Writing about Bumps in the Night and Other Frights
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 at 1:30pm
Gardner Neighborhood Library
137 E Shawnee Street
Gardner, KS 66030
In the spirit of Halloween fun, Kansas authors Lee Killough, Linda Madl, and Sheri L. McGathy discuss their fascination with the supernatural creatures, fantasy beings, and ghosts that inspired their writing. The authors will read from their works and answer questions about their writing and the things that give us all goose bumps.
Lee Killough is published in sci-fi and is known for her supernatural and urban fantasy mysteries. Linda Madl is published in historical romance and short stories, including several ghost stories. Sheri L. McGathy is published mainly in fantasy and has earned several awards for her work.
What have I been up to lately, you might ask? Or some of you might, that is. Best answer: Just taking a moment to catch my breath and refocus my goals.
It’s been a very busy year or two for me with little time to write. A truth that I hope to change soon. So, your next question might be, just what have I been doing that has postponed my writing? That’s a good question and I’ve really no good answer. Many things are happening in my little world that require my time and attention, leaving me little or no time to write, or maybe the better answer is leaving me too drained to write. But I do see the clouds lifting, by golly there really is sun hiding under there 🙂 Things change, responsibilities shift or fade, stress ebbs and flows depending on the situation and we adjust. Life goes on, as they say…who is THEY anyway? But THEY are right. Hopefully, we come away stronger from the experience.
As for now, I’ve begun plotting an Urban Fantasy Series. Short sets, sort of like the Adventures of… That feels good, just imagining the scenes. I’ve a little research to do before jumping in, but I think I’m ready. And I think I will finally have time to continue on my fantasy novel. Something that I’ve had to set aside, still in sight, but growing dusty from lack of attention. Returning to the WIP will be like revisiting an old and dear friend.
So, there you have it…a little this and that and no real excuses.
This is just a quick post to let everyone know that I’m now doing freelance cover art design. Details and examples to come. If anyone is interested, please drop me a note and we’ll see what we can create!
Sample of an e-book short story cover I created. Book is available here.
I don’t know why, but as the years flow by I find that this time of year tends to leave me a little blue, this year more than usual. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it’s the first Christmas in a long time that the kids won’t be here or maybe it’s the realization that a Norman Rockwell Christmas really doesn’t exist. Or perhaps it’s simply time changes things and the magic I once knew and loved when I was young, has long since faded with my childhood.
When I was young, Christmas was a sort of breathless, tummy hurts with the waiting, eyes wide event. There was a sense of wonder attached to the season that has disappeared. Sometimes I catch glimpses of it through the wonder in my grandchildren’s eyes, but it’s fleeting.
I loved Christmas when I was a child, not just for the presents. Oh they were great, but I also loved the warmth of the season. People treated you differently at Christmas. Kinder. Both Ron and I loved all the bright lights up and down the streets, and the carolers, the Christmas stories told in church though church, the great Christmas specials on TV along with the yearly unveiling of the coveted Christmas LPs dusted off and played on Dad’s console. I can still recall the excitement and fear as we made the yearly trip to visit Santa Claus so we could whisper in his ear what we really, REALLY wanted for Christmas. Santa was the man; he could make it happen as long as he didn’t discover that we weren’t quite as good as we should have been.
Dad always took us to “see the lights,” around the city, usually Christmas Eve, and then it was off to bed because Santa wouldn’t come if we were awake! Voices from the kitchen and the aroma of cooking turkey lulled us to sleep.
Christmas day, up early and a race down the stairs to the living room. And then that pause on the fifth step as we took in the sight. Ron and I would always turn and look at each other with eyes wide and mouths open wider. No words necessary, the amazement on our faces said it all. Toys, toys, toys! All perfectly assembled with big bows – nothing to unwrap, no fuss, no muss. It never failed to amaze us that Santa could some how, some way, get all those toys down the chimney and neatly arranged around the Christmas tree.
We never lingered long in contemplation, though. Usually, it was every man for himself as we raced the rest of the way down the stairs and into that magical toyland! Of course, it was important to pause long enough to check the cookie plate, along with the milk glass, just to be sure it was all real…and wouldn’t you know, Santa had taken the time to eat a few and drink some milk, too. We’d literally laugh out loud when we saw the cookies and milk.
Our stockings usually hung off the stair rails, and normally bulged with oranges, apples, and nuts with a few candy treats hidden in the toes. Before we could really dive into the toys, Mom and Dad would come yawning from their room and then sit and watch us. Sometimes my grandparents would rise early to watch, as well.
