Archive for August, 2009

31
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Four: The Fight

Chapter Twenty-Four

The Fight

Rubble fell from the sky as the top of the tower crumbled. Gail backed up as small chunks of rock began to rain down on the stables. Kevin and Gene ran inside one of the empty horse stalls, but Gail only stood there, staring up at the tower.

“Gail, get back!” Gene shouted.

“Linda’s still up there! What’s happening?”

As if in answer, they saw a giant black creature burst from the roof, wings unfurling and blotting out the sun. Gail pointed at it, shouting, “Is that a… a…”

“A dragon!” Kevin shouted. “Elmer told me, Baliwick and his men are Obsidian Dragons from another world!”

“He’s awfully selective about what information he shares, isn’t he?” Gene said.

“What’s that thing doing?” Gail asked.

The dragon flashed its tail and they saw a heavy object fly away from the tower. “Was that a bed?” Kevin asked as it passed out of view.

“Is that Linda?” Gail asked. Two children were falling from the tower now, clutching each other and screaming. Gail, grabbed on to Kevin’s arm and shrieked, “Kevin, do something!”

“Do what?” Kevin said. “I’ve learned a couple of self-defense and lock picking tricks! I can’t do levitation!”

“Is the ground shaking?” Gene asked.

As it turned out, it was.

*   *   *

Linda’s throat was screamed nearly raw, but with the wind whipping around her as she and Benny plummeted towards the ground, that was a minor concern. She held as tightly to her brother as she could, trying to pivot in the air so that he’d land on top of her. She didn’t know if her body could handle the impact – probably not, no matter what Elmer’s potion did to her – but it may at least give Benny a fighting chance.

There was what sounded like an explosion beneath them but she couldn’t look down to see what it was. With only a few seconds left, she opened up her Third Eye, hoping she’d see something – anything – that could save them.

What she saw was zooming up at them faster than they fell.

Edward, still glowing white with his brilliant golden mane, burst from the ground of the courtyard, hurtling through the air towards them like a truly-aimed arrow.  His white and gold form was wrapped with coils of violet magical energy, trailing behind him almost like a cape. His whole form somehow seemed even brighter than before. With a whistling sound, he matched their position in midair, snatching them both in his arms. They were still falling, but slower now, and when they landed several yards from the hole Edward had created, his legs took the full brunt of the impact, bending to cushion the blow and kicking up a cloud of dust. He didn’t seem to feel the landing at all.

“Edward? What happened? You said you were powerless in this world.”

“My own powers don’t exactly work, no, but you don’t live as long as I do without picking up on a few tricks for every kind of world. The spell I cast allows me to simulate my own abilities, but not for long. I’m going to be tired once this wears off, Linda.”

“My… I…” she thought she’d cry before she could get the words out. “Thank you,” she finally said.

He smiled. “You’d have done the same for me.”

In a brief moment of surprise, Linda realized he was right – she would. She probably couldn’t, but she would have tried her best.

Three pairs of footprints and two people came running at them from the direction of the stables. “Linda, you’re okay!” Gail cried.

“That was great!” Gene added.

“Who the heck is this guy?” Kevin asked.

Edward smiled that warm, comforting smile. “Linda, you never told me any of your friends were invisible.”

“It’s a recent development,” she replied. “Come on, let’s get out of here before–”

Unfortunately, “before” came at that exact moment when four of Baliwick’s five men (Harridan must have still been trapped), along with what looked like every Orange guard in the palace, tramped into the stables. A squad of them formed a human wall around the tunnel to the courtyard, while others surrounded them on all sides, blocking off the grate that led down to the moat.

“More of them!” Lareil shouted. “I’ll gut you all! Oof!”

“Thanks, Kevin.”

“No problem, Gene.”

The dragon at the top of the tower beat its wings against the sky. Impossibly, its bulk began to lift up, floating away from the shattered room.

“Emily,” Linda whispered.

“She was still up there?” Edward asked.

“Yeah. I don’t know what happened when Baliwick… turned into that.

The dragon floated gently over the stable, drifting to the ground. His men and guards backed away, clearing a spot for him to land, and clouds of dust erupted around him like a landing helicopter. As he set down, his body began to shrink again, the obsidian scales giving way to flesh tones, and hair replacing his horns. Although his clothes had been torn to shreds during his transformation, his cloak had remained in place around his neck, the dark leather blending into his scales. Now, as he resumed his human form, it fell around his body.

“He’s not magic,” Linda whispered. “I can’t see a purple field around him like Kevin.”

“That’s a natural function of dragons,” Edward said. “At least, dragons on his world. Still rather annoying though, isn’t it?”

“You’ve broken our pact, Edward!” Baliwick said. “You know what this means, don’t you? She’s dead now!”

