Saturday, July 27, 2013

I find it amazing to see what people focus on in my writing. Though I have more than a dozen little notes of plot points, and more that pop up with every page, I am resisting the temptation to reveal where my outline says the book should go. I say 'should' because I've already had to edit a line or two of that.  One of the things that a couple people mentioned was John's name. Like most fantasy writers I have a good selection of fanciful names for everyone. I chose John's name to bring a solid foundation to the man. I have him growing up under a father that fully expected his son would follow in the path of becoming a wood cutter.  He gave him a good simple name that didn't inspire the young lad to run off on adventures. Parent's hopes and dreams don't always match what the child decides though.


Weaving with a weary mind will have your stitches becoming chaos. The same goes for runes.
…Hai’Tli Noovla…

The Crystal Towers sat at the foot of a mountain that jutted into lake Mergen. Originally there had been five grand towers surrounding an even grander sixth, though the black one had fallen into rubble in ages past. The four that remained bore architecture to match the element they served. Tonight her party was on the sixth floor of the central tower, as neutral a place as any to hold it.
Only seven of the thirty-two third master mages were close enough to attend her party. A couple of the others had at least sent word of their absence. Not that she really cared. She doubted if any of them could have picked her out of a crowd in the market. It was a celebration that lived up to everything she had hoped for; right down to Semstal falling asleep on the cake.
At least There was a table full of food, that would bring back energies. Aeriona did her best to fill a plate while Carandell and Fronk vied for her attention, hovering over her like scavenger birds. She’d heard that there was a lot of rivalry between the upper level mages, but until now it had seemed to be nothing more than fantastical rumors. They were trying to dredge an opinion from her on topics that seemed too ridiculous to be real.
With a twist of his body, Carandell squeezed between Fronk and her, shoving a wine glass into her empty hand. It was either the glass or Fronk’s sweaty hand, and she was thirsty. The glass served another useful function too, with keeping her from saying anything with it tipped against her lips.
Carandell had tried cornering Aeriona in a vain attempt to convince her that he was her future. She shuddered at the thought of spending her life tied to him. He was nearing sixty, and balding. What little hair he had looked as if his favorite comb was a slab of bacon. The rest of him found a way to match that same care in grooming. Despite his warnings about finding herself alone and ostracized from the towers, she avoided committing to his whims. Carandell at least did her the service of keeping her glass filled so that she didn’t have to say anything.
Even that ruse was beginning to wear thin by the time Gadrielle tapped him on the shoulder to interrupt. “There you are. I was beginning to think you had snuck out of your own celebration young lady.”
The woman seemed unchanged in all the years Aerion had been at the towers, having met her on the second month vetting. She held herself with the grace of a sixty year old, with eyes that twinkled with brightness of the fire she wielded. Her hair tumbled in loose blond curls between her shoulders without the first hint of grey. Aeriona had found entries from the Grand Master Mage in the stacks of tomes, dating back eighty years. Of course she had only been a Journey Mage then.
“Excuse us Grand Master Gadrielle. We were in the midst of a discussion, and…”
“And you’re welcome to continue that right after I give her a message. You don’t mind waiting a little, do you?”
“A message for me? What is it?”
“Oh, nothing major, but we should go to someplace a little quieter perhaps.”
Carandell reached out to draw her close. “Grand Master, If it isn’t so urgent, then perhaps a small delay. She’d really like to stay here for a bit to ensure her…”
Aeriona caught the sudden trickle of flux that suddenly boiled the wine in the bottom of his glass. In an instant it erupted in a brilliant shower of crimson that coated his face, and the ceiling high above him. Gadrielle was fighting a giggle as she led her away from the stunned Carandell. Her lack of comment confirmed to Aeriona that the little puff of fire magic had come from the Grand Master Mage. Once they had reached the outer corridor, Gadrielle stopped and turned to her young charge.
“I’m sure you don’t mind missing a little of the party to meet with the reagent. There’s just a little matter about your status that needs to be settled.”
“My status? I completed everything. There must be some mistake.”
“It’ll be settled shortly, never fear. Come, let’s catch the updraft chute. Have you seen how golden the fields are?”
The fact that every attempt Aeriona made to alter the course of the conversation toward what lay ahead was met with a change of subject, left her worried about just what this dire meeting was about. With a word the chute puffed them upward through the central tower, to deposit them on the next to the highest floor. The very top was devoted to Senior Grand Master Mage Garath’s private rooms.
Gadrielle opened the door to his office without bothering to knock, ushering Aeriona ahead of her. Stepping through the door she encountered a sight that stopped her cold. The room was already occupied by more than the Crystal Towers’ Regeant. The five others were all Grand Master Mages of the council. Nobody got past the second year without knowing the faces of that ultimate group, and avoiding them at all costs.
Rees Garath was talking to Yiggi about setting the correct facet on the gems, but that died out with their entrance. The rest of the low murmer of voices quieted as all eyes turned to focus on her. Aeriona’s wine fogged brain tried to fit the pieces of clues together, but nothing made much sense. There would be no reason it would take six of the council to denounce her testing; no seven. Best not to forget about Gadrielle. Nobody spoke, or even breathed until Gadrielle had sent the door’s bolt home with a dull clunk.
Suddenly it was like the group had transformed into a group of fifth year students. Instead of the expected accusations of cheating, or worse, They began congratulating her like this was a second party in her honor. The warmth of the wine she’d already drank fueled the warmth that spread across her cheek with such praises of her accomplishment. In a whirlwind of faces she found herself back facing Rees Garath once more. This time his face held a sterner continence.
With a glance over her shoulder to Gadrielle still standing at the door, he took charge. “Place the seal.”
Aeriona watched in amazement as magics she could feel, but not touch, shifted through the room. Gadrielle’s hand blazed with green fire as it swept through the flourishing strokes of a ward on the door. The lines of the symbol blazed with her fire without seeming to touch the door at all. A few more strokes and the green fire swept out to cover the windows as well. The final sweep of her hand closed the glowing ward, which now faded from view. Even the feel of it diminished down to a mere memory. Aeriona wasn’t entirely sure if she could feel the faint presence of it, or only the echo of having witnessed it. Her attention snapped back to the tower reagent as he spoke again.
"You've passed all the tests and earned the right to call yourself a Master Mage of the third level.”
She stuttered a little before finding her voice once more. “But wasn’t that what getting the rune meant?”
He smiled. “Clever girl. Always looking past the obvious; which is why you earned this as well.”
Rees Garath lifted a small box from his desk that looked to be carved from rose granite, complete with the twisted rune knot etched into the top. The only sign that it was a box, and not some decorative parchment weight, was the gold latch on the side. It rested in his palm as though it held no more import than a bag of sweet drops.
Aeriona reached out to lift it from his hand, wondering what sort of trinket or treat it might contain. Her finger had barely brushed the top when a spark jumped to it. She’d triggered a ward. Instinctively she yanked back her hand, fearing whatever danger the magical trap held, and was rewarded with several of the Grand Masters breaking out in laughter. Even Rees Garath was having a hard time keeping it from falling from his hand as his body shook with restrained mirth.
With no burst of fire, or lightning bolt turning her hand to ash, she felt confident enough to reach out for the box once more. This time there was no spark. The little box was lighter than she’d expected. Trepidation gripped her with the thought working its way through her mind, that this must be something of far greater significance than her wildest thought. Delaying it wouldn’t change what it was, so she opened the box. Gadrielle sounded a little excited behind her.
“It was also voted upon to invite you into the Magi Council. It’s been twelve years since Roveena wore that pin.”
Rees continued on. “The pin is recognized by the rulers throughout the various lands; at least the ones in good favor. The box is now primed for you to whisper a sealing word to it, and it will guard the pin when you aren’t wearing it. Try not to lose it.”
“The council?”
“Yes, the council. Never fear, you aren’t the youngest one ever to hold that spot.”
“I know, Wendell.”
“Don’t let his fate worry you. I don’t think you’ll be dropping a mountain on top of yourself. Besides, that was two hundred years ago and air is softer.”
The story of his rise and fall had become legend throughout the Crystal Towers. The little whispers she heard from the clumps of students that she walked by had been comparing her success to his for years. The not so quiet speculations that she’d become a master, only to squish herself two months later had been the highlight of many nightmares. Her fingers were shaking so much that Yiggi stepped up to help her pin it to the dress she wore.
“Relaxes please. Is not so much like it don’t have enough Ultrium in it to buy three or four farms. Now stills you hold, else the pin you find in you.”
As Yiggi stepped away, she ran her fingers over the pin. They followed each twist of the runic symbols of the five elements. They wrapped around a diamond at the peak known as the Dragon’s eye, though none of the texts could explain how it got the name. It looked right at home, as though designed just for her. The swirling rune shape even complimented the lace of her dress.
Aeriona’s eyes scanned the faces watching her, coming to rest on Gadrielle. The elderly woman held a scroll up before her like a candle, and knowing her alignment, it could easily burst into fire and complete the picture. The council seal faced toward her like all the previous scrolls she’d gotten. An assignment already. The thought of it was both thrilling and frightening. The whispers about Wendell were echoing in her head. Gadrielle’s prompting had her reaching for the rolled parchment.