I’ll never forget the Christmas Dad bought an aluminum Christmas tree, all silvery and sparkly. It stood in a stand that twirled round and round and played Christmas tunes. Dad also bought a rotating fan-like light that had four colors on the wheel and it changed the tree from red, to blue to green, yellow and back to red as both tree and light spun slowly round and round. I could sit and watch that tree for hours. It was truly magical.
My brother Ron loved Christmas lights. Didn’t matter whether on the tree or hung outside. He loved the lights. He probably managed to find the wonder in those twinkling bulbs until the day he died. I know my Dad loved the lights almost as much. I envied that childlike joy they possessed, and still do.
I do love Christmas lights, though we rarely make the Christmas Eve trek anymore. Fewer and fewer homes have the displays now and somehow the winter wonderland driving parks just don’t hold the same appeal.
When I was young, I especially loved to watch the lights when there was falling snow. You know the type, those big, fat flakes that encase the land in a sort of awed silence. It felt like I’d been transported to another realm and the lights were leading me to a wondrous place. I still feel that when it happens.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Christmas, but it really does tend to leave me a tad blue and more than a bit reflective the older I get. Being responsible for the magic had it’s own burdens, but that mantle has been passed on to my son and his wife. The true magic resides in my grandchildren’s eyes now.
With the passage of time comes change, some good, some bad. Nothing stays the same no matter how much we wish to freeze time. Loved ones leave us even as new loved ones arrive. Life is like that. This year it just feels truly different than all the others, and that is probably why I feel so melancholy.
I have discovered though, that memories are treasures that should be shared even while you’re busy creating new ones, especially Christmas memories …that elusive childhood magic lingers there, whether you are young or old, waiting for you to give it life. They are those Christmas lights in the snow, ready to lead you to your own to wondrous place.
Lance checked their packs for what little supplies left them.
There wasn't much. A few more days and they'd know real hunger.
Since becoming separated from the others, Lance and his remaining companions had wondered the Portal tunnels trying, in vain, to learn how the OrbKey worked and discover a way out.
So far, they'd discovered nothing. The only luck they'd had, if one could call it luck, was that they had encountered no others since becoming trapped within.
Lance could only hope that Callie could figure out why the OrbKey attempted to respond to her; just what it was that set it off. If she couldn't persuade it to unveil its secrets by the end of the week, he feared there would be none among them left with the energy to care.
As if his thoughts summoned her, Callie drew up silently on his left. Lance gave her a wry smile as she fell into step beside him. Lately, each time he saw her, he was reminded that she was no longer the short, stubby-limbed child he had whisked from Xenos' cruel clutches so many years gone now.
Callie had allowed her hair to grow long and wore it in a single braid coiled several times about her head, forming a shining, bronzed crown. The braid added to her height. She was tall, matching Col inch for inch, but unlike her brother, she tended to stay grounded on the rational side of things, preferring to think a matter through thoroughly before acting upon it. Where Col reacted immediately, almost thoughtlessly, Callie remained a sane voice, calming Col's impetuous nature. Lance sighed, growing pensive. The boy was never far from his thoughts, or was the realization that he had failed his prince. It was always there, near the surface of his emotions…a raw sore that refused to heal.
Callie looked up as a sigh escaped Lance. Slowly, she lifted the OrbKey for him to see. He looked at the proffered key and then into her brown eyes, confusion apparent in his own.
Lance slowed his pace, and then stopped completely to give the OrbKey his full attention. Its center contained a frail flicker of light that spun counterclockwise, round and round, faster and faster.
"Child," Lance said, "very carefully, and very, very slowly, place the orb on the ground and step away."
Callie jerked her head up, alarm clearly present in her stare. Then, taking a deep breath, she carefully lowered herself toward the tunnel floor, the OrbKey extended out away from her body on her upturned palms. As she laid it on the sandy floor, the OrbKey flared to life, erupting into brilliant fire. White light flashed outward, completely engulfing the girl.
Lance threw up a hand in a feeble attempt to shield his eyes. Blindly leaning forward, he tried to pull Callie away, but found he was barred from going any farther. The light pulsed, matching the beat of his racing heart. It filled the tunnel. A loud, ear-splitting crack vibrated off the walls, shaking the floors as the surging light sought to fill every crevice, every crack as it flowed out and away down the passage. In its wake came a sudden eruption of wind, a hot blast winging in from above them. The pressure in the tunnels built, forcing Lance's ears, to open and close in repetitive snaps and pops.
A loud sucking noise rose from the center of the maelstrom as the wind doubled back, as if answering some unheard summons. With it came the light, swirling and swaying in cyclonic action across the ceiling of the tunnel. He looked up just in time to see the roof split open and just as quickly seal itself again. A dull thud and a muffled groan followed, and then, silence.
As suddenly as the wind rose, it died. As if wishing to mimic, the OrbKey went dark, thrusting them into blackness.