“Read the compact more carefully you slithering twit,” Edward said, his good humor gone in response to the threat in Baliwick’s voice. “I agreed to remain in your custody in return for her safety. I haven’t left the palace grounds. I’ve been humoring you, but it’s about time you remembered that our deal didn’t include chains, beatings or allowing innocent children to be butchered. I haven’t left, and I’m not going to, but if you want to lay a single claw on these children you’ll have to rip me apart.”

“Um… what’s stopping him from doing that, exactly?” Gene asked.

“Another little detail of our agreement,” Edward said. A trace of his smile returned at that.

“Fine,” Baliwick snarled. “I won’t harm them.” He turned to his men. “Kill them all,” he said.

The four black-glowing men stepped forward, smoke hissing from their bodies. Gail shuddered. “Four of them,” she said.

“That’s less than one apiece,” Kevin said. “How hard can it be? In fact, let me tip the scales a bit more.”

There was a sound like a rubber band snapping and one of the black guards slapped his chest. A blue bubble sprung up around him, stopping him in mid-transformation. The guard next to him got caught in the same trap.

“What are you doing?” Gail asked.

“I got a bunch of the Macana emergency pods caught in my bubble with that sleeve that tore off,” he said. “You’re right, Gene. I am good with a slingshot.”

He fired again, trapping the third guard just as his form got large enough to begin sprouting wings. It was a comical sight – three dragons smooshed inside what looked like blue glass globes. The fourth guard’s transformation was nearly complete when Kevin fired again. The dragon opened its massive obsidian jaws and the emergency pod went down its throat. There was a horrible spark of energy from its mouth and it made a croaking sound.

“Geez, the bubble is trying to expand, but its skin is too tough,” Gene said.

“Worst case of indigestion in history,” Kevin agreed. “One pod left. What do you say, Bally-boy? Want to test it?”

Baliwick’s only answer was an ear-splitting roar. His body was already in mid-transformation when Kevin reached into the pouch on his belt and withdrew the last emergency pod he’d retrieved from the Macana vacuum-suit. He slipped it into the cup of his slingshot as Baliwick’s jaws opened and began to spew noxious smoke. Kevin let go of the cup as the flames whipped up from Baliwick’s throat, and when the hurtling emergency pod cut through the smoke, a perfect bullseye aimed at Baliwick’s tonsils, the nova blast of fire slagged the metal cartridge in mid-air. There was a searing crackle of electricity, but the hot metal splattered against the inside of his mouth. Baliwick swallowed and, impossibly, a hideous smile cracked the lizard-like skin on the dragon’s face.

“Okay guys, that was my Plan A,” Kevin said. “Your turn.”

Linda took a step out in front of her friends, with only Edward on the same plane as her in relation to Baliwick. Benny had fallen to the ground and wasn’t moving at all, clearly not knowing how to react to this scenario. Baliwick, evidently, didn’t prepare him as well as he may have hoped.

“Linda, get back,” Edward said.

“No,” she replied. She said nothing else, but incredibly, she didn’t have to. Edward nodded, understanding, and straightened up next to her.

“The children are leaving, Baliwick,” Edward said.

Baliwick spewed flame at Edward, but in Linda’s Third Eye she saw an invisible shield of violet magical energy form as a barrier between his body and the tongues of fire. Linda didn’t have such a shield, however, and the sheer heat forced her back and to the side. Edward, protected as he was, threw his arms in front of his face instinctively, and Baliwick took advantage of the distraction. He leapt forward, shoving Edward out of the way with his massive claw, then with the other he reached out and snatched Gail. The giant paw – three long fingers and one back claw, each with talons like steel spikes — wrapped around her body. He reached out for Gene, but he fell to the ground and rolled away. Kevin lashed out at the talon that clutched Gail, and battered the Obsidian claws, shouting. Baliwick swatted Kevin aside and gave up on Gene. He held tight to Gail and jumped into the air, beating his wings and lifting into the air.

“Let her go!” Kevin screamed. “Where are you taking her?”

“He’s taking you apart one at a time, maggot!” hissed a muffled voice. The smoke in one of the energy bubbles was whisked away from the surface, revealing a sinister black face. One of the dragons had reverted back to human form. He looked entirely too satisfied for Linda’s comfort.

“He’s going to melt down the weakest link in your chain first.”

“He’s going to brainwash her like he did to Benny,” Edward said. “I’m going after them.”

“And you’re taking me with you!” Linda shouted. Edward nodded.

“And I’m taking you with me,” he agreed. He looked back at Gene and the general area he presumed Kevin occupied. “You should be safe down here; the guards don’t know what they’re doing with their one brain flapping away.”

He scooped up Linda in his arms and jumped after Baliwick, straight up. Linda had expected him to run or make for a stairwell. He didn’t need it, though. She thought he had just jumped to catch her before. Now he was carrying her through the air with him. It was the first time Linda ever flew.

