for National Novel Writing Month 2015, I started my first ever sci-fi story, which is based in a future where teleportation is a reality and which centers around a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) set in a mythology-inspired, fantasy-esque world called Infinite.

The main character in Infinite is a young woman whose player name is Vigil. In the game, she plays as a Cleric/Beastmaster (healer/animal summoner), but in the real world, she is a librarian.

From my first concept of Infinite, I knew it was going to be a story heavily entrenched in history and culture, as each of the continents in the game contains monsters and characters inspired by real-world mythology. This also meant, of course, that a fair amount of research would be required to make the story more dynamic.

Now, to be fair, most sci-fi and fantasy novels contain some measure of history in them, and those novels which are most successful are generally the ones where the authors have done a fair amount of research in order to create them. This goes for video games and movies as well as literary stories. (If you’re in doubt, check out ShoddyCast’s “Hidden History” series on YouTube). But for all the hours of research that we authors put into our work with the hope of making it more dynamic and believable, most of these factual treasures go unnoticed by our readers. It was while I was pondering this truth that I came up with an additional piece to add to Infinite, something I call “Vigil’s Journal Logs.”

“Vigil’s Journal Logs” are, for lack of a better explanation, mini-chapters that follow larger ones. While the regular chapters center specifically around the story itself, the journal logs act as interesting little asides where Vigil records, comments on, and ponders aspects of the world around her, both the real one and the virtual one.

For instance, during NaNoWriMo, I posted a segment in which Vigil and her best friend, Wraith, battle against a boss monster called Regulus the Basilisk King. (If you missed it, here is the post where you can read the scene about Regulus). Considering what I know of the character of Vigil and the idea I had for the journal logs, at the end of the chapter following the conclusion of their battle with Regulus, I started up with “Vigil’s Journal Log – Entry 1: Basilisks”:

The word “basilisk” comes from the Greek word basiliskos, which means “little king.” Regulus is the Latin version of the same word. Its name came from the belief that the basilisk wore a diadem, a symbol of royalty, on its head.

In Greek mythology, the basilisk was a creature variously described as a dragon-like reptile or a chimera containing the head, body, and legs of a chicken and the tail of a snake. It was considered one of the most poisonous creatures on earth, and most believed that it could kill a person with a single glance. Its breath was also believed to be poisonous enough to melt the flesh off the bones of its victims.

Though this monster was mentioned in the works of several famous writers of antiquity, such as Pliny the Elder, the legend of the basilisk became particularly popular in the Middle Ages of Western Europe. The Venerable Bede, Leonardo da Vinci, and Geoffrey Chaucer all make mention of the basilisk in their works, and it was believed during that time that only a mongoose or the crowing of a rooster could defeat it. For this reason, many medieval travelers would carry a rooster with them when journeying through regions where basilisks were said to live.

Most people nowadays believe that the legend of the basilisk came from travelers’ exaggerated reports of cobras, snakes that are known for their extremely potent venom. Several variations of cobras can incapacitate their victims from a distance by spitting venom into the eyes of their target, and the king cobra is known for having a crown-shaped spot on its forehead.

The “Journal Log” entries are intended to be short one or two-page notes on major things that happen over the course of the story. As of right now, the ones I have written focus on: basilisks, Narcissus, oracles, the Hermes System (and, subsequently, the myth of Hermes himself), resources (the in-game type), and nightshades. My favorites, so far, are the entries about the basilisks and nightshades. Here’s the one about the nightshades:

Vigil’s Journal Log – Entry 9: Nightshade

In the world of Infinite, one of the foremost poisons comes from a plant known as “Devil’s Nightshade.” It is a bushy plant with purplish-black, bell-shaped flowers and black berries that are sweet to the taste. The plant is so deadly that any part of it can be used in most poison recipes, although the berries are preferred since most recipes require fewer of those than they do the leaves or flowers.

According to Yoshitsune, however, what we from Infinite know as “Devil’s Nightshade” is only one variation of a larger family of plants, simply known as solanaceae or nightshades. The variation that inspired “Devil’s Nightshade” is more commonly known as belladonna.

The solanaceae family of flowering plants consists of over 90 groups (known as “genera”) and more than 2,500 individual species. Along with the exceptionally deadly belladonna, other types of nightshades include the potato, tomato, eggplant, and chili pepper plants.

The nightshade belladonna has been a widely-used poison for centuries, and was once a favorite among assassins. Because the berries are at once extraordinarily deadly and pleasingly sweet, this type of poison was easy to slip into glasses of wine. It is believed than in the year 1030, Scotland’s King Duncan I passed out bottles of nightshade-infused wine to an army of Danes, effectively destroying an entire army without ever having to lift his sword.

Ironically, belladonna’s use was not limited to warfare. It was also used in early cosmetics to dilate a woman’s pupils (something thought to be highly attractive at that time) and in medicine as an anesthetic (as the poisonous properties of the belladonna also had the effect of paralysis and numbing).

I like the concept of Vigil’s Journal Logs because it really helps, for me, at least, to tie the fictional world to the real one. I am a lover of both history and information, so having an opportunity to share the knowledge I have acquired for my story is a very exciting thing for me. I think that eventually I’ll also start working on a sort of resource index that will go at the back of the book as well, in case any of my audience are interested in reading my sources for themselves.

And on that note, I guess it’s back to real life for me. Please feel free to let me know what you think of this new idea, as well. Happy reading!

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NaNoWriMo 2015 – Week 3 in Review

Currently listening to –> Nothing 😦 Sadly, I am at work right now and have to keep the noise to a minimum…

So…week 3 of NaNoWriMo didn’t go so well…

Between a stubborn muse, work drama, and studying for and taking the GRE (a test required to get into graduate school), creative endeavors ended up pretty low on my list of priorities. At this point I am roughly 6,000 words behind my goal for today, which could be worse, but still…

On the upside, I did still finish two whole chapters this week, so I’ll have some things to share. Also, I got an email yesterday saying that I was receiving a royalty payment! All $4.20 of it! I could buy another cup and a half of coffee!! (Lol. You know you’re an indie publisher when…)

At this point, I really don’t know if I’m going to manage the 50,000 words, since Thanksgiving is coming up and I’ll probably be pretty busy. But hey, I’ve still got 20,000 words more than I’ve gotten for the past 4 NaNoWriMos, so maybe we’re making progress.

I’m off to work again, now. (15-hour shift, here I come; actually, I’m already here…). In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the snippets from this last week’s work. Also, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. Happy reading!


 

Alex the Fisherman (from Chapter 7):

“That does remind me, though,” Yoshitsune mused, looking over at Alex. “We’re right next to a river, and since he’s a level 50 fisherman class…”

“Congratulations,” Searos said suddenly, clapping one hand on Alex’s shoulder and causing the young man to jump visibly. “You just got promoted to dinner-catcher.”

“I got promoted to what?” the rich boy inquired warily.

“Open up your inventory.”

“How would I do that?”

“Like this.”

The Dwarf swiped his fingers through the air to open up his inventory. Alex followed suit, jumping slightly when the dialogue box popped up in front of him.

“O-Okay. I think I got it.”

“Now look for something labeled ‘Fishing Rod’.”

The rich boy frowned as he scruitinized his list, then he mused, “I have one called Ino’s Rod…”

“That’s it,” Searos nodded, looking slightly impressed. “That’s just the name of a really high level fishing rod. Click on the name, then reach into your satchel and pull it out.”

Alex gave the Dwarf a “have you gone crazy?” look, then sighed and did as he was instructed. Instantly he gasped when he pulled an exquisitely carved fishing pole out of his bag.

“T-That’s incredible!” the young man mused, carefully examining the rod in his hands. “How do you fit something this big in a bag this small?”

“It’s called a game, sweetheart,” Tara answered sarcastically. “It’s not meant to be 100% realistic.”

“Good,” Yoshitsune nodded. “Now that you have your fishing pole out, go catch us something to eat.”

“Excuse me?” Alex answered indignantly. “I am Alexander Roth the-”

Instantly Wraith slid her sword out from its sheathe with her thumb and the rich boy jumped.

“F-Fine! I’m going! So…how do you do this?”

“Don’t worry,” Vigil answered. “You’re a level 50 fisherman by default. I’m sure the system will just take over once you cast your rod.”

Alex gave her a doubtful look, then headed to the bank. He eyed the rod warily for a moment, then awkwardly brought it back behind him and swung out. Immediately a fine, silky thread whirred through the air, the hook at the end landing with a plop in the water. Alex cast a questioning gaze over at the others who stood watching him, but no sooner had he done that, however, then there came a tug at the end of the line. Then, all of a sudden, there came a jolt, bending the rod almost completely in half as the rich boy jumped in surprise, nearly falling into the water in the process.

“Hey, Alex, I think you’ve got something on the end of your line,” Wraith called out to him as he struggled to keep from falling or losing his grip on his fishing rod.

“No kidding!” Alex yelled back. “Someone do something!”

“You can handle it,” Yoshitsune answered, completely unperturbed.

Vigil watched as the rich boy’s feet began to slide toward the edge of the embankment.

“Guys! Help me!” the young man exclaimed, his eyes wide as saucers as he leaned back in an attempt to keep from falling face-first into the water.

“Do you think we should help him?” Vigil inquired, looking over at Yoshitsune who stood with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Nope,” the samurai answered placidly. “I think he’s doing just fine.”

“Put your back into it,” Searos said, leaning on his staff slightly as though he were watching some sort of everyday sport.

“What does my back have to do with this?!”

Instantly the fish at the end of the line darted to one side, and Alex yelped as he nearly did the splits in an attempt to keep from being pulled over.

“Very artistically done,” Tara called out sarcastically. “Have you ever thought of taking up ballet?”

“I hate you all!” Alex yelled back. “Why can’t I let go of this thing?!”

“It probably has something to do with your fishing skill level,” Yoshitsune answered. “Your form is bad since you’re in control of the NPC body, but your skill level keeps you from losing the catch. I’m sure the fishing pole you’re using has something to do with it, too.”

For a moment, Alex strained against the pull of the fish. Then, all of a sudden, he shouted, “I am Alexander Roth III! I will not be defeated by a fish!”

Instantly the young man regained his footing and pulled hard. Then, a moment later, the line popped out of the water, a 2-foot long fish with silvery scales at the end.

Alex’s jaw dropped as he stared at the creature flopping violently at the end of his rod. Then, all of a sudden, a look of victory crossed the young man’s face, and he turned to look at his comrades, a look of pride in his eyes.

“I caught it!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“Good job,” Vigil smiled.

“He actually caught something,” Searos mused, a hint of surprise in his voice.

“Yeah, he might actually be useful after all,” Tara nodded in response.

At this, Wraith huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Well that was boring. He didn’t even fall in.”

“Well, this means we should have plenty to eat, right?” Raine mused.

“Actually,” Yoshitsune said, stepping toward where Alex stood. “Alex is a level 50 vendor-class NPC, meaning we really didn’t need him to go fishing right now. His inventory should be full of fish at the moment.”

Instantly Alex’s jaw dropped in surprise. This was followed shortly by a look of rage.

“You made me go through that even though you already knew we didn’t need any fish right now?!”

“You learned how to catch something, didn’t you?” Yoshitsune replied, plopping a hand on top of the young man’s head. “Congratulations. You can put it back now.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me! And quit treating me like some little kid!”

“Well, either way, you can’t just leave it on the hook. Go ahead and take it off. If you have room in your inventory, you can store it there until we need it.”

Instantly Alex’s face paled at this.

“You want me to do what?”

“Take the fish off the hook.”

The young man glanced first at Yoshitsune, then at the fish, then at Yoshitsune, then back at the fish. He gulped before hesitantly reaching out toward the creature at the end of his rod. Instantly the fish began to flop back and forth wildly, and the young man jerked his hand back with a slight yelp.

