Excerpt: Seclusion

She jolts awake. The nightmare, again. It haunts her, as it has every night for…how long has it been? Time has gotten away from her.

She rolls over on her back, staring at the root-canopy that forms this sizeable, yet well-concealed, den. It had been inhabited by a troll until recently; she had seen to its unceremonious eviction. Its pelt makes up the rough bed in which she was sleeping, while its decaying head rests on a boulder about five feet from the front entryway to the den. The presence and stench of it keeps away all intruders, including the nearby band of giants. They are only eight in number, so tending to their small herd of mammoths is of more importance than a dead troll. It is one less troll that will attempt to prey on the calves, and the smoke from their massive communal fire eliminates the stink of decaying flesh on days when the wind changes.

The nightmare is fading, but she can recall every detail. The dream is a memory of a real event, the details of which hammer at her brain like the siege machines hammer the walls of a fortress. She fully understands, now, why her father would sometimes wander the manor halls at night, long after the family had taken to bed. Two major events of his life still haunt him, many years later, although far less than they used to. She idly wonders how long the scene she witnessed would remain in her memory. She gags helplessly as those memories rush back, and claws her way out of the troll-skin bedroll towards the back of the den and the entryway to a short, rear tunnel. This tunnel is too small for the troll to have used; it had probably been created by the original resident of the den, as it leads to a small cave which opens on a ledge in a hillside. She staggers to a corner of the cave and doubles over, retching, but nothing comes up. Her stomach is empty. She hasn’t had any substantial meal for some time. The food-basket, tumbling from numb fingers…sweet cakes crumbling in the dirt…a carafe of wine shattering on stone…

She can’t stand her own cooking now, as the smell of food makes her nauseous beyond reason. Raw flesh is all that she can eat and hold down. What she craves and wants to consume sickens her. Stabling Sylph had become a necessity; even her own faithful steed was in danger from her appetites. She had to get away from the town and the people in it, for their protection as well as hers. Skulking through the woods…a campfire glinting between the trees…a young couple with their child, taking shelter for the night as they travel…their friendly invitation to join them for a meal…her maddening hunger at the scent of their vitality…the wife screaming as her husband was pinned to the ground, slavering teeth inches from his throat…rushing headlong through the forest, blinded by tears and tree-branches, frightened at the near-massacre…

“What’s happened to me?” she whispers to herself, doubled up in agony on the cave floor. The nausea passes. She gets to her feet, stumbles a bit, then steadies herself, swaying slightly. She needs to feed. The urge isn’t as strong this night as it has been, but it is always there, along with the distant siren song. It is very faint out here, making it easy to resist. She knows that her very being depends on resisting that call. If she succumbs to it…she shakes her head, negating the thought. That can’t happen. I won’t let it. I refuse! I shall resist…

She reels to the cave entrance and looks out, blinking in the bright moonlight. The giants are slumbering a fair distance away, with one standing watch, guarding the clan and the mammoth herd. She picks her way down from the ledge, making her way to the tree-line. The scent of a nearby herd of antelope makes her stomach knot with sudden hunger. She is torn by the desire to feed; the desire to answer that distant, deadly call, and the need to get a message to her family. Confusion roils in her mind…why is it so hard to think? The wild scent of the herd fills her nostrils. She surrenders to her hunger and crouches in the shadows, creeping as close as she dares.

A large buck, standing sentinel, whips his head around, startled by the distant howl of a wolf. The night had been almost eerily quiet, but now an answering howl, and then a third, floats on the air. The nervous herd mills about, then moves off towards the giant-camp. They have learned that relative shelter can be found amidst the mammoths; only the boldest and hungriest predators dare to attack the shaggy beasts.

She freezes amongst the shadows, not daring to follow the antelope herd. The giants will have heard the wolves as well, and might be more than ready to defend their camp. Her stomach knots with another sharp pang of hunger; her fevered brain reaches for a solution, and then it hits her: follow the pack. She had been successful with a past hunt when she had tracked a foraging band of goblins, following the wild boars for a full day after the goblins had captured three and returned to their rough camp. Following wolves would be fairly easy. Turning in the direction of their howling, she slips off into the night. She must feed…

Full Moon Friday: 5 Fun Facts!

It’s a Full Moon Friday, and I figured I’d do something fun: list five facts about myself, which some of you may or may not know about me. I’ve seen other bloggers do this as a regular feature; me, I’m a bit more private than most, so don’t feel the need to gush copiously like a New York City fire hydrant in July. Still, the ‘personal’ touch is a good thing – gives me something to write about while I research some topics for future posts. So, here we go!

1. I learned how to read at the age of two. By the time I was eight, I was reading – and comprehending – college-level literature, and my IQ tested at 126. It’s a bit higher, these days!
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2. I have a nice variety of house-plants and they are very happy, I must say! I like plants that aren’t high-maintenance…in other words, ones that are like me!
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3. I’m 5’11”.

4. I weigh 150#.

5. Five jobs that I’ve held in the past: Radio DJ, cocktail waitress, model, office administrative assistant…and dominatrix.
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Now that you’re thoroughly bored to tears, here are five songs by Faith No More…have an awesome Friday and weekend, all!

Excerpt: Decision Time

* AUTHOR’S NOTE: Another out-of-sequence excerpt from my fictional short-story…the editing is much more fun than the NaNoWriMo daily word-count grind was!

Sepultur’a walks across the cobbled bridge towards the tavern. It is still early enough that the marketplace is bustling with shoppers, so the tavern is virtually empty when she walks in. She was expected, though; Evesori is sitting at a table near the fireplace, along with the guild-leader and a young man who is deep in conversation with the guild-leader. Evesori is wearing tight breeches, thigh-high leather riding boots, and a corseted top with short, ruffled sleeves and a halter-styled, linen bodice with a lacy décolletage. As usual, her breasts seem to be in danger of over-spilling the low-cut top – Sepultur’a wonders if Evesori uses some sort of small magic spell to keep her clothes on. The guild-leader is wearing a black suit with a white shirt underneath. The shirt has a ruffled collar, fastened with a small ruby brooch. His face is uncovered and he sips a deep red wine from a golden goblet. His hair is brown and cut in a style that Sepultur’a associates with soldiers and the military. His face is thin and clean-shaven, with a mildly vulpine appearance, but he is not unattractive. His eyes are still intensely piercing, although a bit less so since his full countenance is finally visible. Sepultur’a figures that the cowl he was wearing when she first saw him simply made his gaze far more distinct than normal. She takes a relaxing breath, smiles, and approaches their table. A fourth chair stands empty, as if waiting for her. She walks a bit closer, then stands quietly and waits. The guild-leader is just finishing his conversation with the young man, who is wearing the rough sack-cloth garb of the village-folk. Sepultur’a notes the young man’s form as he stands, shaking hands with the guild-leader. This other recruit has the tall, muscular build of a wood-hewer, quite similar to Endymion’s.

“Well then, Theo – it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance! Welcome to our little family,” the guild-leader is saying as he shakes the young man’s hand. “Please be sure to visit the bank as soon as you can, and let the moneylender know that you have joined our ranks. They will provide you with a small sum of money from our coffers, as well as the tabard that you will be expected to wear at our formal gatherings. You will be notified beforehand which meetings are formal and which are not.” Theo grins and salutes smartly. “Aye, sir – hail and well met! ‘tis a right pleasure to have made your acquaintance. Me da’ will be happy to hear of this development. This oafish son of his will make him proud, yet!” The guild-leader sees Sepultur’a standing there and waves her closer. “Ah – here is another one. I hope that she brings good news, as well?” He gestures to the empty chair, bidding her to sit as he turns to Evesori. “Evie, my dear…would you kindly escort young Theo to the bank and assist him?” He drops a wink. “We wouldn’t want him to be wearing the wrong colours now, would we?” Evesori jumps up and links her arm with Theo’s, pressing close to him. Theo’s eyes widen at the generous view this provides, and grins a bit foolishly as she steers him to the door. “As you wish, milord,” she purrs as she leaves, dropping a similar wink at Sepultur’a as she passes.

