Straydog Papers I

When I was a child, I lived by a creek. That was the first time I saw them.

My home was surrounded by trees, so they were difficult to spot at first. They seemed tall and thin, swaying just like the pines in the wind – but opposite to the breeze. The Five.

I was eleven. I was standing on the porch. There was no rail yet, that was built later. The Five walked through the trees and knelt at the base of the stairs. I stood at the top and blinked. They were almost there, but not quite. Sliding out of view – shifting between eye-blinks. Here, there – never quite complete – hands shifting, the drape of cloaks different, eyes red now black. Not as tall as I’d first thought, at least not all of them.

They were all different. They were all of a kind.

The Five stared at me and I said nothing. I held my breath. They seemed to have no leader, but at last one of them spoke.

“We have traveled far and have no home, young sir.”

This one was gaunt and sharp, like a briar thorn. Courtesy demands the same, at least in the earth where I was grown, so I bowed and asked if I could get he and his companions some water or food.

“No water. No food. Our kind has no need for such things, but thank you for the offering. No, we come to ask of you a different thing. We have no home, young sir. We come to ask if we can live in you.”

The others all shivered at his words, but not from the wind. I answered quite politely that my home was full – my mother, father, and brother. We had no room for five more guests.

The thorn ran a thumb across his chin, to banish a smile. His teeth were green, I remember.

“Not a home of wood and steel, not a roof of woe and weal. Your family will never know we share your roof, young sir. We ask to live in your heart, not in your spare room.”

And then I was afraid. These were wolves at my feet.  I took two steps, grasping for the brass handle of our front door.

Another of the Five spoke. She was dressed in white. She was beautiful and empty as the moon.

“We shall not harm you if you refuse. We are bound by the laws of the City, even as you will be.”

“We have ridden far, far from the gates and we are tired. Let us rest here, let us live in your heart.”

I was still afraid. I was afraid and sick to my stomach. But I was also eleven. So I asked. I asked why? Why should I let them live in my heart?

The woman dressed in white began to speak, but the thorn stopped her. He spoke, his eyes in mine.

“Because. Because it is the perfect home for us. You will see and know and your heart will beat all the wiser, will ache all the sweeter. You will hear the music. You will walk the secret roads. And, in time, you too will ride back with us to the City.”

The thorn’s words were honey and the Five knelt at my feet and I was alone and afraid and eleven eleven eleven.

I asked one more question.

Sunset Falls on the Weeping Gate

Edward Felspar

On Assignment

Vyle Tymes – 25th of Psydros, 2015

History sleeps all around us. In the stones of the roadway, in the iron of the rail, in the scars that lekpalios hide behind full flagons or a worker’s blue or a traveler’s cloak. As we walk the streets of Vyle we can hear the shuddering breath of the sleeper, feel its sighs on our backs as the Tagma march by. The clamor of the train is the heartbeat, slow and steady as History dreams. But we must walk with care, for we can never be sure of the days when History will wake and speak again in letters of fire.

ASH
ASH Insignia – From File

It was this reporter’s privilege to be present at the Weeping Gate of Smyrna bare hours ago, to watch the most perilous and remarkable Fey assault since Amarant Field be turned aside by a single unit of the Advance Special Hoplite: the Antichyros of Sunset. Details are few and far between at this heedless hour – but many eye witness accounts will soon fill the ears of every citizen of Vyle with what they saw that day. Let this be the first. The larger details of the account will certainly be forthcoming in these pages as time and diligence can locate them.

According to the ASH Desk, the ATC Sunset was dispatched to investigate a communication lapse at Fort Terra. They found the outpost empty except for a few soldiers recovering from a strange sickness. There they were set upon by a gigantic beast with a form similar to a fox that pursued them and the survivors even to the vast ironbane bastion of Smyrna, the Weeping Gate. After seeing to the care of the Fort’s survivors, the ATC Sunset were immediately dispatched by Tagma leadership to delay and distract the creature. From all reports it had gone mad with rage and pain and was throwing itself against the Gate itself. Tagma Silver officials insist that the city was in little danger and the damage to the gate was minimal, but this reporter and the many citizens who stood on the walls know the truth. The great fox’s eyes were not those of a beast and it’s aim was clear.  The Fey creature was well on the way to tearing the gates asunder and filling the streets of Smyrna with horror and fire.