“We are once again thirteen council members with your induction. I’m sorry to drop this on you so unexpectedly, but urgent events rushed our hand.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

OK, so my profile for this character took a different turn. Looking back at the sheet for him is like looking at a resume for a boy scout. He's still a good man, but the edges are a bit sharper. There are also about seven more plot twists in the first two chapters than what I wrote into that outline they made me do. Ah, the difficulties of a discovery writer. But then again, I get the thrill of learning the story as I go along too.
The rest of Chapter 2...

     Morning found John untangling himself from an arm thrown over his chest. He had read dozens of the letters to her, by the time they had fallen into a lover’s embrace. She’d been right; he needed the company.
He liked to travel light, and so there wasn’t much to pack this morning. Turning to one of the blank pages of his journal, he pulled the quill from its ink bottle. He leaned over to place a kiss on her cheek before making the first mark. She murmured softly as her hand pulled the cover over the bare shoulder his fingers traced across.

Thank you for the company last night. This morning finds me headed over the pass into Huyroil. Once again the Towers have called me. I can’t complain, they pay me well enough to keep wandering. I don’t know where this will take me, though I do hope that the route passes this way again soon. When I do, not if, I’ll bring with me all of the stories that make your eyes twinkle. You listened patiently, not trying to veer my mind from her. I wish you as sweet of a memory of our night as I take with me. - John Heathrow

     It may have been nothing more than wishful thinking, but he thought she whispered a good bye as the door was closing behind him. The journal, with its single missing page, was tucked safely back in his pack.
     He could hear the bellowing Dwarves before he was even halfway down the stairs. They were raising a toast to Hasituur, the dealer of fate and fortune, for the good fortune that had found their missing coffer. Mixed into the loud cheering was a bit of chagrin for chasing away so many of the yestereve’s customers. They vowed to drink all the ale that should have been served had the crowd not run home.
     “Yea, for Waverly and his chunk of lead where the thinker should be. He done forgot about tossin’ the coffer in his pack when the ruckus went on.”
     So, the thief had listened after all. John didn’t bother stopping to hear the whole tale, but grabbed one of the sweetbuns on the counter as he headed out to the stables behind the inn. John knew full well that his traveling depended upon the care of his horses. They were more than just a means of getting from one place to another. Company at the fire, and an extra pair of ears to keep watch meant more than silver.
     He found the lad busy tending to a tawny mare, talking to her as he poured oats in her trough. The boy looked to be all of about seventeen or so, just filling out as a man, though his wispy chin fuzz claimed that was years away. He caught some of the words, pass, and snows, and even something about a slide.
     “I’ll trade you this for a telling of the road ahead. I’m sure you heard news from the traders coming in.”
     “You’re heading West, aren’t you?”
     “I have need to. The last time I traveled this way into Huyroil, there had been a slide in the pass. It cost me an extra few days heading through the other route.”
     “Well you sure know how to pick the right bargaining tempt. Mom’s are the best you’ll find in these parts.”
     “I know Charnus the fifth or seventh, or however many it is, was crowned after his father was killed.”
     “Yeah, well things are a bit different now. These three are yours, right?”
     “His name’s Marrow. The other two are Zyndel and Ryndel. Different how?”
     The boy picked up the brush with his free hand as he savored the roll held in his other. Long strokes down the stallion’s neck seemed to do the trick as Marrow stretched to enjoy the attention. A pause in the brushing brought his head around to nose the lad, lest he forget what he was doing.
     “Well Charnus, the new one, pulled men back from the fighting to deal with stuff along the roads. They even got the slide cleared a few weeks ago, but…”
     “I wish. See them two scrawny horse gorging themselves on my oats? Those belong to, how did they put it, the meanest and most ugliest Dragon hunters on Keil. If ya ask me, I say they was farmers or maybe even a shop keeper nae a month ago.”
     “A Dragon? On the pass to Huyroil?”
     “I know, Dragons are supposed to be extinct, or myths or something. As they were clearing the last of the slide to make it big enough for horses to get through, a bunch of the men got killed. Those that came back told everybody about it. As big as three horses, and wings to block out the sun. The skin is kinda grey-green. One of them saw it carry off his horse.”
     “And now every hunter wants to kill it.”
     “I’m learnin’ the sword a bit, but no way could I go against a Dragon yet. The king sent a squad up the pass to deal with it; They lost four men in a week. The rest settled at the trail head to warn off travelers. Pebbleton’s a nice town, but nae risking life to get there. Huyroil gots other towns just as nice as Pebbleton.”
     John paid the boy a good handful of copper crowns, and retrieved his packs from the lockdown. Marrow’s saddle was the biggest, with mounting straps for his bow and sword. Both of the mares had riding saddles, though for now their load was merely the large packs that draped over them. That would change when he reached the Crystal Towers, and gained the company of a mage.
     His sword lacked much in the way of ornamentation; but then again, he didn't feel the need to impress anyone with appearances. John knew that functionality was far more important in something that your life depended upon.
     His ebony bow received the same care as the sword. He wiped the oil off the small sapphire embedded in the center of the bow, almost as though the wood had grown around it. Most people never got close enough to it to wonder where a piece of ebony had been found that was straight enough for a bow.
     John had no answer to that riddle himself. He’d won the bow in a competition many years in the past. At first nobody had cared to join for such a simple prize; that is until the bow was demonstrated with its simple looking arrows. There were seventeen arrows to accompany the bow, and one of them had been fired at a small tree some four hundred feet distant. The arrow had struck the tree passing through the five inch thickness far enough that the head was sticking out the opposite side.
     They had called it the Dragon Bow, with claims that it had been crafted more than six centuries in the past by a craftsman who had died without revealing his secrets. John for his part doubted that any bow could last for as long as the claims said it had. Still, there was no denying that it had proved its value many times.
     The sun was still touching the distant peak when he rode out of the stable. He chanced a glance upward at the window, but she was probably still asleep; the window dark and empty. Most of the town was still getting ready for their morning as he rode through the market. A few lights shone in the rooms above, but the stores were still locked tight. The deserted streets echoed with the horses' hooves. He met only one other rider going through the gates.
     It was a long day's ride to the base of the base of the pass, and he wanted to arrive while there was still light to set up his camp. Tomorrow would find him climbing the mountain trail, and he wanted full daylight for that. If there was a Dragon it'd be best to find that out earlier in the day.
     This close to harvest time the farmers had also gotten an early start on the day. He waved to a few working in the fields as he rode by. The grain was the right color now, and would likely be cut within the week. The fields of vegetables and grain stretched on for several leagues before giving way to the grassy hills.
     He found the cutoff for the mountain pass trail without a problem. The arrow pointed along a small trail and marked it as the Pebbleton Pass. A small board had been nailed below the arrows with a crudely painted outline depicting a Dragon, along with an arrow pointing to the trail as well. John chuckled as he rode past. Such a sign was just as likely to draw the curious and foolish, as it was to frighten away the timid traveler.
     A few leagues later his predictions were confirmed when he met a pair of would-be Dragon hunters. Theirs was a quest to slay the Dragon, and thus claim the two-hundred gold bounty placed upon the beast's head. Both of them were skilled hunters with many prizes to their names. Among the victories had been a rather large bear that had required them to track it for a week before meeting it with swords. One of the men claimed that he could pluck a duck from the sky with a single arrow.
     Their secret, that would guarantee success in this hunt, was a fist-sized satchel hung around each of their necks. The herb vendor a few towns back had sold them this wonderful satchel that contained the rare Dragon Nip leaves. They had been assured that as soon as the Dragon caught a whiff of that satchel, it would come right to them.
     “I’ve no interest in your quarry. I have need of passing through Pebbleton, and the sooner I can d o that the better. My journey takes me on through Huyroil with a need for speed, else I’d just as soon find another route.”
     “It’s just as well. With that cheap sword ya got, there ain’t no way you’d last a minute in a hunt. And a bow? Dragons got skin like rock.”
     John rode on, keeping a little bit ahead of the would be hunters. The overloaded pack strapped behind the saddles told more than all of the boasting. Barely mid-day and the horses under them were nearing exhaustion from the load. Years of experience, that he hoped they lived long enough to learn, had taught him to keep the packs light. An extra horse was better than a heavy pack.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dialog fixes everything.Just when a scene seems dead in the ink, it can breath in new life and give your characters a chance to strut their personalities with a little dialog. Normally I'm not the one in the middle of conversations, and so often times my pages are filled with sideline views. When I can get away from that, and let the characters talk, it blossoms.

