Posts Tagged ‘Lost in Silver

14
Jul
11

Every Way You Can Get OTHER PEOPLE’S HEROES

Well, friends, for the last few months I’ve been deluging the hell out of you with each new announcement about the myriad ways you could get your hands on my novel, Other People’s Heroes. I’m very happy to announce that, as of today, it’s available in every conceivable format a person can experience the original novel. I’ll have nothing new to announce for OPH until somebody backs a truck full of money up to my house to make a movie about it. So let’s review…

  • If you’re old-school… if you prefer to get your books on paper, you can order the print version from Amazon’s Createspace. The print version will cost you $15.99, but it comes with my undying affection.
  • If you’ve got an e-reader, you have several options. Those of you with an iPad or iPod, you can just turn on your device, cruise to the bookstore, and do a search for the title or my name.
  • Owners of the Amazon Kindle can get the book in the Kindle bookstore.
  • If you’re the proud owner of a Barnes and Noble Nook device, the book is available in your store.
  • And if you have any other e-reader, you can click on over to Smashwords.com, download the book in your preferred format, and upload it to your device. Oh — and ALL of the e-reader versions, no matter your format, cost a measly $2.99. You’re paying more for that for coffee at Starbucks, people.
  • And finally, let’s say that you like your books in audio format. Let’s say you’ve got a long commute and you like to listen to books on the road. Cool. As of July 13, OPH is available to you as well. Cruise to Podiobooks.com and subscribe to the audiobook version of OPH, read and produced by yours truly. Oh yeah — and the audiobook version? ABSOLUTELY FREE.

So that’s it, right? We’re done? You’re never gonna have to hear me pimp my books again?

Oh, friends. Don’t you know me better than that?

At the present, I’ve got not one, not two, but four fiction projects in various stages. So here’s what you can expect in the future, probably in the order that you’ll see them become available.

  1. The Beginner, my second novel, is completely finished and edited and ready to go to eBook and print. The only thing I’m waiting on is new cover art. I’d really like to get that done before I go back to school, but that’s up to my graphic artist (a.k.a. my sister, Heather.)
  2. Lost in Silver, my fantasy novel for young readers, has been sent off to beta readers for their thoughts and commentary. Once The Beginner is done, my publish-fu will be dedicated to getting that in shape to release.
  3. 14 Days of Asphalt, the sequel to Other People’s Heroes, has been in the works for a long time. As of last night, I have finished work on the second draft. Once LIS has gone through the beta process, I’ll be asking for betas again to take a look at that one.
  4. And finally, my new year’s resolution back in January was to write or revise one of my fiction projects every day. With 14 Days finished, I need something else to start working on today, because I’ve hit it every day so far. So today, friends, I begin work on a new project. It’s actually the sequel to Lost in Silver, the continuing adventures of Linda Watson and her friends, and the continuing exploration of the strange worlds of Evertime. I’ll give you the title to chew on: The Light Man.

Damn, I’m busy aren’t I?

02
Jul
11

Calling all (beta) readers…

Yesterday, friends, I told you how happy I was with the performance of Other People’s Heroes in the eBook market. This continues to be true. But that’s really just stage one of my long-term plan (as much as it is a plan, anyway) to burn up the eBook sales charts. As I’ve mentioned, my book The Beginner is very close to joining OPH and A Long November in the eBook stores. But I can’t very well stop there, now can I?

I’m currently working hard on 14 Days of Asphalt, the sequel to Other People’s Heroes, and with any luck the newest draft will be finished by the end of the month. But I’ve also got another book, Lost in Silver, that’s pretty well finished now… at least in draft form. As someone going this alone, though, without the editing and production of a big publisher, that means I need to recruit some help. Some of you have, in the past, been kind enough to serve as Beta readers for me, going over manuscripts and giving thoughts, suggestions, and notes, which have invariably made my work better. And I thank you for that. I’m asking for that help again. Like I said, 14 Days isn’t ready yet, but Lost in Silver is. If you’ve been coming to the Realms for a while now, you may remember when I serialized that particular manuscript here, a chapter at a time. I’ve recently come around to a new direction for the characters, something that will really build well on that first story and help grow into new stories. And that means it’s time to make the first one available as well. Book two in that series, in fact, will most likely be my next writing project.