How could any mortal hope to contend with such alien malice?

Then, as if struck by lightning, the great fox fell still. Its flesh began to tear and boil, bursting asunder like meat on the griddle. The beast fell apart into horrible droplets of violet viscera, like foul jelly scattered at the foot of the Weeping Gate. ASH Archon Nadia Soon – the White Rose of Vyle – spoke to reporters after the battle, relating the bizarre strategy employed to destroy the beast. The ATC Sunset had borrowed simple demolition charges from the station, then wrapped them with ironbane shrapnel found about the Smyrna Repair Yard. This makeshift device was then hurled into the center mass of the great fox and ignited by a well placed bolt of fire from Demiarchos Coram Lethane of ATC Sunset.

This brilliant tactical move was not the end of their work. The bits of remaining flesh still moved in attack -compelled by the dark will of a hooded figure that hovered on the battle’s edge, hurling fire at the brave soldiers. The citizens of Smyrna were as silent as the grave – too caught up in the plight of their defenders to cry out in either alarm or battle pride. In silence they watched the five members of the ATC Sunset do battle. The spells and ceaseless flashing camera of the bard Ansel, the vicious strikes of the knight Nora, the flames that ever flow from Lethane’s hands – hot as the sun, the brutal axe of the juggernaut Gish, the catlike grace and mortal blows of the monk Etrian. They bled in the engine yard, they cut the foul things down and sent their hooded master screaming into the wilderness whence it came.

They stood up from the battle, their own blood wet on their uniforms, and the golden sun sank behind them. At last the watchers on the wall could breathe, at last they could cry out, at last they could exclaim in jubilation for their saviors, their heroes.

This reporter was there, but did not cry out. Wide gaze on the sunset until it faded, the eyes of History falling closed. History sleeps again, but for how long? Not long would be this reporter’s estimation – History has a new tale to tell, and we are witness to the first lines.

 

 

 

Story on Demand – Dinosaur Music Lesson

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“Most people entertain a pleasant superstition that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in return for unparalleled skill with the guitar,” the professor wiped a daub of chalk of his wrist, then turned his sharp eyes back to his Montana-like classroom, his words echoed with plenty of empty chair-space to reverberate.

The black student continued to thumb away at his phone, barely hidden under his desk. The two girl students managed vague eye movements of interest. The fat kid on the side tapped his pencil and seemed to be quietly humming to himself.

The professor continued, “But what would you say if I told you that the true explanation if far more strange and alarming?”

Black:thumb. Girls: eyes. Fat: tap.

“What if I told you that instead of any mythic manifestation of Evil, Robert Johnson was met by a SPECTRAL PTERODACTYL?!?” he bellowed.

The pencil, eyes, and phone all hit the floor.

“Like…a dinosaur?” one girl asked slowly.

“Exactly,” the professor crossed his arms with satisfaction.

“Uh…” the fat one vocalized in an acceptable D flat.

“Sir.” the black student raised his hand, the professor nodded. “I know that maybe we haven’t been paying as close of attention as you’d like in your class–”

“I’m not yanking your chain,” the professor interrupted. “I am telling you something important and true. Robert Johnson was taught to play the blues, better than perhaps any other human before or since, by a ghostly flying reptile.”

“But that’s crazy, sir. I don’t know why you’d say—”

“Let me ask you a question. How did he get the skill then? If NOT from a Pterodactyl?”

The second girl chimed in.” Natural talent.”

“Practice.”

“Good marketing.” the first girl supplied.

“No no, what we know about the situation is very clear. Before that night he was an okay player, after that night was a god. This fact is not in dispute. Hundreds of reliable, ear-witness accounts – even the recordings that survive. A clear-cut piece of musical history. Something happened that night, some event, something extraordinary. None of the things you’ve suggested could have caused such rapid improvement.”

“But the devil explanation is just as plausible as the…”the fat student winced. “…dinosaur explanation. What makes you so sure that it’s the correct one and not the other?”