The daughter was passing by, and noticed the condition of his stew. She ignored his protest, grabbing his bowl and heading straight for the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later bearing a tray of bowls and mugs. Without even asking if he wanted company, she set down the two bowls of stew with accompanying mugs. There was even a warm loaf of the rye bread to tease the appetite. She herself dropped into the seat opposite him.
Seated across from him she didn’t look quite as young as she had running ales through the crowd. The lines of her face still held the smoothness of youth, but he guessed that she was nearing thirty. The smile she’d worn like a painted on mask, now held genuine warmth as she flashed it at him over a spoon of the stew.
“I think you’ll like the bread. I made it this afternoon. I kept a few loaves in the warming basket. I even split the top with a drizzle of honey butter.”
“I’m not sure you want to sit there.”
“Of coarse I do. Why didn’t you say anything to the guards about the mouse?”
“You saw him take it?”
“No, but who else? I saw you grab him just before the fight.”
“I know they look shifty. I mean, use a razor on a rat and you could call them cousins, but it’s that very reason that they get the label of thief.”
“He had his hand on Jarl Frettle’s purse. You stopped him.”
“I didn’t see where he went after that.
The girl reached over to lift his journal from the side of the table. “You read much?” She flipped to a random page.
“That’s not for reading. It’s…”
“I see. Dearest Velimina; You’d love to see the deer I came across this morning. He stood proud on the ridge between two trees as though daring any hunter to try his luck. Who is Velimina?”
Reaching his hand out gently. “My wife.”
“There must be hundreds of these pages you’ve written, yet you haven’t sent them.”
“She died.”
She gently closed the journal and laid it in his outstretched hand. “Mine’s Nicquey. I’m sorry to hear about her. How?”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Mom’s done cooking for the night. Now’s when she comes out to swap gossip with the pair of old coots at the bar. I have time.”
“You’re really not letting it go?”
John sighed heavily as the memories came back once more. Thankfully dulled by the years. “I used to run through the hills as a young man, playing hunter. Velimina was a few years younger, but already filling out as a woman. Her father owned a tavern, much like this one. She would have withered there, serving drinks to the local farmers. Her heart was in the wilds, so she often took off to follow me.”
“I bet her father was furious at you.”
“The town was small, and his popularity made him the mayor. I was good at my hunting, enough that I could make a good living for the both of us. As good as I was, she was better. She could see prints in places that seemed impossible. She claimed it was like knowing the animals had been there, even though there was nothing to actually see.”
“There’s a twinkle in your eye when you talk of her. Hold on a minute.”
Nicquey strode over to the bar to pull one of the wine bottles off the shelf. Fresh mugs kept the deep red port from tasting like ale. By now there was only two other patrons, that her mother was happily laughing along with as they did horribly rude things to a song about herding sheep.
“I finally got tired of chasing after her, and asked her to marry me. She had scowled and turned away without a word. I feared I’d lost her for an entire day before she walked past me with a simple ‘yes, I will’. We had to put the marriage off for a month so that her family could plan it.”
“That sounds like a good thing. I’m sure her father let you stay in the inn until you got a house built.”
“Two weeks later, almost to the day, she fell ill. Nothing the apothecary could do even touched her fever. Fearing some thing nameless had grabbed her. The Dianasi priestess prayed over her for only a minute before screeching the truth. Velimina was being consumed from the unleashing of her magic; there was nothing the priestess could do for her.”
“A mage? How? Nobody knew?”
“I should have seen the signs when she could imagine tracks. In the turmoil of that announcement, her mother started blaming me for awakening magic in her girl, as though it were something contagious. Her father threw us both out to save his reputation as mayor. She was so weak from the ravages of awakening magic, that I had to tie her into the saddle for a four-day ride to Ridgemont.”
“But mages are highly sought after.”
“Trained mages, yes. Wild mages don’t have the training to control their magic. Magic gone wild could do something like incinerate the whole house, including the poor mage. The Uiyah temple in Ridgemeont seemed the only hope to a poor man trying to save his fiance. I didn’t care about trying to control her magic; all I wanted was her.”
“Couldn’t they help her?”
“They could keep her sedated with the help of an apothecary. That gave me time enough to ride for the Crystal Towers. Three days without rest to get there. I didn’t even blink at the cost they asked. Two years of pledged service for a rune that would react to her magic. All I had to do was get it to her and her own magic would make it work.”
“In the six days I was gone, her magic became dangerous, even under the herbs. Without the runes, her only hope of surviving was to strip away the magic building within her. I’m told she screamed for the entire four hour ritual. In the end, there was not a trace of her behind the blankly staring eyes. Her heart beat, and she breathed, and yet she could do nothing else. Like a summer gourd that’s been dried, there was nothing left inside the shell. I sat with her for a week as she slowly starved, unable to even eat.”
“What did you do about the rune? And your pledge?”
“I had nothing left that I cared for. I left the rune with the priest, vowing that I’d remove his head unless he used it for the next wild mage. I returned to the Crystal Towers to honor my pledge. Two years stretched into twenty something now.”
“You still serve them?”
“The best thing I could do for Velimina is to honor what she was. The towers pay me to safeguard mages.
“Just how many times have you told that story?”
“To people? This would be the fourth time, but my horse is really tired of hearing it. Then again, I tell him the long version too.”
