Monday, February 29, 2016

The King's Challenge #230 and #231

TKC 230 and 231

I do not want to discuss Horin and his orb, not when I am trying to wrap my mind around this new knowledge. Heir? Ruler of a world? What does that make Lyra? Is she his sister everywhere or only on Massin due to an accident of birth?

Kay murmurs about needing that shower and thankfully Ross takes the hint. We enter the shuttle behind him. The guards give us the once-over, but ignore us when Ross shakes his head.

It is huge. There is the cockpit area, all chrome and white, filled with gadgets and blinking buttons, along with four ergonomic chairs. A large and empty space with loops embedded into the ceiling is the main space. It is a military transport, Ross tells us. The soldiers hold onto the loops and really pack it in. He grumbles under his breath about nearly being squashed in the press. I like him more and more; he is a boy trying to be a man.

There is an ablution facility, a stores chamber, an armoury and a galley as well, and everything is spotless and sterile. It is so impersonal, I dislike it, but I am also admittedly agog. This is technology and nothing like it exists on Massin.

Ross introduces us to Corporal Allin. The man is a taskmaster; it is instantly obvious. He barks orders at us as if we too are soldiers. Being somewhat older than Ross, he takes his duties serious. Ross winks at us behind his back and leaves us in the corporal’s care.

Within minutes we are in the showers, a mixture of high pressure steam and a few drops of water. A minute after that we are commanded to dress. Kay lifts an eyebrow, but says not a word. Hal, however, tells Corporal Allin to mind his manners, that he must remember he is the stranger here. The soldier does not react; he simply departs. Marian splutters into laughter on seeing Hal’s expression.

The uniforms are dark charcoal, almost black, in hue and of a tough material abrasive on my skin. The moment I pull the breeches on is also the moment I desire to take them off again. How do they stand wearing this? Then, to my surprise, it is as if the material reads my body form and temperature, for the cloth over my thighs expands slightly, while the extra space at my shoulders contracts to fit snugly. Now it feels as if I am wearing something lightweight, something created specifically for me. I am neither hot nor cold; I am at optimum operating status.

“Now this is something different,” Marian murmurs. “I’m not naked, am I? Certainly feels like it.”

This time I burst into laughter, having just had the same thought.

The boots likewise are perfect for every foot. “One can really kick butt with these,” Kay states.

Corporal Allin is back. “Commander Gennerin will be with your shortly. Please follow me; I have your meals prepared.”

We follow to the large space where there is now a metal table and chairs that seem to have sprung up from the floor. Metal plates await us filled with a mixture of vegetables. We sit and eat. We eat everything, yes, being beyond hunger, but never has anything tasted as bland.

“Your choice of drink,” Allin states as boot steps sound on the ramp outside.

“Coffee,” I say. “Please tell me you have coffee.”

“We do. Our commander refuses to travel anywhere unless there is coffee aboard.” Finally the corporal unbends a little to crack a smile. It is wiped off when the commander under discussion stomps in.

“Allin, tell me you have a fresh brew,” he states, and takes a seat at the table with us.

“Yes, sir. One minute, sir.” Allin vanishes with alacrity.

Commander Gennerin stares at us. “Tell me about the orb.”

Hoppy LEAP Day :)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The King's Challenge #228 and #229

TKC 228 and 229

I look to Hal, who nods at me. He confirms these are Ilfin soldiers in that tiny action. Returning my attention to the commander, I say, “There is much you need to be aware of.”

He studies each of us then and slowly nods. “We will talk, but now you need a wash, fresh clothes and something to eat.” Without awaiting our response, he gestures a nearby soldier to come forward, one of those who found us under the tree. “Take them to the shuttle and show them how to use the showers. Allocate from the spare uniforms and have Corporal Allin feed them.”

“Do I guard them, Commander?”

“They are friends. Leave them with Allin and return here.”

The soldier nods and gestures for us to follow him.

“Wait. Siri Mur, you desired to test me,” Commander Gennerin states.

I grin at him. “You have already been tested. You passed.”

His eyes narrow and again he studies us. “One of you is a Delver? You are aware of your talents?” He releases a massive breath then. “Lord Makar and an aware population; this is excellent … but we will talk in a while. Soldier, you may go.”

We follow the soldier out, leaving the fort behind as we trudge towards the shuttle. It is still raining. The plateau’s wet season is still if full command, by all appearances.

“Does it always rain so much?” the soldier mutters as he leads us.

“Wet season,” Marian murmurs, speaking for the first time. “Another month of this before the weather breaks.”

The soldier swears under his breath, causing Kay to laugh. “What is your name, soldier?”

“Ross,” the man replies, lifting his visor. He has blue eyes in a youthful face. “This is my first tour beyond our homeworld.”

“Is Massin very different to where you come from?” I ask.

“Not so much … except for this rain,” Ross grins.

“Where is your homeworld?” Kay asks next.

“Our commander will answer that better than I can. All I know is it is far from here – took damn long to get here.”

Kay laughs again. Soldiers do not enjoy inaction or long journeys. “And the name of your world?”

