Manipuli

I’ve been engrossed in writing “Quantum Conscience” lately, which is definitely a good thing, but also means it’s harder for me to switch gears and write a vignette! So today I offer an excerpt from an unpublished novel co-written by me and Malcolm Pierce called “Manipuli.” The only reason I haven’t released this novel yet is that I’m trying to hold out for a traditional publisher. These days, though, that sounds like saying I’m waiting for my fairy godmother to fly down and wave her magic wand. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the excerpt!

*

In a small cottage upon the foothills of Fairdalia, a baby’s cry pierced the heavy darkness. Howling winds rattled the brittle trees and tossed snow through the air like tiny shards of ice. Animals huddled in their nests or groped through the shadows for shelter. Even the critters with sharp, nocturnal vision failed to find their way home on this night, for not a single star shone in the sky. Pitch black clouds swallowed the light of the hidden moon. A sense of dread and panic seized the heart of every rabbit, wolf, griffin, unicorn, and other manner of beast to be found in the woods of Fairdalia, for this was the darkest night they had ever experienced.

But every living creature paused, ears twitching, when the baby’s cry rang across the land. Their dread did not release them; in fact, many of the animals suffered an increased sense of anxiety. Nonetheless, they all knew they heard something special, something that would change the world of Fairdalia for the rest of their meager lives.

Within the cottage, the baby’s father—a ragged peasant named Balthazar—struggled to keep a candle lit amidst the battering winds. Like prying fingers, the breeze forced itself through every crack and crevice of the log cabin. His wife, Agatha, held the newborn baby in her trembling arms and wiped the blood from its face with a cloth. Even Agatha, relieved by her successful childbirth and proud of the bundle of life in her arms, felt disturbed by the piercing cries coming from its mouth.

“Sphinx’s curses!” growled Balthazar, dropping the flint as he watched the candle sputter and shrink. “I can’t see a damn thing!”

Another gust of wind blew out the flame completely, plunging the husband and wife into darkness. Agatha clutched the squirming baby to her chest, but somehow this brought her no comfort.

“All is well, husband,” she said wearily. “The baby is born. We can rest until morning.”

“All is not well!” he cried. “I want to see my child!”

Suddenly, beams of silver light shot through the farmer’s window. A white glow filled the interior of the cabin. Awestruck, Balthazar moved to the shutters and opened them. In the heavens above, the moon filled the sky, so huge and heavy, it looked as if it would collide with their planet. Mixed feelings of fear and wonder stirred in the poor peasant’s heart. The brightness of the moon almost blinded him, but he could not look away.

The baby stopped crying, and silence fell over the kingdom of Fairdalia.

“Look, husband!” gasped Agatha.

He followed her gaze to their newborn child, now glowing in the brilliant luminescence. He could now see that he had sired a son. But that did not draw his attention so much as a strange mark on the infant’s chest. At first, he thought it a stain from its mother’s blood. But the longer he stared, the more detail he discerned on the baby’s skin. Like a tattoo, black marks intertwined around the area of his heart, then dispersed and faded like so many veins into his body.

Balthazar’s eyes grew wide with terror. “That mark,” he breathed. “I have seen that mark before. It is the mark of evil!

He turned to his wardrobe and fumbled through its contents. Agatha knew what he was getting long before she saw the flash of moonlight against the blade.

“No!” yelled Agatha. “NO!”

The baby, sensing his mother’s dismay, wailed alongside her. Clouds swept over the moon, drawing darkness back over the world like a curtain. Balthazar dove for the baby, but could no longer see it. He tripped and fell upon the floor, cursing.

Weakened by childbirth, but driven by the need to save her child’s life, Agatha got up and fled.

She could see no better than her husband, but desperation guided her through the shadows, across the familiar floorboards of the cottage, and out into the biting snow. Cold clung to her feet and climbed up her legs, draining her weary muscles. She stumbled through the blackness.

Then a star twinkled above her, providing a surge of light over the field. Agatha followed the silver glow. It faded as she passed through, but then another star sparkled from the blackness. One by one, the stars winked above her, illuminating her path through the frosty fields and forests. It seemed as if some powerful force guided her, granting small pools of light wherever she needed it, but casting all else in darkness. The sound of Balthazar yelling from the cottage grew more and more distant until it faded completely.

Agatha hoped she was safe, for she did not have the strength to run any further. She wrapped the baby in her cloak and huddled into a small cove protected from the wind, relatively free of snow or ice. Here she clutched her son to her breast and prayed to All Sortilege, the source of all magical power. One look at her son made Agatha cease to care whether a good or evil force had marked him. She believed that any power could be directed in either direction. But she did suspect that magic of some sort had marked her newborn son.

“All Sortilege,” she whispered, “please protect us and lead us to safety. Pour your blessings on my dear son… Lucien.”

The name, meaning light, came effortlessly to Agatha as a result of the night’s events. The baby ceased squirming and relaxed against his mother. Agatha wondered if she imagined the sensation of warmth that suddenly seemed to wrap around them both. They fell deeply asleep as if nothing on earth could harm them—and perhaps nothing could.

*

Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 10:11 am  Comments (4)  
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The Lost Scout

Today’s vignette offers a little of what’s to come in the novelization of “Serafina’s Saga.” I confess it’s a little awkward adapting my own script and drawings into novel format; usually, if I adapt any of my own work, I do so in the opposite order! But it’s kind of fun, also. So here’s a little scene from the animation, fleshed out for the novel. I hope you enjoy it.

*

Nikolaos expected to collapse into the grass at any given moment.

Yesterday, he had intended to scout only a brief distance—perhaps fifteen miles from camp. He planned to have plenty of time to return to base and sleep snugly in a tent with a belly full of warm stew. Camp rations were low, but at least at night he could usually expect a big slosh of watery soup full of scraps from the daily gathering. After adding a dash of chili powder, Nikolaos could almost imagine the stew delighting his senses with exotic spices. Then he would have sat next to a campfire and shared his scouting adventures with his fellow soldiers. He liked to narrate his wanderings in such a way that captured peoples’ interest and inspired them, rather than just reporting his work as a scout. Doing so made his own job seem more glamorous, and he rather enjoyed the attention. Finally he would return to his tent, throw off his grubby clothes, stretch his limbs over his blanket, and sleep like a baby.

That’s how he would have liked last night to play out. Instead, he had lost his way—a grave sin for a scout like himself.

Scouts should never get lost. They should be capable of distinguishing slight changes in the landscape, tracing every slope and plant into memory, so they could describe it in detail to their superiors or even draw out a map. Nikolaos should be able to guide his comrades into new terrain with confidence and reliability. More than that, he should be able to look beyond the superficial appearance of the landscape enough to assess its potential as a source of security, supplies, or strategic placement.

Not Nikolaos. Not yesterday.