“Why would anyone want to eat something like this?” he gasped, eyeing the fish warily.

“Do you not eat fish, Alex?” Vigil inquired, raising a curious eyebrow at the young man in front of her.

“Well…I do…but the stuff I eat doesn’t look anything like this.”

“What does it look like, exactly?” Raine questioned.

“Like meat.”

A sigh escaped Yoshitsune’s lips at this.

“And where do you think that meat comes from?”

Alex gave the samurai a hesitant and slightly confused look at this.

“Um…from the supermarket?”


 

Tara and the Squirrel (from Chapter 8):

“What chance do you give this party actually succeeding?” Raine pondered, glancing over at Searos.

The Dwarf shook his head.

“1 in 10.”

“You’re so generous,” Tara responded. “We’ll be lucky if no one kills each other before the day is out.”

“Luckily for Alex, he’s technically an immortal object,” Vigil responded. “Not that I don’t also feel like smacking him from time to time, but still…”

“Yeah, well if I didn’t have so much self-control, I’d have used a spell or two on him by now already,” Tara huffed.

At this, Searos gave his wife a quirky grin.

“Aw, honey, I’m so proud of you. You’re learning self-control.”

“Shut up.”

Vigil chuckled at the pair’s little dialogue. She didn’t know either of them much at all, but from what she had seen, Tara seemed like such a calm and cheerful person, if a little on the funny side. Whether Searos was just being facetious or whether there was some measure of truth to his words, Vigil didn’t know, but she didn’t even have time to ask before a distant snarl followed by a frightened squeak split through the still afternoon air. Instantly Yoshitsune ground to a halt, his right hand flying to the hilt of his sword, his left arm flung out to bar his companions from moving forward.

“What is that?” the samurai questioned cautiously, his sharp blue eyes scanning the flower-bedecked hills surrounding them.

“I don’t know,” Vigil responded, moving over to the man’s side. “But whatever it was, it sounded like it came from just over this hill.”

For a moment, Yoshitsune worked his jaw, as though deep in thought. Then he turned to the others, his expression serious, “Everyone, be ready for battle. We’re nearing the foothills of Mt. Olympus, which means the magic and monsters will be stronger here. Be on your guard. And Alex?”

“What?” the rich boy questioned warily.

Yoshitsune narrowed his eyes at him.

“Be sure to not get in our way, understood?”

“Excuse me, but who do you-?”

“Understood?”

Alex looked slightly taken aback at the threatening tone in the other man’s voice. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and looked away with a huff.

“Whatever.”

“Good,” Yoshitsune said, turning back to the hill. “Let’s go.”

Quickly Vigil and her companions hurried up the hill before them, coming to a stop just atop the hill’s crest.

“What on earth is that?!” Alex gasped, hiding behind Vigil when he spotted the source of all the commotion.

Vigil frowned. There before her, chasing a fluffy silver and red squirrel in haphazard circles, was a large black canine with two slavering heads and a body the size of a small horse.

“That’s a level 50 sub-boss, an Orthrian Hound,” Yoshitsune answered. “They’re not as bad as regular bosses, but it’s still difficult to solo them. We’ll need to be careful. If we attract its attention, it’ll be a challenge to keep from taking damage.”

“Okay, Bait,” Wraith said, grabbing Alex by the shoulder and tugging. “You’re up.”

“Not on your life!” the rich boy exclaimed, latching on to Vigil.

“Children,” the elf sighed.

Just then Tara gasped.

“No! Run little squirrel! You can make it!”

The whole group turned to look at the Faerie questioningly, and Vigil blinked at her when she saw that the other woman was hugging her staff to her chest, a look of genuine concern on her face as she watched the Orthrian Hound chase the squirrel down below.

“Uh…Tara…?”

Again, Tara gasped as the little silver and red squirrel just barely managed to escape the Hound’s jaws, and instantly the Faerie pulled her staff into her hands.

“Don’t worry little guy!” she exclaimed. “I’ll save you!”

“Tara-” Yoshitsune began, reaching out to stop the Mage from doing anything hasty.

But it was too late.

“Hey, you ugly monster!” Tara shouted, slamming the end of her staff into the ground. “Leave that squirrel alone!”

“Here we go…” Searos sighed, crossing his arms over his chest as a violet-hued magic circle appeared beneath the Faerie’s feet, violet archs of electricity dancing around her body.

“Hey! Elf man!” Alex exclaimed, still peeking out from behind Vigil. “Get control of your wife before she kills us all!”

In seemingly one swift motion, Wraith pried the rich boy off her friend before hitting him hard enough to make him land on his backside.

“She’s not his pet,” the Berserker growled. “And anyway, quit hanging off of Vigil. What kind of man are you, hiding behind a girl?”

Alex looked like he might respond to this when, all of a sudden, Tara shouted, “Thundrous Retribution!”

Instantly a column of sizzling violet lightning pelted from the clear sky down to the Orthrian Hound below, striking the monster and eliciting a high-pitched yelp from both heads at once. The squirrel skittered out of the way as the monster turned two pairs of glowing crimson eyes on the warriors at the top of the hill.

“H-Hey! Why’s it looking at us?” Alex squeaked, scooting across the ground several paces backward.

“Wouldn’t you look at us two if you just got hit by 2000 HP worth of lightning?” Yoshitsune sighed, drawing his sword. “I guess we have no choice now.”

“Hold on,” Searos interrupted.

The others looked over at the Dwarf questioningly, but before they could say anything, they heard Tara shout, “Rending Vortex!”

Vigil then turned to see a drill-like vortex of wind collide with the Orthrian Hound that had been darting up the hill toward them. The Hound yelped on impact, stumbled, then tried again to run up the hill, but before it could go more than a pace, Tara pointed the gem at the top of her staff toward it, shouting, “Enervation!”

The Hound stumbled, slowing dramatically.

“Daunting Aura!”

A chill breeze encompassed the monster’s body, causing it to hunch down, trembling and snarling.

“Wrath of Set!”

A dark cloud of black sand joined with the chill breeze, scratching hundreds of tiny lesions into the Orthrian Hound’s dark hide.

“Hyperion’s Judgement!”

12 beams of blinding light shot out from the sky, piercing the Hound from all sides. Then, with a few more attacks, the monster growled one more time and collapsed to the ground, disappearing into a cloud of sparkling ash and leaving in its place a pile of various items.

For a moment, everyone stood in stunned silence, staring at the spot where the Orthrian Hound had just been. Then Alex slowly looked over at Yoshitsune.

“What was this you were saying about that monster being hard to fight?”

The samurai cleared his throat and looked away slightly at this.

“Well, they’re still not…easy…to defeat.”

“Okay!” Wraith exclaimed, holding out one fist in challenge. “I’m taking on the next Hound. There’s no way I’m gonna be out-done by a Mage!”

Vigil rolled her eyes at her friend, then turned back to Tara, but already the Faerie had rushed down the hill to where the squirrel huddled, staring at her with a mixture of fear and curiousity.

“Hey, little guy. You’re safe now,” she said, kneeling down in front of the squirrel and reaching her hand out toward it.

The little creature backed away slightly, chittering a warning as its tail bristled.

“Aww,” Tara pouted. “Don’t be afraid of me.”

Quietly Vigil made her way down the hill, kneeling beside the Faerie and looking over at the squirrel.

“It’s an untamed animal,” the elf said, glancing over at Tara. “It’s not going to let you touch it no matter how hard you try.”

“Sad day,” the Faerie pouted. “But I like the squirrel. Squirrel, why don’t you love me?”

For a moment, Vigil blinked over at the other woman. Then she chuckled slightly and held her hand out, palm flat and facing toward the sky.

“Gelio,” she called softly. She then blew softly over her palm, causing a light breeze to stir the squirrel’s fluffy silver and red fur.

Instantly the squirrel’s ears perked forward and its body relaxed visibly. With a friendly chir, the little creature hopped forward, cautiously approaching the elf and flicking its tail back and forth. With a gentle smile, Vigil held out her right index finger, touching it softly to the squirrel’s nose. She watched as a silvery light shimmered across the squirrel’s body. When at last the light had faded, the little creature sat back on its haunches, and Vigil scooped it up in her hands, holding it out toward Tara.

The Faerie gave the Elf an interested, if slightly confused, look, then carefully scooped the squirrel into her own hands.

“Um…what did you do?”

“I tamed it,” Vigil answered, swiping her fingers through the air and opening up a dialogue box. She then slid the box over to Tara. “I’m giving it to you as a pet, if you want it.”

Instantly Tara’s eyes lit up as a little squeal of delight escaped her lips.

“Really?!”

“Yep.”

“Thank you!”

Quickly the Faerie accepted the transaction, then grinned as she leaned forward to look the squirrel in the eyes.

“You’ll be my friend from now on, okay?”

The little creature twitched its nose and tail as it cocked its head to one side.

“Ohhh, you’re so cute!”

“Great…” Alex grumbled, propping one elbow on his crossed knees and dropping his chin into his hand. “You could have tamed a fighting animal and instead you tame a squirrel…”

“I don’t even know anymore,” Yoshitsune sighed. “Okay, now that you’ve saved your squirrel, let’s keep moving. We’ll be lucky if we reach the Sacred Gates before nightfall.”


 

Alfred the Squirrel (from Chapter 8):

“Wait. We’re doing what?” Alex questioned incredulously as he watched the others begin setting up camp.

Already Yoshitsune had taken firewood from his inventory, while Wraith leaned over his shoulder and Searos, Raine, and Vigil began to set up tents in a circle in front of the arch.

“We’re camping,” Tara sighed in response as her little silver and red squirrel pet hopped from one shoulder to the other, chittering at the rich boy as though scolding him. “Alfred says to just be quiet and stop asking questions.”

At this, everyone paused to turn and look at the Faerie, eyebrows raised.

“Who?” Alex inquired, narrowing his eyebrows in confusion.

“Alfred,” Tara replied, petting the squirrel on the head. “My squirrel friend.”

“What made you name your squirrel Alfred?” Yoshitsune inquired, a strange look on his face.

“I don’t know,” the Faerie mused, looking over at the little creature on her shoulder, her lips pursed in thought. “I guess because the name Alfred makes me think of a butler, and if my squirrel could talk, I imagine that he’d be a very refined squirrel.”

“Well, that’s stupid,” Alex grumbled in reply. “How on earth could you think a dumb little rat like that could be refined? If anybody around here is refined, it would be me.”

Tara cast a furious glare at the rich boy, raising her staff threateningly, but before she could say anything, Wraith drew one sword, setting the blade on fire.

“I’ll show you refined,” the Berserker growled, also glaring at Alex.

Raine chuckled at this, but instantly Yoshitsune grabbed the woman by the wrist, pulling her flaming sword over to the firepit he had made and using it to set the firewood alight.

“There,” the samurai grunted, standing to his feet. “We’ve got a fire going. Now put that sword away before you hurt somebody.”

“Did you just use me as a match?!”

“Put the sword away.”

“Fine,” Wraith pouted, sheathing her sword and crossing her arms over her chest. “You’re as bossy as Vigil.”


 

Butterfly Woman (from Chapter 8):

“Actually, Mt. Olympus is a party-specific zone,” Yoshitsune answered as everyone else gathered around the fire. “I’ve never made it all the way up there before, but I’ve talked to others who say that the monsters operate in mobs.”

“That’s going to be fun,” Vigil sighed. “Are they more magic-oriented or melee-oriented?”

“From what I’ve gathered, the monsters here seem to be more magic-oriented, which means that we’ll be at a disadvantage with our unbalanced ratio of melee to magic party members.”