If you’re available as a beta for either — or both — of these books, I would greatly appreciate it. You don’t need to be a spelling and grammatical genius… just someone who likes to read and can clearly express your thoughts about a story. Send me your e-mail address and I’ll let you know what I’ve got in mind.

And thanks!

19
Apr
11

Time Travel Tuesday: Do It For the Children

Here’s something I find particularly amusing, and, actually, kind of topical. Many years ago, my friend Joan made an offhanded comment to me that at the time I didn’t really think much of. But things changed…

February 1, 2003

Do it for the children

I must admit, I was surprised when my friend Joan first told me she thinks I should try writing a children’s book.

Joan is a teacher, you see, someone who has a deep, constantly-evolving insight into the minds of the young that she gets to cultivate in-between trying to get them to stop eating paste and being worried that some of them didn’t know Louisiana is the state they live in. If this is something she thinks I’d be good at, maybe she’s on to something. Perhaps she thinks I have the sort of vibrant, lush imagination that would resonate with audiences of all ages. Perhaps she thinks I possess the average maturity of a 9-year-old. Both of these arguments clearly have merit.

Children’s books, I think, are frequently overlooked as an art form in and of themselves. There’s certainly no reason for it to be that way, lots of your great writers have done books that are geared for a younger audience — Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, Judy Blume. Pulitzer Prize-Winner Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) came out with his first young reader’s novel, Summerland, last year. Neil (Sandman) Gaiman practically invented the current genre of mature-themed fantasy comic books, and he recently released Coraline with the young’ns in mind. Even Clive Barker of Hellraiser fame has joined in.

I’m not sure every writer should dip into children’s literature, though. I like a good Stephen King novel as much as anyone, but he’d have a lot of explaining to do if the parents of America were suddenly inundated with kids climbing into their beds at 2 a.m. complaining of nightmares about being abducted by a man with the initials R.F. and being held captive in a massive black tower or, for the really scary books, Maine.

No discussion of young reader’s books can be complete, however, without addressing the gargantuan popularity of that British entertainment juggernaut, the raven-haired lad who has won the hearts of the entire planet. I am referring, of course, to Simon Cowell.

No, wait, I meant to say Harry Potter, of course. Since the first book was published in 1997 the author, J.K. Rowling, has gone from a single mother working two jobs to the second-richest person in the United Kingdom after God, and He only claims partial residence there anyway.

So it is from Rowling that we find our strongest argument to pursue the art of children’s literature (that argument, namely, being that you could become exorbitantly wealthy and get to meet Alan Rickman), but what does it take to write a good children’s novel? That’s another question entirely, isn’t it?

Aside from simply having well thought-out characters, settings and stories, there is one thing Rowling does that I think a lot of people who attempt to write children’s literature forget. If you read those Harry Potter books something is clear — at no point does Rowling condescend to her audience. She never writes down to children, and the children respond to that.

Kids are a lot smarter than I think most of us give them credit for. They know when they’re being patronized. They may not be able to define “patronized,” in certain school districts they may graduate without being able to define “patronized,” but they know when it’s being done to them and they don’t like it.

It is this respect for her audience that has allowed Rowling’s books to latch onto people like nothing else in the past half-century. It’s the reason so many of Harry Potter’s readers are grown men and women who can see not just their children, but themselves in the books, and that’s what keeps them coming back for more. That’s certainly what’s going to have bookstore owners across America hiding under the counter at 11:59 p.m. this June 20, 60 seconds before book five is to be unleashed.

So with all due humility (humility, along with grace and charm, is one of those qualities I have in enormous amounts), I think it is safe to say I understand what makes a good children’s book.

Understanding and doing, of course, are two entirely different things. While I have tremendous respect for children’s books, while I even think it would be a lot of fun to try my hand at writing one, the more I think about it, I don’t really have any ideas at the moment that would be suitable. Oh I’ve got lots of story ideas, don’t get me wrong, but they all seem to involve shapeshifting aliens or homicidal phantoms with glowing icepicks or bitter third-generation artists who suffer a blow to the head and start to believe they are cartoon badgers. Not the sort of thing you necessarily want your kids to read.