He blamed his hunger. The large servings of stew every night usually satisfied him enough to grant a good night’s sleep. But the night before this fateful outing, he’d felt the first ache of hunger before tasting sweet slumber. Breakfast did nothing to satiate him, like a weak puff of air against a ravenous flame. His hunger had consumed him by midday, making his limbs drag and his thoughts tangle. The fact that the damn savanna looked the same in every direction didn’t help matters—just endless yellow grass and occasional trees stretching into a circle of sky. He had tried to return to camp, only to wander further into strange territory. When the sun started falling, he focused on finding shelter instead.

Now, after another day of wandering, he still had no idea where he was, and his hunger had become a monster possessing his faculties. He could concentrate on nothing but food, yet he couldn’t think clearly about how to obtain it. He only knew that when he saw a blur of green foliage in the distance, promising water and wildlife, he moved fervently towards it. What other hope did he have of finding food?

He ignored all the warnings he had ever heard about the jungles of Darzia. The darkness beneath the canopy harbored incredible danger, he knew, including a wide variety of animals and plants in every shape and size imaginable. Meanwhile, every single one of those strange plants and animals possessed its own unique way of killing enemies. Poisonous plants mimicked safe ones. Small creatures with frail bodies compensated with quick cleverness and sharp memory. An animal wearing the guise of prey could easily lead him into a maze of foliage from which he’d never escape. And as for the larger beasts, such as bears of griffins… well, they could just kill him with one blow.

But starvation worried him now more than any conceivable creature. So he continued moving towards the jungle, one heavy step at a time, heaving slow breaths of air through his leathery mouth. Everything exhausted him—even breathing, even holding his eyes open. The sword hanging from his hip felt like it tried to pull him into the soil below. His blue cloak, draped over one shoulder in the old Elborn fashion, yanked at his torso as it flapped in the wind. His ear-length black hair slapped his face and open eyes. He wanted to fling off his burdens and maybe chop off his lashing locks. But even doing all that would require too much effort.

So he stared vacantly ahead, watching the dark entrance of the jungle yawn wider. Even through the fog of his weary mind, he wondered briefly what he intended to do once he got inside. Hunt for an animal? In his current state, he’d never catch one. Search for water? That was a start. Surely the water of the jungle wasn’t poisonous, was it? He would have to take his chances. Maybe then, at least, he would feel good enough to hunt. If not, he would have to try eating a plant. He had no idea which ones were safe, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t matter. Even people who spent years studying botany struggled to analyze the plant-life of Darzian’s jungles, which were full of tricks and surprises. Once again, he would just have to try his luck.

He looked briefly towards the heavens and thought of his god, the mysterious Lokke, lord of mischief. Normally, Nikolaos didn’t bother praying, even though he worshiped Lokke devoutly. He didn’t think Lokke appreciated typical prayers the way other gods did. Even so, he whispered hoarsely, “Please Lokke, lend me some luck, would you?”

He dropped his head again, for it felt too heavy to tilt skyward. He watched his boots crunching through the dry yellow grass.

He noticed something shift on the top edge of his vision, towards the mouth of the jungle. He looked up reluctantly. Then he froze in his tracks.

A girl. No… a young woman. Or someone caught directly between the two stages. But not awkwardly, he thought. On the contrary, she seemed to embody the brilliance of youth and adulthood. She moved with incredible speed, even as she came to a sudden halt at the edge of the forest. An aura of wildness surrounded her as solidly as the jungle itself; she had bright red hair that tangled around her face and shoulders like a lion’s mane. She wore a small brown tunic, tattered and dirty, leaving most her arms and legs bare. But she seemed neither scantily clad or fully-dressed: merely a girl in her natural state. Her body was small altogether, but even from a distance he could see the firm flow of her muscles, and the steadiness of her grip as she twirled a spear at her side.

Then she stopped and saw him, too.

He felt stricken with a lightning bolt. Her big green eyes affixed him as surely as if she had thrown her spear into his stomach. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. Just stare straight back at her and wonder what she would do next.

She turned around and darted back into the jungle.

“Hey, wait!” he cried hoarsely. But it was already too late, and he knew without a doubt he had no chance of catching her.

*

More “Serafina’s Saga”

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 10:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Looking for a Friend

Here’s a little vignette written for Quantum Conscience, my sci-fi visual novel releasing this summer. This scene happens years before the visual novel begins.

*

Korah yearned for sleep, but the silence of her lonely metal home seemed to ring in her ears, forcing her to listen to her turbulent thoughts.

For as long as she could remember, she had anticipated the day she would obtain her own Household. Any helot who served faithfully until the age of sixteen, proving her ability to fulfill the tasks of her Cypher, would acquire her own Household. She would stay alone in this small metal house until the age of twenty-one, at which point she would marry the man Terra chose for her. Until then she had five Terra-blessed years of solitude—years she had dreamed about every night at the factory dormitories, where she would listen to other kids squabble in the beds around her, or hear bugs and rats skittering restlessly in the walls. Once she had her own Household, she had promised herself, she would kill all the bugs and rats. She would keep everything clean—perhaps she would even decorate—and at night she would sleep deeply enough to remember her dreams.

Now that she had her own Household, she did in fact keep everything clean. She set out traps for small rodents and squashed every bug she came across. The peaceful quiet within her little dwelling surpassed all she had imagined, until it became something terrible. She had not expected loneliness to become a new monster.

She could always hear the wind shoving against the thin metal walls of her structure, hissing through the cracks as if attempting to speak. Sometimes Korah thought she discerned words in the wind’s voice, but not enough to make sense, like a sputtering old woman missing most of her teeth. Other times she heard the sounds of gorgans walking down the road outside: their large metal paws scraping against stone, their eye-scanners humming as they searched for helots breaking curfew.

Tonight, she shifted from side to side in her tiny wooden cot and wondered how long she’d been trying to sleep. Minutes? Hours? When she closed her eyes, the monotonous events of her day replayed in her mind: arriving to work at the factory, measuring fabric, then cutting, folding, and marking it for sewing… over and over again, just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, ever since she was seven. All of it melted together into an intangible mass, an ugly span of eternity that stretched all directions. It felt like enough to drive her mad. She would have given anything to be surrounded by the noisy children and nasty rodents of the factory dormitories, if only to distract her from the agony of inner reflection.

When a loud knock shook her front door–once, twice, then a third time–she shot up in bed and briefly stopped breathing. She felt a moment’s relief from her own dark thoughts. But she feared that whatever person might bother to knock on her door in the middle of the night would be far more dangerous than mere cogitation. If it was a helot breaking curfew, then she should not offer refuge, or she would be punished as severely as the perpetrator. If the visitor was Militar, such as a Cypher-G or O, then he must be here to punish or restrain her somehow. He might even want to take her to a synch-station and pilfer her memories, a process that often involved random selection. Every possibility seemed horribly grim.

“Open up! I SAID OPEN UP! I am a Cypher-P, and if you do not obey me I’ll have you flogged in the street!”

Without wasting another breath, Korah scrambled out of bed and pulled on her robes. A Cypher-P: a Politician! That was even worse than a Militar. Cypher-Ps had authority second to none but the Q himself, the dictator of all Teballai. Why would a Cypher-P bother himself with her Household? Had she passed him on the street and met his gaze on accident, or done something else to offend him? She would have remembered. She couldn’t imagine what the reason must be, but the possibilities made her heart pound with terror.