Lance sprang forward and reached toward the spot where he had last seen Callie. Latching hold of something, he pulled backward. He was rewarded with the soft form of the child. With Callie safely within his grasp, he called out to Dione and Ri-lee.
"We're okay, Lance," Dione answered from somewhere to his left, "but I don't think we're alone anymore."
Lance squinted into oppressive shroud, relieved to note that the darkness was thinning. The inherent magic of the Portals was resetting itself, the soft inner glow within, which had always present, until now, was beginning to resurface, chasing back the gloom they were netted in.
Lance reached out to Callie, but encountered only emptiness. He swung about, relieved to discover her bending over what looked to be a crumbled mass of fur wrapped in odd straps of leather binding. He pulled her away just as she was extending a hand toward the pile. As he forced her behind him, Lance drew his sword and used the tip to prod the strange mound.
He waited. The tunnels were uncomfortably silent after the wash of wind and havoc.
"Is it alive?" Ri-lee asked. "It does not appear so, Nestmate Lance," he answered his own question.
As if bidden, a moan escaped the dingy heap and mournfully echoed out and away, retreating down the silent tunnels behind them.
A shiver raced along Dione's spine. "Lance?" She moved in for a closer look.
"No," the warrior warned, throwing an arm out to block her. "Do not touch it."
Again the pile moaned, then moved. The fur and leather rotating in a wide, slow arc to finally reveal a young lad, near Col's age, flat on his back staring up at them with a mix of awe and wonder shining in his eyes. His face was beginning to show the swollen signs of bruising, and a long, angry looking cut ran the length of his straight nose. Twigs and leaves stuck out from the light growth of hair he wore on his lower face, and his mouth was posed in a silent 'O.'
Lance noted the lad's confusion as he took in his surroundings. "Can you sit up?" Lance extended a hand toward him.
Nodding, the lad accepted the hand and stood.
Once on his feet, Lance realized that what he'd first mistaken as a pile of animal remains was instead a sort of wooly overcoat that the lad wore. The lad was tall and powerfully built, with brown, shoulder length hair both thick and wavy. Under the overcoat he wore a thick vest made of soft, tawny-colored leather, wool pants, and malleable leather boots. Yet, everything he wore was covered with debris and the lad was a mass of cuts and bruises.
"What is that smell?" Dione mumbled as she raised a hand to shield her nose.
"Sheep," the lad answered even as he swayed on his feet. Lance moved forward, but the lad held out his hands to stall him.
"I mean no harm." He lowered himself carefully to the tunnel floor. Coming to rest upon his knees, he closed his eyes, and rubbed a hand across his brow. "I need only but a moments rest." He took a long, ragged breath and then went silent.
The others watched and waited.
"Sheep?" Callie coaxed.
"Aye, sheep. I tend sheep. Or I did," the lad whispered, staring down at his swollen, scratched knuckles. Then, raising his gaze to Lance, he asked, "Will you all be joining me on my death march to the Great Keeper?"
"What?" Callie stammered, looking to the others for help. "What death march? Are you planning on dying?"
The burly youth shrugged his massive shoulders. "I fell from a cliff while defending my flock from a wolf pack. I landed here." He raised a hand and waved it out in front of him, reverently encompassing the tunnels. He kept his confused gaze on Callie. "Is this not the Death Road?"
"Enough," Lance interrupted. "You are not dead, but it appears that you may be walking your death march, and soon, if we do not find food." Lance ran a hand through his hair and looked away.
At his words, the lad jumped eagerly to his feet, earning the tip of Lance's sword at his throat.
"Nay, no harm." He smiled at the large warrior, showing Lance the inside of his hands. "I've food a plenty. I will gladly share."
"And just exactly who would we be sharing with?" Dione asked.
The lad offered her a smart bow. Then, all in a rush, he stated, "I am called Garrick of Argus' Gate."
As his name escaped his lips, the OrbKey flared to life from Callie's outstretched hand, bathing Garrick in a brilliant aura. He jumped back, his eyes wide, his hands held out before him as if to ward against the light. His stance first spoke of flight, but just as quickly calmed as the lad sank down to the tunnel floor and remained there, supporting his weight on one bent knee, head bowed in submission.
"Well, 'tis official now, we have yet another chosen." Lance's sarcasm was barely hidden in his tone. Looking away down the endless tunnels, he mumbled, "I truly hate that damnable Orb."
"Get off of me!" Aldous sputtered while shoving at Col's shoulders. "What are you trying to do, kill me?"
Col scrambled to his feet and offered his hand to the wizard, who promptly slapped it away.
