Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Three

Chapter Three

In the courtyard, on a stone bench, another patient sat calmly, looking around blankly at other people and humming softly to himself. He was squat but slim with a hollow quality to most of his features. His hair was brown so light it was almost blonde, his eyes green, and a small, neatly trimmed beard circled his mouth. He had enough control over himself that he could maintain his facial hair with an electric trimmer-- under supervision, of course. He never complained about being watched like a child.

Now, sitting on his bench, he continued his humming, the one thing he did constantly. His professional background in music still showed through in his mannerisms: constant noisemaking, either hums or whistling. Sometimes it was Mozart or Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky or Bach or Wagner, or even Webern or Berg although no one wanted to be around him when he whistled the noise they called music. But sometimes, when he whistled something and was asked what it was-- a question he always answered in detail-- he would simply respond, “Mine,” and go on with it. He had once been a composer and music teacher for a college two towns over from Ighosia Falls.


Draegon had come into Necras two days before the official onset of the Search, planning to perform at the ceremonies, or at least on the street corners if he couldn’t get onto the official center-of-attention platform in the center of town. There were prizes for the best musicians and storytellers, especially for the best telling of the legends involving the renowned sword. On the day of the official onset, the contests began at noon. He had already added his name to the lists of storytellers, but he had yet to get up and tell his chosen tale; the tellings would go on late into the night. In the meantime, he had already made a decent handful of coins just from playing his hand dulcimer on a street corner.

People tended to walk wide of him in the crowds, at least once they registered what he was. He knew it was because of his hair. Only the Keidenelle had hair any shade lighter than golden-brown-- excepting the white and grey that came with age, of course-- and his was whitish yellow, marking him as one of the uncivilized nomads that wandered the land, brutalizing and robbing whatever people they came across. Even with him alone, and dressed as well as any successful bard, and acting and speaking just like any civilized person, the people avoided him. If no one else noticed, at least he knew he was not a savage, although he didn’t like to think about what he had to go through to become civilized.

A man on one street corner stood on a small wooden box, shouting advertisements for the menagerie, Jonal Keffinen’s Traveling Sights of Wonder. Had he not been standing on the box, he still would have been tall. He had a semi-tamed mop of black hair, a slightly crooked nose, and blue eyes that missed nothing. He looked like a man used to spotting trouble in a crowd. He spoke easily and cheerfully and with many grand gestures of the arms, and frequently stopped his advertising to banter amiably with a passerby. Draegon knew this man; he was Jonal Keffinen himself, the owner of the menagerie. He tried to step wide around him, but his own height and the fact that his pale hair marked him out in a crowd worked against him. He almost felt the moment Jonal’s eyes fell on him, and the shout came aimed right at his shoulder. “That’s my property! Stop him! Guards! Stop him!”

Just as suddenly as with the man on the balcony and the woman in the common room, the musician’s behavior changed. He jumped up and shouted at the tp of his lungs and darted away from the bench, running at top speed across the courtyard, through the flowerbeds, and even plowing through people milling about.

“I’m no man’s property!” Draegon dared to shout back before breaking into a run, careful to keep hold of his instrument cases so they didn’t wind up lost or damaged. He pushed his way through the crowd; suddenly they no longer wanted to part for him. He cursed the days he had worked for Keffinen in the Traveling Sights. Those days were years gone, but they still haunted him. He cursed under his breath. He was no savage to be displayed anymore, no attraction to be viewed by gawking patrons for a few measly coins he would not see so much as a penny of. Not anymore. He was going to preserve his freedom even if it meant running.

One of those he ran into was another patient, a mild-mannered and constantly sad woman with dark hair and almost purple eyes.

Before he could slow down or turn, he barreled headlong into a merchant’s wagon, throwing what looked like some rather expensive-looking porcelains and mechanical toys into the road, breaking them into pieces on the stone road upon impact. His momentum halted, he couldn’t help but make eye contact with the dark-skinned and dark-haired woman sitting atop the wagon. Rich azure eyes stared into his, seeming to delve into his core.

“Someone caught you and tamed you young, didn’t they?” she said, sounding more amused than he was comfortable with. Too out of breath to reply, he gave her an apologetic look before beginning his run again.

The salt-and-pepper policeman took it on himself to stop the ruckus, running through the halls and plowing over people himself to get at the running musician.