“So help me Sol, I’ll break down the door and I’ll—”

She swung open the door before he could finish his sentence.

She was not supposed to look into a Cypher-P’s eyes. But tonight, given the circumstances, she couldn’t help herself. The tone of his voice suggested he would unleash his anger upon her, one way or another. So she gawked helplessly at the young man in her doorway, as if upon her fate, and what she there saw surprised her.

He was close to her age, maybe sixteen or seventeen, his body tall and slender. If not for his station and apparent distress, he would have not have seemed intimidating at all. He wore fine clothes: an embroidered shirt with puffy sleeves, a short cloak festooned with gold loops, slim trousers and embroidered boots. As a tailor, Korah could not help but admire such beautiful clothing. Nearly every single day she worked on drab tunics and robes. Only on very rare occasions would she assist with the creation of a truly fine garment, usually for someone important enough to work in the Q’s Tower, like a Cypher-P or honored D.

A gorgan stood on the street behind him, a silent guardian, its jagged metal body reflecting the city watch-lights like tiny daggers of light. But its red eyes stared into the shadows of the street; the fearsome robot did not seem concerned with Korah in the slightest. If Korah didn’t already know that gorgans felt no emotion, she might have thought it bored.

“I’m looking for a Cypher-P named Blaire,” snapped the young man. Korah turned back to him, trying to avoid his gaze this time, but not quite succeeding. His brown hair was disheveled, his face red and puffy. His voice sounded dry and tight. His whole body trembled, even as his fists clenched into bulging knots. “Did you hear me, drudge? I’m looking for Blaire P. Shorter than me, blonde hair, blue eyes, smirks like a bastard.”

“I… I am sorry, Master P, I have not seen this person. Even if I had, I would not remember, because I’m not to look at a Cypher-P’s face.”

“Don’t you dare lie to me, you miserable drudge! I’ve knocked on every helot’s door for miles. How could none of you have seen Blaire at all? How could someone so memorable vanish without a trace?

The last word was almost a scream, his voice cracking in the middle. The gorgan turned its large metal head towards him slightly, but could not find a threat, and thus looked ahead again. But Korah saw the threat–one a gorgan could not. This Cypher-P was about to burst into tears. His lips quivered, his eyes crinkled up, and he held his breath as if to repress the explosion. She feared the outburst would only be more violent as a result.

She must have been mad, for she suddenly opened her door wider and said, “Would you like to come in?” She didn’t know what she was thinking. She must not have been thinking at all. How else could she explain the fact she felt sympathy for a Cypher-P?

“I… I…” He tried to protest. But he failed. He was falling apart at the seams, Korah thought. He was a Cypher-P. He had wielded incredible authority his entire life. He spent time every day with the dictator of the entire planet. He could make helots bend to his every whim and desire. He could search their memories, demand their labor, or even kill them without consequence. But tonight, none of that seemed to matter. He was just a young man searching for his friend.

So he stepped into her house, then he burst into tears.

That was the night Korah first met Veramus.

Grand Traitor Makeover

My free novella, Grand Traitor, has received another makeover! If you haven’t read it yet, now’s the time!

A foreigner surprises everyone in Castle Krondolee when she claims to possess the key to a room that has remained closed for centuries, its contents unknown. Arken Jeridar, descended from the god of greed, schemes to win the key for himself and the queen's love all at once. But success may come at a far greater cost than he ever expected.

A foreigner surprises everyone in Castle Krondolee when she claims to possess the key to a room that has remained closed for centuries, its contents unknown. Arken Jeridar, descended from the god of greed, schemes to win the key for himself and the queen’s love all at once. But success may come at a far greater cost than he ever expected.

 

As some of you may know, I have recently taken something of a break from writing novels to explore other forms of storytelling media. I created an animation and then became involved with game design, releasing my first visual novel October last year online and in the Google App store: “Serafina’s Saga.” Because of the positive responses the game has received, and also my own emotional attachment to the story, I have decided to go back and adapt the game script into a novel. This will give me a chance to dive deeper into the characters, spend more time with them, and release a version of the story that non-gamers can enjoy, as well.

Grand Traitor is the prequel to all forms of “Serafina’s Saga,” and the story also occurs in the same world as the “Broken Balance” Series (Ashes of DearenSands of Hanubi). Depending on how the Serafina’s Saga novel goes, I might write a third book to create a “Serafina’s Saga” trilogy, which will begin to connect the characters of “Serafina’s Saga” with those in Sands of Hanubi. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

So I just wanted to let you all know that I am still writing novels, albeit not as quickly as the previous few years, and give you a taste of what’s ahead. One way or another, I will return to the Sands of Hanubi story eventually; I’m certainly not done telling it. If you haven’t read Grand Traitor yet, go check it out for free. Here’s a teaser:

***

Excerpt from Grand Traitor Chapter 3

***

She couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t.

Nadia stood in the hallway, trembling so fiercely she feared for the health of her baby. Elborn mothers rarely miscarried or suffered complications during childbirth. It was one of the many reasons people suspected they carried the blood of Demetral. But Nadia still worried that the fears and burdens she suffered might have some negative impact on her little Serafina. She could not remember the last time she felt so physically unstable. Her hands sweated uncontrollably. Her body felt weak from lack of food. And yet her one bite of breakfast continued to churn in her stomach.

Two rows of Darzian soldiers shared the hallway with the queen, prepared to give their lives to protect her. She wore a crown on her head, ensuring her that everyone on this vast and powerful continent must obey her command. And yet she felt as vulnerable as a small child alone in the wild. Any moment, Arken Jeridar would come strolling down this hallway. She had chosen this part of the castle for that very purpose, so she might intercept him. But the thought of seeing him again—of staring into those fierce golden eyes, full of anger and maybe even hatred—terrified her beyond belief.

“I, uh… I’m not feeling well,” she said aloud, even though the soldiers were trained not to speak to her. Some of them exchanged puzzled glances, as if wondering whether to respond. “I’m going back to my room!” she declared. Then she started to turn around.

But it was already too late. For at that very moment, Arken appeared at the end of the hallway.

He froze at the same time that she did. He stared at her across the stones of the hall, through the bright beams of sunlight from the windows, and she wondered how she looked to him. There she stood, fat and pregnant, her ridiculously large dress spreading out from her swollen midriff, a look of shock on her face. Crowned, bejeweled, and surrounded by soldiers, she still managed to feel pathetic and sickly.

Meanwhile, Arken looked as radiant as ever. He had traded his silk robes for leather riding boots, simple trousers, and a loose-fitting shirt that showed the softly-sculpted lines of his chest. He had pulled his yellow hair behind him, tied with a silk ribbon, though a few soft strands still fell to accentuate the squareness of his jaws and the sharp length of his nose.

He recovered before she did. He resumed walking, and his steps did not waver as he swept his long legs down the hallway. He stopped just a few feet away from her and feigned a graceful bow. Somehow, this theatrical submission felt equal to the most flagrant insult he might have thrown upon her.

