BLOG PROMISE – I’m dedicating Saturday morning to editing, I need to make some positive traction on this thing, or I’m going to slide down the UNPRODUCTIVE TUBE SLIDE OF DESPAIR.
The sand was hot, but the pineapple ice slush that The Vagabonder had concocted was glacial on the tongue. The waves lapped sedately against the white sands of The Island.
Talitha and Sinoe worked on opposite ends of a massive sand castle. The east wing was floppy, drooping towers of wet sand dribbled. The west was rigidly square, careful blocks compacted and stacked in stone-mason precision. Talitha’s skin had turned nut-brown under her blonde hair, her twin’s was still pale under purple tresses.
Carbunkle snored with ridiculous abandon, his head pillowed on a pile of books, two empty glasses lolling near his open hand. Scarlet pushed her glasses up and smiled at the snoring gnome, then went back to the massive tome she was reading. Advanced Hyper-Calculus for Fun and Profit. The two gnomes lay close together under a wide red umbrella.
The paladin gently picked up the empty glasses next to the snoring gnome, and tucked them into the crook of his arm. Haskeer was wearing a short blue loincloth and armed with a spatula. He sat the glasses down on a flat stone, and returned to tending the haunch of island boar he had been patiently smoking since mid-morning. His tusked face split in a wide grin as he peeled back the banana leaves on the smoker he had built from a discarded drum of Seafoam lubricant that Corben had found somewhere.
Thinking of his friend, he glanced across the crystal blue waves in time to see another massive splash. Corben and Dayjen had rigged up a crude sea skimmer, powered by a spare aerolith cell from the destroyed Agros fleet. The two young men pulled themselves laughing out of the water onto the contraption , arguing good-naturedly about the best way to fix the ’steering issue. ’
Agnar sweated and strained, iron bar gripped tight in his fists. A bucket was suspended from either end, filled to the brim with rocks. Through a pineapple haze the barbarian tried to remember what obscure bet he was trying to win. The sea-elf had said something and then laughed in his face, that part he could remember. The exact reason he now stood, muscles bulging were unclear.
Echo took a long slurp from her drink, and pointed imperiously at another pile of rocks. Alice laughed hysterically, her nose and cheeks red with sunburn and drink.
Crackers and Fin tumbled in the sand. The dwarf was determined to master the ancient fighting style of the Blink Dogs, but the young dog kept cheating by licking his bald head, breaking his concentration. Fin cocked an eyebrow as if to say, Perhaps that is the key to the technique. I will study this closely.
Further up the beach, under the shade of the palm trees, Martin and Thorn sat silent in wicker chairs. In the weeks since Kythera, the former cleric seemed most comfortable in the company of the old ranger. Martin held out a bowl of tel-nuts, the red haired woman waved them politely away. The bowl was intercepted by a wicked grinning monkey wearing a red bandanna. The ranger glowered but let it pass. Thorn smiled and rose to go clear the massive wooden table, still piled with the absurdly massive white cake. Despite the best efforts of all assembled, she could still read:Happy 10th Birthday, Tali——-
A breeze blew across the crew of the Lodestar, on the beach of their island. Far above, the Floating Island of Agros hung, as carefree as another cloud in the sky. A long cable hung down, and was bolted to a large granite slab on the edge of the beach.
Echo took another long slurp of her pineapple-slush, then pushed herself unsteadily to her feet. The concoction caused a serious brain freeze, but the alcoholic kick was within spitting distance of paint thinner. She began to totter in the direction of a refill, when her she felt a splitting pain in the center of her head. It was far too early for any sort of hangover — and looking across the beach she saw the rest of the crew grab their temples with similar expressions of pain.
Then the three-headed shark behemoth appeared.
Dayjen and Corben were caught completely unawares, their tiny skiff buffeted far out to sea by the titanic eruption of water. They went spinning out of sight around the edge of the cape to the west.
The sea-creature was massive, mouths thirty feet wide — Echo blinked and saw the tell-tale purple tentacles ripple out of the sea and slap and lash at the edge of the sand.
The pain in each person’s head intensified, as the creature savaged their mind with a telepathic roar. The words were not in Common, but each mind definitely got the gist.
It is I, Thousandteeth Dodecapus! I have come to wage battle with the true princess of the Dolphin Tribe. Come puny mortal, bring your pitiful land-tribe and let our prophesied time of reckoning begin!
Talitha looked across the sand castle to her adopted sister, and whispered. “Best. Birthday. Ever.”
