Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Saturday, October 26, 2013 8 comments

Weekend Roundup: Sliding into Fall

Last night brought frost to FAR Manor, the first October frost in three years. It’s all downhill from here:

video

I committed myself to write reviews for three books I’ve read in the last few weeks, so I wrapped those up last night. Links go to Goodreads:


They’re all good, go check 'em out!

In my own writing endeavors, I’ve finished up the first part of The Lost Years. I need to get cranking on the next part, which is sort of plotted out in my head, but The Sorcerer’s Daughter is the priority at the moment. I’m going through +Helen Howell’s beta comments, which were more encouraging than I thought. I figured I’d have to rewrite all of Chapter 2, but Helen said it was the first half of the chapter that needed work. So if I can get that fixed in the next few days, maybe the editor can get it back to me and I’ll still be good for that November launch.

And, this song has been stuck in my head on auto-repeat all week:



I bought the album so I could play the song at will, because that usually kills the earworm, but this one is a little tougher to shake loose.

My shoulder is getting better, finally. I need it to be 100% NOW, though, since it’s firewood season. I have to remember to bring in wood with my right arm and use my left for opening doors, the opposite of how I usually do things, to not hurt it. And I’m nowhere near ready to sling a chainsaw around for an entire afternoon. I started to hit a depression last week, but I think it passed. I don’t need that on top of everything else.

Monday, October 21, 2013 6 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 11

Previous:
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9 | Episode 10



Credit: Roy Lathwell

Several soldiers peered around the corner, while the rest listened to the Imperial Keep’s collapse, then flinched back. “It’s gone,” one said. “The walls buckled, and one—” Stones tumbled and bounced by, showering the sheltered expedition with small debris.

“We need to go back,” one of the Strikers said. “Acrom jumped. If nothing else, we need to recover his remains.”

“Why?” Anlayt demanded.

“He was the one bitten by the walking dead,” the Striker explained. “One of the men tells me Acrom was growing sick. Acrom told him he would die but once, then when the wall fell away, he dived out. Head first.”

“Likely a fruitless pursuit to find him,” said Phylok, “as with this entire expedition so far. But we should at last make the attempt.”

As expected, Acrom’s body was buried under the rubble that was once the Imperial Keep. They sang his name at the place they guessed the stairwell had been, offering his soul to Heaven and beseeching the Creator that his body lie still, then returned to Harbor Street and marched west.

Passing through a poorer part of the city, Jira thought of her namesake, Jira the Brown. That Jira had come from such a neighborhood, perhaps this one. She and her friend Pyanya had become Thurun’s apprentices, so legend went, after they stole his staff. Pyanya the White was the more noted, a Protector revered as the Lady of Isenbund in the North. But the original Jira had done well enough for herself, a strong sorcerer and enchanter by all accounts. I will be happy, Jira thought, if they say of me that I was able to keep a remnant of the Empire alive.


The Western Gate was destroyed, and they clambered over the remains to reach the Western Road. “Looks almost normal out here,” one soldier grunted.

“If you don’t look behind you,” said another.

Indeed, for those who only faced west, it could have been an unusually quiet afternoon outside the capital. Grasses and brambleberries grew wild, but the clear zone around the city walls was allowed to grow and seed itself. Two years ago, the poor would have been gleaning the seeds and fruits, or tending small garden plots granted by the crown. The nearest villa was beyond the first rise, where the road disappeared on its long journey to Westmark.

“Patrol formation,” Anlayt ordered. “Captains on point.” The Bronze Circle formed around Jira once again. After what they had seen in the last few hours, she found the protective ring a small comfort. “For Camac… forward!”

The Captains called a halt before they topped the hill. Phylok sent two scouts forward; they slipped through the tall grass and returned after a short time. “The villa is damaged, but inhabited,” they said. “Windows are boarded up. There’s debris piled around the perimeter, and gardens inside. We saw the smoke of a cookfire.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“No.”