At long last, she closed her gaping mouth and tried to recover her breath. But despite how many times she had rehearsed this moment while waiting for him to appear, she could not find the words to say.

He looked up at her, revealing a tiny smirk on his mouth, and found his voice before she did. “Most beautiful and gracious queen. Forgive me for interrupting you on my way through this hallway.”

He might as well have slapped her across the face. And perhaps that was for the best, for at last, she felt her senses returning to her. “Arken,” she said. “I came here to speak with you.”

He straightened from his ridiculous bow, but continued to wear that smile on his face—a smile that, despite its charm, she knew to be fake. Whatever warmth it provided, the coldness in his eyes overwhelmed it tenfold. “Oh really? Why would the great Queen Nadia ever trouble herself with the likes of a man like me?”

He poised the question as a mockery. But she sensed a sincere curiosity behind his words, as well. “Arken, I…” She glanced around at the soldiers. “Leave us.”

The soldiers hesitated. They could not disobey. But they could not abandon her, either. They did not know what to do.

“Wait for me… over there,” she snapped, pointing to the end of the hallway.

With a great shuffle of armor and weaponry, the soldiers obeyed her. Arken watched them go with an amused expression.

“Arken, when you left here so suddenly, on that day… you never gave me a chance to explain myself.”

“What must you explain? You chose to marry another man. Quite… ‘suddenly.’” The fake smirk, the feigned amusement, vanished completely. His lips curled with a snarl. “Whatever you would say to me, I don’t wish to hear it.”

“But you must. I…” Her palms were sweating again. She rubbed them against the fabric of her dress, to no avail. “I did what I thought what was best for the kingdom. I wanted to marry you. But to do that would have been selfish, especially when I realized the repercussions. If I had abandoned the throne without warning, the castle would have fallen into chaos. Relationships between the Houses were so heated, I feared a civil war.”

“I see. Marrying me would have been selfish?” He snorted, a sound that reverberated from one end of the hall to the other. “Gods forbid you do something selfish! I don’t suppose choosing the crown over love is selfish at all? Nor the assumption that you must sit on the throne or the kingdom will fall to ruin? Naturally, you did what you had to—for the kingdom.”

“You know that it’s true, Arken! Our actions could have had dire consequences.”

“But that’s not the full truth, now is it?” His eyes narrowed on her, and she felt as if they pierced her to the core. “If you really worried so much about the consequences, you would have spoken to the Royal Duma about marrying me long before your scheduled wedding with Lord Gerald.” He stepped closer to her, his gaze crushing her as surely as a boot upon her throat. “If we had proceeded more carefully, we might have gained everyone’s approval. So if you cared so much about that, why didn’t you try? Why did you not announce our intentions sooner?”

Nadia opened her mouth, but no words came out. She realized that for better or worse, Arken sensed the truth. He knew that she had loved him. But despite her love for him, she had never believed he could rule as Grand Prince without causing trouble. She worried that he would always want more power—that his inheritance as a Jeridar would get the best of him. And that even if married to the monarch, his power would fail to satisfy the greed in his bloodstream.

“You misjudged me,” he hissed, his breath blowing the red curls from her face. “You thought I cared only about the crown. You were wrong. But not nearly so wrong as I was about you.”

He pulled back, just a little, but she still felt as if he had smashed her to powder against the floor of the hallway. She felt tiny and small, unable to argue, helpless against his accusations.

“May I pass now, my queen?” His voice dripped with derision. “Or must you explain yourself further?”

“I…” She took another deep, shuddering breath. She stared into the floor, finding that her courage increased the longer she avoided his gaze. “I think that you should not go on this ride with Vivian,” she said at last. “I think that if you obtain the key—more specifically, if your family obtains the key—then the consequences will be dire.”

“That’s not really my concern, is it?” She glimpsed a shrug of his broad shoulders. “Such concerns are for the people with crowns. So why should I worry?”

“Arken. I am begging you…”

“Beg all you’d like, Nadia.” This time, a true hint of joy rang upon his voice, and it chilled her to the bone. “But the more you beg, the more you will assure me of my purpose. For I wish you to understand what it feels like to want only one thing in this world—to want it with every fiber of your being—only to have it denied you.”

And then, without waiting for permission, he swept past her.

For a moment, the soldiers grabbed their weapons. Even from afar, they sensed the queen’s distress. But she shook her head, and they let Arken pass.

She had found the strength to deny him, once. But perhaps that strength had broken, just as surely as his devotion.

***

Read the full story

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Diamond Hearth

I’ve been having trouble posting a vignette every week as intended, so today I offer something a little more fulfilling. This is a short story I wrote several years ago inspired by my childhood growing up on a farm. I hope you enjoy it.

*

Dark. Cold. Leaking through the cracked window. She shivers and smiles. She reaches for the lamp next to her, warm, yellow, bright. But not enough to drown out the night. Winds surge. Leaves whoosh. Wood creaks. She could be a pirate on a ship sitting out a storm. Storm’s coming no doubt.

“Wish I could enjoy this as much as you.” Mom closes the window. She sounds stern, but her cheeks are rosy. Eyes twinkling. “But I’ve a farm to look after.”

“Cows’ll be fine,” replies Ferry.

“It’s not the cows I’m worried about.” Mom walks around the room pulling out plugs. “Get the TV?”

Ferry’s sad to leave the window, the portal to the storm. But Mom asked, and Mom knows best. Her fingers follow the wire into the shadows. Pop goes the plug. “Then what scares you?”

Mom looks at her, sighs. Ferry knows what she must be thinking: she’s too young. That’s what she said when Dad left a year ago. You’re too young. But she’s not too young. She was eleven then, now she’s twelve. She didn’t understand why Dad left, but neither did Mom, and Mom’s thirty. She stares Mom in the eyes.

Mom breaks. “The goats. I didn’t tell you this last year but … one of our goats froze to death.”

“It ain’t that cold,” says Ferry. She looks around for more plugs to pull. The thought of a frozen goat scares her, but she can keep working, see?

“You’re right, it’s not. Not yet. Got a book?”

Ferry nods. On a shelf of dusty books, her book’s clean. Spine broken. Well loved. It’s a mystery book. Ferry got it almost a year ago, after Dad disappeared. She knew his disappearance was a mystery, and thought she might be able to figure it out. Read it once, couldn’t figure out anything new at all. So she picked it up to read again. Maybe she’ll find more clues.

They sit at the table. Mom puts the lamp back in the middle and sits with her own book. Ferry watches her. Beautiful. Pale sweaty skin, even though it’s cold outside. Mom works so hard. A bandana over her rich black hair, spilling a little onto her face and sticking. Twinkly black eyes, happy one minute, sad the next. They’re not moving. She’s not reading.

“Mom,” says Ferry. “What’s your book about?”

“Mm.” Mom looks at the cover, as if to remember. “It’s a … silly romance.”

Ferry nods. “You miss Dad.”

The twinkle goes out of Mom’s eyes. Eyebrows furrow. “Not everything’s about your Dad. He’s gone. Best forget about him.”

