Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Fourth Sword free promo

13 Jun

For the next five days. So if you go to Amazon you can download it for free from now to 17th.

Sample: Chapter 3 and some musings about how to name a novel

5 Jun

I’m considering ‘Fourth Sword’ as the name of the novel. There is a sword, or rather, two magical swords which do play an important part, so it’s descriptive, and ‘sword’ presumably says ‘fantasy’ pretty well.

Main problem with names which have ‘sword’ in them is that pretty much every possible combination has already been used for something, novel or game. Now of course there is no law against using a name which already is in use somewhere, provided we are not talking about something which has been trademarked. But all sorts of sword this or that sword type of names are (hopefully…, I did do some checking and there seems to be a song called ‘The Fourth Sword’, but no other hits) too generic to be trademarked. Still, I don’t think it’s good to either pick a name which is well known as the name of an already existing novel, movie or game, and it’s not good to pick a name which is used in lots of novels and perhaps also by a game and a movie or two because that makes it much less likely anybody will take a look. Or lots will, realize this is not that novel which is the one they were looking for, and will leave fast.

And the name should sound enticing. Like this might be something worth looking at. I do, personally, like both descriptive and short, but with the first novel I felt just ‘The Demons’ had the problem of being too generic, that could  be horror, or maybe a thriller, or urban fantasy, or literary, or… well, lots of alternatives besides fantasy, and it was also something already used. Without the article, by Dostoevsky actually. I’d rather not start competing with him. So I put the name of the place there too. Can always change it later. Although I probably won’t, I like the idea of naming the later stories as something or somebody of someplace. 🙂 And yes, there probably will be at least a couple more stories, I think Tikka wants to get where she does have that secure place for herself before she will stop bugging me.

Okay, back to this novel. So this will probably be ‘Fourth Sword’. Now this story is first in several, the story turned out to be something that was just plain impossible to tell in the space of one book, unless I would have gone for a true goat gagger (great description, by the way, I think it may have been invented by Sarah Hoyt, at least I have not seen it elsewhere). And even then, it might have been about two goat gaggers. So I’m trying my best to write each one as a something that does have a satisfactory resolution and can be read alone, but it is going to be obvious the ending is more ‘will be continued’ than a true ‘The end’. I think I may get to where I know it should end in about four. Or five. Probably not more than that.

And so I still need to figure some other name as the name of the whole series.

Oh dear.

Chapter 3

Conan the Barbarian. He should be somewhere here. This looks like his world. That looks like a fucking human sacrifice by some fucking goddamn devil god worshipers…

Oh God please, I want to go home.

I’m not the right type of hero for this story!

Please… somebody… this can’t be happening.

The ‘Conan’ stories had been among Laura’s favorites when she had been in her teens, both the originals and many of the adaptations. She had even liked most of the movies. Right now she thought she might change her mind about them.

She didn’t look very long at the stage, but long enough to see the form the red and black -robed men were cutting up. It was a man too. Or had been. She was way too sure of that.

This time she also noticed that the almost naked men standing in line against the wall to the further side of the crowd from her were chained. They had collars around their necks. A chain ran from the collar of each man to the wall and from the wall to the collar of the next man, and so on through the line of the prisoners. Their hands and legs seemed to be free though.

She could count a bit over twenty of those men. If that chained line reached unbroken to the area where the red-and-black dressed ones were… killing… You have to think that, that is what is happening, it is fucking real… them, there might be something like close to a hundred of the prisoners. Or at least eighty or ninety. Many.

Laura stared a moment more, feeling frozen and starting to shake.

All the people seemed to be men, victims and priests and crowd, although she wasn’t quite sure of the gray-robes as they all had shaved heads and their robes were loose.

Laura closed her eyes and swallowed, then, trying to suppress her shivering, withdrew her head, got up into a sitting position, her back against the wall. And almost started to giggle. So what was wrong with the picture? Hey, there was no luscious female victim to be saved, at least she had seen none, and she was definitely not the musclebound male hero who would rush down there to do the saving. This needed Conan, it did. And that sexy woman. She was neither.

What a pity. It would all have been just perfect otherwise.

Wrong story here, let me out… Why couldn’t this have been Alice’s Wonderland? Or something…

Then she slapped her hand over her mouth and bit it, telling herself to calm down. There had to be some logical explanation. Laura found herself wishing Mr Spock was here to tell her what it was, and never mind the fact that she had never been that big a fan of that series, in any of its incarnations.

She was still shivering. A few deep breaths helped a little. She didn’t take too many though. She was scared she might start hyperventilating.

OK. Theories.

Think.

Maybe… she had amnesia and had during that part which she couldn’t remember somehow wandered into a movie set.

Okay. I’d better check. If this is a set there will be cameras and stuff…

She swallowed and again sneaked a look into the hall. No, there didn’t seem to be any cameras anywhere. And as far as she knew movie cameras needed light, lots of it. There were no spotlights in sight, even unlit ones, only the smoking torches and the bigger bonfire on the stage and the firelight produced by them playing on the walls and the skins and robes of the men. Bright enough for a human eye, too dim for cameras.

She withdrew her head and had to concentrate on her breathing again for a few moments. Her gut felt tight, and her hands were shaking a little. The panic was getting closer to the surface.

She could not afford that. She just could not.

Maybe you are not Conan, but you are still the hero. Think that. Well, maybe not the type of hero who saves those victims, just the hero of her own story, but that does mean you will survive if you keep your cool. Okay, you are the hero who witnesses the evil and has to stay alive to tell others. Yes, that will do. Think that. Think. What would that hero do? Figure this out…

OK. So maybe this wasn’t a movie shoot. So could this be one of those live role-playing games? She had never taken part in one, but she knew people who were into them. From what they had told they could be very, well, real-looking sometimes, there were many talented people who liked to play. Maybe what had looked like the body of a butchered man had been only some sort of special effects doll? Or man wearing some sort of special effects prosthetics, or something…

Right…Would any group of role-players have the money for something like that? Stuff like that had to be very expensive.

Or… maybe those people on the other side of the wall really were dead serious.

Dead. Right.

Real devil-worshippers killing real living human victims. For real.

That smell of burning meat…

Oh God, oh God, oh God… She had to find a telephone. She had to call the police. It was their job to figure out, and take care of, things like this. Not hers.

Again the drums and the chanting stopped. Laura covered her ears but heard the screams anyway. If those were role-players they were taking their acting very seriously. A scream like one of those would hurt one’s throat.

Too real. Those screams had sounded too real. She decided she’d again better proceed from the assumption that all she had seen was real. She could laugh at herself later if it turned out to be a game or a play or… something.

Oh God, I hope I am hallucinating… that I’m in a nice, safe cell in some mental hospital somewhere and hallucinating…

Laura didn’t want to but she just had to take one more look. Maybe she would find something that would make it all not-real.

The prisoners. Most of the ones she could see fully wore only some kind of breeches, except for two who had on… uh,  dark, knee length skirts? Okay, kilts. Even if they weren’t tartan. The breeches on the others mostly looked like they might be underwear. All were barefoot. No decorations, no jewelry or wrist-watches or anything. They really did have their hands free. The chain, or rope, no, it did look more like a chain, still on second look seemed to be running from a collar around a man’s neck to the wall to the next man’s collar. The crowd of the gray-robes was standing well away from the prisoners, as they – the sacrificial victims – were not taking their part in the scene very gracefully. As she was watching one of the gray-robes on the back of the crowd strayed too close and fell as a prisoner kicked him. Two members of the crowd reached down and dragged the curled up figure a bit further away from the prisoners, then ignored him as he stayed down and cradled his stomach.

She hoped the prisoners would be able to get at least a few more of the crowd-members. That was about the only thing she could think of doing for them, wishing them that opportunity.

Unless she found that phone.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, was that thought of an – other – world. It had been there from the beginning. An another universe, a paraller world, one more like Conan’s Hyperborea, or maybe Lankhmar, or Lovecraft’s Dreamworlds… but she would not let that thought come up. She wanted to go home. If this was somewhere on her Earth she would be able to go home.

She refused to think of any other alternatives.

Oh crap, why didn’t I buy a new cell right away…

Her old had broken, presumably from being dropped once too many times. But she could use the old landline in the hall, it was part of the rent, and it was not as if she was going to lose some swanky job for not being reachable all the time, not with her job history. So she had been pushing getting a new one into ‘real soon’ for well over two weeks now. After her next pay day.