The professor sighed with weariness. “Because the Devil is a hadrosaur and only plays country.”

Resurrected my long dormant feature ‘Story on Demand’ to help get my writing dynamos spinning again. Someone suggests an idea and I write some flash fiction about it. Today’s ‘winner’ is Brent Thomas – who is also a writer with a new book BOUT TO BE OUT.

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This Week’s Sermon -8/3

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[I’m creating a character for a new game, John North, a Methodist Minister – someone quite removed from my own personality and experience. I thought it might be interesting to write his weekly sermon before each game. A little dramatic irony, a little character exploration, a little I really need to post stuff here more often. This isn’t going to be as long as a ‘real’ sermon, think more of one that you would see on television to establish the episode’s themes.]

Good morning.

I am very happy to see you all here today. I know that’s something I say up here every Sunday, but it’s true. There are a million other places you could be in this world and in your own heads, and yet…here you are. Sitting in this church, together – choosing to hear the Word of God. I know I greet you every Sunday almost by rote – but it’s easy to get in the habit of being polite and not remember what you are really saying. It is a good morning. And I am very happy to see you all here today.

I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately. Good habits, bad habits – things we do all the time and never even stop to think ‘Why?’. Why am I doing this thing? Every time I drink a cup of coffee, I put in too much sugar and cream, then I stir it up and …then I tap the spoon on the rim exactly three times. I’m sure many of you have seen me do it. It even has the same rhythm each time! A little caffeine jingle that Pastor John does, every time. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know how long I’ve done it. I don’t know what strange occurrence in my life or in my head made me start doing those three little taps with the spoon.

And now you’re all thinking – ‘why is Mr.  North going on and on about his coffee?’. That’s fair. I bring it up, partly because I like coffee a lot, but mostly because it’s a habit. Something that I do and never think about.

Something that I do and never think about.

Now there’s something that I think we all do and never think about. Hate.

Not the grand sin of Hate or Rage that Jesus warned us against – that fills our head and our hearts and we know we are doing it. It’s a hard battle sometime to remember to Love and Forgive as He taught us, but at least we know we’re in the fight. All of us have that struggle. We win some, we lose some, but as long as we strive with Christ at our side, as long as we choose the better path, then we are truly blessed.

But sometimes we don’t know we’re in the fight. Sometimes we miss the struggle. Sometimes its just a habit. And now I’m talking about the sin of Judgement.

It’s a very easy habit, a very easy darkness to let in your heart – especially now when we all have our screens and our quiet. You look at your phone or your computer and you see someone and you think ‘They are foolish.’ ‘They are ignorant.’ ‘I can’t believe they did that.’ ‘I can’t believe they said that.’ ‘I live my life so much better than they do.’

An easy sin. The sin of Pride – for only when we prize ourselves so highly would we dare to judge another soul. Let us read the Word, Galatians 6:3 – 6:5

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.

This is from one of Paul’s letters. He was quite the busybody, old Paul. The first Blogger if you like – always writing letters to the different communities of early Christians. The fifth verse is especially fine – ‘every man prove his own work’ – which is a perfect way of saying ‘mind your own business’.But the third and sixth are what stick with me this morning.

We are nothing compared to God. Compared to the endless love of Jesus, how could we ever hold ourselves up above our fellows? We are all nothing and it is important to remember that.

And then the sixth verse: For every man shall bear his own burden.

It hits me in the chest every time. When we judge our brothers and sisters, not only do we commit the sin of Pride – but we also forget this simple truth. Everyone must bear their own burden. And none of us can truly know what the others carry. How heavy, how sharp the edges of their life. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to teach us and die for us, only He truly knows our burdens and is fit to judge us. Only He can lift them from us when our time comes.

The rest of us should remember – and seek to ease the burdens of all we meet. Just as we can say ‘Good morning’ a thousand times, but never truly hear ourselves say it – just as I tap the spoon on my coffee cup – so must we become aware of our habits, our darker habits. Really think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Get in the fight and don’t just blindly repeat the same tepid little evils over and over and over.

