A Mile in My Shoes

A Mile in My Shoes

A row of shoes sat naked at the door, one pair after another. “All types of shoes for all types of people,” Grandfather used to say. His shoes were all the same, those black penny-loafers kept polished with that black muck that smelt entirely too strong. I had been in those shoes too many times as a younger child, and knew that it would profit nothing to dress my feet with them now. What secrets would I find in those shoes? A silly question, for I knew the answer. I had walked around in those shoes many times after his passing, those many years ago.

I had looked up to my grandfather as a kid, always wanting to be like him, to know what it would be like to walk a mile in his shoes. Now I knew… and it wasn’t all that thrilling. Dark. Damp. Sealed. Dead. That was his life now. Stepping into his shoes, I saw nothing, felt nothing, but not the absence of things. This was a real nothing, as if nothing were a thing to feel. That deep emptiness grated at my emotions, leaving my soul raw and warn from the desperation. I cherished my life now, though it wasn’t that exciting, for what excitement could the life of a shoe collector really have? It held more excitement than Grandfather’s life… or death, stuck in that grave for all eternity.

~~~

Shaking my head to clear the images, I stepped out of those shoes, not sure which was more unnerving, the smell of rotting, dead flesh or that of the rank black shoe-polish. Passing my eyes along the line, I stepped into another pair, the furthest thing from the dead emptiness of my grandfather… or that was my hope. These shoes were large, too large for my feet, too large for anyone’s feet. The mess of bright colours almost hurt my eyes as I looked at them, wondering what might lie behind such vibrance.

~~~

One small room, in one large tent. Bright colours. Joy in the air… but not in the heart. I want to hit someone! Throwing those balls up in the air, day after day after day. Smiling faces! Smiling faces! Smiling faces! I wanted to scream. Why did those faces torture me so? I had no smile of my own but the farce that I painted on my cheeks, that red stream of colour, larger than life against the pasty white background. “You’re nothing but a clown!” they would say to me, laughing at my poor excuse for a face. “Pizza, pizza, pizza!” They would gleefully taunt me as the food was passed out, but I knew they were really talking about me. Zits, spots, and blemishes the make-up could cover up… but hatred? There was no face-mask potent enough to cover up my wretched heart.

I almost beaned a kid the other day as he stood there smiling, so innocent, taunting me with his joy. Soon. I thought, calming the urge to kick a puppy… or hit a kid. Balls were where I started, those soft, meaningless play-things meant for kids… for hitting kids. Soon I’d be promoted to juggling fire. “Who’s the clown now!” I would scream as the flames engulfed my world. They rose in my mind higher and higher, consuming man, woman… and child. “No more smiling faces.” I said aloud, applying the final touches of deception to my face. “No more smiling faces…”

~~~

I jumped out of the shoes and backed away, slowly. Psycho! My search was more frantic now. A tiny pair of shoes was next, barely big enough to fit half of my foot in. How I got into them is still a mystery, but what choice did I have? These child’s tennis shoes, their lime green skin and Velcro lacing, held the most promise.

~~~

Screaming. Fighting. Hitting. “No!” I screamed.

“You’re such a brat!” My father yelled in from the other room as he came storming over. Mother looked at him with soft eyes, but he was not fazed. “I will have no more of these tantrums! Do as you’re told!” Do as you’re told. Those words I hated the most sent me into a fit, lashing out, biting and scratching. Mother released me with a whimper of pain, and I fled. Door slammed. Lock shoved into place. Face thrown at my pillow. Tears falling. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand. Do as you’re told, that woman had said as she played with the buttons of my shirt. Such authority, power, I couldn’t fight it. Where could I run? What could I do? No room. No door. No lock. No pillow… but the tears were still there, plain as day, sliding down my face, splashing against my naked skin as they fell. My shoes, sometimes she didn’t take them off, but this time she did.

~~~

“Monster!” I screamed out-loud, prying my feet out of those sneakers that now lay there torn and broken, my feet larger than the tiny ones they were made for. I stopped thinking now, jumped into another pair of shoes without even seeing what they looked like. A screech. Bright lights. A bus. Smash! Crack! My legs. The blood. Then the pain. Vision began to blacken. The world I knew was gone.

I lay there for a time, crying in the dark, afraid to open my eyes. I had been thrown from the shoes with the impact of the bus, but I didn’t want to look. The musty smell of Grandfather’s old shop no longer soothed me. I came here to run away: run from my life. Escapism they called it. At least, that’s what my psychologist said. One final pair of shoes floated in my mind’s eye, taunting me. These shoes were not pretty, not special, worn, old, almost dead. I knew I had to, but didn’t want to. Why couldn’t I just sit for a time, admiring Grandfather’s old shoes? I was no shoe collector, that was just the lie that helped me sleep at night… because nothing else did.

Grandfather would never let me in the shop with these shoes. “You can’t fix what isn’t there.” He looked at my feet in bitter distaste, those bare-feet of a cobbler’s grandson.

“I just want to try!” I would plead with him. His shoes were always the best and felt so good on my feet, but he would have none of it.

“A shoe for a shoe,” he stuck to his rules. There was enough thievery in these parts that he wouldn’t unlock those cases full of shoes unless he received payment… or a trade. With no shoes to deposit and no money, he wouldn’t even let his own grandson try on a pair. Now the shop was mine. The shoes were mine. I could try them on all day, but it wouldn’t wipe out my pain. I had walked a mile in so many of these shoes, but today the miles hurt like a stone in the sole that wouldn’t go away no matter how many times the shoe was removed and shaken.

“Be thankful for what you have,” mother always said. She was the world’s biggest optimist, but what did that do for her? She still got the same bullet from the same gun.

I had nothing then, and even less now. When that gun was held to my own head, the man telling me to give him what I had, I could not answer. I truly had nothing but my mother and wife. Grandfather had long since passed away with the rest. The man with the gun didn’t seem to care, for he took all that I had with two sharp bullets. Bang! Bang! The sound rattled through my brain, but it was not my head that suffered until I saw the heads of the others, those two beautiful woman with an extra hole in their faces where it didn’t belong.

“Be thankful for what you have,” my psychologist had said it too, but what did he know? He didn’t know what it was like to walk a mile in my shoes, or even a block!

“Escapism is a way of life,” I would argue with him, but he didn’t listen, didn’t understand… maybe he was right. If this was my way of life, it had failed me today. I ran from that old rickety shoe store, thick callouses being my shoe of choice. My shoes were free, and I desperately wanted someone to take them from me. I didn’t lock my shoes in glass cases like Grandfather, but no one ever tried to steal them.

I walked many a mile in many a shoe, but walked many more in my own. The dust of the road caked them as I shuffled along, kicking it up. Maybe I could disappear behind this cloud and never come back. No one would find me. I could die happy… or at least I could die… then maybe someone would take these shoes from my corpse. Grave robbery was a crime, but I cared not. I had no jewellery for them to claim, no expensive suit… just my shoes and the life that came with them.

I don’t know how long I walked for; was it days, weeks, months? It was long enough for me to fall, long enough for me to wish I was dead, and soon I would be. My feet were raw, clothes torn, stomach screaming, and throat parched. One final pair of shoes lay just out of my reach, taunting me. Maybe these would be the shoes. Part of me wanted to die… most of me, but those shoes spoke to that shred of hope within me. I could live a happy life, a free life, a perfect life… with a perfect pair of shoes. Those shoes didn’t look perfect, but the perfect shoes were perfect deceptions, covering up the hideous feet inside them. My grandfather, the clown, the little boy, the dead girl… I didn’t want perfect looking shoes, just perfect shoes.

Though my body screamed against it, I fought to grab the rotting leather straps that lay just out of reach, dragging myself in the dirt with every bit of strength that remained. Soon I had one, and then the other. They had been here for a long time, the leather straps almost disintegrating in response to my touch. That final pair of shoes would be my fate… or death, and I couldn’t decide which would be better.

~~~

Absentee dad, prostitute mom, abusive older brother, dead sister – a life of crime was the result. Escapism, I thought. When parents fail their duties, kids must grow up quickly. That home was no place for this boy, so I left. The streets became my home, and thievery my parents, providing for me better than my “parents” ever had. I wasn’t rich, but at least I was alive… which was more than I could say for my sister.

Now I stood, facing a man with wife and mother, gun in my hand. “Give me all you have!” I screamed at him, but he stood there like a dumb kid, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Why did he just stare at me? I could see he didn’t have much, but at least he had his health. I hadn’t eaten in days… weeks maybe, and I was desperate. My hunger began to play tricks with my mind and I lost control. Bang! Bang! I heard the gun go off. Was it me who shot it? I saw the two women dead on the ground with holes in their heads, holes in places they didn’t belong. What had I done to them? What had I done to the man with them?

I ran away in fear and found the darkest corner I could, pitching that gun far into the distance. Images swirled in my head as the sound came back to me. Bang! Bang! Two shots, but one death. It was my sister. She had struggled for a time, but finally my brother had enough and just shot her, right in the head. Bang! Bang! This time the sound was slower as he stripped her down and forced himself on her dying body. Bang! Bang! The sound of the bed against the wall.

I had been the kid with his hand in the cookie jar, watching this horror unfold before me. That was when I ran. Now it was this man, staring like a dumb kid at what I had done to him and those two women with him. Bang! Bang! I tried to shake the images from my mind, but my ears kept ringing, the shots repeating themselves over and over again. This was no life for me. I had turned into the very thing I was running from. I didn’t know how, but my life needed to change.

~~~

That was all in the past now. I didn’t know what became of that man so long ago, but I knew what became of me: running a homeless shelter for troubled youth, youth like me. How I’d managed it, I couldn’t tell you. Only one thing I knew. That day so long ago still played in my mind like a skipping record. Those two women I’d shot were dead, but I wasn’t. I was alive, more alive than I had ever known. If I ever met that man again, I would apologize. He deserved to know my story… his story, for it all started with him. I wouldn’t be here today without that tragic accident when the trigger was pulled and two women lay dead on the ground. Somehow, I would tell him, but would he understand? Maybe if he walked a mile in my shoes…

Diary of the Displaced Omnibus by Glynn James

A DRM-free dark fantasy/horror diary… I mean book… I mean omnibus.

The Rating:

Did you ever keep a diary as a kid (or maybe still do as an adult)?  When keeping a diary, what are most afraid of?  That someone will find it, right?  Not only will someone know all of your deepest and darkest or secrets, but in today’s society they may also post it on the Internet in the form of an ebook for anyone to read.  At least that’s what Glynn James would do… (you sneaky bastard, you).  The question then becomes, however, is your diary worth reading?  What’s going on in that head of yours? Do you just have a boring old life where all you talk about is what you ate fore breakfast (like too many Facebook updates and tweets out there), or do you like in a strange world where light and food are the two most precious commodities.  (Okay, so maybe that part isn’t too strange.  I think that light and food are important, no matter what world you come from/live in.
The Good:

Diary of the Displaced – Omnibus is a collection of the first three books in the DoD series, and it seems like Glynn James is off to a great start.  The book opens with a guy who is lost in a dark world and must find a way to survive, battling starvation and the strange creatures of this land he finds himself in.  The first half of The Journey of James Halldon (book one of the omnibus) does a great job at describing this struggle through the journal entry style.  When reading it truly feels like I am James Halldon, recounting the events of the previous day as I write my journal entry.  Often times the reader is brought out of the action as James says things like “and how I found time to write this journal entry, I’ll never know” or “and now I sit to write this journal entry.”  This narrative style, though it seemingly breaks up the action, puts a fresh twist on the POV that maybe James feel like a real character who is actually writing about his experiences.

A big question I had by only a few “days” into the book was, “I wonder how Glynn James will tackle dialogue in this narrative style?”  I couldn’t conceivable see a way to maintain the out-of-body-diary-writing format while dealing with dialogue.  By about half way through The Journey of James Halldon, the reader is introduced to another character, thus dialogue ensues.  Unfortunately, Glynn James dealt with the dialogue in the regular “put in in quotes” fashion, thus taking away from the diary narrative style a bit.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, and does not take away from the book in any way, but I, personally, was hoping to see some innovation when it comes to dealing with dialogue and heavy action scenes to make the whole book carry on the definitive and distinct narrative style that the tale starts out in.  One thing that I loved concerning this was when a character had to tell a story.  Instead of the story being a series of paragraphs in dry dialogue, Glynn James starts a new chapter entiteled “Adler’s Tale” or something of the like.  The POV then changes to the “diary” of this other character, and they retell their tale.  This kept with the “diary” style nicely, and I applaud the author for this unique and intriguing narrative mechanic.

I found that Glynn James not only had a good handle on how to keep the action moving, but he did an excellent job at keeping the dialogue fresh and exciting.  I enjoyed some of the subtle humour that was employed, and found James Halldon’s internal monologue about the scene added nicely to this.  Such monologue also allowed for great character development of Halldon, who is telling a story of self-discovery (having lost his memory and all) just as much as survival.