We are paces away from the shuttle. A door is open, a ramp leads from it to the soggy earth, and a contingent of guards watches every shadow. Ross stops to face us. “I overheard you mention Enris Makar.”

Ice flows into my blood. Hal straightens, his eyes narrowing.

“And?” Kay prompts. He seems calm, but I notice his fingers are white with tension.

“Our world is known as Makaran,” the soldier Ross informs us, and shifts his head as if to gauge our reactions.

Kay frowns, Hal does not react at all, and I shrug, but Marian draws in a breath, the enlightened kind. “Makaran … Makar.”

Ross dips his head. “Indeed. The Makar are our rulers. Our world is named for them, and Enris is the current heir.”

“By the stars!” I blurt.

The soldier laughs. “We say that as well!”

Kay remains serious. “It has been thousands of years since Enris Makar came here. How is he still the heir?”

“I do not know how it works exactly, but it has something to do with a device only Enris is able to wield. This device has not returned to Makaran and it means he is alive in some form, and therefore his status remains unchanged.”

Kay rubs his cheeks in astonishment, while I murmur, “The orb.”

“You have seen it?” Ross blurts out. “I thought it a story told to keep his name alive, to prevent the family from fighting each other. So much time, as you said, how can he be alive still, I thought, and now … wow.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The King's Challenge #227

TKC 227

I present my left wrist.

The commander regards the action in surprise. “You have done this before. How is that possible?”

I give him my expressionless stare, the one Damin always attempts to nudge me out of. “There is much you do not yet know, Commander. When I know your identity, I will tell you.” I wiggle my wrist. “Test me.”

He frowns before taking my arm firmly and pressing the tuning fork against my pulse. As he proceeds to count, I study the engraving in the handle of the device. A triskelion. On the count of five, he lifts the fork and holds it up, careful to contain his grip to the handle only. His attention focuses on the orb that finishes the handle’s design, and thus my attention centres there also.

After a further count to five, the orb transforms from silvery metal into a gentle green glow. It is familiar to me; it is as the orb Horin is ever deploying. This one, of course, is not free to move.

“Satisfied?” I murmur.

“I have the distinct impression you have seen this before,” Commander Gennirin states as he lowers the device. He watches the glow fade.

Drawing my wrist to my chest, I say, “I have indeed, but that orb is autonomous.”

His gaze lifts to mine. He does not say a word.

“His name is Enris Makar,” I reveal.

The man’s entire being undergoes transformation after my words. His jaw slackens before a massive smile blooms upon his face. He loses the rigid military stance soldiers unconsciously adopt and leans in to peer into my eyes. “Lord Makar is alive?”

Blinking, I can only nod. He has astonished me.

“By the stars,” he murmurs. “Then we can win this.” The commander swivels to his soldiers and hollers, “These are Ilfin! They are allies!”


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The King's Challenge #225 and #226

TKC 225 and 226

He is older and obviously in command, for soldiers scatter from his path. The man comes to rest before us, arms akimbo, and gives each of us a searching look.

“So this is what Massinians look like,” he says in a gravelly voice. “Not so different, but you lot have more hair, haven’t you? You,” and he points at Kay, “are soldier material. What is the matter with you? Why are you hiding out with women and an old man?”

I dare not look, but I can imagine how Kay’s jaw ticks as he seeks to contain himself.

“Can any of you speak? I know you understand me,” the man barks. “You,” and he points at Hal, “introduce yourself.”

Peripherally I see Hal step forward. “You first,” he growls. “This isn’t your world.”

Weapons all over click as they are armed.

I jerk my head to right. “Hal! Just answer him.”

The man lifts a hand, and more clicks sound. Weapons lower, to my relief. He then flicks me a glance before returning his attention to Hal. “Hal, is it? Is there more to add?”

“You heard him,” Kay drawls. “You first.”

By the stars! What is the matter with the men in my life? Always with the attitude. I hold my breath, but no one lifts a weapon this time.

A bark of laughter, in fact, follows Kay’s words. The man slaps his thigh. “Well, clearly you are not cowards! That I am able to work with. Fine, allow me to introduce myself.” He steps even closer to stand almost nose to nose with Kay. “I am Athol Gennirin, commander of the Ilfin 9th … ah, I seem to have surprised you. How is that?”

“You are Ilfin?” Kay blurts.

Commander Gennirin blinks. “You thought we are Glonu? Man, that is a terrible insult.”

“Did you drop the bomb?” I demand.

The commander moves to stand before me. “And you are?”

“I am Siri Mur. The four of us are the sole survivors of the explosion to the south. We were hiding in the caves there.” My fear is gone. If this man wants to imprison us, so be it, but if he gave the order that killed everyone, I will hate him for the rest of my life.

“Siri Mur, we landed an hour ago. We did see a crater to the south and assumed the Glonu have already started their campaign. Please introduce your companions.”

Swallowing, I do so. “Kay Laremer, Hal Das and Marian Sumpt.”

Snapping his fingers, the commander summons a nearby soldier. “Fetch the fork.” He faces me again. “Fear leaves all of you, I notice. I believe you thought we are the enemy you run from, which makes you Ilfin. I, however, must confirm that before I will know what to do with you.”