"Oh, balderdash!" Aldous struggled to stand. "Double balderdash and poppycock," he growled as he fought to straighten the tangled knot of silk that used to be his robe. The more he fought with it, the tighter the knot became and the redder his face grew.
Finally, he threw his arms upward and shouted, "Balderdash!" before taking a deep breath. With near precise movements, he tugged his belt tight about the tangled mess of silk and then thumped Col on the back of his head. "Never, ever," Aldous stressed while shaking a bony finger at him, "do that again. What's gotten into you, boy?"
Not waiting for Col to answer, the wizard added, "Lance, you'd better have a talk with your charge." He folded his arms across his chest in a smug stance while he waited for the warrior to handle the matter.
When nothing happened, the wizard said again, "Lance, did you not hear me?"
"He is not here, wizard," Ovid whispered. "None of them are here."
"What? Oh, poppycock, they're trapped in the portals. Ovid, ignite the Key. Lance is most likely a terror by now." With a wave of his silk-clad arm, Aldous dismissed the OrbWard and turned his attention back to the prince.
"I cannot," Ovid said.
The Orbward's words made the wizard swing around to see Ovid staring down at the pile of ash left from the recently opened portal. "Oh, poppycock and phugh! What has gotten into all of you today? Must I do everything myself? I'm not growing any younger, as you can plainly see, now am I?"
He hiked his knotted robes above his knees and searched the grass. "Ovid, where is the Key?"
The OrbWard pointed to the ash pile.
The wizard's bushy brows rose impossibly high. "Do you mean to tell me…Bother," Aldous shouted. "Col, of all the stupid things you have done, this is the worst! Without the Key, we're stranded, there's no other way to open a portal! Our companions are just as trapped as we. They may have the Key, but they have no one to wield its magic. Why did you not listen to Davenhawkes?"
"I did. I was going," Col protested. "I'm not sure I understood his reasoning, but I was going."
"Then, why, pray tell, did you jump out of the Portal?" Ovid queried, finally surfacing from his shock.
"I didn't; I was pushed!"
"Col, who among us would want to push you, hmmm?" the wizard snapped.
"Me," came a soft reply. "Aimee."
Aldous swung about, hands held before him, the aura of magic lighting his fingertips. "Who said that? Show yourself!"
The air before them grew thick, it swayed with the wind, creating small eddies of swirling light in the otherwise empty space. Hues of gold and blue crisscrossed the air like threads woven upon an invisible loom. At the center a form slowly emerged.
Col could only stare as the shape shimmered into existence. He could see her, yet she remained illusive, so fragile that he could see through her to the trees that stood behind her.
Covering his head as if to ward off a blow, Ovid sank to his knees whimpering, "Blessed Orb, save us from spirits that walk this plane," even as the wizard called forth his magic. The tips of his fingers glowed.
One blink, two, and a girl stood where only moments before there had been only air.
As Aldous raised his hands higher, his hands now ablaze with his magic, Col placed his body like a shield before the girl and screamed, "No, don't hurt her!"
"And why not?"
"She's my friend," Col managed as the memory of her pressed against him as he dreamed colored his cheeks.
The wizard studied Col with one bushy brow cocked high. "Hmmm, I see," before he snapped, "OrbWard, get off your knees!" Then he swung back to Col. "Girl, hurry your self along. I need you fully materialized so you can explain this mess. And Col, step aside and stop acting like I'm going to kill her. I haven't decided if I will yet!"
Col opened his mouth to protest, but the wizard simply pushed him aside. "Child, I'm an old man with enough to worry about right now without you adding more to this nonsense." Still mumbling, Aldous snapped his fingers impatiently at the nearly solid shape before him. "Girl, I'm waiting."
As if on command, Aimee solidified. She stood with head bowed, her long white hair doing its best to shield her from view. She remained silent, her arms folded protectively about her.
Col stared, mouth open. She was near his age, maybe a year or so younger, but near enough his age. She was slim, near the point of being underfed, as evidenced by the way her ragged shift hung on her slight frame. Her hair hung in matted disarray down her back and over her bare arms, serving her as a living mantle.
She wore no adornment save for a wide, silver bracelet coiled about her left wrist. Attached to this band were fine, silver chains that ran the length of her hand and connected to identical bands that she wore on each of her fingers, one band to each digit.
Col thought her the most glorious creature he'd ever seen.
"You're a Byda," Aldous stated rather than asked.
The girl nodded, her movements tentative. Raising her head, she turned near clear eyes upon the old man, near clear except for a faint and illusive trace of blue that served as the iris though the color swirled in an almost dizzying pattern.
A sharp intake of breath escaped Col before he could pull himself under control. His heart beat so loudly he was sure the others could hear.