I was a little concerned when reading the Omnibus that it would simply be a case of “this should just have been one book,” especially when I was almost half way through the Omnibus and hadn’t finished the first book, seeing no conceivable conclusion in the near future.  I was, however, pleasantly rewarded with a definite ending to the first book leaving room for more questions to be answered as the series continued, but also giving be a sense of completion plot-wise.  The style of the storytelling and even genre of the book changes a lot as the Omnibus progresses into the second and third books of the series.  The first book (especially the first half) tells a nice survival/horror tale (if horror can be “nice”) with elements of fantasy thrown in.  The second and third books hold to a more standard third person narrative style and move away from survival into a dark fantasy/sci-fi genre.

The Bad:

First things first.  Why are there three books?  The Broken Lands and The Ways should really have been one book.  Though the first book has a nice conclusion, the second does not.  Also, the first book is as long as the second and third put together.  The Broken Lands ends on a cliff hanger, which isn’t bad in itself, but a cliff hanger is not synonymous with, “I didn’t conclude the plot at all guys!  Stay tuned!”  From hence forth I will consider The Broken Lands and The Way to be one entity, because they just make more sense that way.

Book 2-3 moves much quicker than book one, which is not bad in and of itself.  It fits well with the narrative style and genre shifts, but it is implemented in a way that make the story feel rushed.  Book one introduced concepts/people/places in a well paced manner, but book 2-3 does not.  Everything moves so fast and new concepts/places/people are introduce so quickly that it can be difficult to keep track of everything at times.  I say “at times” because it does not detract from the book a whole lot and I only felt that as a whole the pacing seemed a bit off, though nothing specific stood out while I was reading it.  If Glynn James spent more time explaining or using these new concepts that were introduced, I feel like it would have flowed better (and added more words to read, which is never a bad thing… well, I shouldn’t say never.  Words just for the sake of words is a bad thing).  Even in the final chapters (days) of the book there were concepts set up/explained that felt rather shoved in just to tie up loose ends or aid the plot and/or questions the reader might still have.

One minor gripe I have is that there are two “ghost” characters that to me felt like the same “person.”  When one or the other were talking/doing things (omitting their separate introductions) there was no reason to make any distinction.  Glynn James could have said “one of the ghosts” and been set.  In fact, once both characters are in the story, they mostly remain together leaving absolutely no reason to differentiate them.

However, this minor gripe leads into a bigger issue.  Though the character of James Halldon was well done… no one else’s was.  Every other character felt distinctly like a “side character” so much so that I had no reason to distinguish one from another or care about them, their story, or motivations individually.  Basically James Halldon has a mission and the story revolves around that so exclusively that nothing else is really important.  The exception to this is James family who the reader is only interested in because they have a connection to Halldon.

A few spelling/grammar errors take the polished feel away from this work, but nothing too major stands in the way of the reader, and the errors are few and far between.  An interesting stylized “error” is dropping the person pronoun I/me from the beginning of sentences.  At the beginning I thought this to be strange, resulting in many fragments, but as the story progressed I found out that this is Glynn James writing style, and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is seeming on purpose and works well mostly, only rarely making paragraphs feel disjointed.

Conclusion:

Glynn James paints a beautiful dark fantasy world that any horror or fantasy fan will feel right at home in.  There are still enough questions unanswered at the end leaving room for side books / sequels, but the story does have a definite and satisfying conclusion.  I do feel that these books should be read together as an Omnibus and not individually as they play off of each other in a brilliant way that I feel would be lost if read on their own.   The first book can easily be read as a separate entity, but book 2-3 demands that you read the first and does not work on its on.  Overall a great book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  As a side note, not only are all works of Glynn James DRM-free, but I have heard from him personally that he considers himself a “DRM hater.”  Amen to that.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Glanderxe – Chapter 16

If spirit’s had eyes, they would be crying now, shaking uncontrollably, weeping. His father was there, hovering over the face of the pool that stood in the middle of the garden. Shafts of purple luminescence gave the water an unnatural glow, as the two unnaturals met: Tiyhak and his father.

“My son,” Klychawk greeted him and they shared a would-be embrace, for how can spirits embrace?

Tiyhak cried, his pain entering reality. Ignoring it was easy, shoving it away into the deep recesses of his mind and spirit until he was seemingly unaffected. Now, the full force of his loss trickled down his would-be face. The body affords some luxuries, being so removed from spirit and soul that one might forget themselves for a time… a time, but not forever. Now he faced the inevitable pain of loss that was locked away in the darkest corners of his spirit. Now, his true self was revealed, and who better to share the moment than his father.

“It hurts…” Tiyhak spoke, the pool below coming alive with the soft patter of his tears.

“It gets better…” was all he could say, that consoling father. “He was your first.”

Those days are often cherished… first love. So innocent, so free, so… in love. Nothing in the world could get between you, those juvenile lusts your guide, dictating the does and don’ts. It hurts, those words oft found on the lips of comparable babes, resting on their mother’s shoulders. Heartache. Loss. Pain. Part of you seemingly ripped away, leaving an empty, gaping hole that nothing and no one can fill. It gets better, the mother says, stroking her child’s hair, kissing them atop the head.

First loves are never forgotten… nor are first losses. What is a father to do but sit with his son, provide a shoulder, and cry himself, sharing tears with the heartbroken. Soon a steady pitter-patter of sorrow fell on the pool. Like rain, it sprinkled the glassy water, the view from below like a window pane soaking up tears. The rain fell, bouncing off of the glass, sliding down its surface in sad descent. Ripples broadened, the pool becoming a potential surfers-paradise for water-striders.

Trees around the two spirits hung their heads in respectful mourning, remembering the excitement of Tiyhak on his previous visit to the garden. No longer did his heart burn with passion, but it was torn in two, blood spilling out of the unmendable half that remained. Someday he would find another. One day his heart would be restored, but now was not the time. Like finding a lover at the graveside of your widow, he would not take another slave now. The timing had to be perfect. The man had to be perfect. Who better to fill the hole than the one would caused this pain. Mert Whatley.

***

“Get off!” Cargh fought the Pharosh whose tiny arms held onto the hair which gathered on his chin.

“Oo, it tickles!” the lizard pulled away, giggling, then turned around to face me and my captor as we re-entered the prison. “Look at the short one dance!”

“You want a dance? My lady would surely oblige!” If Cargh still held Fioreh, he would have drawn her then. The pain on his face at missing her was less than evident behind that mask of hair and rage.

“Come on, shorty! Dance with me!” The Pharosh reached for his beard once again, but he ducked and rolled, coming up being his captor and kicked his scaled-tail. “Ow!” the attacked shrieked and began hopping around like a rabbit searching for a mate.

“Get out of there!” the one who led me in this “game” of follow the leader reprimanded his partner. At such direction, the Pharosh slinked out of the cell and sat on the cold stone metaphorically licking his wounds. I was led to the cell, which I entered gladly, not knowing how these over-grown lizards would respond to an escape attempt. “Good,” he said, “Now that you’re out of the way… I can dance!” He reached for Cargh with child-like glee as the man jumped back, dodging his attempt. The Pharosh covered his mouth and let out an embarrassed giggle. “Okay, little man. I can see that you’re shy. We will dance later, wallflower” He wasn’t finished laughing as he closed the stone door to our cell.

Kyra sat in the far corner of the room, thoroughly amused at the “game” the Pharosh were playing. I guessed that she wouldn’t be as amused if she had been the centre of attention. Shaking my head, I sat against the far wall with her, the small steel-bared window high above. I voiced my opinion to her that the Pharosh would no more help us with Klychawk than they would free us from this prison. She responded in the insulting way I should have by now come to expect from her, wondering why I would expect them to. Refraining from lashing out at her as was my norm, I remained silent. She was the one who desperately had sought out the Pharosh, running fearfully like prey in a hunt. If she had no constructive input to offer our situation, I certainly had no desire to speak with her on the matter.

***

If the smooth stone of the cell was cold by day, the night was something else altogether. The moon greeted me with little light from the small window above, the type of light that provided little comfort and even less heat. The weather and wildlife of Coere Ghante dictated the sounds of the night, and in Glanderxe the idle merriment of men and women were my final lullaby, but here is Kho Arian the unnatural hiss of steam and rocketing of stone carts on steal tracks unceasingly tortured me. I cared nothing for the juvenile promiscuity of Glanderxe, but at least mirth and clinking glasses held a semblance of things natural. Those idle songs of men who had more drink than sense would fill the air, the words becoming more muffled with ale as the night waned on. Here the songs of the night were all the same, no twittering of a sparrow, raven’s bone-chilling call, or man’s laughter, but the whizz of one cart after another, carrying the night-life to whatever pleasures the Pharosh amused themselves with.

Irony was my welcome companion as I woke to the sound of another song, differing from all the rest. I grumbled at the sound, for if the metropolitan choir of Kho Arian wasn’t keeping me up, this new song surely would – a joyous whistle from the lips of some creature passing by on the street above. The melody rose and fell as the singer drew closer to the window through which the song reached my ears. As if the background instrumentation of the city and the whistled melody were not enough, percussion was added to the mix as steel clattered on the stone floor in front of me. It was an axe… not unlike the one taken from Cargh on our entrance to this land.

Cargh and Kyra either were unfazed by the voices of the night or deceived me by appearing asleep. The percussion, however, left no room for even the heaviest sleeper to remain so. Jumping to his feet, Cargh rushed over to the place where the axe now lay, cold moonlight revealing its position. As he bent down to pick it up, another cymbal was struck, but the resulting sound was more dull than the drummer had intended. Clutching his axe in one hand, Cargh rose to no sooner be struck on the head by the hilt of a falling sword. A soft orange glow filled the cell from the weapon that now lay on the floor, a weapon clearly not designed for throwing through tiny windows onto defenceless prisoners below. “Oi!” Cargh bellowed up at the window, enraged. “Fioreh is not to be hurled about like some common stone or hunting knife!”

The only reply he received, an ironic one at that, was two small knifes being dropped from above, which would have impaled him had he not jumped back from the place where the weapons were falling. Lady Eyes soon joined the heap of weapons on the ground as did the Horn of Riul. No one moved, for fear that more sharp things would fall from the window, as the whistling began to leave. It returned as if thinking twice. “Silly me,” those first words of the night minstrel broke up his whistling before a set of keys were dropped on top of the pile. “Wouldn’t want to forget those.” The whistling faded once again, the only evidence of its presence lay before me on the stone.

Picking up Lady Eyes I admired her once more. We had been separated for but a moment, but still a moment longer than I ever wished to experience again. Her harsh blue skin stood out even more, enhanced by the cool moonlight.

Cargh grumbled in the corner, rubbing his head, as Kyra and I redressed ourselves. “That fool could have killed someone.”

“And now we can kill someone.” Kyra grabbed the keys from the floor.

I hope that someone isn’t Cargh. Their hatred for each other was plain, and I had no desire to witness a bloodbath… though I was somewhat curious who might come out victorious if they were to engage each other.

Kyra slid the key through a small slit in the stone, and her success was rewarded with the slow release of steam. The door slid out from its place, revealing the small room populated with many other sealed cells, but more importantly, a stone table at which two Pharosh guards sat. I could have hoped all I wanted that they had fallen down on their duties, either abandoning us or falling asleep, but that would have been in vain. If they were asleep before the door opened, they certainly weren’t now, the hiss coming from the cell signifying our escape. Standing to their feet and noticing our drawn weapons, they looked surprised, but drew no weapons of their own, claws and teeth assumed adequate for the job at hand.

Before I knew what was happening, Cargh ran at the first of the Pharosh faster than I would have thought those short legs of his allowed. He plunged right into the beast’s chests, bowling it over onto the ground. Kyra threw one of her knifes at the other guard to no effect, the sharp blade bouncing off the natural armour of the scaled being. The Pharosh made a clicking noise with the tip of his tongue. “Naughty little wolf.” It charged at her, and I swung my blade, attempting to have more of an impact than that dagger from the hands of Kyra. Lady Eyes acted more like a metal pole than the sharp, death-bringer I imaged she would be. She slowed him down, but only a little as he blew through her and launched himself off of the ground, pouncing like a cat at Kyra. She twisted her body out of the way and I watched as Lady Eyes flew from my hand and the Pharosh landed hard against the far wall, smashing one of the gas lanterns.

Cargh was on the ground and on the other Pharosh, pounding pommel of blade and axe interchangeably into its face. “Who’s the short one now!” he taunted. “Stay on the ground where you belong, lizard!” The second Pharosh came at Kyra again, apparently perceiving her with one dagger a greater threat than myself, being unarmed and all. Lady Eyes was on the far side of the room and both Pharosh stood between us, separating me from her once again. I ran to the place where the lizard had first been and snatched up Kyra’s knife. It felt so weak and stupid in my hands, but would have to do for now. Kyra was deflecting the side slashing arms of the Pharosh with her knife. Running over to the beast, I searched for a place between its massive scales to sink my knife and found one, but fighting should not take so much contemplative calculation. These unknown enemies and that unfamiliar weapon caused me to falter.  The Pharosh swung its giant tale for me as my knife found its mark. I was knocked off of my feet and looked up at the beast that now stood over me, having continued its swing attempting to catch Kyra in the same fate that I now faced. She, being more graceful and practised than I, jumped over the tail with seemingly little effort.

