Monday, August 30, 2010

Thank You for the Blogject (Mere Acquaintances)

The project known as the Blogject (the serial novel entitled "Mere Acquaintances") was not a solitary effort. The ideas for it were provided by numerous friends of mine, everything from character names to plot elements. It is time for all of these people to receive their thanks. Already, they have each had a character in the Blogject loosely named after them. Here, in no particular order: contributor, contribution(s), and character.

Dawn H.- character background- Don Harson

Cheyenne F.- character and place names and descriptions- Cheyne Firdin

BJ D.- place names and descriptions- Banjay Advissen

Erin K.- moral support and character backgrounds- Rin Ramkan

Theo K.- item descriptions and character names- Hoeth Karzark

Alex L.- plot ideas- Lexan Halech

Clara A.- plot ideas- Ara Fusica

Clara R.- character ideas- Berrot Larac

Sami F. plot ideas and character names- Masithina Crasier

Misty B.- character names- Masty Boroksen

Becky S.- character names- Becca Smitts

Andrew P.- character names- Endren Prake

Kirsten S.- character names- Kristen Censor

Brian B.- character names- Rabian Hartume

Jon K.- place names- Jonal Keffinen

Sarah K.- place names and descriptions- Sara Kenney

Jade A.- character names- Carolyn Anderson

Laura P.- title ideas- Prett Moura

Travis C.- title ideas- Lec Ravits

Chuck N.- title ideas- Needrenghusshuck

Mary Lee F.- title ideas- Maria Ferrera

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Epilogue

It had been like flicking a switch. Becca couldn’t believe it, but the evidence was there in front of her. Whatever had happened between the five Sonsedhor patients and their alternate personalities, everything had come to an end. At least, it seemed to be at an end.

Things had seemed so calm for so long. For months, Emery’s violent streak had seemed contained, easily averted by restraints, but the events of the night of November fifth had come as a surprise.

Fortunately, his unprovoked attack on Ryan had been thwarted. But then, as he was being restrained, he managed to overpower the nurses and turned his attentions to Lydia. He had been much harder to hold back then.

No one was sure how he managed to get out of his room after being locked in and bound in a straitjacket, but the former policeman had somehow done it. By the time his escape had been discovered and they found where he’d disappeared to, Vale was already dead. His body was removed the next morning. There was no question– he had been beaten to death by the big ex-cop.

Thanksgiving saw Becca in Dr. Anderson’s office, seated in a corner and simply observing as Dr. Anderson spoke to Jo Bailey, whose recovery had come as a surprise.
It had been like flicking a switch, she thought again as she studied her former patient. Jo wasn’t even in her wheelchair; walking was difficult in her physical state, but it wasn’t completely impossible. Once she had come to her senses, she had insisted on doing away with the chair and walking under her own power, even though it took her a long time to move across a room. She had spirit, a desire to live in her chocolate-brown eyes.

“I’m ready to go home,” Jo said softly, looking at her hands in her lap. “I believe I’m done here.”

With a nod, Dr. Anderson replied, “I will gladly support that statement. You will be missed around here, Joanna, but it is time you went back to the real world.”

Jo’s head snapped up at that– as quickly as her head could snap, anyway, which was still fairly slow– but she didn’t say anything.

“We will, of course, keep observing you for a few months while you readjust to life outside the Institute,” Dr. Anderson continues, smiling. Becca knew the smile was for the recent bill that had finally passed judgement by the board of directors, renaming the place Ighosia Falls Mental Institution. Jo simply nodded. “And we have, of course, contacted your family. Your parents are ready for you back at their home, since your apartment was rented back out some time ago.”

Jo nodded again.

“You look like you want to say something. Please, go ahead Joanna. Feel free.”

Something familiar to Becca flashed in Jo’s eyes. “I want to see the others.” Dr. Anderson and Becca exchanged looks. Joanna kept her gaze level on Dr. Anderson’s face. “I know there were others. Please, can I see them?” There was no pleading in her voice, just simple need.

Dr. Anderson nodded.

Jo walked with the intern, Becca, down a hallway lined with doors. Dr. Anderson hadn’t come with them, but Jo didn’t care much for the doctor anyway. There was something familiar and warm about the young intern, and she was a welcome guide to her companions. Something told Jo that Becca... understood. She didn’t know what it was about the young woman, but she knew she could trust her, deep in her core.