I assume the ‘fork’ is something again to the wand device the slavers were using on us in Porlese. We thought they were checking for talents, but Horin says it was to determine Ilfin from Glonu.

I incline my head. “Of course, commander. The situation on Massin is not normal and a man or woman’s word no longer holds water, does it? I hope you do not mind if we test your word as Ilfin also.”

Kay snorts his delight nearby and Hal utters a sigh. Marian does not move or speak.

Commander Gennirin laughs. “Tit for tat? Typical Ilfin!” He bows in amusement. “You are welcome to test us.”

The soldier arrives then carrying a rectangular metal strongbox. It is about an arm’s length in size, narrow, with a device filled with numbers set into it. The commander presses a series of digits and opens the case. Inside is what looks like a tuning fork, only larger than the forks our local bards use.

Lifting it, he says, “You first, Siri Mur.”

The King's Challenge #223 and #224

TKC 223 and 224

Perhaps we fell asleep, for no one gives warning. I know I lost awareness of my surroundings, my aching body demanding oblivion from me.

I awaken to a weapon pointing at my forehead. Jerking at first my surprise, I then freeze in position, only my eyes darting.

Men in grey and black uniforms surround us, forming a perimeter about the lone tree. All have weapons trained on us, but these are not swords, daggers or bows; these are technological monstrosities, all metal and angled death.

I cannot see their faces, for they have helmets on with dark visors. As these descriptions enter my mind, I am amazed. We have nothing like this on Massin and yet I know what is before me. I think it must be Ilfin memories.

Kay and the others are awake also, and as unmoving. No one dares utter a sound.

One man gestures significantly with his weapon, a sharp upward movement he repeats twice. We are to stand. Swallowing my fear, I rise slowly, hands raised. Hal gets up next, with Marian and Kay a moment thereafter. We do not speak.

From our higher vantage we see the ship. A small shuttle waits where the land dips slightly. I am amazed we did not hear it land, but it may have already been there when we halted to rest under the tree. The rain, I note, has lessened to a drizzle.

It is a shuttle. Somewhere there must be a massive ship above us. I dare not look.

Squinting, I see the misty outline of the fort we gathered in before the march across the plains. Damn, we should have harked to that. A fort is a summons all by itself, whether manned or not.

The gesturing one points towards the fort. I wonder why they do not speak. Perhaps we cannot understand their words. His gestures are clear, anyway, and we put one foot before the other. As the soldiers fall in with us, forcing us into single file, one grabs Marian’s pack to shoulder it.

My arms feel the strain of remaining aloft and slowly I lower them, only to feel the bite of cold metal at an elbow. Swiftly I reach up once more. In that manner, shuffling slowly with hands in the air, we head towards the fort.

The rain comes down again, and the men tighten their march to contain us. I assume they suspect us of possibly employing the veils of water for escape. Never have I been this wet and afraid.

The crumbling arch comes into view. In the courtyard beyond the entrance, many soldiers move about. Some heft massive crates, other stand together talking, while others gesture and shout commands. I cannot discern the words.

We file in and rough hands grip our necks from behind to manoeuvre us into a space right of the inner wall, forcing us to a halt there. We stand in a row as if for execution. Marian’s pack hits the wall and slides down. I flinch.

Two men remain with us, weapons trained. The others shift into the frenetic action in the courtyard. Soldiers run up and down the crumbling stairs and I wish for one of them to take a fall. I wish for all of them to be somehow flattened.

Most of the soldiers have removed their helmets. To the last their hair is closely shorn and all are in the prime of their years. I sense not one iota of fear or confusion among them. Soldiers trained for battle, these are. When one issues a command, I understand his words. His words are ours.

A man detaches from a group to approach us.

My heart thunders into my ears.

The King's Challenge #221 and #222

TKC 221 and 220

We find some discarded items in the earlier sleeping chambers. Marian still had her pack with her – it rests against the wall of the antechamber cave – and we thus load in what we find. It is not much. A mug, a pot, someone’s threadbare scarf, a water canister and some knotted twine. Marian has her dried food rations, her water, and personal essentials, and her bedroll.

Hal heaves a sigh. “We have to go north to the trees. There we may find food.”

Not only will it be a dangerous journey as we attempt to hide from the Glonu, but it will be a hungry walk. We stare at each other, but we have no choice.

“The sun is going,” Marian says from where she peers out into the plain. “I see no movement yet. We should go now.”

Hal hefts her pack. “Open a hole, Marian.”

Swallowing, she stands back and presents her palms to the rock fall. Boulders big and stones small begin to shudder, to abruptly part, leaving a doorway sized exit.

We shift through swiftly.

Marian turns on the outside and smacks her hands together. The rocks tumble back. “Let them think everyone was buried inside,” she murmurs before putting her back to the place of death.

As shadows we hug the cliffs as the last rays of the sun vanish to the west. All is silent.

Then we hear it. The thud of multiple footsteps. The march of an army. They are coming.

“Above us,” Kay whispers. He grabs my hand and starts running along the cliff wall, heading north. Hal and Marian follow.

Making as little sound as possible, we move all night, keeping to the greater shadow of the plateau, moving ever north. The marching sounds die away as the night intensifies. Either we are moving fast enough to put distance between us and them, or they have stopped for the night.