I lay there helpless, staring up at my attacker. It let out a great roar which shook the building, exposing row upon row of razor sharp teeth. Soon those teeth would pierce my flesh. I hoped for a quick death as the ominous maw approached me. I have heard of teeth falling out, whether by age or unnatural means, but this being should not be growing any more teeth. It seemed to think so as well, and certainly if more teeth were warranted in that giant mouth, they shouldn’t be made of steel and turned upside down to pierce its tongue. Also, most teeth don’t have Kyra the Tallri attached to them. She stabbed it once, then twice, and its roar turned into a muffled, painful shriek. It turned in an attempt to knock her down once again, but she was no more easily fooled than she had been the first time. She jumped forward, grabbing the blade I had stuck in its back and began to stab it repeatedly, riding it like a dragon.

I had no tact in battle, and barely had managed a single thrust, but Kyra made it look like art. She swung again and again, never missing the soft flesh between its scales, never falling from its back. Once it fell, it did not rise, and neither did the other Pharosh who remained on the ground where it had been ever since Cargh had put it there. Though the first of the lizards did not breathe fire, the second one seemed to with Fioreh plunged down its throat, flames erupting from its mouth, burning from inside out. Cargh left the blade there for a time, watching the slow death of his prey, before wrenching her free. We did not remain there until the inevitable pile of scales and bones was all that remained. Grabbing Lady Eyes from the wall she had been flung against, I followed Kyra and Cargh from that prison which should have held us longer than it did.

***

I had no desire to hold Cargh back from the hatred which had bubbled up inside him when he was atop the Pharosh guard, bashing his face in continually. Such emotions served us well then… but not now. Our night minstrel and weapon retriever was a member of this lizard race, the same as our jailers. I couldn’t say that his motivations held the same similarities. Though Cargh was small, our Pharosh saviour was smaller, and it took me and Kyra both to make the allmarach choose reason over steel. He eventually conceded, lowering his weapons, though I could tell that he was not happy about it and I watched closely for any signs of him going against his word to not harm the Pharosh. Cargh needed no reason other than racism itself to run his blade through this “vile rock abuser,” and he made sure to tell me so, frequently and loudly. I aimed not to give him more reason than he already had.

I reminded him that the little lizard – not as far as lizards go, but compared to the other reptiles roaming these parts – had freed us, but that didn’t seem to matter. I urged him to at least listen to what the man had to say before passing judgement to which he responded, “His judgement is passed and his price is set! The Rock will allow no abusers to live.” Though his tongue lashed out, his sword-arm did not, of which I was thankful.

When I asked the Pharosh to explain himself he would reply with things like, “just for fun” and other seemingly meaningless phrases. He seemed to be quite enjoying this game, watching Cargh’s face turn red with rage and laughing hysterically while he spoke more riddles and explained even less, until Cargh picked up the little guy and held Fioreh to his neck. At this point, such uncontrollable rage paid off, me not being the only one who feared for the minstrel’s life. He promised to talk as Cargh released him, setting him back on the ground. The little lizard, who we soon learned called himself Othban, explained that he was a member of a certain non-conformist sect of the Pharosh, having nothing in common with the rest other than form and heritage. “No one can help what they look like, but everyone can help who they are.”

Racism had been the way of the Pharosh, “ever since the Great War,” he said, a point I could not argue. Othban and the other members of this “sect” of his held no such beliefs considering it juvenile to judge a whole race based on a single event in history. I agreed with his “can’t we all just get alone” mentality, but was alone on this, Cargh and Kyra holding their own seemingly pointless and uninformed racial and religious animosities. They did, however, agree on a personal level, for not even they could hold to such racism completely which allowed and even condoned the Pharosh to lock them away in a cell. I’m sure, though, if the tables were turned, they would employ no such restrictions.

Being of such anti-cultural persuasion seemed reason enough for Othban to help us, though Cargh was unconvinced by his argument. He did, however, allow this “vile abuser” to live, which I considered progress enough. “The Rock is not heartless. If he wishes to use an abuser as a spy in the midst of the vile, who am I to argue.” As long as Cargh was happy explaining away his reasoning for letting Othban live, I cared not how he did it.

Kyra didn’t say much, but seemed happy enough to be out of the dungeon. She focused less on Othban and more on the world around us, watching every dark corner either for potential threats or simply to find the best hiding spots, should the shadows be needed. I asked what she was looking for, but she gave no response. “Don’t worry about Klychawk. We are with the Pharosh now.” These were the words I chose, though they didn’t really mean anything. Kyra was the one who was here to obtain the “secret of the Pharosh.” I simply came to deliver my message, and that was done. As far as I was concerned, the next thing on the list was the long journey home to deliver a sad refusal to the crown.

One thing still troubled me, though. Don’t think about trying to run, unless you don’t care about getting your spirit back. What did Mr. Big mean by that? Such a question didn’t need asking, for the void inside of me was answer enough. Ever since that cannonball had hit me, something had been missing. Othban started laughing when I questioned him about it. “Spirit cannons,” he said. “I wouldn’t be too concerned, though. I’ve done just fine without a spirit for as far back as I can remember.” The wink he ended this statement with was less comforting that he had intended it to be. “What is it they say? One life, one death. Two lives, two.” His eyes glazed over recalling the words before that familiar Pharosh smile returned to his face. “One death would seem bad enough, eh? Why die twice?”

“I assure you, a spirit affords more to a man than two deaths.” It was the first time that Kyra had spoken since leaving the prison.

“For you perhaps, wolf-lady. Not everyone has special magics like you.” She looked at him disdainfully. “Pardon me. I mean no disrespect. Just… what use would I have for becoming a wolf, or a raven? Is not a dragon the good things of both, having wings for flight and claws and teeth for action?” He hopped up and down, baring his teeth and slashing at the air like a kid fighting his imagination. Who knew a Pharosh could be cute? “And besides, I have no access to such things, nor could you have them back until you leave, if we did happen to retrieve them.” He said it like happening to retrieve them was as simple as finding a penny in the cracks of the sidewalk. “Not even the clan would permit that.” Making a clicking noise with the tip of his tongue, he went on. “Too dangerous. Too dangerous.” His head shook.

What could be dangerous about having a spirit? If you asked this question to Othban, he would tell you that no spirit means no spirit-tracking, making Kho Arian completely invisible to prying eyes. No spiritual travel was safe without a solid destination, nor was it profitable, and the Pharosh had taken care of any physical travel. “It’s quite a system it is,” he said with pride. “Pumping that lava beneath the river. Pure genius, I tell you! I don’t care for many of the customs of my people, by our obsession with security really can’t be argued with… just the motive behind it. I’ll help those who get through, but the boiling water and spirit canons keep the baddies away, by George they do!”

“I could get through as a raven.” Kyra was still a little on edge from his dragon comment.

Othban laughed once more, which certainly didn’t help matters, though I knew he had no intention of angering her. “Oh yes! One blast from those cannons and your spiritless body would fall to the boiling water below! What a sight!” He laughed again, amused at the picture. “Thousands of Tallri, falling like flies… I mean ravens. Haha!” After dodging a kick from Kyra he continued. “And besides. You’re not a baddie anyway!”

Righteousness like Steak: Rare or well done?

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Those words, so fresh, so true. That voice within me podded my heart to beat once again. Joy erupted from within, pouring down my cheeks. The salty flavour of those tears did not leave me as I rose from my knees, the events of the day still swirling in my mind.

“I gave it all away.” I said out loud, not caring who was around to hear. That woman, so helpless, dirty, distraught. Lost her husband, house, kids. What could I do with a few hundred dollars that this woman could not? My spirit rose to the challenge… and I gave it away. “All of it,” I spoke again, still amazed with what I had done. That smile that had stretched across her face was priceless. No money could buy such joy. I could trade a week’s pay-check for the look on that face or the salt on my lips in a heartbeat.

As a kid, I had been taught to do good and run from evil, but never knew that it could be so enjoyable. Who knew that I could feel so good about giving that money away? The next day afforded me the opportunity to help an old lady across the road, and I approached it with even greater joy, knowing the rewards would be more profitable than the inconvenience. Nothing could be better. The view from this emotional mountain-top was so beautiful, and that voice in my head more audible than ever before. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Though the climb had been gruelling, I took each step in great expectation, picking myself up when I fell, looking forward to the view from the top. I pushed myself hard, working at each step as the air grew thin, breath quickened, and heart beat louder than a speeding train. Leaving the swampy muck of my former life behind, I pressed on. Thievery, adultery, and selfishness all sunk like giant boulders beneath the inky black sludge of the past.

Now, on the mountain-top, I looked back at the mess my life had been. The swamp was dark and foreboding, reminding me of those days that seemed so long ago: the dark branches of the trees reaching for me, my feet sinking into the mud. I hadn’t known that life could be different, but up here the contrast was daunting. Flowers poked their heads through the green blanket below, speckling the ground in beauty. The trek up the mountain had been worth it, the scene before me breath-taking. Trees dotted the horizon. In the distance, that red globe of might rose to greet the day, shaking hands with the leaves as they caught on the wind and were lifted to the heavens, swirling, dancing, playing in the air before gracefully descending to the blanket of green below, like feathers.

One loose rock. One misstep, and I was falling. The scene below faded from view, the sky replacing it as I fell on my back, sliding down the mountain. Rocks and dirt raced me to the bottom. One slip up and that voice in my head spoke again, “Worthless. You disappoint me.”

“I’m sorry,” I said between tears, digging my heals into the earth to cease my decent. I got up, receiving no help from the voice. “I’ll do better next time, I promise.” It was only a few steps, just a small slip up. Soon I was on the mountain once again, looking down, but the scene was not as awe-inspiring as before. I saw little pebbles scurrying down the side of the rock to their death below: little pieces of my righteousness fleeing, never to return.

How could I have been so stupid? It was just a candy-bar. What did it cost, two dollars? I could afford that… or maybe not after giving all my money away. I didn’t really need it, though. The guilt left a bitter taste in my mouth as I unpeeled the wrapper and took a bite. The sweet flavour of chocolate I had been expecting was swallowed up by the taste of guilt that still lingered on my tongue. I spat it out in disgust, throwing the rest of it away.

Two rights do not wash away a wrong… but three do. That’s what I thought anyway. Three lefts make a right, and I hoped for the same result from wrongs. Once I avoided temptation… then twice, and finally a third act of goodwill left me clean again… mostly. At least that’s what I told myself. The beautiful valley below still lacked the purity it once held in my eyes. The swamp called to me from behind, taunting me with my past. As I looked back, I lost my footing, falling one more time. This time I slid further, struggling against the voice in my head. “You’re nothing but a thief! You haven’t changed at all!” It sneered, pushing against the cold stone of the rock. Tufts of grass flew, rocks dislodged, clouds of dirt obscured my path. A baby tree was my only salvation, sending its roots into the rock, affording me a hand-hold to fight against my vile decent.

Pulling myself from the dirt, I brushed off my clothes, though could not get rid of the grass stains. Marked. I thought. “Marked as a thief.” The voice taunted me.

“God, why are you doing this to me? Have I not climbed the mountain?” I cried out, sinking to my knees.

Silence.

“I will try harder! I will be righteous!” Be Holy, for I am holy. A command of God written in the pages of his word, but what a command it was! How could I live up to such an expectation? I could do nothing but try: try to pick myself up, try to brush myself off, try to climb the mountain. Loose stones tortured me. I fell again. Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, another trip, another slide, another fall. Clouds of dust masked my vision. Soft earth taunted my toes where the grass was ripped and torn. I lost my footing, tripped on an invisible stone in this blanket of dust. On hands and knees now, I crawled, climbing for the top one shuffle at a time. “Marked! A failure! Unrighteous! Unworthy!” The voice would not leave me alone. “No one is righteous, no not even one.” It began quoting scripture at me, prophesying my fate.

Well done, my good and faithful servant? Those were the days. What happened to that voice? As I reached the top of the mountain again, I turned around to look at the valley below, and began to cry. The side of the mountain was torn, ripped up like the face of a tortured innocent man. Dust hung in the air, masking the once beautiful scenery. My vision was obscured by the wet of my eyes, that salty taste of old again on my lips… but not the same, joy replaced with sorrow. The salt enhanced the bitter flavour or my guilt, leaving me all too aware of my unrighteousness. “You are nothing but a sinner.” The voice sneered again.