“I’ll grab another bottle on the way up to your room, and you can read some of the letters to me.”
“I’m not looking to settle down somewhere.”
“And I’m not looking to run away, or have you rescue me from all this, or a thousand other methods of departing this old inn. We both just need company for the night. And no, I’m not trying to take your mind off Velimina; you earned your memories of her.”
John slid the journal back into his small pack, hoisting it to his shoulder. One last glance at her back as she was slicing off a wedge of cheese, and he headed up the stairs. The inn may have looked worn, but the building was sound. The steps solid under his feet. Nicquey was humming something he couldn’t remember the name of when he rounded the landing to the upper floor.
A few steps later her tune was drowned out by the unmistakable deep voices of Dwarves having a go at one of their ballads. By the sound of it, they had finished off at least one keg. Who makes a ballad about a cracked mug? John continued on past their room, not wanting to refresh the experience of searching for the lost coffer. His room was at the end, with a view of the mountains he’d be crossing tomorrow.
His door swung open to the small room that was one of the best in the house. A small table held the tin washbowl and pitcher, with the full bucket on the floor next to it. A hook outside the window kept the chamber pot from stinking up the room, and the straw filled bed was covered in a patchwork blanket, no doubt crafted by the innkeeper’s wife. Currently it also boasted a Bogrunner sitting cross legged on it, and fumbling with a familiar looking coffer.
“Is ‘bout time ya git here.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Is thinkin’ that be… um… oblivious. No, obvious. Yes.”
John heard the steps behind him, and whirled around expecting to find the town guard springing a trap on him. Fortunately he never completed the drawing of his dirk, or it might of caused Nicquey to drop her tray. She took the scene in at a glance and flashed an angry glare at John.
“You were in on it the whole time?”
“No, I… I’ve never met that guy before. I was just asking him why he chose my room to hide out in.”
“Is Barune ya poked. Is good eye ya gots ta see Barune.”
Nicquey turned, with the tray still in hand. “I’ll call the guard.”
John gently laid his hand on her arm. “Wait. That could bring all kinds of trouble. Let’s settle this now.”
“We need to get that back to them.”
“Is good ya helps Barune. Is shinies ta share.”
John grabbed the coffer from the little thief’s hands. “Give me that.” He slammed the coffer down on the table, where it promptly shook and tipped on its side.
“Is seein’ too? Is box jumpin’. Is shinies what wiggle.”
“John, I’ve seen those Dwarves before. Twice they’ve come through with boxes just like that. Is it alive?”
“Is box Barune no open. Is good eye can opens Barune box. Is shinies ta share.”
“It’s a Dwarven maze box. Each one is different. I’ve only seen one before. Theres a trick, a maze, to opening them. The more complex, the more highly desired.”
“So why is this one moving?”
For being barely over two feet tall, the Bogrunner could move quickly. In a heartbeat he had snagged the box from the table, and resumed his spot on the bed, hunkered over the treasure that looked enormous in his hands.
“Is arm of tree moves.”
“No, not the tree. Don’t move that. Dwarves don’t work with trees. Axes, rocks, picks, those sort of things.”
The mousy thief danced out of reach while still fiddling with the ornate work on the coffer. His long slender fingers twisting each little protuberance, trying to unravel the secrets of its maze. He even tried nibbling on the corner of the metal box.
“Is no goods. You tries it.”
He tossed the coffer at John and perched on the edge of the bed to watch the big man work. John scrutinized the box, testing for slight movements of the ornate metalwork. Dwarven craftsmanship was so precise that even seams looked solid. Nicquey set the tray on the table to stand beside John, watching silently.
John had surrendered to his own curiosity about the coffer. Nothing that he could think of would explain why it had moved. Something alive, maybe, but that wouldn’t explain why it was so valuable. Twenty minutes of gently prodding the coffer finally resulted in a soft click. Barune snagged the box from John.
“Is good eye for box.”
His broad smile vanished into a puzzled expression as he flipped the lid open.
“Is shiny um… animule?”
Barune tilted the opening forward so that the others could look inside. The bright silver rodent inside was about eight inches long with blue paws.
“I’ve heard of those before. Something Vole.”
“Where do they come from, John?”
“I don’t know. The deep roads most likely. Want to go ask the Dwarves where they got it?”
“Is funny looking.”
“Put a pair of britches on it and you could call it cousin. I think it has your whiskers.”
“Is good pet, I keeps?”
“Now you’ve seen it. It has to go back to them. Besides, look at the color. It probably eats silver.”
“Is cute.”
“Listen you little thief. I’ll give you one chance. Take this back to the Dwarves, and get your tail out of this town. If Nicquey sees you around here, she’ll call the guard to haul you away. Now choose door or window.”
“Is window I go.”
The bogrunner opened the window, and climbed out onto the narrow ledge. His long fingers finding holds easily. In moments he disappeared from view, over the top of the roof.
“Now what do we do?”
“I don’t think he’ll be back. That cheese smells good.”
“But the box.”
“I think he’ll find a way to get it back to them. Did you want to hear some of these?”
Nicquey snuggled close to John under the light of the sconce. “A few.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing takes me to new worlds. Just as much as reading a good book transports the reader to a whole new place, writing does the same. I get to follow along as the characters lead me into their lives. Chapter 2 has proven to be hard to write though, because the characters kept trying to argue amongst themselves over how it should be. The assignment for the class was to try and write about 3000 words per week. I wrote about 30000 words for chapter 2 so far, and sent 95% to the deep dark abyss of the delete key. Here's the first bit of it.