“I don’t know why you’re so concerned,” Alex grumbled. “The butterfly woman seemed to have no trouble with that monster earlier today.”

Instantly Tara reached out, bringing her staff down hard on top of the rich boy’s head, the “Immortal Object” sign glowing in the dark atmosphere above him.

“You, too?!” the young man yelped, rubbing his sore head as he glared over at the Faerie.

“I’m a Faerie, not a butterfly,” Tara huffed.

“Children,” Vigil sighed.

The Elf glanced over at Wraith who sat with a smirk on her face.

“I’m proud of you, Tara,” the Berserker chuckled lowly.

The Faerie gave the other woman a thumbs up, causing Alex to bristle visibly.

“Would you guys quit encouraging violence?!”

“This is going to be a long trip,” Yoshitsune sighed, standing to his feet. “All right, everyone. Let’s finish setting up camp and get to bed early. We’ll want to be at full strength for tomorrow’s journey.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Week 1 in Review

Currently listening to –> The First Town from the Sword Art Online OST

Hey everyone!

So, this post really should have been done yesterday but…I was too busy working on my project to remember that fact…

Well, week 1 of NaNoWriMo 2015 is down, and I’d say I’m doing comparatively well so far (if one takes into consideration all the other years I’ve totally failed this challenge). I’m still behind in my word count goal, but it’s not as bad as it could be. As of Saturday night, I ended my first week of NaNoWriMo with 7,639 words out of the goal of 11,666. I’m aiming to get caught up this week, but we’ll see how that goes.

week 1

So far, what I’ve found to be the most difficult in my NaNoWriMo project is the fact that I am starting almost entirely from scratch. Yes, I knew what the characters would look like in advance, but I really didn’t know them, nor was I particularly familiar with the technology and rules of the world(s) in which they live.

Probably the most intimidating part of starting this project, though, was the prologue. The prologue is the one section of the book that occurs entirely in the real world, containing all of the technology of the year 2250. I’m a fantasy writer by nature, so delving into the realm of sci-fi was a bit intimidating. (After all, I only barely scored “college ready” in the science section of my ACT test back in high school). Still, though, researching all the scientific theories and experimental technology has been so much fun, so I think the challenge was worth it.

There are other challenges about this story, though, too. I always dreamed of designing my own video game, so Infinite really is a dream come true in its own way. On the flipside, though, I really have to give props to those who actually create these sorts of games in real life. There are so many details that I need to know to make the story (and, subsequently, the game) work the way it should. I have to figure in stats, skills, game mechanics, the whole nine yards. And somewhere in all of that, I’ve got to remember to describe the graphics, bring the characters to life, and ensure that dialogue is natural and entertaining. Overall, I think this may be one of the most difficult stories I’ve written so far (aside from Willy’s Covenant, but that’s a whole other issue).

While I’m already convinced that I will probably end up taking a chainsaw to this story once NaNoWriMo is over (I’ve lost track of the number of cliches, inaccuracies, and typos I’ve discovered in reading back over what I’ve written), I can, at least, say that I adore my characters as much as I thought I would.

As of the end of Week 1, I had officially introduced the characters of Vigil, Wraith, Searos, and Tara. I introduced Alex and Yoshitsune last night, and I’ll be introducing Raine before too long, so more on them in next week’s post.

Vigil and Wraith have turned out to be exceptionally interesting characters. I based the two of them off of myself and my childhood best friend, meaning that the inspirations for Vigil and Wraith come from the same people who inspired Razi and Rayne in The Four Stars. I was a bit concerned at first, wondering if maybe Vigil and Wraith would end up being nothing more than mimics of Razi and Rayne, but as I write, I find my fears are subsiding quite a bit.

Vigil is, by far, one of the sassiest characters I’ve ever written. She actually reminds me more of my fanfiction character, Adaria, than she does Razi. Her relationship with Wraith is also quite unique. Though they are certainly friends, this doesn’t seem to stop them from picking on each other. In fact, I’d say it’s possible they act more like sisters. (Wraith would be the annoying little sister in that case).

I will say that Wraith does have similarities to Rayne, though that has mostly to do with impulsiveness and adrenaline addiction. If anything, I’d say Wraith is a mixture of Rayne and Eryn, containing the impulsiveness and love of fighting that characterizes Rayne while simultaneously displaying the ego and immaturity that characterizes Eryn. Yet despite all this, she does seem to be a likable character.

I’m still getting to know Searos and Tara. At the moment, they don’t seem to be stand-out characters, but then again, they haven’t been in the story long, so it’s hard to say. Searos is an unassuming personality, calm, quiet, but I feel like he’s actually a powerhouse in disguise. Tara seems to be a bit more of a straightforward character. I was afraid at first that she would end up being really ditzy, but so far it hasn’t been too bad. She does have no sense of direction, though.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at with my Week 1 update. I’m excited to see where the story goes here in Week 2. (I also can’t wait to introduce you to Yoshitsune since – yes, confession – I’ve already fallen in love with him!).

With that being said, here are some excerpts from my Week 1 writing spree. Hope you enjoy! Happy reading!


 

Prologue:

The light hum of the hovercar echoed like mere static as a young man in business casual attire idly flipped through the document hologram that glowed in front of him. The sound of a news reporter in the background worked to drown out a good deal of the hovercar’s hum, but he was only half listening as the reporter spoke.

“Since the launch of the Hermes System in February, statistics show that more people are travelling between countries than ever before,” the reporter was saying, her voice containing a slightly irritating scratch to it as she spoke. “The World Commission authorities released a statement last night announcing that international business is booming and that investments are expected to increase by over 120% in the next 5 years. But some people are saying that even the Hermes System, the pinnacle of teleportation technology and the highlight of 2250, is still not enough. Proponents of a more effective, less dangerous means of rapid transit are already pushing for an even more sophisticated system by the year 2260. Let’s move to David at the London International Portal Station for more details.”

The man in the business attire huffed slightly as a man’s voice came over the speakers. Then with a wave of his hand, the hologram in front of him disappeared, the voices went silent, and the hovercar settled down in an empty spot outside a massive chrome structure.

“People are just never satisfied,” the man muttered under his breath, grabbing a crisp white jacket from the storage compartment of the hovercraft and rushing off toward the building in front of him.

“Command initiate,” he said as he jogged through the crowds of people, pausing to check his appearance in a nearby glass wall as he came through the first set of automatic doors. “Time.”

“Pacific Standard Time, 06:00 hours,” an AI voice echoed through the earpiece in the man’s ear, her tone far too placid for as late as he knew he was.

“Portal transit to Tokyo.”

“Portal congestion is listed as green. Estimated time of arrival, 06:16 hours.”

Good. He would only get to work a minute late today if he was lucky.

Quickly the man skimmed his thumb over the fingerprint reader at the terminal, hardly even waiting for the gates to swing out of his way as he passed through them. He could hear another news reel going as he headed toward a glowing white capsul set up on a platform not far off.

“Since the popular VRMMO, Infinite, launched its Hermes System compatible software last week, competitors of the industry have been rushing to catch up with the game’s sensory immersion capabilities. The CEO of the popular game company…”

“Keep dreaming,” the man muttered, hurrying up to the portal capsul nearest to him. “It will take them years to catch up with Infinite.”

He was just reaching for the control screen when he felt someone shove him out of the way, and he looked up quickly to see a younger man in expensive clothes reach for the portal controls.

“You’re in the way,” the younger man grunted, glaring at him over his shoulder.

The man in the business attire clenched his free fist, then turned and rushed for another portal that stood open nearby. On a normal day, he might have said something. If he didn’t hurry now, though, he’d be more than just a minute late to work, and he’d hear about it for sure if he was.

Now feeling even more pressured for time, the man swiped his hand through the air to summon the holographic portal controls. Los Angeles, Terminal A, Portal LA6579. Destination: Tokyo, Terminal B. ETA: 06:17.

The man quickly selected his destination and half threw himself into the capsule, the door sliding around behind him with a light snap. A whirring sound then caught the man’s ears as the white light of the portal began to spin.

“Initiating atomic sequence now,” an AI voice echoed through the compartment. “Please remain still.”

The man resisted the urge to check the time again as he stood waiting for the moment that he would be zapped from one location to another. The light grew, spinning, spinning, spinning. And then…

Bam!

And all went dark.


Effort starts with E (from Chapter 1):

The sound of birds chirping echoed through the tree branches as Vigil and Wraith left the Elysian Plains and headed into the Hesperian Forest beyond.

“So…what’s our strategy?” Vigil inquired as she followed after Wraith, who was doing as much tromping as a herd of elephants as far as she was concerned.

“Simple,” Wraith replied, grinning over her shoulder. “I kill the monster, you keep me alive while I do it.”

“Brilliant plan,” the elf sighed sarcastically. “I give you an F for effort.”

“Effort starts with an E,” the human girl laughed back.

Vigil couldn’t help but grin at this, then settled back to a gentle pace as she observed the forest around her.


 

Regulus the Basilisk King (from Chapter 1):

The pair fell silent as they entered into a long, darkened corridor that lead out into a flat, circular open space beyond. Here the rising earth ringed the circular space in sheer, jagged stone walls. The putrid fog hung even heavier here, making visibility not much more than 2 meters at best. The only sound was that of the two girls’ footsteps as they walked further away from the corridor’s opening.

“Now where is it…?” Wraith muttered moving out in front of Vigil and glaring at the fog. There was a pause, then the woman let out a frustrated growl. “Aww, come out and fight already! Quit hiding in this fog like a coward!”

“Keep yelling and he’ll come out alright,” Vigil sighed. “Give me a minute and I’ll see if I can detect it.”

Leaning down toward the ground, the elf gently placed one hand against the hardpacked earth and activated her Detection skill. For a moment, there was nothing but the faintest of a presence aura around her. Probably, the young woman mused, the putrid fog was meant to do more than just accost her nose. Most likely it was also acting as a debuff, something that would interfere with her comparatively low-leveled Detection skill.

Then, all of a sudden, however, a slight blip of green caught her eye, and the elf almost didn’t have time to gasp before she shouted, “Wraith! Dodge left!”

Dropping the Detection skill, Vigil darted backward as Wraith followed her command. Both had only barely gotten clear of where they stood before a massive form the height of a giraffe swooped in, landing on the ground with an earth-shaking thud.

“Hey!” Wraith shouted, shaking one sword at the monster that stood before them. “What’s the big idea? Ambushing us like that. Fight fair!”

“It’s a monster, Wraith,” Vigil groaned, moving around behind the monster. “It doesn’t care. Now hurry up before it has time to use its attacks.”

“Right!” the Berserker replied. “Stun it for me.”

Putting her fingers together, the elf prepared to use her Purification spell as she had done with the other basilisks, but before she could use it, the creature lashed out at her with its snake-like tail, turning its chicken-like head toward her and opening its mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. Already Vigil could see a massive diamond on the center of the creature’s forehead lighting up as it prepared for an attack. Her dodging ability was low. There was no way she would be able to avoid it.

Quickly Vigil put her right hand out by her side, preparing for a healing spell, but right when the monster was about to release a breath attack, Wraith appeared from the side, launching a flaming kick at the basilisk’s head with a roar and sending the monster tumbling to the ground. She landed nimbly on her feet on the opposite side of the clearing and was still skidding across the ground as she channeled the fire up from her boots and into her swords.

“Hey! Bird brain!” the woman shouted. “Over here!”

With a roar, the basilisk stood up again, turning its glowing amber eyes on the warrior nearby. Taking advantage of the situation, Vigil ran around behind a boulder located along one edge of the circular zone they fought in, then put her left hand out in front of her, palm vertical, and swiped her hand through the air.

“God Vision,” she said.

Instantly a bright light swirled up around her, forming a series of charts and bars in the air on her lefthand side.