I could hold myself up no longer. The pain of my failure kicked me in the shins and my legs crumbled beneath me. I fell, but this time did not get up. I didn’t even try. I soared down the side of the mountain like a garbaged tin can, spinning, bumping, rolling. Rocks hit my head, grass ripped at my clothes, dirt caked my face. I halted at the bottom with a final thud – nowhere left to go. The wet dew on the grass turned my powdered skin into a sticky, wet mask of mud.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none who does good, there is not even one.”

I knew that voice was right. Why had I ever tried? Was I not destined for the grave? Destruction? Death? Why try to be righteous when I could not?

“Zeal for God.” Another voice entered the scene. This new, pure, crisp voice whispered into my ear, but not like the other voice. “Eager to please, but seeking to work out your own righteousness.”

“Own unrighteousness,” the other voice corrected. “A failure!”

“My child,” the softer voice said, seemingly ignoring the accusations of the first. “You are not a failure.”

I screamed, trying to drown out this argument in my head. “I am not righteous! I am not worthy!” The tears began again as I fought this battle within.

“Unrighteous! Unworthy!” the voice egged me on.

“Not… by… works…” the three soft words tore throw the cacophony with finality. Those three words, long ago heard but forgotten, cut into the battlefield like a hot knife slicing butter. The first voice stepped into the attack, its breastplate or unrighteousness shattered by the swing of the sword. Pieces flew into the air as the hot knife stuck its mark, exposing the voice for who it really was. Its words repeated in my mind. Well done, good and faithful servant. These words spewed from the mouth of the Deceiver with vile intent. Without face and name, the voice had sounded sweet, but no longer. Those cracked, dead lips spat out the words like administering poison. Well done… the Deceiver’s fingers came together, revealing his cruel intent …good and faithful servant.

Those first words of the Deceiver turned sour in his mouth: first words, and last words. The farce was over, being exposed, no more trickery, no more lies, no more deceit. That first voice from the mountain-top left as quickly as it had come.

“Zeal for God, but without knowledge.” sadness was evident in the remaining voice as it spoke once again.

What knowledge? I wondered, though the question was answered simultaneously with its manifestation. “Not knowing about God’s righteousness, you seek to establish your own.” I left my shoulder open for the crying voice, his sweet tears trickling down and falling like the soft pattering of April showers.

“Righteousness…” I asked, letting the voice cry for a time. “…of God?”

“Through faith… not by works so that no one can boast.” The voice finished with finality. “The righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Because of his death, you are made alive… free… righteous.”

My own righteousness had fallen. I had fallen. My own righteousness was a failure, but I was not. My own righteousness was corrupt, but I was not. The voice stretched out its hand and picked me up from my fallen state on the grass. “Come, walk with me.” The garden had been beautiful from above, high on that mountain-top, but nothing could compare to its beauty now. A leaf brushed against my cheek it glided to the ground. I breathed in deeply and smelt the soft scent of the flowers. The cool, moist air alighted on my face, washing away the dirt and grime. From so close I could hear the birds, rustling the leafs of the trees, singing their soft serenades to each other.

“The righteousness of God.” I said, in awe of this once foreign idea.

The voice which walked with me turned, and smiled. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Dragon Fate by J.D. Hallowell

WARNING!  This book is not DRM-free!

The Rating:

What would you like to be when you grow up?  We have all been asked this question, but who has ever been asked what it’s like to be growing up.  If you are a dragon (which you’re not… unless there’s something you’re not telling me 😉 ) and someone asked you this not often asked question, J. D. Hallowell would respond with, “Hey, I wrote a book on that!”

Wait a minute, doesn’t the book description talk about intrigue?  Renegades?  World threatening “bad guys?”  Yes, and so does this book… eventually.

The Good:
Hallowell definitely thought a lot about this book before and during the writing process.  The highlight of and primary content in Dragon Fate is watching a dragon growing up.  Throughout this journey the reader has to opportunity to learn about dragon anatomy, biology, chemistry, culture etc.  Dragons being present in a fantasy novel is nothing novel (oh noes!  The puns!).  Mostly, however, they are involved mostly like any other non-character object would be in the world building process.

Author: “Let’s see here.  In order to make a good fantasy novel I need magic, swords, elves, mountains, forests, bad guys, heroes… oh, and dragons.”

Dragon Fate not only uses dragons because it is the thing to do, but it is about dragons.  Some would say that this book is a concise introduction to dragons.  If you don’t know anything about dragons, read this book and you will know everything there is to know about them: growth rate, diet, flight, fire-breath, etc.  I applaud Hallowell for putting so much thought and effort into what it means to be a developing dragon.

Something else that stands out in Dragon Fate is the relationship between dragon and rider.  This is by far the best part of the book.  The reader gets to experience their relationship as it buds and grows through the whole process of dragon development.  The dragon and her rider have a special bond that is not easily broken (unless you consider death easy… and if you do, don’t spread it around unless you want to be locked in a padded room wearing nothing but a straight jacket).

The Bad:
I could sum this up just by saying “the first two thirds of the book,” but that would be boring and doesn’t explain a whole lot.  Why did this book only deserve 2 stars?  Well, it was a hard choice between 2 stars and 3 because the last third of the book is actually pretty good and definitely deserves 3 or maybe even 4 stars.  This is where the plot starts picking up, and things happen, the story moves forward.  For the first two thirds of the book, however, we are simply watching a dragon grow up.  If you are a parent and you just loved sitting and staring at your kids while they grew, this may be the book for you.  It is not necessary the growing up that is the problem, but the way that it was done.

Like I said, what was good about this book is all of the time and effort put into what it means to be a dragon growing up, but this unfortunately doesn’t translate into good writing.  Most of the description was Delno (the protagonist) asking a question and the dragon, or someone else who knows a lot about dragons, answering.  This leaves giant sections of the book for extensive dialogue and in-depth explanation of the inner workings of dragons.  Unfortunately this is neither thought provoking or engaging from the reader’s stand-point.  Have you ever had someone explain something to you with such great detail that your eyes begin to glaze over and you lose focus on what they are even saying?  I can’t imagine how Delno didn’t experience this, because as a reader, I sure did.  This is the only issue with this book, but it is a big one.  If it takes two thirds of a book for the action and plot to finally start, many people will put it down not knowing if it will ever go anywhere.  I was tempted a number of times to set it aside for something else more engaging, but I pressed on and found that eventually it gets better, but you have to drudge through a lot of less than engaging sections before getting there.

When a book is done, usually the plot ends.  Yes, Dragon Fate has an ending, but I wouldn’t say it is a good one.  There is some conclusion and certain elements of the plot get resolved, but a lot is left unanswered.  I found myself wanting to know more about the characters in the story and the cultures of the world and less about the dragons and their anatomy.  I suppose this leaves room for the sequel, but what was introduced was not finished in an climactic way.  Because only the last third of book focused on plot and character development, a lot of it felt like Hallowell was done explaining about dragons and now just wanted to rush to the end to get the book over with.

There were a few spelling grammar errors that I noticed, but all in all this did not take away from the book.  Mostly they were incorrect or missing words and there maybe 4 or 5 in the entire 377 page book.  This, at least for me, was not a big issue at all, but it wouldn’t hurt for Hallowell to give it one more run through with the editor(s).

Conclusion:
All in all, this book was bearable, but barely.  I enjoyed the ending and I was glad to see the book through, but the journey there was like pulling teeth in slow motion.  Sometimes it is necessary to pull teeth, but if so, do it and get it over with instead of dragging it out like some sadistic dentist.  I hope that Dragon Blade (the second book in this series) progresses the plot better and does away the extensive explanation of the magic system and the inner workings of dragons, these having already been explained in this title, but am not crossing my fingers.  Dragon Fate had great potential and a good plot, but it was all fairly poorly implemented and left me feeling dry and unengaged by the tale.

Special Note:
I did not purchase this book, but was gifted it by the author.  As there is currently no way to buy a DRM-free version and I wanted to check out this title, I directed my concern to Hallowell and he gave me a copy Dragon Fate as well as Dragon Blade both DRM-free.  Hallowell assures me that he is currently working on offering e-book versions of these two title for purchase on his website, and the copies sold there will all be DRM-free, but until this feature is implemented, there is no sane way to purchase these titles.  If you are interested in this book, I would encourage you to contact the author directly or wait until you can purchase a DRM-free copy directly from him.

Where you can find it:

Nowhere DRM-free

Glanderxe – Chapter 15

I had never experienced death, for if I had, I would not be lying in the dark on this mighty stone bridge which stretched across the River West to meet the far banks of Kho Arian. Can you feel dead without actually being so? Why would I ask such a question when the answer was an inevitable yes. The darkness around me matched the darkness in my heart: not evil but empty. The void spread through my whole body like a sickness leaving my spirit immobile and dead. Like losing someone dearly loved, I felt as if I was at the graveside of… myself. Peering down into the dark hole, I saw nothing. There was no body to be placed in the grave, no physical form to gaze upon. As the dirt was shovelled into the hole I continued to look on aimlessly searching for the misplaced portion of myself that had been forcibly stolen from me.

I stood to my feet, but did not move, not wishing to leave more of myself behind as if my stolen spirit lay on the stone beneath my feet. A great crash filled the air as the stone bridge which stretched toward us from the shores beyond clicked into place, touching the solid yet previously incomplete bridge on which I stood. The slow hiss of steam which had come from the extending bridge subsided as it reaching this final resting place.

Men, and I use that word loosely, of varying sizes stepped out from behind the giant iron barrels which had fired on us. “Pharosh” I heard Cargh’s voice to my left and looked over at his menacing stance. With Fioreh in one hand and his axe in the other, he appeared ready to take on the whole band of them, thirty or so in number. The expression which he held on his face revealed malicious intent even more than the weapons drawn.

The Pharosh drew nearer and the orange glow from Fioreh matched pace with her luminescent intensity. As the first of them reached the orange pool of light around us I saw that the larger of them held strange weapons in their hands, or claws. “Calm yourself.” I didn’t feel like such simple words would keep Cargh from launching himself into the approaching Pharosh, but perhaps they would distract him from his rage for a time. “Lady Eyes commands it.”

Disdainful laughter spewed from his lips like warm liquor. “You know not the ways of the allmarach, Mert. Lady Eyes is not a name to be abused! She commands nothing, but abides by the will of the Rock!”

He took a step toward the oncoming crowd and I knew I would have to think quickly to prevent the bloodbath that would surely ensue. “They chased off our attackers. At least allow me to give them my thanks before you run them through.”

Cargh, ignoring my plea and lunged for the closest Pharosh. A crack of booming thunder and blast of light finished the fight before it had started. The barrel of the Pharosh’s weapon smoked menacingly as Cargh fell backward and landed on the stone, clutching his shoulder.

“Look, what we have here!” The one who had fired spoke, sounding more excited than the situation warranted.

“Well, come on. What is it?” Another one of them asked in bated expectation.

“It’s one of those little guys with the big beards!”

“It’s a dwarf!”

“No, they call themselves the allmarach.”

“What’s in a name? Wouldn’t a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?”

“I don’t know. I still call your mother Rose, and she always smells more like she’s been rolling in manure all night!”

“You call her Rose because that’s her name, you twit.”

“Right, but I thought we were past that? What’s in a name, right?”

From his position on the ground, Cargh stamped his foot down on the scaled toes of the Pharosh who had shot him.

“Ow! You want me to shoot you again?” It was doubtful that he who queried desired a response, but Cargh didn’t seem to mind.

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Cargh said under his breath, clearly not taking the hint.

“Come on! I don’t want to be out here all night. Someone grab the man, the wolf, and the dwarf.”

Allmarach!” Someone corrected again from the crowd.

“This one’s not a wolf,” another said as they approached Kyra and bound her hands.

“Don’t tell me you have another name for wolf now!”

“No, it’s a woman.”

“A Tallri, eh? Fine, I don’t really care who they are. I’m freezing my scales off.”

Cargh was pulled to his feet and his hands were tied. Kyra and I were not exempt from the same treatment. We were relieved of our weapons and marched off toward the iron drums the Pharosh had once stood behind. Never before had I been a prisoner, and certainly not by some over-grown lizards.

One of the Pharosh pulled a lever beside the canons once we were all together. The sounds of steam rose to my ears once again and the bridge began to move beneath my feet. Now closer to the source, I could also hear metal beams shifting and clanking into place beneath us as the bridge folded back on itself leaving the unfinished stone extension behind. Finally I was going to enter the land of Pharosh, Kho Arian, but it was not at all as I had envisioned.

***

Stone floor. Stone walls. Stone ceiling. Unnatural tomb. Stolen from Keltone. Stolen from the Rock. Cargh spat, “Vile abuses!”

His disgust reminded me of the tale he had told of Ahbin, the first owner of Fioreh. I’m sure if Cargh still held that sword, he would have attempted to burn his way through the rock to get to the “vile abusers” beyond. “What did we do?” I queried, ignoring Cargh’s bitterness.

