I want the leather of my sword-grip to creak as my knuckles go white. I want the lightning to crackle between my fingertips like Egg Shen. I want the Flux Capacitor to ignite as I travel through time.
I want the power, I want the fairy tale.
I want to run down the secret hallway, and slam my rainbow colored key into the console of the Black Lion. I want to save the universe with Rock and Roll, my electric guitar made of steel and griffon-talon. I want to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of Holmes and Watson clattering by in a horse-drawn carriage.
I want the legend, I want the world of doors.
I want the Master Sword dreaming in the glade, and Excalibur in the Lady’s hand, and Cloud picking up Zach’s sword — his mind all wind and shadow.
I want all the promises that the world is not as it seems. I want Mulder and Scully in a Ford Taurus arguing with the night. I want all the possibilities, the promise of wonder. I want Seven Dragonballs, even if I never get to make a wish.
I want the doors. The endless, endless doors.
I want this world to be not as it is. Or, at the very least, I want the walls of this world to get a little thinner. Thin enough to hear the music from the Universe One Over.
I want to tell my story and I want my mom to get better and I want there to be enough money and I want Emerson back. I want my Beloved to never know pain or doubt, and I want my friends to never know want or despair.
I want to break the rules. I want to undo and shine and defeat and cheat death, cheat life, mashing in the codes on my controller and rolling back the cruel grip of time.
I want to snatch the lost from death’s grip.
I want to not be afraid. Of the Unmaker and its thousand, thousand shadows.
I want there to be more magic in this world, because there is so little — just a tiny, tiny drop.
Such a little thing to shine in the darkness. The secret flame we clutch in weary hands through the wind and rain.
I want the thousand heroes, I want the doors open wide.
I dropped a few copies of the book off at the high school I used to work at, with strict instructions that they be dispersed only to the truly devout nerds in attendance.
Today I got an email from one of my teacher friends, and my very first piece of true Spell/Sword fanart. Also a sweet review:
Actually, I just finished the book right after I sent you the fanart. Overall, it was great. Maybe could’ve used a few runs of spell-check, but great overall. I’m a bit confused, though- you never really explained what Jonas did to earn the title of murderer. Is it going to be explained in the next book?
Also, your original cover is great. Really solid, yet open for ideas.
Dang, Andrew. Why you gotta be like that about the Spell Checkery? That’s to be expected with Artisinal Fantasy. [COPYRIGHTED.]
My heart is glowing in an embarrassing fashion. I’m so excited to put this on my internet refridgerator, and on my literal refrigerator after I print it out.
Thank you so much for the drawing and for reading the book, Andrew! I wrote the book for weird kids like you…and me.
Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com. Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:
Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
It’s the future!
If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above. I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.
More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.
Aragorn sighed and hopped up on the desk. He folded his paws underneath his grand orange and white chest and surveyed me with stern iceberg-disdain.” I just wanted to know what your book is about. Why are you playing me a song? Why can’t you just answer the question?”
Maybe I should have put on pants first. When you’re trying to get an audience to follow you on a train of thought it helps to up your Dignity Quotient. I clicked around on the laptop for a moment before I finally found the song I was looking for.
“It’s a metaphysical thing! This song makes me feel Spell/Sword, makes me feel the long journey of Jonas and Rime. If you’ll just listen…”
“Not going to happen,” the orange cat said.
“Aw, c’mon. It’s this fascinating acoustic piece from the 60’s. It’s not very long, just give…”
“Look, human. I have other things to do. Important cat things. My interest in this project only extends so far as my dinner bowl. If you market this book successfully that will lead to an increase in your income. This will lead to an increase in the quality and amount of the food that I am provided with. A new mousey would be pleasant, as well. I don’t want to hold your pitiful human paw and gaze soulfully into your eyes. Just tell me what the book is about and why people should buy it.”
“Damn, Aragorn.” I leaned back in my chair. “Damn.”
The cat lashed his tail. “Who are Jonas and Rime?”