“This is Lydia,” Becca said, opening a door. The intern entered first, speaking softly and soothingly to the room’s occupant.

In the woman before her, Jo recognized Weslyn, but there was something wrong with her. The woman, Lydia, refused to lift her head. She made no move, gave no inclination that she might speak. Jo didn’t press her; she simply nodded to Becca and slowly made her way out of the room.

“She’s become much more functional since... that night,” Becca explained, “but Lydia’s emotional condition has fallen drastically. She’s battling deep depression suddenly. She won’t speak to anyone.

That’s because she’s dead, Jo thought, but she said nothing. That Weslyn had died was a certainty to her, but she didn’t know how she knew it. She hadn’t seen Weslyn die, but there was no doubt it had happened.

She was introduced to Ryan next, and in him she knew the bard Draegon. But Ryan eyed her askance, darted as far away from her as he could, and cowered in a corner behind a desk chair. Like Lydia, he had regained the better part of his sanity since November fifth, but his temperament was now marked with constant fear and paranoia. Constantly looking over his shoulder, Ryan jumped at the slightest sound or voice. Throughout her short visit, he muttered about constant nightmares, each one of the same thing: murder. Over and over, murder.

Jo remembered seeing Draegon’s body in the chamber... bloody and battered, beaten until he had hardly looked like himself anymore. She didn’t blame Ryan for having nightmares about that.

Becca hesitated over taking her to the last of the others. Emery had killed another patient, she was told. His victim had been Vale Stapleton, who had also been one of the others involved with her, Lydia, and Ryan. At the name Emery, Jo’s heart skipped a beat. Her recognition came as no surprise to Becca.

“You two knew each other as kids,” the intern said.

“More than just kids,” Jo whispered back.

Nodding as if she already knew that, Becca led her to the last door. This was no simple hallway door with a small viewing window like Ryan and Lydia had. Emery’s door was reinforced metal, and instead of a window, there was a barred panel. They kept him like a prisoner.

Flashes of Kemeny’s and Senne’s memories flooded her mind as she peered through the bars at Emery. The big man sat on the floor unmoving. As if sensing he was being watched, he lifted his head, and a pair of stoney blue eyes met Jo’s. His mouth didn’t move; he didn’t blink or even seem to breathe. But those eyes pierced her to the core. Somewhere deep in the depths of her mind, the parts of her that were Senne and Kemeny trembled.

“I loved you too, once,” she whispered. Turning to Becca, she took the intern’s arm. It helped her walk more steadily to have support. “Now I’m ready to go home.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Eight

For a long time Roark stood staring at the black wall, waiting for it to devour him. Minutes passed before it occurred to him that the blackness had stopped its approach and gone still, not closing in so much as a hair’s breadth. It had stopped less than a finger’s span from the edge of Weslyn’s dress.

Disbelief that it really had stopped flooded through him, and he waited, now counting the seconds until it moved again to swallow up him and the bodily remains of the sweet merchant woman. Minutes passed by his counting: three, five, eight, eleven. A quarter of an hour went by, and the black wall hadn’t moved a bit.

Weslyn would have lived...

The thought hit him like a hammer. She would have lived. Had he not been so certain they faced their deaths, had he not acted in haste... if only he had put his faith in the Mother to save them, she would still be alive, pulse beating, lungs taking air next to him.

She would have lived...

Falling to his knees next to Weslyn’s cooling body, he threw back his head and howled. Oaths flew from his mouth afterward, shouted curses for everything from himself to the Mother Above to the Dark Father– and everything in between. Time froze as the minutes and hours passed with him damning everything he could think of. Part of him, deep down, pleaded with the Mother to let him take it back, to let him die in her stead and send her back to the living world.

When he finally opened his eyes again, having completely drained himself of tears, the blackness had receded. It had more than receded; it was completely gone. The nothingness surrounding him, swallowing up everything, was gone as if it had never existed at all. Beyond the balcony, the glittering gilded walls of Estria shone in the late afternoon sun. He suddenly became aware that the banging on the door behind him had stopped. When had the Keidenelle given up their pursuit?

Weslyn’s body was gone.

Unbarring the door, he cracked it open, but there was no ambush. There were no Keidenelle savages waiting for him on the other side of the door– in fact, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen in the corridor. Not a bit of dirt from a boot, a shallow depression on a rug from a footprint– there was nothing to suggest people had been in the castle recently.