Kyra laughed, “You certainly didn’t expect the grand-tour, did you? The Pharosh have never taken kindly to visitors, especially human visitors.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I said, offended. “I suppose they favour wolves.” I had seen it happen right before my eyes. This shape-shifting maniac changed from beast to beauty like something out of an old fairy tale, the shift not being queued by true love but instead a cannonball. “Don’t bother me with your words, beast.” My greatest fear had become a reality. This was no wolf in sheep’s clothing, but in woman’s clothes… or was it a woman in wolf’s clothing?

The Thief answered my unspoken question. “I merely can take on the shape of a wolf or raven. Nothing more.”

“Nothing more?! As if that makes everything better. Are you also the one who haunts my dreams in these forms?” And then I continued as if speaking to myself. “I thought I could trust you.”

“And what gave you that impression? Was it my thievery or incessant mockery? If these flaws are no cause for alarm, clearly shape-shifting would tip the balance.”

“Piss on the both of you!” Cargh interjected. “I should have requested a separate room if I knew this type of company was in order.” Turning to address Kyra, he continued. “The sooner you tell him the sooner we will have some peace.”

“Tell me what?” How many more secrets was I to learn about this woman.

Kyra glared at Cargh but remained silent.

“She is of the tainted ones, cast out from her clan for rejecting Riul, that cruel demon the Tallri serve. Restricted to forms of wolf and raven she seeks to do penance for her crimes.” Cargh turned to Kyra once again. “There, how hard was that, really?”

“Harder than this rock on which we stand.”

“The Rock stands firm!” He roared in defiance of her words. “How dare you insult the Rock.”

“Riul is no demon, rock-for-brains!”

“Rock-for-brains!” A voice from outside the cell started laughing hysterically. “Good show! Come see the wolf-lady and little man fight, and don’t forget the snacks.  Come on little guy.  Don’t let her insult you like that!  You can do better than her.”

“Get the snacks yourself, you lazy mooch!” Came the voice of another, closer to the door of this stone prison in which we were held. I heard a click and then a steady flow of steam spewed into the air as the door popped open. The Pharosh who stood in the doorway was quite shorter than some of the others I had seen. He stood on his hind legs and turned back to his companion, swinging that cedar trunk of a tail. “Does he want to short one, the harry one, or the pretty one?”

“Isn’t the short one hairy?” His companion responded.

“Aye, but how would you differentiate them?”

“The tall and the short?” The other offered.

“The pretty one stands just as tall as the hairy one! Why is he the tall one?”

“Because he’s not short like the short one, twit!”

As he turned back the me, light glistened off of his ruby coloured scales into our dark cell. “Tall hairy, Mr. Big wants to see you.”  Apparently he had compromised in his mind, deciding that “tall” and “hairy” were fair descriptions of me.  I wasn’t sure whether “tall hairy” or “Mert Whatley Lady Eyes” was preferable.

I knew not what Kyra and Cargh would discuss, or even whether they would both be alive when I got back, but who was I to argue with this over-grown lizard? Leaving the cell, I followed him into the room beyond before hearing the door close behind me. Steam-powered lanterns hung on the walls of the smooth-stoned room, showing it to be rather small and plain.

“Do you like games?” The lizard, who I presumed was a jail-house guard of some sort, addressed me.

“Uh… I guess.”

“What do you mean? Everyone likes games.”

“Why did you ask me then?”

“Ah, we got a smart one here. Okay, fine. The game is called follow the leader. You be the follower, I be the leader.” He picked up a pair of handcuffs from a near-by table. “Because if you don’t play, I will have to use these… and neither of us wants that.” He paused to let me respond, but I had nothing to say. “Well, come along then, or do I have to explain to you the rules?”

 

The buildings were all the same here. No castle walls pieced together with stone and mortar or cobblestone streets. Giant stone fingers rose into the air, the sun shining off of their smooth continuous surfaces. The streets below were of the same material, polished to a fine sheen. The rock no longer looked natural, but was stripped of its gritty, rough appeal. Steel tracks stood atop the stone streets, stone carts moving along them. Pharosh gathered in the carts before they launched themselves along the tracks, the hissing and popping of steam all around.

I joined in this unnatural form of locomotion as the Pharosh guard directed me. We travelled faster than a team of horses galloping in the open fields. Such wild beasts were beautiful against the backdrop of a clear summer’s day or the snowy white blankets of winter, their manes blowing in the breeze as they run carefree, alive. This stone horse I sat on lacked any type of beauty, as did the surrounding Pharosh land. The lush greenery of Glanderxe was replaced with this grey-against-grey monochromatic prison. A small-town boy turned world traveller was far from home in this land. It was worse than urban, bordering metropolitan.

The cart came to a halt in front of a giant stone cylindrical building capped in a sea of crystals. Ushered from the cart, I was led to the giant steel doors of the building which opened voluntarily as we approached. Above the doors, a row of firearms stared down me, daring a challenge. I couldn’t answer their call, Lady Eyes no longer at my side, not that I would have risen to the challenge had she not been cruelly taken from me upon my imprisonment.

As we stepped through the doors, I found myself standing in the largest library I had ever seen. Stone pillars, lined with books, appeared like spiral staircases reaching up to the sky. None of my previous ideas about the Pharosh were accurate, not even these great libraries, which I had known about, matched the pictures in my mind. Thousands and thousands of tiny lizards scurried up the book spirals counting, rearranging, reading: keeping the library organized.

In the centre of the great library stood four blue-green pillars of a scaly complexion. No books spiralled these pillars, for they were the four legs of a mighty monster, a Pharosh larger than I had ever seen (not that I had seen many to date). Atop the giant pillars was an even larger body. Its tail swung fore and back like conducting this orchestra of tiny Pharosh minions. The neck of this great behemoth rose tall and slender, topped with a head the size of the Pharosh which had brought me into the Great Library.

“Mr. Big. Yoo Hoo!” I would have imagined that this great beast deserved to be addressed with a more respectful tone. “You have a visitor!”

His neck swooped down, those beady eyes staring into my soul. What could I possibly say to this beast whose eyes, though proportionately minuscule, were the size of my hand. Flecks of green peered at me from within a sea of darkness. Those eyes laughed before his mouth did. “I think you’ve scared him.” Mr. Big said, after regaining his composure.

I scared him! Are you sure it wasn’t the elephant in the room?”

His great laugh shook the building and the tiny lizards scurried about, trying to keep those towers of books in place.  “Speaking of the elephant in the room, where in that letter?” Mr. Big appeared to search among the book shelves. “Ah yes, here it is.” He giggled a bit as he read it back.

Greetings in the name of Lady Calwen, queen or Glanderxe Coessarde to the Pharosh of Kho Arian Coessarde.

Long has it been since our two lands called each other friends. Too long have your borders been closed to us, being turned away like enemies. No longer shall we remain enemies, nor do we wish to fight. An exchange of knowledge and exchange of wealth, this is our goal, so that one day the people of Glanderxe Coessarde can pass freely across the great River West into Kho Arian Coessarde as before the Great War. It is our desire to meet a political agreement that would allow such an exchange. Consider our offer as we await your response.

Not only were the walls and pillars painted with books, but the Pharosh themselves wore knowledge like a garment for the mind. The men of Glanderxe knew of but one race of old: the Pharosh. They, however, spoke of four: Men, Pharosh, Tallri, and allmarach.

Before the Great War: open border, open minds… open war.
Allmarach enslaved.
Tallri subdued.
Pharosh ran.
Blood ran.

Mountains became tombs, the allmarach their keepers. Forests became sparse, burned by men. Tallri disappeared behind the flames, fleeing for the swamps of Coaniariam. Pharosh fortified the River West, hiding from destruction.

Klychawk, once a man, a man no longer. Klychawk at the front lines, reduced to a spirit.
Canons shot.
Men fell, spirits ripped from bodies.
Klychawk fled.
Body dead.

Men hated by Pharosh.
Tallri forgotten by men.
Allmarach forgotten.
Men not forgiven.
The Great War.

“Pardon me if I do not accept such a request from Glanderxe.” Mr. Big concluded his tale.

“Klychawk…” I began. “A spirit?”

“You, a man, know nothing of the leader of the spirits of men?” He laughed. “Or perhaps you know nothing at all.” Many tiny voices rose from many tiny lizard lips. Like hyenas, all the Pharosh in the room laughed, sharing this joke which I found less than amusing.

Attempting to reign in my rage at their blatant disrespect, I ignored the laughter. “I never said I knew nothing of him. He, in fact, wants to kill me. That man… or spirit… who was attacking me when your men arrived seeks my life at his request.”

“Leave us out of your political wars. What one man wished against another is no concern of mine, or my people.”

“You misunderstand me. We share a common enemy, Klychawk, for I can count no one, whether man or Pharosh, who seeks my life a friend.”

Mr. Big stood, seemingly deep in thought. “Tell me, Glanderxe man. Why did you come here?”

Whether he had asked for a grand tale or not, I was prepared to accommodate. It all started with Lady Calwen, Glanderxe, the message: such a simple task that had morphed into the beast it now was. Some unknown spirit-man sought my life, and the key to my survival was before me: the Pharosh. Kyra seemed to think they held the key to defeating Klychawk, but what did that truly mean? Kyra the Tallri, The Thief that she was, had already deceived me more than once. I came to deliver the message, which I had done, but held no hope that they might have the answer to my Klychawk problem.

“You have delivered your message, and my response is no. As for Klychawk, I have nothing to offer you, Glanderxe man.”

“Mert.” I corrected.

“Alright, squirt,” the room erupted in laughter once again.

“Mert,” I repeated, this time more firmly.

“Mert the squirt it is!” More laughter.

“You are the one who called me here. If you plan on insulting me, I have no desire to remain, for at least the walls of the cell I came from keep silent.” I could hold my anger in no longer. I was a loyal knight of Glanderxe. What right did these glorified lizards have to treat me this way?

“Oh, we’ve got ourselves a live little squirt.”

“Live squirt, live squirt!” a mocking reply was chanted throughout the library.

The chant carried on for some time while I let my anger simmer. “What do you plan to do with me.” I said, after the chanting had died down, and my anger subsided enough for me to speak once again.

“That is yet to be decided, squirt.” Mr. Big smiled at me: such a cruel, demeaning smile from those large seductively jovial lips of his.  As I was escorted from the library he concluded with these words.  “And by the way… Don’t think about trying to run, unless you don’t care about getting your spirit back.”

Osric’s Wand: The Wand-Maker’s Debate by Jack D. Albrecht Jr. & Ashley Delay

A story about wand, maker’s, and the debates thereof.

The Rating:

“I just want to be a dude.” Osric says.
“Oh, but you can’t!  That would make a boring story!”  Boom!  The earth shook and things exploded.
“Oh noes!  I am trapped under a pile of rubble!”
“Not today!” Buzz Lightyear comes swooping in and blasts away the rock.
“Fine!” Osric pouts.  “If you’re going to be like that, I guess I will save the world!” And he flies away on a dragon.

Note: This is not a true representation of the book in anyway.  Some characters and event are loosely based off of Osric’s Wand but are heavily screwed for comedic effect.  Also, Buzz Lightyear is a purely fictitious addition on the part of this editor

What did this book not do well?  We will get to that, but first… the good.

Teh Good (yes I wrote “teh” on purpose):
I was drawn into this book right from the start.  A mystery is afoot and though not a lot happens at first, the author draws you in by describing the world and the character’s thereof.  Now, this is not the type of dry description you would see as a caption on a painting, but the description of the painting itself.  A picture is worth 1,000 words, and though the author does not use that many (though I never counted them, so if there is a 1,000 word description, don’t hold it against me) the world feels full of life.  This is what made me fall in love with the book right from the start, because the writing within me surges with passion and is humbled in respect of an author who can describe something so vividly that I am pulled into the world to a point where I don’t want to leave.

If the description is what sold me, the dialogue is what kept me reading.  I have seen (and written, sadly) enough slap-stick dialogue to notice good writing in between the “”s when I see it.  The author uses humour fabulously as the characters foil off of each other that will keep you engaged and interested in what they have to say.  A number of times I caught myself laughing without realizing it and my wife had to ask me what was so funny.  If a work of art gets me laughing or crying (or illicits any other strong emotion, I guess) I give it two +s, or thumbs up.  Whichever you prefer.

I enjoyed the author’s use of the third-person omniscient POV.  It have seen this done very poorly in the past, and this was a beautiful refresher.  Though it was told from such a perspective, I still felt like I was engaged in the story-telling, and not reading as if engaged in an out-of-body experience.

Teh Bad (no, that was not a typo):
“Why is there any bad, Daniel?  If you gave this book 5 stars, shouldn’t it be perfect?”