It’s going to be hard, but you can do it. I believe in you and all of us that chose to be here today believe in you — and most important God and his son, Jesus Christ are at your side.

Let us pray. I know it’s not as popular, but I’d like to use the Wesley Covenant today.

Thank you all – and now Mrs. Vonda will lead us in our next hymn.

[Any feedback on this post is much appreciated. I’m not trying to mock or parody anyone’s faith – please let me know if I used the wrong term or otherwise said something a Methodist minister would never say.]

The Riddle Box: First Read Impressions

I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.

Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtenriddlecover1a book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing.  I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.

But I loved it of course.

And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]

So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.

This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset.  Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.

Impressions

  • I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
  • Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot.  I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
  • As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
  • Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
  • The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
  • Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that.  Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
  • Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
  • Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
  • Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one.  To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
  • I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
  • It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
  • There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
  • I high-fived myself four times while reading.
  • Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise.  And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.

Okay, enough for now. Back to editing!

 

Seven Cups of Tea

The small inn at the base of Mt. Kyojin is known for three things.

The first is for the excellent saki that the owner, Erojin, brews in thick, oak casks passed down for nine generations in his family. This first thing is known because Erojin repeats this often to all of his guests.

The second is that it is the final inn on the Imperial Road that leads to Kori Horudo, ancestral keep of the Matsu family. This second thing is known because travelers that pass it by on their way to the keep face several hours of cold, dangerous climbing up the rough hewn passes that protect it, covered in snow except for the deepest part of summer.

The third is that the spring water found in a nearby cleft of rock is unparalleled for the making of tea. This third thing is known only by true students and masters of the tea ceremony. Erojin’s grandfather built a special structure around the spring, and took great care in preparing a perfect setup for the brewing and preparation of tea. The water flows hot from the spring in the central pool, a stone table encircles it like a ring – and cunning hooks hang at even intervals, allowing kettles to be hung.

It is said that a cup of tea prepared at this spring is a kiss from the Fortunes themselves — and not to be missed if a Tea Master is available and willing to perform a ceremony.

So it was, when six travelers on their way to Kori Horudo ate their quiet meals in the common room of the inn. When a seventh traveler invited them all to join her in a cup of tea, none could bring themselves to reject so polite and fortunate an invitation.

The hot water of rushed into the dark green kettle, and the quick hands of the seventh traveler pulled it free of the spring never minding the heat. She moved her hands in calm patterns, adding a pinch of powder, a fall of leaves – her hands and eyes focused and sure, a dance. The six guests felt their souls fill with peace as they watched the serene preparation of the tea.

At last the dance was done, and the seventh traveler placed the lid on the kettle with a quiet clink. Then she looked up at the six samurai and smiled. Her face was plain, with a sharp chin — but the easy warmth of her smile was beauty enough. Her kimono was of good material, but showed signs of much wear and travel. On her right breast was carefully stitched the mon of the Fox Clan.

“And now the waiting. For even we must bear the quiet wind of Time, and fill the interval between the leaves and the tea. Hot water will do its work, no doubt.”She bowed her head respectfully to the others. ” Please forgive me, in my haste to begin the preparation of the tea, I have neglected to introduce myself. I am Kitsune Miho, a scholar. Would you honor me with your own names as we wait for the tea to become tea — and perhaps tell us a little of what has brought you to the little corner of the world?”

13 Devils

Lodestar interview collate. Reasonable approximations of iconography glimpsed on Inf. Mural during their sojourn to the plane of Hell. Cross reference with several sources for possible/potential identification. Most listed by description/popular epithet from lore. – PGRAM

1. ????? – The Knight with Brown Armor

Sean Andrew Murray - Artist
Sean Andrew Murray – Artist

2. Blackwire – The King of Move

3. Fairchild – The King of Glass

4. ????? – The King of Open and Shut

5. ????? – The King of Forever

6. ????? -The Hound with Blue Eyes

7. Beldran – The King of Forget

8. ????? – The Snake with Green Scales

9. ????? – The Maiden Illuminated

10. ????? – The Beast of Quiet

11. Cassandreia – The Lady in White

12. ????? – The Bleeding Lion

13. ????? – The Crow with Yellow Talons