“They must be there,” said Phylok. “I would venture that the noise of our difficulties in Camac carried outside the city here, and the inhabitants are hiding. Perhaps watching us, while they gauge our intentions.”

“Strikers, form a defensive perimeter,” Anlayt ordered. “Protector, can you scry about us? Can you locate these residents?”

Jira nodded, and sent her vision outward. “There are no ambushes,” she said, her voice distant. “Nobody stands between us and their makeshift ramparts.”

“Are they in the villa?”

After a long silence, Jira smiled. “In an upper room. They appear to be having a heated argument. One woman is watching from the window, but as engaged as any.”

“How many?” Phylok asked.

“Eight… eleven. They do not carry weapons, but I saw crossbows in the receiving room. Implements that can be used as weapons: axes, scythes. A few hunting spears.” She came back to herself. “A young man looked around as I scryed the upper room,” she warned. “I would assume he is a sorcerer, but I don’t remember him from my earlier visits.”

“I am sure that Protector Jira is more than equal to any mage they have,” said Phylok. “I suggest we form up, and request a parley.” He nodded toward the bugler.

“I have no better idea,” said Anlayt.


The soldiers lined up along the Western Road, staggered formation, so that arrows or other missiles could only strike one at a time. The Captains stood before the villa’s makeshift gate, with a few of the Bronze Circle shielding Jira; she in turn covered them with a fender.

The bugler winded his horn, sounding the “parley” signal. Minutes passed, with no response from the villa.

“Give them another,” Phylok suggested, and the bugler blew again.

After a long minute, the front door cracked open. The Captains felt, rather than saw, eyes upon them.

“Citizens of Camac!” Anlayt bellowed. “Come forth, in all peace and harmony! We seek only survivors and information!”

Finally, the door opened. “Nine,” said Jira. “I expect the other two are covering us with crossbows.”

“Who are you, and what do you want?” It was the young man that Jira had noted during her scrying.

“I am Protector Jira, of the North,” she replied. “With me are Captain Phylok of Isenbund, and Captain Anlayt of Koyr, and four strikes of Camac’s army. We hoped to find other authority here.”

“Protector.” The young man bowed, hand to forehead, in the salute to a superior; Jira and the Captains noted how the others shed their wariness. “I am Arbul the Blue, of the Camac Conclave, until the recent trouble. Fortunately, I earned my sash before all that happened.”

“Are you all that is left of the population of Camac, then?” Anlayt asked.

“Indeed, sir. Many others fled the city, by road and by sea, so they may live on. You had no refugees arrive in Koyr?”

Anlayt frowned. “Neither by road, nor by sea, mage,” he said at last.

“Troubling.”

“So there is no authority,” said Phylok.

“We are the emperor!” An older man twisted free, and pranced forward. Arbul and several others gave each other exasperated looks. “Grand and glorious Camac lives on, so long as ourself!”

Arbul stepped forward, close enough to whisper, “Forgive him, notables. The others say he was mad long before The Madness, imagining himself to be His Sublime Majesty.”

The mad “emperor” joined them. “Good Captains, worthy Protector,” he purred. “Together, we shall conquer the other half of the world, then all will know the benevolent rule of glorious Camac. My court shall accompany us on this grand quest, and all will sing our praises.”

“Majesty,” said another, gently tugging the madman back, “your servants have just returned from an expedition on your behalf. Let them find their barracks, and take the rest they have earned, before sending them forth anew.”

“Wise counsel,” said the man who would be emperor. “Go, in all peace and harmony. Captains, your men have earned extended leave with pay. See that they reacquaint themselves with their… with their families.” He paused, looking confused. “You are all that… no.” He turned and stalked back to the villa, muttering all the way.

“Authority,” said Arbul. “I did not think to see this many sane people in one place, ever again. Let alone any remnants of governance.”

“Do you know who awakened the Cave Wyrm that was under the Keep?” Jira asked.

“No. I presume it was Nisodarun, or perhaps another mage gone mad.”