In the early hours it begins to rain. At first it is a drizzle, which brings with it an icy breeze, and then it becomes a downpour. We are soon so wet we can no longer remember what it is to be dry, but we go on. At least all signs of our passing is now erased.

As the greyness of a new day strengthens we come to a place familiar to us. We have arrived at the path where the host descended from the plateau to the plain. It is the way up.

Crouching amid boulders opposite, we study the area.

It will be a mud slide in the rain, that path, but the region seems deserted. When the rain becomes a torrent, creating veils between us and the path, we hurtle across the space. If we cannot see, they cannot either.

That upward clamber through mud, sticks and stone is the most difficult act of will I have ever endured. For hours we climb, a few steps up, a slide down, grazing knees and elbows, faces sometimes dunked in mud. Soon my clothes weigh more upon me than my body size can claim. Every muscle aches, every nail on my hands is broken, but I grit mud-ridden teeth and go on.

Finally the path levels and we hasten to the nearest cover, a gnarled tree surrounded by a jumble of rocks. There we hunker as rain sluices most of the mud away, shivering uncontrollably.

Marian passes a single stick of dried meat to each. She sets both her flask and the one we found under the tree where the leaves have created a funnel. Soon the vessels are full and we drink our fill. She props them to fill once more.

Nothing moves on the plateau.

It is a truth, however, that the rain hides all.

The King's Challenge #219 and #220

TKC 219 and 220

Whatever was, is no more. There is no cave or lake; there is only rock. If anyone survived the blast, we cannot reach that someone.

“We must go,” Hal says after a time.

We are too traumatised to move or think, but Hal is right. Not only has the entire system f caves been undermined, but it is likely that ship has landed to put boots on the ground. Either we will be buried if the plateau collapses entirely or the Glonu will find us. It is a fact that they will check for survivors soon.

Yes, we must go.

Nobody moves. Where is there a place now for us?

“Hal!” a woman’s voice shouts out from somewhere beyond our motionless huddle.

The Messenger scrambles to his feet. “Marian! Here!”

The Messenger erupts from the dark narrow tunnel. “What happened? I was at the exit and heard an explosion,” she demands, seeing us. Her gaze goes to the silence behind us. “Oh,” she breathes out.

Hal strides across the space and enfolds her into his arms. “You are alive. By the stars, someone lived.” Sobs suddenly shudder his entire body and Marian, after staring at Kay and me in horror, wraps her arms around the big man and holds him. Tears run over her cheeks as well.

Someone lived. Her presence, her warmth, her life, unlocks my paralysis and I reach for Kay. He lifts me into his arms and cradles me on his lap. We rock together on the rubble-strewn floor, holding on, for now there is no one else. We four are the last.

“I am sorry,” I whisper in his ear eventually.

“For what?” He smooths my hair over and over as if the action is all important.

“For Attis,” I sob.

“It is behind us now,” he murmurs.

“And for bringing the ship here,” I blurt.

Kay stiffens before he gently disengages in order to look at me. “Siri, this is not your fault.”

“I said his name! Horin’s name, and they heard and then …”

He captures my face in his warm hands and stares intently into my eyes. “It is not your fault. Attis had already summoned them …”

I shake my head convulsively, loosening his clasp, but he halts the movement by bringing my face close to his.

“Attis called to them simply by being aware of who he is. How else were they in place above us? Any one of us could have said something they heard and used as a marker for the device that caused this.” Kay draws in a breath. “We cannot change it, Siri. We must look to the future now.”

“What future?” I whisper as I lay my hands over his.

He touches my lips with his. “This future,” he says softly. “We are alive and we cannot surrender.”

I stare into his eyes and know that I love him. We barely know each other, but I will die for this man. I lean in and kiss him. I wrap my hands around his head and kiss him properly, with all I am, for this is proof of life, proof of future.

His shuddering inhalation after tells me he feels as I do. We draw apart then and stand. Linking hands, we face the other two.

Reddened eyes greet us, but Hal and Marian have also clasped hands as if they need proof of existence, of not being alone in this horror.

“The Glonu did this,” Hal states. “We are not to blame.”

Marian nods tearfully and I do as well. Hal is right. Kay is right.

Together we leave the place of silence.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bottled Imagination

Gone for a while, but up soon ...

Hi, everyone! Due to hit and miss internet, I have been unable to post :(

Expect, therefore, a longer than usual King's Challenge episode in a while (internet willing - we are still having issues in our region). 


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The King's Challenge #217 and #218

TKC 217 and 218

After Kay declares there is no opening overhead to reveal us in a flyby, we move into the lake cave, using the niched space for sleeping. He says the light passes along tunnels cleverly constructed for the very purpose. We are safe from view. We discover an ablution facility also, which is a godsend. Someone definitely created this space for long-term habitation.

Food is an issue. Soon a team will have to into the outside world to hunt and gather. I dread that day, for we will then be exposed.

While everyone settles into a routine – which is now able to mimic familiar day-night cycles – I am often huddled with Hal as he attempts to make contact with Damin. At the moment I cannot bear to speak to Kay, and therefore Hal at least diverts my attention … and offers an excuse to use. Kay does not deserve my anger, but I cannot erase Attis’ death from my mind.