“I can’t just leap into it like that! You have to understand the context of the fantasy genre, and why they are interesting subversions of pre-existing tropes.” I began to list of details on my fingers. “You see, for most genre conventions–”
Aragorn stood up suddenly, and tilted his head to the left. The cat stretched out and stared intently at his dinner bowl. “Hmm. All that doesn’t seem to be putting any exotic meals in my dish.”
“Fine.” I threw my hands up. ” The book is about a boy and a girl. They don’t get along, then they do. Friendship triumphs. The End.”
The cat seemed amused. “Come now, don’t be petulant.”
“Can I just put a little English Major frosting on this explanation? It really helps me to get going.” I begged.
Aragorn began to groom his right paw. I took that as tacit assent.
” There are two tropes in fantasy that I’m trying to subvert. The All-Powerful Wizard and the Young Hero. I won’t name any examples, I promise.” The cat stopped grooming for a moment and shot me an appreciative look. ” The All-Powerful Wizard can topple kingdoms with a thought, summon dragons from thin air, knows the answer to every question, undoes the riddles of an age. The Young Hero is the gifted one, the child of legend with shining sword in his fist, he rises from obscurity to shake the pillars of destiny.”
“Merlin and Arthur. I get it. You’re not the only one who’s read Joseph Campbell.”
“Right.” I was a little taken aback. The cat who lives in my house is surprisingly well read. “Rime is my Semi-Powerful Wizard and Jonas is the Young Idiot.”
“Losing interest…” Aragorn muttered, rising.
” Rime is a wild mage – an abomination that breaks all the rules of magic! She can do anything, everything — bend the forces of reality to her whim. But then she burns out -her body goes unconscious, loses use of her limbs, nosebleeds, headaches – really bad headaches! And on top of that she knows that all wild mages eventually go insane and use their power to butcher as many people as possible in the most creative way their madness can devise.” I gesticulated with desperation.
“Okay. That sounds half-way engaging,” the orange cat settled back down to listen. “And the boy?”
“Jonas is a kid with a sword. And he gets the crap kicked out of him most of the time. He’s not handsome and he’s not all that skilled and he’s not particularly bright. ”
“Hmm. That doesn’t sound as engaging. Why is he in this story?”
“You’re getting petulant again, human.”
“Aragorn, please.” I walked into the closet to gather my thoughts and some bottom-wear. I grabbed a pair of reasonably un-frayed khakis and pulled them on.
“The problem with the original tropes is when they are introduced the reader automatically recognizes the shape. They know how this character will act and, more importantly, they know how the story will end. Success is guaranteed for the Hero and the Wizard. It will be an interesting journey, but the reader knows the end of the tale. The golden, shining end.” I yelled back into the bedroom, zipping up my pants. “And I find that boring. I want Jonas and Rime to have some serious weaknesses, that way you can’t be sure whether or not they will succeed. There’s actually a large chance they will fail.”
“People like Superman for a reason, human.” Aragorn’s bored voice came from the bedroom. “People don’t want stories about losers, or stories about failure. There’s enough of that in the real world.”
“But they don’t fail! They succeed and they become friends. And it’s that much more meaningful because they actually had to work for it.” I walked out of the closet, my Dignity Quotient through the roof.
“Does the book have a happy ending?” Aragorn was unimpressed by my rockin’ DQ.
“Define ‘happy ending’.” I said.
The orange cat splayed his claws and hissed. Aragorn is not a small cat, and when he puffs up he can be quite intimidating.
“I cannot believe this. How can you expect people to buy the book if it doesn’t even have a happy ending.” Aragorn’s eyes pulsed with feline rage.
“But it does.” I quailed. “Friendship triumphs, remember? The end of this book is good for Jonas and Rime, very good! Please calm down.”
The orange cat did not. “You’re dancing around the subject. What aren’t you telling me?
“Nothing. I don’t want to spoil it for you is all…”
A claw lanced out, narrowly missing my hand.