The other end is the handle. If you plan to stab me in the back, make sure to do it right.
…Jodocus Aedh…

Even over the dull roar of so many voices he heard the rattle of the door swinging open to let yet another thirsty patron into the tavern. A glance up from the half-filled mug cradled in his hands let him take in the sight without seeming to be interested. A mercenary most likely, from the looks of his clothes; probably looking to hire on with one of the dozen or so merchant parties trying to make it over the passes before winter closed them. The worn look of his gear meant that he’d seen his share of adventures.
This time of year only two western passes remained open to the heavy wagons. There was still a chance to get mules up the slate wall, but those caravaners seldom hired mercs. It was too far from Amberleaf for the king to spare many men from his skirmishes in the East. Several bands of highway-men knew this all too well, and made a hefty profit from the merchants and caravaners. The few patrols of king’s men left in these parts couldn’t keep them out for long, and often there wasn’t much difference between the two.
A quick flip of the mercenary’s hand sent a coin sailing into mug of ale being carried along by the serving girl. She paused to dig it out, and settled for drinking the ale to retrieve the coin; much to the blustering protest of the man who’d been waiting for that very ale. Meanwhile the merc had found his own seat along the far wall, settling into a pose that let him keep an eye on the entrance as well as the stairs. Such habits are what kept men like that breathing. John silently chuckled as he realized he was the mirror of that mercenary, right down to the furtively unclasped dirk on his wrist.
He’d found the Twisted Frog like so many other inns along his more than twenty years of travels, by bribing a few local workers with the promise of a drink. Two ales had gotten him here, where he had a door that actually closed and locked properly and ale made from the mid-summer harvest. John had sat like this in so many inns that he couldn’t even begin to count them all. For the most part they all looked alike too.
The merchants favored the Prancing Pony down the street, and spent a lot of coin there. It always had a new coat of paint to dazzle the fat merchants, and watered ale to keep them sober enough to continue buying more of it. Let them have such places, John thought. An honest innkeeper was worth more than serving girls with overly stuffed bodices.
A trio of Dwarves walked in from the dying sunset outside, glancing around only long enough to spy the table in the alcove. They piled around it dropping heavy packs in the corner. One of them set a small coffer on the table. This was presumably the most expensive of the things they carried.
They were yelling for ales even as they argued over who would pay for them. The first mug for each was downed in one gulp while they savored the second one. A handful of the deep six coins were piled on the table for the girl to draw from as each round of drinks arrived. The six-sided coins, artwork in themselves, were common nowhere but the deep roads of the Dwarves. Strange for them to be bringing such tokens into the land of man. Stranger still to see them; Dwarves were never overly fond of the open world. She walked away admiring the image on it in the flickering lanterns.
John's attention was drawn back to the table on the far side of the room where a rather thuggish looking man was loudly demanding something from the mercenary seated there. The shouts were enough to draw everyone’s attention by now, and sure enough, the son came running in through the kitchen to break up the impending fight. In another few years he might have a chance, but for now the best thing to do was run for the guard when the thug’s sword came out.
Something just didn’t feel right to John. Unless this was a long standing dispute, there hadn’t been time for problems with the merc. It took him only another moment to spot the Bogrunner, cutting the strings on a belt pouch. Not an uncommon teaming.
“An’ I says you be Grenk, what owes me ten gold duckies. Now give em!”
“Get out of my face before I make you eat that dung sticker.”
Getting involved in the petty games like this one, were usually more of a hassle than any good he might bring. Still, this could quickly turn into a brawl that would remove any chance of a quiet night. John stepped toward the Bogrunner, letting the dirk slide down into his grasp. The mercenary’s insult was just now working its way into the thug’s brain.
“Dung sticker? I tell you this sword has a name! Choppy is gonna cut you in half.”
With a roar of rage the thug lunged across the table, sending the bowl of stew and mug flying into another man standing near. The merc’s sword came out in a flash, knocking the thug’s sword aside with ease. Even the Bogrunner was distracted enough by the burgeoning battle that he didn’t notice John behind him until the dirk pressed into his back. He was smart enough to take his hand off the other patron’s pouch.
By now the merc had the thug backed into a post at sword point, with the crowd closing in around them. Seeing his hopes of escape vanishing rapidly, the thug grabbed the lantern from the post to smash on the merc. Flaming oil splattered across him and the few people standing too close to dodge away. The thug ran through the door without a backward glance.
His departure sent a wave of people chasing after him, while others dumped ale on the flames. John glanced down to deal with the Bogrunner, only to find his dirk pointing to empty air. The small thief had slipped away in the confusion. With the flames drenched, and the thief gone, John returned to his waiting mug of ale. He had no sooner settled into the seat when the cry went up in the gruff voice of a Dwarf.
“It’s gone! Nobody move till we find it.”
For as short and stout as they were, the Dwarves could move surprisingly fast. The span of a few breaths had them shoving through the other patrons, menacing all with the heavy war hammers they favored. Broad heads that easily weighed a few stones tapered back to points that could shatter rock as readily as skulls. The leader grabbed the nearest man.
“You there, fat Human, let’s see what ya got in that pack.”
“It were that wench I tell ya, Ya saw how she craved that coin ya gave her. I told you it was fool to use them.”
“Yeah, you an’ wantin’ ta bed her did this.”
“Wait! It were there when the fire hit. That sell-sword went this way when the lantern broke.”
The three of them were surrounding the merc with hammers poised, when the guard bustled in the door. The son followed in behind, looking around at the new situation. The two guardsmen didn’t hesitate to place their swords between merc and Dwarves.
“What happened to that guy?”
“You mean that brute? He took off after trying to burn down the inn. Right now I got these rock bellies trying to ruin my dinner.”
“That filthy Human stole it.”
The barb hit home with the guard, and he turned on the Dwarf. “Watch who you’re calling filthy granite brain. We didn’t crawl out of some hole under a rock. One more word like that and I might just haul you off to the hole we got for troublemakers.”
“Try it and you’ll have a flat skull to match your brain.”
One of his fellows seemed to have a better feel for the situation, and urged the first Dwarf. “Easy Fen’ore, we need to find it. Can’t do that from the stockade.”
“Aye, You’re right Bas’dil, but that one has it I know.”
“I don’t have your, whatever it is. Might try looking at your ugly pal there. He never left the table.”
The third Dwarf spoke up. “How would ya know I was there?”
“Because you kicked me when I stumbled past to the bar.”
“That’s cause I didn’t want ya near it.”
A third man, wearing the town guard tunic with shoulder ribbon for Sergeant walked in the door. Immediately the first two straightened a bit taller. The older one spoke first.
“These here rock bellies claim they lost something. They trying to claim this guy took it too.”
“The proper term for them is Dwarf, and that one bears the crest of Deep Hammerfell.” Turning to the lead Dwarf he continued. “You, What are you laying claim to having been stolen.”
“A coffer about yea big.”
“What was in it?”
“A small trinket, nothing of great value.”
“Really? And how will I know if I see it?”
“How many Dwarven coffers ya think are runnin’ around this dirt scrabbling hovel? Ya find one and it’s got to be the right one.”
It took only a few words from the first guard to convince the merc that dumping his pack was the best way to prove himself innocent. It wasn’t hard to see that it contained only the normal assortment of traveling needs, and a couple of odd little items that bore no resemblance to a coffer.
Satisfied that the merc wasn’t their thief, the guards expanded the search to everyone else. John readily obliged them with the simple contents of his own pack. The only real difference between his and the mercenary’s pack was the thick journal he kept. It was filled with letters to his dear Velimina; letters that never left those pages. They even looked through the kitchen, drawing angry glares from the Dwarves as they stopped long enough to sample the roasting goat. The innkeeper was happy to feed them if it meant keeping the peace.
With the fruitless search ending, the patrons wandered off about their business. Nobody was upset with the outcome, except the Dwarves. They had no recourse other than to grab a small keg and retire upstairs to their room. At this point nothing escaped their angry complaints, from being charges for the keg to stairs built for Human sized legs.
Most of the patrons, being local town folk, decided it was time to head home. This left only a handful of travelers, including Dwarves, to sit around muttering about thick skulled Dwarves. John sat back down to find his stew had cooled enough to congeal. Goat was not his favorite, but owner's wife had made this stew taste better than any of the others he'd had. The down side of less glamorous places was that the menu was limited; what they had cooking was what was on the menu. Not that a menu even existed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

When the reviewers post critiques of my work it's so tempting to respond to them. Not to argue with what they say, but to clarify questions they have. In the end, it's probably best to let them find what answers they can from the writing itself. If I haven't given them the information already, then I need to look to myself to fix it I'm thrilled though, to find I've done well enough to have people following along for each segment I put up. I want to shout "I have readers!"
Here is fourth and final segment of chapter one. I'll continue on with another chapter.