Kay knows. I see him watching. I see him waiting. Soon. Maybe. He leaves me alone, for which I am grateful. It really is not his fault, but Attis was special.

“Siri, tell me more of the topography inside Arc,” Hal prompts.

We sit near the exit where it is quieter and can speak without interruption. I describe the slopes, the mountains, the valleys, but also tell him it is but a small part of what there is. Other than retrieving Lyra, we did not venture far.

Hal frowns. “The dips and rises interfere, I think. I sense Damin moving swiftly, but he is less accessible by the hour. He may be entering hillier country.”

“They are running, or staying on the move in order to hide,” I whisper. “What do you see?”

“Flashes of colour, but no specific image.” Hal gazes at me. “Except one.”

Snakes roil in my belly. “Tell me.” My hands clench into fists.

“A shield. I see an odd-looking shield and it glows green as if made of something otherworldly. I see it often, but can’t explain it.”

“Horin,” I murmur. Only Horin fits that description.

“The Warrior who was a mere boy only weeks ago?” Hal grimaces. “Siri, I don’t sense humanity in this ‘shield’. Are you certain it’s Horin?”

I nod. “Then he is no longer Horin. He has become Enris Makar once more.” Before I am able to explain what I mean, a shriek erupts, a malevolent sound that raises even the hair on my head. I jerk around to see Kay running swiftly towards me, his expression grim … and petrified. What? I see others slap hands over ears, falling to their knees. Standing, I shout, “What is it?”

Kay halts close to me and looks up. “There is a ship up there.” He lowers his gaze. “Something triggered something …” He silences himself, realising he makes no sense.

Except he does. To me. Something triggered something.

The name ‘Enris Makar’ has been heard by whatever listener is waiting to hear it. By the stars, they will … “RUN!” I scream.

I grip Hal’s arm and drag him with me. I hear Kay in my wake.

As we enter the dry cavern a deafening blast obliterates the cave behind us and sends us headlong to earth, scraping every exposed bit of skin. A wave of fire wafts over us. Water erupts as geysers and everywhere there is screaming … and then silence falls.

Absolute silence. Dead silence. Even the rocks are without sound.

I howl my grief as Kay’s arms enfold me. We scrabbled together into a huddle of fear, Hal included, and hold onto each other.

Everyone, young and old, is dead.

Looking for a black cat

Monday, February 15, 2016

The King's Challenge #216

TKC 216

Kay forgets about Attis as he looks up. “We cannot be seen from above.” Muttering about finding the source of the light, he begins to climb the tiers for a closer look.

“Attis,” I say in a normal tone, “we know you are here. Please come out.”

I step towards the inviting water, but gaze towards the trees. Nothing moves there but for a few leaves in the currents of this space.

As I kneel to cup a hand into coolness the boy appears from behind a tree trunk. I drink – it is sweet and fresh and wonderfully cold – while motioning him closer.

“I am Glonu,” he says, halting many paces distant.

“And you are still Attis,” I respond quietly, standing carefully. I do not want to frighten him.

A spasm crosses his face, an expression of … relief? My heart thunders into action when I realise it is denial I see.

“Attis is now merely a name,” the boy whispers. “I can’t stop this, Siri. You have to kill me.” He jerks his head at the lake. “Drown me.”

“I cannot do that!” I burst out.

“Soon they will hear me!” he screams. “Do it now!”

I shake my head, my skin clammy with dread.

Attis rushes at me then, a dagger raised, and his expression is one of determination. He intends to force his death … in harming me. I understand he will hurt me, knowing Kay will retaliate; it is his only plan.

He is but a step away from where I am paralysed when Kay moves in behind him, grabs him by the head and grimly twists his neck.

Sobs burst from deep inside me as Attis crumples lifeless to the sands at the lake’s edge, the dagger falling into the water. I fall to my knees, weeping.

I weep for Attis, for Kay being forced to do this … for all of Massin. We are all of us doomed.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

TKC Collage (Siri's Story 1)

After 14 posts from Siri's POV, it is time for a collage :)

The King's Challenge #215

TKC 215

The initial tunnel is dark, but mercifully short. We soon enter a larger space, larger even than the antechamber where Hal and Marian wait for our return.

It is an eye-opener, this space. Somewhere there must be gaps in the rock, for there is light. Not sufficient to live naturally in, but certainly enough for us to see each other by.

Kay puts a finger to his lips and points. Footprints in the dust; small prints to fit those of a boy.

The space is otherwise clear. Once this is done with, it will be a good idea to move everyone here. First, though, this terrible mission must be done with. I do not like it; I wish I am elsewhere.

Two rock arches opposite reveal there are other spaces. The prints lead to both. Shrugging, Kay heads to the one on the right; a process of elimination.

The cave beyond is a warren of nooks and niches, almost as if someone long ago carved out sleeping spaces for a host. It is empty, though. Staring at the recesses, I know we will be moving in. It is too practical to ignore.

We move back to the large space and take to the left arch.

