Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kindle Ebook Out!

It's not fantasy like I usually write (unless you count unrealistic fighting as fantasy) and is only a 4 page short story (don't want anyone to feel ripped off if that doesn't sound beefy enough for the $0.99) but does feature over the top action as a badass male fighter faces the challenge of his life against a tough girl who will back down from nothing. Brutal fisticuffs!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

For The Cheap Alcohol Lover Part 2 - Best Hard Liquor Deals in Brooklyn

As I did promise a list of the best bottom shelf spirits according to me, I should probably deliver... and I will do so.

5 - Georgi is the first bottom shelf liquor I tried, and it is a solid one. Decently priced (of course), it tastes smooth and is good for mixing with beer and other beverages. Notably, it also comes in a stronger blue variant for when you want to feel good especially fast.

4 - Canadian Mist holds the distinction of being the most expensive brand on this list, but is still the cheapest whiskey I've found. It mixes well with other dark drinks like cola, and is good for a change.

3 - Los Generales is the cheapest tequila I've been able to find, and has the bomb burst of flavor uou'd expect from a tequila. Other than that, it's notable for coming in gold (dark) and silver (light) varieties, and being available for $10 a liter in NYC not including tax.

2 - Castillo is probably the best tasting brand here, in that it tastes exactly like Bacardi (and is apparently made in the same factories). Nuff said - but it also comes in light and dark versions, and for $10 a liter.

1 - Alexis, also known appropriately as Princess (of vodka) Alexis, is as cheap as they come at under $9 a liter including tax. Somehow, it also tastes better (richer and deeper flavored) than other similarly priced brands and the more expensive Georgi. Simply the best!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Horse Seducer

Interesting title? Actually, it's the title of another one of my old stories, this one not set in the same world as the others I've posted so far, but another light romp featuring a hardcore girl warrior possessed of a different attitude and a creature that... well, read on to find out!


Two sets of iron-shod hooves drummed against packed soil, breaking the silence of the little-used road.  "What's wrong with you, Sir Kyle?" Ann asked from the saddle of her old bay steed.  "You've barely talked to me!"

The veteran knight looked back at his petite teenage charge and sighed.  "It's not you.  I don't usually talk that much while traveling.  You didn't have to come along with me, you know.  You could have just stayed in the castle."

"And done what?  Dress up?  Do my hair?  Paint my nails?"  The blonde princess of Perfia scowled.  "That might be fun for a little bit, but it'd get boring fast.  I'd rather be out here, in nature's company.  Besides, if you get to follow me around and annoy me all the time, why can't I do the same to you?"

"I'm your bodyguard, not the other way around."

"Yeah, well, you may be my bodyguard, but you're not my master.  You can't tell me what to do."

And he obviously hadn't, though he wished he could have.  "You should have at least brought a different horse.  I don't think that farm animal of yours is used to traveling through the wilderness.  He's in quite a poor mood, and as you don't know how to care for a horse, I'm the one who has to deal with it."

Ann looked down at her humble mount, a far cry from the white warhorse she normally rode.  "Well, I wasn't going to bring my Snowwind.  Not when we're going after horse thieves."

With many reports of horses disappearing on the frontier near the Tallpony tribe lands in recent weeks, Kyle had taken it upon himself to investigate.  Of course, he hadn't expected Ann, who had been recovering from an arrow wound to her lung, to follow him.  Unfortunately, the intrepid princess had found out about his mission and, against her physicians' advice, promptly joined him.

Though she could very often be annoying, Kyle had to admit he somewhat liked the girl.  She had slain Baron Toorick last year, preventing the lustful noble from raping an innocent woman, without hesitating over the political fallout of the killing.  There needed to be more people who acted with such pure intent.

Kyle had already questioned the Perfian settlers nearby, who suspected the Tallponies of the horse thievery, and now intended to speak with the tribespeople themselves.  As he and Ann approached the cliff which marked the end of Perfian dominion, an arrow flashed through the air past the princess' horse.  The bay steed reared, kicking, and threw its rider from its back.  Then it turned and bolted away.

"Shit!" Ann said.  "I hate archers!"

Well, her horse certainly wasn't trained to hold steady against them.  Kyle got a glimpse of a slim form among the bushes and said, "Show yourself!"

Another arrow flew, and a clear, crisp voice replied, "That was your last warning!"

Behind him, Kyle heard Ann yelp in pain.  "Warning?!  You shot me!"  His glance back revealed her plucking an arrow from her shoulder.

The archer's voice grew nervous, as if he had not intended to hit her.  "U-um, the next shot will kill you then!"

Glimpsing the archer once more, Kyle charged his position.  For a moment, he stood his ground, aiming his shortbow.  Then he turned to run, but the knight was almost upon him.  Catching the back of the man's deerskin cloak, Kyle grabbed his bow away and turned him around.  He was little more than a boy, perhaps fifteen.  Of middling height, the toned youth looked taller with his long, graceful limbs.  Right now, though, his bronzed skin had grown paler with fright.

"No, I'm sorry!" he said.  "I didn't mean to hit her!"

Ann advanced, sword in hand.  "Let me at him."

"Don't kill me, please don't kill me."

Kyle held the irate princess back.  "I think he's telling the truth about not meaning to hit you.  And I don't want the blood of a child on my hands."  He turned a sharp glare upon the boy.  "But I am going to make sure your father gives you the discipline you need."

"My father will not punish me!  I will be lauded for standing up to you horse thieves!"

"Horse thieves?!" Ann growled.  "I'm the Princess of Perfia!"

Kyle added, "We came here looking to see who has been stealing our people's horses, actually.  We thought it might have been your friends."

"And we thought you were the ones who were stealing our horses," the archer sighed.  "Wait, how do I know you aren't just saying that to take suspicion off yourselves?"

"If we were the thieves, why would we be so merciful to a man who tried to kill us?" Ann snapped.

"I didn't try to kill you!  But I suppose I believe you."

Kyle gave the youth back his bow.  "Yes, and we could ask the same question of you.  But I believe you too."

"Now what?"

The knight shrugged.  "Maybe if you could show us where the horses were taken, it would help in tracking down these thieves."

"I do not know every place, but I do remember the most recent one.  The thieves have already taken eighteen of our best stallions--they must be stopped soon!"

"Wait, only stallions?"

"Yes, only males."

Kyle was certain this fact held some significance, though he didn't know what yet.  "And do the horses' tracks mysteriously stop after a distance as well?"

"Yes."  So they probably were the same thieves.

"So what's your name, boy?"

"Ikkogaidrihal--or you can call me, Reed Flies-In-The-Wind."

"All right, Reed.  Let's go thief hunting."

Ann grunted.  "Oh no, you don't.  First, we find my missing horse, and then we can look for thieves."

"You really need a horse that threw you and ran away?"

"If I come home without him, my father will think it was my fault.  I don't want him to be mad."

"It is your fault, for bringing a mount with inadequate training."

Ann frowned.  "Whatever.  I'm still going after him."  She turned away, beginning to scan the ground for the horse's tracks, and Kyle knew he was beaten.  He had to stay with her, to keep her safe.

"Change of plans, Reed.  Let's find that horse."


They had been walking for a while when Reed said, "Hey, it smells like a mare in heat."

Ann gave a dubious frown.  "You can recognize the smell of a mare in heat?"

"My people are very close to horses.  I think your mount has found a friend."

"Out here?" Kyle asked.

"There are wild horses.  We have surely almost caught up to your horse by now; his tracks have indicated a walking pace for some time now.  Let's hurry up."

They quickened their pace, and were nearly on top of Ann's horse when a fearful whinnying filled the air.  The panicked equine burst from the forest, running faster than Kyle had thought possible for the sluggish animal.  A long, flexible length of white flesh as thick as a man's waist shot out from the trees after it, clamping the circular maw at its end onto the horse's lower thigh.