She was so caught up in the excitement that she completely missed the first part of what Frastil was telling her. Luckily he repeated things he said enough so that she caught on to the whole idea. Two days off to pack and get ready for a trip. So, they already had a trip in mind to start off her service to the towers. A stray thought flashed through her head. ::: Wonder how hard this trip is going to be if it’s paying for those runes. :::
She hurried through the corridors that wound around the Air Tower. The open windows let in the late afternoon sun along with the summer breezes. Her elation barely dimmed with the emptiness off the halls. She really wanted to believe that they had all given up on waiting for the seven hours she’d been testing, but she knew that none of them would have come at all. What friends she had once associated with had been distant and cold since word had gotten out about her being the niece of the fire headmaster. Actually he was a somewhat distant second cousin or something, that hadn’t even known she was in the school for the first four years.
She recalled the day so vividly too. Working as a runner for the month her puff rune had cost. On one of the many errands they sent her, she ran full into Getty Longbow, from her home town. The mayor’s daughter was famous for gossiping, and that’s what she did, telling the Norand, Head of Fire Tower, that his cousin actually thought she could be a mage. Grand old Norand had thought he was being nice sending her a book as a gift, complete with a runner to tell her how thrilled he was to have family in the tower. Nothing spreads faster than gossip, especially about a fellow student.
Aeriona had confronted him to stop the rumors, to which he told her instructors to avoid any sign of favoritism. They had done just that too, piling a double load of assignments on her. All this did was to confirm that she was getting special treatment, and what few Friends she’d once had drifted away. Even Miniah, who knew the truth, found new friends to avoid getting caught in the drama. Frastil had been the one exception to any change in his behavior. He’d been pushing her hard the entire time.
Midway through her third year, before any of the stuff with her cousin, that She had finally had enough of Frastil’s overload of work. She knew that he was giving her more than most of the others in her class. After one class where she seemed to be the focus of all the questions, Aeriona confronted him with threats of her leaving. He merely smiled and changed her assignment.
It took six hours of study to figure out that he hadn’t given her an easier one, but one that was twice the headache. It had angered her enough to storm into his office and tell him that it was reasons like that assignment that were forcing her to quit. It angered her even more that her anger didn’t upset him. He sat there and calmly closed the book he’d been reading. He even had the nerve to tell her that her reasons were utter nonsense.
“All of the assignments I give you are well within your abilities. You may have to stretch a bit, but without stretching you’d never grow. Quit if you must, but don’t blame the assignments for your lack of will.”
“There’s not a single book in that library that talks about the third era of storms.”
“So, you thought you’d go back to your father’s estate and sit around making tapastries until some addled brained lad asked you to marry him?”
“I have no intention…”
“There are in fact seventeen such notations contained within the twenty-two thousand volumes. I’m sure with a little diligence you will find them. And since you’re headed back to the archives, would you mind returning this one?”
Aeriona snatched the book from his outstretched hand, and turned to storm back through the door. She was nearly down into the cavernous maze below the five towers before she even bothered to glance at the thick tome. The winds of Kotor: Birth of the third storm. With a scream that could be heard several chambers away, she ducked into one of the study alcoves. For the next four days it was only the kitchen staff that saw her running through to grab a bit of food. Spurred on by her anger that he had predicted her so well, she didn’t stop until she knew all of the book’s secrets. Within the week she had jumped ahead another class year. Her friends became even more distant.
Now, with the celebration looming, she needed to change. Her simple dress just wouldn’t do for making an impression on the master mages. She was deciding between her favorite white dress, and the more formal brown one, when she got back to the room. It was no surprise to find Carmelin with her nose buried in a book while quickly scribbling notes on a parchment when Aerionna entered the small dorm room they shared with a third student.
It was just as unsurprising to find that book to be Aeriona’s student spell book. She tried to be very casual, as she slid the tome under a disheveled stack of parchments on the tiny desk. Aerionna, for her part, pretended not to notice as she gathered the things she’d need for the evening. This wasn’t the first time Carmelin had copied from her. Aeriona pulled the white dress out, hoping that it wasn’t too late in the season for the flowery lace on the arms and neck.
As she sorted through the myriad novelties for the particular ones she needed, she cast a furtive glance at the hiding spot in her armoire. It still bore the same wards she’d placed on it. She had sacrificed an obvious hiding spot to keep this one safe. That was a trick John had taught her many years ago on their second excursion. She hid a tiny smile as she turned to the small jewelry box on her desk. Carmelin’s fidgeting behind her made the situation even more funny.
Carmelin’s grades hadn’t improved any after breaking into the simple lock of the desk drawer to copy her notes. Small wonder seeing as how that tome contained spell weaves copied from some of the worst student. Some of them might actually work, but others could do worse. Her real tome lay safely hidden behind wards too strong for Carmelin to get past. Part of her hoped she’d try. The simplest of them would take the girl another few years of study to even recognize its existence. On the slim chance she tried to force her way past the ward, she’d have half as many fingernails to paint.
She would have done better copying off Besselie, their other roommate. Besselie was slow and struggled with every lesson to the point where the girl would be lucky to reach senior journey mage in twenty years, but she was very studious and would remember every one of her hard won lessons.
Aeriona took the time to weave a few strings of beads into her braid, to compliment the crystal bracelets dangling at her wrists. They had been a gift from an artisan she had helped a few years earlier. He’d had to pay half his profits to the tower for a year, but it was well worth it for the work she’d done. His business was not only saved, it prospered.
The bracelets were his personal thanks to her. They were rose quartz that was partly carved and partly woven to form a pattern of dragonflies and lilies wrapping around her wrist. Hidden among the lilies was a tiny Shimmerwing. He had added that little touch to the work to make it personal to her. She must have talked endlessly to him as she crafted the charms and wards that had saved his home.
She picked up her small bag and headed out the door for an evening of feasting and celebration. The many-hours long test had drained a lot of her energy and she needed to eat…a lot. The celebration was for being one of the youngest Third-Masters in the history of the tower. Of the thirty-two others still living, all were at least a decade older than her. Most of them were more than three decades her senior. Of course there was Denf that had always been more than a hundred as far as anyone knew. A grimace twisted her face momentarily at the thought that her celebration was going to be rather quiet.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Comments from my readers have been a great help in shaping my writing. Recently I received a few questions about the magic in this story. I developed the magic system while writing Uiyah's Paw, and had to revise that many times. Magic is one of those elements in a story that must be concrete, consistent, and cohesive. I laid out the rules for who can use it, how it is used, and even the evolution of it. Then I went back through my story and verified that the things I'd already written conformed to this.
Magic is a gift that a few can use. Heredity plays a big part, but like eye color, strengths can change over generations, and even skip a few. At the time of Stones of Magic, Those few that can touch the magic flux of the world can shape it with runes. Abilities focus along one of the five known elements (Yes five), though overlap happens. Without the runes to shape it, magic can be wild and unpredictable. By channeling the flux through combinations of runes, each with a specific quality, different results can be achieved.
The runes themselves date from so far back that records of the origins have been lost (But I know). They are crafted from a metal called Ultrium. It's very rare, and only able to be mined by Dwarves. Held within the aura of a living body it can be as hard as diamonds, but as seen in last part, when removed from that aura it can shatter.
As I said earlier, magic evolved. This book will touch upon a magic that was lost. (Thank you Brian for forcing a discovery writer to actually make an outline.) When this happens, don't send me screaming mails about breaking my own rules. I covered the entire evolution of magic, with rules that cover all of it. Everything will follow those rules. It's my world map that I have to get straight.

So, another part. (This is rough draft writing)