And there a massive astonishment awaits us. I gasp, for my surprise is too great to contain. Kay whistles and comes to a halt.

“By the sands, this I never expected,” he utters.

Not in twenty lifetimes, no. This is true beauty; it is inspiration and it is life-giving. Here we will survive as long as we need to, until safety returns to the world.

A glorious sapphire lake is bathed in yellow light. Emerald fronds waves in a soft breeze from damp ledges. A pristine white beach arcs around to the left, while beautiful trees in full foliage overlook the waters from the right.

By the stars, this is magical.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The King's Challenge #214

TKC 214

Kay gets up and heads for the rock fall entrance. “We need to see what is out there. The Glonu hiding away further in may be calling to those in the ships.”

Before long he is moving rocks out of the way, carefully so as not to alert anyone outside via inadvertent noise. Marian heads into the other caves to tell everyone to remain quiet. Folk are waking up.

Finally there is a peephole and sunlight is evident in the lightness of the ragged circle. The rain has clearly stopped. Kay puts his face in the hole.

Long minutes pass and then he retreats. As Hal steps into his place to look as well, Kay says, “There is nothing to see yet, but I hear the whines of great engines. They sound far away at this point.”

Relief fills me.

“This region is usually unpopulated,” Hal adds as he withdraws. “They will go first where they expect to find people.” He then eyes Kay. “We need to find the Glonu.”

Suspicion about the identity of our unknown watcher has been growing in my thoughts. Someone who is afraid to reveal? Someone who prefers to run rather than be seen? It does not fit with an adult, strong male.

“I think it’s Attis,” I say.

Hal echoes, “Attis?”

Kay groans. “No, I … we … damn it.” He nods, for the logic cannot be denied.

“A boy we had in our care,” I tell Hal. “A good kid. We love him.”

Kay groans again and covers his face. “As I loved Manuel and that stopped nothing.”

Hal moves to stand before us. “The kid you knew is no longer the kid you will find. We have to silence him.”

Swallowing, Kay stares up and whispers, “Mirlin, my brother, I understand now. There is nothing I need forgive you for.”

I take his hand and together we return to the darker space. We will find Attis; Hal and Marian will keep the watch here.

The Parts of Speech

Friday, February 12, 2016

First Lines - The Infinity Mantle

This is the result of a fun exercise I did recently. I took all the first lines from every chapter to see how it would read. Writers are weird, I know!
(will probably do this for the other Lore books also)


In a time now passed beyond memory, a man whispered over a golden disc as he set it into a vice.

Part I - Darkness

Rayne rested on the final descent from the high pass, sipping tepid water.
Aven was a self-proclaimed sorcerer.
Samson of the Mye dropped a hoe onto his foot, but that ache was as nothing compared to the one in his head.
With the Medaillon around her neck, Averroes retreated.
He stood on a brown square two by two feet and next to it a green square, then another brown, another green and so on … he was on a giant checkerboard!
Light filtered into the clearing in dancing sunspots.
It was hot and Taranis shifted in bed for a cooler region.
The Sagorin of Glorium lived and died in much the way as other mortals.
Margus paced his chamber, his haven of light in the darkness of the world.
Margus mulled over the news his spies returned with.
A stiff breeze swept the lake, raising white tufted wavelets.
Three thousand years before the present time the human population of Valaris was essentially decimated.
Using magic to travel via doorways through the spaces, insubstantial as a breath of wind, faster than light, they materialized in the clearing.
The five Guardians used the period of waiting to rest, acclimatise and renew in natural light.
He had her measure now.
Valaris’s period of darkness lasted twelve nights and the appearance of the new moon was reason for celebration throughout the land, therefore the capital letter title ‘New Moon’.
Dawn broke through the veil of night when Taranis mentioned it.
Fourteen diverse tasks; they had the essence of the game.
North of the clearing a track led through the trees to a picturesque setting where one of many streams lacing the Forest floor widened into a deep, green pool.
What lay beyond the Forest came as a shock to the northerners.
They started out early, hoping to make good progress before the heat of the day.
Captain Bertin was the complete opposite of his mother.
The horizon vanished in an enormous mass of dirty thunderheads, pressing down on the surface of the heaving ocean, rushing insanely closer.
Resourceful McSee was a hero.
The land was inhospitable; huge, windswept boulders, barren sand, stunted trees, grey and dun.
Margus left his citadel and world and transferred to the uninhabited moon orbiting the small planet the Valleur called Ardosia.
They left the turbulent ocean behind to enter the Gatherers’ Circle.
Situated on the western coast of Tor Island, Actar experienced the excessive heat of the summer season.
Actar, during the day, recovered from its nightly excesses.
They dispersed after the morning’s revelations, needing time away from discussion, debate and information, from knowledge.

Part II - Arcana

In the beginning, if there is a beginning, Mother Universe was empty and lonely; thus, children were born for her enjoyment, and her grief.
Two thousand years after the remaining Valleur settled on Valaris, a scant three years after the completion of Mantra’s palace, Vannis awakened from deep sleep in the dead of night.
Five hundred years later, Vannis approached his seven thousandth Naming Day.
The space warp was ensorcelled into Valaris’s atmosphere after Mantra, last to go, dematerialised.
From the main balcony, Vannis saw the hundreds of fires of the human encampment.