“Whoever awakened it, had control of her faculties,” Jira countered. “It told me that it swallowed Nisodarun by his own request, then allowed me to dispel it as commanded by the one who awoke it. The Wyrm, I presume, undermined the Keep. It collapsed.”

“That’s what we heard, then. I hope you did not unseal the Library.”

Anlayt grimaced, and Jira nodded. “We did. The walking dead are no more, but I did re-seal the entrance.”

“One of the mages was bitten,” said Arbul, his face twisting. “He lured the remaining walking dead into the Library, then I sealed them all together. If you released him, then… then I thank you. He was a dear friend.”

“He, and the others, are at peace,” Jira assured him.

“Protector,” said Anlayt, looking at the sky. “If we march now, we can reach the pier before sunset. I suggest we do not spend the night in the open, nor in the city.”

“And we would be an undue burden on the villa,” Phylok agreed.

“Arbul, you and your companions are welcome to come with us,” Jira offered. “North Keep has plenty of room.”

“As does Ak’koyr,” Anlayt insisted.

“And Isenbund,” said Phylok, “although you may not want to go that far.”

Arbul looked at his companions, then turned back to Jira and the Captains. “We will stay here,” he said. “For better or worse, Camac is our home. Our gardens, and the gleaning fields, are sufficient to feed us. We did rescue some livestock as well.”

“Arbul, I name you Protector of Camac,” said Jira. “I charge you to keep the peace, to train those who have Talent, and defend your home.”

“I…” Arbul fought to control his emotions. “On the name of Her Sublime Majesty, I do swear to these things. And, come winter, we shall bury the dead and clear the rubble. Perhaps, by next summer, the living will again dwell within Camac’s walls.”

“Strikers, marching formation,” Anlayt ordered. “For Camac… to the pier, then home!”



Here ends Season 1. Season 2, “Dissolution,” will begin soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013 12 comments

The Battle of Hallowe'en (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“Sir,” the elf scout barked, “no sign of the enemy anywhere.”

“They retreated?” the elf general cocked one bushy eyebrow.

“It appears so, sir.”

“Well,” the general told his staff, “that was one disappointing turkey shoot.” A ripple of high-pitched chuckles went around the tent. “But the Big Guy won’t care. We’ve seized Thanksgiving, with almost no casualties. With the former occupants deserting, we won’t have any trouble anywhere in November.” He paced in front of the staff, mostly for effect. “You know what that means, gentlemen?”

“We accelerate the timetable?” one of the elf colonels asked.

“Exactly. Hallowe’en won’t be an easy nut to crack, but now we can deploy our full force. No worries about supply lines or occupation. Once we take October, Labor Day will be a cakewalk. From there, the other holidays will surrender, and the Big Guy will have the gift he always wanted!”

Christmas year-round!” the staff shouted. The forces of Christmas got back to work.


The general extended his brass spyglass and looked at the border. It was as dark and gloomy as the scouts said, and it gave him a shiver. Bah, he thought. Kids dressed up as spooks, and decorations, is all it is. Still, he wished the Big Guy had changed his mind about keeping the Nine close to home. Rudolph’s schnozz would have come in handy when they went in, not to mention possibilities for aerial recon. But you go to war with what the Big Guy gives you…

“Units, report,” he said into his handset.

“Infantry One, ready.” “Infantry Two, ready.” “Cavalry One, ready.” One by one, each unit signaled its readiness. The cavalry, mounted on prancing reindeer, armed with barbed branches. Infantry, carrying glass ornaments and dazzler tree toppers.

“Any word from the scouts?” a colonel asked.

“Not yet. They’re overdue.”

“How much longer do you plan to wait?”

“Not long. I have to assume they’ve been captured or incapacitated.” He lifted the handset again. “Units, move out, Plan A,” he ordered. “Have the troops keep an eye out for our scouts.”

The infantry marched forward, lighting their dazzlers. Cavalry hovered on the flanks, ready to charge in if needed. Infantry Unit One slipped across the border and into the gloomy trees. The major sounded tense. “Enemy sighted. Sort of. They’re staying just close enough where we can see movement—hold your fire!” A brief pause. “Some of the troops are a little eager, sir. No engagement yet… look out!” The transmission cut off.