Admittedly, I’ve had precious little time to really focus on it over the past month – but when I get a spare moment, I crack open the Google Doc and try to make some headway — the same way that I wrote the thing in the first place.
This feels like work. Ew.
Which it is! This is the actual part where a pile of text becomes a novel. Everything leading up to this don’t count, if I can’t edit it properly.
Part of the problem is I need higher brain functions online to solve a lot of the notes that I’ve made — and that sort of thing is in short supply. I’m feeling out what process works best for me, just like the drafting stage — I guess I need to try blocking off more time, away from distractions.
Because free time just falls out of the sky. Commonly.
So, yeah – waaah, waaah, give the baby his bottle.
It was a nothing town.
Some sheep pens, a general store, well-wrought houses and a good deep well. It was Victor’s home, and he loved it fiercely.
The blacksmith stood next to the stockade, a few paces into the dark so the torch would not rob his eyes of sight. The wood was still green, hastily hewn from the nearby pines. It was ramshackle, quickly slapped together — it made Victor’s hands ache to see such shoddy workmanship, but they’d had little time, and the crude fence had helped them turn the first dozen assaults. As if the green pines had kept a little of the love of the land in their bark, and were just as determined as Victor and the people of Starmhill to weather the vicious assault that came once, twice …sometimes three times a night.
“Vic. Vic!” The portly shepherd Kanley called from behind the stockade. “You see anything?”
“No. Nothing.” the blacksmith switched his two-handed sledge to the other shoulder but did not move.
“Maybe they’ll give us a night off. Three hours til dawn and nothing tonight.” Kanley said. Victor heard the sound of scratching. The boy was still worrying at that vicious rash on his neck, the creature’s hands had left blisters and boils even as it died. Kanley’s friend Jak had taken the beast in the back with a spear, a relieved grin on his long-jawed face. That was three nights ago, Jak had been dead for nearly twenty hours now.
Victor took a long look down the stockade. Tired men and women moved their patrols with the half-stutter shamble of sleepwalkers. He had tried to enforce strict sleeping schedules during the daytime, but with the constant grieving and the endless fear — he himself had found sleep an elusive phantom.
We can’t last much longer. Two days, three — four at the outside?
At the barest edge of the torch’s light, he could just make out the slow turn of the giant floating obelisk — Starmhill’s one claim to fame. It moved in and out of shadow, as careless as a leaf floating in a stream.
“Vic, you need to get some sleep.” A different voice, a younger voice — an irritating voice. Della Akson. The blacksmith turned in anger, to see her young face approaching through the narrow opening in the stockade. She wore a crude black-iron sword on her shoulder.
“Girl, I told you to guard the church.”
“There’s plenty of people to stand guard. That crazy old wizard, and the book-girl — they’re driving me plain witless with their rambling talk.” Della sqauared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. Victor noticed that her left hand was inflamed and red, still swollen from the loss of her last three fingers. “And you need sleep most of any of us.”
“Della …you are too young to be on the front lines, you can be most helpful where I told-”
“I’m the best sword-swinger you got, Boss. Sad as it may be…I think it’s time you stop pretending otherwise.” the young girl’s face was stern and sure.
How old is Della now? Is the thirteen? Fourteen? Victor tried to think. Lord of the Crook, I’m so tired.
The blacksmith ran a weary hand down his face. He made himself smile at the girl. What a man can do, he should do …as Victor’s father always taught. “All right, Captain Akson – I guess you’re right about that. Why don’t you walk the stockade and make sure no one is nodding off. Splash a little -”
Victor’s words died in his throat. A snapping branch whipped his head into the darkness, and he saw it.
A tiny green flame, just a pinprick the size of a wyrefly. It was about to begin. Victor took his sledge in both hands and called down the lines.
“All right people — here we go, you know your jobs well, you’ve had plenty of practice these nights. We are Starmhill. We will hold them. WE ARE STARMHILL.”
The cry went up, ragged but strong down the green pine fence. Fewer voices than their had been, but enough. Victor prayed that there would be enough for tonight, tomorrow would have to wait.
The blacksmith’s cry died out and the defenders looked out into the darkness. The first prick of green light had become a field of green stars. Bright and shining and drawing closer.
For the first time this night, he heard it. Every night when they attacked, again and again ripping and tearing at the flesh and wood of his home — every time as they came, they sang. They sang the same song, merry and bright like a knife-cut.
“King of Glass, hear our prayer — King of Glass, take our gift — King of Glass, sing our song — King of Glass, blood and fire! Blood and Fire! Blood and Fire!”