Sorry, Joan. I appreciate your faith in me, but I guess this is one idea that will have to go on the back-burner until the pieces in my head fall together in the right way.

I just hope Alan Rickman is still available by then.

[2011 Note: Joan’s comment stuck with me longer than I expected. Not long after I wrote this column, I began the first draft of a new book, which eventually became Lost in Silver. This book, of course, was serialized here at Evertime Realms some time back, and is part of my long-term plans to inundate the world with eBooks.]

Blake M. Petit bets you think he’s kidding about that badger thing. Heh, heh, heh. Contact him with comments, suggestions or plot ideas he can rip off like that Lemony Snicket does at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com

10
Sep
09

Help Choose My Next Podcast Novel!

Hey, friends. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in the process of getting off my buttocks and launching a new podcast, the heart of which will be new original fiction. In the months of November and December, I’m going to re-present my first podcast novel, A Long November. (Of course, if you don’t want to wait that long, you can download the whole thing right now, and totally free, from Podiobooks.com.) After that, though it’s going to be time for something new.

I’ve got a few different projects finished (or damn close to it) that I think would work as a podcast novel, but I’m trying to decide which one to go with. So I decided I’m going to throw it out to you guys. If I’m going to have this ready to launch in January, I need to get started working on it. I’m going to present you guys three options and I’m asking, in a totally non-democratic fashion, for you to tell me which one you’d like to hear as a podcast novel first. Then I’ll use your suggestions to make my decision.

  • Lost in Silver. This book, of course, is the one I just finished serializing here at the Realms. The book is both finished and edited, which is pretty damn appealing to me as a writer. Plus, I think it’s one of my stronger stories.
  • Cross-Purposes. The project that began life as my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel needs some polishing before I could start recording, but that’s kind of the reason I’m trying to make up my mind four months ahead of time. I call this my “Superhero Robert Altman Film.” The book features several intersecting and intertwined plotlines that weave in and out of each other, including a doctor trying to cure a hero trapped in a half-human/half-monster form, a detective who feels overshadowed by his speedster partner, a paparazzi getting a series of threatening phone calls, a cop who believes her partner is leading a superheroic double life, and several others. This book also takes place in the Other People’s Heroes universe, so there may be a cameo by some old friends from Siegel City.
  • The Last Portal. This previous NaNoWriMo effort is one I’ve always had a soft spot for as I went on to work on other projects. Scott Francis Montgomery is only Scott Francis Montgomery on Earth — in the magical land of Ezzix, he’s a member of the royal house and friend to the Princess. On his 13th birthday, the last portal between Earth and Ezzix will close forever, trapping Scott on one side or the other — a hard choice that becomes harder when he returns to Earth to find the world overrun by the Living Dead, his parents and family murdered and transformed into zombies, and his baby sister missing.

That’s right, buddy. Zombies in Ezzix. I went there.

So the question is simple — come the new year, when you start downloading and listening to my audio fiction (you’re already making room on your iPod, right?), which story do you think I should start with?

07
Sep
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Five: The Visitor

Well, friends, here we are, the end of my novel Lost in Silver. If you’ve been reading along, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and if you’re one of the folks who decided to wait until it was over, after the whole Summer Love debacle… well, now’s the time. This chapter completes what I sincerely hope will be the first adventure of Linda Watson and her friends, and although I tried not to be too liberal with the story seeds for future adventures, I couldn’t resist popping in one or two.

And if you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably start reading from the beginning. Go back to Chapter One, and you can just follow the link at the end of each chapter to the next one. How’s that for convenience?

Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll be starting a new fiction project soon, although it will be a bit different in form. Stay tuned, stick around, and have a Happy Labor Day.

Chapter Twenty-Five

The Visitor

The people of Nogard began to creep out of the forest a few at a time, waiting for the dragons to pass first. Following behind them, the news of what had happened slowly rolled through the land.

They’re gone.

The dragons—

–driven out by some children.

We can go home.