More and more he ran through the crowd, plowing past people and mumbling out-of-breath apologies whenever he could. The crowd seemed to be thickening around him. Jonal Keffinen’s condemning shouts still followed him, ringing in his ears and threatening a cage again. He refused to let his screaming legs rule him and make him slow; the crowd was making him go slowly enough.

He ran headlong into a solid wall, and arms wrapped around him immediately, keeping him from continuing his sprint. A guard looked down at him, stern face glaring and accusing. “You’ve been called before Lady Ara of Melistrat.”

The crowd around him was silent. All eyes were on him and the guards; a wide empty ring had opened up around them. Three guards-- that was what they had sent to capture him.

“Mother punish that damned Jonal Keffinen,” he muttered under his breath. Whatever punishment the Mother sent to him would be too good, he decided as the guard holding him released him from the tight bear’s hug he’d had him in and marched him towards the largest building edging the plaza. Behind him, another guard called, “Anyone else who is involved with this man, come before Lady Ara.”

Draegon could hear both the sound of wagon wheels-- the merchant woman’s cart-- and Jonal Keffinen’s slimy voice trailing after him.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Two

Chapter Two

There was a certain window that looked out over the walled-in garden-slash-courtyard at Ighosia Falls, and it was there that one particular patient liked to spend most of his time. He was a big man, broad-shouldered and tall, with salt-and-pepper hair and stony blue eyes. Once a formidable member of the police force, he now held no gun, had no uniform. He spent his time staring out into the courtyard, babbling softly to himself, occasionally shouting “Don’t!” or “Please, stop!” The doctors knew the shouts were linked to the incident that broke him.

One intern just happened to be looking in his direction when something came over his eyes. So she was the only one to see his mouth clamp shut mid-babble, to see the sudden change in the look behind his eyes. He’d gone quiet, the abrupt change in behavior happening without warning, just as with the woman in the wheelchair. His change was certainly less violent and even less noticeable. But the intern was convinced there had been a change. Silence surrounded the big man; the cold look in his eyes became the only indication of life.


Ara Fusica leaned over the rail of the balcony overlooking the main plaza of Necras, her feet a few inches above the ground as she hoisted herself up to look at the rabble-rousing below. All she could see were heads covered with many different colors of hair and the colorful splashes of their clothes.

“My Lady, you shouldn’t hang over the edge like that. You’ll fall, and then where will we be?”

Ara let her feet come back down to the marble floor of the balcony and looked up to her sworn guard. Roark Dow was a broad-shouldered man in the prime of his life. He didn’t wear all his steel battle armor here in the city; rather a set of thick hardened leather protected him. His coal-black hair, usually disheveled and spiky with sweat from being kept under his helmet at all hours, was now dry and sitting neatly on his head. His chin was smooth as a boy’s despite his thirty-five years. His eyes looked down on the milling crowd, appraising everyone and generally disapproving of the carousing in the streets below.

This was the first time Ara could really see the onset of the Search; it only happened every fifteen years, and at age fifteen, had only experienced the last one as an infant. She was amazed now at the sight of all the men wearing the silver braid of Seekers. So many-- it looked like nearly every man in the city wore one.

“Every fifteen years, the Seekers of Sonsedhor set out from the four capital cities of the world to search for the sword that was lost,” she said, her words almost a recitation. “I never imagined there would be so many.”

“And there may not even be one among them all who will find it. There have been nearly sixty Searches set out since Cheyne Firdin vanished, and they began long after his mysterious disappearance.” Roark spoke matter-of-factly, his lips barely moving but his voice firm and commanding. Should the need ever arise, he would lead soldiers into battle to defend her.

“Have you ever thought of joining the Search?” Ara asked, looking up at her guardian. “Did you go on the last one? You would have been old enough.”

“At the time of the last one, you were a babe in swaddling clothes in your mother’s arms, my Lady,” he replied, his voice remaining level, as if he were lecturing. “From the moment of your birth, I was bound to you, sworn to protect you, to give up my life to defend your own. I was not free to join the Search then, nor am I now.”

“I could free you from that bond if you wished,” she said, still looking up at him. She was not short-- not for her age, anyway-- but he still stood head and shoulders taller than her. “At one word form me, your oath could be undone. Do you wish it? To search the world for Sonsedhor?”