"What the hell is that?!" Ann cried.

Kyle ran at the strange limb and hacked at it with his sword, denting the resilient flesh but making little more than a scratch on the tough hide.  The thing released Ann's horse and swung towards him, snapping at him with its jaws.  Then, the rest of the creature walked into view.  The snakelike appendage was a neck, attached to shoulders which towered seven feet in the air.  The barrel-like torso below them walked on all fours like an ape, ambling forth on long great-knuckled arms and stumpy legs.  Though it looked clumsy, Kyle knew such a body was capable of frightening speed.

The snakelike neck darted at the knight's face, and its impact against his shield knocked him to the ground.  An arrow from Reed's shortbow sprouted just behind the frightful maw, but seemed barely to penetrate the hide.  Kyle tried to thrust at the snapping mouth, but it bit down on his sword and tore it away.  Scrambling up, he backpedaled away.  The creature bit at his shield again, and to his shock tore the metal boss away.  Several of Reed's arrows protruded from its neck and torso, but they had little visible effect.

Ann had not moved, though her sword was drawn, and Kyle realized she was scared.  He'd thought her afraid of nothing.  "Princess!" he yelled as he drew his humble dagger.  "Fight, damnit!"

Still moving hesitantly, Ann tried to sneak in at the beast from the side.  She took a deep breath that seemed to strengthen her resolve and chopped at the joint of its shoulder and neck.  The flesh was not so flexible here as on its neck, and the wound she made bled freely.  But the monster retaliated with a terrible blow from its great fist, and the princess was sent flying to land in a heap.  The fanged maw broke off its assault on Kyle, turning towards the vulnerable girl.  Swooping down, it clamped down on her shoulder, arm, and upper chest.  She began to scream.

Shrieking in agony, Ann still managed to stab repeatedly at the bottom of the neck as it pulled her up and into the air.  But the blows were barely penetrating, weakened as she was with pain.  Blood rained to the ground, and Kyle feared for her life.  Dropping his shield, he picked his sword up in a two-handed grip.  He charged, swinging the blade up overhead and slashing down with all his strength.  It bit deeper than any previous blow, and blood sprayed.  Still not enough.  The maw reared high to face Kyle and released Ann, dropping her on top of him.

Kyle barely lowered his sword in time to avoid impaling her, and her falling body knocked him to the ground.  He almost made some scathing remark, only for his breath to catch in his throat as he saw how badly she was hurt.  The bite wound ran in a semicircle from her trapezius muscle to her lower bicep; the wicked teeth had ripped open her left breast.

Pushing her off himself, Kyle stood and met each snap of the great maw with a hacking blow of his sword.  "Get away from her, you beast!  You won't have her, or me!"

Ann stood to aid him, though her shirt was soaked through with blood and her left arm hung limp.  Her sword blows carried little force now, but she kept trying.  The monster's neck was a pincushion of shortbow arrows, and Kyle wondered how many arrows Reed had left.  He doubted they would be enough.

"This isn't working!" the Tallpony said.

The great neck swung, batting Ann to the ground.  She tried to raise herself up on her good arm, but the earth was covered in her blood and she had little strength left.  The maw swooped down, but Kyle thrust his sword diagonally past the teeth and stabbed into the side of the inner mouth.  Throwing all his weight against his sword, he pinned the maw to the ground.  "Trying shooting into it!"

Reed crouched to aim into the open mouth, but at that moment it snapped shut, biting down on and breaking Kyle's sword.  It rose again into the air, triumphant.  Invincible.

Ann pushed herself up from the ground with a scream of pain, thrusting up into the roof of the monstrous mouth.  "Hurry!" she gasped as she wedged the crossguard of her sword between two teeth.

Reed's arrow flew past the girl's sword and down the mighty neck, hitting with a wet smack somewhere deep inside.  The monster retraced its mouth towards its torso, hands reaching up to clutch at its neck.  A dull moaning issued from its maw.

Ann drew her dagger, looked at it, and shook her head.  "My sword..."

"Take mine," Reed said as he pressed a slender blade into her hands.  Obviously, he had no intentions of getting close to the monster even in its wounded state.

Kyle strode up to the cringing beast and slashed at its chest, making a small cut.  It backhanded him, with much less power than before but enough to knock him down.  Ann lurched in, stabbing below its armpit.  It hugged itself, but stumbled into her and trampled her as she fell so that she lay writhing in pain.  Kyle chopped into the base of its neck, and it staggered.  He hit it again, and it could not muster the effort to strike back.  Instead it tried to limp away, far too slowly to have a chance at escape.  Even so, it took nearly a minute of attacking before it fell, and another two to make it still.


"So that was the horse thief?!" the knight asked as he began to stitch Ann's enormous wound.  She had lost a ridiculous amount of blood, broken her collarbone and two ribs, and looked white as a sheet.

"It must have been a demon," Reed said in a bewildered tone, "a demon that eats male stallions."

"I hope that was the only one of those things," Ann whispered.

Kyle shook his head, frowning.  "I doubt it, unless it really was a solitary demon summoned to eat our horses.  Even a thing like that probably wouldn't have eaten so many horses in such a short time.  But we'll be ready next time."

"Better bring a ballista."

"Well, that's what I'm thinking.  That was... damn!"

"Do you need a place to rest?" Reed asked.

"Ann can rest.  I'm going back to Perfia to report--and get help!"

"But you're my bodyguard," the princess said.  "You've got to stay at my side and protect me."

Before Kyle could reply, the bay horse walked into view.  It had hidden during the battle, and finally showed itself now that the monster was dead.  "Look, at least we got your horse back.  So Ann... can you ride?"

"Of course," the proud girl said.

"Then you can come back with me to Perfia, and rest in the castle there."

"Hey... you tricked me!"  But Kyle knew she wouldn't take back the assertion of her strength.

"Still think following me here was a good idea, princess?"

"You would be dead if I hadn't been here."

"Maybe.  I wouldn't have been tracking down your horse if you weren't here."  The knight smiled.  "But you did well."

Ann returned his smile.  "To answer your question, of course I still think it was a good idea.  Well, let's get going.  It was good fighting with you, Reed!"

The Tallpony waved them goodbye as they mounted their steeds.  "Farewell, friends!  Your names will be remembered as demonslaying heroes by my people!  Kyle and Ant, right?"

Kyle smiled as the princess corrected Reed.  It had been a hell of a day, and he felt beyond exhausted.  But nothing really bad had happened, and he was alive.  It was enough for him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Story Time, Again

Though I be loath to push down my "Writing Philosophy" post (I wonder if there is a way to make a "sticky" of a blog entry?) inevitably I must. Today I present another old action comedy once published in the excellent webzine Sorcerous Signals, and set a little later in the same world as my other thus far posted stories...


Finn leapt from the tower's edge, landing atop the gargoyle flying after a woman on the street below.  It thrashed in his grasp, struggling to get free, before Finn hammered his mace down into the monster's head.  Its skull collapsed under the heavy steel, and its body cushioned his fall as it spattered on the cobblestones below.  Shaking the pain from his leg, the giant warrior began the search for his partner.

He found her lying on a pile of corpses in the ruins of the plaza, covered with wounds and surrounded by dozens of slain enemies.  Two large arrows and the hilt of a sword jutted from her chest, and a deep slice gaped on her side.  Her face was contorted into a grimace of pain, and Finn could tell she was alive by the way she still shook with agony.  He started towards her, calling her name.

Amber rose to her knees, dragging the sword from her mangled chest.  Blood spurted from the wound and streamed out over her lip, but she managed to stand.  "Where the hell is Winston?" she asked.

Watching his dark-tressed daughter endure wounds that would have easily killed a strong man, Finn smiled with pride.  She was so much like her mother Rose, tall and strong though not quite as heavy.  "He's gone.  That little bastard escaped again."