“..it’s the very end that’s bad! Not the end of this book, but the very end of the story! It’s bad, okay — it’s very, very bad!”
Aragorn seemed to calm slightly. “So you’re going to write more books, then?”
“Yes! That’s the true subversion of the trope. If instead of victory, the heroes are doomed to failure. To a pre-destined fall. It’s actually an older trope, most commonly seen in Greek tragedy and…”
“I’m bored now.” The orange cat hopped down off the desk. “I’m going to go bask in the sun, and pray that many monomyth and genre convention enthusiasts buy your book. Clearly we’re never going to see any sort of Hunger Games money, so I’ll just hope for a small trickle of improved finances coming to our household.”
I sighed and sat down at the desk. I watched his orange tail slink around the corner and disappear. Maybe I should have told him about all the fun things. The ridiculous encounters, the dance-lock, the dinosaur battle, the frogs on roller skates. But those are just trappings, my little sally against the pomposity of Fantasy. Somewhere along the way we all decided that Orcs and Elves and Dragons aren’t silly. But they are. They are silly. And glorious.
“That’s what I think about, when you ask me what Spell/Sword is about.” I said to no one. ” The long journey into the dark. The long journey of Jonas and Rime.”
I clicked ‘Play’ on the song I’d pulled up earlier, and listened to the heart of the tale.
[It’s been pretty tireless self-promotion here at Spell/Sword for the past week or so. How about some dyed-in-
the wool geekery to ease the sting? These are my DM notes from the Pathfinder game I ran earlier this week, presented with little to no context. If your eyes have already glazed over at this point, I wouldn’t bother reading further.]
Scene One: In the Cell
Most of the party wakes up at the same moment. [Justin’s Character] remains unconscious.
Everyone is wearing whatever clothes they had on when they teleported from the crumbling Stone Roots, but every other piece of gear has been removed. [DC 20 Sleight of Hand check to have hidden one Tiny object.] Falcon is nowhere to be seen. Everyone’s wounds have been healed, but they show signs of natural healing, not magical — suggesting some time has passed since they departed Rill.
The cell is 50 feet square, gleaming gray metal, adorned with regular bolts and rivets. Modular benches are welded to the floor in a square in the center of the room. On the far wall is a large crank over a spout, directly beneath it is a large hole with a metal grate over it.
The door displays no hinges or handle or window. The symbol of “0” is engraved into the metal, it gleams a dark copper shade.
The party have a few minutes to talk, compare notes. The Elven Cleric wakes up and introduces himself.
At last, a metal squawk fills the air — then a mechanically reproduced voice fills the cell.
“You must pass through the Dream to find the Truth. You must swallow the Truth to find the Heart. The Heart burns and we shine in the darkness of the Dream. Follow me, Children — and Remember.”
“These words are written in the book that brought you here. These words were spoken by the Dragon Prime just before he fell into his endless slumber, he spoke these words to his acolytes and fell beneath the sands.”
There is a scraping metallic noise coming from the grate. If anyone checks, a large plate has slid into place closing off the drain.
“You have served us well adventurers. The seals chip and shatter with time and skill, but you have broken two in a matter of days with nothing more than luck and ignorance. The Guardian of the Endless Road and the Stone Roots of Rill — both destroyed and gone, blowing away in the winds of the Descabellado. For this you have been forgiven. The murder of Lord Argon and his retainer Lithium have been washed from your slate.”
The crank on the faucet begins to move, and clear water begins to pour into the cell.
“Forgiven. Forgiven and spared. And chosen — yes, chosen. Chosen for something greater, to become something greater. Servant of the Dragons, yes — we will take you into the Dream, and your true forms will emerge. You will break the chains of the foolish Balance.”
The members of the party become drowsy with a magical sleep. As they fall unconcious all can see the pool of water spreading from the back edge of the cell and rolling slowly towards their closing eyes.
Scene Two: Indoctrination
The party blinks.