Sepultur’a smiles, a bit hesitantly, then sits down in the chair indicated by the guild-leader. He sips his drink, then looks at her expectantly. “Well, seeing you return is most welcome. Please, don’t keep me in suspense – have you come to join our family?” He smiles in a friendly manner, eyes crinkling pleasantly at the corners. Sepultur’a smiles in return, choosing her words carefully. “Well, I had a couple of questions to ask of you, before I render my decision…if that is acceptable with you, that is?” She hesitates, then finishes: “I don’t mean any disrespect, nor am I trying to pry into affairs which are none of my business, but I need a few, minor things clarified.” She presses her hands together, almost in supplication, as she says this – it is something that she has done since she was a small child, and is an unconscious action on her part. He beams broadly, noting her gesture and chuckling to himself as he answers her aloud. “I would question your intellect if you didn’t have questions,” he replies easily. “People who ask questions tend to be smarter than most, and those who would join a group without question are those that don’t stay around long.” He takes another sip of his drink, savoring it. “Ask your questions, please,” he says, fixing his penetrating gaze on her. “I will answer them to the best of my ability.”

Sepultur’a takes a breath, clearing her thoughts, then presses forth. “Well, first of all – I have to ask, is your guild based here, in this town or this land? I have familial obligations back in my homeland, and wouldn’t be able to relocate here permanently.” She smiles almost apologetically. “Any guild that I join would have to allow me that freedom – I hope that is understandable.” He sips at his drink as she speaks, eyes half-closed as he listens. “That is an excellent question, and one that I don’t think anyone has posed to me before.” He opens his eyes, peering at her as if seeing her clearly for the first time. A gentler smile curves his thin lips. “Family ties and obligations are things that most people seem to run from – at least, in my experience.” He sets his drink down and leans back in his chair, crossing his arms. “You have nothing to fear, milady,” he states firmly. “If you already have a permanent home, then you will always be free to return to it whenever you need to. Just know that loyalty to your guild-family is expected – if any of your guild-brothers or -sisters are in need of your help, and your blood-family needs it not, then be prepared to defend the guild as you would your own kin.” He takes up his drink once more. “Of course, if your kin need you before we do, then there would be no question that you should return home and see to their health and well-being.” He smiles at her again, then sips from the cup. “Priorities must always be met,” he finishes.

Sepultur’a is pleased by this, and can barely contain her joy. Her head whirls; could it really be so easy? The other questions she had thought to be important seem to fade from her thoughts. She beams happily as she says, “Well, then; I confess that is the sole question of concern which needed to be asked. I must confess; If you had responded negatively, then I would have gracefully and respectfully declined your honourable invitation. As it stands, I see no reason why I shouldn’t accept, so…” she proffers her hand to shake his and solidify her acceptance. He looks at her hand, then sets his drink down and stands, staring at her with an inscrutable expression. He moves quickly to her side, kneeling and taking her hand in both of his, kissing it softly and lightly stroking her fingers with one of his. “You are no coarse lad, milady…a mere handshake isn’t sufficient for one of your grace, beauty, and gentle nature.” He gazes into her eyes with that same mysterious expression. “You are a lady of refinement who seeks to find herself. Our guild, our family, will help you.” He stands, gently guiding her to her feet as well, and bows low before her. “Welcome to our little family, milady. It is an honour to have you join us.” He releases her hand and bids her sit again, but it is she who bows low to him. “I thank you, many times over. This means a great deal to me,” she says. “However, I do have an obligation to fulfil on the morrow, and hope that it doesn’t interfere with any…family business. Guild-family, of course – not my blood-kin.” He smiles and reseats himself, gesturing for her to continue. She sits as well. “I have to enter a lair of spiders. It is far underground, just on the edge of the swamps of the lizard-folk to the far south.” She waits for a response. When he doesn’t speak, she presses on. “I had joined a guild of adventurers just yesterday; they extended their invitation before I met your…family, and didn’t expect that you would recruit me as well. There isn’t an issue with me belonging to another guild alongside of yours, is there?” Realizing that this is one of the other questions she had meant to ask, she looks at him, a worried expression crossing her face in spite of herself. He smiles reassuringly. “Not at all, milady, not at all…in fact, I might know of this spider-den that you mention. I just might have braved it myself, in the not-too-distant past, and…” he pulls a bit of folded parchment from a hidden pocket of his suit-jacket and sets it on the table. “…and, I just might have drawn a map of it so that I wouldn’t get lost in there, on the off-chance that I would have need to return to it.” His smile widens, exposing shockingly white teeth. “There are many fabled treasures there, ripe for the taking – and there is more than enough for any and all adventurers who brave its depths. If you need our help there, you have only to ask.” He takes up his cup again, draining the last bit of drink from it.

Sepultur’a sits quietly for a moment, not daring to speak. She can’t believe her good fortune – acceptance in not one, but two guilds! She now has the chance to prove herself to her family and make a name for herself. A chance to mold herself into the type of woman that would make Endymion proud. She smiles, her eyes shining softly in the light from the fireplace. “Thank you,” she says fervently. “I will do all that I can to do the family proud.” He looks at her, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “I have a question or two that I would ask of you,” he states, waving at the bartender and indicating that he would like two drinks to be served. Sepultur’a raises her eyebrows, surprised that he would be interested in anything about her. He leans forward in a conspiratorial manner. “I don’t know your name – and you haven’t asked mine. How did we manage to forget that little formality, I wonder?” His eyes bore into hers again. “I…I’m sorry – I didn’t even think to ask; I didn’t think that it was my place to do so,” she stammers, embarrassed at her lapse of courtesy. “Please forgive my forgetfulness!” She stands and bows low again, speaking as she does so. “I am called Sepultur’a by my family and friends,” she states. “How should I address you?” she inquires, not certain if calling him “milord” would be sufficient or even acceptable. Only Evesori appears to refer to him in that manner, from what Sepultur’a has observed thus far. He smiles at her, easing her worry. “Please – call me Draven. Lord Draven or Master Draven is acceptable during formal gatherings…but still a bit fussy for my tastes.” He shrugs, almost apologetically. “We aren’t stuck on many formalities, but some ceremonies and gatherings require it.” Sepultur’a sighs quietly and relaxes, glad that she didn’t offend him. The serving-girl comes over to the table, carrying a tray that bears two wine-glasses and an iridescent pitcher. She sets the glasses on the table, then pours a bit of mead into each glass, filling them halfway. She sets the pitcher on the table, then curtsies and leaves after accepting a bit of coin from Draven. Draven takes one of the glasses and offers it to Sepultur’a, who accepts it with a smile. He takes up the other and raises it to her, lightly touching the edge of his glass with her own. “A small toast to you, Sepultur’a – I say again, welcome!” He takes a small sip, and she does the same. The drink is a sweet mead that she doesn’t think that she’s tasted before, so she sips again, letting the flavor run across her tongue. He watches her intently as she does this, a mysterious smile playing across his lips.