*   *   *

Emily was dazed when she came to. The rumbling tower had pitched her through the open door to Benny’s room and she’d tumbled down the stairs for several stories before bashing her head into the quaking, stone wall. The next thing she knew, the tower had stopped shaking and all of the guards were rushing past her, rambling down the stairs as quickly as they could without trampling one another. Emily pulled herself to her feet, plastering her body to the wall so she would be out of the way, and they zipped past her. Finally the last of them moved past her and she stepped out, rushing back up the stairs. What on Earth was going on? What happened to Linda and Benny?

She turned the corner into Benny’s room to find the roof and stone walls torn apart and all of the furniture either missing or pulverized. She crept to the edge and peered down to see Baliwick, in dragon form, whipping into the air with Gail dangling from his claw. Linda, on the ground, climbed into the arms of a tall man that must have been the famous “Edward” her grandfather always talked about, and together they leapt into the sky, speeding after the dragon.

She yelped and jumped back down the stairwell as the dragon buzzed the roof of the shattered tower. Running down a few floors, she looked through a window and saw Baliwick hovering over the courtyard. He had turned around too face Edward, Gail gripping his claw for dear life with one hand and covering her eyes with the other. He expectorated a heavy stream of fire, and Edward went into a spin in the air, twirling around it while Linda shrieked.

Emily saw which way Baliwick was drifting – towards the roof of another tower. Emily looked down at the castle, hoping she knew which passages would bring her there. She started running down the stairs again.

*   *   *

Baliwick flicked his talon at the roof. Gail held on as best she could, but it was hard to find purchase on the Obsidian scales. The skin on her arms screeched with friction and she slid away, hitting the roof and immediately beginning to roll down the incline. There was terrible pain in her skin as she grabbed onto the shingles, trying to grip them with her hands and slow her descent with her shoes. She stopped sliding a few inches from the edge.

In the air, Baliwick fired a wider spread of flame, driving Edward and Linda back in the air. Baliwick was right over the center of the roof, when suddenly his dragon-body contracted back to its human form. The human Baliwick fell, cutting straight down through the roof. The entire roof caved in, breaking like an eggshell. In his human form, he must have maintained his dragon weight, because his body didn’t look remotely heavy enough to cause that kind of damage. Gail shouted again as the incline suddenly reversed – now she was sliding face-first into the tower. She never knew what she hit on the way down, but whatever it was, she hit hard.

*   *   *

“Gail is unconscious,” Edward said. “Watch out for her – I’ll handle Baliwick!” He dropped Linda by Gail, who wasn’t moving, and flew into Baliwick’s chest, knocking him backwards with two fists. He clattered into a rack of swords and staffs against the wall. No one would build an armory this high in the castle, so Edward assumed this had been someone’s private collection.

“I warned you, Baliwick,” Edward said. “These children are off-limits!”

“We have no bargain concerning them, Endomancer,” Baliwick hissed. “They’re mine if I can take them!”

“Take them, then.”

Baliwick hissed, lashing out at Edward with ten-inch razor claws at the end of his hands. Edward blocked each blow with his arms, the claws amazingly glancing off his skin as though it was armor. In Linda’s Third Eye, each impact was accompanied by burst of violet energy.

Baliwick, realizing his slashing attacks weren’t working, retracted his claws and made steel-like fists. Clutching them together, he drew back and landed a two-fisted blow beneath Edward’s chin. The prisoner lifted right out of the smashed ruins of the tower, hurtling through the air.

“Edward!” Linda screamed.

“Worry more for your friend girl,” Baliwick said. He shoved Linda out of the way and picked up Gail by the front of her shirt. He slapped her a few times, snapping her to consciousness.

“Wh… wha?” Gail moaned.

“Let her go!” Linda’s rage exploded and she brought her own fists down on Baliwick’s elbow. He shouted and dropped Gail, then turned to Linda in shock.

“I… felt… that,” he said. With a backhanded blow, he slapped Linda back into the remains of the wall.  There was a flash behind her eyes and, when she looked up, Baliwick was holding Gail in his outstretched arm. There was a tendril of orange energy creeping out of his eyes and into hers.

Edward came down just in time to grab onto Gail, landing a blow to Baliwick’s chin at the same time. She slipped from his hands again and he handed her, too loopy to know what was going on around her, to Linda for safekeeping. He turned on Baliwick, nailing him with a backhanded right to the face. He followed up with a roundhouse left to Baliwick’s gut, hurling him backwards into the wall.

The door to the room, hanging on one hinge, popped off and fell into the rubble. Baliwick lifted it with one hand and slammed it into Edward. The wood splintered on his back, but Linda noticed the purple magic field surrounding his body wasn’t as bright as it had been before.

She saw something else, too – a purple field standing in the doorway. Baliwick’s nostrils flared and she realized he was sniffing out what she was seeing.