God Vision. It was a universal spell, meaning anyone could learn it regardless of class or race. It was a level 35 quest reward and was meant to be used by a party field operator, allowing the caster to see all the stats for both party members and their targets. Currently, despite the heavy fire kick that the current target, Regulus the Basilisk King, had taken from Wraith earlier, there was no damage to his HP. This was, indeed, a tough monster.

With a roar, Wraith went in for another attack, flaming swords glowing brightly in the ochre fog, but with a roar to answer her, Regulus lashed out its snake-like tail again, striking the Berserker in the ribs and sending her catapulting backwards against the stone wall beyond. Her back struck the stone and with a groan she sank down to the ground, tottering to her feet again.

Vigil swallowed hard. The hit from Regulus’s tail alone had been enough to deplete a quarter of Wraith’s health. Quickly she raised her right hand skyward, shouting, “Healing Aura!”

Instantly a bright light cascaded down from the sky, engulfing Wraith and speeding up her healing process significantly. The Berserker nodded briefly in thanks, then turned back to Regulus.

“Chronos Steps!” the woman shouted, charging in toward the basilisk again. Instantly Wraith disappeared in a flash, reappearing at Regulus’s side a split second later.

“Hades Blade!”

A roaring explosion engulfed both warrior and monster as Wraith launched a quick 3-strike attack. Vigil glanced at the statistics chart next to her. Regulus’s health was down by 5%, but…

With a ear-splitting shriek, Regulus launched itself in the air, slashing its talons across Wraith’s body seven times before landing on the ground again.

Wraith’s HP was already down 75%.

“Brigid’s Blessing!” Vigil shouted, crossing her two index fingers out in front of her. Swirling green light flowed from her body, entwining itself around Wraith and instantly mending all the wounds on her body, bringing her HP back up to 75%.

At that, the Berserker pushed herself to her feet again, going in for another round.

In and out they went. Sometimes Regulus would use its tail, talons, or wings to inflict massive amounts of damage. Sometimes it would soar up into the air, coming back down and body-slamming the earth with enough impact to knock both Wraith and Vigil off their feet and inflict residual damage and disorientation debuffs.

It was only about 5 minutes into the fight, but already Vigil was panting as she pulled herself to her feet for a second time. Her HP was down about 20%, but it was only that good because the Basilisk King was so focused on Wraith who would have died 100 times by now if not for all her heals. Briefly the elf glanced at the stats again. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up. Her Will was down to below 50% already, and both she and Wraith were losing energy quickly. It would be bad enough if they ran out of will before this was over, but to run out of energy would mean the death of the both of them. And there was no time to use any potions. Maybe if they had a tank in their party, but not just with the two of them. And Regulus wasn’t even down to 50% health yet.

Just then, the basilisk reared its head back, sucking in massive amounts of the putrid air. Vigil watched as the ochre fog began to swirl into the monster’s fanged mouth and a chill ran down her spine. So far they had seen the physical attacks that the monster wielded, but this…

With a roar, Wraith bounded toward the basilisk again, but she stumbled and nearly tripped as the fog swirled around her. A poison debuff!

Quickly Vigil placed her fingers together in a triangle.

“Purification!”

The purifying light encompassed Wraith, curing the poison. A split second later, however, the debuff returned.

“I can’t move!” Wraith exclaimed, using one sword to prop herself up. Already her flames had gone out as she struggled to breath. Her health was depleting quickly, too. There was only one thing left.

Standing up straight, Vigil held her right arm out straight in front of her, pointing toward Wraith with her index finger.

“Wraith!” she shouted. “I’m going to use my immunity skill on you. Use it to get clear of the poisonous fog before Regulus uses its breath attack!”

She could see the muscles in the Berserker’s jaw flex, but then the human woman nodded.

“Do it!” Wraith shouted back.

Right.

“Golden Fates!” Vigil exclaimed, swiping her finger through the air in three lines.

The three lines formed into golden strings which wove themselves around Wraith’s body. Instantly her HP bar turned gold, clearing the poison debuff and momentarily filling her HP to full.

Golden Fates. It was a last resort skill particular to Clerics. Few people used it because it was a short-lived spell that cost way too much Will, but it did allow the recipient 10 seconds of full immunity, a good thing to have if one needed to escape a particularly nasty fate. It was only 10 seconds, but it should buy Wraith enough time to get out of the way of the basilisk’s breath attack.

Vigil watched as the golden threads wrapped themselves around her friend, but her heart sank when she saw a mischievous glint come to the woman’s crimson eyes.

Oh, no…

“Wraith!”

“Oh yeah!” the Berserker shouted, summoning her fire again and darting toward the monster before her. “10 seconds of immortality! I’ll destroy you, you ugly chicken-head!”

“Wraith, don’t!”

The woman ignored her as she jumped high in the air, using fire in her boots as an added force and shouted, “Bloodrage! Excalibur Edge!”

Instantly Wraith went into a fury, striking Regulus at a speed only a Berserker could achieve.

“Idiot! It’s not going to work!” Vigil shouted.

She cast a glance at the stats next to her. It was true, Wraith was now doing a good amount of damage, but the monster’s HP was depleting at about the same pace as its attack was summoning. It would be a toss-up as to whether or not Wraith would make it.


Meeting Searos and Tara (from Chapter 2):

For a moment, the pair fell silent. Then, all of a sudden, the sound of rustling underbrush caught Vigil’s ears, and both she and Wraith instantly froze where they stood.

“That’s the mount you called, right?” the human girl questioned, glancing at the elf out of the corner of her eye.

“Nope,” Vigil answered. “And this is a level 50 to 55 region. I hope you’re ready for another fight.”

“Eh…”

Both women had already readied themselves for a fight when, all of a sudden, two figures stumbled out of the thick brush. Instantly both paused, staring at Vigil and Wraith with about as much shock as Vigil felt.

The first one was a Faerie woman, clad in a black medieval dress with black and silver wings that shimmered from her back. An exquisite cherrywood staff with a black gem on the top rested in the woman’s right hand. Judging by that, Vigil assumed she must be a Mage-class player. Next to her stood a shorter man with pointed ears, long white hair, and steel-grey eyes. In the man’s right hand rested what looked to be an S-class spear, on on his left arm he carried an ebony shield. A Dwarf Skirmisher, maybe?

“Um…” Wraith mused, breaking the awkward silence. “Hi?”

“H-Hi,” the Faerie chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry, I was just surprised to run into you guys. I didn’t think there were a lot of players out here in the Hesperian Forest. Are you guys coming from Arcadia?”

Vigil and Wraith glanced between each other, then back at the Faerie.

“Actually…Arcadia is that way…” Vigil responded, pointing in the direction the two strangers had just come from.

The Faerie’s jaw dropped slightly as she spun to look in the direction the Elf was pointing.

“Seriously?!” she fumed. “Seriously, I got turned around again?!”

The Dwarf next to her sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning his back against a nearby tree.

“I’d tell you ‘I told you so,’ but I don’t want to sleep on the couch tonight, so…”

The Faerie turned to pout at the Dwarf next to her, and Vigil glanced between them curiously.

“Are you two…?”

The Faerie perked up at this.

“Oh, right!” she grinned, holding up her free hand in greeting. “I’m Taralana, level 50 Faerie Mage. You can just call me Tara, though. And this is my husband IRL, Searos.”

The Dwarf nodded his own greeting toward the other two women.

“Nice to meet you,” Vigil smiled. “I’m Vigil, an Elf Cleric. And this is my friend, Shadowraith.”

“Just Wraith,” the Berserker interjected. “So what brings you two all the way out to the edge of the Desert of Agon? I hope you’re not looking for Regulus the Basilisk King, ‘cause we just beat him.”

“Have some manners,” Vigil sighed, smacking her friend lightly across the back of the head.

“Actually…” Tara began, as though searching for the right words. “We’re sort of…”

“Lost,” Searos finished. “She’s saying she’s lost.”

 

Story Snapshots: Prism World

Well, I am finally about 3/5ths of the way through my final edit for The Four Stars. (Yay me! Actually, shame on me, because I totally should have had this book finished by now… >.<) Anyway, as I have been going through The Four Stars, I have noticed multiple times when I have had to stop and read a section out loud just because of how much I love those particular scenes and characters.

As a writer, I think one of the most important things is for you to love what you write. Being in love with a story and being able to laugh and cry along with your characters puts a soul into what would otherwise be nothing more than a collection of words.

With this in mind, I have decided to share with you some of my favorite moments from my previous book, Prism World. (I’ll be doing one about The Four Stars once I finally get it published.) If you have read Prism World before, please feel free to comment with your favorite moments at the end of this post. (Not only do I just enjoy seeing what people like about my work, but knowing what you like and don’t like helps me hone my writing, too.) For those of you who have never read the book before, I hope you enjoy these little snippets. And, if you like what you see, why not try out the whole book, too? ^-^

For this post, I’ve chosen 12 of my favorite scenes from Prism World that do not specifically give away any major details of the story itself. There are a few words and phrases in the actual story that relate to specific plot twists, but I’ve edited those out for the most part. And, of course, there are way more scenes that I absolutely adore that didn’t make it into this list (mostly because to edit out the spoilers would be to edit out anything that wasn’t I, and, or the). Anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite scenes from my retro fantasy novel, Prism World.

(P.S.: Sorry for the horrible formatting. For some reason, WordPress keeps undoing my formatting. -.- *sigh*)


  1. New People (from Chapter 4)Just then the outer door opened and in stepped a woman and little girl.

    “Mr. Henry?” the woman inquired, peeking into the room. She paused when she saw me. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

    “It’s all right, Jenna,” Dr. Kepler responded. “How is your husband doing?”

    “Better,” the woman replied. “I came to get more medicine for him.”

    “Of course. Give me a moment.”

    I watched in silent wonder as Dr. Kepler went to a cabinet and opened it up, pulling out a couple of bottles and all the while conversing with the child clutching her mother’s hand. She was so small. Was she…was she similar to that term Blade had used the night I escaped? New Phantoms. New…people? Were Phantoms people, too?

    I sat in silence as I watched the woman head back toward the door, casting one final, questioning glance at me before leaving the building.

    “Was that…a new person?” I inquired, staring off in the direction the mother and child had gone.

    Dr. Kepler and Mr. Covent exchanged wondering glances.

    “The small person,” I added, trying to clarify.

    “A new…you mean the child?” the doctor questioned.

    “Child?” I had never heard the word before.

    “Yes, that was a child. I suppose you could call her a new person.”

    “How…do you make new people?”

    There was a moment of dead silence. I turned back to the two men as Mr. Covent coughed nervously.

    “Ah, well…hum…how should I put this?” Dr. Kepler stuttered. “I tell you what, why don’t you let me get these stitches out, then you can go talk to my wife, okay?”

    I frowned. He wasn’t answering my question, and I didn’t understand what the problem was.

    “Why can’t you tell me?”

    “Well, I really must be on my way,” Mr. Covent said suddenly, heading toward the door. “Thank you for the supplies, doc.”

    “Humph, running off are you?” the doctor huffed good-humoredly.

    “Hey, that’s your profession, not mine. Good day!”

    Mr. Covent tipped his hat and disappeared out the door.

  2. ABC’s (from Chapter 4)I watched as Dr. Kepler left the room, then picked up the chart with the alphabet on it. It had been harder for the doctor to teach me how to remember all the letters. There were pictures next to each one as an example of how each letter was used, but I knew almost none of the pictures shown.

    A…apple. The doctor had to bring an apple from the kitchen before I knew what the chart was talking about.

    B…ball. I didn’t know what a ball was, so the doctor had pulled one out of a closet to show me.