Part III - Rayne

Averroes huddled for warmth and comfort before her small fire.
Aven was full of questions, which Averroes answered simply.
A distinctive alteration to the horizon.
“I’ll not be joining you,” Aven announced. “I’ve decided to remain here.”
Varelie screamed and bolted from her warm bed into her father’s lap.
It gave him pleasure after all, taking on the Golden.
They waited for Vannis.
Vannis stared down at Dante.
When Vannis found the Centuar in a meadow a fair distance from the Palace, Belun was all he found there.
Vannis requested a space to find equanimity in before they rejoined the team and thus Rayne accessed an image in his mind of a clearing much like the one the team waited in.
Margus turned away.


Valleur possess added biology that allows them to breathe air alien to humankind, a fortunate situation given where the scatterlings of Ardosia were forced to ground.

The King's Challenge #213

TKC 213

The four of us do not sleep. Sleep is a luxury.

We do not know where and we cannot tell how many, but we are aware of the arrival of the Glonu and their ships. I am not a Delver, but I sense them. My heart beats and skips continuously; this is a sign of fear and fear is the seeds the Glonu will sow in order to reap our bodies and souls.

We do not speak. I know I am not alone in thinking they will hear us.

Around the time my weary body tells me dawn is imminent outside, Hal speaks, causing me to flinch.

“Damin. I have connected with Damin.”

I inhale so sharply I am dizzy in the aftermath. “What do you see?” Kay takes my hand and I am grateful for the touch and support.

“He is a silver circle,” Hal murmurs. “Tell him that if you ever see him again.”

“By the sands, man,” Kay growls.

Hal shrugs. “Death surrounds them; I am being realistic. We are not actually talking and he appears to be running, which makes proper contact difficult, but he is relaying the images he sees back to me. Perhaps, when he is able to rest, we can take it further.”

“Which images?” I ask quietly.

“Those that reflect agony and death mostly. People are dying around him and he sees what they feel. Also …” Hal pauses to frown. “… white dandelions? I am uncertain, but I sense … ghosts?”

“They are fighting the ethereal army,” Kay murmurs.

My grip on Kay’s hand intensifies.

“And now his vantage changes …” Hal lifts a hand to forestall questions. “Damin looks up and sees …” He blinks and stares at us. “Space vessels. I don’t think it is symbolic; he is relaying an actual view of the ships.”

I cannot say a word, but Kay asks, “How many and how large?”

“Damin sees four in the sky and one is landing beyond his sight. Large. HUGE.” Hal lapses into silence in order to concentrate.

Review: Guardian of Secrets

How will you drink your Jack Daniel's today?

Have a 'thing' for these lists, whatever form they take. Invariably, they land up here!

While I don't actually like whisky, I thought I'd share anyway :)

From a saucepan doing a handstand with a farm animal!!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The King's Challenge #211 and #212

TKC 211 and 212

There are scuffling sounds in the darkness. I hear a woman’s voice and a man’s murmur in reply. They seek a place to relieve themselves.

Grinning, Marian gets up to help them, swiftly disappearing into the antechamber.

Soon all is silent again.

Hal sits with his chin on his chest, breathing a deliberately slow rhythm. I do not speak, aware he has sent his mind travelling. Beside me Kay is as wordless, but his concentration seems to have moved elsewhere. Perhaps he too sends his mind travelling, perhaps into memory in search of what his talent possibly is. Maybe something happened in his past he could not explain before and now he will see it differently.

I wait in this silence. It is unnerving.

A soft sound teases the edge of my hearing and my spine straightens in reaction. This sound has an element of stealth; careful tread, masked breathing, and a sense of expectancy. Is someone out there? If so, why employ secrecy? Are we not in this together?

I want to shake Kay into awareness and yet I remain still, choosing instead to listen.

A soft plink comes then, as if a toe accidentally nudged a stone, and Kay too turns his head … to the darkness behind us, to the deeper spaces we are yet to discover. Every hair on my arms and in the back of my neck spikes to attention.

Hal moves, lifting his head, and I reach out to grip his arm, placing a finger over my lips. He blinks, but nods and remains silent.

Kay rises carefully, hand on his blade, and creeps cautiously into the recesses. I want to scream, I am that unnerved.

Tense moments go by, and then Kay returns.

“Someone else is in these caves,” he murmurs. “He or she has retreated.” Frowning, he sits facing the space behind me. “We need more people and more light to go after whoever it is.”

Fingers of fear crawl along my spine. I shift to better watch the darkness. This space now contains the element of danger, an unholy intention from an unknown watcher.

Hal whispers, “Glonu. I am receiving a vague impression of the maze symbol.”

Kay curses under his breath. “We must …”

“No,” Hal interrupts. “He or she is alone and moving fast into the deeper cavities. I say we track him after we have had some rest.”

Marian returns then. “And?” she demands of Hal. “Did you get anything?”

Damn, yes. Has Hal managed to contact Damin? “Hal?” I prompt.