Just swell.

Back to present. Concentrate. You have to concentrate. You need to stay in the present now. And figure out what to do next. You’re the hero. Think that. You’re the hero. A hero who will survive and speak and blow this thing sky high. That’s good enough. Hell, I might even get on television for this.

She couldn’t start looking for a phone when she had no idea whether there would be one anywhere in here, all she could do would be to keep her eyes open for one. The next logical step then, now, would still be to find a way out. Without being spotted. Laura realized she was still shaking and took a few moments to breath deeply with, this time, an almost successful effort to calm down, then surveyed the corridor she was in.

It continued for a little way beyond the opening into the sacrificial hall. Then it ended in a wall, but there were two small doorways there. She’d have to get there. Because she was not going back into that darkness she had come from, crazy devil-worshippers or no.

There was no balustrade in the spaces between the columns. Laura got down on her stomach, crawled to the wall opposite of the gap and then slithered past it, feeling sick and praying the red and black robed ones were too busy to look her way. She didn’t think she was completely hidden from them, even in the dark and on her stomach. At least her clothes were mostly dark, except for the white sneakers, and even those were pretty dirty.

She did get to the other side of the gap with nobody raising an alarm, then got back on her feet and walked the couple of steps which took her to the two doorways, her legs feeling rubbery.

She was pretty sure she would never again be able to enjoy any Conan story. Or anything else which might remind her of what she had just seen.

***

One of the doorways led to a narrow corridor which seemed to continue on straight, staying on the same level with the hallway. The other one opened into a stairwell. The stairs went down. Laura hesitated a moment, then chose the stairs with the vague idea that finding a way out would be more likely from the level the people she had seen were on, even if the risk of them noticing her was greater.

She descended slowly, praying that nobody would decide to take those stairs up while she was there. After only a couple of steps she was out of the lit area and was then once again proceeding blind, having to rely on touch and hearing.

Woohoo. Another mysterious corridor.

I’m getting a bit tired of them.

The stairs went down until she was probably more or less on the same level as the floor of the hall. When the stairs ended she again found two doorways, chose one, found a corridor and encountered a dead end after a short walk and had to go back. The next doorway she tried opened into a corridor that kept on going, with no additional openings of any kind, at least she stumbled on none.

This passage was probably next to one of the walls of the hall of the priests, and the wall wasn’t quite solid for after a while she could hear the sounds coming from there, at some points hardly muffled at all, and there were points with holes big enough to let the light of the fire through. The noise made her almost turn back, but then she decided to go on just a little bit further, still hoping there would be a way out of the place somewhere near to the priests’ hall.

They would not live in here. And even if they did the victims surely had not. There had to be a passage to surface somewhere.

At some point she realized she was starting to see better again. A short distance later she found herself in a small stone room with doorways, this time three of them besides the one she was standing in, one in each wall. Two were dark, one brightly lit, the sounds of the drums and chanting coming loud and clear through it.

Laura picked the doorway furthest away from that one and ran to it, then stopped.

There had been something hanging on the walls of the small chamber.

She looked back.

Two of the walls were not bare, but lined with what looked like weapons. She squinted her eyes and looked harder.

Those shapes were weapons, swords and daggers and axes alongside with other sharp and pointy things she had no names for. Real ones?

Her mouth felt very dry. She swallowed, swallowed again and tried to produce some spit.

Okay. Something sharp and pointy might come in handy. Having some sort of weapon with her would definitely make her at least feel better. A little bit better.

But she’d had to go close to the lit doorway to get one.

For a while she didn’t move, just tried to peer from where she was standing through that lit doorway into the hall beyond. She couldn’t see anyone. So presumably no one on that side could see her either. Maybe. She swallowed again, then, moving very slowly, one step at a time, and keeping a nervous eye on all the doorways but most especially on that one she went towards the weapons, then stopped where she could see both walls where the weapons were hanging for a better look.

There were no firearms among the arsenal. Not that she would have known how to use one, anyway.

They were not made of fiberglass. They had been there a while, all were covered in thick dust and many were rusted. She stared at the collection for a moment, then almost went for a sword. Such a classic, a sword. Except to use one effectively one should have at least some training.

“Not smart,” she whispered to herself. Now which ones might I actually be able to use to defend myself if I had to…

And where the hell were the robes kept? She sure could have used a nice, concealing robe. One with a big cowl.

She took a look towards the doorway, saw nobody, took a deep breath to calm herself. That didn’t work much better than it had any of the previous times she had tried it.

Laura realized she kept alternating between feeling almost too scared to act to nearly completely disbelieving everything she saw.

She wasn’t doing very well here. Freezing might get her killed, but so could getting careless.

All right. Concentrate. Keep focused.

She stepped close to one of the walls and leaned her brow against the smooth, cool stone and tried to get a grip of herself. After a few moments she felt a bit better.

So…She still didn’t have a clue of what had happened to her or what was going on. She just didn’t have enough information. But – again she told herself she had to proceed from the assumption that what she saw and heard and felt was real, however unbelievable. Hopefully she’d get the chance for hysterics later. But that time was not now.

Okay. The weapons. One step at a time.

Laura finally took two daggers, one small, the other long enough to almost qualify as a short sword, thinking herself more or less stupid as she took it down and hefted its solid weight in her hand, and tried the edge of its blade – pretty sharp – before stuffing it into the confines of her big bag with the handle outside for, hopefully, easy access, but unable to totally resist the temptation. Blame it on too many fantasy books of swordwomen and on watching stuff like the old series ‘Xena’. Not that she thought she would have any real chance against such people as those on the hallway right on the other side of the wall, armed with anything. She most definitely was no warrior princess.

Still having those daggers did made her feel better.

She again wished there would have also been something like cloaks hanging on the walls. On all the stories the heroes always found something to use as camouflage when they had to get in or out of such places as the one she was in.

And what is this place anyway? Temple of an evil god? Sure as hell looks like one.

Unfortunately there was nothing. She felt rather conspicuous in the blue jeans, faded violet T-shirt and dirty white shoes she was wearing. At least those shoes were meant for running, and the jeans and even the shirt were dark enough not to be very visible in the bad lighting here.

Then, belatedly, she realized that those were the exact same clothes she had worn to work – that evening – and they didn’t look, or feel, as if she had been wearing them for all that much longer than those few hours she remembered wearing them.

That strained her amnesia theory a bit.

Laura turned to go, then saw a movement in the corner of her eye. She jumped around, tried to get the longer dagger out of her bag and managed to rip both the lining of the bag and the hem of her shirt in the process, then stood there, panting and holding the blade in her shaking hand.

There was nobody else in the room, nor in any of the doorways. That part of the hall she could see was also still empty. Then the movement repeated. Her eyes focused on the wall right next to the doorway.

She saw the end of a chain, secured with the simple system of two rigid metal rings fastened to the wall, the chain between them and a large pin through all three.

The chain jerked again. The chanting and drumming were going on full blast, had been going on all the time she had been in the room. Laura started to approach the doorway warily, muttering to herself quietly “Idiot, I’m an idiot” as she went, but going anyway.

The doorway. She swallowed, hesitated, then pushed her head to the other side till her eyes were able to see what was on the other end of that moving chain.

As if she didn’t already know.

She found herself staring right into the frightened eyes of a blond teenaged boy.

Second sample chapter of the second novel

1 Jun

I should probably decide about the name soon. 🙂

I have copy and pasted these from the novel file. One problem I just noticed is that italics seem to get lost. I have indicated character’s inner thoughts with them – what would be dialogue except unvoiced – so losing them changes the text somewhat. I’ll try to restore them from now on.
Chapter 2

Sometimes, afterwards, Laura wondered whether anyone saw her disappear. There had been people on the street next to the parking lot. She doubted that though. The hypothetical witness would probably have needed to be staring right at her at that precise moment, and she hadn’t been somebody anyone would have paid all that much attention to. Fat, almost past her youth, with nondescript clothes and dirty blond hair pulled into a tight ponytail, just one unnoticeable menial worker among the multitudes of the city.

Who would have kept looking after the initial glance?