“Emily, run!” Linda cried, but Baliwick was faster than her warning. He grabbed Emily’s arm, lifted her up and hurled her up and to the north. In the same motion, he snapped around and yanked Gail away from Linda, hissing at the girls with breath like a volcanic exhaust. Edward’s eyes darted between Gail and the direction Baliwick hurled Emily and, in a split-second, made his decision. He grabbed Linda roughly and tucked her under one arm, launching into the air after Emily.

“But – Gail!” Linda shouted.

“I know, Linda, but I can’t see Emily!” Linda’s mind processed the situation as soon as he said it – Baliwick was trying to brainwash Gail, but Emily was doomed if she hit the ground. It was easier to rescue someone out of her mind than someone who was dead.

“That way,” Linda said, and pointed.

The wind around their bodies grew faster and it was hard for Linda to keep her eyes open. She realized, as she pointed, she didn’t need to. She could see Emily just as easily with her eyes shut against the wind.

“Down,” she said. “A little more! Now to the left! No, too much! Straight ahead… straight ahead!”

“I’ve got her!” Edward cried. His outstretched right hand grabbed onto Emily’s invisible arm and pulled her into his own body. Both girls safe and clinging to him, Edward executed a quick 180-degree turn in the air and rocketed back to the castle, landing in the stable, where Gene and the invisible Kevin were trying to talk to Benny. For his part, Benny was just babbling.

“Baliwick’s hold is slipping,” Edward said. “He’s been trying to control too many people for too long. You girls stay here.”

“No!”

“It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable, Linda, you’ve proven you are, but you aren’t a match for an Obsidian Dragon. You have to realize that.”

“Well you won’t be for much longer! I can see your power fading!”

“Linda–”

“It doesn’t matter, Edward!” shrieked Baliwick’s voice, standing atop the tower. He was holding Gail straight out over the empty courtyard, gazing at her. Linda could see this time that the orange link between their eyes was complete.

*   *   *

In Gail’s mind, she was at war.

The moment Baliwick made contact with her she felt her consciousness get pulled deep into a place in her head she never knew existed. There were swirling colors all about her, and Baliwick stood there, his right arm outstretched to her. In his left hand he held a bouquet of long, orange tendrils of energy, each of them stretching out to some place Gail couldn’t see. As he reached for her, twirling his hand, she felt a similar tendril erupt from her own heart. It was trailing out towards him. If he grasped it, she could feel, he would have her mind the same way he had Benny’s.

“Come along, little Gail. Why are you even trying to fight? What have they ever done for you?”

“Leave me alone,” she said. She tried to close her eyes, to find some way to shield herself, but she couldn’t.

“It’s inevitable, Gail. You do know what ‘inevitable’ means, don’t you?”

“Leave me alone!” She reached out for the orange cord growing from her body, but her hands passed through it like smoke. Baliwick, she knew, would be able to grasp it with no difficulties.

“Stop resisting. It won’t hurt, I promise.”

“Go away!”

“In fact, I can even see to it that your experience is a quite pleasurable one.”

“NO!”

“Yes!” Baliwick’s hand flashed out and grabbed the cord. The second his fingers wrapped around it Gail felt a shock down to her soul and there was a pull, like her entire consciousness was being pulled along toward Baliwick’s sanguine glare.

“Let us go!”

Baliwick’s smile flickered. “You have a surprisingly strong will, girl, but I break them all in the end.”

“Let us go!”

Each word, as she said it, got sucked along the orange cord and into Baliwick’s form, absorbed, caught in his control. Gail’s mind was racing, trying to figure out something he couldn’t absorb, couldn’t control, and she wasn’t coming up with something.

“Come along, Gail. Just relax, let yourself go. They’ve never done anything for you. The boy ignores you, doesn’t he? And Linda hogs the spotlight. As long as she’s around you’re just a pawn. But in my game, you can be much more. A knight. A castle. Perhaps even a queen.”

“It isn’t like that! Linda…”

Linda.

She thought back to Linda, to their years of friendship, everything he was trying to demolish, and in that she found her key. She found an image of a green light in her mind, followed it with the letter “A” and an image of scales tipped off balance, one side far heavier than the other. She hurled the thought down the orange cord to Baliwick, then repeated it, then did it again.

“What’s this, girl?” he said. “Trying to say something?”

Green light.

“A.”

Scales.

Green light.

“A.”

Scales.

“What are you saying?”

Gr – go.

A.

“Go a–”

“What–”

Scales.

Weigh.

Gail’s mind amplified the intensity of the image. It roared down the cord to his hand like a bubble in a cartoon hose. It hit him like a medicine ball, exploding in a cascade of translation.

“GO AWAY!”

The shock bowled him over and the cords in both of his hands slipped. She’d shattered his concentration just long enough, and she saw the cord whipping back into her body before there was a flash and she was back in the real world, back in her own body, and falling from the very apex of the tower to the courtyard below.