He turned his eyes back down to the rabble in the plaza. “I am not looking for glory,” he said simply and firmly, ending the conversation.

She refused to let it end. “Then what are you looking for?”

He let out a loud sigh, but she thought he was about to answer, when below them, a hubbub began. A man shouted, his voice carrying over the raucous volume of the crowd. “That’s my property! Stop him! Guards! Stop him!”

She jumped up to lean her chest against the rail again so she could really see what was below her. Roark mumbled something, but she couldn’t make it out. Probably something about not leaning over the rail again. She ignored him and looked for where the trouble was.

Among the multi-colored heads, a pale-haired man seemed to be the center of attention. “Now what is happening down there?” she asked. “Go find out, Roark. Take some guards and sort this out. I won’t have thieves in my city.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter One

Chapter One

Ighosia Falls Insane Asylum-- the board of directors had yet to change the name to Ighosia Falls Mental Institution even though there was a bill on the board-- housed numerous patients who milled about aimlessly. Their behavior was placid enough that they could be allowed to roam the buildings and grounds without endangering themselves or others. The big common room that also served as game room and sometime cafeteria had enrobed patients scattered around tables, sofas, and the obligatory ping pong table. Most of them chattered with themselves or visitors or staff-- those that were coherent or thought they were coherent. Some still had enough of their minds to be able to interact, but those that spoke in gibberish still wanted to be heard. Volunteers had grown used to the ones who just wanted to be listened to while they babbled on about God-knows-what. Some of the patients who had no desire to listen or speak simply sat, staring at a wall, a TV screen, their hands or laps, or nothing in particular.

One patient sat in a wheelchair, her back to the wall, watching with uninterested eyes the color of chocolate. Auburn hair tumbled to her shoulders. She was always quiet, often unresponsive when addressed, but the doctors, staff, and volunteers had grown used to her and no one tried to interact with her anymore. She was content to sit in her chair, sometimes with a book or a magazine in her lap that she did not read, and while away the hours simply being, in a silent and lonely world.

Without warning or any sort of catalyst, she suddenly tried to stand in her wheelchair, struggling against legs that didn’t want to work. Her voice burst from her, hoarse from disuse. “I’ve lost it! I’ve lost it!”

Heads whipped around to look at her questioningly, a pair of nurses rushed to her to calm her down. A psychiatric doctor watched everything, immediately postulating what this sudden change in behavior meant. Was it, perhaps, the first sign of regained sanity, of awareness of surroundings? Or was it a delirium, with the lost “it” being something conjured in a fractured mind?


Necras was teeming with people, and they pressed in on Senne from all sides. Rumor that Cheyne Firdin had been reborn had reached her ears, leading her first to one city, then to another as the rumors developed. He was in Morena! No in Abem, or in Estria! No, he was in Necras! Wherever he was, the rebirth of the hero meant one thing: that the cursed sword Sonsedhor might again be within her grasp, or come within her grasp.

The crowds in Necras weren’t encouraging. The rumors had only pointed to one thing: the Search. The celebration of the great hero’s rebirth was nothing more than the setting forth of Seekers: men who believed they might be a rebirth of the hero, each one of them planning to go reclaim the famous blade and make a name for himself as a hero.

She pushed through the crowd; everywhere she looked were men wearing the silver braided cord of a Seeker. The cord came along with the oaths they made: to be honest, to do no harm to the innocent, and to seek it for righteousness rather than for glory. Those oaths freed men from all debts and obligations until one of three things happened: either they died, the sword was found, or the Seeker gave up and returned to paying taxes. Senne thought it all silly. Why should any man need to make oaths, or search for the sword? Whoever had once walked the world as Cheyne Firdin should know what had happened to Sonsedhor, hidden or not.

“He’s here.” The voice burst into her head like the boom from a firework. “The one who will find the sword. The one is here!”

In the middle of a crowd as she was, she fell to her knees from shock and elation. It had been so long. After her failure to bring him Sonsedhor back when Cheyne held it, she had been cut off from him completely and without mercy. Now, to hear his silken gravelly voice again was ecstasy.

As if he could read her thoughts-- which he probably could, actually-- his voice echoed in the back of her head again. “You are not in my favor yet, child. Do not believe you are. But perhaps you might redeem yourself. The one who will find that cursed blade is here. Bring him to me. Find the blade, and you may prove what little worth you actually have.”