***

Even if you sometimes dream of something extraordinary happening to you, do you expect it to really happen? No you don’t, not if you are a sane person. On the other hand, if something were to happen that you have imagined happening, having imagined it might make it something easier to deal with. Laura had been a fan of science fiction and fantasy stories all her life, and later she was certain that her reading habits helped her to adjust faster, that they were what kept her functional almost from the beginning.

Sort of functional anyway.

Just enough to stay alive.

***

She had been walking towards her car. Hadn’t she?

Now she was on her knees, on some hard surface.

It was dark.

It was silent.

That was not right.

Not… right. Not right. Not right. Not…

Crap!

Slowly, very slowly her mind started to work again, at least enough to realize this: she most definitely wasn’t on that parking lot anymore.

That she digested for some time.

Next came a question.

What… happened?

Again she stayed with that for a while. She found no answer.

Laura realized her knees hurt. She leaned back, took her hands off the… ground? Floor? …and sat back on her heels. She had no real idea how long a time had now gone by since she had come here. Whatever and where-ever here was.

Where am I, anyway? What happened? I was going to my car… then… what?

No answers came.

It was all wrong.

She needed answers.

It was so quiet. She listened, trying to hear something, anything, but the only sound was that of her own ragged breathing.

Dark, and quiet.

She reached to touch what was under her with the tips of her fingers. It felt cold. Floor… or ground?

Her left knee was hurting worse than the other one. She had probably hit it when she had fallen. She didn’t want to move, then realized she was half expecting somebody, or something, to jump her. Something from the dark.

She wanted to scream.

She didn’t. Not out loud.

Where am I!

Nothing happened.

She wouldn’t be able to stay like she was forever. She would have to do something eventually.

She had to find those answers.

A deep breath. The same thought again. She’d have to do something.

So she might as well start now. Slowly and carefully she started to move her hands around. To think about what she sensed. It was better than waiting.

Whatever the ground was made of didn’t feel like asphalt. Hard and almost smooth. Stone? She leaned forward and reached further. There were… grooves… regularly spaced…

Stone paving?

Concentrate on the immediate…

Laura realized she was close to a full panic. She fought it. She didn’t think she could afford hysteria.

She still didn’t want to move, but one can’t kneel unmoving on a hard surface indefinitely and finally she had to stand up. It hurt. She must have spent quite a long while there, kneeling, to stiffen up so.

Still nothing jumped her.

What now?

Why me…

She took a step, stopped. She should proceed carefully. Methodically. One step at a time and don’t try to think too far ahead. The panic was down there, somewhere. She could not afford to let it surface. She had already come too close.

Was she in a cave? A cellar? She had to be inside, there was no hint of a sky, no wind, no indications of outdoors whatsoever.

The place had the feel of underground. Deep underground. The darkness, the silence, the coolness.

Coolness. Oh yes. Laura realized she was beginning to feel quite cold. The air wasn’t quite freezing, but it was much colder that what she was dressed for. She would really have to start moving.

Think.

She should find out how big and what shape the place was. Maybe if…

She whistled.

The answering echoes almost made her lose it, they were too many and too loud and if there was some thing out there it (they?) would now know she was here. Somehow she managed to get grip of the panic and stuff it back down where it wasn’t a danger to her. She wouldn’t panic. Not her, the one who had always hated it when the heroines of the older stories she had read were portrayed as unreasoning and hysterical so of course she would stay cool and deal with the situation in a calm, and rational, manner. Like a modern heroine.

Yes, think that. This is a story, and you’re the hero. Think that. What would a hero do?

Of course.

You’re the hero.

She straightened her back.

Oh why  oh why I never took the time to take some self-defense lessons…

Easy for the story heroines to play tough, they all knew martial arts or were military veterans or something. She most certainly didn’t, and wasn’t. Unless you were talking about veterans of crappy low paying jobs and failed job searches.

Think. Not all heroes know how to fight. But they are smart. What would be the smart thing to do now?

No use to wonder what had happened. That could come later. She’d better just focus on the immediately important right now.

She just wanted out of this place.

Not very heroic, perhaps. But what can you do…

Think.

So she was in some sort of manmade… that paving… But was it made by men? What if it was BEMs?

Laura almost started to giggle, then forced her thoughts back to the first thought – so: she was in some sort of artificial underground space. A cellar, maybe. A rather large one, judging from the echoes.

 No panic…

Momentarily her imagination took off again, recalling some old movie seen on TV made of one of those supposedly true UFO abductions. The inside of the alien ship in that movie hadn’t looked much like the inside of a spacecraft, more like some sort of a cave… She had never really believed in any of that UFO stuff, definitely not that they were aliens from other worlds  – yet now…

No.

Back to that if I come across something that looks like the grays of that lore. I don’t know enough to speculate yet.

That thought sounded rational enough to make her feel almost proud of herself. Except she was still too scared to have much room for any other emotion.

Time to move, now. She’d have to.

What if I am hallucinating?

Maybe, but she could not proceed from that. Better to think what she sensed was reality. She was cold. She had to move.

She took one careful step, then another, sliding her feet along the ground – there might be crevasses, or something – and with her hands outstretched. Slowly she walked forward, counting her steps. After an eternity her left hand encountered a wall. Ten paces. She turned to face the wall, felt it. Smooth, cool, like the floor. Big rectangular stones or tiles. Manmade. Hopefully.

She leaned on it, started to slide down and jerked back up. Shouldn’t stop.

Which way now?

What happened what happened what happened…No! Stop that! The panic tried to come up again. She fought it down again.

Hero. Hero, hero, hero… oh stuff it!

Hero.

Now that’s better.

There was no good way to decide which way to turn, so in the end Laura simply turned one way, to her right, and started walking with her left hand trailing along the wall, the other kept straight in front of her. Counting her steps. She realized she had forgotten how many steps it had been from where she had first knelt to the wall. Maybe she wouldn’t need that information.

Another thought.

My bag!

Frantic, she felt for her shoulder bag, then sighed in relief. It was where it was supposed to be, against her right hip, the strap securely over her head. She had numerous times decided to start keeping only the absolutely essential things in it, had kept on stuffing pretty much everything inside anyway. Now some of those things might come in handy.

Matches or a flashlight would have been better than handy, but those were some things she knew she didn’t have. Her flashlight had been in her car, and having quit smoking, again, she had thrown the matches away. So as not to be tempted.

Alright.

Just keep walking.

For a little while she speculated that perhaps something had happened which had rendered her blind. She could think of no way to test whether she was or wasn’t. Maybe if she got into what felt and sounded like outdoors and would still be unable to see anything…

No. I won’t think about that now.

Just have to get out of here first.

If she would get out. Maybe she would die here, stumbling in the darkness until lack of water and exhaustion and the cold did her in.

No, don’t think of that either.

She could not afford that kind of thoughts. Not now.

Or I’ll… run in circles, scream and shout. Hah. I doubt that would be helpful now.

She wiped her eyes and tried to grin.

May have to try that later. But not before I have tried everything else first.

She wasn’t sure that shouting would have been such a bad idea. But she was too scared to try it yet. Because she didn’t know. And somewhere in her mind all those stories she had read, aliens, vampires, elves, whatever, all that was non-human, or even if human, not friendly to strangers – not to mention such definitely real things as big angry guard dogs, pissed off big wild predators, or serial killers for that matter – the whole situation was uncanny enough that they didn’t feel so much like fiction, or news of things that happened to other people, anymore. She much preferred not to try to draw any attention to herself before she either knew more or absolutely had to.

Her left hand encountered something that felt different than the rest of the wall. She stopped, then used both hands to feel around. Wood? A wooden… door. Yes. It was.

Oh god, this is beginning to be like playing those really old tabletop versions of Dungeons and Dragons.

I sure hope I won’t find any dragons…

A door should lead somewhere. Could she open it? There seemed to be nothing like a handle or a latch. She pushed, then tried pushing harder as nothing happened at first. Suddenly there was movement and it creaked open. Now what? This way might lead out, it might lead deeper into the place, whatever the place was. Laura hesitated a bit, then stepped across the threshold. She might as well try this route.

There was a wall both to the left and to the right of the doorway. So this was not another room, but some sort of a passageway.

You are in a strange, narrow corridor…

That was good. At least she hoped so. Corridors usually lead somewhere.

She started walking again.

***

The word had spread fast. A bit less than an hour after Prince Aran had sent for him not only had High King Arakan come, but also several of the Council Lords and Ladies had crowded into Aran’s bedroom, staring wide-eyed at the Black Sword and whispering to each other. The only one who had managed to keep his calm was the king.