*   *   *

Linda saw the orange cord between Baliwick and Gail glowing like a bolt of lightning. Gail thrashed a few times and, the way he clutched her neck, Linda was certain she would hear a horrible snapping sound at any moment.  Instead, she heard Baliwick shriek. All around her, the orange glow from Baliwick’s guards flickered like color on a broken television screen.

Benny shrieked against his gag, pounding his head into the ground. The guards were having a similar reaction, clawing at their faces, pulling their hair and shouting. Linda grabbed her brother, shaking him as he convulsed. The flickering got worse, then popped, and every glowing trace of orange vanished. The guards shouted as one as their color was drained, each of them glowing of their own accord. Most of them glowed a shade of gray – none as pure white as Edward or as demonically black as Baliwick. Somehow, that in-between shade looked normal to Linda’s eyes.

“Mprh?” Benny said. His eyes, confused, were darting around like a small animal watching for a predator. Linda pulled off his gag and the words flowed out of him in a torrent. “Linda, what’s happening? I could see everything I was doing, but I couldn’t stop myself! Where were you all that time? How are we going to get home? How–”

“Benny! B! Calm down, B, it’s gonna be okay now. I promise.”

“Hey, you might not want to sling those promises around just yet, Linda,” Kevin said.

Gene pointed to the tower. “Look!” he shouted. Baliwick’s grasp had already slipped and Gail was falling. Edward, fortunately, didn’t miss a beat.

“This is getting to be routine,” he said. He jumped into the air and caught Gail, then fell to the ground. This was a real jump, not flight like when he saved Linda before. He hit the ground in a dusting of purple energy much lighter than any Linda had seen yet, the girl tumbling from his arms.

“Ye, girl! Linda, is it?” one of the guards said. “What’s going on here?”

“You remember my name?”

“We remember parts of what that monster made us do. Why was he trying to kill you?”

“I’ll explain later,” she said.

“You haven’t won yet, children!” Baliwick shrieked from the tower. He pulled a battle-axe from the rubble and hefted it above his head. “Your protector is almost out of power! I’ll end this myself!”

He leapt from the tower, axe held tightly in his hands, and fell towards Edward. The prisoner still had a spark in him, though. As Baliwick chopped down, Edward grabbed the chains still dangling from the manacles on his wrists and whipped them around, catching the handle of the axe and yanking it out of Baliwick’s hands. In the same motion he put up his feet and caught the dragon in human form in his stomach, flipping him into the wall of the tower.

“Get the dragon!” the guard who had spoken to Linda cried.

“No!” Linda shouted. “He’ll kill all of you!”

“Are ye calling us afraid, girl?”

“No, I’ve just got a better idea. How fast can you open the drawbridge?”

“A few minutes.”

“I can do it faster,” Kevin said. “What’ve you got in mind?”

As Linda quickly gave her orders, Edward continued to ward off Baliwick. The dragon slashed with his claws, and with each slashing attack Edward deflected, the purple color faded.

“Edward!” Linda shouted from the tunnel to the courtyard. “This way!”

Edward battered Baliwick aside and bolted for the tunnel. Baliwick leapt after him. “Taking your orders from a child now, Edward?”

“It’s a matter of knowing who you can trust, lizard.”

Baliwick leapt like he was being hurled from a catapult, slamming into Edward’s back. His momentum carried them the rest of the way through the tunnel, digging a gash in the dirt of the courtyard. Edward rolled over, nailing Baliwick in the gut with an elbow, and Baliwick returned the favor by hurling Edward into the grandstand, smashing into the charred post Harridan had used for his exhibition earlier. Edward stood up from the splinters and ash, staggering on his feet like a punch-drunk boxer. That last impact had wiped out all most all of his power. Linda could barely see a tinge of violet now. The next attack would most certainly kill him.

Baliwick kicked at a long shaft of wood that had broken off the grandstand, flipping it into his hand. He held it like a spear. “I should have done this the moment I had you in my custody, Edward,” he said.

“Leave him alone.” Linda stepped between Baliwick and Edward, clutching her fists so tightly the knuckles were bone white.

“Back down, girl, lest I kill you first.”

“You’re not killing anyone today, Baliwick,” she said. “Why don’t you take a look in the moat?”

“What are you blathering about, girl?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Baliwick glared at her with a look of pure hatred, but cast a glance in the direction of the drawbridge. It was down, and the pins that held it up were lying on the ground, slightly smaller than they should have been. The guards, no longer under his control, were flanking the gate, smiling with a certain sadistic glee. Baliwick hissed at a few of them as he walked past, making them flinch. Behind him, Linda and Gene were helping Edward stand.

“Well, girl? What am I looking for?” he snarled.

One of the guards walked out onto the bridge holding a long pole. “Sorry, chap. They’re underwater. Here, let’s see if this helps.” He shoved the pole into the green murk and poked at something. Four blue bubbles rose to the surface, humming in the air. In each a pair of fists and the look of a panicked dragon-man were clearly visible.