By the time Elmer’s invisibility potion wore off, restoring Kevin and Emily, people were filing across the drawbridge, reuniting with fathers and brothers that Baliwick had under his control. Gene took Kevin down to the dungeon to release the prisoners, while Emily found her father, a broad smile nearly splitting his face in half.

“Ye bested me handily on the road there, Emily,” Eric said, hugging her. “I’ve never been prouder of ye.”

“I’m sorry I had to do it, father,” she said. “Ye weren’t quite listening to reason at the time.”

“Not that he ever did,” said Elmer, coming through with the mass of people over the drawbridge. “Welcome back, son.”

“Elmer,” Linda said. “I want to have a little talk with you.”

“Oh, no doubt, my dear. I look forward to it. But let’s enjoy the moment, eh?”

“Woo-hoo! Let’s party!” Kevin announced proudly as he and Gene led the way out of the dungeons. People in rags, unshaven, burnt, branded and scarred, came out into the sun and embraced their family and friends. As they took up a cheer, Kevin began crying, “Bring out the Ewoks! Come on, where’s the music? Isn’t there supposed to be some big celebration here?”

“Kevin?” Linda shouted. She was seeing him for the first time since they escaped the Macana, the invisibility potion gone. He wasn’t the same devastated boy they’d left behind. His leg was wrapped up with some sort of gauze, and his clothes were muddy and torn in several places. The ripped sleeve from the Macana vacuum-suit was tied across his chest like a sash, and there were several pouches dangling from his belt, some with stones, some with nuts, some with objects Linda couldn’t even guess at. A slingshot poking out of his pocket made him look like a child from an old comic strip, and his hair was mussed and unkempt. He appeared perfectly at home.

“Ah, Wildchild!” Elmer said, clapping Kevin on the shoulders. “I knew ye’d do well, lad.”

“T’weren’t nothin’,” Kevin said in mock humility. “Hey, Linda, what do we do with the overgrown Smurfs?”

Linda, Elmer and his family followed Kevin to the stable, where the two Macana soldiers were tied up. Lareil glared at them with cold fury to rival Baliwick’s, while Llaeli looked like he just wanted to leave.

“Should we throw these guys into the dungeon?” Kevin asked.

“I don’t know if that would be for the best,” Linda said. “If they could find us, so could Lallura, along with any other goons she has ready. I’ve got a better idea.”

She walked over to Lareil and nudged him in the ribs with her sneaker. “Well look what we have here. Boy, you seemed much tougher when you were trying to butcher helpless kids.”

“Let me go, girl, and I’ll–”

“You’ll what? Get beaten up by a bunch of children again? You’ve got nothing left and you know it, Lareil. Here’s what you’re going to do – we’re going to let you go and you’re going to go back and tell Lallura that it’s no good trying to expand your grip out into Evertime. Because no matter where you go or who you attack, we’ll be there – us or people like us – and we’ll kick your collective butts back to Mitimae.”

“Fine, fine!” Llaeli shouted in exasperation. “Just let us begone.”

Linda untied the Macana then pointed to a pair of the guards, holding two of the more impressive-looking swords in the palace. “You two. Go with these bozos and make sure they find their way back to the Evertime pool.”

“Yes, miss,” one of the guards said. If either of them were less than inclined to take orders from a young girl, neither of them showed it. In fact, they seemed honored to be chosen. Why not? If there was one thing that was constant, Linda thought, it was that everyone else seemed to know more about what was going on than she did.

*   *   *

Although all five of them were anxious to go home, Benny moreso than anyone, Emily and Elmer convinced them to stay the night, rest, and set out in the morning. Gail and Gene deserved to see how Nogard hospitality worked outside of the dungeon, Elmer insisted. There was no livestock left in the palace, so any feast they had would be limited to a vegetarian menu, but nobody complained.

Some of the men did find casks of beer remaining in the stores. They offered some to the children when the oats and vegetables began to flow. Kevin and Gene each braved a mug. Linda stopped Benny – she and Gail both abstained.