“So the sound was similar to the one it sometimes makes when Prince Theran uses it?” he asked his son again, trying to sound patient.

“Yes, I think so. Maybe sort of sweeter. I have only heard it twice before, and the first time I was very little.”

“Both of those times he used it to clean something of unclean spells.” The king said softly, speaking mostly to himself. “Actually, the only time I have been present when the Sword was used for a purpose which had nothing to do with the Marshik was when I was about your age and my brother made the illusion of a bouquet of flowers for our mother when she was sick. It was winter, you see,” he added and smiled at his son. “Theran is, has always been, more serious than your uncle was. I don’t think he has ever used the magic of the Sword for something as frivolous as that. As far as I can remember, the sound it made then was something you might call ‘sweeter’ than the one it usually makes.” He lowered his gaze and frowned, thinking.

The crowd both inside and outside of the room moved and whispered. The boy glared at the Councilors and they quieted, then one close to the doorway hushed the people in the corridor. For a moment there was silence, then somebody coughed and the soft crowd noises started again.

“All right,” the king said, startling the Councilors and Prince Aran equally, “the first thing we have to find out is whether the other two also sang this night. I guess it would be too much to ask, considering how many people are present, that none of you would start any rumors before we know that?” he added and looked around at the people, many of whom were unable to look back, “but at least remember to add when you talk about this that we don’t know for sure. Not yet. But if they did, you all know what it means as well as I do.”

“That the Fourth Keeper has been born,” whispered one of the Councilors, an older lady dressed only in her nightgown and a velvet cape thrown haphazardly over it, her feet in thick socks.

“The Fourth Keeper,” repeated a guardsman standing near the door in a low, awe-struck voice.

“Right. Here we go,” Arakan whispered to his son and smiled as the word spread to the people outside. “In a couple of hours the whole city will know, in a couple of weeks probably most of the Free humans have heard, although spirits know what shape the story will have by the time it reaches the last outposts on the southern shores. And it could well spell trouble if the other two were quiet this night. But I guess there was no avoiding this,” he added and sighed. “This particular piglet was out of the bag the second your guards heard that sound through the door.”

“Did I do right?” the boy asked quietly.

“You did fine,” his father assured him, his eyes gentle. “I just wish this had happened when Theran himself was in possession of the Sword.”

“He’ll be back soon, won’t he?”

“He should be,” the king answered, “He should be.”

He turned his eyes to the black weapon resting on its table.

“All the others are almost of an age right now. By the time the Fourth is old enough, they will be getting old, even if the Blade bearers live longer than ordinary men. If none of the current ones is killed before that. And it will be a few years yet before you are old enough, son.”

“Old enough for what?”

Arakan grinned down at him.

“You know why the Sword is with you when your brother won’t take it with him, don’t you?”

“Because its next Keeper will be my oldest son, right?”

“Your firstborn.”

Aran had always known that. Now, for the first time, he seemed to realize what it actually meant.

“Uh, you mean that I will have to… uh…”

“Become a father as soon as you are able. Sorry about that.” Arakan didn’t laugh at the boy’s look. Not quite.

“Well, as it’s my duty…” Aran then said, looking resigned.

“Don’t worry. By the time you are old enough, it should be a rather pleasant duty.”

“If you say so.” The prince didn’t look convinced. The king smiled at him again, then turned back to the Sword.

His uncle, his brother, his oldest son. Some day the boy who would most likely be his first grandson as it was not probable Theran would ever have children. The Sword Keepers didn’t have much time for families, and Theran was not a person who’d sire a child he would not be able to look after.

His uncle and his brother were dead. Killed by the Marshik, both too early in their life, because they had been Keepers of the Black Sword. A fate Theran would probably not escape, not in the long run. Arakan, selfishly, found himself hoping his oldest would be able to do it as long as possible. Long enough that he wouldn’t be the one who’d have to bury his son.

The Black Keepers, first sons of the crown princes, sons who would never carry the Crown for the Crown and the Sword could not be in the hands of the same man, were in many ways more important than the kings of his line even if they had less temporal power. Every crown prince’s most important, and first, duty was to beget the next Keeper. Everything he did after that mattered less. So it was, so it had been as long as his line had existed. What change would the coming of the Fourth Keeper make to that? Nobody knew. There had been a prophecy made at the same time the Swords had been made, but the prophecy had been lost, his generation knew only a short fragment of it. And that fragment told only of things which were already their history.

Besides that small part of the prophecy all they had were the legends. Scanty knowledge and what there was had often been proven quite unreliable. What the Fourth Sword’s task was… just lots of guesses, no real knowledge.

But something special was supposed to happen when all of the Four could finally be used together.

Arakan had wondered most of his life about the Fourth Sword, and of the ultimate task of the Swords. Now it looked like he might find out before he died, and suddenly he found himself wondering how much he really wanted to find out.

There is always a certain loss of security in changes.

He wished that whatever happened would happen as soon as possible. He wished he could speed the whole thing up. But this was something in which all the powers vested in him as the highest ruler of Free Men meant nothing. He could only wait. Like everybody else.

***

Laura wasn’t sure how long she had followed the new corridor when she realized that she was now hearing more than just her own breathing and heartbeat. She stopped to listen, holding her breath.

Drum, or drums, very faint.

There are people somewhere, there has to be a way out. I can get out of here!

The sound gave her such a relief that she didn’t even wonder who, or what, those drummers might be, not then. She felt tears welling up, swallowed, sniffled and wiped her eyes with an angry movement, then started to walk again.

But still slowly and carefully. She was no Einstein but she was not completely stupid. Besides, she had seen and read too many stories where the hapless heroine, or some other character, ran right into the hands of the bad guys and then had to be rescued by the hero… and as far as she knew in this story she really was the only hero around. She could not count on being rescued.

Bit by bit the sound of drums got louder. Finally she saw light too, reddish and flickering, probably dim although to her dark-adapted eyes it looked bright enough.

She wanted to run to it, but still didn’t.

She didn’t know enough.

Actually, she knew absolutely nothing.

Laura stopped and sat down of the floor. It was time to think beyond taking the next step. As long as she was careful about what she thought.

Who those drummers might be. That was an important question.

What might be their reaction to her. Even more important. She might be on, like somebody’s private property, or someplace where she very much shouldn’t be. It would be too bad if those (people, she hoped they were people, the thought of BEMs crossed her mind again and now it wasn’t funny anymore) were of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ school.

She decided that the best approach would be to simply go on very slowly and very carefully and not to show herself to the drummers before she knew more.
She got back up and crept on.

Not bad. I guess I can still think…

After a while the passage became larger and the light a bit brighter. She still couldn’t see the source of it, nor was there any sight of the drummers yet. But at least she could finally see something of the place she was in.

Oh yes. It was manmade. Or artificial. Definitely. She resolutely pushed away thoughts of aliens, any kind of aliens, for now. Better concentrate on thinking of problems of the human kind. Gangs or crazies or something like that would be bad enough.

***

The place she came to was a bit wider than the corridor had been. Part of the left wall was now replaced by a large opening with columns in it. The light was streaming from the other side. At the same time the sound of the drums got very loud. Now and then between the drumbeats she heard what sounded like chanting.

She could smell smoke and some sort of incense. Something else too.

Barbecue?

Laura stopped and leaned against the wall just before the aperture, feeling faint.

She hoped she wouldn’t faint. That wasn’t heroic. And it would have been quite counterproductive right now too.

Okay, let’s see now…

Carefully.

Slowly she slid down on the floor, first sitting with her back against the wall, then sliding further sidewise until she was lying down. Then she inched forward until she could see into that other space, with any luck without being seen herself.

At first the whole scene didn’t register.

She was looking down into a very large hall with… stone?… walls. The walls were made of big rectangular blocks, their color dark gray, so she presumed stone. Lots of open space with a few pillars here and there, lighted by smoking torches pushed into holders on the walls and the pillars. There seemed to be no decorations anywhere, just the plain dark stone. The pillars were square, the roof vaulted, very high and in places almost obscured by smoke. About one third of the hall she could see was filled with people. They were well below her. The corridor she was in seemed to be a bit more than twice a man’s height higher than the floor of the hall, while the roof was still well above her. She could see no windows on the walls of the hall.

