Blog

Featured

The Oath Breaker 1 – 3

Artwork by Cynthia Conner https://www.facebook.com/Dracontiar/

Chapter 1
Practice the Forms

Dancers put to movement what writers put to poems, what artists put to canvas, and what musicians put to instruments.

Madame Perla Boucher, Premier Maître de Ballet

Saint Paul, Minnesota
Earth, 2007

One winter, cold winds shook the walls of Henly House, whistling transformation between boards and windowpanes. Snow gusted on frosted air and fog rolled thick from the Mississippi River, across the bike path parallel to the river and over the family’s sizeable yard. Sound struck the night with a musical quality. Fog shrouded the walled garden and the street out front, East River Boulevard. A melody of February cold cut through the old, freezing field and brush, it froze the surface of the river and formed icicles along the ridges of brick and stone. Currents of air shook the icicles. Rafters groaned and the floorboards creaked. A staccato rhythm unfolded.

Music from the family room, added to the din. Notes from Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played from earbuds in Anna Henly’s ears. Her mother and father, Charles and Ellen Henly, sat snuggled on the only decent piece of furniture the family owned, a white plush couch. A crime drama blared from the television before them. The youngest Henly child, seven-year-old Mark, painted small figurines for his 3D tabletop game, A Knight’s Quest, at a small table between the couch and the fireplace. In the recliner, 17-year-old Caitlyn, the oldest, slid a highlighter over a page in her book about neuroanatomy. Each sound a note in the song of a Friday night, in Henly House.

The tone changed, though the Henlys did not notice at first notice. Energy gathered in the room and the air outside. It lay heavy and thick within the fog, a coiled lion ready to pounce on prey. Electric and potent. The small hairs on Anna’s arm lifted, the lines of her lilac birthmark glowed. She didn’t see or feel the shift along her arms and legs or torso. The glow pulsed so faintly the dim light of the family room outshined her birthmark’s radiance. She honed in on the letters printed in a book.

Anna rubbed her arms for warmth as she leaned over, “A Technical Manual for Classical Ballet in the French, Italian and Russian Traditions”. She rubbed her hands, breathed into them for heat and flipped a page, reading the instructions to perform the proper forms for brisé. She preferred to study the instructions, examine the illustrations provided in the text and read any applicable Italian and Russian variations – before practicing them. No matter how often she danced, perfection demanded more effort. She blew hot air against her fingers and rolled her shoulders. She beat her feet against the floor to keep her muscles warm.

Caitlyn arched a brow at her the moment Anna glanced in her direction, the scritch of her sister’s highlighter a sharp violation of the melody at play. A detective spoke her lines to her partner on TV and Mom yawned. Dad put his arm around Mom before the two adjusted for comfort. The day’s fatigue darkened their under eyes. Both worked harder than Anna imagined necessary for two adults trying to raise three children. Mark dipped the paintbrush in cerulean blue before applying it to a knight bedecked in silver armor. Anna turned up the volume on her earbuds and stretched her legs and back. Leaning forward she glanced about the room, holding the stretch and breathing.

Fissures broke the floral patterned wallpaper in the room. The carpet remained threadbare and stained. The old, Victorian mansion the Henlys called home needed repair. Anna shivered in the thin fabric of a leotard and tights, in the corner of the family room. Her attention moved from the weather outside and the other members of her family to ballet. Her devotion to dance burned like the winter wind. It had taken root years ago and had become a singular ache, a need. Dance promised a future and a way out of Henly House. It wasn’t natural for children to live concealed from the world, isolated from any friends one might make and Anna had a plan to leave, assuming the audition went well in a few months.

Tendrils of her orchid purple and silver hair popped the hairpins holding them in a ballerina bun and struck her in the eye. Deft fingers, from years of practice, wound her wild kinky curls back into place. She stuck the pins back in place. From the book, illustrations of ballerinas stared Anna in the face, their arms and legs positioned in various steps, heads and torsos posed gracefully, long and slender compared to her squatter figure. It took most dancers many hours of work each day to build the fine lines of a ballerina. For Anna there were not enough hours to perfect the image of a dancer, so instead she worked on technique, improving skill and strength as best she could. It was a long shot, but she had a plan to audition for a company in Wales. Anna had talent to rival a principal dancer according to her private, virtual tutor, Madame Perla Boucher. Envy burned in her heart. She hated the fact only Caitlyn had inherited their mother’s slender and tall features, tawny skin and bright brown eyes – a mix of Welsh and Indian heritage. Braids kept Caitlyn’s straight glossy brunette hair tamed over each shoulder.

Anna had none of those features. Instead of tawny, she had matte beige skin lined with a birthmark in the shape of lilacs. It sprawled over her torso and limbs. Instead of brown orbs, her eyes gleamed lavender and tan, never quite settling on a color. She had a squat figure, short and round. Her best chance at a career in ballet was perfection. Be the best dancer, the best principle. Anna breathed and stretched, and then stood to lose herself in a faraway place. A forest glade appeared in her mind, the walls of a garden, a lake to feed a swan, fairy tales and creatures from legend emerged.

The notes for “The Little Mermaid” prompted Anna’s limbs to move as an obedient marionette. The world and the family room vanished. Winter did not exist outside. She swam en pointe as a mermaid and slept in a high tower awaiting her prince. Summer reigned in the pages of the book, fantasy and fairytale united. Pointe shoes beat as rapid as a bird’s wings in time to the next song, music for Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Ballet”. Anna moved into attitude à terre, knees touching and then tiny footwork for pas de bourrée couru. Her feet rose on pointe, despite the worn and thread bare carpet under her feet, Anna transformed into a weightless and ethereal spirit, a sylph in a woodland glade. Bells, strings and chimes prompted her frolic.

The carpet rendered the movement a bit awkward and she tipped to the side, catching her balance. The spell of ballet broken, Anna stopped the player and started over. A carpeted floor was not ideal, but the family room included her parents and siblings. The stage in the music room, while beautiful and large, existed in a cavernous space full of demonic haunts, effigies on the walls and wood carved pillars. The room scared her at night too much to practice there alone. Goosebumps broke out on her skin and she shivered. Music for Sleeping Beauty started, “Rose Adagio Aurora”.

Anna practiced pointe work, beating the flattened rug into the hard wood beneath. Her muscles burned, but she refused rest. The best companies holding auditions required hours of practice each day. Discipline mattered in dance. Anna lifted en pointe arabesque and turned. Freedom existed in the hammered strings of the celesta. Her spirit flew from the shackles of flesh riding violins and flutes. Anna soared, soul bursting and ready to collapse like the aftermath of a supernova. Among the stars, she floated, a dream clothed in song and music.

Voices crashed in and Anna’s eyes opened. She stared around to see Mark, Caitlyn, Mom and Dad examining her – alarmed. What did they want? She lowered her feet and arms, turned off the music.

“Your shine.” Mom’s dark eyes furrowed an owl’s disapproval clear on her face. “Time to center, relax and breathe.” Mom’s hands splayed to coach. “Dim the shine.”

A beacon of light radiated from her birthmark. The lines glowed a fierce, joyful lavender as bright as a signal fire. Purple luminescence, a starry sky. Strands of her silver and orchid hair fell about her face and down her shoulders. Curls as tight as rubber bands sprang against her skin. When this happened, her parents insisted she cease what they called the shine. As if she had control or understood this mystery. Mom and Dad didn’t understand it and they created her. Their fears and overprotective natures were stark raving mad – two lunatics running an asylum.

Anna had spent her life hidden in Henly House attending school at Winding Heights Academy of Art and Science’s virtual classroom while her brother and sister physically attended the lower and upper campuses for their respective grade levels.

She had no friends unless she counted Flora, the live-in housekeeper and cook or Roger, the household butler and driver. The two were like family, both having lived there for longer than the children were alive, but they were not Anna’s age. They didn’t understand her life. Not really. No one in the house allowed her outside except on foggy days or when the rose and lilac bushes surrounding the property were at their fullest. Her family didn’t want Anna embarrassed on YourLife videos and dubbed a sideshow attraction and no one wanted the invasion of privacy – camera crews on their lawn.

She welcomed the idea of paparazzi. The spectacle of media sprawled across the yard. A three ringed circus with Anna as the big star. Strangers coming to see her perform. She’d buy a ticket for the show. Step right up folks! See the amazing Glow Girl. No, she was not in danger of exposure on their quiet road.

East River Boulevard was discreet except for one neighbor, the Bryces. A family of two boys, a grandmother and whomever she had working over there. The youngest, Ephraim, was Mark’s best friend and as far as Anna knew, he had never revealed her oddities to a living soul, none of the Bryces squealed or took photos. A shame really.  

“Good job, kid.” Dad’s blue eyes dazzled from the depths of his bearish face. Dad was all height and blond, boxy and muscular. His arms wrapped her in a bear hug. He was a larger, adult version of Mark.

Anna wriggled free, tears in her eyes. “I never meant to shine.” The distant stars called to her, the music of Sleeping Beauty played in her soul.

Mom glared. “You keep saying this, but think of your privacy, our privacy. The Internet -.”

“I’m fine and we’re not in public.” The shine didn’t matter in the confines of their own home. Visitors didn’t come to East River Boulevard where they lived by the Mississippi River.

The bike path near the river came to a dead end down by the bridge and the service road, East Lion’s, didn’t venture any further. No one was peeping; there wasn’t a prying eye for miles or a camera to capture her glow. “I don’t suppose you found a doctor with a miraculous cure?” The sarcasm darted from her parted lips. She didn’t care. Anna arched a brow. “No, didn’t think so.” The way her parents behaved as if she had control over the shine.

Mom and Dad exchanged abashed looks. “Snip all you want. Showing your shine to the world will hurt you more than it hurts us.” Tears threatened to spill down her mother’s cheeks. Pain had her doubled over, leaning against her father. Her joints hurt most days; at least Mom claimed they ached sharp and persistent. Anna wondered. The pain came at certain times like this.

Caitlyn tapped her chin, deadpan as ever. “No one knows about Anna’s shine. Her birthmarks look like tattoos, her hair looks dyed, her eyes like contact lenses. You’re overly protective.” For as long as Anna could remember, Caitlyn had watched out for her. When she had bad dreams, she willingly crawled into bed with Anna to hum lullabies and sooth her fears, losing sleep. In some ways, she had more wisdom than their parents did.

Mark rested his hand on the wooden practice sword he kept sheathed at his side most days. His feet carried him to Anna’s side. He squared off with Mom and Dad, fingers at the ready, eyes ablaze for conflict. “Ephraim says we need to train and take the oaths.” Since Mark befriended Ephraim Bryce in preschool, the boy kept talking about training for their destiny and keeping an oath. He insisted on acting like a chivalrous knight, to defend the weak and champion just causes, exactly like the knights from his board game. Anna didn’t blame him for thinking make-believe would solve the problem. Her little brother had an unending faith and determination to help others.

Mom and Dad shushed Mark. This often happened when Mark suggested they train as knights and take their oaths. Strange, his suggestions came when the family argued, usually about Anna, but sometimes about the house and why they never moved if there was no money to renovate. “Enough. Anna it’s too risky. You must control your shine.”

“From what? The Bryces?” No. Ephraim never bothered her, neither did the older boy Trenton, he attended school with Caitlyn and as far as he was concerned the Henlys didn’t exist – much to her sister’s frustration – not that Caitlyn ever admitted it. The Bryce matriarch, their grandmother kept her own counsel. The household staff spoke with Flora and Roger from time to time, probably sharing news and camaraderie. Anna was not the type to intrude.

The employees at the Hanson & Hanson medical device factory, located a mile up East Lion’s, stayed clear of their little world. The workers clocked their eight hours and fled the parking lot as if the second coming was on their heels, traveling towards the frontage road and I-94 like a herd of panicked horses. They had no reason to come this close. Anna was unseen in the world, a total unknown. “No one will see me, ever.” The glow in her birthmark subsided and her usual beige tones appeared.

“Consider it a good thing,” Mom leaned over the ballet book and picked up the brochures Anna had tucked inside the pages. “What are these?” She held up the brochures. A folded advert with the name Fale Ffantasi Cymru in bold letters dangled from her fingers.

“Mine.” Anna snatched it and smoothed the page. The woman on the cover had painted lines on her skin much like the birthmark coursing its way down Anna’s arms and legs. She wore an elegant, faerie costume in green and trimmed in flowers. This was Anna’s biggest dream, auditioning for The Ballet Fantasy in Wales. The cover reminded Anna of various paintings in their house, a particular mosaic in a first floor bathroom, once meant to impress guests, showed a similar winged woman. She had thought her mom might like the idea the ballet possessed similar elements. A secure place to hide when she grew up. Her throat tightened and she swallowed the ache, letting it settle in her chest.

The talent there rivaled larger companies in places like New York, but didn’t quite have the worldwide reputation. At least Madame Perla claimed the company had great talent and a world famous benefactor; a woman named Dame Violet Aberdeen. A real dame! She willed her parents to let her go. Droplets stung at the edges of her eyes, a tear snaked down her cheek. “I planned to audition.”