Another question pops into her head, and she is asking it before she has time to think about it. “Speaking of ceremonies – is there some formal ceremony that takes place for those of us who are new recruits? I’ve always wondered what a guild initiation is like.” He smiles at her eagerness. “Indeed, there is,” he says, draining his glass and then refilling it, and pouring a bit more into Sepultur’a’s glass as well. Taking up the glass again, he swirls the mead slightly, then sips again. “But, that won’t take place for another two weeks. You will get a formal invitation within the next few days, and Evesori or another member of the family will assist you with procuring a tabard – but it is late, so that can wait. In fact,” he continues, “You can get a tabard after you receive your formal invitation. Since you have an underground adventure ahead of you, we might as well wait and see if you are successful with it first!” He toasts her again, fixing her with another direct stare. “I’m certain that you will have no troubles, though…” he trails off, his eyes scanning her face. “You seem to be a lady who can handle herself quite capably.” He looks down into his glass. “I haven’t encountered a personality as quietly formidable as yours for quite some time,” he muses, more to himself than aloud.

A few hours later, Draven gallantly escorts a very tipsy Sepultur’a back to Ingvar’s inn. Evesori watches him with narrowed eyes as he leaves the tavern with the new recruit. Her annoyance is palpable, even though she says nothing aloud to the others at her table. She merely scowls momentarily, drains her mug of ale and calls for another, then leans up against Theo and strokes his burly chest, nestling her head against his shoulder. Theo is halfway to drunk himself, but not blindly so. He stares down Evesori’s gaping blouse, enjoying the generous view she is providing him. That view is apparent to anyone and everyone who walks past their table, but Theo doesn’t give two shits about it. He is happy to have her hanging on him while the guild-master tends to the other new recruit…

Excerpt: The Entertainer

*** Author’s Note: These excerpts aren’t in chronological order, in case you’re trying to follow the story-line…I’m just posting some of the revisions I’ve made since NaNoWriMo ended! It helps me with the editing.

Sepultur’a sits at a small vanity, holding a mudcrab-shell powder-case, eyeing her reflection in the tiny mirror. She touches the puff to her nose and cheeks, delicately removing any gleam of sweat or oil. Her eyes are accented by black liner, while her lips look full and pouting with a glistening rouge applied to them. A beaten-silver collar adorns her neck, matching the tiara that holds back her hair from her face. She is clad in a harem-outfit of diaphanous, iridescent material; the hue mimics the shifting colours on the wings of a butterfly she had seen in the manor garden at home.

Cuffs of silver clasp her biceps and wrists, and belled anklets adorn her slender ankles. Bangles and baubles accentuate the slim girdle encasing her waist, and matching beads have been threaded intricately throughout her braided hair, cleverly attaching to the tiara and weaving a gleaming pattern that is caught by the firelight.

Taking a final, appraising look at her appearance, she closes the powder-case and sets it aside. She stands gracefully and stretches, loosening her muscles and relieving any final tension. This will be her first performance, and she is incredibly nervous. She won’t be performing solo, over which she feels great relief, but the attending crowd will be larger than any she has seen to date. The crowd will mainly consist of soldiers, as well: most of whom are battle-hardened, grown men.

She wanders to the privacy curtain and peeks out at the stage and the gathering people milling about beyond. Onstage, a jester in a jaunty hat and a brightly-coloured outfit is juggling knives. Out in the audience, two serving-girls make their way through the throng and top off empty tankards with sweet mead or foamy ale wherever needed.

She backs away from the curtain and moves to a small table lined with snacks for the performers. A stout keg rests next to the table – they have been given excellent refreshments, here; the soldiers have spared no expense for this night of respite. Succulent cuts of meat, fresh bread, aged cheeses, and ripe local fruits have been served. The keg is filled with the best mead in the lands, shipped directly from the brewer’s private stock. It has been fermenting slowly for ten years, she’d heard from a couple of the women who had been chatting in the dressing-area, and is rumored to be of fine vintage. The keg will be tapped at the culmination of the performance, and the entertainers will mingle with the audience and serve them the heady brew.

Sepultur’a nibbles on a bit of bread with a slice of meat and cheese folded on top, snacking to ease her anxiety. She tries not to overthink the moves of the sword-dance she will be performing – instead, she visualizes the motions in her mind, feeling her innate fire blossoming in her core. She can conjure flames at will, having learned how to control her inborn gift – and this fire enhances her dancing performance, earning her this place of honour at the center of the stage on this night.

The other performers begin stretching, going through their warm-up exercises as well, and Sepultur’a watches them with a smile, enjoying the camaraderie and easy-going atmosphere of her fellow caravaneers. There is Rocklin, the Nord strong-man, who conjures great balls of stone and hurls them to incredible distances. Shimmer-Scales, the lizard-man sorcerer, who does a fantastic lightning show which has a notable finale: the calling forth of a storm-golem. Tsuri-daro, a lithe cat-woman who is a fantastic contortionist: she bends her supple body into the most unbelievable postures, doing cart-wheels and back-flips, delighting and amazing even the most sour-faced observer.

Last but not least, is Sepultur’a’s tutor: the fire-breathing sword-dancer known only by her stage-name: Flame-Heart. She is a dark elf with a trim, muscular figure, skin the hue of the midnight sky, and blazing red eyes and hair to match. She wears a bra-top and tiny skirt of fine chain, exposing an intricately-designed, full-body tattoo which scrolls and spirals from her neck to her ankles – only her face, hands, and feet are bare of the adorning ink. Her hair is pulled up into a tight, severe ponytail that is wrapped and secured with leather laces. The loose hair of the ponytail flutters about as she goes through her pre-performance exercises. She sees Sepultur’a eating, smiles, and walks over to her protégé and enfolds her in a warm embrace. “Are you ready for this, dear?” She enquires, taking up a slice of meat and nibbling it delicately. “I think that you will do splendidly. Just remember what I said – don’t overthink things. Just move with the music and concentrate on your inner fire, and all will be well.” She smiles encouragingly, nodding at her own words.

Sepultur’a looks down at the filmy material she’s wearing. “I hope that I don’t burn my clothing off!” she laughs. Flame-Heart joins her with her own throaty laughter. She hugs Sepultur’a once more for luck, then meanders off. Flame-Heart always does the finale; her mastery of fire is well-known throughout the land, and she draws a great crowd even in the smallest communities. She never stays with any one caravan for long, nor does she have to – she travels until she runs into a caravan that is heading in whichever direction her heart and whims desire – then she will be off with them; perhaps only for a day or so, perhaps a week, and sometimes two or three months pass by before she is off again.

Sepultur’a checks her reflection in the mirror once more, affixing the veil over her face that completes her costume, then prepares to take the stage. As always, she hopes that there will be at least once man in the audience who reminds her of Endymion. Her performances are much better when she imagines him at the front of the crowd; with a crowd of tall, burly soldiers present, the odds are that much greater. The drums begin their steady beat, and she hears the caravan-master’s loud voice announcing her. Swaying her hips, she sidles through the gap in the curtain, undulating sensually forward. She scans the crowd through slitted eyes as she turns and bends. There – she sees an older man with wild, white hair and war-paint on half of his face. He is standing off to the side, holding a large tankard of ale. His intense blue eyes remind her of Endymion’s, and his tall, sturdy frame is massive in spite of his apparent age. He looks her over appreciatively and moves closer to the stage. He doesn’t move to sit. His armour is a shade of black that she has never seen before, and is a mixture of intricate leatherwork, chain-mail, and tooled plate. His legs are clad in tight leather and fastened with cunning bits of silver. The sleeves of his chain-and-leather jack are short, showing off well-muscled, tattooed arms. More than a few scars are evident on his biceps and forearms.

Sepultur’a smiles under her veil and sways closer. If all goes well, she might earn more coin than usual this evening…his interest is apparent. She is secretly glad that Flame-Heart is the final performer. This man might be here to see Flame-Heart, after all, and any coin that he tips to Sepultur’a will be hard-earned. She hopes that he likes her performance well enough to spend more of his coin on. She relaxes, smiles and breathes a deep calming breath, and allows some of her inner flame to come forth. A ball of fire puffs from her nostrils and floats about her twirling form, orbiting slowly but not so close that her clothes smolder as they did the first few times she’d attempted the trick.