While this is a good question, I also have a good answer (well, at least I think it’s good).  I have never before rated a book 5 stars because of this very question.  The problem is that I can be cynical enough that there is always room for improvement.  Unless I would rather read the book through in its entirety than eat, work, and any other business that is required of my body, I don’t know if it truly deserves a 5 star review.  That being said, I was torn for a while in deciding whether to rate this 4 or 5 stars.

Now for my reasoning (finally, I know.  Get to the point already, eh?)  It is better than most books that I have rated 4 stars. (Yes, all that build up for such a simple reason.)  Though it has some faults I believe it is an exceptional book.

The first fault it has is probably also what I liked the best about this book.  Sometimes the descriptions and world-building elements can be lengthy enough that it breaks up the action quite a bit.  This happens less and less as the story progresses, but this is probably due to the fact that more “action” is happening.  This bring me to my second problem with this book.  Not a lot happens.  Yes there is some action and fighting and stuffs, but that doesn’t make it an action driven tale.  The backbone of this story is not the story itself but the world-building.  The plot doesn’t jump all over the place, but it isn’t as it seems.  The story starts out telling you it will be about a guy trying to prevent a war, and then its about some mysterious wand… but that’s not actually the plot of the book.  A lot of this is set up (I presume) for the second book, but the plot is actually about dragons (say no more to prevent spoilers).  The reader only finds out about the plot about halfway through the book, and the action doesn’t pick up until the final quarter.

This plot/action issue has its good and bad points.  I was not initially impressed by the “I’m going to save the world” plot and was almost happy to see that, in the end, that is not what this book was about.  I also though, given the length of the book, that this plot would have to be rushed in order to get through it by the end.  Because of this it is almost better that the plot is not as it first appears, but instead there is a single conflict that is resolved nicely by the end.

Conclusion:
This book is beautifully written and despite the minor plot disruptions, it is one of my favourites.  It is full of colourful description, humorous dialogue, and some great concepts when dealing with magic and its various elements.  Oh, also talking animals.  That’s a thing.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords

Glanderxe – Chapter 14

Tiyhak waited at the edge of the void in silent meditation, attempting to focus on Kno Arian beyond the River West. Nothing but Pharosh… nothing but nothing. That land devoid of all things spiritual, all things immortal, all things truly alive. The advantage of the Pharosh was plain, but every advantage comes equally yoked with frailty. Their spiritless bodies stalked the land like silent assassins, waiting patiently for the right moment to strike. There had not been an attack in the North for many generations, but who was to say that they did not stalk the fortress now while Tiyhak sat at their borders. Not even Emperor Klychawk in all his might could even pretend to perceive their presence, his spiritual eyes being blinded by their physical exclusivity.
What disadvantage could the gift of spiritual silence have… or was it a curse? There was but one way to kill the servants of Klychawk: twice. Piercing their bodies was not enough, for they lived on in the realm of the spirit. Two live, two chances. The Pharosh only had one life to claim. Being vacant of spirit had the advantage of stealth but was coupled with such a great frailty: one life, one death, one chance.
What use was it looking into the void beyond the River West, for unless the Pharosh were suddenly gifted spirits from Heaven, nothing would be found there: no life, no spirit. Tiyhak knew not where they were now nor where they would be, but Mert Whatley and Kyra of the Tallri were not so lucky. He knew they would be here. He had seen it… the only question was when.
Travel within the spirit realm was light and limitless, without time as a factor, but time had some advantages of its own. The spirit of Mert travelled the land from the frozen north of Keltone, to the swamps and deserts of Coaniariam, from the urban lands of Glanderxe in the east, to here – the edge of the Void. Why had Tiyhak picked this place to make a stand? Did Klychawk, the god of death, even know the answer to that? Something had drawn him here. A longing in his spirit drew him to this place, a longing for the death of Mert Whatley. Tiyhak would not kill him twice; once would suffice. His spirit-lust was kindled by the taking of his first slave, the allmarach of flesh. What a better candidate would there be for his second kill, second slave than Mert Whatley of Glanderxe.
***
It had been so long since I was home. So long since I saw the face of my mother, sister… Farah. They say home is where the heart is. Where was my heart now? I saw it crushed, beaten down by the words of my love, and left to drown in her tears which pooled in the dust outside the Bailey house. I was happy to leave it there until I could return and claim in once again, claim her once again, but the further I got from the home the more I realized how deceived I was.
I could see my heart there in the dirt at Coere Ghante, but reality won over more and more with each passing day. Was it love that pushed me on, striving to reach my goal? My heart was not left behind, but came with me. I could hear it beating inside my chest. Thump. Thump. Thump. Each beat torturing me with the truth: the only thing I had left behind was my loved ones. The heart is said to be the centre of love, but was it love or loyalty that my heart beat for?
As the clear blue sky shot into the entrance of the cave, the stone being chipped away by my companion, I was warmed by its presence once again. My time under the mountains of Keltone had been glorious in its own right, but I didn’t belong cooped up in some cave like a beast. My journey had taken me further than I expected into lands previously unknown to me, but the Great Road once again awaited. “The journey has been pleasant my friend.” Though I could no longer lie to myself, I could still lie to him, this man accompanying me who was barely more than a stranger.
“Has been?” Cargh looked offended. “I have pledged my arm to Lady Eyes. Where she goes, Fioreh will follow.”
“I needed a guide out of the mountains, and you have provided magnificently on that front, but now my journey carries me onward to the River West.”
The man stood obstinate and ready.
“Beyond here, I go to meet with the Pharosh. Is that really a journey you want to take?” I did not want it to seem like I was pushing him away, though I kind of was. Kyra had made it plain that she would not return until I was rid of him. Though I could not explain it, some part of me wished to see her again, to make sure that she was okay. Perhaps without a family to care for, my heart sought another.
“Kho Arian is no place for one of the allmarach, but I cannot return to my people having broken an oath forged in steel.”
“How long do you aim to stay with me?” Though I did not know why, I feared what his answer might be.
“An oath of steel is not easily broken. Never will I leave you until death or defilement of the Rock. If your mission is still true, my arm belongs to Lady Eyes.”
“Very well then, Lady Eyes, lead the way!” I said mockingly, though I don’t think Cargh caught my jest. He seemed content to be led on a journey by a length of steel, a feeling we did not share. Lady Eyes and I held a special bond, but nothing like the bond of the allmarach with their weapons.
Cargh worked at concealing the breach we had made in the side of mountain, hauling stones bigger than a man his size should be able to. I helped him for a time, but was soon distracted by the surroundings. The grass stretched out before us like a blanket of beauty covering the ugly ground beneath. The field before us was greener than I imagined grass could be, fed by the mighty river which flowed before us. Trees poked up here and there speckling the blanket with beams of life, stretching their boughs to the Heavens, attempting to reach their Maker in a gesture of praise and thanksgiving.
This was one thing I enjoyed more about my current companion than my last. The Thief had led me from the lush lands of the surface into the dark dampness of the Keltone dungeon. Cargh brought me from the cold dark caverns back into the light and beauty of Glanderxe Coessarde. We would not remain here forever though, for the Coessarde of the Pharosh was my goal: Kho Arian across the River West.
We reached the road quickly which had been visible from the breach we made in the mountainside. I remembered that last time upon this road, riding atop my horse, the Tallri riding beside me on an animal not rightfully hers. The journey would be much slower without my stead. She had probably long been torn apart by wolves at the place I left her. Though I hadn’t had her for long, she was a good horse and served me well. If the wolf attack that night hadn’t left me so crazed, she might still be with me. What a cruel trick this trip had played on me thus far. Stolen from by Kyra, attacked by wolves, lead north by trickery, hunted by Klychawk, trapped beneath the mountains, and now reminded of the one grief I had forgotten: my horse.
Though we had travelled along the water’s edge before, our trip under the mountains had sent us backward on the trail… not that I was surprised. Nothing about this trip had gone as I intended: always two steps forward, one step back. By the time the sun began to set, the river was visible in the distance, that glowing ball of light in the sky sinking beneath the shimmering waves. In the low light I saw a mighty bridge extending from the great road across the river. The bridge appeared to be fashioned entirely of smooth-topped stone. How many men had it taken to carry all of that stone down from the mountains and suspend it in such a way that it bridged the land-gap but did not dam the water? Giant pillars of rock extended from the belly side of the bridge like legs on a monstrous beast.
As we drew closer, I noticed that the bridge was not entirely of stone as per my original perception. Wide bands of metal stretched around the rock, seemingly holding the stone sections together in a semi-organized fashion. The stripes of steel on the rock behemoth stretched out for miles, farther than my eyes could see. Giant rock formations sat atop each metal strip like doorways into a portal, transporting the traveller to a distant land.
I knew that Kho Arian lay somewhere in the void beyond this unlit path stretching across the water, but something was holding me back. I didn’t want to enter the land without Kyra. She, though deceptively so, had been my guide, and it almost felt like I was cheating her. As I took my first step up onto the great stone bridge, I felt dirty. Where was Kyra? Could she not put down her difference of religious opinion for the sake of her life? I was not the only one hunted by Klychawk.  He hunted her as well. If her words be true and the Pharosh were the only ones who could help us, she may very well die by stubborn religiosity.
These thoughts did not leave my mind as we progressed along the cold stone, the low-light of the sun now distant with the rising of the moon. With the darkness came new lights, not of the sun or moon, but what looked like giant fires in the distance. As we drew closer, I saw that these flames stood atop giant stone pillars which stretched out across the horizon like the wall of a great city. The water subsided as it touched the low beach of the Kho Arian shores before the rising walls took over the land. As I continued on, awed by the masterpiece before my eyes, I would have walked right into the water if it were not for Cargh. Holding out his arm to block my way, he forced me to refocus on… nothing. The bridge we had once been travelling on abruptly ended but a stone’s throw away from the walls. A black bird swooped low, bridging the gap, and I shivered, not from the cold but in remembrance of the nightmare I had experienced yesterday… or had it been a daymare?
“We can go no further.” His word provided no extra knowledge to me, for my eyes could see plain enough that the bridge had ended.
I looked at him confused. “Why… this bridge doesn’t make any sense. Who would build a bridge out into the water, but not finish it?” I was a little bit angered, having come all this way just to be turned back by a deceitful masonry defect.
“This stone and ironwork has the mark of the Pharosh. Surely they built this bridge.”
“Surely, but they clearly don’t use it. What purpose could this possibly serve?”
It serves my purposes quite well. A voice reached for my ears from out of the wind.
“Cargh…?” I said in hesitation. This voice did not sound like my armour-clad friend, but who else could be speaking?
That was not me.” The man drew Fioreh from his back and grabbed for the axe at his belt with the other hand. Though he held no torch, the great fires in the distance, and the soft glow of Fioreh provided ample light to see by. “Show yourself! I can fight no coward!”
I drew Lady Eyes from my belt and watched the bridge behind us before the voice spoke again. “If it’s a fight you want…” I saw a soft purple glow emerging in front of me… “then a fight you shall have!” As the being continued to materialize before me I saw a purple ball of lightning begin to form in mid-air. Soon the hands which fashioned it were fully evident as the body of the man who had attacked that allmarach in the forest so many days ago emerged. Not wishing to be stuck in that state of paralysis I had seen the previous victim of this magic in, I ducked. The lightning launched over my head in a steady stream, crackling and sparking through the night. I heard the “caw” of a bird, but no longer cared about its idle threats. This terror that stood before me was real, and it was trying to kill me.
Cargh used the opportunity afforded to him by the attacker’s poor attempt to stun me and charged toward him. Before Cargh could reach the man, he was stopped up short by a long blade coming out of the night, seeking to do him in. His momentum forward was so great that his duck under the swing led into a roll before he came up and turned around to face this new assailant.
Warrior faced warrior, blade faced blade, allmarach faced allmarach as the previous victim of our attacker’s power emerged. Cargh’s eyed grew wide as if seeing a ghost and I charged at the man who had caused his change in demeanour. The spirit-allmarach spun around to block my swing. Steel hit steel in an impressive display of sparks that looked like fireworks in the night sky. I took on a defensive stance, attempting to learn the techniques of my enemy before engaging fully. He attacked and I parried, being pushed back toward the edge of the bridge. I hoped that Cargh would come to my aid, but then thought better of such hopes. My companion had an attacker of his own, that voice in the night that had first emerged.
Though I was a knight of Glanderxe, my arm was untrained, and the lack of training showed. I barely was able to keep my limbs attached as the spirit-slave’s sword-arm swung with brutality and violence, seeking to accomplish the will of his master above all else: my death. As if things couldn’t get any worse, amidst the cacophony of the battle, I heard a wolf cry. A chill went down my spine and fear manifested itself in bumps rising from my skin. My thoughts turned to the Horn of Riul which bounced about in the movement of battle, fastened to my belt. If I could only get a break from my attacker, perhaps I could reach for the horn and give it a blow. Though I was not entirely convinced of its effectiveness, in my last encounter with wolves it had proved beneficial.