Mom doesn’t want to believe what other people said about Dad: that he was a thief and a criminal. They told Mom she was better off without him, and made her watch the news showing his “Wanted” picture, connecting him to a jewelry store robbery. Mom said to turn it off, and she wouldn’t talk about it. Ferry wanted to know what Mom knew, but Mom wouldn’t say anything. It’s hard to solve a mystery without any clues. Once Ferry even tried to go through Mom’s papers, but there was so much junk, she couldn’t find anything useful.

It seemed true, though–that Mom was better off without Dad. After he disappeared, Mom seemed to have a lot more spending money. She wasn’t a big shopper, but she didn’t hesitate to buy some things she did before, like nice wines and breads.

Mom’s still looking at Ferry. Mom sighs. “Honey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say. I can’t stay on this farm forever.”

“… What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve been looking into other places. I found a very nice house, closer to town. I think you’d love it.”

Ferry can’t believe what she’s hearing. “But … what about the animals?”

Mom shakes her head. “Just … think about it. I wouldn’t do it until next fall, anyway–”

“We don’t have the money for that!” Ferry remembers hearing Mom and Dad argue about money all the time. She knows what she’s saying.

Mom looks away from her. “I have the money, sweetie.” Her voice is quiet, quieter than the wind outside. “I have plenty.”

The outdoors roar–the wind and the trees and everything living. Mom straightens up, nervous. This is their first winter without Dad’s help. Dad helped run the farm, but Ferry remembers that he complained a lot, too. He cursed the animals and called them dumb. Sometimes Mom got tired of his complaints. Ferry remembers, and she thinks Mom does too, even though she pretends not to. She pretends Dad always liked it here.

The first echo of raindrops, metallic, bounce off the barn’s tin roof. Pouring, flooding closer. Ferry huddles in on herself, represses a smile. Waits for the wave to break. Whoosh comes the rain, over the field and onto the tiled roof of the house.

They read. They pretend, anyway. Mom’s probably thinking about Dad, worrying about what might go wrong. Or maybe she’s thinking about a house near the city. Ferry’s listening to the rain, and how it sends a different echo from each part of the farm.

Mom sees her smiling. Frowns. “If it floods, then the chicken coop …” Her eyes widen, filling with fear. “I should check on them. I should stack more sandbags.”

“I’ll do it!” Ferry slips off her chair.

“Don’t be silly!”

Dog starts barking, probably Masters. Ferry hates that the dogs have to stay outside, even when it rains. They need burros, or llamas. Otherwise dogs are the farm’s only protection, and that’s not much when it comes to coyotes. Sometimes the dogs ignore the coyotes altogether.

Mom listens, considers. “I guess you could check on Masters.” By now, more dogs have joined Masters. They sing a storm chorus.

“Can I bring him inside?”

“Only if something’s wrong.”

Rain jacket, rain boots, and a very big grin. She’s ready to go.

The ground pulls at her feet. Mud grabs her heels like hands. So much rain. She can’t see much, but Masters keeps barking, so she follows the sound. Out here, she could disappear like Dad did. There are a hundred ways to disappear. Probably more. She could run off right now and Mom would never find her. But she won’t.

Masters stands on the other side of the field, up against the fence. The other dogs stand further back, sometimes adding a supportive bark. Masters always barks first. He’s a waterside terrier, big, tough.

“Masters!” calls Ferry. Usually he comes to her when she calls. More barks, same place. He’s not coming. “Masters!”

“Bark bark bark bark bark!”

Only thing to do is keep going. She wants back inside already. Wants her mystery novel. A stove. Some hot chocolate. “Masters!”

He stops barking. Roar roar roar goes the rain, drowning everything else away. At least she’s close now, she can see him, not far from the lamppost. His fur looks like the mud, brown and slimy. He stands so still, rigid. Rain drops down her back. She shivers. “Masters?”

Masters barks once more, and then Ferry sees it. The sea monster he tried to warn her about, loping closer, out of the dark woods and into the lamplight.

She screams and runs back to the house.

The corner’s safe. Nothing can crawl out of the wood to surprise her. Warm, bright, tiny corner.

“FERRY!” Mom rushes inside, the wind howling after her. The mist of the rain travels all the way across the room and tickles Ferry’s skin.

“Don’t let him in!” cries Ferry.

The door slams shut. Warmth and light recollects. Relative silence and peace.

“Let who in?” Mom’s voice trembles. “What happened to you?”

“A m-m- …” No, she’s too old to believe in monsters. Right?

Cold wet raincoat against her skin, but that’s okay, Mom’s only trying to hug her. Ferry reaches under the coat to hug her Mom’s sweater, dark but warm.

“Sweetie, what’s gotten into you?”

Clack clack clack. A bony human fist, pounding against the door of the house. Mom’s nails dig into Ferry’s skin, but that’s okay, Mom’s like a shield, fastening tighter.

“That must be him …” says Ferry. She stares Mom in the eyes. She told her so.

Mom takes a deep breath, pulls away. Eyes dart around, land on a cabinet next to the bookshelf. A key in her hand–Ferry doesn’t know where it came from–twisting to open the cabinet. Inside is a rifle. Mom pulls it down, loads it.

Ferry gets behind Mom. Mom holds the rifle pointed down towards the floor, against her leg. She slowly approaches the door. “Who’s there?”

“Don’t mean no harm.” The voice groans through the wood, barely audible over the storm.

“Then what do you want?”

“Shelter. Just shelter.”

Mom looks at Ferry. Ferry shakes her head: don’t trust this man yet. Mom cracks the door open, keeping the rifle just out of the monster’s sight.

Ferry can’t see him yet. Just hear him. “Hey ma’am. Name’s Zack.” (more…)

Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 7:58 am  Comments (1)  
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Always a Jeridar

Today’s vignette goes back to “Serafina’s Saga,” seven years after the end of the visual novel. The visual novel is interactive, and therefore has a variety of possible endings; but this is the ending of my choice, and if I revisit Darzia in a later novel (which I intend to), then the circumstances will be as follows!

(Also, thanks to sillyraccoonknight for the inspiration of “cherry pie!” ).

***

Near the top of the Elborn tower, where rosy vines and chinder branches wove around stones and columns like threads of matching fibers, tendrils of red hair streamed from the window.

Serafina stood in her bedroom, looking down at the stone city that comprised Castle Krondolee. She remembered the first time she arrived here seven years ago, though it seemed like a lifetime. Before that momentous day, she had never ventured into human civilization. She knew nothing beyond the jungle, where the only question she asked herself each morning was whether she would survive or succumb to the dangers of Darzian wildlife. Sometimes, she still yearned for those days. Because now that she was only a few hours away from becoming Queen or Grand Princess, at least a thousand questions hovered in her mind at any given moment.

She flinched as the door creaked behind her. Only one person would enter without knocking, and that was her husband.

Reuben Jeridar.