"Now don't you start, young man," Aldous snapped, shaking a warning finger at Col. "I haven't forgotten you, remember that. And you," he redirected his finger to point at the girl, "do you understand the predicament you've placed us in?"
"I, I," she stammered, but grew silent, finally answering him with only a shrug of her frail shoulders.
"Oh, phugh." Aldous placed his hands on his hips and turned away to stare off to the distant horizon. "I am too old for this," he mumbled waving a hand out behind him. "Leave me be, all of you. I must think." Without saying more, the wizard resumed his silent vigil, hands on hips, staring at nothing.
Col tried to approach Aldous, tried to explain, but found his way blocked by one of the wizard's shields. He shrugged and sought the shelter of a nearby tree. It wasn't long before Ovid and Aimee joined him.
The silence stretched out before them, broken only by the soft whimpers of the OrbWard and the brittle snaps of dry leaves beneath Col as he fidgeted.
Col watched Ovid as he stroked the tops of his hairy hands, over and over, a slow rhythmic motion that grated on his nerves, but he continued to stare at those hands, using them as a reason to avoid the girl who sat next to him. Lowering his head, he peered at her through the veil of his hair.
Aimee sat quietly, her small hands folded in her lap, resigned to her fate.
Col wondered at her calm acceptance of whatever fate held for her. He was sure he could never remain so calm while others decided his course. He smirked as he thought of his guardian. He knew he would never remain so calm or so quiet.
The silence grew oppressive. It was stifling and burdensome, but Col didn't know how to break its awkward hold on him. He rubbed his own hands, aping Ovid. He was about to start pacing when Aimee's stomach announced itself with a loud rumble.
"Oh," she whispered, placing a hand over her middle.
"Hungry?" Col asked.
Not waiting for a reply, he unslung his pack and rummaged within. When his rumpled bedroll appeared, he felt his face grow warm and quickly shoved it from their sight.
"Aha," he proclaimed as he withdrew a small bundle, neatly wrapped in soft linen. "Callie, my sister," he explained, "always leaves me part of her meal."
The girl turned her eyes on him and he nearly forgot to breath. Those eyes, those wondrous, magical eyes.
He quickly bent his head, hoping that his hair hid his face, and unwrapped the bread loaf.
Aimee didn't hesitate. In mere seconds, the loaf was gone.
Col's eyes grew wide. "You were really, really hungry."
Mouth still full, Aimee nodded.
"I'm Col." He smiled as he watched her lick the crumbs from her fingers.
She offered him a weak smile, before saying, "I am Aimee, daughter of Mir, granddaughter of Lorna, from the House of the Great Shield."
"Nice to meet you."
Aimee nodded, but said no more as she stared at her lap.
Again silence reared its awkward head. It made Col uncomfortable, waiting always made him uncomfortable. The silence reminded him they were doing nothing to remedy their situation. He'd rather do something, anything, even if wrong, than do nothing.
The longer he was made to wait, the more the silence threatened to smother him. He couldn't stop fidgeting, couldn't stop worrying, couldn't… "That's it," Col proclaimed. He slapped a hand against his leg and rose. "Wizard, I have had enough of this waiting."
"As have I," Aldous replied as he turned to face them. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Aimee whispered, "I know of another orb."
Aldous narrowed his eyes. "What did you say?"
Aimee raised her head slowly and met the wizard's glare. "I know of this orb you desire, I have seen another, here on Bydameur."
Ovid jumped to his feet. "Wizard, we must find it. It will–"
"Sit down, Ovid, and calm yourself." Turning toward the girl, Aldous said, "Now, Aimee was it?"
"Aimee then. I want you to tell me about this other orb. Leave nothing out. Then, I want to hear how a Byda came to be here, with us, rather than in service to the Mother Wind."
Again she nodded. "I will tell you all I know."
"Good, and when you're through," he leveled his stare on Col, "I'll decide what we do next."
"I am Aimee, daughter of–"
"Yes, yes, I heard all that before." Aldous waved a hand at her. "Skip that. What I want to know is how you came to be here, causing me so much trouble and where you saw the other orb. Now, continue."
Aimee sighed. "I was given to the wind near my thirteenth cycle."
"You were a Chosen?"
"Yes, I was chosen and was near transformation when slavers pulled me from the shrine and shackled me in their cold iron. The demon metal shielded my gift from me. I could not transform before the moon completed its own cycle. Thus, the Mother Wind did not see me when it was my time, and now," she whispered, "I will never dance with the wind."
"Transition?" Col frowned.
"Death," Aldous supplied. "Her ability to become invisible is why she was chosen to die. Those born with this ability are considered the spirit children of the Mother Wind. They are given back to their mother before they become of age."
Col gasped. "You mean sacrificed, don't you?"