Winston was the diminutive goblin who had led the monstrous army, the perennial enemy who always survived.  Amber staggered to meet Finn and turned her side towards him, revealing the tip of one arrow protruding from her back.  "Break it off, Dad?"

He did, and saw more blood spray as she pulled the shaft  free.  The last arrow stub was still visible between her breasts.  "Aren't you going to pull that out too?"

"The point's deep inside; I don't feel like dealing with the pain yet.  I'll get it when I'm ready."

"You really should get better armor already.  That chainmail never seems to hold up."

"But Dad, I like my chainmail.  Plate's so heavy!"

"It's your choice, if you like being full of holes."  Finn's voice softened.  "But I hate seeing you get hurt.  I should have taken better care of you."

Amber touched his hand.  "It's fine.  I'm okay."

Finn's chest swelled further with pride.  "You're so brave.  Stay here; I'm going to check how things are going in the rest of town."

She nodded.  "Sure.  I need to patch these wounds up, anyway."


Amber's hands shook as she wrapped her midsection with lengths of cloth.  She had put on her game face for Finn, but her body was wracked with agony.  What if she died?  But there was little anyone could do to help her.  Her wounds would have been mortal for a normal person, and she could only trust in the immense vitality that was her inheritance to save her.

An unexpected noise made her push her worries aside.  "Help, somebody help!" a high voice cried from somewhere above.  

She looked up and saw a little boy hanging from the roof of a market stall, one of the few still left intact.  Lurching over, she reached up.  "Let go.  I'll catch you."  The boy did as told, and she set him on the ground.  "What were you doing up there?"

"I can't find my daddy, so I climbed up to look for him.  But I slipped."

Amber knelt and put her hands on his shoulders, ignoring his stare at the arrow sticking out of her chest.  She had to swallow the blood down as she spoke.  "Your father?  What does he look like, and when did you last see him?"

"He's a fruit seller, and he told me to hide in the stall until the monsters were gone.  Then he went to fight.  He's, uh, tall, with hair on his face..."

Amber frowned.  If he had been one of the men to meet the initial attack, odds were that he was dead.  With luck, he might only be lying wounded somewhere in the square.  "Is there anything special about how he looks?"

"He has brown hair... and a blue sash."

A blue sash.  At least that was better than the other "details" the boy had provided.  Amber nodded and forced a smile.  "I'll find your father for you.  Just stay here, okay?"

She stood and began to limp away.  Before she could begin checking the bodies strewn about the marketplace, Finn walked back into view.  "Where are you going?"

"I found a survivor.  A little boy was hiding in one of the stalls, and he's anxious to find his dad.  I don't know if he's alive, but if he is I'm going to find him.  He fought here against the monsters when they first arrived."

"I'll find him.  You just rest, girl.  You're leaking everywhere."

She smiled bashfully.  "I guess I can just stay here and watch the kid.  His father's... um... got a blue sash.  And facial hair.  Hurry up, though.  If he's alive, he might not be for long without aid."

Finn frowned.  "Great details.  I hope sashes aren't popular around here."  He began to walk away, but stumbled and bent to rub at his knee.

Amber ran to him.  "Dad!  Are you alright?!"

"I'm fine.  Just banged my knee jumping off that tower."

"Maybe you should just retire, old man."  Finn was nearly fifty.

"I may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but don't worry.  Old Finn still has the strength of ten men."  Amber whistled--gurgled, really--and he added more softly, "All right, maybe nine."

"Did I do okay today, Dad?"

"You did great.  Better than that wimpy brother of yours.  'I don't want to come'?  Makes me wonder how he's my son."

"You ever think maybe Mom... you know... cheated, and had Jacob with someone else?"

Finn grinned.  "Did you just forget you and him are twins?"

"Must be the blood loss, Dad.  But I think we should talk later, after you find the fruitseller."

"Take care of your chest, honey."

Amber returned to the market stall by which the boy was waiting.  "Where's my daddy?!" he screamed.  She absolutely could not believe how loud he could be.

She shook her head, trying to dispel the ringing in her ears.  "I've got someone looking for him.  So what's your name, anyway?"

"Eric.  You're bleeding, miss."

"Yeah, I know.  I'll be fine.  Name's Amber, by the way."

"You're the Iron Flower's daughter, aren't you?"

"How do you figure?"

"You shouldn't even be alive, and you're standing up and talking."

Amber began to work at the arrow buried in her chest, wondering how she was going to get it out.  She didn't want to cut herself open, nor push the point all the way out her back.  She had already lost so much blood, and the lightness of her head scared her.  Even she could only take so much.

"It hurts, but I think I can take it.  I'm just annoyed we didn't get here earlier than we did."

"Where do you think my daddy is?"

"I'm sure he's safe", she lied.  While at least half of Pildeu's residents had survived, much of the bloodshed had occurred in the marketplace.

"I want to go find him!"

Amber flashed what she hoped would be a reassuring smile.  "Don't worry, my dad's looking for him right now.  Hey, I got an idea.  Maybe I could take you back home to your mommy, and you can wait for him together."

"I don't have a mommy."

She didn't ask if she had died or run away; it hardly mattered right now, and talking about it might only make Eric more upset.  But she had no idea what else to say.  "Want some water?"

"No.  I want my daddy.  You're tired, I know.  You don't have to come.  I'll look myself."  He tried to walk away.

Amber grabbed his arm.  "No!"  While she was sure the boy would be haunted by the blood and death he'd already seen today, she didn't want to add the image of his father's corpse to his nightmares.

"Let me go!"

She sighed.  "Listen, if we wander off now, my dad's going to be angry.  And he's pretty scary when he's angry.  Want me to tell you a story?"

"No!  I want my daddy!"

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named... um... Amber.  The princess lived in an iron tower built by her mother, an evil tyrant who thought no man was good enough for her daughter.  So one day, a brave prince named Shannon rode up to the tower.  'Amber!' he cried.  'I have come to rescue you from your prison of chastity!'  'You cannot defeat my mother alone,' Amber replied.  'But my father will help you.  He is a good wizard who lives in the... uh, um... darn..."

Eric began to cry.  "Your story stinks!  It sounds like every other story the old beggar lady tells us.  But what does chastity mean?"

"It... um..."

Finn's return saved her.  "I don't see him," he boomed from close by.  "Maybe we should bring the boy."

She scowled as her father limped into view.  "And risk letting him see, well, you know?"  

"Damn.  Have to think some more."  He paused, squinting.  "Amber, what the hell is that arrow still doing in your chest?"

"I haven't decided-"  Before she could finish, Finn grabbed the arrow and ripped it out.  She shrieked in agony, grabbing a signpost for support.  "Shit, Dad, could have... warned me...

"Did that mace hit mess my face up too badly?"

Finn grunted.  "It only nicked you.  Stop being so vain.  I wish your mother could be here."

"Mom uses facial creams all the time."

"Yeah, but she doesn't fuss about how her wounds make her look after combat.  At least her complaints are more sensible; she usually just whines about pain, nausea, shortness of breath..."

"Well, Mom's busy with her dark lord, so you're stuck with me."

Finn smiled and patted her shoulder appreciatively.  "You're right there.  No point in an argument's better than the one that wins it."

"Where's my daddy?!" Eric shouted.

Amber's shoulders slumped.  She was really tired, and her confidence in her babysitting ability had totally disappeared.  "We couldn't find him yet, but we're not going to give up.  How about we get you something hot to eat?"


Eric ended up tagging along everywhere Amber went that day, much to her and her father's dismay.  The end came when Finn went to the town hall to address the surviving citizens.  Amber had been leaning against a wall, holding Eric's hand and comforting him when he looked upset, when she began to doze off on her feet.  Slipping from her grasp, he then ran in front of Finn and asked, interrupting the warrior's unity speech, his loudest ever "Where's my daddy?!"