She prepared herself to face him before turning around, even as she heard him take several steps and then close the door behind him. One would think that after seven years of marriage, Reuben’s ability to fluster his wife would have waned in effectiveness; but on the contrary, Reuben had only grown more skilled at stirring Serafina’s emotions, in every manner possible, and as frequently as he possibly could. She realized that some of the fault was her own. Reuben liked to play games, and he would have tired of the sport many years ago if she hadn’t played it with equal vigor.

Today’s circumstances, however, went beyond fun and games. Today the entire kingdom’s future lay on the line. A new monarch would be chosen between Reuben and Serafina. Either she became Queen, or he became King.

“Has the Royal Duma reached a decision?” Serafina asked, still not turning around.

“Not yet, cherry pie.”

As ever, he called her by her old nickname to incite an irritated response. Before they married, he liked to call her cherry tart. He claimed that “pie” was a more accurate description once he’d finally “gotten a taste.” It never failed to make her blood boil, and normally, she would have given him a proper retort. But this time, she refused to take the bait.

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I’m tired of pacing in circles downstairs.”

His fingers brushed the long red locks of her wavy hair, then tickled the bare skin of her arm. He leaned in close, his breath against her neck. His grip tightened around her waist.

Finally, Serafina spun around to face him.

Reuben’s coral eyes sizzled at her beneath dark lashes. His golden-red hair flowed down his shoulders and back into a black bolero top-coat. His body was small and lean, though not without muscle—a fact made all too clear by the slimness of his clothing or complete lack thereof. Beneath his short jacket, a tiny shirt covered only half of his rippling torso. Dark green trousers wrapped around the sharp angle of his hips and the curves of his thighs and calves.

Serafina tried not to focus on these things as she met his simmering stare. She despised the sneer ever-lurking on the edge of his lips, even as it made her heart beat faster.

“I know that Belatrix Grandil died with dignity,” said Serafina slowly. She had rehearsed these words in her mind so many times, anticipating Reuben’s eventual entry. “She chose to face the General of Yovudon in combat, and died fighting honorably. But I find it hard to believe that King Robil Feldren would die of suicide a few weeks later, no matter how much he loved her. He was a man of fortitude and conviction.”

Reuben had gone quite still, his fingers cold against her arm. “My dear wife,” he said softly, “I don’t know what you’re suggesting.”

“You know exactly what I suggest,” hissed Serafina, and she felt her jaws gnashing as she bared her teeth. “I suggest that once again, a Jeridar killed a Feldren—just as one of your relatives murdered my blood-father.”

“I see.” Reuben took a step back and twiddled his fingers against his chin. “Now isn’t this a dilemma?”

***

Serafina and Reuben from the visual novel

Serafina and Reuben from the visual novel

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 7:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Career Considerations Continued

So a couple of weeks ago I ranted against the concept of “careers” in a world/economy where artists are rarely rewarded for talent (at least not as much as their social connections) and strongly-skilled people in general often have to settle for simple, unglamorous jobs. I was pretty angry at the time. In short, I have been on the verge of giving up on my artistic endeavors altogether over the last couple of months. So I’m a little touchy about these topics.

But after a couple weeks of holidays, severe writer’s block, copious amounts of snow, and more time to sit and reflect than I knew what to do with, my feelings have calmed slightly (or at least been numbed by cold weather). And though I don’t take back anything I said in the previous post, I’d like to readdress those same thoughts in a slightly more positive and hopeful manner.

My ruminations all trace back to that moment when we are young and someone asks us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’re generally inclined to give them some sort of answer. And for better or worse, that answer continues to linger in our heads as we mature into adults, and we feel like we should stick with it. “I am a doctor.” “I am a violinist.” “I am a writer!” But when something goes wrong, or we start to wonder if we might prefer to do something else, we start to feel confused and probably a bit guilty that we are not pursuing “that-thing-I-said-I-would-be.”

This has been an issue that confused me ever since I was a little girl. Well, I would usually have an answer for people. The problem was that it changed all the time. “I want to be an Olympic gymnast.” “I want to be an Academy-Award-winning-director.” “I want to be a video game composer like Nobuo Uematsu.” “I want to be a veterinarian.” “I want to be a best-selling novelist.” I wanted to be a lot of things. And in every single category, I wanted to be the best. My dreams were often quite specific.

By the time high school came to a close, I had to choose among my dreams. So I chose screenwriting. I wanted to write amazing stories and watch those stories come to life on a big screen. And though I don’t regret any of my time going to film school–which was a blast, and I learned a great deal–that decision has haunted me ever since, especially after I decided to move out of LA. Not because it was the wrong decision, necessarily. But because there wasn’t a right one.

The decision to become a film-maker haunted me because, until recently, I believed it defined me. I believed that if I did anything other than “making it big in Hollywood,” I was giving up on my dream. I was disappointing all those people who stared into the big blue eyes of my child-self and asked, “What will you be when you grow up?” Now I’m beginning to understand that the source of my dilemma was not the answer that I chose. It was the question itself. Can we only be one thing when we grow up? And if we change our minds, does that make us quitters?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that some professions require strict discipline and long-term training–my first example of a doctor being one of those. Some people might also stop my line of reasoning with an argument like this one: “If you truly wish to master something, then you should dedicate a large portion of your life to learning and honing the skills of that craft.” I get it. There’s some truth to that notion. But let me challenge it with a different idea.

I had an incredible teacher in high school–we called him “Doc” Thompson–and he is the sort of teacher Hollywood loves to make movies about. He inspired and challenged every student who crossed his path. He constantly fought the system and tried to reform education. He made high-schoolers read Plato and Socrates  and he tried to engrave ancient wisdom upon our modern hearts and minds. But what I remember most clearly from his classes is not a quote from a Greek philosopher; it’s something he said one day in class. “Knowledge is a lot like Velcro. The more pieces of it you pick up, the better you start to understand how it all fits together.”

That’s a rough quotation. But hopefully you grasp its meaning. It illustrates a concept that I’ve only begun to appreciate in full after several bouts of “career confusion.” Sure, if we focus on just one profession and refuse to distract ourselves with other interests, then maybe we’ll become the “master” of that field. But what if we allow ourselves to constantly explore–to pick up new skills even if they seem entirely unrelated, to work odd jobs even if we’re over-qualified, to appreciate every piece of knowledge and craftsmanship that life throws at us–because maybe it’s all connected? Maybe once we pick up enough of it, we’ll have something sturdier and more useful than one side of Velcro? Maybe we’ll have a better understanding of the whole world, and our own roles within it?

I’d like to believe that life is about learning and exploring–that it’s okay to change our minds every once in awhile, or maybe even walk along in one big circle until we end up where we started. At least we’ll probably have an interesting adventure in the meantime.

Published in: on January 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Walking with Water

 Another vignette from the galaxy of Quantum Conscience, this time providing a glimpse into Amalek’s background.

***

Amalek Nikat from "Quantum Conscience"

Amalek Nikat from “Quantum Conscience”

The captain’s quarters of the Free Fin rolled and lurched as the oceans of Alqualin surged against its hull.