"Col, hush. You are in no position to judge." Aldous shook his head at the prince. Aimee met Col's gaze. "It is no sacrifice, it is an honor. I was charged to shed my earthly shell forever and join my spirit to that of the Mother Wind. I would then protect my people for all time. It is a noble thing. Death is merely a transition to something more."
She returned her gaze to her lap. "Not all are blessed by the Mother. Not all achieve transition."
"Why would you want to die?"
"Col," the wizard shook his head at him. "It is their way." He placed a hand on the girl's shoulder and offered what small comfort he could. "It is a great honor to be chosen. Very few are. Fewer still hold the power to conceal. Yet only the girl not yet a woman may transcend. Once that time has passed–"
"Then the girl who is no longer a girl is forever banned from the Mother's kingdom. The wind no longer speaks to her; her spirit will never soar free. She will remain a shadow to her people, a mere shell of what she could have been." A tear trailed down Aimee's cheek. "It is the slavers who stole my honor; it is they who hold the orb you seek."
Aldous sighed. "Then it is to the slavers we must go."
Linda Madl, Barbara Baldwin, Lee Killough and Sheri L. McGathy will be presenting the program:
All About Bumps in the Night and Other Frights
on October 24, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. at the Johnson County Library
Spring Hill Branch
109 S Webster Sttreet
Spring Hill, KS 66083
They will be reading excerpts from Trespassing Time and Killer Karma as well as discussing theories and ideas that inspired their tales. There will be a question and answer session after the presentation where they will answer questions about their writing and talk more about ghosts.
"All right, birdboy," Dione shouted. "I've had it up to here with your antics." She illustrated by raising her hand to the level of her chin.
Ri-lee folded his arms over his chest and shook his head stubbornly.
"Grrrr." Dione waved her hands above her head before stomping away.
"You really should not have gotten into her private pack," Ovid offered. "It is hers to share as she allows."
"Nay, we are nestmates, there are no secrets," Ri-lee said.
"No, you damn little canary," Dione spun about, her finger wagging in front of Ri-lee's nose, "we aren't nestmates, and you keep your hands off of my stuff. You got that?"
Ri-lee folded his arms across his chest and looked skyward, completely dismissing her.
Dione mumbled. Shaking her head, she turned away, but came up short. Swinging back around, she rounded on the little CaRous. "Hand it over, birdboy, or I swear I will clip your wings myself!"
Ri-lee raised one eyebrow, then nodded once, and waved a hand out before him as if wiping away a spill. The illusion he had created melted into nothingness and he handed Dione the small book he had been holding all the time. "You grow stronger with each day, Nestmate Dione. Not many could have sensed my shields."
"You little…." Dione stammered, her face flushing multiple hues of pink.
She snatched the book from his outstretched hand and stomped away. Reaching the edge of the clearing, she threw her pack on the ground and quickly followed it down. There, alone, with her back turned to them, they could hear occasional snatches of "birdboy stew," and "roasted birdboy," drift out to them.
Callie looked to Ovid, her eyes imploring that he settle this, before walking over to join Dione.
Ri-lee bowed as she departed, then stated to Ovid, "Nestmate Dione's powers grow stronger with each passing of the sun. This is good. Much remains hidden, but I will bring these forward, too, my nestmate. This I promise you." Ri-lee bowed in Dione's direction, but she didn't look back.
"Ri-lee, leave Dione to her secrets," Lance stated as he entered the encampment.
"Ah, but I only strive to make her stronger. She must not shun her gifts," Ri-lee answered the larger man as he brushed past him.
"Even so, find another way that does not violate her trust. They are hers to share or keep as she allows."
Facing Ovid, the warrior stated in a tone that left no room to argue, "OrbWard, chart a course. We leave with the new sun."
"And Col," Lance threw back over his shoulder, "the answer remains no."
"But Lance," Col began, scowling as he shadowed the warrior across the encampment.
Callie rose to greet Col, but he spared her only the briefest nod before renewing his argument. "Lance–"
"No, Col!" Lance shouted. "This discussion is closed."
"Discussion?" Col shouted back. "This was no discussion. This was you deciding, and the rest of us having to follow."
The two stared each other down, neither giving quarter. Finally, Col looked away.
Davenhawkes continued to stare at the boy for a moment longer, frowning, and then he pulled his sword harness over his head and practically slammed it down upon his bedroll.
The air about both of them felt charged and the building silence was unnerving.
Col stood, his fists clenched at his side. All eyes turned in their direction.
Lance sighed as he lowered his large frame down to the awaiting pallet. He was so tired of the arguing. Col, at sixteen, was near a height with him. Many years of living their lifestyle had given the boy the physique of a man–tall, muscular–even if he still remained cursed with the rashness of youth.