    C…cat. Strange looking creature. The doctor didn’t seem to have one of these tucked away in a closet somewhere so he had tried to explain it to me. He said they were small, light, quick animals with night vision and a soft fur coat. So…like a rich lady and a Phantom put together? Intriguing.

    D…dog. I had seen one of those in the house of one of my targets. It had looked a lot hairier than the one in the picture, though. Similar to a shaggy rug that stood up and moved to another spot on the floor every now and again.

    E…egg. Once again a kitchen raid had been necessary to demonstrate what the picture was talking about.

    F…frog. Another odd little animal. Similar to a green wart with eyes. I knew what a wart was. It was how I had been instructed to identify a target once.

    G…grape. There weren’t any of these in the kitchen, but Dr. Kepler had said they were a type of food that grew on vines. When I had still been confused by the concept, he added an additional example. Gun. I knew what a gun was.

  3. Meeting the Rebels (from Chapter 7)The room that Dr. Kepler and I stepped into was dimly lit and sparsely furnished. There was an odd variety of chairs circling the room, with men and women in drab attire occupying most of the seats. Immediately I noticed Mr. Covent, who sat at the far end of the room. Alice, too, was there, as were the brothers Jack and Amos. I didn’t recognize any of the other faces. I could feel the atmosphere in the room tense as Dr. Kepler and I came to a stop just inside the door. The only sound to stir the silence was the quiet humming of the single light bulb that hung from the ceiling.

    “Everyone,” Mr. Covent said at length, standing to his feet and looking at me, “I would like you to meet Lightning. She is a Phantom.”

    Instantly the room exploded in a general hum as the rebels whispered to one another. None looked pleased by this declaration. Mr. Covent said nothing for several moments. He only looked at Dr. Kepler. They exchanged glances, then Mr. Covent cleared his throat. The rebels turned their attention back to him.

    “Mr. Covent,” one rebel protested, “what is the meaning of this?”

    “Lightning has escaped from the Phantom Legion. She has offered to help us with our mission.”

    “Says who?” asked a second rebel.

    “Says Lightning.”

    “And you trust her? For all we know, she could be saying that just to catch us off guard. She could be the death of us all.”

    I frowned. Before anyone knew what was happening, I lifted the skirt of the black dress Mary had bought for me and pulled my pistol from its hiding place. No one even noticed until I pulled back the slide and set a bullet in the chamber. Instantly everyone froze, eyeing my pistol. Even Dr. Kepler was surprised. He hadn’t realized that I had created a make-shift holster using scraps from my old Phantom attire, and apparently he hadn’t seen me retrieve my gun from the bedside table before leaving my room, either. Of course, I wasn’t going to tell anyone that I only had two bullets left.

    Once everything was quiet, I reset the safety on my pistol and returned it to its holster.

    “If I wanted to kill you, I would have already done it,” I said, looking pointedly at the first rebel. “You talk too much.”

    Silence.

    “I was the one assigned to kill Mr. Covent. Did you know that?” I continued, slowly walking into the very center of the room.

    The rebels glanced around at each other nervously. I paused for a moment, then pulled my crystal prism from the pocket in my dress. I dangled it out in front of me. The light from the light bulb above me glinted off the swaying prism. A flash of rainbow color danced around the floor.

    I could see everyone eyeing the prism. They were confused. But not Mr. Covent. His jaw dropped when he saw it.

    “You should learn to look at the other sides. You might find something you’ve never seen before,” I said, now looking directly into Mr. Covent’s bright blue eyes. “That’s what he told me. I had never seen daylight before. He could have killed me then. But he didn’t.”

    The rebels turned to look at Mr. Covent in wide-eyed wonder. I returned the prism to my pocket, then began to slowly walk in a circle around the room.

    “I’ve been blindfolded, beaten, used,” I snarled. “I was only ever taught one thing: kill. Well, I took Mr. Covent’s advice. I looked at another side to this prism,” I paused and looked over at Dr. Kepler. “I found my freedom. For once, someone told me I was human.”

    The rebels watched me intently.

    “I don’t care if you trust me,” I said, coming to stand next to Dr. Kepler again. “I don’t understand what you’re doing. Right? Wrong? Moral? I don’t understand it. But I do understand one thing,” I pointed a finger and shook it at the room. “You’re fighting the masters,” I pointed my thumb back towards myself. “I want to fight them, too.”

  4. First Friends (from Chapter 9)I opened my eyes and glanced over at the sound of someone climbing the tree nearby. From my perch on the very pinnacle of the roof top, I could see a dark figure struggling to reach the eaves from an overhanging branch. There was a thump, and a moment later Amos had crawled up to join me.

    “You make this look so easy,” he laughed, trying to sit steadily along the same ridge that I sat on.

    I didn’t reply. I only stared at him. He was a stark contrast to me. Light hair and light eyes, always smiling and laughing. He was the only one of the rebels who did that. And what was more, he seemed to have taken a liking to me. It was all very strange. I turned my gaze away. We sat there in silence for several moments. I paid him very little attention. I wasn’t even sure why he was up here, but perhaps if I ignored him he’d go away.

    “I like the moon,” Amos said at length, staring up at the little silver disk suspended above us. “It’s so calming.”

    Silence.

    “What was it like?”

    I glanced over at him. He was looking at me curiously.

    “What do you mean?” I questioned.

    “As a Phantom. I mean, you weren’t always assassinating people, were you? What did you do in your free time?”

    I looked up at the moon. Free time? Time didn’t exist for a Phantom. At least, not in the sense that it existed to a regular human.

    “Dark,” I replied at length. “Dark rooms…surprise visits to keep me alert…training and missions to keep my skills sharp.”

    “You never had any…you know, hobbies or friends or anything?”

    I glanced over at him.

    “I don’t understand those words.”

    Amos looked at me quizzically.

    “You don’t?”

    I shot him an annoyed glare. If I said I didn’t then I didn’t. Why ask?

    “Well, hobbies are things that you like to do for fun,” the young rebel said, looking thoughtful. If he had even noticed my glare, he had completely ignored it. “For instance, I like painting in my free time.”

    “Painting?” I questioned.

    “Yeah, you know, creating pictures using paint.”

    I thought long and hard. Painting. Creating pictures? Like the pictures in Dr. Kepler’s books?

    “I’ll have to show you some time,” Amos continued. “You might even like to try it yourself.”

    I raised my eyebrow at him.

    “You don’t have any friends, either, do you?”

    My eyebrow remained raised.

    “Well, I’ll be your friend. What do you say?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, closing my eyes and leaning back against the brick chimney behind me, arms crossed.

    “Your friend. You know, someone you can count on. Someone who cares about you and will help you when you’re in trouble.”

    I opened my eyes and looked at him again. Was he serious? No such individual existed. At least, not in my opinion.

    “Whatever,” I sighed.

    Amos grinned broadly. For some odd reason, he seemed satisfied with my response. I just didn’t get it.

    “Lightning? Amos? Are you out here?” came Dr. Kepler’s voice.

    Immediately I perked up and looked down toward the yard. I could see the doctor silhouetted by the light that fell through the open front door.

    Quickly I stood up, hopping into the tree at the edge of the house before sliding down to the ground. Then I glanced back at Amos. He was still balancing on the edge of the roof.

    “You just…go on ahead,” he said, looking down nervously. “I’ll be there…eventually.”

  5. Meeting Patski (from Chapter 13)A fireplace was located to one side of the room, with plush furniture situated around it. A man clad in silk pajama pants, house slippers, and a fancy house robe reclined in one of the armchairs off to the side of the fireplace while voices blared from the speakers of a wooden radio set up on a table nearby.

    “The assailants killed or wounded over a dozen guards and caused millions worth in damage,” a static-laden voice was saying. “The council has already issued arrest warrants for any and all known rebels, and a 2 million ilo bounty is being offered for anyone who knows the location of rebel commander Leif Covent. Bounties are also being offered for other confirmed participants in this horrific case of violence: the two brothers Jack and Amos Fagan, and any information as to the identity of the female gunman who aided them. The first of the many funeral services for our fallen soldiers will begin tomorrow at noon…”

    The man in silk glanced over at us as the news report continued on with speeches from important members of the government and from the families and friends of the “victims.”

    “Well, Leif,” the man said, crushing out the embers of the cigar he was smoking and standing to his feet, “you certainly know how to cause a stir.”

    “It could have been worse,” Leif replied stiffly.

    “Mm-hmm,” the older man grunted, coming to a stop in front of me. “The unidentified female gunman, I take it?”

    None of us said anything. I eyed the man suspiciously. He didn’t look like the honorable sort, and he made Leif uncomfortable. That made me doubly suspicious of him.

    “You’ve got the eyes of a killer,” the man said, leaning down and looking straight into my coal-black eyes. “So this is what a Phantom looks like.”

    My fingers brushed against the hilt of my revolver.

    “There’s no need for that,” the man shrugged, stepping away from me and over to a wooden box that sat on the mantle above the fireplace. He pulled a new cigar from the box and lit it before turning back to us.

    “My name is Leonard Patski,” he said, nonchalantly walking back around the furniture toward us. “I’ve heard the rumors. How the young rebel leader, Mr. Covent, has taken in a Phantom and how that said Phantom has been helping him assassinate people in his way. His business partner, for instance.”

    “That wasn’t my doing,” Leif argued defensively. “She did that on her own.”

    “How is it…” Patski questioned, ignoring Leif. “How is it that you came to have a Phantom under your control? I believe I’ve gained a new respect for you, Leif.”

    “She’s not under my control,” the rebel leader frowned. “She’s a comrade.”

    “A comrade?” Patski laughed. “Hardly. Since when were Phantoms comrades? Can I honestly call a death-machine like that a comrade? That’s like calling your gun your friend. It’s just a tool. Nothing more.”

    I could feel my temper rising. In an instant I had crossed the space between me and Patski. Before he could blink, I yanked the cigar out of his mouth, unfazed by the fact that he was nearly a foot taller than myself.

    “You see these hands?” I said, shaking the cigar in his face. “You see these eyes? I have seen what you have never seen. I have done what you could never do. I am a death machine. My first memory is of blood spattering my face and soaking my hands. My first word was ‘kill’. I am a death machine. I was given no other choice. Don’t call me friend. Don’t call me comrade. But I am not a tool. I will not be owned. Not by you, not by the ones who bred me, not by anyone.”

    With a flick of my wrist, I threw the cigar into the fireplace several feet away, giving the rich man one more steely glare before turning my back on him.

    “You know, that’s hardly the way to get someone to help you,” Patski said, clearing his throat. He was trying to look unfazed, but his eyes told me he was just a little bit shaken.

    “That’s what the doctor said,” I replied. “But I wasn’t shaking a cigar in his face.”

  6. I Love You (from Chapter 19)
    A slight laugh escaped Leif’s lips and he fidgeted slightly.

    “And here I am…” he said at length, “sitting next to a Phantom. And…what’s more is…”I watched him as he searched for the words he wanted to say. He looked nervous. Why? Was it because he was talking to a Phantom? After everything, did he still not trust me?

    “What’s more is…” he continued, “I…well, you mean a lot to me, Lightning, and…”

    He looked up at me, his sharp blue eyes searching my coal black ones. I sat stock still, confused, as I felt Leif’s hands lightly touch mine. I watched as he leaned forward. I could feel his warm breath on my lips.

    But then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t Leif anymore. He was Blade. All I could see was Blade. All I could feel was Blade. All I could hear was Blade.

    In a flash I bounded to my feet and several paces away from the couch. My breath came quick and shuddering. I could feel my body shivering and my eyes were wide.

    Wait. Why did I…? What…what was that?

    “Lightning, I’m sorry,” Leif said quickly, standing to his feet. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I forgot that you don’t know much about…relationships. You didn’t even know what I was doing, did you?”