Warily, Roark explored the castle. He passed through chambers he’d been through before, knowing there should be corpses, bloodstains, abandoned weapons, something! For all he saw, he could have been the only man left in all the world, in all of– what was the name of this place? “Ighosia” came into his head, and he decided that must be the name he was searching for. Was he really the only man left in all of Ighosia?

Weslyn would have survived. If I hadn’t killed her, she would have lived, and I wouldn’t be alone...

The pristine walls that surrounded him were unsettling. Hurrying, with only the echoing sound of his boot heels striking the floor, he strode through the great audience chamber that reminded him of Lady Ara’s and out to the balcony for some fresh air.

He wasn’t the only man left in Ighosia! There were three men lying on the stone floor out here: one was plainly dead; Sonsedhor stuck out from his unmoving chest. The other two were young men– lordlings by their clothes– and both on the brink of death themselves. One had a shard of glass sticking out from his gut, the other didn’t have a mark on him, but not and then his whole body twitched violently. Only the one with glass in him– the young man who had claimed Sonsedhor for himself, Jaidyn– showed any sign that he was aware of Roark’s presence.

Calmly, as if he had all the time in the world– which he really did, he thought with a smirk– Roark sauntered to the body Sonsedhor was buried in. Wrapping his hand again around the familiar hilt, he drew the sword from the corpse’s chest, not bothering to wipe the blackish blood from the metal. Jaidyn didn’t make a sound as Roark stood over him, legendary sword in hand, but his eyes screamed his fear. The other young man still showed no sign that he was alert to anything that was happening around him. Rather than let that young man suffer, Roark decided to put him out of his misery, too.

One well-placed swipe with Sonsedhor ended the lives of both young men.

Roark threw back his head and laughed. Without needing proof, without having to see if it was true, he knew he was the only man left in all of Ighosia. It was his. The world was his.

“Finally mine!” he shouted between hearty laughs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Forty-Seven

Zanthys was amazed he was still alive. Here he was, an untrained swordsman, wildly swinging his sword with no idea what he was doing, slashing without a care who or what he was aiming at, fighting against two men who were so desperate to have their hands on the false Sonsedhor he had had made that neither of them were willing to let a finger of their hands loose its hilt. Jaidyn and the stranger– whom he’d heard Jaidyn curse at multiple times using the name Akotherian– were fighting each other as much as they were fighting Zanthys. Maybe that was the only reason I’m still alive, he thought.

Neither of the other two men seemed at all aware of what was happening outside their little balcony, but Zanthys was. He heard shouts from somewhere, banging, running, screaming, and other evidence of mass chaos and panic. He thought he smelled blood, but even he had to admit that smell was probably imagined. None of the men near him had even a scratch, and who else could be close enough for him to smell their blood?

But the sounds and imagined smells did nothing to frighten him like what he saw did. Every time he let his eyes flicker toward the railing of the balcony where they fought– which was becoming more and more frequent– he could only see that blackness that made bile rise in his throat. It was growing closer. He knew that there was no way something like that could be moving as fast as he thought, but it seemed that every time he looked at the wall of nothing, it had gotten an arm’s length or more closer. He kept telling himself over and over in his head– between clashes of sword on sword– that it could only be an inch closer, or two maybe. But not the whole length of an arm, no matter how much closer it seemed to be.

Akotherian seemed to have the upper hand at the moment in his private skirmish with Jaidyn, and he flicked their shared sword at Zanthys’s head so Zanthys had to duck to dodge it. He stumbled and fell, rolling a bit as he lost his balance. His sword fell out of his hand. He ended up at the railing at the edge of the balcony, his nose an inch from the approaching blackness. The railings had already been halfway overtaken by the nothingness. He scrambled away from it in a poor imitation of a crabwalk, his hands and eyes searching frantically for his sword.

He found it just out of his reach. Jaidyn saw it too, as he struggled to regain the upper hand– or at least an equilibrium again– with Akotherian. But he still had a moment to glance at Zanthys’s sword, grin, and kick it further from where Zanthys was. He resumed his grappling with Akotherian in earnest, Zanthys forgotten in less time than it took to take a breath.

Zanthys crawled around the edge of the balcony, looking frantically for something to use as a weapon. Anything. All that was around him was masonry from the castle, and all of that was still attached and whole. He locked his eyes on his sword and bit his lip, praying that he would be able to get to it before either of the other men came out victorious and ran him through with his prank sword.