Mercifully, that outburst had led to a young widow taking note of Eric's plight, and offering to take care of him for the time being.  As the inn was wrecked, Finn and Amber wound up staying in the former home of a carpenter's slaughtered family.  Too tired to cook real food, they ate a dinner of jerky and bread and retired for the night.  Amber choose to stay in the eldest daughter's room, and was examining her chipped, cracked nails by lamplight when she heard a sound outside the window.  She turned, snatching her sword up from her bedside.

"Eric!  What are you doing here?"

"I know where my daddy is!"

"Really?  How?"

"I snuck out of my room and went around asking people if they saw him.  So a lady in the infirmary told me she saw him flying out of town!"

"You went into the infirmary?!  And... flying?"

"Yeah, in a monster's claws.  They kidnapped him, you have to save him!"

"Can't the guardsmen help you?  I'm not in the best shape."

"They said he's probably dead already, and that they can't risk going after the monsters.  He isn't dead, is he?  You're a hero, can't you save him?"

"Which way did they take him?"

"West, she said."

"Okay, Eric.  I'll find your father for you tomorrow."  I am so stupid, Amber thought.  But she would likely have nothing useful to do if she stayed in town, except stand around and watch her father act important.  At least she could try to save one little family.  "Just let me sleep for tonight, alright?  My chest has more holes now than my socks."

"What does that mean?"

Amber sighed.  "It means I'm in a whole lot of pain."  She closed her eyes and flopped back on the bed, allowing unconsciousness to seize her body.  It was easy to faint, as only the active exertion of her willpower had kept her from doing so throughout the day.  Before she was totally out, though, she felt Eric pull her blanket over her, tucking her in.


She woke in somewhat less pain, but her body seemed even more stiff and clumsy.  She lurched down the hall to her father's room, where she found Finn already up and dressing.  "Hey.  I'm going out of town to find Eric's dad.  You want to come?"

"I can't.  I have to organize the defenses in case of another attack.  Will you be okay?"

"I only have a chest full of holes, and I'm Mom's daughter.  I'll just run away if I meet somebody too tough to handle."  Only now did she noticed how tired and haggard Finn looked, and the way he still favored his knee.  "Dad, are you sure you're okay?"

"Come on, Amber, your father's the strongest man in Kayland.  Just go and kick some ass."

Finn was indeed a mountain of a man, and few could match his strength.  But he was growing older, and time caught up to everyone.  Amber knew most men who lived for battle ended up dying there.  She hoped that day would not soon come for her dad.  

Amber walked back to her room, where she had awakened to find Eric in her bed, sleeping next to her.  She had bled on him, and hoped he wouldn't be too freaked out.  He was waking up as she arrived.  "Help!  I'm bleeding!"

"No, Eric, you're fine.  That's my blood."

"Are you alright?"

She considered the question and shuddered.  "Please don't ask me that."


"So, you know anywhere specific your father might have been taken?  West is a pretty big place..."

Eric frowned.  "No..."

Amber knew then that all she could do was go out and search the area to the immediate west of town for a reasonable amount of time.  If she found any monster lairs during this time, she would seek Eric's father there.  And if she found him... well, it would be a miracle if she actually managed to find, and save, him.  But at the same time, she felt a bit guilty over her defeatist attitude.  Eric believed in her, and she needed to focus on the hope she might succeed.  But that hope was very small indeed.  Yet she would try, for she knew very well what it was to worry for a parent, and understood Eric's distress.

"Eric, go back to the nice lady who took you yesterday and apologize for running away.  I can't take you with me to go monster hunting."

"Will she be mad?"

"Probably.  But she should understand, you miss your dad."


She followed him there, not quite trusting him, and waited until the widow--Helen, whose name Amber had forgotten--took him inside.  Then she walked out the town's western gate, looking for a miracle.


Her first glimmer of hope came that afternoon, when she saw a manlike shape fly over her from a point to the west and slightly north.  If it had taken flight from its lair, there was a chance Eric's father could be there.  The trek through the snows was rough this time of year, and the cold air stung her damaged lungs.  Amber found herself coughing up blood repeatedly.  Still, she felt strong enough to continue.  Her hopes soared when she saw a blue sash hanging from a tree branch overhead.

Amber continued to walk, and soon heard what sounded like loud whispers echoing through the forest of spruce and fir.  She drew her sword, warily following the source of the noise.  A rough hillside came into view.  A cave was visible halfway up the slope, and in its mouth Amber saw several creatures milling about.  They were bipedal like men, tall with pitch-black, leathery skin devoid of hair.  Their muscled arms were so long, their sickle claws hung past their knees, and great bat wings protruded from their shoulder blades.  Teeth like needles filled their mouths.  Gargoyles, her father called them.  But rooftop ornaments were hardly this fearsome.

She had fought such beasts before, but Amber did not feel inclined to simply run up the hill and charge their nest.  Maybe on a better day, but today she was hurt and short of breath.  She crept around the hill, her eyes scanning its surface.  Could there be another way in?  Suddenly, a hot breeze blew across the back of her neck.  She spun, her sword sinking into the lunging gargoyle's side.  At the same time, its talons flashed at her face.  They passed through air as she leaned back, and she pulled her sword free.  The monster took a step forward, then collapsed.

One down.  But it had moved fast.  Amber pictured again the cave mouth, where she had seen at least four such beasts.  Well, even gargoyles had to sleep sometime.  She sat down against a large tree, waiting for the creatures' strange speech to die down.  Eventually, it did; by then, it was late into the night and Amber was close to freezing.  Wincing as she flexed her stiff joints, she rose and began up the hillside.

Her doubt and fear grew as she approached the cave, as silently as she could.  What was she doing?  She didn't dare light a torch yet, and could barely see in the moonlight.  The slope felt uneven beneath her, and she knew any slip could alert the monsters to her presence.  She took deep breaths, trying to remain calm.  She was a strong warrior, she reminded herself, who had killed at least fifty monsters in the last battle.  But now she was sorely wounded in enemy territory, and her heart was pounding.

As she came close enough to see into the cave, Amber made out the still forms of the gargoyles she'd seen, still very near the mouth of the cave.  There were five of them, she realized, not four.  Didn't they need shelter?  It seemed they had no problem sleeping in the cold.  Still, this made it convenient for her to kill them now.  She began to draw her sword--and the rasp of steel against the scabbard split the silent night air.  Crap.

She dashed forward and to the right, cleaving the spine of a prone gargoyle before it could fully wake.  Then the others were rising, hissing and snarling in outrage.  Amber rushed one she judged slow to move, only to be tackled and borne to the ground by the first gargoyle up.  She kept her sword arm free, but was too close to use it against the first attacker.  Meanwhile her left forearm was being torn to shreds as she tried to ward off the slashing claws of her enemy.

A second monster sprang, intending to dogpile her, but she raised her sword and it impaled itself on the blade.  She grabbed the first gargoyle by the face, her fingernails raking at its eyes, and threw it off herself to the side.  A third monster ran at her, kicking her in the ribs.  Its claws cut her deeply, but a worse pain came from the jarring of her older injuries.  She screamed, blood gushing from her mouth.

Grabbing the monster's ankle, she jerked it off its feet.  But she had no time to finish it, because the first and fourth gargoyles were bearing down quickly.  She drew a dagger from her belt sheath and threw, catching the newest attacker in the throat.  Thankfully, it fell right away.  She caught the other one in the mouth with a hard punch, driving it back though its teeth gashed the skin of her knuckles.

Amber sprang to her feet then, driving a mule kick into the temple of the third monster before it could rise.  The first tenacious beast rammed into her, its claws tearing open the chainmail over both her shoulders.  She grabbed its arms and spun, throwing it into a wall.  It raked her belly, drawing blood.  Behind her, the fallen gargoyle stood and leapt onto her back, clamping its teeth onto her trapezius muscle.