    “I know,” I said. “It was the same…the same as…”

    My voice caught in my throat. I hugged my arms to myself and shivered.

    “The same as…?” Leif prodded. There was concern etched across his face.

    “Blade,” my voice trembled. I was speaking to Leif, but my mind was trapped in the past…in a dark room…with a Phantom called Blade pinning me down, telling me I couldn’t fight my fate.

    “Blade?” Leif questioned, his eyes narrowing. “What did he do to you?”

    “Back in Alpha 6,” I replied. I couldn’t bear to look at Leif, for fear of seeing Blade’s face there. “The masters…a…breeding program…they brought Blade to my room and he…he talked about making new Phantoms and…”

    I swallowed hard.

    “New Phantoms?” Leif’s eyes widened. “New…people. That day in Dr. Kepler’s office, when you asked about making ‘new people’, that’s what you were talking about.”

    I nodded.

    “And so back at Alpha 6, when we came to your old room and you looked nervous…the bad memories you talked about back then…that’s what you meant?”

    Again I nodded.

    “Blade. Did he…did he actually…?” Leif paused. He didn’t seem to want to finish his question, but I knew what he was asking. Did Blade succeed?

    I shook my head.

    “No,” I replied, looking down at my scarred left hand. “That was when I decided to escape. I fought back, and I escaped.”

    “Lightning, I’m sorry.”

    I looked up quickly as Leif stepped toward me. For a moment, I was afraid he was going to try again. My eyes opened wide, however, when he dropped to one knee in front of me. He bowed his head, one hand braced on the floor, the other on top of his knee. He didn’t even look up at me.

    “I am so…so sorry,” he repeated. “I didn’t realize what you had been through. Those actions are signs of love, but that bastard ruined it for you. So I promise, I won’t so much as touch you without your permission. I just…I just want to show you that I…I love you. Please, help me find a way to do that.”

    Love?

    For a moment I stood there, stunned. Then, slowly, I knelt down in front of him. I hesitated, then wrapped my arms around Leif’s shoulders and laid my head on his.

    “I’ve never…really understood that word,” I said softly. “But I think…maybe…thanks to you, I’m beginning to.”

  7. Temporary Residence (from Chapter 21)

    Our new residence was even further out in the countryside than the mansion had been, or so it seemed, at least. It was an old house — there was no telling how old — with peeling paint, missing roof shingles, and a sagging floor. The windows were covered in a hazy film that made them nearly impossible to see through, and I wondered if perhaps the whole house frame was leaning just a little bit. It was a small house, too, far smaller than any of the rebel houses that I had seen. There was no washroom; just a small, bug-infested outhouse out back. Lighting was limited to flashlights, lanterns, and candles and there was no running water or electricity to speak of. There wasn’t even a hand-crank telephone. “Primitive” was the word that the rebels used.

    As we stepped into the living room, we glanced around at our surroundings. We all seemed to have the same look on our faces. We all seemed to be thinking the same thing.Oh. My. God. Are we really going to be living here?

    There were water stains all over the ceiling and what looked like mold in one corner. The wooden planks that made up the house’s flooring were warped, and I had to wonder if we would be no worse off sleeping outside should it decide to rain. And I had thought the slums looked bad. This place made my cell at Alpha 6 look pretty good, I had to admit.

    “And you’re certain this place is safe to live in?” Case questioned, patting one wall and watching as it shuddered each time his hand came in contact with it.

    “Case! Case!” Alice exclaimed, rushing over and grabbing our driver by the wrist. Then in a softer voice she added, “Don’t do that. You might knock it down.”

    “I’ll admit, it’s in a bit worse shape than it was in the picture the original owner showed me,” Patski said.

    “That’s probably because the picture was taken 20 years ago,” Leif replied.

    “Or 50,” Alice grunted. “Are you sure we can’t afford something at least safer? I can deal with primitive, but I’d rather not have my house do the government’s job for them.”

    “I’ll see what else I can find,” Patski sighed, turning to leave. “But there aren’t a lot of places that are out of the way like this one.”

    “Wait! Are you going into town by any chance?” Alice said suddenly.

    The rich man turned to look at her.

    “Yes. Why?”

    The young woman grabbed me by the wrist and half-dragged me toward the door.

    “All right. We’re going with you.”

    “Um…your reason being?”

    Alice paused in front of him.

    “Lightning needs a haircut,” she motioned to the bangs that hung in my eyes and the unruly strands that fell about my shoulders. “She looks like a shaggy pony right now. Also, she needs a new outfit. This one needs to be washed eventually, you know.”

    I stiffened slightly.

    “It’s all right, Alice,” I protested, trying to pull away. “I still have my assassin’s attire. I don’t need another outfit.”

    The decrepit house suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

    “Shush,” she interrupted. Her grip was like iron. “You’re going if I have to tie you up and drag you there myself.”

    “I’d like to see that,” Patski mused.

    Alice gave him a menacing glare.

    “Actually, going in to town sounds like a good idea,” Leif said suddenly. “I need to get in contact with some of our people back in Randburg. And anyway, I think I might feel a bit safer in town than out here.”

    He looked up at the ceiling uneasily.

    I opened my mouth to protest, but before I knew it we were all piled back in the car, crammed together and headed to town. I sat stiffly with my hands in my lap, glaring at Leif out of the corner of my eye. Traitor.

  8. Happy Birthday (from Chapter 21)

    I had just turned to ask Leif a question when the sound of movement caught my ear, and I looked up toward the roof of the nearby building in time to see a blur of black come into view. Alice nearly flew out of her seat and in a moment her gun was in her hand.

    “Scythe!”I grabbed Alice by the wrist as my brother landed on the ground a couple feet away, polearm in hand.

    “Hold on, Alice!” I exclaimed. “Don’t shoot!”

    “Lightning, that’s Scythe!” Alice exclaimed back, struggling against my grip. A look of sheer rage had lit up her eyes. “[Insert spoiler here]! I’ll shoot him if it’s the last thing I do!”

    “Shoot him in the foot then,” I replied. “Just don’t kill him. I need him alive.”

    I glared at Scythe.

    “Honestly, are you incapable of visiting like a normal person?”

    “I don’t know what you mean,” the other Phantom shrugged. “I just came to tell you happy birthday, Sister.”

    A dead silence fell over the group as we all stared at Scythe. I released Alice’s hand and sat back down in my seat.

    “Never mind. Shoot him.”

  9. Get Out of My Face (from Chapter 22)

    For a moment we all fell into silence. I didn’t mind it, really. Even though I had spent a lot of time with the rebels since escaping the Phantom Legion, I was no more fond of noise and small talk now than I had ever been. And so I just stared out the window, out to the sodden gray landscape beyond. No wind stirred the trees in the woods. It was very still and misty outside. The incredible amount of rain we had gotten the night before had caused little river beds to form along the dirt driveway and what seemed to be half of a new lake to appear in front of the sagging porch.

    My mind had almost begun to wander when, all of a sudden, a figure clad in black dropped down from the porch roof. In a moment I had bounded back several paces, my revolver drawn and ready to fire.“Lightning, what is it?” Leif asked quickly, standing to his feet.

    Already he and Alice had drawn their guns into their hands. Without a word, I opened the front door, the barrel of my gun flying to a stop in front of Scythe’s face.

    “Whoa, there,” he laughed, raising his hands in submission. “You sure know how to make a guy feel welcome don’t you, Sister?”

    “Where have you been?” I asked coldly, my jet black eyes narrowed in suspicion.

    “Investigating things,” he replied.

    “And?”

    “And…I found your mother, if that counts for anything.”

    My eyes widened, and I lowered my gun.

    “My mother?”

    “Mercy,” my brother replied. “I’ve been tracking down her master for about three weeks now.”

    “Her master?” Leif inquired, coming to stand next to me.

    Scythe nodded.

    “It would appear that the females who can no longer produce offspring are given as pets to higher-ranking masters,” he explained.

    “Oh, that’s just disgusting,” Alice said, coming to stand on the opposite side of me. “What kind of people are these?”

    “Very corrupt,” I replied with a sigh. “Somehow, I’m not in the least bit surprised.”

    “So if they do that to the women, what do they do with the old male Phantoms?” Alice asked.

    “That is a good question,” Scythe smiled, leaning toward Alice. “Maybe nothing. We can breed longer.”

    Alice quickly brought her gun up to Scythe’s chin.

    “Get out of my face, you nasty pervert.”

  10. Subtlety Strikes Again (from Chapter 23)

    We heard the sirens long before we realized what was happening. I watched through the slats as lights flickered in the distance, then glanced back as our truck rattled to a stop in the shadows off to one side of the road. I heard someone hop out of the truck cab and turned as Patski pulled the tailgate down, poking his head inside.

    “This doesn’t look good, Leif,” he said. “There are police cars and army trucks all along this road. I think they may be headed for the house.”“You can thank Lightning for that,” Scythe grunted. “She decided she needed to be some sort of hero and walk right through the front door.”

    “And now they know we’re here,” Leif sighed. He looked over at me. “Your subtlety strikes again.”

    “Or lack thereof,” Alice added.

  11. Dog Fight (from Chapter 27)

    Quietly I glanced out at the horizon again. I could see Sparrow and Falcon’s airplanes nearby. It all seemed so peaceful up here. I liked the freedom that I felt suspended there in the sky. Yes, when this war was over, if I could live to see such a day, I wanted to learn how to fly.

    I was just thinking this when a dark speck in the distance caught my eye. I turned to look at it and I could feel adrenaline rising in my veins.“Crane!” I shouted, turning toward the pilot. “There are more airplanes!”

    The man turned quickly to look over his shoulder, but as he did so we saw Falcon wave at us and make a motion with one hand.

    “Shit!” Crane swore. He motioned back to Falcon.

    By this point, Sparrow had also noticed the signs. A moment later I felt our airplane tip to the side and all three machines split off in different directions.

    “What are you doing?” I yelled above the roar of the wind and the engine.

    “Giving ourselves a wider playing field,” Crane called back. “If those are enemy fighters, this will make it harder for them to take out all three of us.”

    I looked back at the dots which had grown progressively bigger since I had first noticed them. I counted. One, two, three…

    “How many are there?” the pilot questioned.

    “About half a dozen,” I shouted back. “And it looks like they only have one pair of wings.”

    “Damn!” Crane exclaimed. “There’s no way those are civilians! Miss, how handy are you with a machine gun?”

    “I can hit my target,” I replied.

    “Good! Grab that gun in front of you and prepare to fire. We’ll try to lose them first, but modern fighters are faster than these biplanes, so I’m sure we’ll have to make use of the gun eventually.”

    Quickly I grabbed the handholds on the machine gun in front of me and peered through the crosshairs. Already I could see the metallic bodies of the enemy fighters glinting in the afternoon sun. All of a sudden, however, a flash of fire exploded from the front of the lead plane.

    Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat!

    Crane swerved our plane away from the sound, but in an instant the enemy planes were behind us. I grabbed for the trigger of the biplane’s machine gun.

    Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat!

    The enemy airplanes split off in twos, one set going after Falcon, one going after Sparrow, and the last set continuing to follow us. More flashes of fire lit up the noses of the enemy airplanes. I trained the crosshairs of my own weapon on the fighter closest to us and let out a spray of bullets. The enemy pilots pulled their planes off to either side, then pulled back in to flank us. As the enemy opened fire again, and as I pulled the trigger on my gun, I could feel my world begin to spin as Crane swerved the biplane around into a momentary downward spiral. Then we soared back up again. I felt my head spinning as I tried to focus my gun on my targets. I was built for speed, but this was a kind of speed I had never known.