Amalek clutched the sides of his chair until his dark knuckles turned pale. He had known to expect rough movement on a traditional wooden ship like Captain Yorna’s, but this exceeded all expectations. He felt as if someone trapped him in a box and then threw it down a steep hillside. No matter how he tried, his body could not harmonize with the movement of the vessel. His stomach swayed and dropped while his limbs struggled to follow. Meanwhile his mind raced in many directions at once, wondering why the power of the ramming waves did not smash this wooden ship to pieces.

He heard a chuckle behind him, and fought to keep his gaze steady while he turned to view the observer.

Captain Yorna swaggered past with the graceful gait of a woman weathered by a hundred storms. She half-sat against her desk so she could cross her slender legs and sneer down at Amalek from a comfortable height. She wore a neoprene suit that wrapped her lean body like a big rubber glove, and its black surface bore the bright yellow stripes of an Alqualin captain. A leather cloak also suggested her rank, hugging one shoulder in the typical fashion of a high-sea sailor. She wore her auburn hair in dozens of tiny braids that spilled down her neck and shoulders like a dark waterfall.

As she studied Amalek from her perch, he wondered how he looked to her. He was twenty years old and fresh out of sea school, though people tended to mistake him for older. He had done his best to dress the part for the job. He wore a neoprene suit with the dark blue stripes of an average deck-hand. He had bound his long black hair in two braids that currently swayed against his chest. He tried to sit up and stare back at her with the same intensity she fixed upon him, but failed, because he could not shake the feeling that the whole world was spinning.

She laughed again, a coarse sound that somehow managed to beat back the roar of crashing waves. “Amalek Nikat. Don’t tell me this is your first time on a high-seas ship?”

“Of course… not.” He struggled with the last word amidst the sensation that his gorge was rising. “I just don’t remember it being so… unstable.”

Her amused sneer faded suddenly. “I selected you because I thought you were the best. High test scores, strong muscles, impressive stamina…”

“I am the first in my class,” he confirmed, sitting a little higher. But somehow his voice did not resound with the confidence he needed. “Ask me anything about this ship and I can tell you. It uses spider-thread rigging. I can tie a triple-noose knot in ten seconds. I can climb a—”

“You can’t stand up for ten hacking seconds without falling flat on your face,” Yorna snapped. “Tell me. Have you spent your whole life underwater?”

“Most of it,” he confessed. His stomach was churning violently now. He needed to close his eyes so he could stop feeling dizzy. But he tried to pretend that he was reflecting deeply upon his past. “I grew up in the underwater city of Balka Reef. But I’ve also spent time on submarines. And I’ve been on the surface on several occasions. Just not—”

He couldn’t hold it back any longer. He leaned over the side of his chair and heaved his breakfast upon the lovely red fibers of her carpet.

For a moment, both of them just stared in disgust at his body’s excretion. Then Captain Yorna snorted and shook her head. “I should have known better. Test scores mean nothing if you can’t walk with water. You won’t last a week on these waves.”

“I’ll adjust!” His green eyes were open now, his voice filled with the deep roots of conviction that even sea-sickness failed to eject. Now that he had finally vomited, he actually felt a little better, and met her gaze with fierce intensity. “Captain Yorna. You did not make a mistake. It’s true that I’ve spent most of my life underwater. I have swum the ocean’s darkest depths, and mastered every test that Alqualin Academy can offer. But I still do not know our Mother Okeanos.”

“You want to know the ocean, do you? Want to make her your mistress?” This time Yorna offered a gleeful cackle. “I can save you a lot of trouble, Amalek, and buy you a seaside prostitute. You might have more fun swimming her darkest depths.”

“I speak of Okeanos,” he snarled, “the spirit of Alqualin. I have lived in the ocean’s womb, surrounded by the silence of her dark depths, always within her but never beside her. I want to learn to walk with water as you do. I want to breathe fresh air and feel the sun upon my skin. I have read every book I can about man’s mastery over this planet. But I still feel like its servant. I want to see the true face of Mother Okeanos. And then I’ll decide which one of us truly reigns here.”

“Nice speech. Was that from your graduation essay?”

Captain Yorna still spoke with a note of mockery. But her voice was softer now, her gaze measuring. He gave up impressing her with flowery speech and held her stare with equal weight, ignoring the pitch and roll of the ship around him, forgetting about everything but his unquenchable desire to prove himself on the high seas.

She looked away first, and he felt a slight moment of triumph. But her voice had regained its tone of amusement as she said over her shoulder, “I’ll give you a week.”

Published in: on December 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Sky of Teballai

This is another little scene I wrote as backstory for the characters of “Quantum Conscience,” my current project. Blaire is the main character. For the next few weeks or more, my vignettes will probably focus on the different planets and characters of “Quantum Conscience” (unless someone requests I write a vignette for a different story, and please feel free to do so!). I find it both fun and useful to write little scenes like this on the sidelines of the main story. A great deal might be left unexplained in each vignette, but such is their nature. I hope you find them interesting all the same!

*

We stood on a balcony of the Q’s tower, watching night smother the city far below. We were only fifteen years old, but felt that the world was ours for the taking. We were not far from wrong.

A fog hovered over the world, softening the edges of the stony landscape beneath us. Where the smoky plumes brushed light, colors blossomed in the mist: red, yellow, green. At the time I did not consider it unusual. Strange fumes drifted endlessly from the rocky depths of Teballai’s surface, harmful to breathe, but beautiful to watch. If we forgot to take our medicine—or, in the case of the less fortunate, could not obtain any—we developed raucous coughs and bloody noses from the toxic gases. But Veramus and I always took our medicine, because we were class Cypher-P. We had everything we desired, because we were too stupid to realize we should have desired more.

The winds bombarded our bodies, harder than usual. Our cloaks flapped against our torsos like furious wings. I took a swig of korkal. The bitter spirit burned down my throat and punched me in the chest. I let out a squeal of unrestrained delight.

Veramus only glared at me, his mouth a flat slash across his face. I watched his long dark hair whip around his head as if trying to yank free of him, and this made me laugh harder.

“Blaire, we should get inside,” he grumbled.

I barely heard him over the rising gale. Just for the crux of it I pretended I couldn’t hear him at all. “What was that?”

“I said we should go inside!” He spoke louder now, the muscles of his face tightening and making his forehead bulge. “Looks like we might get a wind storm.”

“Please Terra no,” I groaned. When wind storms struck, everyone had to go into their homes, shut all the doors and windows, and not come out until two days after the storm had passed. We depended on mechanical creatures called gorgans to run errands and clean up the city until it was safe for re-entry. The Q’s tower was a sturdy stone construction, so I never feared for my life. Rather, I dreaded the impending boredom of house arrest. “If that’s the case let’s stay outside for as long as we possibly can!”

“Hacking fool,” hissed Veramus. He might have thought I couldn’t hear him. But I did. And although Veramus often fell into grumpy moods, I rarely heard him sound so venomous. “You’ve had too much korkal. If these winds get any stronger they’ll throw you off the balcony.”

“Oh! I’ve always wanted to fly.” Laughing, I took another gulp of korkal. Then another.