Desperate now, Amber bearhugged the gargoyle she had pinned against the wall and staggered backwards, her leg muscles burning with the strain of carrying both monsters.  With a shout, she jumped over the threshold of the cave mouth, plummeting down the hill.  The three of them tumbled over and over, rolling over each other, smashing against jagged, unyielding stone time after time.  When they finally came to rest at the bottom, Amber, cut and bruised all over, was the first one up.  The stunned gargoyles got no chance to rise again.


Torch in hand, Amber limped warily into the dark cave.  Her boots squished through something soft and mushy, and her nose crinkled with the stink.  She was walking through gargoyle shit.  The walls and roof were moist, and on occasion water dripped onto Amber's head.  If Eric's father wasn't in here, she'd be pissed.  Scratch that.  She was already pissed.

A low, foreboding voice cut through the air.  "I have a visitor, I see.  You must be strong, to have defeated my pets."

Amber made out a form in the tunnel before her, which she figured to be wearing dark robes which allowed him to blend in.  "And who are you?" she asked.  "The shit-eating, fly-brained slave of the gargoyles, or just their whore?"

"And she has spunk, too.  It will be fun to see you scream alongside that foolish man who so vainly defies me."

"Does he have brown hair, and facial hair?"

"Huh?  Do you know him?"

"Sort of.  I'm looking for him.  Give him to me, and maybe I'll let your pathetic self go today."

"Who do you think you are, to make demands of me?"

"Who do you think you are?  What are you, one of Winston's cronies?  Winston himself ran scared from me last year in Gustrone.  My parents are the greatest heroes in the world, and I will live up to their bloodline!"

And then, the figure's evil villain speech began.  "Silly girl, I am no servant of that little worm Winston!  For now he calls me an ally, though soon he will know who the true master is.  For I have mastered the art of human transfiguration, and with the monster army I create I will rule the lands of Norh!  And you, girl, will be my newest masterpiece."

Amber was not impressed.  "Terrifying.  And with your little winged bodyguards dead, what exactly are you going to do against me?"

The figure seemed to suck in a huge breath.  "Chimeric Metamorphosis!" he shouted--and his form began to swell.

Amber threw her sword.

For a few moments, the figure remained standing, shaking as it continued to transform.  Then it crumpled to the ground, convulsing helplessly as its lifeblood poured out around the sword through its chest.  Amber ambled over to it and wrenched her blade free.  "Sorry, but I just wasn't in the mood for another battle tonight.  Boy, I need to sleep!"

She continued to the back of the cave, where she found a tall, brown-haired man lying inside a shabby wooden cage.  Amber rapped on the bars.  "Hey, you!  Did you lose a blue sash?"

"Uh... what?"  He looked down, scratching at his stubbly chin.  "Ah, I see I don't have it anymore.  How did you know?"

Amber smiled, no longer caring that her chest felt full of molten lava or that the rest of her stung and throbbed all over.  "Long story.  Your son's waiting for you."

"My son?  He's alive?  Thank the gods!"

"Do you know where the key to this thing is?"

"I don't know.  The master should have it, I guess."

"What?  All those steps back?  Oh, hell.  Nobody'll be using this cage anytime soon."  She raised her sword and began to hack away.


Amber slept in camp until late next afternoon despite all the freed man's protests, and returned to town sometime during the night.  She headed to Helen's house right away, certain that Eric would gladly be woken up to see his father again.  She smiled as Helen opened the door, and the widow nodded in understanding.  Eric quickly came downstairs, fixing wide eyes on Amber's companion.

"Who is that?"

"That's not my son," the man said.

Amber's jaw dropped wide open.  "B-but, Eric, you said that lady saw, saw..."

"I already found my daddy," Eric said.  "He was buried under a pile of bodies.  Your daddy didn't look hard enough."

"He's all right," Helen added.  "Just a bump on the head and some scratches.  But thanks for trying."

"So who... are you?" Amber asked the man.

"I am Samuel, a former soldier of the Coblan army.  I reached corporal before retiring, and now work as a shoemaker.  I am happily married, with three daughters and a son.  Last year, my son went missing during a hunting accident..."

Amber barely heard any of it.  She was swaying on her feet, her head spinning.  Seeming to notice her new wounds for the first time, Eric asked, "Are you alright?"

"Please, don't... ask me... that," she gasped.  Then she closed her eyes, and toppled like a tree.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Writing Philosophy

I have two major tenets as a writer, the first being a matter of style. I think this might be one major reason why I have not attracted a traditional publisher - that is, most of them often seem to favor a highly descriptive, detailed style. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with rich description; some people do it very well, and can really immerse you in the imagery they create. However, I personally prefer to write in a more concise, fast-paced style, focused on what happens in the story - action, dialogue, and so forth.

This is the type of pacing I prefer in things I read as well, and I'm sure I am not alone - so I do believe there is a market for it. This is not to say I am against worldbuilding, or eschew it in my books, either; but when I write from a character's viewpoint, I do tend to only include details I feel the character (who has been living in that world their whole life) would notice. Would you or I really think about the type of fabric the jacket we put on every morning is made of? Probably not, most of the time, and the same would likely hold true for most fictional characters interacting with things they use or see every day.

My second tenet, which hopefully won't bore you as much as the first, is a focus on good old-fashioned escapist FUN with over-the-top action and larger than life heroes. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with realistic, believable (even if they use magic) battles, but most of them are that way in novels nowadays, no? I like to be different and channel the glorious heroes of old, like Conan or Beowulf or (particularly) Bradamente, who performed epic deeds without the need for divine blood or explicit superpowers, but because they were just that good (and sometimes with the aid of a magic trinket or two).  Although, my heroes tend to take more damage. Sure, it may not be so "believable" if you attempt to apply the rules of our world to theirs... but as long as it's consistent, that just makes it all the more mythic, no?

Another Day, Another Story

Well I survived the hurricane... so here's another old story of mine, in fact the very first short story I ever got published. It's written in the first person perspective I used before settling on my usual third person, is just a bit of shallow fun like most of my shorts are (I save the deeper stuff for the novels, for the most part) and might not be the most polished - but I hope you enjoy it!


My heavy blade crunched through the evil knight's pauldron and collarbone to split his sternum, and I withdrew it with a sharp jerk of my arm.  Then I looked at his companion and said, "Get ready, rot-brain.  You're going to hell next."

A big man, the skull-masked warrior charged me with a speed unexpected in such a large frame.  We met, and my sword rang against his axe in a few thunderous clashes before I managed to knock him off balance.  I raised my sword and stepped in for the kill.  

Then, I felt a terrible pain in my back and stomach, and looked down to see a large, blue-bladed sword sticking out of my body.  Apparently, I hadn't quite killed the master of the castle yet.  His helm had saved him from the last bite of my blade, and now I was paying the price.

Spinning quickly, I wrenched the sword from the Devil Warlord's hand, though the blade twisting inside me almost took my senses away.  Staring in surprise, he was unable to react when I sliced through his skull.  

His corpse fell away, and I tried to turn back towards his furious guard.  I screamed as the axe bit into my shoulder, but my return blow to his breastplate sent him reeling.  I brought my blade down, chopping through his skull down to the hollow of his throat, and ended it.

I'm still all right, I told myself as I sat down carefully on the nearby steps.  I was losing a lot of blood, and the sword felt heavy inside me.  But I'd survived worse.  I wrapped my shoulder first, then reached behind myself and gave the hilt an experimental tug.  Ouch.  Not wanting to wait for my partner to return, I kept pulling anyway.

It was slow going due to the awkward position of the sword, and I was still dragging a length of sharp steel from my guts when I saw Finn approaching.  "Did you free the prisoners?"