“Wales is a world away. Out of the question.” Dad stepped beside Mom, a united front against Anna. They clasped hands, grim expressions on their faces. “Perhaps it’s time to end your virtual instructions with Madame Perla Boucher,” Dad snapped. “We work hard to protect you kids.” His voice rumbled, an angry swarm of bees and rock falling.

“You can’t! It’s all I have.” She looked to Caitlyn and Mark, silently pleading for help. The two of them held her hands and for a moment, she felt lifted and understood. Dancing was not just a dream. It made her unordinary features acceptable. The oddities in her flesh seemed normal among the fae in a dance, an asset instead of a hindrance. One day she’d leave home and the ballet offered a place. Audiences might find her shine an asset to the performance rather than a point of embarrassment.

Outside the storm intensified. Wind whipped the windows, and snow fell rapid and slanted, as if to drive holes through the house. Flakes gathered against the walls, covered shrubbery and tree limbs. In the kitchen down the hall, a kettle whistled signaling the water’s temperature for Flora’s evening tea and distantly, Anna heard Roger’s voice rise and fall as he talked to his partner Stanley on the phone. Laughter burbled and his Irish accent amplified as he responded to some news, “wonderful to hear.” The music of Henly House, the dynamics of conflict and happiness. Clouds roiled above the old mansion and energy heightened. Anna trembled, a vibration gathered within her soul, as if it might burst through her body.

“You let us attend school.” Mark snapped. His words abated the storm to a degree. Anna’s spirit latched onto a melody and anchored. Wind speeds decreased. Tethered to her siblings and home, she leaned against the wall, afraid and panting. Whatever just transpired, she clung to her soul as if it might fly away.

Caitlyn bristled. “What will you do when Anna’s 18th birthday comes?”

“You can’t go to Wales,” Mom snapped. A determined light took hold of her, a tension like a coiled snake ready to strike. Saliently feral, Mom’s brown eyes darkened. The tension increased and then like a storm departing, she relaxed. Behind them, the television announced the 10 o’ clock news. Dad and Mom whipped around startled and returned to the couch, “We have to see this.” Dad waved them away. Discussion over. Their rules triumphed, Anna’s desire set aside. Since she was little, Mom and Dad watched the news like religious devotees attending services, eyes glued to the station for World News, seven nights a week.

She blinked unshed tears and rubbed her face. At least they knew her plans for the future. Relief and anger streamed through Anna. Caitlyn hugged her. “That went better than we planned.” She whispered. “They have several months to adjust.” As usual, Caitlyn was right. The hard part was over.

She high-fived Mark. “Thank you both for supporting me.”

“I got you.” He slashed the air with the practice sword. Anna hadn’t noticed him unsheathe it, as if for battle – against their parents. She chuckled and ruffled his blond hair. Tension clung to her shoulders and back. Rolling her neck Anna returned her attention to the book, flyer for the ballet company in hand. She tucked it back between random pages. The motivation for practice dissipated, and while 10 was not late for a Friday night, Anna longed to sleep.

Before she had a chance to skulk out of the room, a breaking alert flashed across the screen. Mom and Dad leaned forward, stiff and alert. Caitlyn and Mark, both returned to their activities, looked over to the screen. The audible pulse grabbed their attention as the newscaster, a woman in a navy suit, faced the camera. “I am Anita Blake, coming to you live from the World News station. Storms have ravaged the European continent where our own Lance Elbert is broadcasting live off the coast of Spain.”

The camera panned to a rocky shoreline. Wind howled around a man dressed in a suit and trench coat. The sky thundered overhead and blackened clouds roiled like a witch’s cauldron. Mom stared transfixed to the screen, Dad equally engrossed. An opening split the space behind the man, hiding the landscape. A hole, dark and crackling. It swirled and pulsed with energy. Pebbles flew into the abyss, striking the reporter in the face. He struggled to keep hold of his microphone. His hair lay matted to his scalp. Lightning forked and flashed into the circle before separating. The cavity seemed endless, sucking light and sound from the area around it.

Anna set her hand on the back of the couch and found Mark and Caitlyn next to her, mouths open. Both too stunned to speak or look away.

An odd expression of glee lit the reporters face. Holding his trench coat closed, Lance Elbert bellowed in an English accent, “Right behind me, in the Strait of Gibraltar where the storm’s power is most concentrated, you can see -.” The camera vibrated under heavy winds. The reporter stooped lower to the ground as thunder rumbled and the clouds grew tighter and darker. Darts of lightning struck the water and the rocky heights. Tongues of energy flickered and struck the vortex. The bolts disappeared into the opening. “As you can see, a vortex of sorts has opened up behind the camera crew and myself. Objects have flown inside. It has swallowed electrical bolts and debris.” The reporter almost sang with excitement. Joy lit his eyes. Utterly crazy for him to stand there. The hole was now the size of a man and Lance’s coat flapped, the fabric fighting to loosen from his body.

An unearthly light beamed from the ocean towards the land. Red orbs appeared around the vortex’s median and merged with the lightless mass. Off camera someone screamed, another man shouted. “We have to move, Lance.”

Thumps distracted Anna from the screen. Her mother’s face radiated a white light. The glow expanded to a halo around her head. She fell back; eyes rolled up and then closed. Her body convulsed and arched, back distended. Dad took her by the arms, “Come on Ellen, fight it. I’ve got you.” Her head lolled, piles of brunette hair, silken and thick, went slack and lackluster. Dad rocked Mom, humming a lullaby. The notes tickled memory and fled. Power thrummed in the room. Anna swayed. Mom’s eyes popped open and she gasped body rigid as a board. Her nails dug into Dad’s beefy arms and then the glow vanished.

Anna’s heart pounded. Caitlyn circled the couch, pacing and muttering about epilepsy or seizures. She flipped through her book and hurled it at the recliner. Clearly, the answer didn’t exist there. But her sister liked to have the answers. She needed to resolve problems. Caitlyn was a fixer.

Mark’s lip trembled a sure sign he was ready to cry. His little hands gripped the wooden sword, back in its sheath. His eyes darted for an enemy to slay. Mark defended the weak and helpless, only now he needed a knight. Anna shuffled next to him and gave him a nudge and a quick hug.

“Mom, Dad what happened?” Fear cracked in Caitlyn’s voice. Her hands clenched the couch cushions in a death grip, knuckles made pale from the effort.

“Nothing to worry you.” Mom leaned against Dad. She seemed okay though wan and weakened.

The wind died down on the screen, but the news crew continued to retreat, rejoining teams from Spain and other nations across the continent and the United Kingdom. Lance faced the camera once again, his reedy figure bobbed on the shoreline. “Below the surface of the water, there appears to be a radiant white light. Are you seeing this Anita?” The reporter spoke directly to his counterpart in the station’s studio. The camera panned across the water, but it was so dark and the lightning blinding. It was difficult to see if the lumens came from the water or the sky. Soon the blackened hole dissipated and the clouds cleared. Bewildered reporters snorted relief when a rainbow graced the landscape from the hill to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Dad turned off the television. “Caitlyn, Anna, Mark, it’s past time the three of you were off to bed. Please send Flora with tea if she is still awake. If not, brew some first, Caitlyn.” Gruff and tired, Dad lifted Mom into an upright position on the couch.

It was Friday, not a school night, but Anna knew better than to argue. She hoped Flora was awake, though she had no expectation. Though Flora lived and worked in Henly House, paid from the trust, she was no slave. It was past her scheduled hours. Anna hesitated to lope down the hall for the back stairs. She had questions. An unnatural storm and Mom’s simultaneous seizure or convulsion, needed an explanation. Anna retrieved her book and followed Mark upstairs.

 “Did you see Mom’s eyes?” Anna made small talk.

Mark shrugged. “Did you hear the music?”

Anna stopped on the second floor landing. “The song Dad was humming?” Maybe Mark remembered the song too. The notes were so familiar like from a distant memory or dream.

He shook his head. “No, from the TV, during Lance Elbert’s report.” He smacked the wall with his sword and dashed up the next flight to the third floor. He ran passed Anna’s bedroom door down the hall and around the corner to his room.

She slunk inside her own room. Green wallpaper and a vast rose garden painted to frame her desk, window and bed, greeted her. She dropped the book on her desk. Bare oak tree branches, covered in snow, tapped the windowpane in front of her desk.

She opened the laptop to search for the video on YourLife, but no luck. World News hadn’t ended yet. They’d load it later to the platform. Anna closed the device and waltzed into her bathroom to shower, praying her mother was okay and thinking of the song, the one Dad hummed, the other one Mark insisted was on the news report, and the one in Anna’s soul, driving her to a future away from Henly House. She found sleep as elusive as her parents’ consent for her to audition in Wales.

A change had come to the Henlys. She felt it in her bones, completely unexpected and inexplicable. The sensations she felt during the storm never happened before and while not as scary as Mom’s illness, certainly different like a parachute opened up inside of her, caught her up at a great height and pulled her far from the shores of her spirit. Night swept Anna into dreams of a magical wood and a set of starry eyes. The sound of wings flapped and arms lifted her from the forest floor. The smell of music and summer invaded Anna’s senses and comforted.

Chapter 2
The Other Worlds

A secret hidden or suppressed surfaces whether awake or sleeping. Truth resides in the remnant of dreams.

Dream and Memory” by Harper Ritardand
The Dreamer’s Glade, Asha Keshen

Earth, 2007

Stars lit the sky overhead as Caitlyn Henly stepped onto the cobbled street. Their brightness shined cold and distant from where she stood. The air smelled of seawater and wet wood. This was not home, nowhere near home. Docks lined the waterway to her right and to the left she noticed brick warehouses, devoid of life. She jerked at the sound of scratching claws scurrying over cobbles. The gloom made it difficult to see the source of the sound. Permanent moisture gathered in the hollows of the streets. Seawater lapped the lower edges of the port. She was in a city, a nighttime place, and all the buildings and streets looked dark. There were no streetlights along the docks, none of the windows glowed with activity.

A chill crept up Caitlyn’s spine and a light appeared ahead of her down an alley. How she came to this place mystified her. She rubbed her shoulders and moved along the line of buildings towards the lantern. As she drew near, she gasped, eyes darting around seeking observers. She reached out to a globe hovering several feet from the ground. Impossible and yet here the device floated in place casting illumination into the gloom.

The light fought the dark and the dark struck back. Odd how the shadows swept the port and rolled over the floating globe. The globe remained steadfast, a beacon, fierce and weak in intervals depending on the activity of the dark. The two phenomena played counter to the other. The oddity defied physics.

Footsteps echoed from the street behind her. She whipped around, not seeing anyone there. She tried the nearest door to hide and found it locked. The next one, didn’t budge. The click of heels drew nearer. With a twist, the next doorknob turned and she threw herself inside, gently closing the door. She crouched down among objects covered in dusty cloths, large shapes, furniture she thought. Caitlyn crawled between crates and two wrapped lamps, and tucked herself into the darkness between the wall and what felt like a large chest. The room smelled musty, as if mold had grown wild in the darkest places. The warehouse felt cavernous. As if, the darkness might swallow her whole. Caitlyn shuddered, inching towards the front to hide behind a wardrobe. The globe light outside barely differentiated between lightless space and the buildings. Why didn’t the light penetrate the dark? It appeared distant, despite being right there. Shadows threatened to overwhelm the globe, even as the glow resisted – penetrating the gloom.

 A voice called out. “Bring him. He can show us where he found the artifact.” The speaker sounded like a man with a thick accent similar to Italians in New York or New Jersey, though unfamiliar inflections infused his words.

Caitlyn peered between the chest and the wall, leaning forward to see through the building’s window. Three men approached, wearing garb straight from an 1880s fashion catalog, Victorian suits and long coats. Their wide hats, nothing like Victorian men’s wear, slouched to the sides of their heads and ended in points. She crawled a little closer, hovering behind a bookcase just out of sight she thought. It was hard to tell if they had a view of her or not, but none of them looked in her direction. Thankfully.

Their garments created layers over slender figures. Two had better clothes, one of them short with blond hair and a manicured beard. The other tall and dark. The third man dangled between them, held up by his arms. The short man shook the captive, who dangled in his tattered clothes, moaning. “Don’t drain me, High One,” he rasped. The captive’s face drooped, covered with grime.

“Veticco, Let him go.” The dark man loomed like a crow over the other two. He was handsome for his age; probably 30 years give or take. The dirty man dropped out of sight and harrumphed in pain. “Well, did you find it?”

The captive cried, thin and reedy. “I am close, I know it. It’s within one of these warehouses. I will find it. Spare me, please.”

The blond, Veticco, turned to the warehouse and tapped the window. “Have you checked in here, Briz?” His gaze swept the room, foxlike and pointed attention. He roved the spaces, paused where Caitlyn huddled behind the bookcase, frozen. Terror ran up her spine. Veticco turned to the grimy man. “Well?” He kicked the man. “Don’t lie to me. I don’t have the patience and Rofallo has less.”

“Names, Veticco. Use my name again and I shall strike you hollow where you stand.” Rofallo lifted his hand, a vial swirled with a mesmerizing liquid, it shined similar to Anna’s birthmarks and it had a sound like soft music playing in another room. Caitlyn couldn’t quite understand the words. He pulled the stopper and Veticco back away. Rofallo returned the vial to his coat pocket.