They stand in a room very similar in size to the cell, but the similarity ends there. The walls are made of lines of light, squares – a wire frame of energy. Where the cell door was, an open archway leads into a formless void.
In the center of the room, stands a tall wood elf with dark skin. She wears a floor length dress of sheer material, bodice plunging nearly to her navel.Tattooed in the center of her chest is the symbol of the Dragon’s Dream. Her hair is wrapped in a high twist, coiled with some sort of thick brass cable. She doesn’t appear to be substantial, she glows like a light purple phantom.
“I am Xenon. Welcome to the Dream.”
At some point the party will notice that they similarly do not appear tangible. Each party member glows as a mental projection of themselves. [What color is your mind?]
“You must pass through the Gestalt. Travel forward. Learn and survive. Apparent time moves slower than actual time, but your shells still lie unconscious in a room that slowly fills with water. Dally and they will drown. And sadly…your true selves cannot survive without your shells, at least not yet.”
“You are young to this way, your minds only have a fraction of the potential that we can unlock. For now you have what you believe you have — the residual impressions of the items and skill you carry in the physical world. In time, with our training, these limitations will fall away. Now begin.”
Xenon erupts into a beam of light, that arcs away across the dark void.
When the party passes through the first archway — they unlock:
PSYCHIC Rank: 0
A floor forms from green squares of nothing as the party proceeds into the void.
The room is circular, about 100 feet in diameter. A doorway is at 2 on the dial, but the center of the room is dominated by a vast square table, 20 feet on an edge. An elaborate clockwork city sits on the table, hundreds of tiny houses, vehicles, people, all whirring and moving in perfect harmony. DC 20 Perception to notice the Draconian details to the model — tiny claws, spines on the roofs, gears shaped like dragon’s jaws, smoked glass like dragon’s fire.
Then, black blobs begin to ooze up through the floor and take the form of primal ogres, and attack. They seem to be completely focused on destroying the table.
The door evaporates when the last ogre falls.
The next room has the appearance of a temple, or cathedral. Wide pillars support an arched ceiling holding back the void. The outlines of cowled humans cluster around men with the heads of dragons, who touch them kindly and speak in hushed tones. The dragon-men beam with the expressions of proud teachers.
There are three main clusters/classes – then one dragon-man standing alone in the pulpit.
The three teachers speak in Eld tongue, the Examiner speaks in Common.
Red Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary WIS drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see a vast field of lights spanning across the globe – dreaming minds slipping into the void and flying around and around the physical world, as free as the birds of the air.
Blue Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary INT drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see a vast creature, a Titan — stomping across the fields of green. Decay follows in its wake, rivers fall sere and desert winds begin to blow. The people retreat to their cities, and try desperately to resist, but they are tramped underfoot.
White Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary CHA drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see yourself in a cage, a cage of stone. It reminds you of the roof of the Stone Roots. Hundreds of people are crammed into the cage, they claw and bite at the bars — or simply turn their backs inwards and ignore it. You walk to the wall and step through as if it was made of water.
PSY DC 10
What is the Dream? The endless potential of the sentient mind. The Hidden Kingdom of the Dragons.
PSY DC 15
What is the Truth? The Balance is a lie.
PSY DC 15
What is the Heart? You are only caged if you choose to be.
The Gray Examiner steps aside , and a the dais irises open into a set of stairs leading downwards.
The stairs terminate on a featureless plain. Party makes out a faintly shining beacon to the north, as they approach, it reveals itself to be a tower with a torch on the top.
Xenon’s voice whispers in the void.
“You can save the planet.”
“You can undo what has been done.”
“Repair the breaking of the world.”
“You can break the Titan itself.”
“Break the Titan and break your own chains, Children of the Dragon!!!”
A second light appears at the top of the tower, and the party realizes they are looking into two burning eyes of a massive stone goliath. It pulls a vast scimitar from its chest and moves to attack! Scattered around the field are small nodes of psychic energy, a PSY roll of 15 unleashes a burst of energy against the Titan.