"Of course.  The maidens won't be slaves to this dead guy."

His belt pouches were overflowing with jewels and coin taken from the Devil Warlord's treasury, and his pack as well.  I'd have to stock up too, once I felt up to standing.  "So how's the loot today?"

"It's alright.  Didn't find anything magical, though."

That was to be expected.  Magic isn't exactly commonplace nowadays.  While Finn had hoped to find some useful artifacts in the Devil Warlord's horde, I was somewhat glad we hadn't.  Most of my experiences with the arcane have been of the violent and traumatic type.

Finn walked closer.  "Hey, Rose, you want to come to a feast tonight?"

"I probably won't be in much condition to enjoy eating," I replied as I finished fishing the sword out of my back.  I wasn't feeling too good.  I was in a lot of pain, and even getting a bit dizzy.  Only a bit.

He smiled.  "You're a tough girl.  What's a little gut wound to you?"  The redheaded warrior had been my traveling companion for a few months now, and he'd gotten used to my physical quirks.

I looked at him and brushed a lock of long black hair out of my eye.  Maybe I needed a haircut, but I liked the way I looked.  "What's this feast about?  It can't just be food."

"It's a celebration of the coming of the star god Hurais.  He's supposed to come down and bless the people of Ahat, or so they say."

"I've never heard of Hurais."

"Local deity.  You know mountain folk.  Come on, Rose, it's just for fun.  Probably a guy in costume, that's all."

Of course, it wasn't likely that a god would come down from the heavens for the sake of us mere mortals.  "I know, I know.  But my stomach hurts."

He sat beside me as I tried to stitch the hole.  "Let me see that."

Letting him lift my shirt, I tried not to worry about what he was thinking.  I'd suspected that he was attracted to me for a long time, but realized he didn't want to reveal himself yet and let it be.  I wasn't ready to be with him, anyway.  The last guy who loved me died horribly because of me, and the nightmares haven't stopped yet.

"Ouch," Finn said.  "That's one nasty wound."

I watched the blood gush out of me.  "I know.  It went right through me.  Can you leave me and let me stitch?"

"How about I do it for you?"

My hands were a little less steady than I'd have liked.  "All right."

"I love the way you lifted that giant overhead and threw him off the bridge."

I looked over his six foot eight, near four hundred pound frame and grinned, unable to help admiring his strength.  Few men were my match, but he was one of them.  "Just remember I could do the same to you." 

As you've probably guessed, I'm not your average girl.  My name's Rose Agen, and I'm rather on the large side.  I've also got a constitution that would put a raging berserker to shame.  I've taken a lot of punishment in my life, but I just can't seem to die.  My constitution's been the subject of many a minstrel's poem by now, though I'm not too keen on hearing about it myself.  Reminds me too much of pain.

The closest thing I can offer to an explanation is, well, I'm a freak.  There are those rumors that speak of magic or divine providence, but don't put too much stock into them.  I'm just a big old freak.

"Come on, Rose, come to the feast.  We just killed a dark lord—why not celebrate?"

"Oh, fine.  I'd be hard for me to deny my curiosity about this star god."

"It's just a guy in costume."

"Well, whatever.  It'll probably be an interesting costume."


We spent the rest of the day walking up the harsh red mountainside towards the village of Ahat, and my stomach was killing me by the time I saw a plume of smoke waft into the evening sky nearby.

Thinking it was safe to complain, I asked Finn, "Why didn't you tell me we'd have to climb a mountain to get here?"

"You never mind climbing."

"But I've got a hole through my stomach."

"I guess I'll get to win the drinking contest tonight."

I sighed and followed him into town.  Straw and thatch huts sat in an irregular pattern around the edge of the settlement, the far side of which rested on considerably higher ground than the rest.  I saw nobody nearby, but rapid drumbeats and hollering song emanated from deeper inside.  

"We're late," Finn groaned.  "You slowpoke."

I fingered my stomach.  I'd tried.  We walked to the center of town and stood at the edge of the circle which the village's eighty-odd inhabitants comprised.  A few of them waved and smiled at us—the prisoners we'd saved, and their friends and family.  The adults, male and female alike, wore costumes made of leaves arranged to look like feathers, while the children played in simple tunics I assumed to be their normal garb.  At the center of the clearing, an especially well-feathered, ancient man performed a slow dance with a naked infant boy.

"Whew," Finn said, "I'm glad we didn't miss anything important."  By which I knew he meant the food.  "Just relax, Rose.  This boring stuff probably won't finish for a while." 

I wasn't bored.  The elder raised the child again and again towards the sky, and though it was repetitive I couldn't take my eyes off them.  I couldn't help wondering what would happen if the ancient dropped dead.  He was moving slowly but he just kept going.  The rest of the village continued chanting, "Hurais, Hurais," awe plain in their voices.  Their god didn't much impress me, but I wondered if there was another purpose to this ceremony besides celebrating their religion.

"Is he blessing him?" I asked Finn.  

"I don't know.  I just heard from one of the girls we rescued that there was a feast."

A sudden pang of agony exploded through my gut, and I doubled over.  "I want to sit down.  My stomach hurts so bad."

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I'd be better if I hadn't had to climb the mountain."  Giving in to my weakness, I began to sit on the dusty ground.

Suddenly, the cries of "Hurais!  Hurais!" grew loud and frenzied, and I straightened to look into the sky where the crowd gazed with wide eyes.  What I saw almost made me forget my pain.

"Oh, shit, Finn—is that a flying jellyfish?"  He didn't answer, staring even more transfixed than I, and I grabbed his shoulder and shook him until he looked at me.  "What the hell is that?!"

His eyes gaped wide and dumbfounded.  "It looks like a flying jellyfish."

A huge, blood-red flying jellyfish to be exact, the size of a cow and armed with countless tentacles tipped with tiny barbs.  Was this Hurais?  As I watched, it took the baby from the elder's upraised hands, drew him close, and ate him.

My shock changed immediately to outrage.  Most people would have been afraid, but I'd never met anything I couldn't kill.  I drew my broadsword, and pushed through the crowd to charge the beast.  This monster had just killed an innocent child!  God or not, I was going to have words and more with it.

"Die, monster!" I cried.

The elder ran in front of me and tried to grab my sword away.  Without thinking, I ran him through.  I heard a collective gasp from the villagers, and the jellyfish-thing screeched as it flew down towards me.

"Kill the blasphemer!" someone said.

I hardly heard, the barbed tentacles already lashing down on my shoulders and back.  I wished I had worn my armor; I'd left it with my horse, apparently a very bad idea.  The bony blades cut deep into my flesh, and my wounds burned like they were being seared with hot brands.  Poison.  

I slashed up, cutting away a dozen strands.  More struck back.  I sliced at the tentacles again and another handful fell, but far too many remained.  I was getting cut to pieces.  A stinging sensation flared on my cheek, and I hissed.  Now I was really mad.

The tentacles swiped again, but this time I caught a bunch in my hand and pulled hard, yanking the jellyfish down towards my blade.  It recovered before I could reach it, and flying upwards pulled me into the air.  Putting my sword between my teeth, I started to climb up its tentacles.

The jellyfish continued to slice at me, but I ignored the pain.  I drew closer to its body, and as I did its attacks lessened in frequency and strength, its tentacles not as formidable up close as further away.  Nearly at the base of its bloblike body, I took my sword in hand and drew it back to strike, thinking I was safe.  Then a toothy maw opened on its bottom and reached out to clamp painfully on my right shoulder.  

Feeling skin and muscle tear under the huge teeth, I finally screamed, "Finn, help me!" 

For my trouble, a crossbow bolt sprouted between my spine and shoulder blade. "Sorry!" 