And the people looked like people.

Humans, they are humans! She hadn’t, really, expected anything else. The sight of those men, looking just like men, still gave her a sense of relief.

The crowd was facing one end of the hall, the one furthest away from her, their backs turned to her. Most of them seemed to be dressed in something like light gray robes. They were looking at other people dressed in red and black who were doing something around a big fire. There weren’t many dressed in red and black. Their robes had red sleeves and sides, a black panel in front… and back? These ones seemed to be higher up than the gray-robes, for she could see the black and red dressed ones, except for their legs, quite well over the heads of the gray-dressed crowd.

So they were on some sort of a stage?

The men on that stage might also be able to see her if any of them happened to look her way. While the main crowd had their backs to her, and were well below her, those on the stage were more or less facing in her direction and were closer to the level of the corridor where she was.

Laura backed up a little but kept looking, her gaze roaming around, trying to locate something familiar.

The chanting stopped. So did the drums.

Then the quiet was broken by a human scream.

Laura finally focused on what the men on that stage were doing. She stared, then snapped her head back behind the wall’s edge, trying to slow down her breathing. She couldn’t have seen that. No way!

The sound of the drums started again, a slow beat. Laura swallowed and inched her head back into the opening. She didn’t want to do that, but she was unable to stop herself. She had to make sure whether she had actually seen what she thought she had seen.

Free promotion days for the novel

15 May

Next weekend, 18. and 19. May. Probably with the current cover. 😦

 

I’m working on editing one other fantasy novel, one which I wrote several years ago, and right now it seems I can probably publish that around the middle of June, again on the Kindle Direct Program. I will probably use the other three free promotion days for The Demons then, and also all of the five days for that novel at the same time. I’ll post that information when I have done enough editing to know for sure what schedule I can keep, and I’ll also post some chapters of that novel on the blog next month.

 

(And just in case somebody who doesn’t know what I’m talking about wanders here: Free promotion means the ebook will be available for free from Amazon on those dates. :))

 

Both of these novels are first in a series, it will take a few more books to tell the whole story, but I have done my best to write them so that they also work as stand-alones – the main plot of the story does get an ending, but not all the mysteries mentioned are given an explanation yet.

A bit more about the new novel

14 May

Okay, maybe I should post this too – this is the blurb for The Demons of Khemas:

Being the tavern wench in love with the barbarian mercenary from the far north was not what Tikka wanted to be. She wanted security, and a family, and stable income. None of which was likely to happen if she were to hitch herself to a man like that. No. Her ambitions went towards somebody like a trader, or a potter or a stoneworker or maybe a tanner (even if they tended to smell bad, but that was still a stable trade with a reasonably good income) – now, a blacksmith would have been just perfect – or… well, anything but a man who would most likely end up either dead or a crippled right after saddling her with a bunch of children and in debt to half the people living within an easy traveling distance.

Mercenaries, especially barbarian ones, just were not good prospects when it came to potential husbands (especially since there was no guarantee he would even be willing to marry her in the first place).

Not that she was in love with him, at all, no matter what her coworkers and her friend the ghost kept insisting.

But when he disappeared she could not just forget him.

She needed to find what had happened to him.

Even if it meant infiltrating the temple of the god she most feared in the city filled with the temples of a plenitude of gods and goddesses all of which scared her.

Demons, ghosts and magic in world of ancient cities, barbarian swordsmen and cursed families (and a bit of sweet romance).

 

 

I may change that too, I think it may sound more like a romance novel than the novel actually is – the romance is there, but it’s more of a MacGuffin than the point of the story, it’s the reason why Tikka does the things she does in the beginning.  After she has gotten hopelessly snared in what is going on she has other reasons too, but what starts the plot is her attraction to Grath. Frankly, I’m not even sure if she actually is in love with him in the beginning, although she is undoubtedly attracted and very much likes him, and she is in love towards the end, but yep, I wasn’t thinking in terms of a romance when I wrote this, just adventure, romance just seemed like the most likely reason for me to make the protagonist to start on a path which she knew might very likely get her in over her head with a bunch of very dangerous people. Which should have been enough to keep her away even before the supernatural beasties got into play. On the other hand, Tikka does seem to have some tendency towards acting before thinking things through, no matter how much introspection she does. Or maybe she just uses that as an excuse when she does something she knows is not the smartest possible thing to do.

 

Yep, I don’t really consciously plan my characters, I’m one of those people for whom they pretty much just walk in and then slowly show me what they are like. And I’d rather not think what they might show of me to a shrink – if we assume that they are fully me, aspects of my own mind. Personally I’m somewhat inclined to thinking they may also be something else, at least in part. Who knows what, I don’t think I quite want to go there. 🙂

 

 

And

12 May

It’s alive.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Demons-of-Khemas-ebook/dp/B00CQR8TDU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368329192&sr=1-1&keywords=Kiti+Lappi+The+Demons+of+Khemas

Damn. I really need to change that cover as soon as possible.

The Demons of Khemas, free sample, 4. chapter

8 May

I am going to speed this up a bit, and add one more chapter. So, this is chapter 4, and chapters 5 and 6 will come up tomorrow and the day after.

 

 

Chapter Four

“Alright. Mukasji, will you wait here, in the Courtyard?” Mambi asked, her voice brisk and businesslike.

“Pa said I should stick with you.” Mukasji’s voice was sullen.

“You could,” Tikka said, her voice taking on the overly patient maiden aunt tone she knew Mukasji hated more than anything in spite of her resolution to, for once, try and say something to the young man without trying to irritate him.

Well, what the hell. She had been speaking to him in that same way for so many years that if she suddenly changed her style the guy would probably become suspicious enough that he’d stick to her heels like a leech for the rest of the time they’d spend in the city. And that she did not want.

“But we are not going to stay together. We have all come here for different reasons, so we are each and every one of us going to visit different parts of the temple. You can’t follow every one of us, so it would be best if you stayed in the yard here. That way it will be easiest for us to find each other again.” Tikka affected a serene countenance and fluttered her eyelashes at Mukasji.

He glowered back, but, after a moment, nodded. As the women separated and started towards different parts of the huge temple compound Tikka suddenly wondered how much Mukasji really disliked her. She had been able to drive him nuts almost from the beginning, and she had been doing it for several years now.

It would be no wonder if ‘dislike’ would be too mild a term for his feelings towards her. It was probably far more likely that he hated her.

Maybe Mambi was right. Mukasji couldn’t help being the way he was, but he might actually be a bit easier to live with if he were to be treated with a bit more kindness by the hired help. At least by the hired help. His father was the one whose behavior, maybe, could have made a real difference, but Tikka was dead certain Jick would not change the way he treated the son he was so badly disappointed with.

Tikka smiled and made her decision. All right. She would at least try it, once they got back to the tavern. For a while anyway. She didn’t harbor any real ill will towards Mukasji, and the fact was that the thought that the young man might very well actually hate her did disturb her.

But that would be once they got back to normal.

Right now she wanted to concentrate on other things. Like trying to find out what was going on with the Monkey God’s temples.

There was brisk commerce of all kinds going on in the temple area. The Fertility Goddess’ temple was more than just one temple, it was a collection of different sizes of buildings and yards between them. Most of the buildings were quite grandiose. This Goddess had one of the biggest group of worshippers in the city, and it showed. Children, having them or not having them, were, after all, among the things most people did care about. And the case was even more so with their sex lives. The temple did sell spells for both, for all purposes.

What Tikka looked for was something a bit different. One of the services the temple provided was counseling. If you wanted to talk about something, and that included pretty much anything, you could come here and search out what was called the Temple of Advice. There the temple servants would listen and offer that advertised advice. Which, occasionally, might even be useful, from what she had heard, although Tikka had always supposed the main benefit was to have somebody listen to you and to pretend that whatever you were telling was important. Not everybody had friends or family for that, and, besides, the temple offered strict confidentiality, one enforced by spells which had been verified by outside operators. This was one of the services that were actually free here, at least for the occasional single consultation. If you thought you needed to do that on a daily basis, or for several times in a row, well, now that was a different matter.

Tikka didn’t put much faith in the temple servants’ ability to provide good advice. But she was fairly sure they would be more than willing to provide her with plenty of malicious gossip about the temples of the rival sect.