As suddenly as it had come, the voice was gone, the itching buzz in the back
of her head abruptly disappearing. Shaking, she got to her feet, her eyes doing more than just passing over the individuals that made up the mass. Now, she actually saw them.

The plaza was filled to bursting with men and women, but her master had given her no way to tell which one of the men around her was the one. She picked out a chestnut-haired man not ten paces from her, but there was no guarantee Cheyne’s rebirth would look like Cheyne himself had. The man around her were all as different as people could be. Dark-skinned and fair, blue-eyed Gaernin and brown-eyed Melistrati, black hair and red hair and brown and all shades in between… she even thought she spied a pale-haired Keidenelle savage among the rabble. She gave a start at seeing the man she thought was a Keidenelle. Either they were attacking and no one cared because there was only the one, or he was an attraction escaped from some menagerie or showman who had set up outside the city. She had seen menageries boast of captured savages before, but most often they turned out to be fakes, men or women who had drained all the color from their hair by a means Senne didn’t know. This man’s hair wasn’t drained of color; it was more of a whitish-blonde, like fresh buttermilk or a none-too-clean linen shirt. He wasn’t dressed like a savage either; his clothes fit in perfectly with the crowd. Perhaps he had drained the color from more normal brown hair himself, to instill fear in competition for the sword. No silver braid of a Seeker adorned his sleeve; the man wasn’t out for the glory that would come with Sonsedhor. Senne dismissed him from her thoughts.

She worked her way through the crowd, her eyes darting around at man after man, wondering if perhaps her lover’s relationship with Cheyne before would help her recognize his rebirth. A thought struck; would he recognize her? Would that be one of the memories that came to his rebirth? Had she been recognized already, and he was simply avoiding her? There were too many questions. He was here, but where?

Musicians were playing on every corner, and jugglers and acrobats performed wherever they could find space. Half the people in these crowds were drinking, the other half mostly drunk already, even though it was not yet noon.

She found herself among a cluster of braid-wearing Seekers close to one of the gates to the city. Outside the walls, the colorful sides of a tent stretched towards the sky. The menagerie. She sneered; she hated menageries. A painted wooden sign named this Jonal Keffinen’s Traveling Sights of Wonder. A long line of Seekers were strolling among the large tent and the few smaller tents surrounding it that housed smaller attractions. She sauntered through the crowds herself, dropping a coin in the box near the entrance arch to pay her way in. Money was easily come by; she could waste it on this, even though she hated them. Cheyne might be among the crowd.

The smells of horses and mules reached her, and she wrinkled her nose. She let it stay wrinkled as she looked around and saw the people who wore vests made of the same colorful material as the tents; the vests marked them as workers of the Traveling Sights of Wonder. She glared at every one of them she saw. Menageries were peopled by nothing but con artists and freaks. Within one small open tent, a woman was contorting herself into all kinds of different positions that should have been impossible. Freak. In another, a man was “eating” fire and blowing it back out of his mouth. A small boy not wearing a vest darted among the crowd surrounding the fire eater. Senne saw the quick movements that showed he was picking pockets. No doubt he was employed by the performer. Con artist. A woman standing on a makeshift platform open to the air was swallowing daggers and knives and swords-- nothing any honest person would do to make a living. Strange animals were in cages, strange items in large glass bottles and jars were lined up on a table, being watched over by a man with eyes far too large for him. He looked like an owl. A man with no arms wrote on a giant slate with his feet, his handwriting neat and perfect. Freaks and more freaks.

And the other people were eating it all up. Any man who was truly Cheyne wouldn’t be taken in by all this. He was not one to be entertained by the unnatural. She walked purposefully out of the menagerie’s roped-off grounds.

Back within the walls of the city, she got lost in the crowd and stood in one spot, looking around. Cheyne Firdin’s new life was in here somewhere, but where?!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Prologue


The river Swen was banked on one side by high, grassy ground peppered with brush and stunted trees, and on the other by black nothingness. For about two paces, the far bank looked just like the one Cheyne was standing on; rich dirt sloped up to contain the lazily flowing water and finally leveled to the same high grass and various foliage that could have banked any river anywhere. But after those two paces on the far side, it all just stopped, like a long sharp blade had simply cut through the earth and trees and peeled them away, leaving nothing but a black as dark as a murderer’s heart. Even from this distance, Cheyne thought it looked thick, like molasses, like he could put out his hand and be enveloped in it. Staring at it made him feel more like a child than the hero others thought him to be. He wiggled his fingers, just to make sure they were still attached to his hand. Even knowing that it was on the other side of the river, for a moment, he had almost felt as though he had put his fingers into the black, and they had gone numb.