"Don't shoot anymore," I shouted back, knowing he was already reloading.  I transferred my sword to my left hand—allowing the monster's teeth to be the only thing holding me up for a moment—and hacked at the flesh just behind its mouth.  The steel cut deep, and its grip loosened from my shoulder.  I fell.

With my weak right hand, I caught onto its tentacles and continued to hack away.  Clear blood sprayed over me as I destroyed its body, and it burned like the poison in my wounds.  I began to grow faint, and hoped it would just die already.  Then, it did.

Whatever force it used to fly without wings left it as it went limp, and we plummeted together to the ground.  It was only now that I realized how far up we'd gone, and I landed like a catapult stone in the dirt, my spine numbing with the impact.  I heard the crossbow bolt snap against the ground.  Blinking my eyes clear, I looked to see the jellyfish on top of me, flat as a folded tent.  It was lighter than I would have thought, and I pushed it off as though casting aside a blanket.

Finn knelt beside me.  "Rose?  You okay?"

"You shot me!"

"Sorry...  you better not die on me, girl."

I raised myself on my elbows, nodding wearily.  "All in a day's work, right?"  Now it wasn't just my stomach torturing me with agony; it was pretty much my whole upper body.

I wasn't about to get time to rest, either.  The villagers, who had been silent since the jellyfish's death, began to mutter amongst themselves.  "Damn you, you crazy outsider!" one man said.  "You've doomed us all!"

"What are you talking about?  That thing ate your child!  I did you a favor."

"No, no!  You'll bring the god's wrath upon us, and doom us all!"

Despite the incredible pain and fatigue, I lurched to my feet and indicated the jellyfish with a wave.  "This piece of rubbish?  It's no god.  Look at it.  It's dead!"

"We know it's not a god," a young woman said softly.  

I stared.  "What?  So then..."

"Its mother is the god.  You killed its child, and it will come soon.  We are all doomed."


The villagers didn't attack us as we left, but it looked like they would have killed us if they didn't think they were all doomed anyway.  As it was, they were too busy panicking to really care.  I managed to learn the supposed location of their "god" higher in the mountains, and as we made our way up the ever-steeper slopes Finn asked, "Where are we going?  Why do we have to fight this stupid god?"

"Well, I am the one who killed its child to bring its wrath upon the villagers.  So I can't just leave them to suffer because of what I did."

"Yeah, well, why did you have to do that?"

"Finn, it ate a damn baby!  You just don't do that in front of me!"  I looked at him.  "And why didn't you help me?"

"You seemed to be doing okay."

"I was getting sliced to bits!"

"You killed it."

"No thanks to you.  And you're not that good at pulling crossbow bolts out, either!"

He lowered his gaze shamefully.  "How are you holding up, with all those bad wounds?"

I didn't feel too good.  I've survived a lot of really nasty wounds over the years, but I don't have an unlimited supply of blood.  "I just know I'm going to scar, big time."

"More for the collection?"

I shrugged, and we continued up the mountain.  Suddenly, the sound of my boots crunching into the gravel was overwhelmed by a familiar shrieking, and I looked up.  Three more jellyfish things were flying down the mountain towards us as if we were violating the sanctity of their home with our presence.  We were going to do more than that.  Finn fired a crossbow bolt which this time actually hit a desirable target, lodging in a jellyfish's lower body.  It stalled in the air, but the other two kept coming.

"Think we can handle them?" I asked nervously as I cut through a clump of slashing tentacles.

With no time to reload, Finn dropped his crossbow and drew his mace.  "At least we've got our armor," he said as he took a swipe at his opponent's stringy arms.

The mace struck flesh, but only knocked the flexible tentacles aside.  I drew my handaxe from my belt and threw it to him.  "Here!  Slice it up!"

He did me one better, throwing the axe up into the air to bury itself in the middle of his jellyfish.  It sagged out of the air, but tried to rise back up.  Finn didn't give it the chance, bringing his mace down upon its body.  It wasn't quite as resilient as its tentacles, and broke open and died.  

My jellyfish was still battering me with its numerous tentacles, but true to what Finn had said their barbs proved inadequate to penetrate my armor.  My sword cut through its stringy appendages just fine, and as it grew short on arms it started to fly away.  

"Oh no you don't," I said as I took my grappling hook from my pack and threw it over the jellyfish to sink deep into its back.  Hauling backwards, I pulled the wounded creature off balance and sent it careening towards me.  I stepped aside, slashing as I did, and it fell nearly cloven in two.  

"I still think I did it better than you," Finn said.

"You did it more efficiently, sure.  But I could've done the same with that axe."

The last jellyfish was still up, weaving in the air as though confused.  Without much haste, Finn reloaded his crossbow and shot it again.  It kept weaving.  I took my bow off my back, notched an arrow, and punctured it through the center.  Finally, it went limp and fell to the ground, dead.


The sun was rising by the time we arrived at the triangular cave where Hurais was said to reside, and we hadn't slept for one full day.  I hadn't slept since being run through.  The pain of the jellyfish's poison had mostly faded away, but the rest of my hurts still bothered me considerably.

"How about you go first," I said, "if you're so worried about my health?"

"Nah, you're the one who incurred its wrath.  You go."

I looked up, gauging how large this thing could be.  About thirty feet tall, at most.  Not exactly small.  We walked inside the cave, the red stone walls angular as though cut by some god's blade rather than worn naturally by the elements.  My pace slowed as I heard the sound, first faint, then louder as we closed.  A low moaning full of sorrow, like that of a grieving mother.  Sweat beaded my brow, and I gripped my sword tighter.

Hesitating as I saw the shining blood-red surface come into view, I looked back at Finn.  "Back me up this time.  This one's a lot bigger."

He nodded, then noted as we walked closer, "You were wrong, Rose.  It doesn't eat children—it raises them."

I could only nod dumbly in response.  Suspended within the gigantic blood-red blob which filled the chamber were a number of human-shaped figures at various stages of growth.  But they didn't look totally human, at least through the red mass.  Instead, their flesh appeared to be somewhat transparent, their bones and organs showing through their skin.

"It changed them," I managed to breath.  But why?

"Do we attack, or what?" Finn asked impatiently as it began to shriek, having detected us nearby.  "Or do we run screaming away?"

Okay, so maybe it didn't exactly kill babies as I'd thought.  I swallowed as I realized I had technically slain the child taken by the jellyfish.  I'd be having plenty of nightmares about that, I knew.  Sure, I hadn't known, but I still felt wretched inside.

But whatever it did do to its sacrifices, it didn't give them any favors in terms of letting them live as human beings.  Were they conscious of their condition?  I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I thought of what it would be like to live like...  that.

Then I said, "Are you kidding, Finn?"

"Yeah, I am.  We don't run."

We advanced together on Hurais, me with sword and torch in hand, Finn with mace and shield.  All of a sudden the thing opened up, spitting out one of the humanoid figures inside.  It moaned, spasmed, and came jerkily to its feet.  I wanted to vomit at the sight of the human anatomy visible through its skin.  Instead, I acted.  Before it could move, I struck its head from its shoulders, and it fell thrashing.  

Another followed it out, and another, and another.  The wide tunnel before us filled with shambling man-shaped things with translucent blood-red flesh, and I charged, hacking and hewing.  I tried to ignore the fact that some of them were the size and shape of children, and couldn't do it.  My eyes misted, and I began to cry.  But I kept fighting.

With a mace blow like a battering ram, Finn hit one the size of a young teenager back into Hurais' spongy body.  Then he charged past the rest of the spawn, rushing the god itself, and slammed his mace into the pulsating mass.  It sank deep into the red flesh, but did not seem to hurt the creature.   Its retaliatory punch, with a pseudopod as thick as a man's waist, sent him flying back through the crowd of its spawn.  

"Careful, Rose," he said as I took the heads of two adult-sized spawn in a single slash.  "It hits like a charging bull!"