The Temple of Advice turned out to be easy to find. Like most of the building inside the temple compound it was built of marble or some such stone, and decorated with the gilded statues of the winged Goddess and her bird consorts. This was not the only goddess in the city who was associated with birds, and not the only one whose special emblem was the dove, but she was the best known. When people wanted to differentiate this goddess from the other two Fertility Goddesses they called her the Dove Goddess.

Tikka had always wished all these gods and goddesses of the plains would have some sort of individual names, like the ones her grandmother had worshipped. Well, actually they did have them, supposedly anyway, but the local idea was that those names provided such power for the ones who knew them that only the high priests and priestesses of each sect knew them, and gave the knowledge only to their successors. For everyone else they were just the Fertility Goddess (one of them), or the Monkey God, or the War God (one or the other of them). The locals didn’t seem to have any problems telling all these deities apart, or knowing of which one somebody was talking about, but for outsiders like her the whole system seemed more than a bit confusing.

There was a short line standing in front of the building’s single door. Tikka took her place in the end of it and settled down to wait. She didn’t need to wait long. The line was moving briskly, and one by one the people in front of her disappeared through the open doorway.

When it was her turn she found a young woman waiting for her. The girl smiled and motioned for her to follow, then took her to down an aisle lined by low, decorated wooden partitions which had doorways with heavy curtains on them at regular intervals. Soft voices drifted from the cubicles, a few times interrupted by a raised voice – and the voice of the temple servant trying to soothe the customer, and to make her or him speak more quietly – by sobs, once by a giggle.
Finally the girl guiding her stopped in front of one and parted the curtain for Tikka to enter.

On the other side was a small, roofless cubicle with two comfortable looking chairs and a low table with a clay pitcher of, probably, water (one the things the temple was famous for, a well with water which was always perfectly safe to drink) and wooden cups. Tikka could hear the low murmur of voices from the cubicles on both sides. But she could not make out the words. She had not been able to do that even with the couple of loud voices they had passed on the way hear.

Spells.

“And what is it you wish to talk about, my child,” the girl said in a soft voice once they had seated themselves.

Tikka had to struggle to keep her face serious. The girl seemed not even quite out of her teens, possibly three, maybe four years younger than she herself was. She wondered if the girl would address all of her clients as ‘my child’, no matter what their age. Maybe it was because of her position as a counselor, or just because she was member of the temple staff. “I have a problem with one of the gods in the city. Or with his temples, anyway.”

“Go on.”

That sounded encouraging. Tikka had been a bit worried that perhaps there was some sort of an agreement between the temples. ‘Don’t talk badly of me inside the city walls and I won’t talk badly of you there either’ sort of thing, since they were supposed to get along in the city. “It’s the Monkey God. His temples scare me badly. I wish to know… could there be a real basis for my fear, or might it be only something that is in my head.” Well, now she’d see. If the girl would just give her some sort of generalized babble about ‘how we all have our problems’ she would cut this short and try to find some other source for information.

The girl looked at her for a moment, her face serene, and Tikka tried to keep on looking worried. Which wasn’t hard for her to do. All she had to do was to think about Grath. Then the girl nodded. “You are not from the city, are you?”

Tikka nodded.

“There are stories about that God…”

Tikka settled down to listen.

***

The temple servant’s tale:

In the beginning of time, when people were just savages living in the wild, a man was called to this place on the plains, by the two rivers. He saw that this place was good, and he settled here, and in time other people joined him. They still made their living by hunting and by gathering of all that they could find growing free in the land, but now they always returned to this place. And now, sometimes, some of them could hear somebody, or something, talking to them in their sleep. The voice, and in time, the voices, started to teach them. And the people were taught how to build shelters, and how to tame animals, and then, how to plant seeds so that they would know there would be food growing there the next season.

There were many voices. The people who heard them trusted them, and listened to them.

In time the people stopped most of their wanderings and settled here permanently, growing their food and herding their animals in the plains around the area where they built their settlement. That settlement grew. The people chose one of the talkers to the Spirits as their king, and first he, and then for a long time his descendants, ruled what was now a city, and the place prospered under their guidance.

Buildings were put down on the places where the Spirits could be heard. Now they were called gods, and goddesses. The kings named other people who could hear them as caretakers for these new temples.

Sometimes one of the kings would hear new voices among the old ones. When that happened that king would order a new temple to be built. The belief was that all the voices the king could hear should be accepted. But people would not worship all of them equally. Some chose this one, others that one as their special god or goddess, or a few, and sometimes they had clashes over what the gods said as how the world worked. Even whether all of the gods were as real. But the king always made sure those clashes did not lead to fighting inside the city. Inside the city all gods were respected. And the kings, but only the kings, paid homage to all of them.

One day one of these new voices was the one we call the Monkey God.

At first the voice of the Monkey God didn’t make much sense. But the king who ruled then was a persistent man, and he kept on listening, trying to understand. And slowly he did.

The people had, from the beginning, given the voices gifts, in exchange for their guidance, and as a show of gratitude. The voices had accepted these gifts, and had sometimes told what they preferred as gifts. But it had never been real trading in the sense that the people would have had to give in order to get. It had always been more like the exchange of gifts between friends, or between a parent and her children. And what the voices had given had always been mostly just advice how to do things. Some of that advice had been how to use the power of the place for magic, but they had never traded for that power itself.

But that was what the Monkey God said it wanted to do. It wanted sacrifices, and in exchange for them it would give power.

That first king who heard it didn’t buy that bargain. He had a temple built for the god, but he didn’t order any sacrifices to be made there.

A few generations passed. And the city found itself in trouble. There were people around it who wanted its riches, and now, often, the city found itself at war. And at a very troubled time one of the kings finally listened to the Monkey God. He gave it what it wanted, and in exchange it gave him the power to drive away the enemies of the city.

For a while all seemed good. But the Monkey God kept on demanding its sacrifices. Some of them were animals, but more and more of them were people.

It wanted blood.

The king obliged. And in time it could be seen that the king was changing. He changed in character. In time he started to change in his appearance.

That was the time when the Monkey God was given the name it is called now. For that king started to resemble a big monkey. He grew hairy, and his eyeteeth turned into fangs, and he started to grow a snout, and a tail, and his forehead got lower.

That was when several of the temple high priests and priestesses consulted with their own deities, and what they found out was that the king was being taken over by the Monkey God.

That was too much. The sacrifices had been bad enough, but the people of the city did not want to be ruled over by this god too. So they rebelled. The rebellion was led by one of the temple priests. He was the high priest of our Dove Goddess.

They killed the king. But it turned out the Monkey God was not that easy to get rid of. In the end the high priest had to save the city by a final blood sacrifice.

He sacrificed himself. And his blood sealed the Monkey God inside its temples. The temples were kept, and people still worship that god, because as long as the god is contained the power it gives in exchange for the small blood sacrifices people give it is good for the city.

But it has to stay contained.

***

“And that is the story of the Monkey God. And that is perhaps why you fear his temples. You have some of the gift.” The girl looked at Tikka, her eyes wide and eager. “That gift is a precious thing. You could come and study here. Our temple always needs people who have it.”

Tikka shook her head. “Uh, I’d have to think about that. And I have never had any other indications of being in any way out of the ordinary, except that one thing. Just the fear, and the feel there is something bad in those temples.” A bit of a lie perhaps, but she had no wish to become a temple servant, and didn’t want to hear any more recruitment speeches.

“That is sometimes the way it is. But even just one thing means you have it.”

“Yes. All right. Well, one thing, I have never heard anyone speaking about any of that tale before. Not that I have all that much time to chat with my co-workers about religious matters or anything, but it sounds like something that should be common knowledge and something people would like to talk about. All I have ever heard in connection with the Monkey God is that he’s the god who gives you raw power, so you go there if you want to perform some magic, or have somebody perform some magic for you, and want to make sure it works. So…?”

The girl nodded. She had kept that same serene composure on her face most of the time, no matter what she had talked about. It was starting to get on Tikka’s nerves. She supposed it was something these temple servants were trained to do, but she kept on wishing the girl would do something with her face. So far the only moment she had slipped a bit had been when she had told Tikka that she would be accepted here as a student. “That is because the people believe the Monkey God can give them trouble if you talk badly about it.”

“Well, can it?”

“Perhaps, sometimes. But not here. Its power is limited. It can’t do anything inside the power circle of another God, or Goddess. Not even the minor ones.”