Lance looked into Col's defiant stare and shook his head. "We leave at sun up."
Again Col started to protest, but the warrior held up his hand for silence. "They are many, Col, and we are few. We would only succeed in becoming enslaved ourselves. No," Lance added, "we must leave, or risk a fate not to our liking."
"Enslaved?" Ovid whispered. Then, as if he couldn't contain himself, he asked, the words pouring from him in a wild rush, "Slavers, here? We must leave now."
"The morn will be soon enough. But aye, there are Slavers here, and they have taken captives. Col has decided that he wants to free these souls, regardless of the consequences."
"I must agree with Davenhawkes," Ovid stated. "Slavers are dangerous."
"But Aldous has magic. We could…" Col began, but Aldous cut him off.
"Poppycock, boy. We cannot risk it. In this, Lance is correct."
Col swung away from them, his body held rigidly erect, the muscles in his arms bulging from the force of his clenched fists. His steps were hurried as he made his way across the campground. When he reached his bedroll, he threw himself down and turned his back to them.
"Col?" Callie bit her lower lip and waited for Col to acknowledge her. When he remained silent, she sighed and sought her own bedroll, quietly slipping beneath the covers. She sat staring vacantly into the fire, forcing her trembling hands to fumble about in a miserable attempt at unbraiding her long hair. Still biting her lower lip, she turned her face away from the glow of the firepit, but not fast enough to shield the hurt in her eyes from Dione.
Forgetting her own anger, Dione rose. "Here," she offered, softly patting Callie's fingers away from the braids. "Let me help. You're just making a mess."
Callie said nothing, just simply allowed Dione to work the braids free and comb the tangles from her hair.
Leaning close to Callie's ear, Dione whispered, "Col will come around. He always does. His heart is in the right place, but his mind is, as always, somewhere else. Lance is only doing what he thinks is best."
"Oh, I know," Callie volunteered. She closed here eyes, relishing the feel of the brush massaging her scalp as it flowed cleanly down the length of her now shining tresses. "It's just that, well, Col can be very stubborn."
Dione smirked. "And you don't think Lance can be?"
They both laughed.
Dione handed her the brush and said, "Now, to bed with you. Mark my words, if Lance says we leave early, we leave early."
"Good rest, Dione."
"Night, kiddo," she tossed back over her shoulder. "Night, Col."
A muffled reply echoed out to her from Col's direction, making her smile. Yes, Lance would insist they leave early, if only to get Col over this latest mood. She was already tired just thinking about it. She sought out her own pallet.
Col mumbled "good rest" as Dione passed, but his own rest seemed illusive, remaining awake long after the camp had grown still. He heard the soft snorts Ovid made while he dreamed and could just make out the strange whistle Ri-lee created when his mouth fell open in sleep. He envied them. All about, the strange scampering and odd calls of unknown night creatures could be heard as they moved in the shadows on the fringes of Aldous' wards, but none could enter. These familiar yet alien sounds usually lulled him to sleep. Yet, the longer sleep eluded Col, those once soothing sounds grew louder and more irritating.
Col sighed as he lay on his back, hands folded beneath his head, staring up at the endless expanse of open, cloudless sky and the stars that dotted the opaque canvas winking down at him. Light from the full moon blanketed the dark in an ethereal glow, causing halos of eerie shadows to form upon the ground. The land appeared alive and unnatural in its light. The effect wasn't comforting. The fire had burnt low. Col heard the occasional snap of a branch as it surrendered to the heat, followed by the soft hiss of the flame as the branch was devoured.
He admitted, even if it was only to himself, that Lance was correct. He had finally calmed down enough to understand what his protector was trying to say, but it still didn't make it any easier to turn and walk away. One day, he thought, I shall go home and claim what is mine. Then, I will end this torment. One day, he promised himself as sleep finally claimed him.
He came awake, confused.
"Help me," a voice murmured in his ear.
"Who?" and just as quickly, "What the…?" as he swatted at the uncomfortable humming near his ear.
"Help me," the wind seemed to sigh as its hot breath brushed across his face.
Col sat up and looked about the encampment. He tried to focus, tried to sense what had awoken him, but his thoughts remained scattered and disjointed. Nothing stirred. Satisfied there was no danger, he yawned and lied down, and quickly fell asleep. He dreamed.
Pleasant dreams, vivid, emotional dreams, dreams that seemed more real than fantasy. It was as if he could actually feel the gentle caress against his cheek. He smiled at the soft, warm sensation of another wrapping their arms about his chest and pressing their body close. So inviting. He murmured, but did not wake, content to stay within the welcome bliss.