“Baliwick! Help!”

“Save us!”

“Get us out of here!”

The fury in Baliwick’s eyes was quadrupled as he turned on Linda. “You little beast! What have you done?”

“I thought. You should try it sometime. I remembered Emily mentioning you guys never went in the water. It didn’t make sense until you showed your true colors – you big, nasty, fire breathing dragon, you. So it seems to me, if you swallowed enough water, it may just put your fire out. And if that happened…”

“Take them out, girl, or I’ll tear you to ribbons!”

“You won’t lay a finger on me. As soon as you try, my friend shuts off the bubbles and your men all get the worst bath of their lives.”

“What’s she talking about?” Gail whispered to Kevin. “You can’t turn the bubbles off from out here.”

“Hey, that’s right. Better not tell Baliwick,” Kevin replied. His face was still invisible, but the smile in his voice was impossible to hide.

“What are your terms, brat?” Baliwick said.

“You and your slimy buddies go back to whatever world you came from and never come to Nogard again. You never lift a hand against anyone who was here today. You never, never even look at my brother again.”

“And how do you know I won’t just allow you to pull my men from the moat and then have your entrails for supper, girl?”

“I know you’ve got a deal with Edward, and he seems to respect that. You’re a serpent, Baliwick, but I get the feeling you’re a serpent of his word.”

“Your brazen ways will cost you your head someday, girl,” Baliwick said. “I only hope I’m there to see it when it happens. All right. Done. Pull them out.”

“Pull ‘em out, boys,” Linda said. The guards cheered and went to work pulling the bubbles from the water.

Baliwick reached out and grabbed Edward’s chains. “You’re still coming with me, Endomancer,” he said.

“No!”

“You said I couldn’t lift a hand against him,” Baliwick said. “You never bartered for his freedom.”

“No!”

“It’s all right, Linda,” Edward said, struggling with each word against his exhaustion. “You’ve done magnificently today. Bring your brother home. Enjoy whatever remains of your childhood. Someday, you’ll be one of the greatest of us.”

“What does that mean, Edward?”

“Somewhere, you already know. Remember what I told you. You’re one of us now. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

“Enough of this prattle,” Baliwick said, yanking on Edward’s chains. The guards had rolled the four dragons onto the far bank. From the direction of the stable came the final dragon, back in human form, having finally coughed the energy-bubble from his throat. Baliwick gave him a look of hatred.

“There was an invisible one, Baliwick,” he said. “How were we supposed to prepare?”

“Try using more than one sense, halfwit,” he said. “This isn’t over, Linda Watson.”

“It is for now,” she said. “That’s good enough.”

Baliwick and his one free man began to roll the other dragons down the Yellow Brick Road, Edward lashed behind them. After a half-mile Harridan’s bubble died, the energy in the Macana emergency pod finally running out. The other three dragons were still in their bubbles long after they had been rolled out of sight.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Five-The Visitor

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30
Aug
09

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 134: Son of the Bride of the Return of the Showcase Tangent

Five weekends in August, five episodes in August, means week five is a Showcase Tangent! The guys answer your e-mails and cover any and all things in the world of pop culture — what Dark Horse comics are worth reading? What’s the greatest Darkseid story of all time? What do we think of the new Ultimate Universe? What’s the one toy that Chase plays with? What’s awesome at http://www.JediSnakeEyes.com? And listen for a big announcement from Blake concerning his podcasting future! In the picks this week, Chase gives us Ultimate Comics Avengers #1, Blake loved Superman Annual #14, and the graphic novel pick is the new Vertigo Crime volume Dark Entries Contact us with comments, suggestions, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Episode 134: Son of the Bride of the Return of the Showcase Tangent
Inside This Episode:

PLUS! Quentin Tarentino has rewritten World War II and given us the number one movie in the country with Inglorious Basterds — but is it good enough for the Showcase boys? Chase and Blake give you their thoughts in this At the Movies episode!

At the Movies Episode 10: Inglorious Basterds

29
Aug
09

What I’m Re — Listening To: Earthcore

Scott Sigler's EarthcoreAs I patiently wait for Scott Sigler‘s next book to come out in print (I’m actually expecting the limited edition of The Rookie to come in next week), I’m going back and listening to the audiobooks he released before I discovered his fiction, starting with his first release, Earthcore. I just finished listening to this podcast novel a couple of days ago, and I was amazed at just how much I enjoyed even this early effort.

An old prospector finds the claim of a lifetime — a mountain in Utah that promises a higher yield of platinum than any other mine ever discovered on Earth. After he sells the mining rights to a company called Earthcore, work begins on burrowing down deeper into the Earth than any mine has ever gone. But an archaeological find on the same site lures a pair of scientists with the intention of shutting down the mine and all the while legends about people who ave explored the very mountain and never come back begin to haunt the miners in the worst way possible.