Seven of the nineteen Master Mages were waiting in the planning room when she walked in. Frastil, who was like an uncle to her, was the first to greet her. He was already striding across the room as she stepped through the door. Aeriona silently vowed that one of these days she’d figure out how he always knew someone was coming.
“Good going. First, the congratulatory pomp, minus the two. You didn’t expect them anyway, now did you? I’d say they sent their best wishes, but you’d rightfully call me a liar.”
One by one the other six clasped her shoulders, and patter her back, while mumbling what could pass for words of cheer. She found herself back facing Frastil. His weathered face looked far older than the seventy years he claimed. His right hand was stretched out, palm up, while he held the shimmering sprite bubble. The very one she’d sent flinging toward the door. With her test over, Aeriona could see that it held a certain beauty in the silvery-blue maelstrom still swirling inside it.
He waited patiently as she dropped the remaining runes into his hand. At the last moment she remembered the one stuffed in her cheek, and blushed as she pulled it out. Frastil chuckled lightly while Aeriona dried it on the hem of her dress. She took one long last look before letting it join the others in his hand.
Frastil turned away, with his fingers closing over the precious metallic shapes, and motioned Jardine over. He stepped forth from the shadowy edge of the room that he preferred. None of the student had ever seen him without the goggles perched on his head, and clinking tool bag in hand. The wildest speculations placed him as a Shadow Walker, coming out at the Master Mages’ wishes. Aeriona’s personal favorite was that he was a magical construct. Whatever the truth, he was only seen at one time; rune placement.
His goggles gave him an insect-like appearance as he slowly traced delicate instruments along her arms searching for the perfect spot to place the rune Frastil had handed to him. The first runes were easy. Elemental mastery went on the left cheek, followed by other simple ones down the sides of the neck. As the runes became more complicated with each progression in ability, their placement relied more upon the energy flows within the mages body to get the best results. Jardine was a master rune crafter, and could find the ideal spot by feel. He still relied on his tools though as nobody wanted to risk losing a limb due to bad placement.
The stair rune found a home near the inside of her left elbow. She clenched her teeth as Jardine pulled out the tools to engrave it into her arm. Engraving doesn’t really describe the process even though that was the name used for it. Jardine opened a scratch on her arm in the exact shape of the rune and then basically melted it into the scratch. When he was finished with it, the area felt just like any other part of her arm. The crisp lines of the rune were clearly visible as if the skin had turned the shimmery blue color. It looked and felt as if it had always been there.
She held her arm up to stare at the tiny shape that was about to cost her so much. A year. Everyone knew the cost. She’d be nearly twenty before they released her contract. It would be worth it though.
Before Jardine could drop his tools back into the ancient bag he carried, Frastil tapped his shoulder. He gave Aeriona a wink as he dropped another shape into Jardine’s gnarled hand.
“You’ve earned this one as well; though the stone mages are going to have to work hard repairing the damage from it. And the good news is that it’ll only cost you three months.”
“But I’ve got the plans. John is getting, Ouch!”
“Total, not an extra three. Hold still or he might slip and engrave that on something more sensitive.”
Aeriona did her best to hold still while Jardine finished engraving the rune just below her belly button. It was an unbelievable stroke of fortune. Three months of work for such powerful runes as these two was well worth it. Her thoughts were rolling along trying to plan for the change of schedule, and hoping that there’d be a way to contact John about it. When last they had talked, he was going to get them passage on the Eastern Clipper for a week after her year was up.
The three months would go by in a blink. With luck the passage could be changed, and they could sail sooner. Would it be likely that Scirririn was still there? Thoughts of seeing her friend had been squashed under the certainty that in the year since her visit, and the year of contract, the Elf would be gone. Now the plans had changed and things were not so certain.

Scirririn had been there when she found the cave. In the many months since she’d been there she’d learned a lot of things. The long hours in the library had revealed a pattern that seemed to have been overlooked by everyone. It would be absolutely grand to share that adventure with her. Oh, and that other one would probably have to come too. The black Virag’Ikyuu with the golden eyes, like twin candles in the darkness.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I haven't even read over this, but thought I'd post it before putting it in as homework. Luckily I had a couple hours to do writing yesterday.

Chapter 1 Part 2

Frastil had told her that she possessed the answer within the runes engraved on her outstretched arms and and along the energy lines of her body. All she had to do was to find the right connection between them and this pitiful handful of new shapes.
Somewhere in the combination of runes engraved in her skin and the ones she held, lay her answer. She once again closed her eyes and let her spirit tickle the runes spread upon her palm. They all seemed to hum with the power touching them. So, they all had possibilities. This would take some time to sort through.
Aeriona swept her hand through the air in front of her in a gesture like unto that of wiping the rain from a window. A very fitting analogy too, for with a thought to nudge it in the right direction, the moisture froze in a highly polished film floating in the air. The impromptu mirror hovered right where her hand had brushed the air. It remained there as she admired the reflection it presented her.
The first was her symbol of air, the very first one she’d earned in her studies. The silverish lines of it seemed to waver across the top of her right cheek as a gentle breeze would ruffle the leaves of a mighty oak. It stood there as a symbol of her affinity to that element for all to see. But air without form could do very little. She would certainly need the air to do a great deal if she were to ever pass the master’s test he’d set for her.
His words rose unbidden in her memory. “You must hold two fingers on the orb for five minutes."
She reached through her spirit to pull up a bit of flux, and threaded it through her air rune. She almost lost the thread when another of the masters’ words from her first year, chided her for the way she mimed the moves with her hands. “It’s a mental exercise you daft girl! Just move the thread with your will, or should I send you to weave the tapestries instead?” Her thoughts laid the invisible thread along the edges of every rune engraved in her skin. The tip dangled free. Gripping it with her hand like a paint brush was unnecessary, but she could picture it better as she tickled the edge of the first rune cradled in her palm.
Immediately she felt the affinity between it and two of her own. A simple twist of the flux thread and she wrapped the three together. In her excitement at finding an answer so soon, her thoughts pulled up a sizable stream of flux, and let some of the power dive into the mixture. Almost instantly she realized her mistake as a glowing ball formed in front of her. She hadn’t looked to see which runes she’d mixed together with the new one.
The ball started crackling with power along its edges. A quick feel of the runes she’d used told her that she couldn’t simply just let it go. Slowing the magic power flowing into it to a mere trickle, she brought a couple more of her runes into use. This mixture gave the crackling ball a good shove across the chamber. She let go her hold on it when the ball had traveled halfway across the room.
The ball of lightning immediately let all the accumulated power out in a single flash. She felt the force pick her up and toss her like a rag doll. The thunder echoing in the chamber was all she heard as darkness swept over her thoughts.
When she woke the chamber was once again silent. All was the same except for the foot wide hole in the floor and the small bits of stone surrounding it. A glance upward showed the orb still holding its spot waiting for her to come touch it.
The runes were still clenched in her left hand that had instinctively closed when the lightning exploded. Gingerly she pulled out the rune that had been her fist try, popping it into her mouth to keep it safe and out of the way. That one had possibilities she dared not take the time to explore until this current task was well behind her.
The next rune in line looked a lot like one of her own that nestled behind and a bit below her left ear. That was one she used to help slow her falls. She needed to get up not down, this one would be useless. She passed over that one to look at the next rune in line. Its shape gave no clue to what it would do.
She focused her energies into it and felt of her own runes to find any that had a connection. It didn’t take very long before she felt it. With a mental twist she tied them and sent the energies through both of them. Instantly she had a clear picture as to its purpose, and knew that there would almost certainly never be a time it would be useful to her. All the breath left her body in whoosh that threatened to bring her insides with it. A trap! That had to be Heimer’s addition. He had a twisted outlook.
She released that spell weave and wove her watery-breath spell to bring air back to her screaming lungs. A second later she released that spell as well, since she wasn’t underwater. She struggled to steady her breathing again. This was a test that needed her full attention and her mind kept wandering on things that had nothing to do with where she currently was. She started her mental exercises again to steady her thoughts.
Aeriona was in the final stages of her third-masters test. Of course there would be traps waiting to snap at the careless wizard, or worse, the overconfident one. She knew that she bordered on the latter of those two.
Her feel for flux had become evident early, and her father had wasted no time in shipping her off to the tower. A pouch of gold, and several lies later she was admitted a full half year before the required tenth birthday. Her ability to touch the flux meant that she was in the upper ten percent that had a chance to become a mage; the rest went home within the first year, poorer and wiser.
Those rare few that had a touch of the blood in them, could feel the flux. Some more than others. Those few began the five year task of becoming a Journey Mage. Only a third survived to gain the talisman. Aeriona had done it in less than four. Here she stood, nine years after walking in that door.
A fifth year Journey Mage could find work in any town, which would keep him living comfortably. A tenth year Senior Journey Mage could find work with any city government, or in in the service of any ruler, living a pampered life. By the time a mage reached even the third-master level they could do whatever they wanted. They were the ones who were sought by kings, with promises of fabulous rewards. Her goal was higher yet.
A smile slowly crept across her lips as the solution formed in her thoughts. This rune woven with this, and this one would give her the boost she wanted. Sending the magical energies flowing through the combined runes brought a glassy looking bubble surrounding her. With another wave, gentle air currents nudged the bubble upward toward her prize. This wasn’t going to be as hard as…. Her bubble suddenly jerked sideways. Round and round the room it danced as random bursts of air hit it. None of them sent it anywhere near the orb she sought. She bit her lip to hold the string of expletives within. Frastil, the stodgy old carp. This had to be his little joke.
A quick flick of her right hand burst the bubble. At the same time she brought up the feather-falling runes to soften her landing. Aeriona was down to her last two rune choices. One, the falling rune, would be of no help. The other one she had pushed aside a few times already. Every time she’d tried to feel it, all it gave back was a sense of flatness. She needed up, not flat.
She should have known right away. It had kir’eff’s feel to it. If anyone could be said to be without humor, it would be that Elf. Aeriona sent the magic flowing through the combination of runes, wondering how the flatness was going to help. A nearly invisible shape came into being several inches off the floor. It was roughly rectangular and very flat. The oddest part was feeling the runes almost begging her to do it again. A second shape appeared several inches above and slightly to the side of the first. A third one popped up as she realized this was creating a stair leading upward. Part of the sixth year course was proving that you couldn’t have a free-floating platform of air, yet here it was.
It barely sank at all as she stepped on the first one. Stepping from the second to the third brought a fourth step into being as the first one faded into the air it was crafted from. Nearly up to the orb she felt the buffeting of air that had sent her bubble dancing around. Steadied as she was on the steps it merely played with the loose strands of her hair. Five minutes later she was standing in the outer chamber donning her dress.