Tikka nodded. Maybe the girl was right. She had not felt the usual oppression after she had entered the premises of this temple. But she was fairly sure that the limitation was only inside the temples. Everywhere else, inside the city walls, that oppressive feeling existed to her. Which presumably meant the Monkey God was present everywhere else.

Well, she wasn’t quite sure whether she had gotten what she wanted, but she had gotten at least something. Time to go.

She thanked the girl and left.

She wondered how reliable what she had just heard was. If what the girl had said was true, and the Monkey God was something with power, and with power enough that it sometimes could actually do something to people anywhere in the city…

What kind of power would it have inside its own temples?

Even if it could not do something physical to someone there, it might probably be at least able to give a warning to the temple priests and guards that there was somebody on the premises who shouldn’t be there.

Somebody like a spy, or a thief.

And what if it could do more?

***

Tikka found all the others already waiting in the front yard, Mambi talking earnestly with Mukasji who was for once looking almost cheerful. Tikka gave him a good look before they noticed her and once again realized Mambi was right.

When the guy wasn’t looking sullen he didn’t look all that bad. And if he had been slimmer he might have looked pretty good. Now if something could be done about his behavior Mambi might actually have something there. There were moments when he did seem almost likable. And Mukasji had always seemed to like Mambi, apart from Jish way more than any of the other women she had seen him to interact with, and that included the occasional outsiders he sometimes shacked up with.

She grinned to herself and wished good luck to Mambi’s enterprise.

***

They returned to the Star Goddess’ guesthouse with no detours.

Tikka shared a room with the other girls, Mukasji slept in the men’s dormitory. So Mukasji would be out of her way. Now all Tikka needed to do was to persuade the two women that it would be all right for her to go out again alone.

Easier said than done. In the end the argument which worked was a lie. Tikka told her companions that she was going to check on Grath’s lodgings, and tried to give the impression that if she found him she’d see whether he’d want her to spend the night.

Well, she was going to look for Grath, and she would start by visiting his lodgings, and the last part didn’t take too much acting ability as it seemed to be a foregone conclusion as far as the other women were concerned.

They didn’t know her quite as well as they thought they did. She really liked Grath, but she would not risk getting pregnant by him, spells or no spells, the spells didn’t always work. He was a good man, and a good friend, and perhaps she was a bit taken with him, but he was a mercenary. She did not want to become a penniless widow at a young age, possibly one with several children if he lived long enough to get her pregnant more than once. Or spend half of her life looking after a cripple, which was were most of those men, the ones who lived, tended to end. He would not be able to offer her the security she craved.

But he was a friend, so she would do what she could to help him if he was in trouble.

The first thing she did once she had left the guesthouse was to go and look for a free temple servant inside the actual temple building.

The Star Goddess was the Goddess of Dreams. Tikka thought that should have made her a popular one in this city with its almost never ending noise. That was not the case, though. The Star Goddess had only a very modest temple compound, and the place was close to being deserted even this early in the night. She had no problems finding the informant she wanted.

What she wanted to find out was whether the old man, a servant of a different goddess, agreed with what the Dove Goddess’ servant had said.

And what she did find out was that in most particulars he did. Almost the only difference was that he contributed the final self-sacrifice, the one which had sealed the Monkey God inside its temples, not to some ancient high priest of the Dove Goddess, and somewhat to Tikka’s surprise, neither to some devotee of his own goddess, but to a nobleman. Some nameless count from that ancient king’s Court.

***

Tikka had no trouble finding Grath’s current lodgings. She had never bothered to ask where the man was staying, but Para, who had been following Grath around during the last couple of weeks, was there to help her. The place turned out to be a small inn, well off the major streets. But even if small and away from the bustle of the principal streets, it was still open when she reached it, a bit before midnight. Not that there was anything like a crowd inside. Jus two drunken men in one corner and one very bored looking bartender/inn servant, or for all she knew the inn keeper himself, behind the counter.

Tikka contemplated for a moment what approach to take, then decided the most obvious one would probably work best. Grath was a mercenary, after all. She fluffed her hair a bit and pulled the blouse down to offer a better view of her cleavage, nicely accented by the tight bodice, and tried to adopt a sultry expression.

“Good evening. What can I offer you?” The bartender’s voice was only slightly animated. Tikka decided she would probably not have a bright future as a Courtesan. Not that she had ever planned to become one.

“I’m looking for a friend of mine. He should live here. A big blond man with tattoos all over him.”

“And would you happen to know the name of this friend of yours?”

“Oh yes,” Tikka said and fluttered her eyeflashes. “He calls himself Grath.”

The bartender looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes… we have a guest by that name.”

“Is he in?”

“No.”

Tikka was certain that both Mambi and Anya would have been on their way towards Grath’s room by now. She wasn’t all that good in these types of games. “He should be. Or at least he should come soon. We agreed to meet here tonight.”

“Well, perhaps you would like to drink something while you wait?”

The was no hint of any kind of flirting in either the man’s voice or his expression. Tikka sighed inwardly and leaned over the counter, exposing more of her cleavage, and tried to make her voice more husky. Perhaps he was an eunuch. Or liked men more than women. “But it would be so much nicer if I could wait in his room. I could make myself comfortable. He would like it better too when he comes back, now wouldn’t he? If there was something nice waiting for him in his bed…”

The man was looking into her cleavage, but by his expression he might as well have been trying to decide what kind of fish to buy. And finding them all too old.

Tikka sighed and stood up straight, then reached a hand into her cleavage and dug out the small purse she kept there. “How much?” she asked, her voice completely businesslike.

“Well, now…”

“That guy is not rich. Remember that.”

The bartender grinned.

It took several moments of haggling before they settled down to a price which Tikka could afford and the man would accept, and she was shown to the stairs on the back of the bar which led to the second floor rental rooms.

“He’s going to pay that back,” Tikka said under her breath as she was looking for the right door, the clumsy big key the bartender had given her held tightly in her fisted hand. “All the bloody things I’m doing for that ungrateful son of a bitch…”

She thought she heard a faint snickering in the air.

“Amusing. You think this is amusing…”

The room was small, with one tiny window giving out on the roof over part of the first floor, which was about twice as wide as this second one. Tikka eyed the window for a moment, then opened it a crack. If nobody came in after her and closed it, she might be able to pay other visits here without paying more to the staff by climbing up on that roof and coming in through the window.

“You know, the city guard here actually do patrol the streets during the nights. If you try that and get caught, it will mean at least a few days in the lock-up. And a good fine. Which Jick will have to pay,” Para’s voice whispered into her ear.

Tikka gasped, then closed her mouth and counted to ten before whispering back. “Don’t do that!”

“Do what?” Para asked, its voice innocent.

Tikka again counted to ten. This time she didn’t deign to answer.

There wasn’t much in the room. Some clothes, one pair of good boots under the bed, and a worn dagger underneath the mattress. No money or anything like that anywhere, but then only a fool would have kept anything really worth anything in their room. Even leaving those boots here was foolhardy, and Tikka was a bit surprised nobody had yet pilfered them. It didn’t look like Grath had intended to be away for long.

She kept some time trying to find any loose boards on the floor or in the walls, even if she doubted Grath would have been stupid enough to use that kind of place to stash anything. The staff of the place had to know most hiding places inside the rooms. At least she knew them all back in The Burned Oak.

“I don’t think we can accomplish anything here,” Tikka said into the empty air. “You have any bright ideas about what to do next?”

“You could leave some sort of a note here,” Para said. “Tell him to contact you when he comes back. If he does.”

“I don’t know if he can read.” Most people couldn’t. Tikka had learned because one of the few ways in which her mother’s noble half-brother had acknowledged the relationship had been by giving Tikka, and her sisters, the chance to study a few hours every week under the tutelage of the teachers of his own children. Tikka had been the only one of them who had actually taken advantage of that for more than a few years, and she had learned not only a bit more advanced mathematics, and to read and write, in two languages, but also something about geography and history and a few more subjects rarely encountered by anybody not of the noble classes. Not that any of those had done her much good. A servant wench only needed to know how to count money, or what the values of anything used in trade were.

“Oh yes,” Para said. “I didn’t think of that. Probably he can’t.”

“Yes. I guess I have to dole out a bit more to that charmer downstairs, and hope that if Grath does come back he will actually deliver the message.”