Noises filtered into his dream-fogged thoughts, shortening the pleasure of the dream. Col opened his eyes to the sheepish rays of the new sun rising over the treetops ringing their camp. He continued to lie still, hoping to capture and hold the emotion that the dream had produced; hoping to tuck the sensations away to be recalled at a later time. He smiled. The dream had been so real, so pleasant. He swore that he could still feel the soft warmth of another pressed against him and the slight weight of an arm about him.
Realizing he had to abandon the indulgence and prepare to leave, he sat up and stretched the kinks from his body. And that's when he saw it. He froze, unable to pull his gaze from his bedroll.
The blankets draped across a shape he could not see while it rose and fell with the gentle rhythm of breathing.
He jumped to his feet and striped the pallet of its blankets. An exclamation of surprise rose from the bedroll accompanied by the soft rustle of clothing. He was shocked to feel a gentle touch upon his cheek. He raised his hand to the spot. He then felt the movement of the other as it darted past him. Whatever had been there, was now gone.
Col quickly looked to see if anyone else had noticed the impression in his bedroll. None seemed to have. His companions were up and moving quickly about the camp making ready to depart.
His sister called to him, "Col, hungry?"
Callie's voice galvanized him. He waded up his blankets and tossed the crumbled bedroll into his backpack and struggled to tie it shut. Slinging it over his shoulder, he hurried to join the others. He accepted the bread and meat roll Callie offered, and gobbled it down in silence, chasing it with a cup of water. Callie watched, saying nothing, yet making a mental note of his edginess.
By the time the others had finished their meal and were ready to depart, Col had convinced himself that the shape and the touch had been simply lingering residue from a welcomed dream and his lack of sleep, nothing more.
"What ails you boy?" Aldous asked, taking in Col's disheveled look, his darting stare and his jerky movements.
"Nothing," Col snapped too quickly.
Callie turned concerned eyes upon him, but he only answered her with a shake of his head.
"I ask only as your skin appears even paler than my own," Aldous cackled.
Lance turned to study the boy. "Col?"
"Really, nothing. Let's go," Col answered as he moved to join Ri-lee at the edge of the camp where the little CaRous was spreading his wings toward the rising sun, greeting the new day.
Lance silently watched. Col did seem preoccupied, constantly running his hand through his hair and looking about as if expecting something to happen. He appeared unable to stand still and anxious to be away.
What now? Lance wondered. Out loud he announced, "It is time."
Ovid nodded and moved next to Aldous and pulled the Orb Key from its pouch. Holding it out before him, he closed his eyes and waited for the wizard to add his touch to the key. The Orb glowed white hot, and the air before them split as the portal yawned into existence.
Lance entered first, sword held before him. When he signaled the "all clear," Dione and then Ri-lee ducked through, followed quickly by Callie and Col. The wizard waved a hand, bidding Ovid go next as he continued to murmur the words of power, holding the portal open to allow the OrbWard and key to pass safely through. This time he would step in last.
Just as Ovid's bulk framed the entry, Col came flying out, knocking Ovid and the wizard to the ground. The Orb Key leapt from Ovid's hand and flew through the Portal to roll down the tunnel into the shadows. With its light now extinguished, the Portal opening slammed shut, sealing Lance, Dione, Callie, and Ri-lee inside; leaving Col, Ovid and the wizard behind.
Lance whirled about and shoved his shoulder against the rapidly sealing side. He was too slow. The walls had already grown solid. He raised his fists and pounded against the walls to no avail. An anguished sound escaped his lips as he leaned his forehead against the cool surface. His shoulders showed his defeat long before he turned to face them, revealing that same defeat in his gray eyes.
Lance faced Callie, not knowing how to express his failure to his charge. He had failed her. He had failed Col. He had failed them all. They were trapped in the portals with no wizard or OrbWard…the key was of no consequence if there was none among them who could use it. For the first time in his life, he did not know what to do.
Callie looked into his eyes and slowly crossed the space between them to take the warrior's huge hand within her own petite one. She gave him a sad smile and turned away. She bent down and when she turned back around, she held the Orb Key out before her. It glowed weakly. Lance's head came up.
"I see it, Lance, but I don't understand it," she replied.
"If it glows, it responds," the warrior continued. Perhaps, he thought, all was not lost.
Dione watched the despair that had threatened to destroy Lance, burn away, to be replaced with a renewed determination. Just that quickly, Dione saw a fire leap to life in his sad eyes.
"Now what?" Ri-lee asked.
Lance straightened his shoulders and raised his head to face them. Drawing his sword, he stated, "We go on."
"What?" Dione stammered. "How can we? We can't just leave ‘em."
"We go on, and hope Aldous can find a way to rejoin us." He reached down and took Callie's hand again. He gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile. "And trust we can find a way to make that Key work for us."