    I pulled back the trigger of the machine gun and opened fire as an enemy fighter swerved up behind us. The front of the plane lit up in a ball of flames and dropped like a rock from the air, twirling as it pelted down toward the earth. I could feel a knot form in my stomach. If we weren’t careful, that would be us next time.

    The second enemy fighter swerved up to take its fallen comrade’s place, and I released a spray of bullets in their direction. I could hear the pat, pat, pat of bullets hitting metal as Crane shoved our airplane into a nose dive. But it appeared that the damage I had dealt to the enemy craft was minimal, as they followed after us.

    Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat!

    Crane spun our airplane in a corkscrew as machine gun bullets pelted by on either side of us. I narrowed my eyes, trying to get a good look at the enemy fighter behind us.

    Concentrate…concentrate…

    I released a hail of bullets on the enemy and a moment later all that was left of them was a trail of blackened smoke hanging limply in the open air. The sound of gunfire caught my ears above the roaring of the wind.

    “Falcon’s still under fire!” Crane shouted. “You up for another round?”

    Falcon… That was where Leif was!

    “Hell, yes!” I replied.

    Our airplane banked, then dipped. We swung up under the enemy fighter’s belly, I focused the machine gun’s crosshairs on the engine, then before the fighter knew what was happening I pulled back the trigger.

    Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat!

    Crane swung our craft out from under the enemy and we watched as they fell to earth. A moment later Sparrow and Falcon pulled up behind us on either side. All six of us raised our fists high in the air and let out cheers of victory.

    “You handle that gun pretty well!” Crane called back to me as we settled on a wind current.

    “I’ve had some experience with guns,” I replied, scanning the horizon for any sign of more trouble. But there was none. The horizon was silent.

    “Lucky for us,” my pilot responded with a laugh. “I wasn’t sure what would happen when I agreed to bring you three along. I was under the impression that we were transporting commanders, not real fighters.”

    “Generally speaking, we’re both,” I responded. “I don’t think we would have lived this long otherwise.”

    “Good point,” Crane nodded.

    “How long does it take to get to the capital?” I asked, changing the subject.

    “A few hours,” the pilot responded. “Provided we don’t meet any other undesirables.”

    “Good,” I replied. “Well, I’ll make sure to keep a finger on the trigger just in case.”

  12. Not If. When. (from Chapter 28)

    I glanced briefly at Alice, then trotted after Leif.

    “So what did you think of that, Lightning?” he asked as I came up beside him.“Of what?”

    “Of the airplane. I mean, aside from getting shot at.”

    A grin came to my face.

    “It was fun. The fight included.”

    Leif laughed slightly.

    “Of course you would think that was fun.”

    A sigh escaped my lips.

    “I would have been happier if no one had died,” I said, sticking my hands in the pockets of my leather jacket. “I’ll admit, I’m getting tired of killing people. But I enjoyed all the dives and whatnot. It was exciting.”

    “You’d make a great pilot,” Leif smiled, moving closer to me until our shoulders were touching.

    “Do you really think so?” I asked, looking up at him.

    “Yes. Definitely.”

    A slight laugh escaped my lips.

    “I was thinking during the flight that…if I survive this war…I would like to learn how to fly.”

    Leif paused as we came to the corner of the hangar. He turned to face me and took me by the hands.

    “Not if, Lightning,” he smiled softly. “When. When we win this war…when we survive and come out victorious…when all that happens, I’ll make sure you learn how to fly. When we start using the word ‘if’ then we give ourselves permission to fail. And we can’t let ourselves fail.”

    For a moment I stared at him in silence. Then I nodded. When…when we won this war…when we freed our people from the tyranny of the government that now ruled them…when we at last found peace…those were the moments that I had to look forward to. I couldn’t give myself permission to fail.

    For several moments Leif and I stood there, staring into each others’ eyes, my hands in his. We didn’t budge until we heard Alice clear her throat.

    “Third party. Over here,” she said, raising her hand. “And just a little bit awkward this side of Loversville.”

Blackened Skies Met Us…

Aaaaand….I’m done!  Now I’m caught up. Phew! Actually, this one was really fun for me. The prompt for this video was:

“Take the following sentence as a beginning of a story/scene of a story and write for 15 minutes – ‘Blackened skies met us as we approached the capital.’ ”

The moment I read the word “capital,” my retro fantasy novel Prism World jumped to mind, so the story segment I wrote is part of that series of stories. Actually, this is the beginning of a short story I have been meaning to write about how Leif and Lightning got their first child, their son, James.

Blackened skies met us as we approached the capital. A moment later, broad, heavy raindrops began to spatter our windshield, and Leif frowned as he flicked on the windshield wipers.

“A gloomy day for a gloomy city…” he muttered.

I glanced over at my husband briefly before turning my attention back to the scenery outside. Most of the debris from the battle we had fought a couple months prior had been removed, but I could still see the charred remains of the buildings that had been hit by mortar fire from the old government’s tank rounds. Flashbacks of that day sifted through my mind. Rain… It had been raining then, too. I could still see Blade’s face in my mind. It wasn’t something I could tell Leif, but I always thought of Blade. I wished that things had been different. I wished I had not had to kill him. I loved Leif, but I had loved Blade, too. In a different way, though. Not the way I loved my husband. It wasn’t something I knew how to explain.

I glanced up as Leif pulled our car to a stop in front of a tall building in the center of the city. Patski was already standing in the doorway, a dark black umbrella in hand, smoking a cigar as he watched us step out of the car.

I listened as the muddied gravel crunched underneath my feet. Leif appeared at my side a moment later, holding an umbrella over my head. It was something he did frequently. Said something about it being a requirement as a gentleman. I still wasn’t sure what that meant.

“Talk to me, Patski,” Leif said as we joined our comrade in front of the silent building. “What is it you think Lightning would want to see?”

Patski flashed us a wry grin, drawing in another breath from his cigar before motioning for us to follow him inside.

“We’ve gathered all of the Phantom children we could find,” the older man explained as he led us down a darkened hall.

“They’re here?” I questioned.

Patski nodded.

Well, they were obviously Phantoms, then. The whole building was silent as a tomb. Only our footsteps broke the quiet.

“And you thought we should visit them?” Leif mused, raising an eyebrow at our companion.

“Hmm…” Patski shrugged. “I doubt you would mind. But that’s not really the reason I called you.”

“Then what was it?”

Without a word, Patski led us into a darkened room. There were cribs here, each one holding a tiny form. I paused to stare at the figures in the cribs, frozen to the spot. It was the first time I had ever seen a baby before.

“These are all of the Phantoms aged newborn to 1 year,” Patski explained, throwing his cigar out in the hall and stepping further inside. “I called you because I thought Lightning might be interested in one.”

“Me?” I questioned, looking at the man in confusion.

“Yes,” Patski nodded, pausing next to a cradle in the far corner. “A boy, 2 months old. We found his pedigree. His father was your old friend, Blade.”

The Four Stars – Chapter 25: The Knight Rallier

 

Introducing…Cloony! This is actually the third chapter told from the perspective of Cloony, but I chose to share this one because it also introduces my favorite character in the trilogy: Sir Adrian. Adrian isn’t actually named in this chapter, but if you want to get a feel for his character, as well as the characters of Ceallach and Fogarta, this, I think, is a good one. Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy!

——

“Ranks! Center! Victory or death!”

Cloony stood impassively as he watched a wave of weapons spear the air beneath a roar that made the ground at his feet tremble. The Gaulian commanders had practically worked the army into a battle frenzy. With morale as high as it was, the soldiers really would fight to the death. It was the greatest strength of the Gauls when it came to battle. Once they got worked up, there was no bringing them back down.

“Are you sure you don’t want to ride your pegasus?” Ceallach questioned, though it was more of a rhetorical question than anything. His tone was practically dripping with mockery.

“I prefer not to be seen,” Cloony replied, mounting the chestnut horse he had been standing next to and adjusting the reins. “Raghnall would attract too much attention.”

“Of course, of course,” the Gaul king laughed. “Best not to distract the enemy from what’s important.”

Fogarta, on the king’s right, snorted at this.

“How much longer are we going to keep up this little charade?” the prince inquired bitterly, looking out across the mass of soldiers crowded into the pass. “We should have crushed the Livanian army days ago.”

“I must admit, I grow weary of it myself,” Ceallach nodded. “I lose interest when the toy refuses to break.”

“They are certainly holding on well,” Cloony said softly. “They’ve managed to fortify their position despite the circumstances. They may be pinned in there in that pass offshoot, but at least we no longer have them surrounded. King Dorrian is doing well despite not having the Stars at his side.”

“You sound as though you’re praising him,” Fogarta frowned.

“I was merely stating fact.”

“Is that so,” King Ceallach mused, staring off at the ranks of soldiers before him. Then he glanced over at Cloony. “Speaking of Stars, how goes your work?”

Cloony felt a chill run down his spine, and he turned away from the king.

“I have found a link between Altis and Eldel. One of my spies managed to come back alive, and he delivered a copy of the Star spell to me, so we should not need to try and get the whole army past the mountain guardians. However, unlocking the spell is proving to be difficult, as it contains elements of an elvish I do not know.”

“You are worthless, aren’t you,” Fogarta sneered.

Ceallach shrugged, then turned his horse toward a steady incline off to one side of the canyon wall.

“In any event,” he said, “we have the spell now. We can crush these pests and worry about unlocking the spell as we begin settling the lands of Livania.”

Fogarta snorted in disgust, then shot one more menacing glare at Cloony before turning his horse and following after the king.

Cloony sighed as he urged his horse forward. Right. Now that he had obtained the spell, his job had become of a secondary importance. Ceallach didn’t really believe he needed the Star power. After all, it was he who had brought the Stars to their demise. At this point in time, his interest in the Star power was merely because it was power, not because he thought he needed it to succeed in battle. And even taking Livania was not really all that important to him. No, Ceallach’s true interest was in destroying the ones who had made him look weak. Weakness was something the king hated, and he wanted those who made him feel that way to understand just how much he hated it. It was pride, and it was hatred, and it was ambition, all mixed into one and magnified in his protege, Fogarta.

“Forward!”

The command echoed up from the pass below and Cloony watched the movement of the troops as he listened to the sound of marching feet. He didn’t bother trying to direct his horse. He knew it would instinctively follow Ceallach and Fogarta’s horses anyway.

Cloony glanced up when his horse turned a bend in the path and came to a stop. From here he could see the nook in which King Dorrian and his allied armies were camped. The opposing army had managed to pull together a makeshift wall of stones and dirt to put some distance between themselves and the Gaulian forces, but even Cloony knew that the wall wouldn’t last long against the massive number of soldiers at Ceallach’s disposal. The sound of a horn split the air and the gate to the Livanian army’s camp, probably nothing more than shields and spears laced together, swung open. Instantly mounted knights began pouring through the aperture, followed closely by mounted elves and footsoldiers of all races. A line of archers rushed to the top of the earthen wall in preparation to do what they could from where they were. Another horn sounded through the pass, then, in a moment, there was chaos as the two opposing armies clashed.

The Livanian knights leveled their spears as they led the way into the fray, their heavy warhorses toppling the lighter infantry troops in front of them. From where he sat, Cloony could see the whole of the chaos, the black uniforms of the Gaul forces ebbing and flowing against a bulwark of the red and silver uniforms of Ardenia and the forest greens and earthen browns of Alfedan. Here a space cleared as a Gaul spearman unhorsed a knight and drove his weapon into him, there another space cleared as an elvin horseman sent a group of Gaul infantrymen darting out of the way of pounding hooves. The warriors were all so mixed in now that it was difficult for Cloony to tell which side had the upper hand.

For a moment, the Livanian soldiers fell back toward their encampment, and it almost looked like they might be retreating all together when, all of a sudden, a knight on a dapple grey war horse burst forward, sword raised high as he shouted, “Don’t let the dogs cow us down! Forward, men! For freedom!”