I know that it's been a while since I last posted. Call it discouragement at posting to the void of silence. Call it distraction by the thousands of other things that occupy a person in daily life. Call it whatever. But I haven't given up writing.
News. I've completely gone through Ion 417: Raiju. Ion 417: Raiu, Nearing completion on Ion 417: Katana, keep adding a few lines to Rising Rhine occasionally. Set Uiyah's Paw aside until I could rework a couple characters in it. Now I decided to take a writing class based around Dragon's Rite book 2, Stones of Magic. I shredded the earlier stuff and started over. An idea from another author prompted me to post the progress in that. This way we can follow stories through that might be hard to find in the big pile of homework.



Given the proper touch and the right runes, anything is possible with magic.
...Gadriel Gilmesh...

A shiver passed through her as the icy draft swept across her bare back. The tingling ache stealing up her legs from the cold lifeless stones pressing into the soles of her feet brought her drifting thoughts back to the task at hand. A task she must face alone, and the sooner the better.
The stones were not so cold as to numb her feet. That would have been a kindness. Nae, the cold seeped into her feet to bring the jagged, tearing pain with each twitch of her muscles.
A quick glance up showed the orb had not budged from its place thirty feet above the center of the chamber floor. The glow from the orb lit the chamber as a moon would light a desert night, with the same cold light.
She knew that orb well, having gazed upon it so many times she could not count them all. This time, as always, it would neither help nor hinder, it was simply there; a silent observer. Her thoughts wandered down the path of how the orb had been created. She had learned its creation in her first half-year of study. What had taken weeks of hard study and dozens of attempts could now be done with a simple word.
Her toes cramped with the cold, tearing her thoughts from the orb. She muttered a curse so soft that even the breeze drifting over her cheek did not hear it. The curse would surely have scorched a few ears had they heard. It was concerning the need for her to be standing upon those stones with naught to shield the cold from her skin, not even the soft doeskin slippers she would wear on a mid-summer’s day. Not a trace of clothing, nor even the simplest ornaments of jewelry. Nothing extra could be brought to this task.
She had tied her waist length gossamer hair into a soft knot to try and keep it from her eyes. The task would take all her concentration to complete.
Some would call the orb her goal, for she had to reach it with her fingers, but she knew her goal was far more than that. Touching it was merely the task to reach the goal. Her goal was really the method she would have to create in order to reach the orb. She already knew two methods she could use to reach it, but both would fail for this task. She could almost see the strong currents flowing through the chamber over her head.
She took a deep breath and dropped her gaze to the only things she had brought with her into the chamber, the handful of small metallic shapes cupped in her left hand. Beautifully woven wire shapes that would have been impressive sitting amongst any jeweler's wares. They were the keys to unlocking her goal. All she had to do was figure out which of those nine shapes would work the way she wanted, nae, needed them to work.
Spreading the shapes across the palm of her left hand, she gently eased them to where a small space separated each of the shapes with her finger. Satisfied with the placement of each one she used her right hand to steady the left. She didn’t need her shaking legs to jiggle the shapes.
She closed her eyes and turned her attention inward, focusing on the rhythmic chant running through her head. This was the trick she used to keep her thoughts clear and shut out the distractions of the world. It was like closing her eyes to everything else and opening them into a world where only the shapes existed. Not even her body could be felt in that world
Slowly in her mind she built up the image of the chamber surrounding her. The image of her body in the middle of the chamber slowly formed. These images were mere sketches of the reality, holding little resemblance to what the eye would see. In a way that no artist could ever hope to portray in a painting, the myriad currents of the air took shape in this image. Any breezes strong enough to ruffle the down of a feather swept across the vision in brilliant slashes of color.
She let her thoughts spread and flow along the length of the drafts. She could almost feel them along the body of her thoughts in the way you’d feel the current of a river you swam in.
With her thoughts cleared of the cold, she channeled her spirit down the length of her arm and into the left palm. Once there she let it tickle the edges of the shapes arrayed on it. She knew better than to blindly grab at those shapes with her thoughts. The power they could channel needed a gentle touch to awaken without causing serious harm to herself or indeed the tower room she was in. The walls of this chamber had been rebuilt many times in its history, sometimes the student even survived such a mistake.
Waking the runes was like waking a barbarian. There are two ways to do it. If you dump a bucket of cold water on him you’d likely be dodging his sword before you could even drop the bucket. However if you held a loaf of fresh bread near his nose for the smell to awaken him, you’d be hearing his stories of conquests over breakfast. These runes could turn faster than any barbarian’s sword, and any mistake could be just as deadly.
Her spirit tickled the edges of the shapes, reveling in the feel. For most of them it was like she was caressing oiled lightning. For three of them it felt like running her hand along the edge of a broken crystal.
The crudeness of those three sent a shiver down her back that had nothing to do with the chill in the autumn air seeping through the cracks of the chamber. Their construction bordered on sheer and utter carelessness. Her thoughts shifted and swelled with a touch of anger. How dare they offer such worthless rubbish? There was absolutely no reason for them to waste her time with such as those. A first season apprentice would’ve been about the only one foolish enough to try using one of those. She pulled her thoughts back from the path of speculating on which of the nine had given her those runes.
She pulled her right hand from under her left. A quick flick of her finger sent the three runes tumbling from her palm. Strong as highly polished steel they looked, yet each of the three shattered into a fine powder where they struck the floor.
Crude as they were, each of those shapes had been worth a few months’ wages for most workmen. She had tossed them away, more to convey her ire at the insult those shapes represented than of their lack of value. It was like offering a flint axe to a well-known sculptor to carve with.
As angry as she was for the insult, she couldn’t bring herself to waste the precious shimmering blue metal. She quickly wove a simple air swirl to gather it, and then snapped a bubble around it. A wave of her hand sent it floating off in the direction of the single door in this chamber.

With her eyes still closed she cupped her right hand back under her left and took a deep breath to steady her wandering thoughts. This was no time to be letting her concentration wander recklessly. She had worked too hard to reach this spot and dare not let it be a waste. A failure here would cost a year; a price she was loathe to pay.

Chapter 1 continues.