She dances away from the large man, giving her attention to the rest of the crowd, doing a series of back-flips across the stage. The drums keep a steady rhythm for her hips to bounce and roll to; she extends her arms above her head, laces her fingers, and undulates to furious applause and stamping feet. She spins slowly back towards the man with war-paint on his face, sinking to the floor of the stage and writhing sensually, moving her body as she imagines Endymion before her, enraptured and captivated. She conjures a whip of flame and flicks it out, taking the man’s empty tankard from his hands and sending it sailing expertly into the waiting hands of the keg-tender. He fills it and takes it over to the large man, handing it to him with a low bow. “Compliments of the young lady,” says the keg-tender as he returns to his post. The large man looks even more impressed and raises the tankard to Sepultur’a in a toast before taking a healthy swig. He drops her a sly wink – he is very much intrigued by this sultry dancer. His eyes follow her as she completes her performance and skips off the stage. He wants to know who she is…

ESO Fan Fiction: Search For the Sky-Crystals – Part I

Here’s a bit of my fan-fiction, originally posted in 2015. Chronologically, it takes place after the events I’m writing about in my NaNoWriMo short-story.
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Random Ramblings; Myriad Musings

Tur’a wakes in the Warrior’s Rest Tavern, yawning and stretching in her bedroll. She has returned to Cyrodiil at the behest of her sister, who left a cryptic message before leaving to roam the desert sands with Dar. The message simply reads: “Remember the Chalamo.” Tur’a is still unfamiliar with the war-torn land, having only recently completing basic training there. She has used the siege machinery at the practice field, but that is a far cry from using them in the heat of battle. Rubbing her eyes, she sits up near the fire-pit. She is clad in a simple tunic and breeches; modesty and practicality dictate sleeping in light clothing, at the very least. She rummages through her bag for a quick meal – she has been cooking more and more for herself, finding hearty soups and stews more to her liking than the sugary-sweet fare her sister used to…

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Excerpt: A New Craft

* Author’s Note: This excerpt is also a change in POV, to introduce depth to some of the characters that are of importance in the tale.

Endymion wipes his sweating brow, rolls his shoulders and cracks his neck, then returns his focus to the delicate scroll-work that he is carving on a bit of wood. He has been working on the piece in his spare time, which has been very little as of late. He had finally completed his apprenticeship with the smith, but found himself dissatisfied with his metal-work. He wanted to master a craft, but the work of a smithy wasn’t his forte. Unbeknownst to him, a good turn of fortune was about to take place in the form of an unexpected visit from Sepultur’a’s father.

Lord Yazim had noted his youngest daughter’s interest in the young man, seeing their obvious affection towards each other on the day of her departure. He wondered if the lad had aspirations of his own, or if he was merely hoping to marry into money. To satisfy his curiosity, he was hoping to speak with Endymion informally and offer him an apprenticeship. On a mild morning, about three months after Sepultur’a’s departure, he dressed in his most casual clothing and set off to the smith’s workshop. As he walks, a plan forms in his mind: a means of offering Endymion the apprenticeship without the lad knowing that he, Yazim, was responsible for it. Sometimes, subterfuge was a necessary means of gathering important information.

Bulgor gro-Kazhgur, the orc blacksmith, greets Yazim warmly, clasping his wrist in the warrior’s grip. “Hail, Lord Yazim! What can a lowly smith such as myself do for you this fine morn? Are ye in need of a new cuirass or pauldrons for the New Life Festival parade?” Yazim laughs heartily, clapping the orc’s solid shoulder. “Nay, good smith; I appreciate your offer, but my parade-garb is in fine shape, thanks to your craftsmanship. And you aren’t lowly, by any means! Your arms and armour sets are known far and wide, and your business is thriving. You have turned out many fine apprentices, and they have taken the knowledge and skills which you taught them back to their homelands. And, the work that you have done for my family and myself has always been exemplary. If there haven’t been books written about your prowess with metal-shaping, then there should be!” Bulgor smiles; on his scarred, tusked face it looks more like a pleasant grimace, but his appreciation of the compliment is apparent. He scratches his bald head. “Well, not all of my apprentices take what I teach them back to their homelands. Once in a while, I run across one who is…not necessarily unteachable, but their talents seem to be wasted under my tutelage.” He crosses his massive, muscular arms across his burly chest. “I currently have a young protégé who isn’t quite as adept as he, or I, had hoped that he’d be. Oh, he’s fair enough with a hammer and tongs, but I just don’t think that metal-crafting is what he should be doing. I think that he has finally, grudgingly, acknowledged it as well.” Yazim nods in understanding. “I think that I might know of whom you speak,” he says, looking around, making certain that the topic of their conversation isn’t in earshot. Seeing that Endymion is deeply engrossed in his project a good distance away, he turns back to Bulgor and continues. “In fact, I had a proposition for you which might be of benefit to all three of us.” Bulgor sets down his hammer, splashes water on his face from a bucket, and wipes his hands on the thick apron that covers his work-clothes. “Let us move away from the heat of the forge, then,” he rumbles. “I think that it is time for a break.” He and Yazim walk to a small, open balcony that overlooks the harbor, then stand side-by-side as they gaze out, taking in the view. The sun is still climbing in the sky, and a gentle breeze is blowing – the mild salt-scent is pleasant and refreshing after the heat from the forge. Gulls circle the fishing-boats and squabble over scraps as the boats return from their early-morning fishing excursions. Bulgor takes a dipper from a bucket of water and drinks deeply, quenching his thirst.

“So,” Yazim begins, “your young apprentice, the Nord lad – he isn’t adept with metal-work?” Bulgor nods in assent, sighing in slight disappointment. “He is a good-hearted and earnest lad, and doesn’t want to admit defeat, but…he simply doesn’t have the aptitude for smithing. I’ve tried to teach him even the simplest things; he does his best, but I can’t say that I’d trust the armour that he’s crafted. He can make daggers well enough, and if you need eating utensils, he’s your man. But, a good smith makes their living with arms and armour.” Bulgor shrugs. “I just don’t think that he’s cut out for forge-work, and I think that he realizes it as well. He is too proud to say so, however – typical of youth.” Yazim smiles at the statement, understanding it all too well. The impetuosity and pride of youth had gotten him into, and out of, many scrapes over his long life. “So, tell me,” Yazim asks, “do you think that he has any skills? Speak true, please. What we discuss here will not be used against anyone, nor will it be fodder for cheap gossip.” Yazim turns to Bulgor, watching the orc’s expressions as he answers in order to properly assess his reply.

Bulgor thinks for a moment before responding. “Well, he seems to have more than a fair aptitude for carving. The designs that I’ve seen him work in wood and bone are beyond compare. The carvings that he does in his idle time rival those of the finest wood-workers in the land.” He chuckles again. “The dark elves to the far east, and the cat-folk from the great deserts in the south and east would be envious of his skill. He is a natural.” Yazim’s brow furrows somewhat. “Why, then, did he not apprentice to a wood-hewer, I wonder?” Bulgor shrugs again. “I know not, milord Yazim. He was brought to me as a callow youth of fifteen years, and I was told to employ him for five years. Whether he learned anything of value or not seemed not to matter to the one who hired him to me. It’s almost as if a debt of some sort needed to be paid, and the lad was used to do so.” Yazim’s face turns thunderous at this. “What sort of person would use a child to pay off their debts? Such an action is most foul! He is certainly fortunate to have you as the one to employ him. Others might not have been as kind as you have been.” Bulgor nods. “Aye. We both know of people who traffic children as slaves for all sorts of purposes. He certainly could have ended up with a far worse task-master than I.” He leans on the rail of the balcony, gazing out over the harbor. “I know what it’s like to be more of a slave than an apprentice,” he finishes, his gruff voice surprisingly soft as he speaks those words.