Sigler does a great job of character creation with this story. The book has a particularly large cast, and most of them come across as genuine people — the scientist who wants to explore the ancient civilization beneath the mountain, the head of security whose past in the military has left him with little else in life, and the obnoxious genius who makes mining so deep into the crust possible in the first place all have genuine depth and life to them. Connell Kirkland is an unlikely but captivating protagonist. Having lost his wife to a car accident a few years ago, he’s turned into a ruthless, heartless businessman. A big part of this novel’s heart is watching him recover from disaster and re-learn how to be a human being. He’s one of those rare characters who manages to completely change your opinion of him as the story progresses, and that’s a great thing.

The monsters, without giving away too much, are pretty inventive too. Not unlike his work in Infected, Sigler comes up with a creative alien creature that’s unlike anything I can remember in movies or novels, plus a history that’s unique to this story. He usually bills his work as a blend of science fiction and horror, and what he provides here is a really good balance.

Maybe it’s because I’m currently teaching elements of fiction, but I noticed a fairly unusual story structure with this book. The lead-up is rather long, and we coast on a slow burn with just enough fuel to keep going before things really get going. Once the big stuff starts happening, the story is non stop literally until the end. Sigler does not believe in much denouement. We hit the climax and, before we know it, the story is over. I would have liked a little more time to wind down, but the promised sequel (which remains unschedule, sadly) will probably take up some of that slack.

As a first novel, it’s good. As a first podcast novel, it’s even more impressive. And you can download the episodes for free at Podiobooks.com.

28
Aug
09

Perspective of a First-Day Kindle Owner

Blake M. Petit: KindleboyAs I write this, it’s been about 23 hours since my Kindle arrived, and despite having play rehearsal last night and work today, I’ve already played around with it quite a bit. Sleep is for other people.

But for those of you who are sick of hearing me talk incessantly about how much I want a Kindle — rejoice! Now I’ll talk incessantly about having one! (Actually, after this first post I imagine my comments about the device itself will become rather sparse. Once I explain how awesome it is, I’ll be able to get back to actually talking about the books I read on it.) If you’ve never used a Kindle, or if you’re wondering what I think of mine, I’m going to take a few minutes today to tell you how the device is working out for me.

First, the pros, which are many. The eBook reader works beautifully. The screen is wonderfully crisp, and bright despite the lack of backlighting. (The lack of backlighting, by the way, is the primary reason I wanted a Kindle instead of an iPhone or PDA-type device as my reader.) It honestly does look like a piece of paper under a piece of glass or plastic. I can’t read long-form on a computer screen, but I’ve read this for up to twenty minutes at a stretch (so far that’s the most actual reading time I’ve had), with no problems whatsoever, and easily feel like I could look at this screen for hours.

Before the Kindle arrived, I bought three books on the Amazon.com store, as well as requested a sample chapter of a fourth. When I took the Kindle out of the box and plugged it in, it automatically began to download the files. You can’t ask for better service than that, friends. Later, I surfed the device for another book, which I bought without trouble, and bought the full version of the book I read the sample chapter of. More on that later.

As an English teacher, one of the best perks of this device is that there are websites where you can download virtually any public domain document for free in a Kindle-ready format. I’ve already got the complete works of William Shakespeare and healthy samplings of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, H.G. Welles, John Milton, Rudyard Kipling, and many others on the device. I haven’t yet tried the book search, but I have tried the “note” function, which allows you to type in your own comments just as you would mark in the margins of a book. The best part of this is that you can easily find all of your “notes” in the “clippings” folder. I forsee this particular function making research much easier.

I also attempted the conversion software (the free version). The way this works is that you can e-mail a document of several file types to a special address which will convert them into a Kindle-ready format and return them to you so you can upload them to the device. I’ve done with with a couple of PDFs and one DOC file, and although some of the PDFs don’t quite come out clean (for example, you may wind up with page numbers appearing in the middle of the text, where it was in the file), none have been garbled to the point that they aren’t easily readable.

The controls and interface are all pretty intuitive. I quickly grasped just how pretty much everything works, up to and including the Wikipedia access the device offers. Unfortunately, I can’t get much of a wireless signal in school where I work (yes, I checked), but that’s hardly a fault of the device. Almost nobody can get cell signal in the building either, except for one certain provider, which is not the one the Kindle supports.

Now the cons: only a few, but they are worth mentioning. The biggest issue I have with the device is the lack of interface for transferring documents to and from a computer. The device has to be opened as an external drive, into which you have to move the documents from whatever folder on your computer you happen to have placed them on. Although I know Amazon is quite proud of the fact that you don’t actually need a computer to use the Kindle, let’s be honest here. 99.9999999 percent of Kindle owners are also computer users, and having a simple software that would allow for easy document transfer to the device and easy back-up of files already on the device would be very welcome.