Standing, the one called Briz bowed. “We might search it now. With your help -” Rofallo held up his hand in the man’s wrinkled and worn face. He still had the look of a hunted ferret, not strong enough to defend.

“Get your goons; we have spared you for now.” An icy edge entered the crow’s words. He shoved Veticco. “Go. This was a waste. Report to the highest. Send my regards.” He tipped his hat and stalked off into the night.”

The blond left the ferret man alone, choosing a direction opposite Rofallo. Caitlyn slunk further back into the darkness the moment she realized Briz intended to enter there now. She moved to the chest as soon as the door turned, opened and Briz entered. Her feet scuffed the floor. “Who goes there?” He crept around the furniture, leaving grease prints from his hands on the cloth covers.

She held her breath, closed her eyes and thought of another place far away, safe and warm and full of light. The room tilted, Caitlyn’s stomach heaved and her feet landed on soft, silky grass. Light warmed her face and she opened her eyes. Trees unlike any she’d ever seen formed a canopy over her head. They had wide trunks with thick leaves. Tiny bulbs dangled from the branches and glowed similar to the floating lights near the seaside dock. Flowers bloomed rich and a fragrance both addictive and sweet invaded her nose. Peace filled her and song; a thrum stirred her soul. It sent shivers down her spine and tingles in her mind. The hum vibrated through the air. A tiny creature appeared in front of her, screamed and darted away before she fully registered what it was. A leafy figure with wings? Caitlyn closed her eyes and thought of home.

*          *          *

The door to Anna’s room opened with a bang. Anna sat upright in bed, instantly awake. “What are you doing?” She tossed back her covers to greet Caitlyn. Her face was flushed, sweat streamed from her hairline. Caitlyn rarely sweated. She shuddered, mouth opened and closed. Working her jaw, she tried to speak and clutched Anna’s shoulders. “Come into the bathroom. Come now. Let’s get a drink of water.” She cooled her sister’s face and watched her drink. “What happened?”

Despite the sweat, Caitlyn’s suddenly sickly pale skin had never felt so cold. “I had this dream, well several dreams. They were so real. Maybe they weren’t dreams.” Caitlyn took the glass from Anna’s hand and gulped. “There was a place, I saw three men, but it was impossible and the floating lights. I had to hide in this storage place. Then I was ripped through a fissure in space and time.”

Anna took her hand to calm her sister’s nerves. “Slow down.” Anna rubbed her eyes, not fully awake. “What do you mean you dreamed it or maybe it wasn’t a dream?”

“You remember that weather report, the one with the hole that opened up in the storm behind the reporter?” Caitlyn’s teeth chattered, her hands shook as she sipped the water. “This dream or not dream was different than the storm, but it had a hole opening in reality. The trees sang with life, it was the most unreal part of it and I saw a flying leaf with wings. The other place was all dark and sinister, the trees with the tiny winged creature comforted me.”

The hole in the storm and in Caitlyn’s dream, Anna hadn’t found anything on YourLife about the weather report, not yet. Mark’s comment about the music didn’t seem quite as crucial as their sister’s experience. “Did you hear a song?” Might as well ask. Mark was young, but often had startling insight, at least about their family. His claim about the report felt honest.

Caitlyn started to shake her head and then paused. “Maybe.” She scrunched up her face, thinking. “I heard a melody of sorts, but I am not sure it was created by any instrument on Earth. I’m certain where I went wasn’t Earth at all.”

“Do you have any proof?” Caitlyn story rang with truth too, though incredible and unlikely. Holes didn’t appear in random spaces, opening into an endless abyss. Vortexes were not real, not on Earth. Right?

From the hall, Anna heard Roger Eyrton, the household butler and driver, calling in his Irish lilt. “Are you alright?” Footsteps padded towards Anna’s room. “I heard a shout.”

As Anna and Caitlyn left the bathroom, flame-red hair appeared first through the doorway, he had to crouch to enter. A giraffe folding in two. “I thought one of you shouted. Is everything okay?” A close-cropped beard framed his square face and concern marred his ruddy, freckle-splattered features. He still wore a suit, charcoal colored and cut from a fine material, the sort of thing designers called couture. Expensive fit Roger’s personality. The color turned his green eyes ashen.

“Did you just come in?” Anna ignored his questions.

“I was out with Stanley. It’s his birthday.” Stanley was Roger’s partner. They hoped to marry one day, when the law changed, but for now the two of them worked to save for their dream home. He cracked a smile, a bonfire of excitement ignited. “I took him to Silvan Horn’s Bavarian Bistro in downtown Saint Paul. It was amazing! The drinks, the food. Stanley held me tight when we danced. They had a jazz trio.” The Irish butler danced about the room. Anna laughed. The man had a bottomless stomach for food and never packed on extra pounds. Roger turned to Caitlyn and started. “Whoa, what happened?”

Tears trickled down Caitlyn’s face. “I’m going to be sick.” She ran into the bathroom and Anna stood next to Roger as her sister wretched. Time passed and the sounds subsided. Water turned on and then off. Caitlyn rejoined them. “Sorry, I just had the strangest dreams and then now this.” She waved her hands. “I’ll just go back to bed.”

Henly House was always weird, but with her mother’s reaction the news yesterday and now this. Anna twisted her curls with a finger. Roger and Flora had known their parents before the Henly kids were born. The two of them had known their grandparents. She watched Roger intently. The man was the kindest person, one of her only friends and yet, he had lived here a long time. He must know what happened with their grandparents and the money. Why their mother was so strange, the occurrences with Anna’s birthmarks.

Roger tended Caitlyn, helped wipe her sweat clear. In some senses he was like a second father to them. “Nonsense. Let’s drink up the rest of Flora’s tea. She left hot water on the stove.”

The three of them hobbled down the back stairs. Anna touched the painting of a small pixie hovering near the branches of a large tree. Thick leaves covered most of the branches and the wide trunk grew from a patch of silky looking grass, but the eyes of the creature drew her. The figure wore a gown of rose petals and a crown in her red hair.

The steps ended next to the backdoor, dawn was not far off and fatigue lingered in Anna’s body, down to the depths of her soul. She just wanted to sleep, but she shuffled after her sister and Roger. Caitlyn usually took care of Anna. Time to return the favor. Roger poured mugs of a lavender infusion, one of Anna’s favorites. The smell roused her spirits. They sat at the kitchen nook and Anna sipped the warm tea. Down the hall off of the garage, a light turned out. Flora had just gone to bed. Roger kept a room down there, when he was not staying at Stanley’s house.

Languid comfort seeped in and Anna felt calm. The tea returned some of her Caitlyn’s color and she spoke. She described the details of the dream from the hole opening, her snapping through the darkness and then appearing in another place. When she detailed the features of the men, she saw from the warehouse and the leafy creature, Anna thought about the painting on the stairway. No wonder Caitlyn had the dream. The house was full of artwork, both fantastical and impossible. Landscapes of other worlds and mythical beasts. Much of it scared Anna.

“It was real,” Caitlyn finished. A haunted look filled her black eyes; she slouched over her mug featuring a cartoon character raven from a movie titled, Phoenix in the Darkest Night. The producers adapted the feature from a famous novel; a favorite book from Caitlyn’s collection. Her sister lifted the raven mug and drank.

Roger patted her hand. “There are psychologists who say our minds speak to us in dreams. Philosophers say dreams are a window into our souls and there are those who say they act as doors to other worlds.” He cocked his head. “Perhaps write them down and date them, you may see a trend.”

Caitlyn nodded. She swayed, clearly tired and ready to fall asleep.

When the tea was gone, Roger went down the hall from the kitchen to his room and Anna followed Caitlyn back up stairs to their bedrooms. She paused at the painting. The artist Minersa Shan, rendered the image more like a portrait, as if she  observed the tree and the winged figure in person, as if painting a piece of history, the Renaissance equivalent of a selfie. She assumed the artist rendered the piece long ago. The roses and the pixie drew Anna in, mesmerized she reached out to touch them, but halted, withdrawing. It was silly; they were not flesh and bone. She didn’t want to mess up the paint with the oils from her fingers, but curiously, the winged figure stared back, hand raised as if to reach out and touch her. Caitlyn mumbled and continued back to her own room. Anna studied the art for a time.

*          *          *

Camilla Bonavirez dangled above the warehouse docks in Feloria, secured within the crepuscule. The vaporous black substance cast out from her soul’s tone, hid Camilla from other people without limiting her view. To the north of the island city, she saw the main tower for the Wizard’s Trove. A spear to the true-night sky. Down below, she watched a girl with dark hair, strange clothes and brown skin struggle to open one of the doors. Men were approaching. Smart of her to hide. By Dai Ithran standards, the visitor was young, at least a few years younger than Camilla, maybe 60 years old at most, barely near maturation. Definitely pubescent.

She didn’t have the power to hear the Song, few did yet she sensed power in the girl’s tone, a certain vibration, the type to draw the animavillam like flies to honey. So far, the hunters hadn’t picked up her tonal scent. One of the doors opened in time to conceal the visitor before the familiar forms of Rofallo Huntorevarre appeared underneath the hover globe. Short Veticco Murienez joined him. The man had a gait to make a fox jealous, how he stepped both cautious and sift, deft and loping. A predator in a small body. She slid a stiletto from the sheath at her hip and waited. The girl, these men were not dead, marked and paid with heavy weight starions.

The blond, Veticco, dragged another person, a stranger, beneath the light. A ferret faced man with no more confidence than a sack of bildagers, the furry creatures liked to scurry in every direction from hunting vicero cats. The ferret man was a bildagers among vicero and non-magical in tone. He didn’t belong to one of the clans, but he was Dai Ithran. A commoner. What did two men from two different great clans want with him? To drain him for a spell? A weak spell.

The dagger spun in her hand as she flipped it around. Camilla disliked waiting. The moments an assassin spent before collecting the dead most often brought boredom, countless moments in silence and gloom. The men retreated, Rofallo in one direction, Veticco in another. Their quarry was free. He entered the warehouse where the girl hid. Camilla tensed for a moment and witnessed the man depart, unruffled, well not any more than the grime of the street or tatters of his clothes showed. He had no weapon, no bloody marks. The night remained quiet and unmolested. Though the girl did not exit the warehouse, Camilla felt confident she remained safe.

Footsteps clicked against the cobbles. Another person approached. Camilla felt in her pocket, lowered from the crepuscule towards the street and dropped a coin. Twin stiletto blades appeared face up on the side of a gold coin. It clattered, scaring the hooded figure who bent down to retrieve the coin. She pulled back her hood, revealing the face of Poltira Cirovarre. Poltira turned the coin in her hand and watched Camilla approach. “I am dead.”

Another dagger slid into her hand and she raised them. “Indeed.”

“May I ask who?”

It never hurt to tell the dead. “Ferrana Cirovarre High One.”

The older woman gave a short nod; a flicker of heartache crossed her features. Ferrana was her granddaughter. The commission pained Camilla. Still she struck with both blades at once, straight to the neck and heart. Sharpened metal sliced and plunged. Blood oozed and Poltira collapsed in a heap. Camilla left the coin in the High One’s still warm hand. The message was sent. She cleaned the blades and tucked them back into their homes, paused at the doorway to the warehouse and realized the entire building was empty. The crepuscule surrounded her once more and she skimmed the air all the way back home, to Kulnerais.

Antares

Chapter 3
In Mourning

There is an ending to all things, the last note of a song, the last kiss goodbye and the last smile on a child’s face. And none are privileged to know when.

The Mourning Song by Fennel Major
Cruahg, Sidras

Sidras, Maestro’s Moon, 5691

Piles of moss grew around a tumulus at the base of the Crystal Palace. Far above the angels flew, their faces turned to the heavens and the light of Berehan. Prince Antares Azarin knelt at the burial site, wings wilted. He collapsed, the weight in his tone dragging him down. Spindly moss squelched between his fingers as he grabbed a piece and howled. Tendons taut, neck strained, he wailed for what seemed a century. His mouth blubbered into the mound as he pressed further into the earth, praying to the Song for clemency.

A rounded stone lay at the other end, just out of sight, but Antares crawled, ignoring his grime sullied wings with each movement. Moisture filtered through his pants, dirt stained. A concentrated swamp grown in honor of his lost friend, Moss Spree. Reeds grew in abundance, moss, and velvet falanie tails named after the furry animal the plant resembled.

Six months had passed since the race. An angel with pink wings and olive skin descended and clicked their teeth. Disapproval as sharp as daggers radiated from the companion. “Come to die?” Cold fury struck Antares. A trumpet to herald Berehan’s host. “Fae never learn.” The angel flapped their wings, gusted higher on currents of air and disappeared from sight.

Fae loved racing the Crystal Palace, defying the crystal’s poisonous edges. Creatures of Chance, born of the Goddess Emria. Their tones added foolery to the Song. The race brought some fae respects, wealth enough to rival the economic standing of the Night Palace – the fae stronghold in the southwest. Still, Antares was not there to die or race. He had come to mourn.