As he steeled himself to dash for his blade, he felt something sting his hand and looked down. A line of blood was forming on the palm of his hand. A few large shards of glass were on the floor of the balcony. Looking up, he saw a broken window– one of the decorative colored-glass ones from the audience chamber they had come from what seemed like ages ago. Not caring if his hand got slashed even worse, he grabbed the largest, most pointed shard he could find and got to his feet. The glass shard was colored red– It had probably once been part of some picture– a lord’s robe maybe, but all he could think of was blood. How appropriate. All this had to end now.

In the time it had taken him to stand, while Zanthys hadn’t been looking, Jaidyn had somehow managed to finally wrest the fake Sonsedhor from Akotherian and was standing over Zanthys’s abandoned sword, glaring derisively at the panting Akotherian. The defeated man’s back was inches from the black wall that had now completely overtaken the balcony rails. Fiery hate filled his eyes.

Staggering forward, Zanthys extended his arm towards Jaidyn, planning to bring everything to an end, prepared to sacrifice his own life, if need be. He was ready to be finished with Jaidyn, with his failed prank, with everything. Death would be welcome. As the sharp shard of glass neared Jaidyn’s torso, the man seemed unaware of it. Leaning forward, Zanthys prepared to make a final lunge to close the last few inches of distance, but Jaidyn wasn’t as oblivious as he’d seemed. The mad-eyed hero-wannabe shifted his weight and twisted; Zanthys’s lunge missed his target, and he stumbled, trying to correct his balance. He twisted in turn, his arm brandishing the glass shard flung out wildly. Blood and sweat covered his hand; the glass slid out of his grip as he overcompensated for his fall and instead followed his arm to the side, falling part-backwards, part-sideways.

The feeling that coursed through him as he hit the ground was one he couldn’t easily identify. Every muscle in his body clenched, twitching rapidly. He felt… blue, a crackling white-blue like lightning. His whole body convulsed, but screaming was impossible; any noise he tried to make got caught and fizzled before it left his throat.

It seemed ages before his eyes found their focus. Events were moving in slow motion. Akotherian’s hand was outstretched towards himself and Jaidyn. The forked pale blue lightning that erupted from his fingers had found its home in Zanthys’s chest and was still wreaking its havoc on his muscles. Forcing his head to twist around, he saw Jaidyn, Sonsedhor still in hand, his other hand at his chest. A dark patch of fabric stood out on his shirt towards his stomach, where the shard of glass had struck, sinking deep into flesh. A look of surprise was on Jaidyn’s face, but that quickly gave way to rage.

Akotherian seemed to be trying to pull his hand upward, to move the lightning that was still wracking Zanthys’s body to strike Jaidyn instead, but the sweat and panic that bloomed on the man’s face belied his ability to do it. He looked tired, worn out, used up, and it was all he could do to keep the deadly bolt in existence, much less move it. There wasn’t a doubt in Zanthys’s head that this was his end. He would die from this, here on the balcony.

Despite the growing patch of blood on his shirt, Jaidyn kept his feet and locked his eyes on Akotherian’s face. Zanthys had no faith left in him for mercy; they were all going to die here. Murder was in Jaidyn’s face, as sure as the glass was buried in his gut. He lurched towards his target, stretched out Sonsedhor, and without a word, buried the tip of the steel blade into Akotherian’s chest.

All at once, the twitching, white-blue crackling feeling left Zanthys; the lightning disappeared from sight; Akotherian cried out, his voice echoing, seemingly against the black wall that was so close Zanthys thought he could smell it; and Jaidyn fell to his knees, his hand still gripping Sonsedhor’s hilt. Struggling visibly to control his trembling arm, Jaidyn turned his wrist, twisting the blade into Akotherian’s chest.

Unable to keep his eyes open, and his mind focused, Zanthys tried to his last prayer up to the Mother before he lost himself completely, but once again, the words wouldn’t come out.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Six

Roark couldn’t let his remorse for murdering Draegon get to him; he still had Weslyn to protect. They were running now, running through the castle and finding nothing but frenzied people fighting, hopeless people waiting to die, and dead ends that put them face-to-face with the black nothingness that sent cold chills up their spines.