Yazim nods, also leaning on the balcony rail and looking down at his small fleet of ships. There are four in total, but a fifth one is in the process of being built. The bare skeleton of the newest ship is being formed on the dry-dock: the keel, ribs, and lowest deck are clearly visible. It is yet unnamed, as Sepultur’a will be the one to name it before she takes it out on its maiden voyage. It is her ship, and it will be completed when she returns from her adventures. He thinks for a moment, then chooses his words carefully before speaking again. “So, you say that the lad is adept with carving? I wonder if his aptitude lends more to wood-shaping instead of metal-forging?” Yazim lets the question hang there, waiting for the orc to answer. He sees Bulgor’s scarred face brighten as the suggestion takes hold. “You could be on to something there, Lord Yazim. Metal-working isn’t the only noble profession, after all. I’ve always been quietly envious of those who carve the intricate designs in wood, bone, and stone. The staves of wizards and mages are certainly just as potent in battle as any sword or mace!” He turns to face the merchant-lord, grimacing a huge, tusked smile. “Do you think that the lad would be willing to be an apprentice for another five years?” he inquires. Yazim grins back broadly. “Well, if he is as talented as you say, then he might only need to stay on for one more year. – If he meets or exceeds my expectations, he would still get paid the full sum of a highly-skilled, five-year apprentice!” Bulgor roars out a laugh of approval, slapping his solid thigh with a meaty hand, then proffers his hand to Yazim, clasping it to seal their contract.

Young Endymion will move to the wood-carvers’ quarters, and begin his apprenticeship with them before the week is out. Yazim looks forward to seeing how the young man responds to this unexpected change of fortune. He also wants to observe him quietly and discreetly, as he had only recently been made aware of Sepultur’a’s interest in the young man. Anyone who wants to court his youngest child has to pass his muster, first. Honor, intellect, and a strong work ethic are important virtues to Yazim. He was taught them by his own father, and they had served him well during his life. He hopes that both of his daughters find worthy men. Ildris has not indicated to him or his wife if she is seeking anyone for companionship, as her excursions to and from the war-front keep her well involved in battles. His son needed no permission from him to marry, as it was customary for the family of a potential bride to vet any and all suitors. Sonja’s family had found his son more than a worthy prospect for their only child, and had been overjoyed when he asked for her to be his wife. Yazim hopes that Endymion never dulls the glow of joy he’d seen on Sepultur’a’s face. His expression hardens a bit at that thought; he knows that some men do nothing more than use women and toss them aside, and does not want to see that happen to his youngest. Indeed, any man who brings tears to the eyes of any of the women-folk in his life would pay dearly for that insult and transgression.

Bulgor sees the hard look on the merchant-lord’s face, and is glad that it is not directed at him. He would rather face the rage of all of his kinfolk at the stronghold where he’d grown up, or the lash of the whip of his former master, than bear the brunt of Yazim’s anger and vengeance. Yazim’s reputation, for good or ill, was well-known. Those who were ignorant of it never forgot it…if they happened to survive it, that is. Lord Yazim was not one to cross, and any slights to his family’s honor or name were never forgotten.

The two leave the balcony, exchanging mild pleasantries as they return to the forge. After a few more minutes of talk that menfolk discuss away from women, Yazim finally bids Bulgor farewell, letting him know that the arrangements would be made as soon as possible. He leaves the orc to his work, making his way back to the manor. He decides to walk through the family gardens on the way, as the jasmine is blooming. He enjoys the sweet fragrance of the pale flowers, and hopes to find a unique bloom that he can show to his wife when they take their evening stroll.

Excerpt: Journal Entry

* Author’s Note: I tend to change up the POV in my fiction from time to time. It is a writing technique that I like, and can appreciate the merits of.

(Looking for other excerpts? The prologue can be found here; another one, Day of Departure, can be found here.)

Journal Entry: 17 Sun’s Dusk, 2E 582

I have decided to pen about some of the people and places that I encounter on my journeys, making it easier to tell of them in my letters home – if I don’t note things daily, if not hourly, I might forget important details. There has been so much happening lately, my poor head is awhirl! Jotting things down will help clear it, I think.

I have been invited to join two different guilds in the past two days, which was a bit of a surprise! I had always heard that it was difficult, at best, to get an invitation to any guild, and finding ones that are worth joining is an ordeal in and of itself.
One guild is loosely-based, with members of it scattered far and wide. They are adventurers and explorers, mainly. They roam the land seeking new places to discover and explore, monstrous creatures to battle, and the forgotten cities of ancient civilizations, whether they are above or below the earth. The task that they gave me to do involves braving an underground den of spiders, which I have yet to complete. The arachnids are among the most deadly in existence, bearing venom for which there is no cure – one bite will certainly doom an unfortunate soul. I am to slaughter the largest spider that I can find, and bring back one of its legs and mandibles as proof – and, I must sing the tale of the battle! I had great trepidation about this adventure, at first, but the second guild that has invited me to join their ranks has renewed my confidence and given me hope. They approached me while I was dining at the tavern the other night; they were having a loud party of celebration and saw me talking with the adventurers, and sat with me for a time before leaving.

They are a relatively small, but seemingly close-knit group, consisting of nearly all of the races of the land. If I were to join, I would be the only one representing my homelands, at least for the moment. There are few of my countrymen here, which leaves me yearning for the sights, sounds, and smells of home more often than I care to admit to myself. A brew which is highly sought-after by my people is kept in stock at the tavern – the taste of it overwhelmed me with loneliness. These cold winds blowing from the nearby mountains would chill me to the bone, if Ingvar hadn’t told me the proper attire to wear. The clothing from my homeland is sometimes suitable during the day, when the sun warms the air, but when the sun goes down, the temperature drops considerably during this time of the year. At least I’m not in the frigid city far to the north of this pleasant one on the lake; it is ice-bound for these next four months, and heavy snow-storms make travel there virtually impossible. I left that region just in time!

I digress – this is how scattered and fragmented my thoughts are, recently. Whenever I try to think of the smaller guild and the people who are members, my mind seems to drift off to common, mundane thoughts and affairs. As I was mentioning, they represent nearly all of the races of the lands, but seem to mainly be the dark elves – their kind seems to be quite prolific, like the cockroaches some of them remind me of. I’m not trying to be cruel or hateful, but the dark elves, especially the women, fill me with slight loathing and I can’t figure out why. They seem polite enough, but some of them have eyes like spiders – black, glittering, and soulless. The armour that they sometimes wear adds to, and enhances, that insect-like appearance.

The leader of the guild is a mystery – I have yet to learn what his name is. He is tall and lean of build; always clad in dark leather clothing, face shrouded by a cowl day or night. I have never seen him remove it yet, even indoors, so his racial background is also unknown to me, as of yet. His eyes burn with an intensity that I don’t believe that I’ve seen or experienced before. It is terrifying, in a way that I can’t describe, yet mildly intriguing. I find myself wanting to tell him everything about myself when I am in the same room with him, and it is all that I can do to bite my tongue and remain silent. I think the thing that helps me hold my thoughts is his constant companion and possible consort, Evesori. She is a dark elf by appearance, but is quite pale for her kind. Her eyes watch everyone, staring with a hunger that reminds me of a starving lion. The clothes that she wears – or rather, doesn’t wear – would make even the most common courtesan blush with shame. Her tops are always tight, low-cut, and midriff-baring. Her breeches are thin and clingy, leaving nothing to the imagination. For all that she exposes, she might as well be wearing nothing at all.