Bundles of flowers decorated the mound and a single croaking toad stood sentry. The creature, sent from the Fiandi Waters to keep a vigil on behalf of all the Spree kin, croaked a mournful song, flicked its tongue to catch a buzzing insect and swallowed.

Antares traced the letters, Moss’ burial stone. A carver inscribed the fae’s name at the top, underneath the date of hatching and the day his tone went silent in the Song – 5690, Day 35, Harvest Moon. The inscription below the date read, “A fae of great daring lies here.” Moss Spree, a fae of great daring. No argument there.

Antares reached into his pocket and pulled out a brick, for a moment he traced the spotty spaces and a crack on the side, memorizing it. The first time he had seen Moss Spree was in the market of Sidry, the office buildings going up at the end of the square had attracted his attention.

Instead of trailing his mother, Queen Chriessa, and her retinue around the stalls, Antares went to investigate. The buildings dwarfed the other structures along Acorn and Rowan Avenue. Builders flew from the ground to the heights, carrying brick and stone and metal. Fae sprouting moss and fern darted around, a game of tag the swamp dweller, commenced before Antares’ eyes. He was a sprout then and taught not to trust the bog fae. They’re dirty and unkempt and didn’t know how to dress, so his tutors often said, but for the young prince, who had no friends, the game seemed like the most fun thing to do. And he had joined. The rest was history. Moss and he had become fast friends, inseparable despite their different lives.

He placed the brick next to the stone and drew himself up, wiped away as much mud as he could before snapping down to small form to streak back to Sidras. The angels of Hirtus loathed when the fae came, to race the Crystal Palace, to tempt Eresh, God of the Dead.

Antares didn’t blame them, not anymore.

 In a flash, he snapped to small form and streaked towards Sidry, the fae capital, he watched the landscape below change as a blur of color and movement. Before he passed over the Yushrah Pass, Antares flew further south and slightly east towards a dense forest. Another series of memories lingered there. It was a dream of Moss’ to serve in the nexus as a guardian.

Only the chosen of Berehan served and all fae knew it, still Moss had prayed through the Song each day and night. He had wanted it more than Antares, who had always known he was born to rule summer. Antares dipped towards the forest. Proha trees appeared on the horizon, their thick trunks grew wider than many houses in Sidry, their branches plentiful with thick, lush leaves shaped like large flattened pears. Antares slowed to hover over a canopy. Globes of light dangled from each tree branch. Fae in small form hovered around the orbs or flew around the trees. The nexus guardians responded to their captain’s commands.

The nexus monitored the inhabited worlds of Aulei. Berehan’s creation. The chosen fae watched and protected the worlds from cataclysmic threats. Fae served as generators, powering the nexus as threads of golden light wove together from each orb to their physical planets. A single monitor kept watch. Special fae with their tones rooted in tel-cryn, plasma, and thermal energies, and a few rarer fae with the phantom particle – the Vofa, an energy so powerful it made traveling the cosmos instantaneous. Here the hub thrived in the proha forest, powered by the fae and protected. One of the most honorable professions among the fae. Moss once desired an assignment here.

Breaks in the foliage revealed familiar spring green hair and pink peony wings. Petals fell from his brother Prince Vasant as he darted from tree to tree, held out a flask of sorts, touched an orb and hummed. The light within dimmed slightly and the flask flashed brilliantly before the orb returned to its usual luminescence. The daystar made Vasant’s coat of fur along his arms and legs shiny. His companion, Carduus Thistle, fluttered next to him, another flask in his hands. Their behavior made no sense, neither of them served the nexus – only the chosen of Berehan defended and kept the world watch. Vasant, who was nearer in age to a sprout, hadn’t earned the favor and trust of the Creator.

Antares dipped down. “What are you two doing?”

“What care in Sidras have you?” Vasant snarled and preened. Pink peonies sprayed from his wings. A flutter of thistle sprang from Carduus. The two resembled kittens caught in the cream.

“By the looks of it, I’d say you were siphoning energy from those orbs. Has the captain on duty seen your activities?” He paced in the air, arms crossed, wings a burning gold color sparked and flared. “Does Father know?” Their father, King Comissros, consort to their mother the queen, commanded the Celestial Watch. Stealing from the worlds was a heinous crime for a race created to defend them, stealing from the nexus was a betrayal of their father. Rage bubbled within Antares. The audacity! Stealing from mortals. Sparks turned to columns of flame, a gust of stellar energy whipped Vasant.

Carduus flew towards Antares, a determined gleam in his eye, ready to strike, but Vasant waylaid him. “We’re done here.” Vasant pulled Carduus by the arm, thistle rained to the forest floor. The thieves added their flasks to a cart, a whole cart loaded with a milky substance. “We’ll be off then.”

The spiny seashells of Captain Cowrie Sand appeared below. He patrolled the forest path. Shells jutted from his beard and scalp, poking from layers of curled hair. Large spirals grew from his shoulders like two sentries from the sea. Thick muscles and fat spilled over the sides of the Captain’s uniform. “Captain,” Antares called. He lumbered with the gait of a volrus; the captain had a suspicious likeness to the blubbery sea creature, sans the tusks.

Captain Cowrie turned and flew up to the brothers. “Yes?”

Antares hesitated. The captain had the respect of the nexus, the entire Night Court. He was a legend, second only to Corundum Red.

“I don’t have all day, spit it out.”

Antares gulped. He hadn’t earned the admiration of the captain. Earning respect seemed nigh impossible here. All fae coveted respect. Respect was currency, an elevation in societal opinion. It mattered more than a crown and a kingdom. It was wealth in the bank for the few fae who had it. “Well, captain, it seems Vasant and his companion, have taken energy from the nexus in those bottles.” He pointed at the cart.

Spluttering, the captain zipped around the cart. “What is the meaning of this?” He roared a cry once more similar to the tusked volrus. “Guardians, to me.” Several nexus guards approached encircling Vasant and Carduus. “Take them to the palace, the dungeon, and hold them there. Summon the king.”

“Traitor.” Vasant whispered to Antares. “You just had to go and report me.”

 Shock and fury seethed. Antares’ voice cracked like lightning. “I’d do it again! The energy belongs to the nexus, to the worlds of Aulei. It’s our duty as fae, the reason we exist!” Antares was shouting and flung his arms wide. “How can you be so selfish?” A haze fell over him, waves of stellar power shot from the center of his tone.

“You have no idea why I need this energy. We have important matters for spring to handle.” Vasant scowled and went with the guards.

Captain Cowrie took command of the bottles and barked at various fae in the forest. “Take these, return the energy back to the system.” Fae trembled and nodded, took up the vials and dashed to the trees. The nexus guardians fulfilled the captain’s bidding with aplomb and deep reverence for the captain.

A twinge of jealousy pierced Antares. The captain and Corundum Red earned reputations he had only sang through the Song to achieve. Antares greatest accomplishment was setting the great hall on fire accidentally during a flare. Cowrie and his contemporary had saved the universe twice, once during the Shadow War and once against the Sýking.

Soon orbs brightened and Antares felt safe enough to leave. He braced for the jump from stationary to light travel. “Not so fast.” The captain clapped him on the shoulder. Antares groaned. “You have our thanks for saving the orbs.” The captain wrung his hands looking at the leaves of the proha. “You’re in metamorphosis and you’re in mourning for your best friend, we understand this.”

Only friend. Antares knew where the Captain was headed.

“It’s best you didn’t return here. The unpredictable nature of fae puberty puts us all at risk.” The captain jiggled, but his eyes fastened onto Antares like fae to acorns. “I’ll have the commander testify to the king when she gets here.”

 Jaw clenched tighter than a vice, Antares gave a short nod. Dismissed. Another fae, not just another fae, but Commander Corundum Red would report in his place. “Of course.” He blasted towards the sky and arced over the mountains, gaining speed and height, in moments he touched down outside the Night Palace.

The bustle of the palace bursting at the seams with guests, kept Antares rooted to the spot. The Sidras World Cup was upon them. The fashion competition, the flamboyant and pointless competition had come to Sidry, and guests from every major house had rooms in the palace. The hotels in downtown Sidry were overflowing. Great. Just great. He thumped across the lawn and popped into large form.

Orchesite stone and wethentium metal went into the construction of the palace, providing an effect similar to stars shining. The metal pulsed, the orchesite radiated. Spires rose among the rocky side of the Yushrah Mountain Pass. Ornate columns boasting bronze figurines and geometric patterned tiles formed arches and domes. Fae flew above the palace in small form, others walked in large form in groups dotting the vast lawn. A troupe of faeries from the Eirye rehearsed scenes from a popular play called, The Windositor and Melchisedek. Antares hated it, some humorous plot about an angel that found a windositor device to cool his paramour, but another angel trades for it and entices Forniah’s interest for most of the play, plying her with gifts, until Melchisedek finally proves how worthy he is of Forniah’s love. Antares slouched on his way to the entrance. The official Sidras Cup events started with performances from fae all over the world.

The palace scheduled a month for the occasion. A whole month of this. Antares circled the lawn, gasped in horror at the groups of performers, carts of fabric and display models for the couturiers, tailors buzzed about hemming garments among sprawling gardens, fountains served as platforms and makeshift construction sites. Blessed Berehan, save us all. 

Chaos ruled inside the palace. Servants rushed in small form above hundreds of fae, jostling for a room or attention from an attendant. They took up space between pillars, leaned against tapestries and marred friezes with dings and scrapes from bolts of fabric or luggage. Antares pushed through, letting the flame along his arms spark. Golden fire sprayed and snapped out. Sighing, he continued to push through the crowd. The power never worked when he wanted it to. One day he’d grow into a full star, King of Summer, achieve his titles and have full control over his innate ability. One day. Now he struggled as much as the next fae, but his business was important. He had to find his mother and father before Vasant talked with them. Before he convinced them, he wasn’t stealing essence from the nexus.

Show, Tell and Writing Active Voice

Many writers struggle with the craft elements of scene/show, tell/exposition, and writing active or passive voice. Consider the following element descriptions, view the example and try to incorporate the same methods in your writing.

Exposition – This tells the writer information. Critique groups will say you’re telling too much or using too much exposition when they mean you’re not using enough scene.

Example: Olivia lived in a house with her brother and sister. Her brother’s name was William and her sister’s name was Elaine. Each day the three siblings attended classes at The Wild Apothecary. Mr. Everland who taught the identification of medicinal herbs, came each day to escort them to the school.  

Exposition isn’t bad, but when its large blocks it just starts reading like a giant information dump that is distant from the reader joining the story. Readers like to immerse themselves. Use exposition throughout the text to provide important information that isn’t interesting in scene.

Scene/Show – This shows the reader the story as if they’re joining the adventure and events in the story. This is where they get to travel through the experiences of your main character(s) (MCs).

Example: Wind rattled the windowpane and pulled Amelia Hanson from an awful, dreadful dream. She jerked awake and sat up. The images of hobgoblins stealing her baby sister faded from memory. She scanned the room and froze. Shadows danced in the moonlight and cast varying shades of light and dark around her. Scratching sounds scurried behind the walls. A floorboard creaked and she huddled down under her covers. Footfalls thudded down the hall towards her room and stopped outside her closed door. She shrank against the bedroom wall, glanced at the window and gasped.

Under the light, a tiny creature suctioned to the glass tapped three times. It flicked its scraggly hair over its shoulders and itched the strands draped across their chin like a beard as if it were a little man. The tiny pig-bellied beast sniffed his bulbous nose and banged his head against the glass wailing.

The thuds in the hall stopped. All was silent and then the thuds retreated, swiftly down the hall, banging against wall as it fled.  

^ This is scene or showing.  

Passive and active voice – are grammar choices in style.

Example: Active voice, the subject acts. Amelia shrank against the wall. Amelia is the subject. She shrank (acted) against is a preposition and the wall is the object.

Writers construct passive sentences when they utilize one of the “to be” verb forms and when the subject isn’t clear. Usually what completes the action isn’t well defined. The action happens to the subject instead or the subject is left out entirely.

Example: The book was read by the girl. The turkey was eaten by the dog.

Object action and then subject forms the passive form.

It can occur without the subject too. “The Book was read.” It’s not clear who read the book. It’s sort of disembodied and ambiguous.

Aulein Maps of Dai Ithra, Sidras, and Ev Irwan

The universe where my story takes place spans numerous worlds. Here are maps from three planets.

Dai Ithra, the Realm of Night. Camilla Bonavirez and Clarita Murienez work counter to the other as they both try to save their world and return the light of Infernua Izar, the day star.
Ev Irwan, Realm of Might. Twin Princes Cholistan and Levander Albantheirren must win the throne in a trial of wits and combat. To succeed, Cholistan performs a forbidden rite, one with far reaching consequence. Worlds may die when the S.
Sidras, Realm of Chaos and Order. Prince Antares witnesses a crime in the nexus wood. His brother Vasant steals power from the planet generators to win the Sidras World Cup. Even as he is punished, the nexus lights grown dim and a world falls dark. Silence stalks the land.
Earth, Realm of Sanctuary. Down by the Mississippi River, In Saint Paul, Minnesota, Anna Henly practices ballet in hopes of earning a spot in a prestigious company. When statues come to life, music plays from tapestries, and her sister disappears through a hole in the wall, it will take revealing a family secret to save themselves and the world.