The Messenger leans forward. “Nothing specific. What I mean is, I see images, but they are jumbled. I think that implies I sense thoughts of more than a few, and now I need to sift through them to find the one that may be Damin. Of course, he no doubt guards his thoughts …” He gives me a wry smile. “I’m sorry, Siri, I have no answers yet, but I am not giving up.”

“That’s all right and thank you,” I respond.

“What kind of images?” Kay asks.

“Yellow knots, red splashes, blue … I think flowers or a leaf construction …”

“Fear and death,” Kay mutters. “Damin and I discussed the meaning of images …” He pauses to grip my hand, probably reading my horror. “Siri, no; maybe Hal’s symbols are different.”

“Fear and death is correct,” the Messenger says. “They are engaged in battle.”

“What happened to having no answers?” I blurt out, dread infusing my every blood vessel.

He closes his eyes. “Sensing a battle is not the same as knowing how it fares.” His eyes snap open suddenly and he stares at us, his mouth opening and closing.

“What is it?” Kay demands.

“Glonu,” Hal states. “They are everywhere.”

“The ships have landed,” Marian whispers.

The Mighty Cathron

There is a 'mythical' cat in my Lore Series, which the accompanying images remind me of. The other day I went through the various books to find references to the cathron - this is the result :)

The Kinfire Tree

There were birds both common and uncommon, colourful insects and reptiles, and furry creatures afraid of nothing; hares and rabbits, buck and rodents, minxes and other wild cats. The mighty cathron, indigenous to Valaris and believed to be extinct, roared on clear nights amid the mountains, although the great cat had not been seen for a thousand years.


The Drowned Throne

Vannis shouted as an otherworldly creature approached him through the dust and smoke, wearing Torrullin’s face in its belly, roaring like a wild cathron.


The Dragon Circle

Torrullin no longer stood still, but moved about Quilla’s chamber like a caged cathron, and as dangerous, his face pale, his eyes dark.


The Kallanon Scales

The latter shattered him, for they began with images of his mother, shifting into pawing cathrons into wolverines into demonic creatures into snakes and rats, but none of it in the known sense.


The Nemisin Star

Cat waited at the arch.
“Quilla has granted you a place here, and Skye and Lowen will join you,” Torrullin said.
“You’re protecting me.”
“It’s better this way, for now. Saska will be like a cathron back at the Keep and it’s not safe at Skye’s in Luan.”


The Sleeper Sword

Margus prowled the battlements like a caged cathron, unable to rest.


The Dreamer Stones

Torrullin looked at Samuel. “What did you see?”
“Four tall white pillars with a silver knocker in the shape of a cathron set in the ground before them and a black floor.”
“Gods. You saw different. I cannot recall it ever happening before. Primula!” The Elder, a woman, rose from alongside the tripod. “Two different readings. How do we proceed?”


The Nowhere Sphere

A silver knocker protruded from the blackness ahead, otherworldly because it was set in the floor and not upon a door somewhere. It was in the shape of a cathron, Valaris’ mighty predator cat. A cat no one had seen, ever, and still legends abounded.


Tymall pointed at the cathron knocker. “A link to Valaris. My blood was conceived and grown on Valaris and thus the connection. The black floor, the connection to Valleur power. The crucible, the connection to Grinwallin, if only as a nod at something heard of. Rough rock, the connection to Avaelyn … not that I have seen it either.” His mouth twisted briefly before he went on. “The pillars connect to Akhavar.”
“Imagination draws on memory.”
“Exactly, and thus it is real. But not purely memory; tales also, as well as the past, our shared past.”
Tianoman stared down at the silver cathron. And looked up. “Why?”


“What did Samuel see?” Tymall asked.
“This. Four white pillars, black floor, silver cathron. Apparently silver was a common element, therefore my name. ‘The door that shines, shining being’.”


“Find the place where a silver cathron lurks in the black floor.”


Tianoman glanced at Tristan supporting Teighlar, and Elianas doing so for Sirlasin, and added, “I must tell you there is a place below that speaks of my scrying - Samuel’s images.” In a rush then, for Tymall closed in, “Four pillars, black floor, silver cathron …” He ceased speaking and stepped aside, his expression shuttering.


Sabian did as bid, this time spending long minutes carefully studying the whole. When he drew back, he said, “Black floor, white pillars, silver cathron knocker …”
“That’s from Tian’s Naming,” Caballa said.


“Gods, Torrullin, how silent can a man be and still be a man?” Teighlar whispered back, his heart bouncing in his ribcage.
A low laugh. “Are you calling me an animal?”
“Cathron, fucking sabre tooth.”


The Master Mechanism

The man’s face was gouged and scratched as if a wild cathron had raked him repeatedly.


Soon hundreds and then thousands of documents and gifts arrived on Akhavar. He sent every artefact on to Avaelyn, and gradually the niches filled. Valaris too was represented, in the form of a cathron statue carved in onyx, with perfect garnets as its eyes. Torrullin murmured that he always saw the cathron in his imagination to have green eyes, not red, but was happy with the gift. The cathron indeed represented Valaris, a creature of myth, yet endemic to Valarian culture.


Note: The Nowhere Sphere and The Master Mechanism is still to be published, coming this year ;)