There is another woman – well, a girl, really – who also seems to be at his side when Evesori is not. Her name is Wrenna, and she is a sylvan elf who works at the tavern. She is always clad in the common clothing of a servant, but isn’t unattractive. Wrenna seems less intimate with him than Evesori, as she speaks politely to him with words of respect, but I can’t help but think that I noticed him embracing her tightly in the stairwell the other night, before he and his little party left. I’m probably imagining things, and why their personal business would be of any concern to me strikes me odd, yet here I am penning down these idle side-thoughts. I suppose that I’m still indecisive, and looking for reasons to delay this important decision-making. I suppose that I wouldn’t want to be in a group that engages in clandestine, low-brow activities, as it wouldn’t do any good to associate with coarse people. They seem nice enough, yet something nags my mind about them…something beyond the concerns I’ve already written about.

At any rate, I have been given a few days to decide whether to join them or not. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea, especially given the task that lies before me. Their numbers might help me in defeating the spider-queen. Who knows? Perhaps they would have information about a few of the other places that I might be tasked to explore, and might be willing to help me if I join.

The oil is burning low, so I’m going to close this journal for now. I shall write more tomorrow after I’ve made my decisions. Sleep beckons…I hope to dance with Endymion in my dreams.

Excerpt: Guild Invitation

*Author’s Note: This chapter was a fairly long one, so I shortened it slightly for this post.

Sepultur’a steps out from the banking-house, stretching. Her errands are finally complete, and all necessary transactions have been made. She has deposited a tidy sum of coin to her account after trading some fine furs and skins to the leather-worker, and then made a trade with the smith. He has offered to craft her the new pieces of armour that she needs, in direct exchange for the old pieces she wore. Since the craftsmanship of her worn-out armour was exceptional, he also offered her an extra bit of gold so that he could study the work. He hopes to re-use some of the materials, if any, that he is able to extract from the set.

Dusk is approaching, and the local lamp-lighter makes his way slowly through the streets, performing his evening duties. He will make these rounds again after sunrise in order to extinguish the flames, trim the wicks, and polish the glass and brass housings. He is an elderly dark elf with a slightly hunched back, but has a more cheerful appearance in comparison with the standard dour expressions of his people. He nods at Sepultur’a as she passes, and she tosses him a cheerful wave as she makes her way to the tavern. She desires a drink that is a bit stronger than what Ingvar offers at the inn. There is no need for her to wake early, so sleep is far from her mind. She ascends the wooden steps of the tavern, noting the outdoor seating on the wide, spacious deck. Like Ingvar’s place, there is a balcony providing cover for this deck, but it is much larger and has its own roof offering shelter from the elements for patrons. Unlike the inn, however, the deck is only as wide as the building. The deck of Ingvar’s inn wraps completely around the building, with chairs and small tables placed here and there for quiet sitting and viewing the local scenery.

The tavern looks to be very busy already, as voices and laugher ring loudly and clearly from the balcony. Patrons are sitting and standing around on the deck, many chatting casually with one another. Sepultur’a sees a couple of the market-place stall-workers, relaxing after a long day’s business. Smiling, she opens the stout oaken door. A boisterous noise greets her, as the door’s thickness muffled the din inside. She sees a large fireplace ahead of her on the far wall, in the traditional style and build of the Nord peoples. The tavern actually has an entry-hall of sorts, with a burly man standing near the door to keep order. The rowdiest and most unruly customers will get a not-so-polite escort out of the door by this man. He has short, blonde hair, a neat mustache, and a scruff of beard. She nods at him in polite acknowledgement and makes her way into the main room of the tavern.

The room is large and open, with a counter on either side. The counter to her left is similar to where Ingvar stands at the inn, with a room behind it, just under the stairwell. A lizard-man tends to the drinking patrons here. A Breton bard is playing a flute near the fireplace, while two cat-people dance with each other. Another counter takes up half the space of the right side of the room, where a Nord woman takes orders for food. A cauldron of stew stays warm by the fireplace, and a huge haunch of meat roasts on a spit. The aroma is beyond delicious – Sepultura’s mouth waters. There are three large tables, evenly spaced around the room; two stools are at the food-counter, and none at the drinking counter. Feet clomp about upstairs, and a woman screams laughter which is punctuated by the crash of cutlery. The burly man at the door sighs quietly and makes his way up the stairs, cracking his knuckles and rolling his shoulders in preparation for any trouble that might arise. The dock-workers, sailors, and mercenaries tend to drink the most, talk the loudest, and let their fists fly most often.

Sepultur’a goes over to the woman at the food-counter, first – she wants to get some food before drinking, and the roasting meat is impossible to ignore. The older woman’s hair is blonde at the top, fading to iron-gray at her temples, and is pulled back from her florid face in a severe ponytail. Sweat beads her forehead and adds a shine to her full, rosy cheeks. Her face is surprisingly smooth for her age, and her figure is plump and stout – she solidly fills out the long work-dress she wears. She wipes her hands on a rag as Sepultur’a approaches, offering a wide, warm smile. “Hullo there, lass! What might I be gettin’ fer ye this evening?” she asks in a loud, hearty voice that carries into the room. Sepultur’a would not be surprised if the patrons above could hear this woman’s voice, even over their raucous laughter. She grins at the woman as she replies. “Well, that stew in the cauldron looks like it could feed an army, and I’m but a mere slip of a girl. The roast, though, is something that I could sink my teeth into! It’s mammoth haunch, is it not?” The cook’s eyes widen in surprise. “You know your meats, girl! I’m impressed – there aren’t many who can tell the type and cut of meat, simply from the smell of it!” She laughs, doubling over with mirth, then fixes a direct gaze on Sepultur’a, appraising her with quick, darting glances. Sepultur’a feels as though her very soul has been peered at and analysed. The woman leans a meaty arm on the counter, looking Sepultur’a up and down, then says, “You look hungry, so I’ll make you a deal. One thick slab of that haunch and a small tureen of stew for 15 gold pieces. That will also get you two glasses of house wine, or one tankard of any drink that you choose.” She leans back, winking. “Does that sound fair, lass?”

Sepultur’a pretends to think on it, then laughs and drops a wink of her own. “I think that sounds like quite a fair deal for a delicious, filling meal! I’m looking forward to something other than my own cooking, for a change.” She smiles and reaches for her purse, counting out the coin. “Do I pay you for the full meal, including the drink?” she asks. “Yes,” replies the cook. “I’ll let the barkeep know that you’ve paid in advance, and he will let you know what the choices of house wine are. We have a nice, crisp white wine, flavoured with juniper-berries, or a refreshing, aged red made of local snow-berries. Otherwise, any other choice is yours, provided that we have it in stock!” She takes the coin and drops it in the lockbox behind her, then snaps her fingers. “Skips! Here to me, now!” A thin lizard-man who had been clearing, wiping, and re-setting a couple of the dining tables hurries over, bowing low. “Yesss, misssstressss?” he hisses, tongue darting snake-like as he speaks. He has no horns, feathers, or head-fins like the lizard-folk that Sepultur’a has gotten used to seeing during her travels. He is slight of frame with a narrow, serpentine head. His eyes are a sickly yellow hue, and his smooth wrinkled skin looks leathery, not scaled.