George Floyd: Murdered in Minneapolis

His name was George Floyd.

He had a daughter, age six.

He came to Minnesota for work from Houston, TX and had an attitude of forward momentum in improving his life. Floyd had a troubled past, but when he paid his debt to society after committing a robbery in Texas back in 2007, he made it his mission to start fresh. By all accounts, Big Floyd, as he was known by many people where he served as a security guard at the Congo Latin Bistro, was doing just that when COVID-19 hit and Governor Walz closed down businesses across the state.

Just two days ago, Floyd walked into a store and tried to pay for goods with an alleged “counterfeit $20”. The clerk called the Minneapolis Police Department, for a possible forgery. Even so, Floyd cooperated with police as they removed him from his car, handcuffed him, led him to the side of a building and had him sit down. His hands were bound and behind his back. He was not yelling, shoving or stumbling. Surveillance video clearly shows his passengers cooperated with the police in stepping back from the scene. Surveillance video shows Floyd cooperating as police led him to the squad car. How he fell to the ground or was pushed to the ground wasn’t entirely clear. We do know how it began and how it ended.

People have made claims that cooperating with the police saves lives and the justice system will provide due process. In this case, cooperation failed. Due process failed. The entire government system, politicians, officials, lawmakers, citizens who tolerate them, and the police failed.

The police played judge, jury and executioner on the street before Floyd had a chance to defend himself in a court of law. A man lost his life without any defense on the streets of Minneapolis from the people charged to serve and protect. A man expired under the knee of a cop and no one was able to challenge it safely. A father died, calling for his own mother, “I can’t breathe,” on his lips. When do we get to ask, don’t these officers deserve the same? No due process, no judge, no jury, just executioners.

When is it time for citizens to have a right to defend themselves against violent government officials and against violent law enforcement. When is it okay to physically challenge abuse and murder without the fear of death or prison when it’s committed by lawmakers who are equally complicit in the funding, training, and hiring of police officers, in passing the many laws that local police are unable to effectively enforce? When is it okay to beat or shoot a cop in self defense?

When is it okay to challenge the public, the government, and the police who continually fail to show good judgment and restraint in how POC citizens are treated day to day in Minnesota? Citizens yell, “It’s all white supremacists, it’s all Donald Trump.” Well, as a lifelong brown woman living in Minneapolis, MN, I know racism and violence has existed here for POCs every day, all day, of our lives. The possibility of violence and death lingers as thick as August humidity no matter who holds the White House.

When is it okay to fight back?

His name was George Floyd. He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t obtain his day in court. What cop deserves the same courtesy, what politician? A change is most definitely required and only the demands of the people will achieve it.

“No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”

“Hands up, don’t shoot.”

“I can’t breathe.”

Video from C’Monie Scott reporting live from the George Floyd Protests

A Winter Storm by Heather A Busse

All Rights Reserved

Dancers from Pixabay used under the sites “free for commercial use” pexels-2286921

Chapter 3
A Winter Storm

To a song there are short notes and rests just as there are shorter lives and deaths. For Berehan the mortal realms have a place and purpose, the short and powerful, fast and free, living and dying quickly.

Memoir of Dame Vida the Blessed; Defender of the Song
Library for the Cosmic and Divine Order of the Lion’s Roar

Earth, 2007 AY

Winter winds stole the breath from Anna Henly as she perched in the bough of the oak tree outside her bedroom window. Through gritted teeth she sucked frozen air and fought to keep from chattering. Her muscles shivered for warmth. Huddled deep inside a fuzzy pink robe and kitty slippers, she watched three shadowed figures march across the back lawn of her family’s house. Leafless branches clouded her view of them, but she noticed each had on thick winter coats, the hoods pulled up over hats to keep their ears warm. Each had mittens.

Three pairs of winter boots crunched the frozen snow. The leader swept the yard with a flashlight, seeking observers, failing to check the tree and bushes. The second person held a rectangle in their hands and the third carried a long object, a sword. Anna started at the sight of the weapon, clung to the branch for balance and heaved a sigh of relief when she didn’t fall. Snow fell free from the oak and Anna froze, flat against the tree’s trunk. The leader turned, flashed their light in the tree’s direction. She pressed tighter and held her breath. On the third floor of Henly House, the drop was far.

Heartbeats passed and the interlopers continued their trek to a giant fountain built against a row of barren lilac bushes. The base acted as a reservoir in the summer for water, which flowed from a mallet held in the hand of a beast with black leathery wings and fangs. King Nysrog the Just stood sentry, his other hand raised. Claws sharp and ready to strike. With a wide stance, talons on his feet and spread wings kept the muscular fright balanced. Ferocity stared down the uninvited visitors. An artist named Yew Arro had sculpted the demon king.

They ringed the fountain. The sword bearer tapped the mallet and a peal rang through the stormy air. Wind picked up shaking the branches, knocking icicles from the house. Vines slammed into the side of Mom’s walled garden to the left of the intruders. Rose bushes thrashed in time to the storm’s swells. The tolling of a gong beat softly and then clanged. The clamor came to a crescendo and stopped. Lightning flashed from the statue and Anna stifled a scream.

The light struck the visitors, their heads fell back, arms wide, and the leader dropped the flashlight and plunged the yard into darkness. The one with the rectangle regained their composure and opened the object. A book. Another flash of light threw sparks upward like a firecracker exploding and a woman screamed. Flora! The Henlys’ elder cook and housekeeper was terrified of thunderstorms.

Night enhanced the cold. The temperature dipped lower. Anna trembled.

The wind stung and burned. The branch swayed and shivers ran down Anna’s spine. Tears filled her eyes. Fingers and hands grew painfully cold. Frost bite was setting in and Anna had known better, but when the sounds outside woke her in the middle of the night, some kind of death wish drew her outside without thought. She had the intelligence of a gnat, worse than a gnat and still she watched.

Voices joined the snowstorm. Thunder roared overhead and flashes from the clouds entered the fray. “Iþ damaþ heivur Glotid eil. Iþ hvlig muln Falga.” The three chanted in a foreign tongue. Anna strained to understand. The words seemed familiar.

A moment passed and then the wind picked up, howling, a wraith’s lament. Lightning from the statue split the darkness once more and the three chanted thrice more. Flora shrieked again.  The intruders scattered, their prints darted in three different directions.

Another person, Roger in his long coat chased after them, sharpened stave in hand. When had he sneaked outside? The Henlys’ driver and butler chose a target and took off, his boots crunching ice. The Irish man lumbered inches taller than the trespassers. His usual calm was gone. Roger dashed like a wolf in the wild after its prey.

Anna scrabbled off the tree, almost slipped on ice and clung to her window sill. She hefted herself inside, over the desk knocking snow onto papers, pens and the floor. Moisture soaked into the carpet. Her bedroom door crashed open and her siblings piled inside.

Caitlyn strolled into the room, the flaps of her robe flared like a thick cloak over flannel pajamas. She slung an arm around their younger brother Mark. Caitlyn was the oldest Henly child, taller than Anna, smarter, prettier. She took after their mother, the combination of Welsh, Argentinian and Sardinian heritage shined in Caitlyn.

A twinge of jealousy flared in Anna before she squashed it. Anna was shorter, a bit stockier, not a tremendous beauty despite her odd lilac birthmarks that snaked over her limbs and body. She had silver and orchid colored hair that grew wild in every direction with curls tighter than Flora’s nerves in a thunderstorm.

 “There are men trying to break into the house.”

“Flora’s calling the police!” Their brother Mark chimed in. “Roger’s chasing them down with his stave. Can you believe it? Like a real knight!” he slashed the air with a wooden practice sword. Mark was seven going on knighthood. He still believed such orders existed to protect the world. None of the Henlys had the heart to set him straight. Knightly organizations had died out hundreds of years ago, as far as Anna knew. History was not her subject.

“What are you doing?” Caitlyn examined the window, her black eyes tracked the snow across Anna’s desk and the wet spot on the floor. “You were outside, in this weather.”

“Well, I heard them and went to investigate.”

Caitlyn crossed her arms. “You could have been seen or froze to death. It’s February in Minnesota!” Worry creased Caitlyn’s forehead. The wind whistled as if to taunt Anna. Negative temperatures had a nasty bite.

Anna shrugged. Her sister had an over protective streak, not like their parents who never let her leave the house, not even to attend school. She just always looked out for Anna and she appreciated it most of the time.  There was no reason to argue. “You’re right.” Her sister opened her mouth, but Anna kept speaking. “I might have been seen. I might have been killed.” She rubbed her hands together and blew on them. Anna winced as warmth returned and fiery needles plunged the depths of her flesh. Frostbite. Winter in Minnesota. “I saw what they were doing and it wasn’t breaking into the house.”

“What?” Mark slashed at Anna’s bedpost leaving a mark in the wood. She grabbed the sword from him. The house was full of dents, the walls, ancient furniture, statues the whole place had dings from that weapon. Everything except the paintings and Flora’s pots and pans in the kitchen. Mark didn’t dare touch those.

“They were standing around that statue in the backyard, the one by Mom’s walled garden and chanting something. One had a sword, the leader carried a flashlight and another one had a book. They chanted in another language. Lightning flashed from the fountain! That’s when Flora screamed.” Anna crossed her arms to keep warm. The disjointed account didn’t make sense to her own ears and confusion showed clear on both her siblings’ faces. She sighed. “It looked as if they were performing some kind of ritual in a foreign language or perhaps the wind cut off their words.”

“Still, they might have hurt you. What if you fell from that tree? What if they had a gun?” Caitlyn’s voice took on a lecturing tone. The academic loved school, wanted to become a neurosurgeon or study diseases of the brain. Caitlyn was 17 going on 50. “What will Mom and Dad say when they find out?”

Anna let her sister’s words wash over her for a moment. Mark stared at the two of them, shook his head and shouted. “I’m going to see if the police have come.” He dashed out of the room, waving his sword. His blond hair bounced with each step. It was much too late for that kind of energy.

The clock concurred. It was later than one in the morning. Touching Caitlyn’s shoulder, Anna peered into her sister’s black eyes. They glistened with light. “While I am sure you’ll captivate a whole university class one day, I never signed up for this lecture.” She smiled and darted out of the room. Caitlyn snarled, still chiding.

“You know I’m right.”

“Yes, I do. I was so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.”

Anna stumbled at Caitlyn’s hip nudge and then turned arabesque. Anna wasn’t as smart as her sister, but she had talent of a sort for ballet. She mock plied. “Okay, I’m not. Let’s see what’s going on. Maybe Roger’s back.

The two sisters bounded down the back stairs from the third floor to the first. They passed four figurines on the wall, music box statues. Anna pranced by them, let her fingers brush against a winged male with summer in his eyes and a crown of stars. Music thrummed from the box, though she hadn’t wound the device in a long time. Anna walked on her toes flowing in ballet forms. It helped to warm her limbs. They passed the parlor and dining room, the hall leading to the front foyer.

They ignored the large sunroom and great room occupying the old Victorian mansion’s space on the right. To the left down the hall sat the kitchen, the garage, and Flora and Roger’s personal rooms. Straight ahead, the girls heard raised voices spilling from the music room. The dilapidated house badly needed restoration.  

Sconces on the wall provided light. Dust lay thick in this part of the house. Neglected by time and Flora’s deft hand. According to Flora, she had once kept the place immaculate, effortlessly for the many parties their grandparents used to host. The Henlys had wealth back then and some fame, as much as anyone in Saint Paul could expect. Not that Anna knew much about it. 1960 was ancient history.

Now cracks dominated the walls, chipped paint, and ripped wallpaper. Heavy, antique furniture needed fresh stain. Only the paintings and few sculptures here remained pristine, even if they clashed with the wreckage.

One painting showed demonic creatures, including King Nysrog, the same figure in the backyard. They linked arms with angels and fairies, dragons and scaled birds, feathered humanoids, and vaporous shapeshifters. Twin women dressed in green flowers danced around a rowan tree, their lips played carved flutes while a horned god beat a rhythm on a drum. Anna walked on her tiptoes and glided into a grand battement. She stepped into a développé and then her sister stilled her with the touch of a hand on her shoulder outside the music room.

“Listen,” she hissed.

Both girls stood out of sight from the partially open doors to the room, plaster molds of musical instruments lined the doors, trimmed in gold. Anna leaned against one.

Ellen and Charles Henly, their parents stood inside with Roger and Flora. Roger held his stave, the weapon had a ferrule and blade on the end. It was about as tall as the ruddy butler and driver. He huffed, his face flushed. “I’m not 20 anymore, no sir.” He leaned on the stave. “They lost me down by the river. I slid on the ice.” Indeed, Roger’s pajamas, Anna couldn’t remember ever seeing him in anything but a suit, were crusted in ice and melted snow. A puddle gathered around the man’s boots. His Irish lilt cracked as he spoke.

Flora held her hands to her face. The Welsh woman had her hair bound in curls, wore a long, thick nightgown. Her plump figure shivered, fear in her eyes kept her paralyzed, unspeaking. Shock filled Anna. Flora was about 70 years old and had always feared storms at least for as long as Anna remembered. Yet, terror crossed the woman’s features, more than fear resided behind those grey eyes.