The pseudopod shot forward like a viper, aiming high as to knock my head off.  I ducked and slashed upward, cutting three feet of red goo away.  Hurais retracted the appendage, and I watched in horror as its severed portion started to crawl back toward its body.

"How are we supposed to beat this thing?"

"See, I told you we shouldn't have gone after a god!"

"When did you tell me that?!"

"I was thinking it!"

The severed piece of Hurais rejoined its body, and it attacked again, sending forth two pseudopods this time.  I divided mine down the middle and it stayed that way, only its halves continued to attack me separately.  I heard Finn's pseudopod hammer deafeningly against his steel shield, denting it deeply and knocking him down.

"Try fire!" I cried.

Scrambling away from the reaching arm, Finn reminded me, "You've got the torch!"

Diving forward past my pseudopod, I rushed towards its body and threw my flaming brand.  The surface of its flesh sizzled as it hit, but Hurais did not catch fire.  "Well, I hurt it!" I managed to say before a pseudopod reached me and caught me in a rubbery grip.  "Finn, help!"

I heard him grunt and fall with a crash.  "Hold on, hold on!" he coughed.

Hurais started dragging me towards its body, and I shuddered at the thought it might turn me into one of those things which had once been human.  I would have cut the pseudopod away, but my sword arm was trapped and try as I did, I couldn't get it free.  Nor could I reach my sword with my left hand, impaired as I was by its grip.  Desperately, I dropped my sword, and with my foot kicked it into the air and to the left.  I caught it in my left hand, and cut myself free to roll away.

"Now is it time to run?" Finn asked as he hit his pseudopod again, hard enough to shatter a bull's skull with ease.  Bits of red stuff shot out around the site of impact and spattered the walls and floor, but immediately began to run back toward Hurais' body.  At the same time, two more pseudopods burst forth to join the three attacking us.

I might have said yes, if I hadn't seen what I had at close range to its body.  Deep inside its mass, there rested a rippling gray organ whose purpose I did not know, but which I gathered to be important.

"Give me your crossbow," I said to Finn.

Without asking why, he threw the bow to me.  I ran forward, cutting wildly at the pseudopods before me so as to clear the way to Hurais' body.  Stepping past its pieces as they fell to the ground, I fired at the organ inside.  My aim was true, and Hurais shuddered.  

A moment later, the bolt dislodged itself from the organ to float languidly in the creature's red mass.  The gray tissue seemed unaffected by the brief intrusion of the projectile, and I hissed in frustration.  Then, things went from bad to worse.  

My torch, on the floor a few feet from Hurais' body, went out, and we were plunged into utter darkness.  Unfortunately, Hurais' senses seemed to work just as well in the absence of light, and I felt a tremendous blow to my chest which threw me like a rag doll through the air and onto Finn.

"And I thought you knew what you were doing!" he growled.

"Just get us some light!  We're sitting ducks here!"  I flailed about with my sword, but a heavy blow slammed into my face and stars danced before my eyes.  However soft Hurais' flesh seemed, it could hit hard.

Shielded from Hurais' attacks by my delicate female body, Finn managed to light a new brand, and as my ribs creaked under another tremendous blow I gasped, "One more try."

"Huh?" Finn asked as I snatched a crossbow bolt from his quiver and jammed it into his torch, scraping a bit of the pitch off and onto its point.  

Hastily, I reloaded the crossbow, ignoring the heat of the flames and continued battering of the pseudopods as best I could.  Forcing myself to my feet, I limped towards Hurais' body once more, cutting away a pseudopod.  Another caught me from the side, crushing me against the wall.  Not sure if I could muster the strength to get free, I threw the bow to Finn.  Running into the clearing I'd made for him, he took aim and fired.

The flames died out as expected when the bolt passed through the red flesh, but it was still red-hot when it reached the gray organ inside, and I heard a hissing like that of boiling water as it went in.  Once more, the bolt was ejected within moments, but the damage had been done.

I pushed myself free of the weakened pseudopod which pinned me to the wall, and when I hacked it off it did not move to rejoin the body.  I staggered up to Hurais' body, and it made no move to attack.  Instead, it only groaned as I raised my sword and cut a gash down its front.  The flesh did not flow back together, but hung loose like great flaps of red mucus.  

"Is it dying?" Finn asked.

"I'm not sure, but I know how to make sure."  I took another crossbow bolt and dipped it in pitch.


Five bolts later, we were both sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that Hurais was dead.  I laid myself down before the slain god, my body engulfed by pain, and could barely keep breathing as I rested on the hard ground.  Finn sat by my side, himself bloody and bruised.

"Should we go back and tell those people their god's not coming to kill them?" he asked with a smile.

"I don't know.  I guess it'd relieve some of their worry that they're going to get killed, but would you want to know your religion is dead?"

"Maybe we could go and tell them we bargained with Hurais not to kill them."

"Finn, if these people have any idea of what this thing is, I doubt they'd believe anyone could bargain with it."

"True...  but most people wouldn't believe that a pair of human warriors could kill a god, either."

"I guess you're right.  Yeah, let's go tell them that."  I frowned.  "But what if they come and find Hurais dead?"

He fell briefly silent.  "Well, we'll be long gone by then.  We did the best we could, right?"

"Yeah, no more baby-snatching monsters for Ahat.  All this for a feast, huh Finn?  And we didn't even get to eat anything, and missed another night of sleep, and got beat up-"

"Yeah, yeah.  Shut up and be a man, Rose.  You haven't disappointed me in terms of fighting, but you're a regular whiner."

"Bah.  Did you climb a mountain to fight a god and its servant right after getting run through?"

"All except the run through part."

I shrugged, and let him help me up.  A few steps later, I decided to let him carry me, too.  I'm a tough girl, but even I sometimes need a break.


Finn gave our little lie to the villagers as I waited outside, feeling cold and light-headed with my accumulated injuries.  When he came back, he said, "Geez, you look gray."

"Yeah, and?"

"You're not going to make me carry you down the mountain, are you?"

I shook my head, forcing a smile to my bloody lips.  "I wouldn't do that to you.  Just give me a second, okay?"

I got up, and we started down.  I'm not sure if it was because of my weakness that it happened, but going down an especially steep portion of the climb I put too much weight on a handhold and pulled it loose.  Apparently, that whole face had been unstable, because me and Finn found ourselves falling then, knocked free by a rockslide of my creation.

We fell pretty far, and wound up buried under a hefty pile of rocks and boulders.  Dragging myself free, I yelled, "Finn!  Are you alright?!"

"Stupid Rose, I think I broke my arm!"


He pulled himself out of the pile, cradling his left arm.  "I'm not quite so indestructible as you, apparently."

I looked around as he began to splint his injury.  "Hey, where are we?"


I indicated the vast circular crevice before us, on the sides of which a multi-tiered underground city rested on great ledges.  Jutting up in the middle of the pit was a conical building of unfathomable size, dwarfing every other structure like a man over ants.  From the titanic building emanated the purplish glow which lit everything in sight.

"Did we fall into another world, or what?"

Finn looked up at the hole we'd made in the ceiling high above and groaned.  "Gods, Rose, I think we just about did.  I suppose it isn't so strange.  Darkmount already had a dark lord and an evil god, so why not an underground city as well?"

"Hey, you were hoping we'd find magic.  Looks like you got want you wanted."

"Shut up, Rose."

"All this for a feast, right?"

He glowered at me.  "No, all because you wanted to fight evil."

"But I always fight evil."

"And I always go to feasts.  Let's just concentrate on finding a way out of here."  He paused.  "And remind me next time, never to go anywhere near Darkmount again!" 

Leaning on each other, we walked down the purple abyss and into the adventure which would make me heiress to the Inner Kingdom of Yuirioon.  Not that I would ever want to go back to take my place on the throne.  But right now, I've got to go polish my sword, so that will be a story for another time.