The Nord woman instructs “Skips” to slice a generous hunk of meat from the mammoth haunch and serve it on a platter with some steamed vegetables, alongside a tureen of the venison stew. She points to one of the freshly-cleaned tables, indicating that Sepultur’a will be seated there. “Also, please remove all of the chairs from that table, there, save one…are you expecting company, lass?” she inquires, turning towards Sepultur’a for a moment. She shakes her head as she answers. “No, not this night. I shall be solitary and carefree – and, I appreciate your courtesy and attentiveness!” She genuflects respectfully and with gratitude, dropping an extra gold coin on the counter. She learned long ago to tip well and generously for good service and information, but has forgotten the associated rule: “Be not too obvious and careless with your funds, and carry no more than you expect to spend.” She is relaxed and not concerned with the monies she is spending; she has put most of her gold away for safekeeping and doesn’t feel the need for caution. She doesn’t know that she has been targeted by evildoers, and was selected by them the moment that she strode in the door. She is young, healthy, and well-mannered, and those qualities make her stand out like a red flower on a field of snow.

Without her observation, or that of the chef, a note has passed from “Skips” to the chamber-maid who is going between the upper and lower floors, taking orders and cleaning up spilled drinks, dropped food, and the occasional puddle of vomit. The chamber-maid, in turn, slips the note into a folded napkin that she places next to the plate of a thin man shrouded in dark clothing and a cloak, his face hidden by a cowl. He sits in the corner behind the upstairs fireplace, where he has an excellent view of the room and all who are in it. When he deems it safe to do so, he carefully unfolds the note and reads it, then tosses it into the flames where it vanishes into a puff of smoke and ash. He smirks under his cowl as he watches the doorman hoist up a drunken dark elf by the collar and drag the protesting man downstairs. He leans back in his chair and temples his fingers under his chin, then beckons to the woman who had been shrieking with laughter at the drunk elf’s antics. She staggers over and drops into the chair opposite him, leaning forward and displaying a startling amount of cleavage in the tight, low-cut corseted top she wears. She sways as she feigns a greater amount of drunkenness than she actually feels – in truth, she has only imbibed a single glass of wine, but it is so easy to distract drunken men with her outfit. She has casually relieved many of their coin, but only when they’d given her some and bade her to buy herself a drink on them. She knew that their eyes were on her pert bottom as she sashayed to the stairs, where she would meet the chamber-maid and pass some over as if paying for a drink, then pocketing the remainder.

The woman in the low-cut top slouches forward, giggling inanely and heaving her massive mammaries onto the table. The man in the cowl stares at her exposed, pale flesh, noting the blue-tinged veins that line the surface of her breasts. “Nicely done, Evie…nicely done. That poor sap didn’t know who he was dealing with, did he?” he queries low, in a tone that only the woman can detect. Evesori chuckles, her bosom bouncing. “Nay, milord…he was the easiest mark that I’ve seen in a while – it was almost too easy to get him kicked out!” The man in the cowl stares at her with pale, red-rimmed eyes. “I have another task for you. It has been a while since new blood was brought into the fold, and I was just informed that prime prey has entered this fine establishment. I need you to examine it up close, if you will.” Evesori heaves a dramatic sigh, pretending to be offended. “Ah – so you tire of me again, milord? You need a warm body to lay next to?” she purrs seductively. “I know that we can no longer warm each other’s beds, but still…” she trails off and leans back, crossing her arms under her ample bosom. The man chuckles again. “Ah, you misunderstand.” He shakes his head at her. “I forgot – you were still a young maiden when I met you. You have forgotten the appeal of a living, breathing body.” He leans forward, fixing her with his intense gaze and reaches out to clasp his hands around hers. She sighs again, dramatically, feigning exasperation. “Oh, fine,” she says. “I have no choice, do I?” She kisses him, lightly flicking her tongue against his. “Tell me what you need me to do, milord.” Her voice gets low and husky as she stares into his eyes with an intensity that matches his own. “Tell me your deep, dark desires…” He speaks, and she listens to his plan. She smiles…it is a plan that will be quite fun to set into motion. She shakes with silent laughter as he tells her the details.

Downstairs, Sepultur’a is engaged in deep conversation with a trio of adventurers who have sat down at a table next to hers. Between bites of meat, she learns that they travel the land, exploring the caverns that dot the countryside. She had passed quite a few during her journeys but never ventured in them yet. The prospect of going underground makes her uncomfortable; still, she knows that the only way to face her fears is to meet them head-on. Further questioning reveals that they belong to a loosely-knit guild, and she recalls Ildris telling her that finding a guild could be of great help in developing her skills and increasing her knowledge.

“So, the only requirement to join is to find and explore a cave?” she asks the tall, muscular man who appears to be the leader of this little group. He belches loudly and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand before answering. “Aye,” he says, hoisting his empty mug high. The serving-girl who is assisting the bartender hurries over with a pitcher and refills it. He takes a big swig of the ale and continues. “Not just any cave, mind. We have collected a list of some of the deepest, darkest caverns where few have ever been, so there is always a rare trinket to be found. Those who join our guild must go to one of these caverns and retrieve an item from the lowest depths.” He drinks and belches loudly again, then finishes his short speech. “Those who are successful and join the guild need only explore these dungeons, caverns, and other places of lost lore whenever they so choose, afterwards. We only require a donation of coin or trinkets found.” Sepultur’a thanks them for the information, then finishes her meal. She decides to have one more drink before returning to Ingvar’s inn, as the tavern has one of her favourite ales in stock – she was pleasantly surprised to see a brew from her homeland in one of the stout kegs behind the counter.

She gets her drink, then returns to her table and listens to the adventurers for a bit longer. Their tales are fantastic and fascinating, and she is intrigued. Joining a guild is something that she has considered for some time, and this one might be ideal. She asks if she can sit with them and talk for a bit longer…she has a few more questions to ask before she makes her decision.

Evesori makes her way down the stairs, giggling to herself and stumbling a bit, keeping up the appearance of a drunkenness that she doesn’t feel. She casually observes the room as she makes her way to the bartender, spotting the target. The young woman is sitting with the dungeon-crawlers, engaged in animated conversation. Ah, she thinks, the girl is looking to establish herself in some way. This will make what she needs to do even easier than she expected. She chuckles with renewed mirth, idly wishing that she would have been given something more challenging to do. Her skills have been sorely underused as of late, and she is bored. Perhaps an infusion of new blood is just the thing that she needs to feel rejuvenated and alive again.

She wanders back upstairs and seats herself at the table of the man in the cowl. “You’ll love this, milord,” she says. “The prey is looking for a home…I think that we shall be able to provide one.” He nods slowly. “Very good, very good…let’s put our little plan into motion then, shall we?” He gets up from the table and heads down to the main room.

Excerpt: A Letter Home

Author’s Note: This is another excerpt from my work of fiction – I thought that putting some screen-shots in would be a nice touch!

Dearest Mother and honoured Father – it has been a fortnight now since I left home, and such wondrous sights have I beheld! Sister’s advice has held true to date, as I have apprenticed myself to a chef with a travelling caravan. Their numbers will conceal and guard me as I make my way across this strange, new land. We are just over thirty in all, including myself. My duties vary depending on where we venture. When we are in a community of any size, I help out the chef and his assistant with food-preparation – I am being introduced to all sorts of new spices, seasonings, and cuts of meat from a variety of exotic animals. Other times, entertainment is the order of the day, so I get to play my lute for customers from time to time. I’ve earned a fair bit of coin in this fashion! Also, sometimes I play the drum while the other entertainers dance – they like the rhythms that I beat for them.

When able, the dancers show me some of their moves and steps, and seem to be impressed by how quickly I catch on – they say that I could earn even more coin if I were to dance, but I don’t know how I feel about trying that out, as of yet. At least the costumes worn aren’t scanty or overly provocative! I don’t know that I’d want to dance for others, especially if wearing little but filmy, gauzy, see-through material that is only appropriate for one’s bedchamber.