Mom put an arm around the woman. “Now dear, I am sure it was nothing. Perhaps they thought to steal the fountain. Vandals sometimes do that.”

“In this weather? The entire Welsh National Football team couldn’t budge that thing an inch. No, mark me they’re intent on breaking into the house. It’s high time we call the police and report them.” Her Welsh accent thickened. It took a musical tone. “Honestly, every last Dragon couldn’t move it.” She shook her head, a sob escaped her as the wind gusted outside the music room’s double filigree door for the veranda. Snow piled against the pane. Flora flinched, eyes wild and darting.

“Let’s go make some tea. It will calm you. I’ll see you back to bed and Roger will still be nearby.”

“I shall not sleep.” Flora followed Mom out of the room. The two chatted on their way down to the kitchen. “I fear I am much too old, my nerves too frail for this excitement.”

Anna and Caitlyn stepped behind a large buffet and crouched down until Mom and Flora walked out of sight before returning to the music room’s door. The rosewood stage in the middle of the room caught her attention. The carved figures in the circular stage’s pillars. Oh how she enjoyed practice on that platform. The ceiling mesmerized. A celestial chorus sang in a circle centered above the stage. Why hadn’t the police come? She voiced the thought. “I don’t think the police are coming.”

Caitlyn shushed her.

Mark crept from a spot by the room’s ample fireplace. “I will help keep the watch.” He stabbed the air with his sword. “I am ready to swear the oaths.”

Dad groaned. Their father, a bear of a man with dark blond hair, had a jovial nature despite rough hands from years of working construction. Now, he looked spooked though hid it well. “Mark, it’s brave of you, but all young knights must get their rest. Off to bed now. Roger and I shall handle this.”

“I’m ready. Ephraim and I have trained for years.” His best friend Ephraim Bryce attended Winding Heights Academy of Art and Science with Mark, Caitlyn and his older brother Trenton. The Bryces were their only neighbors. The trespassers had come to a nearly vacant street off a mostly private road that serviced the two families and a medical device factory about a mile up. Those men hadn’t stumbled upon Henly House by chance. Anna knew it and somehow her little brother understood that. He set his jaw, determination in his brown eyes. “I keep the oaths.”

He held his hand over his heart. “I am a defender, a tone in the Song. My spirit sings upon the first measure. And I stand on the last. Tone to tone and note for note I and my brothers and sisters in the Song keep the watch. I watch the ways between the worlds. I defend the guardian, keeper of the key. I am a knight of Aulei.” His eyes gleamed in the murky light.

“Mark, it’s time for bed.” Dad took him by the hand and turned to see Roger mouthing the same words, hand across his own chest give a quick nod to the boy and then he nodded to their dad before striding for the exit. Caitlyn and Anna hurried away. Anna slowed her breathing as she climbed into bed. She pulled the covers up under her chin. The room grew dark as she reached over and switched off the lamp on the nightstand. Caitlyn was gone to her room.

Footsteps padded down the hall, Dad was whispering to Mark, his voice grumbling and low. She didn’t understand his words, but she understood her brother. “Ephraim says it’s all real and you’re a liar.” Her brother was crying, Dad tried to sooth him and then their voices and footsteps faded away. Sleep was a long time in coming. Cold seeped into her bones and fear. Fear spread to her mind and heart, confusion reigned. She didn’t understand Dad’s behavior or Mark’s. Caitlyn’s warning what if they had seen her, struck the girl in a peculiar way. She had never worried for her own safety before, not even with the shine.

As if to mock, the lines of her birthmark glowed in the late night. The storm raged fiercer than a gale outside. Anna found sleep elusive. Sunrays invaded through the window by the time her eyelids closed and her breath steadied.

World Building in Fantasy

There are many beginning writers who delve into the realm of fantasy and then have to think about the facets of building a fantasy world. What does into it and why? Some authors become quite detailed in scope and breadth using all elements to create a detailed world that adds to the plot and character development. Some writers use fewer details and rely more on reader imagination.

Imagination goes only so far on a fantastical world. This list will help writers consider the types of things to develop for their stories and worlds. I am not claiming this is a complete list, but definitely a good start, it’s something I learned from author Emma Bull in a fantasy writing class I took.

Sentient Races – How many sentient races does the world support? What do they look like? What sort of physical attributes and abilities do they have?

Nations – Are there countries and nations?

Political Systems – Consider the system they live in and does this system change from different nations?

Cultures – Not everyone is alike. Distance, features, resources, beliefs, systems all add to cultural development along with many more things. What are the cultures like?

Traditions – Traditions take on many shapes and forms and come from a variety of places, family, religion, cultural and so on.

Religions – Religions have “rules” and “traditions”. For believability, create limitations and guides for your constructs.

Holidays – These may be religious, or national, or cultural. What holidays if any does the world have?

Time – How does your world track time and it’s movement? How does time pass? Is it the same as Earth or different?

Calendars – Does the world have a calendar? If so, what?

Languages – In fantasy, languages create a level of realism to the world. However, if you’re not an accomplished conlanger or linguist, this can be a struggle for writers. Perhaps consider key phrases or words to lend authenticity without having to create a full language for each race, culture, or nation. It’s helpful to base the languages on real ones.

Commerce and Trade – How does trade work? What sort of economic system is in place?

Currency – What are the currencies of the world if any?

Education – What education systems are in place? How do they work?

Skills/Jobs – There are a number of established skills and jobs in any story, what are they in your world?

Science/Physics – Many fictional worlds have fictional sciences and physics in particular that defy the natural law we know and understand. To create fake science, it should have limitations and rules. Real science does. There are methods and practices for discovery and exploration. Real scientists have methods of testing and reasoning. Employ rules and limitations and it will become believable to the reader. It will make sense. If anything goes, there is nothing to worry about and nothing to get the reader invested in the characters.

History – Every place has history and what people know about it varies from place to place. A fantasy world should have history and lore, myths passed down, but these should be limited in scope and possibly even wrong sometimes. This may serve the story if a character must learn something from the past, but doesn’t figure it out or at least not right away.

Agriculture – How is food cultivated and distributed? Are there farms, technology to generate sustenance?

Magic – Fantasy and sci-fi do not require magic, but when it’s utilized in a story there should be limitations and rules. If anything goes, the reader has no reason to worry or become invested in the character arcs the writer presents. Create limitations and rules. Construct how the magic works.

Geography and Topography – What does the world look like? Where is everything? What sort of resources, animals and plants exist?

Technology – Does the world have technology and if so what?

I don’t consider this list a complete list on world building, but it may provide a starting point and generate questions for the writer to answer as they build their worlds.

Pixabay Image Disclaimer

All images on this blog were posted under the Pixabay License “Free for commercial
use, No attribution required”. Any misuse of images is strictly unintentional and in many cases, I have personally paid money to the Pixabay image poster for their contributions through the Pixabay “coffee” payment model with the intention of supporting the artist and with the belief the artwork was legally theirs to share.

Chapter 1 The Fallen Heather A Busse

Hark the tones wail from the twisted forms of the fallen. Have mercy Singer of All, have mercy Berehan the horned God.

“Lament for the Damned”
Chief Librarian, Rariny

Rariny, 5690 AY

Bones rained from the sky. Skeletal remains stormed across the land and piled in marrow puddles. Blood clouds gathered above an obsidian mountain range off the Strait of Famoniena. Lightning crackled fissures into the firmament and wind blew through the porous stone of Verdugo Palace. Night darkened towers stood sentry against the bleak landscape. Fires raged in the distance.

Talons clicked against the arm of the Rarin Throne watching Punishers line the great hall as they filed in from two massive doors. Filigree shapes depicted Berehan with a musical score in hand. From the far side of the room, King Nysrog could see music scales notated in the wood. Queen Mestamina advanced upon the throne reserved for her next to him. The assembly preened their leathery wings and sharpened claws against jagged teeth. A nervous energy passed through them. He understood, no Punisher enjoyed the job though with Mestamina Nysrog had found solace.

A flutter in the king’s heart brought joy to his tone, the same as the day he first met Mestamina all those millennia ago. Thorns crowned her purple hair, love swam in the depths of her silky black eyes. Delicate horns poked between the crown’s sides. Silvery and shining, reflecting the flames burning in giant cisterns about the room. A silver scale gown covered her alabaster figure with a slit in the back large enough to let her tail and wings through, modest enough the courtiers’ gazes didn’t linger overly long. She was the dawn to his dusk. The light to his dark. Their eyes locked and across the Song their tones thrummed in time as one.

Mestamina carried a mallet in her talons. The instrument Nysrog used to judge the condemned and mete out sentence. The assembled daemons shuffled, forked tongues flicked the air, nostrils sniffed. Talons scratched horns. Wings bristled. Through the windows of The Otla, Nysrog’s Castle, wind blew acrid air, sulfurous and torrid. Fires raged in the Boiling Bog to the south. The wind had carried the scent of flesh to the king.

“My King, I have brought the weight.” Mestamina approached the throne, regal and tall, more slender than most punishers on Rariny. She handed him the mallet and their eyes locked, fingers brushed and claws entwined.

Nysrog noted her desire. The black flames of her eyes flared, an inferno smoldered within. His tone stirred in response. “You have my eternal thanks.” He grasped the weight. It seemed a singularity resided in the small tool, a mass unparalleled in Aulei. Barely wider than his hand. Nysrog cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. The device had grown heavier over the years. He wished to drop it into the deepest abyss and dared not. “Let judgment begin.” He leaned to the side of his throne and struck a rounded disc. It knelled and the crowd went silent.

Two hulking daemons dragged the recent fallen in through the black doors of the throne room. Prince Ayperas dragged the slack body of a Dai Ithran wizard in his arms, dragged instead of carried. The daemon refused to touch more than he had to when retrieving them from the Fallen Shores. The filth, the smell. Their sins rankled. A foul scent to eviscerate the spirit, worse than rotten carrion.

Nysrog remembered the days he had served on the front lines, under his father’s rule. Here, green Ayperas, armored in plates of rarinus toiled, dragging the guilty in one hand and holding a face guard with the other. The black metal breathed for each daemon as protection against the onslaught of putrid decay each sinner brought in them. Their tones contaminated and poisoned. The daemons only smelled fields of flowers on sunny days through the shields. Thank Berehan. Their captives saw and smelled horror, tasted the filth of their horrid deeds on their tongues. As was proper.

Prince Ayperas dropped his charge before the throne. The wizard howled. An inky mass dripped from his eyes and seeped from his bald head. His spindly fingers clicked against the stone floor, eyes wild, seeking refuge. Daemons formed a ring, not that they had to block the man’s path. The fallen had no ability to escape or move even an inch further than Nysrog cared to allow. They showed him solidarity and for that he keened gratitude to them in the Song, his tone flourished thanks.

Grand Duke Ventir with his razor sharp fangs and dark gleaming eyes followed after the prince, dragging a woman by her hand across the floor. She kicked and screamed. Her plump hands grabbed at the floor and tried to stand. The Grand Duke ignored her. “I don’t belong here. There’s a mistake.” She wailed and thrashed all the way to the throne. Curled auburn hair plastered against her face dripped sweat. “I’m an Althean! I dance in the Song. I praise the gods.” She trembled staring wide eyed at the assembled host.

Nysrog put a hand on Mestamina. The lies. The lies cut deep. He swayed, vision blurring. She squeezed his hand and held it, tracing his tough skin. She knew how it hurt to carry this duty for the gods. Her fierce affection acted as a balm for Nysrog. “The Seers never lie. Put her in the pile over there.” A mass of offenders writhed in a circle on the floor near the windows. None of them had the power to move further than a few feet from where they cowered and whimpered. Nysrog stamped his foot and their cries became nothing more than a muffled buzz.

“Bring forth the fallen tones.” Nysrog struck the disc and the instrument knelled.

The Dai Ithran shrieked the moment Prince Ayperas hooked a claw into the wizard’s robe and dragged him closer to the base of the throne. Cloth tangled the scrawny Dai Ithran’s limbs as he struggled to break free. His head and hooked nose bounced off the rarin floor. The bony man wailed when Ayperas let go. “Your majesty, Barucho Rolavarre of Dai Ithra, stealer of tones has fallen from Berehan’s Grace.”

“No, wait! I can help stop the triune assault!” The Althean groaned the moment Barucho spoke. Nysrog examined the creature of light and saw recognition in her eyes. She knew this wizard and the triune he spoke of. “Please hear me!”

Barucho’s words cut off as soon as the weight struck the metal disc. The gong ripped sound from the fallen’s throat. The wizard’s skin dried and paled, more translucent than vellum paper. Wraith-like he scrabbled across the obsidian floor towards the pile of fallen. Barucho’s robes turned to ash, slaking away to expose the darkness inside him. A gaping void twisted in the fallen. The group cried and begged for mercy, shrinking away from Barucho. Ayperas’ booted foot halted the wizard who wriggled under the weight. Nysrog clicked his forked tongue and scratched behind his large horns. “There is nowhere to run or hide on Rariny little Barucho. The River Crucify I think.” Nysrog flicked his claws and the prince of Rariny hauled the wraith out of the throne room.