As everyone ate and made merry, Linda kept her eyes on Elmer, as if waiting for a signal for him. He gave it as she ate her third ear of roasted corn. A soft gesture for her to approach him, then he got up and walked away to one of the empty stables. She followed him, leaving Kevin behind to chat with Eric and watch Emily dance with an older teenage boy, with a sparkle in his eye and stubble on his chin.

“Who’s that, her boyfriend?” he whispered to Eric.

“Boyfriend?”

“Are they… um… ‘courting’?”

“Lad, ye make no sense sometimes. That there’s her brother, Linus. He was in the dungeon.”

“Her brother?” he said, his face lighting up.

“Hmph,” said Gail.

*   *   *

In the stable, Elmer had a seat. “Seems ye’re ready for our conversation, eh Linda?”

“Yeah, I am.”

There was a long silence.

“Well?” he said.

“You want me to start?”

“Makes more sense. I already know everything, after all. Ye’re the one who has to tell me what ye want to know.”

“What was that potion you gave me?”

“Me own special blend,” he said, laughing. “Ye wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get the spices just right.”

“I mean what did it do to me?”

“Ah, a much better question. It gave ye The Sight, to begin with. I assume ye figured out how that works by now.”

“It took a bit of trial and error, but yes.”

“And it made ye a bit stronger, a bit faster, a bit more resilient. Basically, it made ye do everything ye already did, but better.”

“Is that all?”

Elmer smiled. “For now, aye.”

“For now?”

“Well… it’s also given you ever so much potential, my dear.”

“Why me, then? Why not Gail or Gene? Or your own granddaughter – why did I deserve your little ‘gift’? Which almost got me killed, by the way.”

“Because, dear, I knew it was time to pass it to someone, and I knew ye would be the only one who could handle it.”

“You’re not answering my question. Why me?

“Because, Linda, you’ve been marked. You’ve got the Halo.”

She shuddered. “The what?”

“Now I know you’ve seen it, dear. Oh. it’s not actually anything religious, of course, it’s that little golden haze ye can see around certain people. Ye saw it on Edward, didn’t ye?”

She thought back to the first time she looked at Edward, through her Third Eye – the glowing brilliant white of his body, topped with a field of gold around his heart and mind. “Yes, I saw it,” she said. ‘I thought it looked like a lion’s mane.”

Elmer laughed. At first she thought it was because he didn’t know what a lion was, but instead he guffawed and said, “Yes, yes! Ah, ye are a perceptive one, aren’t ye, girl?”

“You’re telling me that I’ve got one of those… ‘Halos’ too?”

“Aye, ye do. Don’t bother trying to see it in a reflection though, me girl. It doesn’t work that way. Just take my word for it.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a mark, that’s all. It marks certain people – Edward. Ye. Myself. We’re a breed apart, young Linda. We’re something special.”

“Something ‘special’? Is that anything like ‘one of us’?”

“Eh?”

“Never mind. You probably wouldn’t answer me even if I did know how to explain it.”

“That’s one of the benefits of age, lass. Ye get to pick and choose which questions to answer.” He stood up with an old man grunt and began to shuffle for the door.

“What, where are you going? I’ve still got so many questions!”

“I know ye do, dear, but I’m afraid I’ve given ye all the answers I can for now.”

“But not all the answers you know, right?”

“Ye are a smart one, Linda. That’s why I’m confident that, in the end, ye’ll do exactly what ye are meant to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Find out for yourself.”

*   *   *

As they left the next morning – Wednesday morning, but Linda’s reckoning, only Emily and Eric joined them. They waved their farewells to the rest of the people of Nogard and made their way down the Yellow Brick Road to the Evertime pool.

“What are you going to do about this road?” Kevin said, kicking at the peeling paint on the cobblestones.

“I don’t know,” Elmer said. “Between the weather and the feet of travelers, this ugly shade should be worn away soon enough.”

“Aww…” Benny said. Once he had his head back about him, the road was the only thing about the whole experience he really liked.

“You do know what we’re going to tell Mom and Dad when we get home, right?” Linda asked him.

“A guy grabbed me at the baseball field and dragged me into the woods. He put a bag over my head and I didn’t see anything until you guys found me.”