The blacksmith went to work, and prayed with a sick heart. To hear this song again was agony, but he prayed to keep hearing it, for as many nights as his strength could stand to protect his home.
It was a nothing town.
But it had a bar, and sometimes…that’s enough.
The wind whipped through the empty streets choked with dust. A chill was present, but not enough to
penetrate the thick jacket that the bard wore, bright blue collar pulled nearly to her nose. Elora Delcroft leaned into the wind, and ran through her set list.
The Doctor Dances, that’s always a favorite, even in a tiny spot like this. Then Measuring the Marigolds, followed by the short cuts of Western Shores and My Lady, She Burns off the Coast. I’m only here for a night, so I suppose I should pull out all the stops.
Elora chuckled into her collar. Zebulon was not the worst place she’d ever performed, but only if you squinted. The town seemed mostly empty, only a half hundred old men and women, a few exhausted families trying to pull in a meager crop. She had to be the first bard to wander into town in months, if not years — the barkeep’s eyes had widened like moonrise upon seeing her silver Harper’s pin. He had turned quickly away, and dabbed at his eyes. “Hard times, miss — we’d be sure glad to have you sing a bit tonight. I can’t offer you much, just a clean bed in my attic across the way, and all the stew and ale you care to eat.”
The half-elf scratched the tip of one pointed ear, loosening an earring from where it bit. She had watched from her window as what seemed the entire population of Zebulon had crammed into inn, heads bowed underneath the odd sign that swung at the entrance. A massive stuffed claw, covered with scales, ending in three chipped talons. The barkeep claimed it came from a dragon, Elora had smiled and allowed that it surely did.
A little boy waved as she approached, and ran immediately into the bar, yelling “She’s here — she’s here, the singer-lady’s here!”
I wonder why people still live here? So close to the Black Fog, and the fallen country of Gilead? Elora pushed through the doors of the Three-Toed Claw, into a throng of tired, but smiling faces. I must add some songs for the children, after the intermission. Songs that everyone knows and can sing along. Soppin’ Gravy, and Mune the Moonchaser, perhaps.
She whipped her blue coat off with theatrical panache, and slung it ably on a hook. Her lute case seemed to fly open as she made her way through the crowd, lute gliding into her hand free and easy. The room was silent as she mounted the crude stage, two tables pushed together , rude boards and fresh nails.
Elora said her pleasantries, and her mind and fingers loosened. Her voice fell into the opening patter that she had said a thousand times, she smiled at the crowd. This was why she took the long way — to find the tiny little towns where music was needed more than water in the Sarmadi Desert. The entire population of Zebulon was crammed into the tiny common room, but there was still space to spare. The barkeep pushed himself out from behind the bar, eager and smiling.
The bard noticed a man sitting at the bar, his back to the stage. Elora felt a prickle of professional irritation. This would be the finest show that Zebulon would see in many moons, and this lout was hunched over the bar, completely oblivious. She sniffed, at the pile of empty clay cups at the man’s elbow, the black bottle gripped in his right. A man losing himself to drink, no excuse to miss her art’s charms.
“I see there is one among you who is not a music lover!” She called, playfully. “Come friend, come and join us — please choose the first song I will play for all the fine people here assembled.”
The crowd’s attention spun to the man, and several people snickered. This man was clearly a stranger.
The man raised his head, and slowly turned to face her. He had a plain face, and ordinary features.
But his eyes. Elora’s fingers tightened on the lute. Shelyn protect me, his eyes.
Unbidden, the bard’s fingers began to move. An old, old tune spilled over the crowd and Elora sang, unable to look away from the man at the bar.
Company, always on the run
Destiny, oooh, and the rising sun
I was born, six gun in my hand
Behind the gun, I make my final stand
That’s why they call me
Oh, I can’t deny
Bad, Bad company
Till the day I die
Deserters we are called
Chose the gun
And threw away the sword
All these towns
They all know our name
Six gun sound
Ooh, is our claim to fame
Oh, I can’t deny
Bad, Bad company
Till the day I die
Elora sang, tears running down her cheeks.
[With respect to Bad Company — wherever they ride.]
Two foes lie bleeding on the stage of the opera house. Time slides by, and their blood mingles on the darkwood boards — the stage lights burn on the strange tableau. A crumpled old man, and a white-haired woman.
The Ghosts stand witness, and stand in judgement.
Shadow and light merge, a cauldron of fate surrounded by facade and the sway of curtains. A twilight kingdom, where truth wears many masks.