I was not a religious man, but even if I had not made prayer a common practise, now was a better time than any to start. Cargh would kill me himself if he ever found out I prayed to Riul, and Kyra would do the same if I called upon the Rock. I held no favours either way, but simply wanted to remain alive. Whichever god could provide for me better concerning my life, that would be the god that I chose. As if answering my unspoken prayer, someone came to my aid, though it would not have been my first choice. Which was the worse monster, the allmarach with the sword, or beast which now jumped upon the back of my attacker, claws slashing and teeth digging into spirit flesh?
I fell backward onto the rock as the allmarach was launched into me from the wolf who had attached itself to his back. During the fall, I peered over the shoulders of the wolf and saw Cargh, paralysed in a hold of purple lightning. Was this the end?  I had seen it before, and soon Cargh would be resigned to the same fate as the spirit who had been besting me at sword-play. Myself? After the wolf was finished with its spirit-dinner it would have want of real flesh, me being its next victim.
My back hit the cold stone and my head hung aimlessly over the water below. I watched the wolf ripping at the allmarach on top of me and watched our first attacker approaching Cargh, one step at a time, eager to replace his dying slave. No sword would save me from this death, not even Lady Eyes, for what could battle a spirit but spirit alone? Reaching for the horn at my waist, I held onto one final hope that Riul would come through for me. Grabbing the horn, I ripped it from my belt and, bringing it to my lips, let out a blast that I feared might even shake the very foundations of this bridge, sending the whole battle tumbling into the waters below. Perhaps that would be best. If I was die, at least I could die knowing that I took my enemy with me.
I heard a mighty boom from behind me moments before what seemed to be a giant boulder came whizzing over my head, landing just inches in front of me, finding its target in the beast who ravaged its prey atop me. The boulder split into a thousand tiny pieces, like glass touching intense heat, sending the wolf reeling backward. I wriggled backward in haste, not willing to remain beneath the carcass of my attacker any longer than I had to. Rolling from beneath the dead weight, I got up and faced the direction of the noise. A bridge now stretched toward me like a great stone tongue from the shores of Kho Arian. Atop the stone was a line of giant barrelled contraptions, sparks flying from atop the steel casings. Humanoid shapes stood behind the canons of varying girth and height. Though it was hard to make out in the low light, they appeared to have reptilian features.
Though the sight intrigued me, it may have been better for me to have remained hidden beneath the dead man. As if answering my call to attendance, a mighty glass ball came toward me from one of the mighty cannons. It hit me squarely in the chest, knocking me backward to join the wolf on the stone floor. The beast beside me was struggling to rise as I landed on top of it. There I was, face to face with my greatest fear, the fangs of the canine inches from my face.
No man would believe what happened next if they had not seen it. Before my eyes the wolf began to change, taking on a new shape and form: the form of Kyra the Tallri. I had no time to think long of this strange occurrence, however, before noticing a change of my very own. All at once I noticed a void, like part of me was missing. As far as I knew I could still walk and talk, but something unexplainable, deep within me was gone.
“You do enjoy wrestling me to the ground, don’t you boy? There are better ways of getting attention from women, you know.”
Normally I would have responded, but I was too dumbfounded for any words to form, and if I had said anything, my words would have been drowned out by the crack of another cannon, and then another. I looked up to seem the first boulder crash into Cargh, breaking him from his trance like state and toppling him onto the ground. The other boulder aimed for the only one remaining standing, but did not reach its mark. At the sound, the man ceased approaching his prey and vanished into the same night from which he had once appeared, leaving nothing but purple wisps of smoke behind.

Rise of the Aligerai by Kira R. Tregoning

A DRM-free Urban Fantasy tale

The Rating:

Would you rather have wings or hold destructive magic at the tips of your fingers? In Rise of the Aligerai you can do both! The first in an urban fantasy trilogy (I presume. Kira R. Tregoning shows that she is editing the second book as well as writing the third… so at least a trilogy anyway.)

This is a story of parallel realities… but not really. It’s a story about some college girls just trying to find their place in the world… but not really. Well, what does the description say? “Sita Newbury and her college roommates must protect both Earth and Corá from soul-stealing occultists or face the destruction of both worlds.” I guess that’s the best we’re gonna do.

If you have read this plot synonsis, you have read the book. Don’t get me wrong this is very lengthy book (164,000), especially for the price tag (free)… but is it a good book? I put that book at the top of my to-read list because I haven’t seen any hype at all about it, and thought it deserved at least one person to read it and say what they think. I guess I am that one person.

Tregoning gives a thank you in the forward of this book for all those who helped her via beta-reading, editing, or just general encouragement. The editing quality of this book really shines, as I don’t think that I found any poor grammar or spelling (not that I was reading with the criticizing eye of an editor, so there might be a few poorly placed commas or something). For such a lengthy book this must have taken a lot of time and I applaud Tregoning for doing this. There is nothing worse than struggling through poor editing to try to find the gem underneath. With the poor spelling/grammar out of the way, the read is free to find the gem… but there is no gem here.

Tregoning has a great idea for a great story, but that’s where the greatness ends. There is such great potential in this story for mystery and suspense, but the writing style throws that out the windows. It is told from a third person omniscient perspective to the point that the reader becomes very omniscient. There were a few parts in the story where the potential of a plot point or character drew me in, but soon enough the mystery was revealed to the reader in very plain words… and usually more than once.

For example (Minor Spoilers): At the beginning Sita Newbury is attacked. She then goes to college afterwards like nothing happens and the reader is left wondering what that was all about. Once arriving there they meet some guys (because who wouldn’t as a girl at college). The story switches perspectives to one of the guys (the attacker from the beginning) who avoids eye contact with Sita as to not be recognized. Nice hint, but not obvious. Then we switch back to Sita who thinks, I recognize that guy, but where from? not bad, but making it a little more obvious. At this point the reader knows that this guy is the attacker so the writing can go one of two ways A) reveal them to be who the reader thinks they are B) throw in a twist and be like, “actually, just kidding! You were wrong!” Tregoning chooses the former, but in a really bad way.
“That guy is bad news! He works for the enemy.”
“I knew I recognized him! He attacked me house.”
“That’s right, that was him.”
“What? He attacked your house?”
“Yes.”
“Yes.”
–Scene–
“You know, she remembers you attacking her house.”
“Well I did, so good on her for having a memory.”
–Scene– The next morning
“I can’t believe he would attack your house!”
“Well, he did.”

This is a glaring fault of this book that rears its ugly head time and time again. The reader is not left with any suspense at all. Though sometimes the characters may not know what is going on, the reader does, so it makes it less interesting when they find out, making the story predictable. One of the main drives of a good plot that keeps you reading is wanting to know what happens next. If you already know what happens next, why are you reading?

The second problem with this book is coupled with the first in that again I think it stems from the writing style. Everything is explained vs. shown. If the reader and characters need to know about a concept, there will be a dialogue section explaining it in great detail leaving a dry taste in your mouth. After the explanation nothing more need to be said because the other characters make sure to ask all the obvious questions along the way and clarify multiple times just to be sure that the reader gets it. Often-times concepts are explained more than once by different characters in different situations.

And the third problem? This book has basically one character… But wait? doesn’t the book description say “Sita Newbury and her college roommates?” Sure it does, but there are all one character. There are 5 girls who are part of this Aligerai, but they are all the same. All of them are the happy go lucky pre-teen squealing-at-everything-in-site-because-I-can person. Despite the fact that I find these people annoying in real life thus have no desire to encounter them in a fictitious world, I saw no reason to have five of them. The story would have worked just as well with just Sita Newbury at college. When they are all in a room together talking, it really doesn’t matter which one of them says what because they all will pretty much say the same thing in every situation. For the first third of the book I didn’t even remember their names because they were always together and talking, so it was basically irrelevant.

The Conclusion:
With all of these problems, why then did I give it 2 stars? Well, I thought about it for a bit, but I don’t think that it deserves one star simply out of respect for all of the work the author put into this. If someone sat day at their favourite text editor one evening, wrote until their fingers bled, opened paint and scribbled or a while for cover-art, and then posted the book… that is a one star review. This book is well editing, the plot is well thought out, it had some neat (though not new) concepts when it comes to magic and for this it deserves 2 stars.

Where you can find it:
Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Kobo

Glanderxe – Chapter 13

How many times must I wake? The great expanse between sleep and consciousness is less pleasant than either extreme, no matter how bad the nightmares may be. Night terrors sap the soul and leave the body less strengthened by the aid of sleep, but daymares are worse still. What is a nightmare to a waking man but a fleeting memory, yet what is a daymare to the awakened but the inescapable terror of living?  Such is the terror that no amount of pinching or slapping can pull you from. There is, however, one terror greater still, the dreams of the in-between, that place between asleep and awake.  It is in this place that I fear the most, not knowing whether to run from the living terror I’m in, or incessantly slap myself until my skin is raw, trusting that it’s a dream.
I awoke yet again. This time was it real, or simply another deception of the mind? Was this raven who stood atop my chest a living terror or a foolish apparition who could be fought by a simple blink, or pinch, or slap. Those eyes seemed real enough, floating inches from my own in the darkened chamber, low light reflecting from the crystal balls. The jolt to my mind was followed quickly by my hand rising to strike the bird from its place while shielding my eyes with the other. It took flight before my swing made contact, soaring into the blackness.
My legs came around to touch the cold stone floor, rising from my place of sleepless rest. This must be a dream, for I had no will of my own to follow that beast into the surrounding night. To direct ones dream would be a thing of beauty. Don’t do it, Mert! Go back to sleep! But of course I wouldn’t listen. My feet carried me across the cold stone, one step at a time, picking my way through the sleeping men around me. A healthy dose of glutinous consumption, whether it be of food or drink, would knock any man off their feet… but not this man. Nothing seemed to hold greater power over me than the mares of night, day, and in-between.
Following the bird to the chamber beyond, I saw it disappear into the shadows which edged the great Colosseum. As I approached, a voice spilt out of the blackness. “What are you doing?” Ravens don’t talk, and I was happy for it. Their eyes say enough to fill a whole nightmare on their own. Luckily for me, this nightmare was not heightened by raven words, but ended by the realization that I truly was awake. These were the words of Kyra the Tallri.
If by day, my reply would have been swift, but how can one speak when awoken rudely by a demon-spawn of the sky? Nothing clever came to mind, nor did I ponder what she meant by her question before responding with the dumbest thing I could have said. “I was chasing a bird.” That would sound stupid if we were still in the forest, but what a greater lunatic I seemed speaking of birds in this mountain tomb.
She revealed herself from the shadows, showing that it was truly her, thus dispelling any fear that might have remained that I was still in a dream. “No, boy, what are you doing with them!” Though she spoke in a low tone, her words bit the air in disgust aided by her accusatory point to the chamber I had come from.
“Well…” I thought, the cloud of the dream quickly fading, but not quick enough for my liking. “I thought I would enjoy a nice meal before we continued on, and they didn’t seem to mind. Though the dried out deer definitely beats that sewage water we drank on our way north, nothing can compare to freshly roasted meat and a cup of warm ale to wash it down.”
“The only thing that would make that meal better is poison.” Usually when Kyra made such outlandish statement they were laced with mockery and jest. This time, however, she sounded more convinced of her words than I.
“No, I like my meat without poison actually.” What a juvenile thing to say, though this time I could blame my quick tongue and slow wit on the rude awakening I had received. She clearly wasn’t in a joking mood. “Why would those men poison me? They seem fine enough and have honoured me more than I have been since becoming a knight. Lady Calwen could learn a thing or two from these mountain men.”
“They are the allmarach, worshippers of the mountain.”
“Yes, I’ve gathered that. Catch up, would you?” Usually I was the one speaking and her the one replying with mockery. I thought it was about time to give her a taste of her own medicine, though she did not take it as I expected, but instead like a child spitting the medicine back out in her mother’s face.  She slapped me. Never before had she raised her hand to strike me, and such an act caught me off guard which I’m sure was her intention.
“They are the enemies of the Tallri. We hold beauty and love in the highest order. Those perkoh defile Riul’s creation with war, blood-lust, and destruction.”
“Oh, and they also worship the rock. Did you forget that part? I’m sure that Riul is pleased with their worship of the creation over the creator.” She never backed down when speaking in jest, so why should I… but I had never hit her.
“We must leave at once! For all we know, these men could be in league with Klychawk.” Her gestures were so animated that I thought she almost believed what she was saying.
She may have seen some sort of logic in her words, but I only saw humour and almost failed to stifle a laugh. Was she truly so afraid of these men that her common sense was failing? “Surely that must be it because before we left that beautiful forest behind we saw one of these men murdered in cold blood by a servant of Klychawk, or were you sleeping for that part?”
“I admit that I know not what happened there, but I do know what will happen here if these men see a Tallri within their sacred mountain. If you choose to stay with these allmarach, I will leave you in their hands. Perhaps with your new sword you can fight off Klychawk yourself!”
“Perhaps so, with this new army of mine!” I stood a little taller with pride. They respected me, and I them. Though at first they were the farthest thing from honourable in my eyes, the naming ceremony had given me an entirely new perspective.