“That’s right,” Linda said. She hated lying to her parents, especially about something like this, but telling them the truth would mark them all as lunatics. It was Gail who crafted their cover story, actually. They would tell them that a man in a black coat kidnapped Benny as the children played soccer – the other kids who were there that day would certainly have told them that much by now. Their story would be that the other three followed him to a pickup truck and managed to hide in the back until he stopped somewhere and they got Benny out somewhere in the northern part of the state. They would claim they hid for a few days, fearful that he was still looking for them, and when they were certain it was safe they stole a ride back in another truck. It wasn’t a flawless story, but it wasn’t bad. Linda didn’t at all like the idea of tying up police looking for a kidnapper they’d never find, but it was better than the alternative. Evertime, she knew, was something that needed to be guarded. Something so magical, and so potentially dangerous, should never become public knowledge.

“Here we are,” Linda said as they approached the pool. They each hugged Emily and clasped Elmer’s hand – Linda staring at him curiously the whole time – and made ready to leave.

“Goodbye, friends,” Emily said. “Come back some time – see what this place is like when we aren’t under occupation.”

“You bet,” Kevin said. “Any time we’re on the planet, you’d better believe we’ll be dropping by.”

“Hey, look!” Gene said. He pointed to the branches of a nearby baumer tree, where a beautiful yellow bird, a bit like a canary, was furiously working to build a nest. When Gene called attention to it, the bird looked down and sang a brief, sweet song, almost like it were singing just for him, before returning to her task.

“The animals are coming back,” Gene said.

“Aye,” Elmer said. “The last marks of Baliwick’s stay will be gone soon. Ye’d be welcome back here for that alone, if nothing else.’

The five children joined hands – Gene to Gail to Benny to Linda to Kevin – and stepped up to the edge of the Evertime pool.

“Hey, how do we know those dragons are gone?” Benny asked, his palms sweating. “I thought they couldn’t go in water.”

“Evertime water isn’t like regular water, B,” Linda said. “If it was, he could never have gotten to us in the first place. Don’t worry, they’re long gone.” She looked down the row. “Everyone ready? Okay then, on three…”

They jumped in and came out a few moments later in the still quiet of Evertime. The empty, motionless sky and the perfect silver of the water had not changed at all, but everything was different somehow. It was the same way climbing into the family minivan was different when it was time to come home from a long trip – you didn’t climb in the same way you did when the trip was beginning.

“All right,” Kevin said. “Anyone remember where we parked?”

“I’ve got the directions Murphy gave me,” Gail said, “but those were directions from the Infinity Bar and Grille.”

“And we remember how to get back there,” Gene said. “We’ll just have to go there and then take Gail’s directions back to Earth.”

“We’re going to a bar?” Benny said.

“No, B, we… hey, why not? You guys feel like making a stop? I’ve got something I want to talk to our old pal Murphy about.”

*   *   *

Although it was morning by Linda’s internal clock, the Infinity Bar and Grille was as crowded as ever. She got the impression it was always that way. Murphy smiled when he saw the children come in, the wrinkles folding oddly around the little t-shaped scar next to his eye. “Well, well! Little Linda Watson! Looks like you found everything you were looking for, eh?”

“Yeah, I guess we did,” Linda said, striding up to the bar. The other children stayed behind her, Benny clinging to Gail, unsure about some of the strange characters in the bar. A small group of people with green, lizard-like faces particularly unnerved him, but Gail assured him they were probably no relation to Baliwick.

“We’re about to head home now, but I wanted to make a quick stop here first. Say hello.”

“Aw, Linda, you flatter me.”

“I’m sure,” she said. “You knew everything that would happen to us in Nogard, didn’t you?”

Murphy laughed. “Linda, Linda, Linda. You know the rules. I couldn’t answer that question unless you did me a favor, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything for you right now.”

“That’s okay. I didn’t really expect you to answer anyway.” She looked around the bar. “I was hoping to talk to Nancy. She’s not here, is she?”

“I don’t see her anywhere, do you?”

“I guess not.” She took the waterlogged watch off her wrist and handed it to Murphy. “Tell her I said thanks, but the next time I come here I’ll try to have a waterproof watch with me.”