He lifted the heavy steel helmet from his head and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. His hand came back covered with sweat. His eyes never left the darkness on the other side of the river. It was broad daylight-- just an hour or so after noon-- but the darkness was complete. He squinted, trying to penetrate it with his gaze, but at the same time not quite seeing it. He could remember remembering a time when that blackness wasn’t there, when plains-- he had the vague idea it had been plains-- extended far on the other side of the river, but the memories were not even half-remembered. A grimace tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was frustrating that his memory didn’t extend as far back as it used to. The memories from some of his past lives, the ones he had lived longest ago, were fading. Decades were missing, decades of experiences he could remember remembering and thinking on, but that was all there was anymore. Still staring at the nothingness without seeing it, he began to wonder how much his next rebirth would remember. Who would that man be? What would he be like?

How much of the land will blackness like that cover then?

The grimace that had been tugging at him made its appearance, and he put a hand on the sword at his hip, gripping the hilt tightly as if afraid the blackness would attack and he had to be ready for it. It didn’t waver. The one thing he was certain of, the one thing that was always a part of his lives, of all his memories, was the sword. Sonsedhor. Fine brown leather cord wrapped the hilt from pommel to the plain steel cross guard that separated hilt from blade. The blade itself was a bit wide, straight and double-edged, but tempered in a style that made it look like waves radiated from the center to the edge when the light hit it right. For all the old stories told about his former lives that involved Sonsedhor, all the legends that turned his lives and himself into a hero of legend, all the tales that made the famous sword into a brilliant weapon worthy of heroes, it wasn’t really much to look at. It was a tool, made for a purpose, and no more. But it was a constant; it made Cheyne certain of who he was. Sonsedhor had always been connected to him, and him to it, for hundreds of lives-- maybe thousands-- even though there were only a dozen or so he could actually remember in detail.

The sword was centuries old, and had never been wielded by anyone but himself. His predecessors took pains to hide it before death took him, so only the next incarnation of himself would be able to find it. Whenever he felt death at his back, he would do the same, and wait until the Mother gave him birth again to find it.

The sound of footsteps-- both human and horse-- approached. His grimace turned into a smile without his thinking about it, and he finally tore his eyes away from the blackness across the river. The horse was the color of dust, a well-tempered mare with calm eyes that matched her owner’s in color. But the similarities ended there. Above her own calm brown eyes, Senne’s hair was deep brown, pulled back into an intricate pattern of twists and curls that would normally be seen on a lady in a city, not out here at the edge of the world, days from any settlement. Even her gown was more suited for city business than traveling, except that the fine silk of her skirts was in fact divided for riding. It was deep sapphire blue and covered with hundreds of tiny glass beads. Pure snowy white slashed her sleeves and the middle of her bodice, all of that too encrusted with beadwork. It was a gown made for court, but Senne would have nothing less than the finest, even on the road.

“So it’s true, isn’t it, love?” she asked, her voice as soft and sleek as the silk of her gown. She left her mare to graze and strode next him, her hard-soled leather riding shoes making almost no noise in the grass that led up to the bank. Her arm went through his; he loosened his grip on Sonsedhor’s hilt.

“So it seems,” he replied. “There’s nothing on the other side of the Swen. It just… stops.”

“I was afraid to believe it when I heard the rumor. Thank you for bringing me out here.” For a long time he watched her as she stared at the blackness, almost without blinking, until he found his own eyes locked on it again, trying to see through it.

The sound of rustling fabric broke him from his staring, and he turned to see Senne had stepped out of her shoes and taken off her stockings. Her hands were reaching behind her back, undoing the row of buttons that ran up the back of her bodice.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to see it up close. The river isn’t flowing too heavily, now that the spring thaws are long past and it hasn’t rained in nearly a fortnight. In fact, it’s been so dry for the last month the Swen can’t be very deep. So I’m going to swim across and see it up close. Are you going to come with me?” She shrugged her shoulders out of the bodice and slid her arms out of the sleeves. The fine gown cascaded to the ground, piling around her ankles. Even clad only in her shift, she was able to somehow look more commanding than any monarch he had ever met. Without waiting for his response, she crossed her arms beneath her breasts and continued, “You’ll want to remove all your armor before you go in. It would weigh you down and drown you.”