After defeat, the featureless plain collapses and the party slowly drifts down into a room similar to the first. Six Doors wait, each marked with an odd symbol and a word scrawled in Common on the door.
Xenon’s voice: Choose your name, choose your place in the Children. Choose a door and take what is offered. You are one of us now until the dragons awaken. Accept the power that is given and be blessed, or deny it and be enslaved. Or do nothing and drown. The choice is yours.
Beryllium – [Domingo]
Magnesium – [Rhoga]
Calcium – [Nenemi]
Strontium – [Anka]
Barium – [No-Name]
Radium – [Sir Mander]
The party each select a door — if they take too long, they all start to feel a pressure in their ears, and in their chest, the water is rising into their lungs. Each member goes into a door, and find themselves in a small closet. There is a stool, and a table with a chalice.
Those who accept the Dragon’s power gain 1d10 PSY points and Dragon Power: Telepathy 1/day. 10 min/level. you plus 1 person per 3 levels.
Those who resist gain 1d4. -2 Will saves against Draconic Effects.
The Dream begins to break up, and the everyone coughs and flails in the cold water they are laying in. Everyone stumbles to their feet, and see that the door of their cell lies open.
[A story for my friend, Cord. May it prove a distraction.]
The gauntlets were too big.
“Trouble, Half-Man?” the snake-eyed woman cooed, her fingers curled around his shoulders.
“Nope…nothing…no problem!” Mobius stammered his small hands almost rattling inside the pitted blue-steel gauntlets.
Mobius was small statured, a halfling in the common parlance. His grandmother always said that the proper name for his race was ‘Kender’, but his mother and father always gave such sharp looks of disapproval when she had used the word that Mobius dared not. From his boots to the tip of his wild hair he was only three and a half feet tall. This put his head just below the breasts of the snake-eyed woman who stood behind him. When she exhaled, they dipped ever so slightly, brushing the sides of his head — causing pronounced eye dilation and small puffs of smoke to erupt from his ears and from somewhere just south of his belt buckle.
“You promised me that you could get us in, thief. You promised me that locks would fall open when you whistled ‘Valleydown,Susannah. That you could smell traps, hear ambush, see the gleam of gold through a mile of dark catacomb,” Varatene’s hands moved from his shoulders to his bare neck. “You promised me.”
The touch was silk, but Mobius heard the jagged, bloody steel in her words.
“I got it, Vara. I got it…just …just need a minute,”the halfling said with desperate cheer.
The thief and the snake-eyed lady stood in a circular room, golden blocks of rough-hewn sandstone. Stairs led downward to the Temple of Silent Flames and hundreds of Sarmadi acolytes of Nasirah. Mobius and Varatene had taken advantage of the holy festival in the city beyond for this night’s endeavour.
Most of the acolytes were busy in the city, leaving only a small guard inside the temple. Easy enough for a halfling of Mobius’ talents to move from shadow to shadow, evading the sparse patrols. He had taken great care to wait until the last possible second to scoot around each patrol, finding the most elaborate way to remain hidden. Handstands, last minute flips behind columns and tall urns, a long swing on a crisp white banner over the heads of two guards with axes. He had ended each escape with a surreptitious glance at his lithe partner, Varatene. He was showing off as hard as he possibly could, it would have been a waste of energy if his efforts were not being suitably enjoyed.
She smiled at him once or twice, but focused mainly on remaining unseen herself. Kissing each shadow, an alluring absence.
The top of the tower was just as she had described. A massive door fashioned from marble and steel – a glorious sun. A stone column, top sheared off to make a simple table was in the center of the room. A pair of gauntlets riveted to the top of the table were the only other feature of the room.
Mobius had inspected the door with every ounce of unruly skill he possessed. He was convinced that the only way to open the door was with the gauntlets, somehow they were the locking mechanism. Cunning pressure plates were installed at the pad of each finger, just the right amount of pressure was required.
But the gauntlets were too big for his hands.