You will both be happy to learn that I have finally learned the art of the sword! Please do not fret and question the tutors you hired for me – they simply weren’t able to impart their vast knowledge in a way that I could understand. One of the entertainers, a fire-eater and sword-dancer, has taken me under her wing and helped me with my skills. She said that I have much aptitude and natural talent, but tend to over-think every move – if I were to relax and let the motions happen naturally, I would be much more successful, in her estimation. I have chosen to use the great-swords, as the sword and shield combination still feels clumsy to my hands. Using a staff feels more comfortable to me than sword and shield! I know that Sister is well-versed in that type of combat, and will ask her for assistance at a later time. For now, I must concentrate on my chosen weapon.

We have been on the road for three days straight as I write this – our next destination is a fortress on the edge of the mapped lands that I’ve seen and sketched out, so far. I have made note of the transitus shrines that you told me about; knowing where they are will be of enormous help in the days to come, especially whenever and wherever I part ways with the caravan. At least I have time to mark the locations of the shrines, as the day that I take my leave is still in the unforeseen future.

Father, I wanted to say to you that I have seen the circles in the sky: the huge, black anchors and the massive chains that you’ve told us of. The ugly noise that heralds their appearance sounds for miles across the land, and they can be seen fading into view from a great distance, if you happen to look in the right direction and see their fell glow. The abominations that fall from them can barely be described – my hands shake the pen so when I attempt to sketch them. My mind wants to block out their horror. I have joined others in fighting them, but only once to date. It was a terrible battle. I can still smell the reek and stench of the disgusting undead, and have nightmares of the various golems and their twisted, constructed forms. I vow to destroy each and every dark anchor that I come across, whenever and wherever I see them. I will do anything to assist in yours, and Brother’s, healing from that harrowing ordeal those 25 long years past. I also hope to avenge the deaths of your crewmen and shipmates…so many good men lost, and families harmed!

The candle is burning low, so it is time for sleep. It has been a long, profitable day, and tomorrow is a day of rest, relaxation, and leisure for us before we set out on the following day. The weather has been mild and the winds in our favour; the ash from the great volcano has blown away from us for five days, now. Because of this, we have made good time in travelling to the fort, as the trek usually takes a full cycle of the moons from start to finish.

I close this letter with love and respect, dear Mother and honoured Father. Please give my salutations to Brother and Sister; I hope that they are well and happy wherever they are roaming today. I am hale and healthy – the gods and goddesses are smiling their favour.

Cordially, fondly, and with utmost respect and love,

~Sepultur’a

Excerpt: Day of Departure

Author’s note: This is another excerpt from my NaNoWriMo story. I think these will be done at least once per week, now that I can sit back and edit the story at my leisure!

Endymion hurries to the docks, hoping to see Sepultur’a off on her journey. Since the night of the kiss, he has been busy doing his best to heed the teachings of the forge-master, and even managed to craft a serviceable dagger. He usually gets errands done quickly, but has taken more time recently to talk with the people at the marketplace and glean more information about this local tradition. He has a gift to give the young woman who unexpectedly stole his heart.

The great ship which will carry her off to distant shores is still docked, and a crowd has gathered to see Lord Yazim’s youngest daughter depart. Endymion joins the throng, asking one of the lizard-folk dockworkers if the merchant’s family has arrived. “Not yet,” comes the hissed reply. “They are due at any time, however.” A steady stream of dock-workers carry goods and supplies up a ramp into the bowels of the ship. Most of the goods are being delivered to ports along the way, where they will be traded for foods, materials, and livestock. Other, smaller ships at those ports will deliver the goods that are traded for, while the larger ship will continue on and ensure that Sepultur’a arrives at her destination safely. It will then return to the home port after she takes to horseback.

Sylph has been stabled on board near the other livestock; she is one of few horses that is able to travel by boat, and Sepultur’a will need a good mount when she arrives. Horses are rare and expensive where she’s going, and travel by foot isn’t recommended. Sepultur’a has chosen the most challenging lands to explore, just as Ildris did before her, so a swift, strong steed will be necessary.
The crowd stirs and jostles each other, excitement growing. Endymion turns and cranes his neck; his height makes it easy to see over the milling people, and his mouth hangs open in awe.

The family is coming down the road to the docks, single-file. They are all resplendent in the colours of their house: crimson red and deep, pitch black. Lord Yazim heads the parade; his white-maned black horse bears him proudly forth. He bears the house standard on a halberd – the sharp blade gleams in the sunlight. He is clad in the armour of his people, which is designed to show the waves that used to wash along the shores of the lost islands. They are a people without a home, carving their indelible mark wherever they roam. Yazim’s stern face is battle-scarred, yet striking. He moves his steed forward steadily and confidently, nodding to the people that he passes, acknowledging customers and friends alike. He rides to the end of the plank that leads up to the ship, then turns and faces the crowd, steadying his mount. His eyes glow with affection as his wife canters down the road astride her steel-grey steed.

Lady Zaiher wears flowing crimson robes, riding side-saddle in an elegant, regal manner. An opaque veil covers most of her face, protecting her skin from the blazing sun. Her hair is done in long braids, tied back with silken ribbons and adorned with beads and seashells. Her almond-shaped eyes regard the crowd with care, smiling with genuine happiness. She, too, acknowledges the people she passes, waving at everyone.

Sir Ad-hir af-Atwala, the eldest child and the only son, follows after Zaiher on his own black steed. Zaiher is the only mother he has known, even though she did not bear him and give him life. He has his father’s proud, strong features, but the pale skin and stocky build of his mother. Ad-hir’s hair is bone-straight, where his father’s is a thick, curled mane which drapes over his shoulders like a grand pelt. Ad-hir wears armour which is black and scaled, a tribute to the fish and other sea-creatures that make up the majority of the diet of the sea-farers. He gives a casual wave to the onlookers now and then, nodding and smiling behind his cowl.

Next comes Ad-hir’s wife-to-be, Sonja Troll-breaker. For the occasion, she is clad in robes of lightweight, black silk, and her face is veiled as well. The robe’s silken material clings to her voluptuous form, and her long warrior-locks are adorned with beads carved of bone. The men in the crowd eye her appreciatively, as do some of the women. Most female eyes are filled with envy, however. For her scarred, wild appearance, Sonja is still exceptionally beautiful. She rides proudly on a white stallion, casting a serene gaze over the crowd, her ice-blue eyes a striking contrast to her mahogany-hued skin.

Ildris, being younger than Sonja – and Sonja is a guest of honour – rides next in line on a golden palomino with a white mane, tail, and feet. Her robes are identical to her mother’s, and she wears a veil as well. Her locks are held back from her face by a curved, golden tiara adorned with a single ruby. She smiles and nods politely to the people in the crowd, catching the eyes of many.

Finally, Sepultur’a makes her way down the road to the docks. She is borne in a beautiful chariot carved of ebonwood and painted a glossy black, drawn along by a roan gelding. The wheels and trimmings are the beautiful crimson hue associated with the family, and gleam brightly under the sunlight. The chariot itself resembles the bow of a ship, with a long-necked seabird as the figurehead. The wings of the bird curve back gracefully to form the body of the chariot, the feathers rendered with great detail and care.

She stands tall and proud, lightly holding onto a leather strap to keep her balance in the gently jouncing chariot. Her face is veiled like the other women, and her lithe curves are set off and accentuated by the crimson, silken robes adorning her body. She also bears a halberd from which the family standard flutters, marking her status of the day. This also lets any late-comers know that this is the end of the family parade, and congregating in the streets in her wake is now allowed.

Endymion stares at Sepultur’a intensely and intently, willing her to look his way. She turns his way at that very moment, as if hearing his silent call. Her eyes glow softly as she meets his gaze, as he stands out noticeably amongst the other people. Electricity seems to fill the air as he moves carefully through the crowd, making his way closer to her…

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