The Ardenian knights whirled their horses around and followed after the rider on the dapple grey, pushing the wall of black back a ways before retreating again. Again the knight on the grey horse shouted an encouragement, and again the knights pushed forward, swarming around him as they shouted his words back to him. A rallier. That’s what he was. A knight rallier. It was an important position in the Ardenian cavalry, a position that began with Sir Lance, the Star, in the last battle of the Second Gaulian War over 20 years before. And this one…this rallier seemed to Cloony to be as encouraging as the legendary knight himself. Perhaps Livania really would win with this knight in the lead.

Quietly Cloony glanced to the side. King Ceallach and Fogarta were both staring down at the scene with narrowed eyes and obvious scowls. They weren’t liking what they were seeing. To them, it wasn’t any fun if they were on the losing side.

Cloony was about to turn back to the scene before him when he noticed Ceallach practically snarl.

“Cloony,” the king said sharply.

“Sir?”

“That knight. Kill him.”

The hooded man swallowed hard as he turned back to the battle beyond. Then, with a nod, he whirled his horse around, charging down the incline and into the pass below.

Swords flickered in the sunlight, singing past him left and right as Cloony charged into the fray. Most of the soldiers were too distracted by the enemy soldiers to notice a lone rider in a hooded robe, and the ones who did notice him dove out of the way of his charging mount as he plowed through the masses toward the knight on the dappled horse.

The thundering of hooves against stone echoed in Cloony’s ears as he leaned down, yanking a spear out of the side of a dead warhorse as he sped past, and with a powerful swing, he knocked the knight from his horse. The knight landed on the ground with a heavy thud, metal armor clanking together in protest, and he rolled several feet before coming to a stop.

Instantly Cloony spun his horse around and launched the spear at the knight as he struggled to get up, but the knight quickly rolled to the side and the spear impaled the ground instead. At that, Cloony swung from his saddle and drew his sword. The knight had already pulled his helmet off his head by this point, no doubt to give himself a wider range of vision, and he brandished his sword as he turned to meet his attacker.

He was a young man, Cloony noted, hardly old enough to be a knight, with blond hair and blue eyes that had a good humor about them despite the circumstances.

“Hey, now,” the knight grinned slightly as he wiped blood from his busted lip, “waylaying people from behind isn’t nice, you know.”

“I highly doubt battle is a place to play nice,” Cloony replied, circling around the knight as he looked for an opening.

“Have you Gauls never heard of a thing called ‘chivalry’?”

With a frown, Cloony darted forward, slicing his sword downward at the knight. Instantly the young man brought his sword up, the clash of steel ringing in their ears before both darted away again.

“Chivalry is a fantasy,” Cloony responded, slicing outward at the knight.

The young man swerved out of the way, attempting to bring his sword down on the older warrior’s neck, but Cloony was too fast and he blocked and spun before the blond could react. The young knight was lucky, though, as Cloony’s blade came in contact with his metal chestpiece and glanced off harmlessly.

“Ah, you’re one of those pessimist types, aren’t you?” the knight laughed as he blocked another one of Cloony’s attacks.

The older man’s frown deepened. Impressive. Not many could keep up with him. This young knight was actually very skilled, despite his age and light-hearted personality. It was shame he had to die.

“Pessimism,” Cloony responded, launching a series of quick strokes at the knight, “is merely seeing the world as it is.”

“Or seeing its ugly half,” the knight responded, blocking each of the attacks.

Sweat was pouring down his face and he was breathing heavily. It was obvious that he was worn out from all the fighting he had been doing over the course of the past few weeks.

“Which, by the way,” the young man added, “seems to comprise a good half of your army. Is there some sort of religious edict against trimming beards where you come from?”

Cloony thrust his sword forward, striking the chestplate of the knight’s armor and knocking the young man back onto the ground.

“Looks,” the older man said, driving his sword downward. “Are unimportant in battle.”

His blade pierced the ground as the knight rolled off to the side and brought his own sword up at Cloony’s unguarded side. Instantly Cloony brought his sword around, blocking the attack and bounding backward out of the knight’s reach.

“You’re pretty good for an old man,” the knight panted as he stumbled back onto his feet again.

“You are a fine warrior yourself,” Cloony said softly. “I wish I did not have to kill you.”

The knight blinked at him in surprise.

“Well, I would appreciate it if you didn’t,” the blond responded.

Cloony sighed mournfully, then went in for another attack. His sword struck against the knight’s sword and the young man stumbled backward with the force. He was a good warrior, this knight, but he was worn out. He didn’t have much left to fight with.

“I am afraid,” Cloony replied, striking out and slicing a gash in the knight’s left arm, “that disobeying King Ceallach is impossible.”

“Oh, come now,” the knight laughed slightly as he dodged another of Cloony’s attacks and countered. “What, does he have a control spell on you or something? Anyone can disobey if they want to.”

The young man fell back against a large boulder behind him. He was wheezing slightly, with one eye closed due either to the pain or the exhaustion. Possibly both. He braced himself again, sword held at the ready, but Cloony could tell that the knight was trembling.

“Unfortunately,” Cloony responded, leveling his sword for another forward attack, “one does not always have that choice.”

Instantly Cloony darted forward, his sword slicing through the young knight’s side, but the blond had dodged in time to avoid any particularly deadly wound. The older man turned toward his opponent, who was bent over slightly in pain. Blood ran down the knight’s side, staining his armor, but he did not falter as he faced Cloony again.

“I would much prefer not to have to wound you unnecessarily,” Cloony said, brandishing his sword. “If you submit, I will make this quick.”

“Oh, yes, lie down and die. That sounds peachy,” the knight laughed sarcastically. “Wouldn’t it be nice if it was always that simple.”

The young man bit his lip as he straightened himself again. He grimaced at the pain, but seemed to be doing an admirably good job of ignoring it as he stood up straight and held his sword out defensively again.

“I don’t care who you are,” the knight stated boldly, his expression becoming more serious as he stared firmly at Cloony. “Sir Lance believed in me, and I owe it to him to be the man he believed I could be. I will gladly suffer a thousand deaths before I surrender like a coward.”

Sir Lance…

Cloony swallowed hard at the name, and he hesitated. So this boy was one of that knight’s proteges. No wonder he was so relentless yet good-humored in battle. Yes, if this boy’s goal had been to emulate that famous knight, he was doing a marvelously good job at it.

“Indeed,” Cloony answered softly. “Sir Lance would be very proud of you.”

A look of surprise crossed the young knight’s face at this, and he looked like he wanted to ask something, but just then the sound of horns blasted through the pass, and both warriors glanced in the direction of the sound. Apparently, without their rallier, the Livanian warriors had retreated back into their make-shift fortress, and the Gaulian soldiers had backed off, too, uncertain how far Ceallach actually wanted them to go.

With the knight momentarily distracted, Cloony found his opening, and instantly he reached out, striking the young man on the back of the neck and knocking him unconscious. The knight crumpled at the strike, but Cloony reached out and caught him, lowering him to the ground so as to prevent any unnecessary injury.

Just then the sound of hoofbeats caught Cloony’s ear, and the man turned to see Ceallach and Fogarta draw their horses to a halt behind him.

“Is he dead?” Ceallach inquired, frowning down at the body of the knight lying on the ground.

Cloony clenched and unclenched his jaw at the question.

“Merely unconscious,” he replied bluntly.

“Are you an idiot?” Fogarta spat. “Do you not know the meaning of ‘kill’? Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

The prince swung from the back of his horse, but Cloony stepped in the way.

“Cloony?” Ceallach inquired. His tone was as much warning as it was hesitant.

“The boy is a knight rallier,” Cloony said, swallowing hard as he watched Fogarta’s grip tighten around the hilt of his sword. He wasn’t convinced that the prince would kill him without Ceallach’s permission, but Fogarta was the sort to act first and ask permission later.

“And?” Fogarta snarled. “Out with it.”

“The rallier is an important position within the knight ranks. He keeps the morale of his fellows high. To kill him would be a blow to their morale, yes, but to make a display of killing him in front of the entire camp would be twice as effective, don’t you think?”

Fogarta looked both confused and doubtful as he glanced over at Ceallach. The Gaul king pursed his lips in thought, then nodded slightly.

“I see…” he mused. “So what exactly is it that you suggest?”

“Wait until you are ready to make the final attack. Then, bring the rallier in front of their encampment, call their attention to him, and kill him in front of his fellows. The Livanian army is already discouraged and worn down, and they lost their heroes years ago. It will not take much more to destroy what little morale they have left. Until then, keep the boy alive.”

A menacing grin crossed Fogarta’s face.

“I like that idea,” the prince chuckled, sheathing his sword.

Ceallach glanced over at his heir, then shrugged and turned his horse back in the direction of the Gaulian army.

“Very well,” he sighed. “I was growing tired of all this anyway. We will launch our final attack in two days. Send them a messenger and tell them as much. Perhaps if they surrender then, I won’t kill them all.” The king paused, then laughed slightly. “Perhaps.”

Fogarta chuckled with him as he swung back up into his saddle, and Cloony watched as the pair rode off into the ranks. Then he looked down at the unconscious knight nearby. Two days. He had two days to decide what to do. The man cringed slightly at the thought. There was no way Dorrian’s army would be able to win at this rate, no way for them to come and rescue the knight he had captured. No, most likely, he would have to do what he must. The thought of it made him shiver.

Writing Prompt: Ruler of the World

So my friend, Sarah, and I have started doing writing prompts to keep our writing skills honed. Today’s writing prompt was the following:

You rule the world and you’ve been given the power to change one law of nature. What do you change?

We gave ourselves a time limit of 20 minutes. Wasn’t sure what to do at first, but it turned out pretty fun. So, here it is. Also, if you would like to read Sarah’s interpretation of this prompt, you can find it here.

——-

Sun glittered off the decorative pool in the courtyard below, but I had long ago given up trying to hear the sound of the pool’s many fountains above the din of the crowd gathered around it. I fidgeted slightly with my costume as I peeked around the corner of the door that led to the balcony, then drew in a deep breath, trying to still my nerves. It didn’t work. Whose funny idea was it to make me ruler of the world? Me, the same girl who used to hide behind pianos at church socials. Ok, so I wasn’t that bad now, but still. Ruling the world had never been on my bucket list. Still, though, the job had come with its perks, and it was one of those perks that had brought the huge crowd to my castle palace in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Of all the crazy things I had been given when I was made ruler of the world, this perk would definitely go in the Guinness Book of World Records for achieving an entirely new level of crazy. I had been given the power to change one law of nature. Yes, that’s right. Forget physics, and science, and all those white-haired men who had poured their hearts and souls into the theories I think I might have learned once upon a time in some class that I no longer remembered. Yes, I was about to change nature itself.

The giant clock on the tower above my palace chimed noon and the crowd outside quieted down. Now or never.

I stepped out onto the balcony and plastered as convincing of a smile as I could muster onto my face, waving as the crowd roared to life, making every concerted effort to bust my ear drums. I waited until I thought their voices must have become sufficiently sore before I motioned for silence.

“People of the world!” I shouted, hoping that the people in the back forty of the courtyard could at least tell that I was speaking English, if not understand what I was saying. “Today, I use the greatest gift that I have been given. No longer will you have to worry about falling from cliffs or dying from plane crashes. From this day forward, gravity will be at your command!”

More ear-piercing cheers. These people sure had good lungs.

I waved my hand and felt the energy flow out of me as nature bent to my will. Then, tapping one foot on the floor of the balcony on which I stood, I willed myself to fly. Instantly I soared skyward, coming to pause roughly a hundred feet above my cheering subjects. Yes. Now this was a gift.