Even if my hands were the right size — I’d have to know the exact weight of each finger. This thing’s probably set for a very specific pair of hands, whoever runs this place probably. Mobius spread his fingers as wide as he could, but still could only manage to cover three plates in each gauntlet.
“I hear someone.” Her lips were at his ear. “Two pair of leather sandals and the butt of two long-axes hitting the stone floor. Guards, soon, here.”
“….what?” the thief managed. “Oh! Guards. Yeah, guards are bad.”
He could feel her lips bend in a thin smile. “Do you find me distracting, thief?”
“A…a bit? But in a really, really, really good way.”
“Ah, but you must focus, Sir Mobius. The boots are coming closer, and the long-axes with them. We are cornered here and will not last long against the acolytes of Nasirah, Goddess of Law and Fire. You must open the door now. Now, Mobius.” Varatene delicately began to bite down on the lobe of his right ear.
“Grrruhh?” Mobius said.
The snake-eyed lady pulled back and whispered again. ” Open the door, thief. And I will ravish you. I will show you pleasure that will be spoken of in hushed, reverent tones as a holy sacrament of lust. I will leave you a shattered husk, stumbling and blinking through all the remaining years of your life as a man long blind who first sees the sunrise.”
“I will do that thing. I WILL DO THAT THING.” Mobius declared, and immediately brought his head down as hard as he could on the stone slab in front of him.
Mobius’ grandmother had always said that he was a little ‘touched’. That he had something in his blood, a little touch of the old magic. It was mostly useless, he had decided as a kid. Sometimes he could guess what color underwear his cousin was wearing without looking, sometimes he could throw a rock in the dark and hit a passing bat dead between the eyes, sometimes the wind would blow just a little when he wiggled both pinkies.
But sometimes, when he really needed it, his touch would help him. Mostly in dreams, but sometimes he could see over the horizon — in the fields of the world, and in the folds of time.
And he needed this. Bad.
The pain in his temple was sharp and his head rang with pain. But he saw it. Like a mummer’s show through a fog, a man in long white robes painted with a red and gold flame entered the room, and placed his hands in the blue-steel gauntlets. Mobius could see each of the mans fingers inside the gauntlet as they pressed down on the pads.
Still in the fog, he reached up and took Varatene’s hands. He slid them into the gauntlets, and laid his smaller hands carefully on top of hers. The woman’s hands were fine, but large enough for the purpose.
The tramp of the boots, the thump of the long-axe handle.
Mobius looked up, as he gently guided Varatene’s fingers with his own. Her eyes, flat and empty looked back. “You…you wanna…make out a little?” he said shyly.
Their hands moved slowly into place, as he guided the pressure needed — the dream-fog fading in his brain. There was a sharp click and the sun door slowly began to slide open.
Varatene smiled and pecked his brow. “Later, thief.”
She spun away, pulling him behind her. In two breaths they were through the sun door and Mobius pulled a nearby lever. The door quietly began to shut again.
The halfling started to shrug out of his vest, his hands going to his belt buckle.
“What are you doing?” Varatene hissed.
“Uh. You know? The lust thing? The thing you just said, back in there.” Mobius nodded his head towards the gauntlet room as it disappeared behind the closing door.
“Now?” the woman said with exasperation. “Right now?”
The halfling’s pants hit the ground.
“That never happened, Mobe. It never ever did.”
“Yeah it did, JJ! Gods honest truth, it totally happened.”
“She did you right there, on a pile of gold and jewels?”
“Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of gold, some weird thing about the Sarmadi — they think gold is evil or something. But there was a hell of a lot of opals and rubies. And a big pile of silk, where we Did the Deed. Twi…Three times,yeah. Three times!”
“That don’t make no sense, Mobe. And you know it!”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You think I’m stupid, or something? How did you start this stupid story? Huh?”
“HAR. I gotcha. I’ll bet her gauntlet was…”
“Shut your fat face!”
“HHAH HHA—hey, why is it windy in here all of a sudden?”