“Idiot!” He made no attempts to hide his fury as he grabbed my bottle, ripped it from my fingers, and flung it off the balcony.

I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as the glass flew far over the city, driven by wind. “That’ll hit someone.”

“As if you ever pause to think of the consequences!” He was yelling at me now. I stared at him in a state of helpless perplexity. His long, angular face was nothing but a series of sharp lines, slicing me from afar. “You can do whatever you want, and somehow you always get away with it. Why?

“Veramus, what the crux are you talking about?” The wind blew furiously now. I had to grip the balcony railing to keep my footing. Somehow, Veramus held nothing and stood as sturdily as the tower itself. “You’re a Cypher-P just like me,” I reminded him. “We can do whatever we want.”

“That’s not what I mean. The last test. How did you pass it?”

“Eh?”

“The last test!” He reached over and grabbed the front of my tunic, pulling me closer. In one sense I was grateful, because he provided an anchor in the wind. But his fingers tightened the collar of my tunic around my throat, and his dark eyes drilled into me without mercy. His hair lashed me like dozens of tiny whips. “I studied for months. Trained my mind to harmonize with the machine and enter the program. You forgot about it until the day before, and even then, you ran off to play pranks on the O’s instead of training. Then you got the best score!

“Who cares?” I wriggled a little, wishing to escape his grip, but realized that the wind would snag me if Veramus let go. I reached out and grabbed his tunic in return, a hand on his shoulder, like a brotherly gesture. But my fingers dug in as sharply as his, making him wince. “The Q wants us to harmonize with a hacking computer program. Who gives a shit? Maybe your problem is that you take everything too seriously. You make it so hard to have fun sometimes. Maybe you’re just a tight-ass and that’s never going to change.”

A strange look came into his eyes then. The wind stole my breath away. I’d never seen an expression like that on his face before. He looked at me as he might look at a dumb peasant on the street. No… worse. Truly, I thought he might throw me throw me off the balcony and be done with it.

Then his gaze shifted, and I realized he wasn’t looking at me anymore. He stared up into the sky. His eyes continued to widen, then his mouth dropped open slowly. “Blaire… look!”

I followed his gaze to the sky.

Something had changed. It took me a moment to realize what. The sky looked so different I almost didn’t recognize it. The fog had cleared. Beyond lay a vast expanse of endless darkness. But not just darkness. There were specks of light, hundreds—maybe thousands—of them, twinkling across the abyss. Here and there I saw larger orbs, with a hint of color, hovering as if on the edge of existence.

I felt dizzy. Veramus must have, too, for we clung to each other desperately, staring at the beauty above us in a state of terrified awe.

“What is it?” gasped Veramus.

“The night sky?” I said dumbly.

“Yes, but… those lights… that darkness… I feel as if it goes on forever. And it’s not empty.” I felt his heart pounding against his ribs.

“It’s amazing,” I agreed.

Then the wind surged, howling so loudly now we could no longer hear anything else, and we both began to fall.

Everything spun. My limbs flailed. My legs scrambled. Veramus and I clutched at each other. Fingernails raked across the stone floor. One moment I thought I was falling off the balcony—either to impale myself on the stones below, or somehow fly up into that endless expanse hanging above us. The next I saw walls around me, felt a door in my grasp, and noticed Veramus bracing his body against mine. We both grit our teeth and pulled with all our might, until I saw sparkling lights against my eyelids like the strange dots of the night sky.

Finally the door shut, sealing us in the tower, and we collapsed upon the floor.

For a long time we just lay there, catching our breath. The wind howled through the door, as if with angry curses, banging against the rock as if to break through and exact its revenge.

Then Veramus and I looked at each other. And for some reason I could not explain, grins burst across our faces.

“See?” I laughed breathlessly. “If we hadn’t stayed out that long, we never would have seen that.”

“Yes.” His eyes spun as he looked at me. “That was truly amazing. But what does it mean? I never thought there was anything above us other than the evil eye of Sol. Are there other forces of power out there?”

“You’re doing it again!” I cried, but shook my head fondly. “Don’t think about it so hard. Whatever’s in the sky, it’s pretty awesome, but has nothing to do with us.” I punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Now let’s find some more korkal!”

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 11:05 am  Comments (1)  
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City of Lights

This might not technically be a vignette, but it’s a little piece of back-story I wrote for a character of my current project, “Quantum Conscience,” a sci-fi visual novel. So if nothing else, it’s a little glimpse into the galaxy where the story will be set.

*

Cikaiti. City of lights.

“Light is most precious where darkness presides.” This was a popular saying amongst the people of Cikaiti, because they knew that the name of their city led to grave misconceptions. Strangers visiting Cikaiti expected its brightness to blind them. Instead, they discovered a city covered mostly in darkness. Thick black clouds reigned over the entire atmosphere of Ludebba, Planet of Quiet, and wove the thickest webs of shadow over the grand capital, Cikaiti. Tourists who visited at the wrong time of year could linger in the city of lights for a full month and only glimpse a few shifting beams of sunlight, like the prongs of a rake scraping the spongy hills.

A little girl liked to play in these hills at night, for the people of Cikaiti did not fear the darkness. When Cikaiti became darkest, certain plants would unfurl and cast a glow from their bulbs, scooping out shadows and replacing them with velvety light. When this happened, the hillsides seemed to sparkle. The planet’s surface mirrored the stars above, until the heavens and earth blended together like spilled paint.

The young girl, Mierol, liked to search for a special red flower that only unveiled itself under certain constellations. Mierol’s parents had named her after this flower, the mieroldee, whose crimson petals matched the messy mop of hair on Mierol’s head. But Mierol did not spend any time studying star maps or trying to predict the mieroldee’s awakening. She enjoyed the ongoing search, and the occasional surprise of success. She liked to sprawl across the fibrous soil until she lost her orientation, and felt as if she swam with the stars. The earth would warm her back, for numerous micro-organisms thrived in the spicules beneath her.

Citizens of the planet Ludebba, like Mierol, understood that the appreciation of light arose from the predominance of darkness. They all anticipated the day of the Sun Bath, which only happened once a year, but not for the same reason as outsiders. Tourists who visited Cikaiti for the Sun Bath witnessed something quite normal: the sun came out, the clouds cleared, and light filled every crevice. City dwellers, meanwhile, stayed inside or wore protective lenses because the light overwhelmed their sensitive vision. They enjoyed—from a distance—the honey hue of the sunshine, and the emergence of every single plant which usually curled into the ground. On this day, the earth renewed itself. The plants drank every drop of solar energy and stored it for later. The spongy earth soaked the sun’s heat and swelled with fullness.

But one group of outsiders appreciated the significance of the Sun Bath more than anyone—more, even, than the citizens of Cikaiti itself. They realized that the plants of Ludebba had evolved to store solar energy more efficiently than any piece of man-made technology. They also knew that the plants would contain the highest amounts of energy on the first night after the Sun Bath. So on one such night, when Mierol was eight years old, the Pilfyres attacked.

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Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 10:58 am  Comments (1)  
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