“Cavalry, go!” the general shouted into his handset. Shouting battle-cries, the elves urged their reindeer forward, faster, faster, disappearing into Hallowe’en territory. The noise of battle carried back into November, and it sounded fierce. “Units, report at will.”

“Infantry Two— it’s— ohnoAHHHHHHGH!”

“Something’s wrong,” the general said, then riderless reindeer came bounding out of Hallowe’en. Eyes rolling, they dashed through the staging area and kept going, probably all the way to Christmas Eve.

“All units, retreat!” the general barked. “Regroup at the staging area!” He heard horns blowing the retreat signal, and stunned elves finally bolted from the spooky woods and into the staging area. Not a terribly orderly retreat, but not quite a rout.

The news was bad. Half the troops were still in the woods, presumed killed or captured, three-fourths of the surviving cavalry had lost their mounts, and the survivors were too shaken to give coherent reports. The only thing he could get out of them was something most said: we have to fall back before it gets dark.

“Sleigh bells, what a debacle,” the general muttered. Maybe the Big Guy hadn’t taken this as seriously as he thought. They’d done well with Thanksgiving, but it was one brief skirmish and then the inhabitants deserted. He always knew Hallowe’en would be the real test, and… well. “Form ranks!” he bellowed across the staging area! “Orderly march up-calendar! Fall back to Thanksgiving!”

Shouts and screams drew his attention to the border. The general stopped and gaped at the sight of zombie turkeys and pilgrims shambling forward. The dazzlers seemed to have no effect, and ornament grenades only stopped them when they took off the heads.

“They went Hallowe’en!” a colonel gasped. “What’s next?”

“Flying barbecue forks from Labor Day?” the general suggested. “I don’t think we want to find out.” He lifted the handset again. “Full retreat,” he said, deflated. “Back to December, elves. We’re beat.”

“Sir,” the colonel said. “If the Big Guy would loan us a couple of the Nine, maybe we could drop beachheads down-calendar. Something like ‘Christmas in July.’ If we get them established, we could come back and hit the We’eners from two fronts.”

“We’re not done for good,” the general said, “just for now. We’ll look into that idea, colonel. Or you will. When we get home, I figure myself for the scapegoat.”

Zombies by day, vampires by night, harassed the forces of Christmas all the way back to December. Only a few returned to tell the tale.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 3 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 10

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8 | Episode 9



Credit: Roy Lathwell
“Cave Wyrm!” Jira shouted. She dimly remembered a chamber, down in the foundations of the Keep, where the bones of a Cave Wyrm had lay waiting for a time of need. She worked a spell of binding—not the proper spell to bind an Elemental Dragon, but there was no time to prepare that one—and the Wyrm hung in place, not quite frozen but not moving toward them. “I’ll try to hold it! Go! Get to the ships! It won’t come for you through water!”

Who are you, mage? Everyone heard that voice of grinding boulders, even the first strike clattering down the stairs.

“I am Protector Jira, of the Northern provinces,” she replied. The Bronze Circle parted before her, but the strike flanked her, retreating no further. Brave soldiers, she thought, knowing that the Cave Wyrm could blast the skin from their bones in an eyeblink.

What is your purpose here?

“We seek the Eye of Byula that was in the keeping of the First Protector. If we find the remains of the First Protector, we will mourn him and lay him to rest.”

What you seek is gone. The Eye I swallowed, along with the First Protector, when the mad fool demanded I do so. Now dispell me, mage, if you would save yourself and your companions. I will respect your weak binding while you do your work, in accordance with the commands of the one who awakened me.

Jira bit back the questions she had, as the dragon was unlikely to answer them. A little searching along the Cave Wyrm’s flanks turned up a darker splash of brown, the dried blood of the mage who had awakened it. “A cloth, and water,” she commanded the Bronze Circle, and they were brought. Awakening an Elemental Dragon was simple enough—even a fresh apprentice could do it, given good Talent—but the binding spells, needed to keep the dragon from killing the mage and rampaging about, were more complex. It was said that pure motives were as effective as binding, but who had those?