“You got it, kid. Come on back sometime. I think you’d be fun to have around.”

“I’ll bet you do. Come on, guys. Ready to go?”

“Aw, I was just about to challenge that guy in the red cloak to a spell casting contest,” Kevin griped.

“Let it go, son,” Murphy said. “He’d wipe the floor with you.”

The five children left the bar and Murphy laughed. He waved to one of the adjoining rooms and a stern-looking blonde woman in a long coat came left a table with four similarly-dressed people. She walked over to him. “That was Linda, wasn’t it? She and the others did okay.”

“They did better than okay, Nance. Here, she wanted you to have your watch back.”

Nancy took it and smiled. It wouldn’t work again. Why would she want her to have it back? She turned the watch over in her hand and gasped. There was a message scratched into the back of the band. “Edward is okay,” it said. “He’ll find you when it’s safe.”

“Somethin’ wrong, Nance?” Murphy said. “You look like you saw a ghost, and I’ve got all of them in room seven tonight.”

“Who is that girl?” Nancy said. “Why did you want me to bring her here in the first place?”

“Aw, Nancy, you already used up your question for that favor. Sorry.”

*   *   *

Denise Watson was perched on the edge of her couch at 11:45 that Wednesday morning. Her oldest daughter, Jamie, was home from school and holding on to her, letting her cry, her own face impassive as if she were trying to keep her mother propped up. Jerry Watson was out of the house with his little brother, Marty, doing what they had done every day for five days now – putting up missing children posters on every telephone pole and bulletin board they could find, speaking to the police, dealing with the press when necessary. A missing child was increasingly big news these days. Five missing children from one park was enough to make the national news. NBC, CBS and Fox News had been camping out in Timberton for days now, and most of the other major outlets were in and out. Jerry had done several press conferences with the parents of the other missing children, pleading for their safe return, but Denise had stayed away from the camera. She wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

“You want some tea, Mom?” Jamie asked. It was a small gesture, but seemed to be the only thing Denise would respond to these days.

“No, sweetie,” she said. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she was sitting next to a mound of used tissues that only got bigger and bigger as days went by and there was no news of her missing babies. Jerry or Marty kept trying to clean it up, but the mound always came back even bigger. The police tore the forest apart, but found nothing except a trail of the children’s belongings – watches, ribbons, that sort of thing. The trail led to a pond in the middle of the woods that nobody seemed to know about. Marty had suggested – to his brother, not to Denise – that perhaps the police should dredge the pond, but nobody seemed to notice. After a few days the police had abandoned the forest as empty of clues and turned their attention to leads from the public. An Amber Alert was issued even before nightfall on Friday, sending out news of the missing children to every news organization in the southern states, and a hotline was established. There had already been close to two thousand tips. So far, none of them had proved of use.

It was 11:47 now, and Denise discarded another tissue she had clutched and rubbed to her nose until only shreds of white fiber remained. She was reaching for a clean tissue when she heard the sliding glass door to the back yard glide open.

“Jerry?” she sniffed. “Is there any news?”

“It’s not Dad, Mom,” said a beautiful, familiar girl’s voice, a voice Denise secretly believed she would never hear again. Even before she turned around, even before she saw Linda and Benny standing there, clutching each other, the other three missing children behind them, even before Linda said, “We’re home,” all of Denise’s defenses vanished. She nearly trampled Jamie and hurtled the couch, grabbing a missing child in each arm and clutching them to her body, sobbing harder than she had since the police had arrived at their home Friday afternoon to tell them they had been kidnapped. Jamie approached tentatively, not sure what to do, but Denise grabbed her and pulled her into the embrace, and soon she was crying too. The four of them held onto each other and all of them began to cry, and as far as Denise Watson was concerned, they could stay in that tiny, leaking unit of family for the rest of her life, just so long as none of her children were ever out of her sight again.

*   *   *

It wasn’t until the next Monday that the children returned to school – only Gail was disappointed by that. Their teachers all were more than willing to allow them to make up the work they missed, and the kids each resolved to work harder than if they had been there in the first place.