“Army?” She did not even pretend to stifle her laugh. “They are not the organized group of knight you are used to, boy, but simply a band of barbarians with sticks. You are not one of them any more than that sword is part of your arm, though you may like both to be true. You think they respect you, based on a gift given, enough to die for you?”
“They like me more than you ever have!” Was I trying to convince her, or myself. I didn’t want to leave these men. For the first time in a long time I felt at home, accepted, wanted. The Pharosh could wait a few more days… but could Klychawk? Though it was true that I didn’t know what type of danger stalked us, nor whether Klychawk even knew where we were, neither did she. What right did she have to tear me away from my new-found friends based on paranoia.
“Well, when Klychawk comes knocking on the lid of this coffin, and Lady Eyes doesn’t sweep him off his feet with her beauty, you will find no help from me. The only ones who can help us are the Pharosh, and I aim to claim that help before we are no longer in need of it, trapped in coffins of our own.”
She turned to go, but I called out to her, almost afraid to wake the men in the room beyond. “Wait!” She did not turn around, but stood, waiting to see what words I had to convince her to stay. Though her belief that the allmarach were in league with Klychawk was unfounded, she would not see it differently unless an alternative was provided. “How do you expect to leave this mountain? The way forward is well forked and winding. Who better to lead us through than one of these men?”
She remained silent for some time. What was going through her head? I remember many times as a child sitting with Farah, wishing I knew what was going through her head. The mind of a woman is not quickly nor easily traversed, even by those who have the pleasure of spending time there. I did not have such luxury, though I wished now more than ever that I did. “Fine.” She replied simply. “But you will not see me until that perkoh is gone. This rock provides enough shadows for even the worst assassins to remain concealed.” Before she took her last step into the darkness, she continued with just as much bite in her words as before. “Keep that in mind with the allmarach at your side… or your back.”
***
Brynd stood and addressed the men who waited expectantly. “Mert Whatley seeks an advocate to lead him out of the mountain of god. Though his time here was brief, it is remembered. He carries with him Lady Eyes, the first sword of the Protector. Who would like to honour her legacy by leading her to the world beyond the mountain?”
The room was silent for quite some time. I didn’t know any one of them better than the other, and they certainly knew not a lot about me. What would I do in such a situation? If only I knew what it was like to be part of a tribe of warriors, but alas I could not relate with them… and never would be able to. Curse that Thief. “I shall answer her call and guide Lady Eyes to the land above.” I looked to see the man who spoke. It was the axe-man: Cargh.
He stepped out from the crowd and pulled his newly acquired sword from its sheath. Approaching Brynd and I, he knelt. “May the Rock guide my path, and Fioreh, my arm. I pledge my services to the great warrior, Lady Eyes, and her mission is my own.”
Brynd spoke again. “Lady Eyes, what is your mission?”
Lady Eyes? Oh wait, that’s me! What a strange culture this was. How should I respond to that? Am I to be a representative for my sword? Personifying a sword can only go so far… can’t it? “I have heard from Lady Eyes, and I… uh… she wishes to travel to the River West. Too long has she been trapped, surrounded by rock.” That sounded awkward.
“Cargh Fioreh.” Man and sword stood as Brynd directed them before turning to me. “Mert Whatley Lady Eyes.” If I had known that my sword would become a type of surname for myself, I would have chosen a lot differently. “Go forth, with the blessing of the Rock who stands firm.”
“The Rock stands firm.” The company spoke that familiar phrase, yet this time it was not in joyous cacophony, but in a low and sombre tone.
“… stand firm,” I said with them, mumbling out the last half of the phrase as I was caught unaware.
Cargh turned to look at me while sheathing Fioreh. “Lead on, Mert Whatley Lady Eyes.”
Oh boy. How long will that awful name follow me around. I don’t even want to think of what Kyra would say about that!
***
The walls sparkled like a thousand stars in a sea of black. The torchlight bounced from one diamond to the next while playing tag with the darkness. The shadows shifted before us like a great pool of ink spilt, waving through the manipulation of the light Cargh held in his hand.
The further we progressed through the winding passages, the more gems glistened to life as if conjured up by the torchlight itself. Such untold treasures lay beneath this rock, but despite having no tool to pry it from the mountain’s maw, I didn’t know what Cargh would think of me using the rock as a means of personal gain. If I am tempted by the treasure within these walls… I laughed to myself, thinking of the the Thief and how much she must be struggling not to pry each and every gem from the stone.
“You will not see me until that perkoh is gone…” she had said. I peered into the shadows behind us hoping to spot a glint of light bouncing off her eyes or see the shadows shift differently in revelation of her position. How great a distance did she follow us from? Did she follow us at all? This new companion of mine was strangely silent and it almost made me miss the way she would criticize my naive juvenility.  Almost.
Turning around, I watched my silent company as he led me past another corner, yet another winding path into the unknown caverns of this fortress. I had no trouble believing that Kyra could remain hidden from eye and ear alike. Not only did the shadows provide ample cover, but the sound of metal clanking as Cargh’s armour rubbed against itself with every step shrouded any noise the Thief might have made. He was not outfitted as amply as Brynd, but a fair amount of armour hung from his every limb, glinting in the low torchlight. Not only did his armour reflect the light, but Fioreh’s orange glow could be seen from within the open sheath on his back she now called home. “Why does she glow orange?” I thought to myself before realizing that I had said it out loud.
Cargh turned his head back to me and made to reply. “Fioreh?” He asked simply. This man was eloquent when in the company of his own people and knew all the right words to say, but without ritual to direct his tongue he seemed awkward and hesitant.
“Yes. Lady Eyes glows a clear blue, but Fioreh is orange.”
“Indeed.” He turned back, concentrating on the route before us as if to make no more comment on the matter. Time seemed to stop.  The next few moments, remaining silent, felt like a lifetime. “She is of firestone.”
I suppose that is some form of explanation. It wasn’t my intention to merely learn about the sword but perhaps start a conversation. Clearly such intentions did not translate. “What is firestone?”
Cargh remained silent once again as if contemplating whether to answer me. Soon his words broke the air like soft thunder from a distance, rumbling for a time before dissipating once more. “It is of a time before me from the depths of the mountain, long ago buried by the lake of fire. Below the fire-flooded passageways, there were many a stone exotic and unique. One of these was firestone.”
“Fire-flooded…” I trailed off into thought before finished the statement. “…by the Pharosh?”
Suddenly, Cargh turned on me as if spoken to by a demon, eyes mixed with fear and hate. “Where did you hear such things!” The thunder of his voice drew closer, rising in volume and rumbling the walls of the rock for longer before fading beyond in idle echoes.
Clearly I had done something to offend him, though I knew not what. “I am sorry, man, I meant no offence. I speak out of ignorance, simply guided by what the Tallri told me.”
Spittle from his mouth was launched to the floor where it formed a bitter pool or disgust. “Those servants of Riul have no place speaking of the Rock! None is greater than that in which we stand, and not even fire could penetrate her mighty stance! The Rock stands firm!” The rumbling grew closer as his words battled with each other in the air.
“The rock stands firm,” I replied, without really knowing what I was saying. Perhaps that customary response would calm him some, though I knew not its meaning.
“And don’t you doubt it!” He said with finality, his voice settling a little.
I did not wish my next phrase to come out as a challenge, or even be perceived as such, so I waited a while, letting the silence between us calm his nerves a little. “What is the true origin of the lake of fire?”
“The great forge was brought to us by the Rock, mighty in strength and wisdom. The fire in his heart burned so great that it spilled over, rising from the depth of the mountain. The fire was given to us by the Rock to craft mighty weapons with which to vanquish all who defile his name.”
“The Tallri?” I said, almost to myself, but no words could be kept secret with walls of rock all around that ricochet and twist speech to greater heights than intended. Kyra may have seen advantage in the shadows, but such amplification left no room for secrecy.
“They defile the name of the Rock calling him just a creation of Riul. The Rock stands firm beneath such cruel accusations.”
“I’m sure it… uh, he does” was all I could say. I had no place in this battle of the gods, for I subscribed to neither one or the other. As my hand sunk down to my belt I could feel the cold surface of the Horn of Riul, almost wishing I could hide the trinket from the man. Whether it truly held power over nature, I was yet to be convinced, but I didn’t want to offend this man any more than I already had. Alas, having nowhere to put the horn save for where it was fastened, I left it alone. What cause did I have to worry? In my time with the allmarach none had mentioned or even noticed the horn. If it did hold any power or meaning, these men were ignorant of it, and I had no desire to cure such naivety, though the silence did provide ample time for conversation. Too ample. What could I talk about with this man that would not offend? “Tell me more of Fioreh.” If I had learned one thing in my time beneath this rock it was that these men had no shortage of words when it came to swords.
“Forged of firestone, she burns the flesh of her foes. Many tales could be told of her might and valour in battle.” Pride seeped through his words.
“Tell me a tale then.” Finally, something to keep this man talking. It would be a dry journey, indeed, if he remained as silent as he had been.
His eyes went glassy like recalling a memory. “Ahbin, Tal, Dubnam, Freas” he recited the first four names of his sword from memory while pulling her from his back, a low orange glow passing through the shadows. “These were the first four arms of Fioreh. Ahbin was a brutal man. They say his blood ran colder than that of the enemies he left in his wake. Lacking family or friends, no manner of love or mercy held him back from his trek to rid the world of evil. With the Rock as his guide and Fioreh, his strength, he would venture beyond the mountain each night to hunt out those that plagued the land.
“One night, while on the hunt, he heard voices in the distance behind a great rock. As he drew closer, he saw quickly the cause of the commotion. A small band of Pharosh had come across the River West and were mining the rock from the low-lying hills. Their large machines could be seen by the light of the moon.”
“Large machines?”
“Indeed. The Pharosh used to fashion giant machines which bore into the rock before placing that vile black powder in the deep holes. Through this defilement they would blow large chunks of rock from mountains and hills before carrying them away to use for whatever vile schemes they would conjure up.” I could tell by his tone that he was getting agitated again. “The rock is to be honoured, not abused! We mine rock with rock, nothing more. This has always been the way.
“Such monstrous contraptions angered Ahbin and the fire in his heart fed the flame of Fioreh. Man and sword, warrior and warrior, charged into the fray, catching the Pharosh off guard. The machines were destroyed as Ahbin struck at their limbs until they began to fall apart, one piece at a time. Soon the battlefield was littered with the dead, machine and Pharosh alike. As Ahbin reached for the final Pharosh that day he shouted, ‘You cannot crush the Rock! The Rock stands firm!’ before plunging Fioreh through his enemy. She reached her flaming hand through his back and into his chest, burning the flesh around the wound. It was a slow death for the Pharosh that day as their flesh burned with every wound inflicted. Ahbin left many of them writhing in pain, the flame of Fioreh torturing them as the burn spread through their bodies.” Cargh was breathing hard when he finished the tale. He swung his sword as if reliving every moment of the brutal battle.
“Firestone…” my thoughts trailed off with the possibilities. What magic was this that could burn flesh with steel? Such a great sword deserves the respect of those names there inscribed… but in the end it is still a sword; nothing but a tool in the hand of a warrior. What can a sword do without one to wield her but burn the ground she lies upon, hoping that some unlucky enemy would trip over her. I did not speak such thoughts of course, for I did not wish my flesh burned by the wrath of Cargh. Not wanting my thoughts to take over the conversation I was eager to get my companion talking again. “And what of Lady Eyes?”
The little man gave a laugh, putting Fioreh back in her place upon his back. “She is but a trinket compared to Fioreh. A silver sword, that is all.”
“Do I not hold the first sword of the Protector?” How did this man have the right to talk so fondly of his own blade yet call mine a trinket? “She must have some great tales of her own?”
“Nay. She is but a child in the warrior’s ranks.”
“I will make a name for her then!” I said with pride, eyeing her like a precious gem.
“Your arm is hers to direct. You make no name for her, but she will carve a path herself through the enemies of the Rock.”
“Certainly…” Though my words agreed, my heart did not. A sword would never control me, no matter how beautiful she may be.
The silence that followed was now welcome. If this man was simply going to insult Lady Eyes, I would hear nothing of it. I covered every inch of the blade with my fingers as we continued down the winding path through the mountain. She would prove greater entertainment than Cargh. The things we could do together! What adventures we would have. I imagined Klychawk himself standing before us, and me plunging Lady Eyes into his heart, breaking it forever. Beautiful women… breaking hearts seem to be their employ. Why could Farah not wait for me? Why must I continue on this journey in a strange land with strange people instead of living in Glanderxe with mother, Miranda, and Farah at my side. The more I thought about this mission, the worse I felt. My longing to return home was growing by the day, and it seemed like every corner I turned reminded me of Miss Farah Bailey. My heart was warmed as I saw light up ahead, seeping through the cracks around a giant bolder which blocked our path out of this mountain. Soon I would reach the Pharosh, and soon I would return home.