“Mestamina, my love.” She turned to him, an angel in demonic flesh. “Take the Althean to the questioner.” His queen gave a short nod and soon had the sobbing woman out of the king’s sight. Nysrog was no fool. Barucho had information and so did the Althean. And then like all the fallen, the two had a debt to pay to Aulei for their crimes. Nysrog was nothing if not thorough in weighing out justice. He tapped the mallet against his knee and motioned for the next fallen tone. He’d suss out the details for this triune.

Disclaimer – all images on this blog were found on Pixabay.com under the Creative Commons. Any copyright violation is completely unintentional, pulled from Pixabay and for many images, I contributed money to the posting artist.

Publishing: A Beginner’s Guide by Heather A Busse

Like many writers, I am a member of several online writing groups and before I went back to school, before I ever had anything published, and before I began earning my whole income from writing and editing I too had no clue about what it takes to “make it”.

Yep, long sentence ^ and that is a darling I might one day kill. But that isn’t the point of this post. No this post is about navigating the shit that is professional writing, editing, and publishing. You see, the rules change. It depends. Grab a pen and paper, or just bookmark this information, or ignore it. It’s your choice.

If you write fiction and want to get your work out there for readers to consume, you’ve probably asked about getting published. There are options and with each option a set of criteria or guidelines to know before you spend any money or sign any documents.

Traditional Publishing

With established traditional publishers, particularly the large publishing houses, writers must query through an agent. An agent will represent your work to the publishers they think will most likely want to purchase your book. This means gaining the attention of a professional agent.

Agents and publishers have criteria for what they’re looking for in a book. Some only handle romance. Some handle children’s books. Some handle a variety. It depends on the agent and the publisher. Consider the best fit for your book. Who is representing books like yours, who is publishing books like yours? Those are the agents you’ll want to query when your manuscript is completed.

Say you get an offer? You’ve created a story from stone, written the manuscript. You had writers and readers workshop it for you and provide feedback. You revised it and hired an editor. The editor polished the stone into a gleaming diamond. You queried agents and received rejections. You revised a bit more. Finally, an agent accepts your book and starts approaching publishers. One of them has an offer.

A traditional publisher will often have a contract where they buy the rights to your work, they receive the lion’s share of the sales, they have editors, artists, designers, and will work with a printer to produce your book. They may even have some marketing prepared. *Though a writer will have to help in that too. Some publishers provide an advance against the sales. This is money that they pay the author before the book sells. The amount varies from very little, none, or quite a lot. It depends on the projected success of your book. This advance goes back to the publisher once your book starts selling. If it doesn’t sell, the publisher is most often out the money. If it sells and sells well, the publisher gets the advance back and you get royalties. Your agent gets a percentage of those royalties. Payday for everyone!

That’s the basics for traditional publishing.

A few things of note. NEVER give a publisher money up front. That’s a vanity press. They’re not earning money from selling your book, but from you paying them. Same for agents. If they don’t successfully sell the book, they don’t make the money. This is subsequently why agents and publishers are so persnickety. They often go with what sells for their specific business focus.

Self Publication

With this method of publication, it’s easy for writers to take shortcuts and produce some of the worst writing readers have ever seen in print and on eBooks. I don’t recommend it. As a writer, you’re building a brand and reputation. Eventually, you may gain enough notice that famous publishers and writers see your work. If that happens and your catalog of titles was never revised or edited, they might not work with you. At the very least, they will poke some fun. Your work may become the talk of literary critiques in print and in the media. It may sweep all of the social media readers’ groups and wow have I seen readers and writers slam poorly written and edited books.

Write your manuscript. Have readers and writers provide feedback (for free), revise it, get an editor and pay them. You’ll thank yourself later. Make payment arrangements with editors who are willing to work with you. Some few are willing, but many are not as they’ve been shorted in the past. If you find a professional willing to help, create an arrangement and pay on time.

Hire an artist for the cover and someone who can format your book. You’ll want your book formatted for print and eBook. Many platforms like Ingram Spark and Amazon have eBook and print on demand options. You’ll want a full wrap cover for print. Hire an artist. It’s worth it. You will have art especially for your book, instead of obviously slapped together cut and paste public domain stock photos. Professionals have original art. Be a professional.

Market your book. Start talking with readers and writers about it. DON’T spam it. Network! Get your name out there on social media, do readings, join groups, create a blog. Talk with others, so people will know about your book. If you can afford it, definitely do some paid advertisement, but self promotion can help. Many writers attend conventions and sell books that way too.

The big thing about self publishing is owning your rights fully and also being fully responsible for all aspects. You’re mostly in control of schedules and production. I say mostly, because artists, editors and other people you may work with along the way have their own lives and schedules too.

At any rate, I hope this helps and best of luck!

Prelude – “The Oath Breaker” by Heather A Busse

In the beginning, Berehan birthed the universe Aulei in Song. And like most newly created things, the creation grew and expanded of its own free will. Aulei turned through the seasons and in each turn The Song changed for no two seasons existed exactly alike.

“The First Law of Sidras” The Night Palace Repository

Aulei: Year 5480

Cycle: An Lyr Min

An inky mass approached the outer edges of Aulei. It had long forgotten its own name and image, but understood it had a duty. Deep inside the oily substance, a light flickered. Dark filaments sniffed out a rent in another creation known as Aulei. It flowed into it as long snakes through grass, a vaporous slither. A cosmic melody struck the visitor upon entering the new plenum. Tendrils flowed and danced from star to world to the deep black of space.

Where the inky thing lacked light and life, it drew nearer the nebulas of creation and feasted for it had purpose and reason. Hope coursed through the entity as it split into countless pieces and spread through the closest regions of Aulei.

The Song of Aulei, registered the newcomer as an interruption to the individual tones in The Song. Whole notes went silent for a time and then the cosmic symphony sprang back, its beats just as strong as before. Its harmonies struck the visitor as distant stars and planets danced their rotations. Pangs of hunger erupted within the entity. It thirsted more desperately than the most desolate wasteland. Looking internally, a swirl of light flickered, the thing worried for the living, the part it had protected for so long. Deep need and an ache spurred its movement ever faster across the vacuum of Aulei’s space and time. Playing counter to the frenzied beats of starvation, Aulei registered the visitor’s intent and named it Sýking.

Pixabay Image Disclaimer

All images on this blog were posted under the Pixabay License “Free for commercial
use, No attribution required”. Any misuse of images is strictly unintentional and in many cases, I have personally paid money to the Pixabay image poster for their contributions through the Pixabay “coffee” payment model with the intention of supporting the artist and with the belief the artwork was legally theirs to share.

Infernua Izar by Heather A Busse

On the Day of Sin, seven rode out from Feloria. Seven blades unsheathed, seven voices raised to draw and bind the first slave. Darkness fell upon the land, concealing Infernua Izar. Incubo del Peccatore. Berehan Sang punishment. For long life and magic, the seven considered the cost a fair trade. 

“After the Fall” by Brigida Murienez, Clan Historian

Dai Ithra, 5691 AY

Snow fell and the Hunter’s Moon brightened the streets of Feloria on the planet Dai Ithra. Hover globes chased the shadows away with their magic wrought glow. Citizens hustled from shop to shop, parcel laden arms jostling the throng. Wizards streamed among them, towards the Wizard’s Tower to the northern point of the island where they studied the arcane arts. Their velvet cloaks flapped in the chill breeze and exposed layered robes, sewn with down for added warmth.

A figure slunk through the crowd, Clarita Murienez, face hidden by a wide velvet hood. She pushed away from the city center, towards a rocky outcrop next to the Dia Vithra River. Ice slid under foot, each step a fight to stay upright. The tread of her boot caught a rock, anchored her in snow and helped her scramble up the slope to Lyrenthia House. The seat of power for clan Murienez in Feloria.

Her boots sloshed through the icy water of the Dia Vithra River. Its path cut from the north down to the southern marshland. In the east, the Vicero Mountains lined the river and on the western bank, the flat plains of Vion El. Its course split around Feloria, serving as a natural defense and trade route for the various clans populating the planet.

The woman patted the interior pocket of her jacket with a gloved hand. She had a musical score hidden inside, folded against two vials of protection, potions crafted for a quick escape. A black leather whip with nine barbed tails struck the side of her leg as it bounced from the belt she wore.   

Wind gusted the edges of her cape apart, exposing a black down suit embroidered with Infernua. The planet’s daystar, Infernua Izar served as her personal sigil. She gazed at the moon, smiled at the glow, proof the daystar still radiated light.

Holding her cape closed, she struggled up the last incline and cursed. The clothing did nothing to abate the cold. Her breath curled in the air, a white misty vapor, only slightly paler than her own skin. She floated like a haunt among the rocks up to a path lit by globes. Guards clad in brown leather with coiled whips secured at their waists patrolled a massive estate. Her clan’s seat of power in Feloria.

At the door, two men stood sentry, their coats thicker and embroidered with golden whips on their shoulders. Clarita recognized both of them, they were brothers serving as clan lieutenants in the guard, Isirio and Basillo. The two had almost identical features, tree like height, blond hair, brown eyes, and copper skin. She didn’t know their family name, but the two had served for at least 100 years in hopes of elevation. They had time to earn a higher rank. 100 years was not much to a Dai Ithran.

“A blessed true-night to you Isirio, Basillo.” Clarita nodded to the hulking trees as she passed by them and entered Lyrenthia House. She heard them return the greeting as the doors closed behind her.

Large, chandeliers warmed the foyer and illuminated life-sized statues of ancient Murienez clan members. Families who had brought fortune and fame to their members. To the left, the clan’s most famous philosopher and scientist Diandio Murienez watched an experiment in an unseen lab, he held a clipboard in his bronzed hands.

To the right, the clan’s founder Zanarti Murienez loomed like a hawk, a whip in hand poised to strike. She supposed this was the artist’s vision of what it was like for the founder to harvest that first tone, way back on the Day of Sin.

Shivers ran down Clarita’s spine. The Day of Sin. What a stupid holiday. The clan, the whole world celebrated the day Berehan, Creator of All had cursed their light forsaken planet to eternal darkness each day. Their daystar, Infernua Izar, never felt particularly warm to the Dai Ithran people, it never showed its light though the animals and plants proved the star still existed. The moon’s glow still reflected its light each true-night.

Clarita glared at the statue of Zanarti. Selfish, destructive. The man didn’t deserve celebration. Not that her peers agreed with her. They adored the magic and long lives his sin had granted them. Generations of Dai Ithrans lived for hundreds of years instead of 70 or so at most. They had magic like Altheans and Ishanians. Other planets had long life, magic, advanced technology. Why not Dai Ithrans? Zanarti had led the charge when the original seven clans struck down that first tone. Damning the Dai Ithran people in Berehan’s Song, striking their tones from the celestial score. Cold, pain, darkness. As if that price was worth more years and physical enhancements in life.

Rage flared within. A tempest struck the shores of her tone. Clarita shuddered, skipping up the stairs through Lyrenthia House. She passed the music room, heard someone instructing Murienez children on how to play the flute. More rooms served for clan meetings. She saw the silvery skin of her mother through a sitting room door, her glossy red hair, so odd for a Murienez, framed her face in long waves. She tapped a screen on the wall and an image of a distant city appeared. “With this glider model, we can have newly harvested tones delivered anywhere in a matter of hours. Imagine, ordering a tone on your shellophon one morning and receiving it that same day. Our gliders will reach Sarnth, Alcmene and Hypan in a matter of hours.” She tapped the screen, saw Clarita and smiled briefly before she turned back to her guests, visiting wizards from clans Cirovarre, Huntorevarre and Rolavarre.

Three of the great clans had come, her mother must have felt disappointed. Not a single Bonavirez was in attendance. No Pelinvarre, Quiorra, or Dominico. Clan Anirienz with their long military tradition hadn’t come and neither had the shipwrights, the Alessios.  One day they’d come, when they saw her mother’s invention. Gliders! Machines to fly people and goods all over the world in hours. As if an Alessios starship had that same capacity, not when they were rendered immobile by Berehan, banned from interstellar travel. Clarita moved on, smiling with pride.

The grand hall sat to the right on the first floor, a lavish room with marble and starion encrusted balconies, a large stage for musicians and entertainers. The next two floors housed lesser Murienez’ who hadn’t earned elevation. The next three floors served established families within the clan who worked in Feloria running businesses, serving as clan guards or as animavillam, the tone harvesters. The upper floors where Clarita jogged up flight after flight of stairs, housed the elevated. Elevated wizards, the High Seat Adulfo, his faction of palm lickers and sycophants.

Clarita reached the top floor. She had a private suite, three rooms for her own use, which she had earned the day she graduated the Wizard’s Tower as a 28th degree magus. None of that mattered now. She had other plans, seeds planted years ago in hopes of returning the light of Infernua Izar to the people. Clarita touched the pocket of her jacket, felt the crinkle of paper and smiled. Yes, the plan had taken root and soon she hoped to hear of ripened fruit for the plucking.