Nevertheless, the Principle of Closure held. Blood and intent awakened an Elemental Dragon, and removing that blood dispelled it. Jira took the wet cloth, wiped the blood from the rocky skin, and the Cave Wyrm dissolved into a pile of stone and sand. Still, the floor swayed; the Cave Wyrm’s growth had come at the cost of the Keep’s foundations.

“Quickly.” Jira followed the Captains, following the Bronze Circle, down the long staircase. Their footing became more stable as they descended, but the rumbling continued.

“Will the building hold together much longer?” Anlayt shouted above the noise. Below them, soldiers shouted as a piece of the outer wall fell away.

“I have bound the stairs, from here to the ground,” said Jira. “We will reach the ground. After that, if the Keep falls, it falls where it will.”

Soldiers, men and women, spilled from the stairs and onto the ground floor. Strikers urged them forward, urged themselves by the Captains.

The Captains burst into daylight, then whirled about. “Protector Jira!” Phylok shouted. “Captain Anlayt, get the others away from here!” He bolted back into the crumbling Keep as Anlayt gave orders.

“Protector!” Phylok bellowed.

“Here!” Jira pelted over the rubble. Above her, rubble fell over but not upon her—she had raised a fender, a spell of protection. “Phylok, go!”

A large stone glanced off Phylok’s helm; he shook his head to clear it and stumbled toward the light. He felt a hand on his arm, pulling him forward, a voice urging him to move, move. Dim changed to bright, yet the hand and the voice pulled and pushed. He shook his head again, quickly, and lucidity returned. “Which way did they go?” Jira asked.

Phylok shook her arm away, but smiled and pointed. “That way. Protector, what happened?”

“I was rescuing an important piece of our history,” she said. “It has no power like the Eyes, but we need to remember a time when Camac and magic were both thought omnipotent.” She showed him the faded painting, of a man standing atop a vast monolith, itself hovering above a waterfront. Ancient script read: When Protector Thurun bringeth the Great Pier to Camac Harbor. MCLGPE.

“What’s that last part?” Phylok pointed at the letters.

“The apprentice closed his message the same way,” she said. “May the Creator and the Lesser Gods Preserve the Empire.” She sighed. “And we’ll need all their aid, I fear.”

continued…

Friday, October 11, 2013 17 comments

Sssssslither! (#FridayFlash)

Here’s another one of Mason’s stories that I embellished. The original follows…



Image source: openclipart.org
Lee hung up and poked his head into the front office. “Kate?” he asked. “You up for a field trip?” He paused. “You have a problem with snakes?”

“Yes to the first, no to the second.” Kate was already up and moving. Business had been good lately, and Lee hired Kate after the thing with the ants. She was a biology major at the local college, and did a fine job keeping the front office going. In between certain kinds of calls.

“You think this is another anomaly,” she said, as Lee followed the GPS’s directions. “Did they tell you what kind?” She reached to the dashboard to stroke the shellacked ant, as long as Lee’s forearm. It was already their good luck charm.

“They never do,” said Lee. “They’re afraid I’ll think they’re nuts and hang up. But you can hear it in their voices.”

Kate nodded and poked at her cellphone. “I’m putting the department on alert,” she explained. “What did they tell you?”

“She. There’s a bunch of snakes under her house. They’re either blue, or silver-gray. She didn’t hang around to get a closer look. But they’re nesting under her house. I told her to keep children and pets inside. I don’t think they’re poisonous, but it’s always best to be safe.” A few minutes later, he stopped the truck in front of a suburban house. “Gear up. Let’s do this.”

The nervous woman led the suited exterminators around the back of the house, to an opening in the foundation. “It’s in there,” she said.

“Okay,” said Lee. “You can go on inside. We’ll take it from here. We’ll let you know when we’re done.” The woman looked like she wanted to say something else, but nodded and bounded onto the porch and through the back door.