As they ran, they came across numerous Keidenelle. Blood lust had taken over many of the savages, and they were killing people left and right– anyone and everyone they came into contact with, Keidenelle or no. More than once, Roark had to let go of Weslyn’s hand for just a moment to deal with a crazed man or two, terrified that when he went back for her hand there wouldn’t be a hand to grasp anymore. He still had it in his head to save her, no matter what happened. He could still save Weslyn.

But every exit was blocked, opening only to blackness. Even some corridors ended not in a door, but the vast nothingness he didn’t dare get too close to. He had once, he remembered, ages ago as Cheyne. Something told him now that crossing the blackness would be his end.

Save Weslyn. He turned and ran another way, shoving threatening Keidenelle out of the way with his shoulders. What if there was no way out except the black? It was far too unknown; he couldn’t condemn Weslyn to Mother-knows-what. Could he?

He decided he couldn’t. If there was no other way… he could still spare the girl a gruesome or uncertain death. He could give her that. But only if he had to, if there was no other way.

They came to another black dead end. He turned, pushing Weslyn ahead of him. They passed a junction where their corridor met another, and a handful of Keidenelle spied them and gave chase. Urging Weslyn to go faster, he continued to glance over his shoulder at their pursuers. They weren’t gaining much.

Up a set of stairs, through a wooden door, and Roark found himself and Weslyn at the crenellated top of a guard tower. Black surrounded the castle on all sides, even cutting through the walls in some places. What was left of the world was less than half the area of a farmer’s field. Everything outside the castle was just… gone. In a cruel mockery, the sky overhead was pale blue and clear, but still lighting flashed from nonexistent clouds, striking stone balconies that were still undisturbed by the black. Not too far away, the sounds of a heated sword battle came, but he couldn’t see who was doing the fighting. But the shivers that ran up and down his spine at the clanging sounds told him that Sonsedhor was one of the swords being used. That meant the fellow Jaidyn was down there, as well as the man he suspected to be the Dark Father.

The door tried to burst open, but Roark threw his weight against it. Their pursuers must have caught up. Nothing but the unknown before them, and a bloody death at the hands of Keidenelle behind. He fought against the feelings of despair that began to creep up on him, but they were overpowering. There was a way out of everything, but… there was no way out of this.

The Keidenelle on the other side of the door pushed in earnest, but Roark kept his weight against it as much as he could. That was one advantage he had over the Keidenelle– every one of them he’d seen was half his size or less. They were a lean people. Gradually, his weight and strength closed the door. Bit by bit, the gap narrowed, narrowed… closed.

He slid the bar into its slot, keeping the Keidenelle sealed out. Then they began to bang against it, probably using their own shoulders as battering rams.

“Pray,” he told Weslyn. “Pray it holds.”

Turning to look from the door to the merchant woman, he saw her on her knees, staring at the blackness. Was it his imagination, or had it gotten significantly closer while his back had been turned?

“Mother, I beg your mercy, I beg for safety,” Weslyn’s voice was thin and shaking as she stared at the black. She fell to her knees, trembling violently from shoulders to toes. She wrapped her arms around herself, repeating her prayers. Roark could see the blackness approaching, slowly taking over stone after stone of the battlements. Behind him, he heard the wood of the door creaking, cracking, beginning to give. It would only be a matter of time before the Keidenelle broke it down. But would that happen before or after the nothingness overtook him and Weslyn.

There is nothing else, he told himself dismally, trying to separate his emotions and his conscience from what he was telling himself he must do. There is no other way… I can still save her…

Quietly, he stepped up behind the kneeling Weslyn. He held his breath as he reached his hands out for her thin, pale throat. She wasn’t aware of him as she kept mumbling her prayers, her eyes locked on the approaching unknown.

His big hands wrapped around her neck, and he pressed as firmly but as gently as he could. She gasped, the last breath he would allow her to have. Her hands shot up to his, clawing. She leaned back against his legs, her lovely blue eyes looking up at him, pleading, not understanding, begging. He didn’t loosen his grip. He could feel her throat pulsing beneath him, hear her silent screams, feel her body crying desperately and trying unsuccessfully to get air.

Finally, she went still. He gently laid her on the stone floor of the battlement, not letting himself look at her. No… he was simply unable to look at her. Seeing her unmoving form would break him, he knew.

He rose and squared himself to look at the blackness that was still creeping toward his place by the door. He ignored the constant banging on the door behind him; the Keidenelle no longer mattered. His fate was in the blackness; he would wait for it.