Ignoring the tone in her voice that made him feel like she saw him as a child, he methodically worked his way out of his armor and set it on the bank next to his own mare. She ignored him. Once he was stripped down to his simple cloth breeches, with a sheathed dagger at his belt, he and Senne plunged into the river together.

The water was cold but not icy, deep enough that he couldn’t touch the bottom, but slow enough that it wasn’t an issue. A few minutes of swimming saw him and Senne clambering up the far bank not too far downriver from the horses. He helped Senne to her feet on the grass, ignoring the fact that the water had set her white shift clinging to her every curve, that it being wet had made it almost completely transparent. Even with trying not to look, he could see every bit of her. She smiled slyly at him and brushed past him half a step.

Clinging to each other, they inched closer to the edge of the void. Cheyne found himself leaning forward, his nose reaching to the wall of blackness while the rest of him stayed further back. He straightened and pulled Senne back just a bit with him. He saw her reach out a hand toward the nothingness and somehow could not make himself reach out to pull her hand back. He held his breath as Senne’s fingers came up to the blank wall of blank. For a long minute, her hand and the blackness sat there, suspended, frozen, and then one finger extended and breached the boundary of the void.

The black didn’t swallow her hand like Cheyne thought it would. Instead, her hand stayed perfectly visible, the edges sharp and vivid as if he were looking at it in broad daylight. It seemed, for a moment, that her hand gave off its own light to break the blackness.

“It feels… thick, but empty at the same time,” Senne said, moving her hand slowly around and wiggling her fingers. “I wonder…” Again, before he could move to stop her, she was leaning forward, her head broke into the darkness, and she was looking down. “Oh, my…” Her hand moved from his arm to his back, settling against his skin between his shoulder blades.

Cheyne had never been an easily frightened man , but he hesitated before carefully leaning forward himself and peering over the edge of the black. Beyond the edge, the world just ended. The ground beneath him didn’t even have any thickness to it. It was more like a sheet of parchment, stretched and scraped thin. He was suddenly overcome by vertigo and the feeling that the earth would break under his weight. Other than that thin crust that was the land he stood on, there was nothing in the black. Pure nothing, in every direction. He felt sweat breaking out on his still-clammy skin and realized he was trembling. As slowly as he had extended his head, he drew it back until green grass was beneath his eyes. Only then did he straighten up again.

On the return swim, the water felt warmer. When they emerged from the river, the sun was warmer, the breeze less bracing. The whole world seemed to be warm and more colorful, as if it were showing off how it was different from the abyss. He was grateful for the walk back upstream to where the horses were; the warm sun and wind dried him as he walked.

He helped Senne do up the buttons on the back of her gown before he started donning his armor. He straightened from fastening the last of his greaves and was reaching for Sonsedhor on its belt when a loud crack rang in his ears. A heavy weight slammed into him, pushing him bodily toward the river. His arms and legs became tangled in branches and leaves, and as he twisted to see, rough tree bark was all that was before his eyes. Completely winded, he tumbled down the bank and into the water, the tree dragging him with it. The weight of all the steel encasing his body dragged him down at the same time the tree tried to keep him on the surface. Water filled his lungs as he desperately tried to keep his head above water. He tried to free his arms from the tangled branches, but they were pinned too tightly. He whipped his head around as well as he could underwater, but the strap that fastened his helmet under his chin wouldn’t move. It dragged his head down, keeping it under the surface. His lungs screamed for air. He could feel the current pulling him downriver. The water was suddenly freezing.


Senne watched emotionlessly as the uprooted tree floated downriver with Cheyne tangled in it. “My master thanks you for the kingly gift,” she said sweetly to the drifting log. Before it was anywhere near out of sight, she turned away and reached for the sword belt with the scabbard and blade still in it, right where he had leaned it against one of the stunted trees. Without so much as a backward glance, she mounted on her mare and rode away.