Lee set the cage off to the side, and extended the grabber. “Lights, camera, action,” he said, deadpan. They turned on their head-mounted lights and video cameras, then knelt in front of the opening.

“There,” said Kate, pointing. “Looks like a bunch of snakes, all right. Nothing anomalous… what the hell?” The entire group advanced, some rearing up, others slithering. “I’ve never seen behavior like that.”

“Makes it easy, though,” said Lee. “Come to papa… gotcha!” The grabber bucked and twitched in his hands, but held.

“They’re all striking the grabber!” Kate gasped. “I’ve never seen a group work together like that!”

“They’re all coming out at once, too,” Lee grunted. “With any luck, they’ll all hang on until I’ve got ‘em in the cage—what the…”

“It’s one snake! It’s one snake! Seven, eight… how many heads does that thing have?”

“Are you sure? The heads are all different sizes!”

“Look at it!” Kate yelled. “Never mind, you’ll see it in a second. I hope these cameras are working.”

Lee withdrew the writhing body and angry heads, and shoved the entire thing into the cage before letting go. He pushed the hatch closed and slid the grabber out, but the snake stayed well back. “Eight… ten heads. My God.”

“You caught it?” the homeowner poked her head out the door. “Thank God. Have you ever seen a seven-headed snake?”

“It has ten heads,” said Kate. “I hope there’s not another one under there.” She crawled in to look, grabber in hand.

“I don’t think so.” The woman gasped. “Ten heads? It had eight! My husband cut off one of its heads with a shovel, though.”

“Oh, great,” Lee groaned. “Cut off one head, and it grows three back? Kate and her profs are gonna have a party.”

“I don’t see another one under here,” Kate called. “But here’s the nest. There’s eggs!”

“Gather them,” Lee replied. “Your professors will want to see them.”

Kate came out and pulled the hood off her suit. She wore a big grin. “I’ll get a container out of the truck,” she said. “God, I love this job.”



And Mason’s version: “There was a snake under the house with ten heads! I chopped one of the heads off, and three more grew back!” (I’m trying to figure out where he gets his material, I could use more of it myself.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 7 comments

Indie Life / Writing Wibbles

Welcome, Indie Lifers, to the free-range insane asylum! Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

Muddle in the Middle

Let’s pretend a shiny new writing idea just happens to come by when you don’t have any other pressing projects going on—or maybe you’re just burned out on your current WIP and need to pound on something else for a while. A pivotal scene, perhaps the climax, is just itching to get out of your head and into your computer or notebook.

You start working on this new project, and a couple weeks later it’s taking shape. The beginning looks good, and the ending is awesome! If only that big gap in the middle would magically fill itself in… and now, the real work begins.

This happens to me enough that I have a name for it: the muddle in the middle. If I plotted out the whole thing to start with, I have a series of blank scenes in Scrivener with a title and maybe a paragraph or two describing what's supposed to happen in one or two of them. If I pants it… same hole, different (or no) name.

Usually, logic and time (and persistence) are enough to straighten out the muddle and get a story finished. Logic is a great tool to keep handy—simply ask yourself how does your hero get from Point A to Point B? and remember that very few paths are arrow-straight. It’s not only the journey that’s important, it’s how your hero grows on that journey. There’s a central conflict to win, after all. Even if the hero has what’s needed to begin with, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz (the movie), she still has to learn the how or why.

Time is another helpful tool, especially if you aren’t on a deadline. Sometimes, just closing the project window and walking away is the best thing you can do for a story. Let your subconscious chew on the plot, and sooner or later you’ll know what to do.

Now it’s your turn.
How do you work through that muddle in the middle?


Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 4 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 9

Previous: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7 | Episode 8



Credit: Roy Lathwell
The throne room had the appropriate grandeur for an empire that spanned half the world. Phylok thought, with some irreverence, remove the rubble and rotted corpses, and it would look almost right.

“There.” Anlayt pointed across the room, to where pieces of the throne lay scattered. “Go and see if I am right.” He looked pale.