My other big complaint isn’t with the device itself, but with Amazon’s functionality. I mentioned the document conversion e-mail. You can also e-mail the document to another address which will automatically download the file to your Kindle, but I haven’t tried that feature because it costs “a small fee.” I’m told the fee is about 10 cents, which I admit is small, but it’s really hard to find anywhere in the Kindle documentation just exactly how much that fee is. And even if it is 10 cents, if they’re not going to tell me clearly, I’m gonna be skeptical.

And one minor complaint is when it comes to buying books. The Kindle store itself on the device works fine. But as I was reading the sample chapter of Dan Simmons‘ novel Drood, then decided to buy the book, I was unable to find out the price of the full version from the “buy this book” tab, but instead had to go back to the main Kindle store. That’s something small that I think could be fixed easy.

Do I like the device? Hell yeah. Do I recommend it to book lovers? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No, but what is?

Excuse me. I’ve got some reading to do.

27
Aug
09

What I’m Reading: Blackest Night-Titans #1

Blackest Night: Titans #1As far as DC’s big-name titles go, Titans hasn’t been one that has impressed me in a long time. It seems that DC’s 20-something heroes suffer something of an identity crisis. They aren’t “Teen” Titans anymore, but the older generation is still around so they can’t really graduate to Justice League status. As such, they exist in a limbo. One writer after another has tried for years to do something with them, and nothing has really worked.

So how is it that Blackest Night: Titans #1 kicks so much ass?

J.T. Krul, who also wrote the wonderful prelude in Titans #15, presents us with members of both the Teen and adult Titans teams, past and present, coming together to remember their dead (as seen in Blackest Night #1). Several of our heroes are focusing on specific people they’ve loved and lost — Beast Boy remembers the disgraced traitor, Terra, whom he loved. For Donna Troy, she remembers her dead husband and child. The current Hawk and Dove remember the first siblings to carry those names… well, you get the picture.

As the dead begin to rise, the Titans find themselves targeted by some of the most cruel Black Lanterns yet, toying with their emotions to a degree unseen in many of the other tie-ins.

We also see some development of a plot thread that began in Blackest Night #2, when the corpse of Don Hall — the first Dove — could not be raised from the dead. When we see Dawn, the current Dove, through “Black Lantern Vision,” she doesn’t register in any of the emotional colors we’ve seen thus far. She appears as white, and the Black Lanterns don’t record an emotion. Dawn, and Don before her, is an emissary of the forces of peace. Up until now, I’ve been theorizing that is there is indeed a “White Lantern Corps” to counteract the Black, they would represent Life. But is it possible that the White Lanterns could actually represent peace? Is it possible that the reason Don cannot be raised by the Black Lanterns is because he is literally “At Peace,” and has been recruited as an agent of the White?

Rating: 9/10

27
Aug
09

What I’m Reading: Green Lantern #45

Green Lantern #45As in Green Lantern Corps #39, this issue pulls back to show us the greater War of Light that’s been raging between the various Corps as the Blackest Night begins across the universe. John Stewart, Hal Jordan’s partner in Sector 2814, finds himself facing the dead of the entire planet of Xanshi, a world he once failed to save from destruction. But John doesn’t get the focus this issue. Instead, we watch a fierce battle between the two people who probably know Hal Jordan the best — his arch-enemy Sinestro, and his once-lover Carol Ferris, who has once again joined the Star Sapphires. As the lights of Fear and Love do battle, interesting things are revealed about both combatants, including (potentially) the answer to the mystery of Green Lantern Soranik Natu’s mother.

There’s a lot of character stuff here, and while the larger story of the Black Lanterns isn’t significantly developed, the evolution of Sinestro and Carol is interesting to the old-school GL fans and probably vital to the future of this title. It’s a really strong fight scene, even if it’s on a smaller scale than the other Blackest Night tie-ins have delivered thus far.

We peek in on several of the other corps here as well. The Blue Lanterns are still at war with the Oranges, and the only thing protecting them from the Blacks is that apparently there aren’t any dead on their planet… which is actually a pretty interesting twist, now that I think about it. Meanwhile, Larfleeze gets a nasty surprise. He’s built up his Orange Corps by murdering sentients and co-opting their forms… so what happens when the dead begin to rise?

Geoff Johns tones it down a bit, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s been pretty high-octane since this story launched last month, and pulling back for character beats works. Doug Mahnke really gets to go cosmic for the first time this issue, and his art is wonderful. Blackest Night continues to impress.

Rating: 7/10

26
Aug
09

Everything But Imaginary #320: Bad to the Bone

Secret Six is one of the best comics being published right now, but villain-focused comics rarely last. What makes Secret Six different? And why do villain titles fizzle out?

Everything But Imaginary #320: Bad to the Bone
Inside this column:




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