“You might also tell him that if Grath isn’t back when the time he has paid for runs out, you are the one he should send a message for. At least you can get his things out then.”

‘What for?’ was what Tikka wanted to ask, but didn’t, not out loud. Why look after his things, because if he doesn’t come back he’s probably dead.

Only she didn’t really want to think about that possibility.

***

Back in the street Tikka figured it had to be getting on past midnight by now. And she had no idea what to do.

Or actually, she did have one idea. Only that was something she very much didn’t want to do.

“Para…”

“Yes?”

“The temple… that temple near which you last saw Grath. Could you take me to it?”

“Yes, if you want to I will. But are you sure about that? I mean, there isn’t much you can do. I can’t get inside of it, and you can’t search it.”

“I can at least take a look. I suppose it’s open all through the night, like most places this time of the year. I can go in and act like either a worshipper or just somebody curious, and take a look.”

“All right…” Para’s voice sounded doubtful, but after a moment’s hesitation it told her the directions.

There were still lots of people on the main streets, and there would be people on them all through the night. The city never really slept during these few frantic summer months. But most of the activity was centered on only a few streets. They were well lighted, but away from them there were torches and lamps burning only in front of the inns and the temples and the brothels, elsewhere, most of the time, people would have to carry their own if they wanted to see where they were going. And avoid stepping on whatever happened to be lying on the street. Horse shit, dog shit, human shit, puke, all kinds of other trash. Sleeping drunks. Sometimes knocked out or injured people, victims of the not infrequent robberies that happened here in spite of the city guards’ patrols. In spite of its reputation Khemas was a surprisingly safe place for a city of its kind, but that didn’t mean it was smart for anyone to go wandering outside the lit, and better guarded, streets without an armed escort. Unless you were armed yourself, and good enough with your weapons. And, preferably, looked so dangerous that most would-be robbers would leave you alone.

Tikka did not fit any part of that description. Under any normal circumstances she would not have tried what she was doing now. But there were two things which gave her the confidence to walk into the maze of the side streets in the middle of the night. One was that the moon was full, and would stay high enough to light the way for several hours yet, so Tikka could walk around without having to carry a light which would have attracted attention to her.

The other was Para. It would not be able to defend her very well, as it had pointed out when they had been planning this night back in The Burned Oak, but what it could do was to keep her away from any potentially dangerous spots and people. It was aware of what was around them, of all that was around them, no matter how well hidden from Tikka, and it steered her towards the safe routes. And if worse came to pass… it was capable of enough noticeable activity to at least distract any potential attacker, and, with a bit of luck, to even scare them well enough to drive them away.

Nevertheless, Tikka was still relieved when they finally came to the small Monkey God’s temple. Even if the place in itself was something quite scary. And even if she knew she’d have to do this part without any help from the ghost. Para would have to stay a good distance away if it wanted to stay lucid enough to be able to escort Tikka back to the Star Goddess’ temple.

Tikka did think she should be safe enough inside the temple for now. She did not intend to do any real snooping, she just wanted to get some sort of a general idea of what the place was like.

She still felt the need to keep on swallowing repeatedly, and she could feel goosebumps on her bare arms in spite of the warm air when she ascended the long, wide stairs towards the big doors which led inside the temple. The place was built of black basalt, and the numerous statues of monkeys lining the stairs and decorating the walls of the building looked more than ominous in the moonlight, and the feeble, flickering light from the two torches burning on both sides of the open doors did not help the general gloominess one bit. Rather, perhaps on purpose, the torchlight accented the threatening aspect of the statues. Tikka could have sworn those stone eyes followed her every move.

Even if it was not the statues, she knew something was looking at her. Or was aware of her being there.

She nearly stopped and turned back. If Grath had gone in there, and had been caught, and if he was still alive and held prisoner somewhere inside the temple now, what could she do to help him, really? She was just one woman, with some rudimentary training in unarmed combat and even more rudimentary ones in burglary or spying, which would have been the skills she would have really needed for something like this.

What could she hope to accomplish here?

Tikka really had no idea why she continued walking on. But she did. She didn’t stop.

She also thought that she really did, sometimes, have the tendency to act stupid, didn’t she?

Nothing answered that. Thank the gods for small favors.

She climbed the stairs, and, with no hesitation, entered the temple of the Monkey God.

Long time no posts

9 Apr

And no new pictures this time either. I have been having bit of a problem with my dominant hand for several weeks, I could do something like typing with it, even if it did get kind of sore after a while, but anything needing fine-motor skills like drawing or painting, well, a few brush strokes, or a few lines, and I would start to lose control because it got sore on the upper parts of the arm and I could not quite keep it still enough. No problems with the actual hand, but if your arm starts to shake a bit, well… plus it was also just plain unpleasant. Not major type of pain, except a couple of times when I got stubborn and used it for a longer period, but I’d rather not deal even with mild ache if I don’t have to, and it did stop aching in a short while when I didn’t use it.

I would do my best not to use it at all for a few days, it would start to feel better, and the same thing would happen when I tried to use it again.

So I finally went to a doctor to complain, and she said the muscles near the shoulder joint seemed to be inflamed. Two cortisone injections. Seems to be a bit better now, but I have been using it more for a day now and it still seems to get sore with use, so I presume I’m getting the next two she said she’d give me this week if the first two didn’t seem to do the job.

Lesson is presumably not to delay going to your doctor. I have some tendency to that, if the problem seems mild I, more often, tend to start waiting in order to see if it will go away on its own. Not necessarily smart. I don’t even have to pay for this, it’s covered by my employer’s insurance. Besides my work is probably the main reason why that shoulder got inflamed in the first place. Well, in my defense, part of the reason was, this time, that our firm provided health care got transferred to a new clinic about a month ago, one which still doesn’t seem to have gotten our information transferred to their computers. And I liked the last doctor who looked after my branch in the last place, I’m not quite sure what I think of this new one. Oh well. I suppose I’ll get used to her in time.

Whippet dragon

24 Jan

EPSON scanner image

 

 

 

 

 

Acrylics on paper.

Besides a whippet there may be at least one cockatrix in the family tree somewhere too.

Okay, of course I’m not happy with this. I ended up trying for painterly instead of comics style, and that is something I really do not do well with acrylics. Which presumably makes it something I should do a lot so I will learn. The anatomy is a bit wonky too.

On the other hand it has been a very long time since I last painted, nearly two decades – I used to paint a lot before that, although it was almost exclusively with oils – so perhaps I should take the point of view that this is not too bad for a first effort, especially in a medium I have never used much, after a long break. (Yes, I started with oils, but since I have been adding a bit here and there even on the ones which are pretty finished they are mostly still not dry enough for scanning).

I think I will be able to post the other one on Friday. If I won’t completely mess the characters’ faces and other bits where they have exposed skin. I am fairly happy with everything else in it though, at least right now.

Not so yes…

23 Jan

Okay, skin tone problems. I don’t think I have to scrap the other painting completely, but this will take a day or two more. The other one, perhaps late this evening, or tomorrow morning.

Skin tones are one thing I tend to have problems with. I can do them in oils, even if I’m rarely completely happy with them even then at least the end results can be something I’m willing to settle for instead of starting to think in terms of fires (okay, there is a wood grill on the backyard of the apartment building I live in, but yep, I know, while it’s tempting burning paintings is not environmentally friendly, according to apartment house rules anyway, toxic fumes and residue and whatever, so I haven’t, yet :D), but that’s one of the things I haven’t quite gotten yet with acrylics, unless we are talking about something like comics style, with fairly flat looking surfaces with just one even tone for all of the skin, not much of an attempt to get the illusion of three dimensions. As I have said I admire the fully photorealistic style of painting, so while I can do something kind of comics style fairly well even with acrylics I’m never happy with that. The point isn’t so much that I think less of other styles rather than the fact that since that particular thing is what I’d like to learn how to do, until and unless I get there everything else I do will fall short in my eyes. I think that if I learned how to paint photorealistically (okay, is that actually a word?) then also painting less so would be fine enough for me – because  then it wouldn’t be for the reason I can’t do more realistic, but because right then I perhaps want to do something like that. Right now it’s because it’s what I can do, and so it falls short for me.

And I would, specifically, want to learn to do that photorealism with a paintbrush, not with a graphics program.