Jira, accompanied by some of her honor guard, crossed the room. She too, remembered what this place once looked like, and her mind kept trying to superimpose the was over the is. She saw a dismembered corpse among the rubble—Her Sublime Majesty, greeting her from the Pearl Throne—shreds of red and gold strewn across the dais—the robe of state—a hand outstretched in welcome, wearing the Three-Gem Ring—a dried hand on the dais, the Three-Gem Ring dangling from one finger—

“Oh gods,” Jira gasped, staring at the torn hand. She turned to the others. “What happened here?”

“Speculation is unhelpful, at this moment,” said Anlayt, but without his usual force. “Protector, do you verify that those are the remains of Her Sublime Majesty?”

In a year of difficulties, Jira would later write, the most difficult moment of all was this one, the hardest thing was to keep the tears from her eyes and the sob from her voice. “I do,” she said, letting her voice echo through the ruined chamber.

“Then let us gather her remains,” Anlayt suggested. “We can lay her in the tombs. Then, we can see about finding a successor.”

“A dim hope, that,” said Phylok. “But the attempt must be made.”

“And so, to the Western Road? Protector?”

Jira hesitated. “I wish to visit the Imperial Keep first. It’s a slim hope, but perhaps the Eye of Byula, that was in Nisodarun’s keeping, is still there. Having two Eyes, this one and Kontir’s, would let us hold together what is left.”


The Imperial Keep was another place where Jira’s memories kept trying to impose themselves over the present reality. That it was High Summer now, the time she had always come to share wisdom with the other Protectors (as other mages gathered in Stolevan), did not make it easier. A musty smell, the odor of disuse, had long replaced the familiar scents of tea, sweaty apprentices, and that storm-like smell of Air magic in use. She thought about sharing tea in the sumptuous Meeting Hall with her peers, laughing over a forgotten trifle, and a wistful smile came to her.

“Protector?” Phylok brought her back to the present. “Lead the way.”

“Where should we look first?” Anlayt asked.

“The First Protector’s private chambers,” said Jira. “I know not where Nisodarun kept the Eye, but his work area would be the logical place to start looking. Protector Kontir likely spoke to him regularly, as he has an Eye. That is the place to start.”

Unfortunately, those chambers were up ten flights of stairs. They set a marching order, Jira behind the Captains to guide, and began the climb. As they reached the first landing, Jira laughed.

“What about this situation is amusing?” Anlayt scowled.

“The First Protector used to run up this staircase, at least once a day,” said Jira. “He said it kept him young and fit. Indeed he was fit, for a man past his sixtieth summer.” On the other hand, a year of heavy burdens had left Jira and the others fit as well. So they marched, stopping halfway up for a brief breather, until they reached the final landing.

“This entire floor is—was—the First Protector’s chambers,” Jira explained, gesturing at the overturned furniture. The dented remains of a tea service lay heaped in one corner. As with most other places here, it smelled of disuse and decay. “This first room is a public receiving area. I only visited his work area once, but I doubt he moved it.”

“What should we look for?”

“A small box, about a span each direction.” Jira frowned, thinking. “I don’t think it’s ornate.”

“Could you not just scry for the Eye?” Anlayt asked.

Jira gave a sad laugh. “One would think so,” she said. “But the Eyes only find by magic. They cannot be found by magic. Odd, but powerful enchantments often include such oddities. Not always by design.”

“What was that?” a soldier asked.

“A tremor,” said Anlayt. “Perhaps the foundations have been undermined. Let us find what we came for.”

“This way,” said Jira, leading them through wide doors. “Oh!” She stopped, as a stronger tremor shook the Keep. “Captains, I suggest you lead your strikes down and into the street. I can protect myself if—” The tremors became a constant shaking. Tumbled furniture slid across the floor, tapestries swayed. “Captains, go!”

Too late—the floor in front of them burst upward in a shower of rubble. Something that looked like a maw of pointed teeth, at the end of a ridged tube, reared above them.

continued…

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