She had not even gone a mile into the open plains when the late afternoon sun disappeared and she was swathed by darkness. Swirling black and gold and blue surrounded her, some of it moving so fast that it made her feel dizzy and sick. She reined her mare to a halt, practically throwing herself out of the saddle even before the horse came to a complete stop. Immediately she went to her knees, the sword in its scabbard on the ground below her chin.

Glancing up, she saw the swirling colors come together, solidifying into a man. His breeches and boots were black, his coat blue, all of it embroidered in sparkling thread-of-gold, even the boots. Black lace spilled from his cuffs and collar, bordering against the pale skin of his hands. The short hair atop his head was golden; his ears and the sides of his face pale. But where eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth, cheeks and chin should be, there was nothing. Like the abyss on the other side of the river, his face was blank. Flat and empty.

One of the pale hands reached out. Hastily, she grasped the sword and proffered it to him, resisting the urge to jerk back once it was out of her grasp. He took the sword and wrapped stick-like fingers around the hilt, drawing the blade from its scabbard. “You have done well.” A voice that was at the same time smooth and gravelly came from the blank face. The eyes that weren’t there looked at the blade as he turned it this way and that to set light glinting off the steel. “You will go far in my service.”

The air was pierced with a bone chilling scream before Senne could thank him. It came from behind her, where the river washed over a man doomed to die, his body tangled in a tree. His head could never have broken the surface, weighted down as it was by his heavy steel helmet, but the scream was as loud as if she were right next to him. The air shook with its force. At hearing that cry, Senne knew Cheyne was dead.

At the very moment the shriek ended, the bare blade wrenched itself from her master’s hand, the scabbard flew from where he had discarded it by his leg, and both flew through the air back toward the Swen, a trail of smoky blackness dotted with gold trailing after it.

Senne stared after it, completely stunned until an iron grip surrounded her throat, choking her. She managed to turn her eyes up; her master’s hands were motionless by his sides; his empty face turned down, looking at her.

“You will go back and get it, or so help me, you will die a thousand deaths before I’m through with you. Don’t call my name unless you have it in your grasp.” The grip tightened on her throat. She was lifted through the still air and felt herself be thrown, her rough landing ripping her gown at the same moment it knocked the breath from her. Looking back, there was nothing but uninterrupted plains. Her mare came trotting up to her, looking as if nothing had happened.

Tired and shaking, she got to her feet and then into the saddle, turning her horse’s head toward the river Swen. Something in the deepest part of her knew she wouldn’t find the sword there, or anywhere.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome to the Blogject

I would like to take a minute (and a post) to welcome all my readers to 2010: The Year of the Blogject. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the project, here's a breakdown.

In Fall 2009, I had the idea: to find out what my friends and other readers want to read about, and to take their ideas and make a coherent whole, using as many of their ideas as possible, and to write a novel, posting it chapter-by-chapter here, free for anyone to read and comment on. The ideas I received were outstanding and of great variety, and I was actually able to use most of them. As thanks, each one of the contributors will have one character named (loosely) after them in the novel, as well as mention here. Here they are, and what they contributed:

Dawn H.- character background
Cheyenne F.- character and place names and descriptions
BJ D.- place names and descriptions
Erin K.- moral support and character backgrounds
Theo K.- item descriptions and character names
Alex L.- plot ideas
Clara A.- plot ideas
Clara R.- character ideas
Sami F.- plot ideas and character names
Misty B.- character names
Becky S.- character names
Andrew P.- character names
Kirsten S.- character names
Brian B.- character names
Jon K.- place names
Sarah K.- place names and descriptions
Jade A.- character names
Laura P.- title ideas
Travis C.- title ideas
Chuck N.- title ideas
Mary Lee F.- title ideas

Thanks to everyone who participated! You're the ones who made this possible, and this is your story! If this goes well, perhaps I will do another in the future.

Anyway, here's how this is going to go down. Wednesday, Jan. 6, the prologue for this novel (I'm not releasing the title yet) will be posted right here on the blog. Every week, a new chapter will be posted, most likely on a Wednesday. To keep this from taking the entire year (which by the length of my plot outline, it would) I will post two chapters a week now and then, so sometimes there may be a Saturday post.

So to my readers, contributors, and anyone else who happens in on this blog, welcome to the Blogject! Tune in Jan. 6 for the prologue!