Inside her suite, she crossed to a cabinet, retrieved a bottle of Cirovarran Plum and poured a glass. A 5429 vintage, vinted in the Huntorevarre winery. She sniffed the vintage and her muscles relaxed. With the wave of her hand, the door to her suite closed and locked. A waste of tonal energy, yet the success tonight warranted a little indulgence. She sipped the wine. The sweet, crisp flavor soothed her nerves and warmed her tone. The tempest battering her soul, the tonal note given to her in the Song, receded. Clarita sighed.

Clan Cirovarre knew what they were doing. Their orchards yielded the best and most lush apples, plums and pears. Thorny stardrops and grapes grew in abundance there. Even though the daystar didn’t shine for the people, Cirovarre understood the changing of the seasons, the movements of animals and the best time to grow. Their trees bore the best fruit. Praying, Clarita hoped her own seeds proved just as lucrative. Just as clan Cirovarre worked with clan Huntorevarre to create the best wines, Clarita had gathered her own recruits for the coming harvest. She swirled the wine and sipped, took out the paper delivered to her in the business sector and started to smooth it out on the table. Musical notation filled the page.

Noise outside her room introduced a visitor before the knock came. A sharp rap sounded on the wood and Clarita lifted her fingers. Green energy flashed around the door and then it unlatched, swinging open.

 The door framed Silerta Murienez, captain of the guard for Lyrenthia House. She strolled in, glanced about the room, starlight shining on her copper skin. She flipped her plaited blonde hair behind her shoulders and took a seat at the thornwood table in the center of the room and slammed a small vial down on the table. She propped up her feet and leaned back.  “Essence of Althean, just as you’ve requested.”

With a snap of her fingers, Clarita closed the door. “Did anyone else order a flagon?” She hoped to learn who else on Dai Ithra had increased their tonal stores, someone was collecting and Clarita wanted to know who and why. It wasn’t another Murienez.

A smile quirked across Silerta’s face. Her big amber eyes lighting up. “Now, now High One, the activities of other wizards, even our clan’s wizards are confidential.” She put her feet back down on the floor. “It’s how the whole thing works. The animavillam capture the tones, we harvest them down in the cells, and we deliver each request personally. I can’t go divulging our clientele, not even for you.”

 Snatching the vial, Clarita studied it, frowning. A pearly substance swirled inside. Tonal energy came out in different colors, it had a physical quality, not quite watery, not quite oily, or silky, or thick, or runny. It was hard to describe. The hover globes and moonlight amplified the color in the vial so that it had an opalescent sheen. This tone had power, great power. “This isn’t Althean Healer.” She wanted a healer’s tone. They had a particular regenerative quality to them unlike any other soul in Aulei.

The whole universe hadn’t produced another tone like an Althean Healer. She needed to test that tone. So far, the experiments to support the seeds she’d planted, to find the best worlds to harvest, had failed. 30 years of failure smarted. Clarita kept her features smooth, refusing to show disappointment.

 Silerta pursed her lips. “No it isn’t. Althean Healers are not exactly falling from the sky. We took a merchant ship on their way to Ertlos 9, breaking Berehan’s will.” She arched her brows, driving home the point. The gestures said, the animavillam and harvesters worked hardest. “Captured a boy from the vessel. He’s down in the cells if you want to take a peek.” She pointed her elbow at the door, brushing the tone extractor at her hip, a coiled whip, the primary tool of the Murienez. “I’ll take payment now.” Silerta tapped the table.

 A boy. Not an adult.

Pain flooded Clarita. She doubled over, soul twisted and joints pinched in agony. The pain was part of the punishment. All Dai Ithrans endured just like their inability to see the daystar and the muted level of warmth they experienced. She straightened. Her plans had to succeed. Hundreds of years of agony. What insanity had infected Zanarti to trade peace and comfort for longevity and magic? Clarita would pay the price for the stolen tones, return the light of the star. No more pain, no more poisonous spores to kill the people because they could never see well enough where they stepped, and no more damnation. Berehan had to forgive if she righted their wrongs.

“Very well.” The captain deserved her thanks. Capturing any Althean was nigh impossible. The guard deserved commendation for their work. The animavillam they employed in particular deserved a boon. Clarita made a mental note to send one as she took the vial marked ‘Essence of Althean’ to her personal storage cabinet.

The cabinet with Clarita’s collection of tones, hundreds of them in small flagons, stored in an intricate leaf and vine glass case, decorated with copper filigree and secured with a Portal Guardian L-IV tone.

Clarita pinched two petals on a small glass rose set at the front of the case and a tiny door opened to reveal the inky rainbow called Portal Guardian L-IV tone. She set down the Essence of Althean next to the rose for a moment. Taking the Portal Guardian, she twisted off the top, dabbed a tiny drop of the tonal substance on her tongue and lifted her hand up to the cabinet.

“Lanzamiento del portale guardián,” she whispered. Clarita invoked the tempest within. No, she didn’t have a dynamic and orotund voice, she had the whisper of a storm at sea, a raging thunder and lightning. Not the best for controlling spell work, but powerful when it worked. Her own tone reached out, mingled with the Portal Guardian L-IV. A flash of green ringed the case and dissipated, two doors opened as if on invisible strings. She placed the Essence of Althean between an Ishanian High Note and an Earthling Low Pitch. Chills ran down her spine.

Music wafted from the vials in the case. Tones harmonizing in time with the Song. Berehan’s creation imbued in every single lifeform in the universe as a tone in His grand score. Closing the case, she murmured, “portale guardián cerce.” The petal handles twisted, the doors closed and locked into place with a flash of energy. The tempest within raged green and seared Clarita to the bone.

The musical notation found its way into Silerta’s hands as Clarita rummaged through her desk for enough coin to pay the woman. Her hand swam the depths of loose gold coins, silver, rarin stones, Zarthonian crystals called zargots, her fingers closed on a starion diamond and released it. An Althean healer was worth a starion or several, not a merchant’s son, no matter how much her tone ached for the boy’s fate. “I hadn’t marked you as a connoisseur of music Clarita. Do you play?”

Clarita grabbed three zargots and slammed them on the table in front of Silerta. “Payment” She snatched the score from the guard’s hands. “I don’t play, but I had thought to surprise my mother with a private concert if the clans invest in her gliders.”

Silerta swiped the crystals and pocketed them, rising to her feet she crossed to the door. “I won’t ruin the surprise, but you might consider some leisure activities, something carnal.” The woman ran her fingers along her thigh. “You’re a bit tightly wound Clarita.” She saluted and stalked off, a smirk on her face.

Exhaling, Clarita rushed to lock the door only to find another visitor. Maricosa Murienez, a child of 30 years. The girl wasn’t much older than she was when her father died.

“A blessed night to you High One.” Maricosa carried a tray, an envelope with Clarita’s name written the outside and sealed with Adulfo’s mark caused a flutter of alarm in her chest, though she concealed it.

Envy flashed in Clarita. How she longed for a harmonious tone. The tempest clanged and struck chords counter to the Song’s melodies. Globe light illumined the girl’s lace dress and honey hair. She had eyes of amber and bronze skin. A slender beauty to rival the murals of Placina Murienez. The famed painter might have praised Berehan Himself for such a muse as Maricosa.

“To you and yours Maricosa. Do come in.” She ushered the girl into the room and directed her to the thornwood table. This time Clarita left the door open, she didn’t have enough tonal energy left for waste and she didn’t want the girl to get comfortable. Clarita had work to do. Sometimes she wondered about accepting Maricosa’s request. The girl’s family had petitioned Clarita for sponsorship. Every Dai Ithran who trained in the Wizard’s Tower had to earn the recommendation of a previous graduate. As a 28th degree magus, Clarita was one of the most powerful Murienez’ wizards. Sponsorship would gain Maricosa great opportunity and for Clarita, she’d have the girl’s service for the next five years. Dare she trust this one?

Maricosa set the tray down and glanced around, her amber eyes wide in amazement. Ambition struck chords in her soul.

The girl strolled through the room, eyes locked on the line of floral etched windows, the thornwood desk, chairs and table. One cabinet stored wine, the other Clarita’s private collection of tones. Some of the best harvested by the animavillam. Fire danced in the hearth at the end of the room, a sculpted mantel framed the fireplace with the figure of the room’s former occupant, Brigida Murienez. The woman had served as a clan historian and was much admired by Clarita’s mother, Eliosa. Ancestor worship the people who had come before them meant more than the creation of Berehan to the families that made up her clan. Maricosa touched the statue. “Your mother is Eliosa.”

Nonchalant, casual probing. Interesting, the girl had an angle here, likely coached by her parents. Their family might need elevation. Clarita made a note to investigate the child’s background. “She is.”

“She’s a famous inventor and stands third in line to Adulfo, the High Seat.” Now the girl was reciting her lessons. Tedious.

Clarita sipped her wine. “She is and does serve as third. What’s your game here Maricosa? I appreciate you bringing the letter. I am not ungrateful.”

Tugging on her lace dress, Maricosa cast her gaze about the room. “We had hoped to hear if you had received my, my family’s petition. Did you have time to read it?”

“I was in city center on business. I shall peruse your missive and provide a response after I’ve fully investigated your background.” She might as well state exactly her expectations now. Should she take responsibility for the girl’s education, Clarita needed to know everything about them. Did they pose a threat to her, her mother Eliosa? Were their ambitions aligned to hers or against? She had so much to learn. “You’ll have to wait until I am ready to make a decision. Understood?” Yes, the girl had to see who was in charge. The questions were pushy, a bit desperate actually. That didn’t bode well.

“Yes, High One.” The girl bobbed a curtsey and fled the room, slamming the door behind her.

The envelope beckoned. Clarita slit the edge and took out the contents, reading. Adulfo was calling for a conclave. A full clan meeting for tomorrow night. Clarita’s blood froze, her breath caught. Had he discovered her secret? She took the musical score and Adulfo’s summons in hand. The notes marked out parts for stringed instruments, horns, percussion and one sportolanq, a three pronged instrument that circled the player, tweeting a perfect imitation of a great-winged grawl. The green feathered birds had a wingspan wider than Clarita’s outstretched arms and were known for their heavenly songs, as if they had hatched on Yushrah before descending to the night planet.

None of the assignments mattered. The instruments represented a key and the notes corresponded to letters within each key. The whole document was a code from the Triune Alliance, a letter she had to cipher out. Trembling, Clarita went to her desk, tucked the summons in the top drawer and leaned down, her fingers felt underneath the desk for an indent in the shape of a leaf. She found it and pressed. A click and a pop revealed a tiny drawer. Inside, she had stowed four small books bound in leather. The first she removed, a blue one representing the stringed instruments. Clarita had to know. Did Adulfo know of her plans? She hadn’t told him, never received the High Seats permission to form the triune and seek the return of the star’s light.

Better to seek forgiveness after she succeeded and if she failed, better no one knew that she had tried. The whole plan was an oath between her and her father, the day he died. His life’s work had been a secret between them and in his death had become her mission. Clarita hadn’t thought to get an authorization initially and then it seemed too late. She’d gone too far, the seeds were planted.

Under the warm glow of a hover globe, she worked to reveal the cipher. One book after the other, she notated what the sharps represented, the half notes, the whole, a high C, D diminished triad. Soon the letters took shape in ancient Dai Ithran. Few spoke it anymore, even among the wizards, morirono settanta rose. Trenta sopravvissuti. Preparati per il raccolto.”

Tremors shook Clarita, ice cold infused her veins. Teeth chattering she locked the keys away, the musical score she burned. 70 percent dead and gone. She shivered. Tears trickled down the sides of her face, she didn’t notice. Wind buffeted her internal landscape, the place within her soul, the sound of her creation. It struck as lightning, Clarita slumped to the floor, 70 percent. She touched the smooth surface of the thornwood and pulled herself standing. So many dead, oh sweet Song. Father save us all. The chances of Adulfo discovering her failures had just increased dramatically. She clutched the desk, breathing and then the door to her room opened once more.

Her mother strode in followed by a tall figure cloaked head to toe in black velvet. The door closed. “Clarita, sit down. You have much to explain.” She pulled back the hood exposing Rofallo Huntorevarre, Clarita’s partner in the Triune Alliance. Oh blessed night, they were found out. In her mind she plotted a pathway for escape as she sat down across the table from her mother, joined by Rofallo.

Pixabay Image Disclaimer

All images on this blog were posted under the Pixabay License “Free for commercial
use, No attribution required”. Any misuse of images is strictly unintentional and in many cases, I have personally paid money to the Pixabay image poster for their contributions through the Pixabay “coffee” payment model with the intention of supporting the artist and with the belief the artwork was legally theirs to share.

Poetry Inspired by Lost Words

A Scavenger Hunt for Memory by Heather A Busse

Twisted lanes of life covered in footprints and tire treads,                          Dust covered highways, barren except for a single tumble weed,              Drifting in the wind.

There on rocky heights, hands find a purchase and foothold,                     Slip and skid halfway down to cling dinged and banged,                            Worn in tattered skin.

Underneath a jagged rock lives Memory, when I was,                                   Five years old my kitten Tiffany plays in sunlight on the stair,                  Scratches on my hand.

In the stars there is the winter of my youth,                                                    And we are moving in the middle of the night no rent, no place,               One car and boxes.