Gail’s parents were ecstatic to have their daughter home, and over time, grew even happier with the change in her. She was more studious than before, more careful in school. She had never been a slack child, but now she seemed determined to make it to the top of her class. When her mother asked her about it, she just shrugged. “I’ve got to build up my mind,” Gail said. After a few months of this behavior, Gail’s father got brave enough to joke that if this was the result, he should arrange to have his daughter kidnapped more often. Her mother responded by throwing a pillow at him.

Kevin returned home to find his room full of gifts from his father – a new baseball glove, football, soccer ball, roller blades. Kevin showed his appreciation, but except for a new bicycle, he never used any of the gifts more than a handful of times. His appreciation for sports was undiminished, but his intention to pursue them seemed to be gone. He hopped on the bicycle the first time he convinced his mother to let him leave the house unattended again, rode to the Timberton Public Library, and got his first library card. The only other sports-inclined request he ever made, to which his father quickly agreed, was to be allowed to sign up for karate lessons.

Gene seemed mostly unchanged by his ordeal, although he did throw more of his time into his family and, especially, his pets. His two dogs got walked twice every day, his rabbit got only the freshest lettuce he could find, and his cat got more belly-rubs than the rest of the cats on the block combined. His mom pointed out to him that he was spending as much time with the animals as he was with his friends, who now included the two girls he’d been missing with, although he hadn’t really spent time with them before. “Well yeah, Mom,” he said. “Can’t you imagine how much it would suck if the animals weren’t here?”

Benny stayed away from his books for a while upon returning, but he drifted back to them. In fact, he began spending so much time reading that his parents got worried about him. Denise signed him up for sessions with the school counselor, who reported that Benny’s ordeal had made him retreat to his fantasy worlds. Benny, for his part, read and recited the stories and details of his books like any minor tidbit could be a matter of life and death. It actually got to the point where Denise forbid him to read for a time.

It was Uncle Marty who made the peace. He sat down with Benny one night and pulled him in close. “I know you miss your books, buddy, but your mom is just worried about you.”

“I need them,” Benny said.

“I know, I know, but you understand that you don’t really need them, don’t you?”

Benny just frowned.

“Okay, bad choice of words. How about this – you realize you need other things too, right? Your family, your friends, school… don’t those things matter to you anymore?”

“Yeah…”

“So how about a compromise? I’ll get her to give you your books back if you promise not to read ‘em 24-seven. Play outside. Read some of your schoolbooks. Let things get back to normal, okay?”

Benny eventually relented, and Marty made the piece between him and his mother. Before Benny was halfway through the Chronicles of Narnia, he’d made an A on his math test and joined the recreation department’s Pee-Wee football team, trading on his notoriety to get him in a few weeks late. After watching his first game, Denise commented that he had been safer back when he had himself locked in his room reading about bloodthirsty dragons.

Outwardly, Linda seemed affected the least by their experiences. The only change anyone noticed was a rapid, intense interest in her older sister. Jamie responded to the sudden deluge of attention by going back to school and spending more time away from her sister than before. Other than that, Linda seemed pretty much the same. Her grades stayed the same, her emotions didn’t change, she still liked sports and avoided books as much as ever. The people who had come back with her noticed only one thing – that she was much more alert than ever before. She was always looking around, taking stock of everything around her, gathering all the information she could about whatever environment she found herself in. It wasn’t a paranoid thing. She didn’t behave as though anyone was out to get her. Rather, it was more like she was waiting for something, although if you asked her, not even Linda would know what it was.

She realized it on the same day she stopped looking for it. It was about two months after they got back. November in Louisiana carried a coolness to the air, but it still wasn’t really chilly. Gene and Linda managed to talk Kevin and Gail into a two-on-two soccer match at recess that day, even though Kevin had wanted to show off some of the moves he’d learned in karate class, combined with a couple of the Cantrips he had learned in Lewiston.

“All right, Evernauts,” he said, using the name he’d adopted when it was only the four of them present. “Let’s have a game.”

Kevin and Linda paired off against Gene and Gail, who took a quick lead. It was 2-0 five minutes after they started, and where Kevin would once have gotten furious at losing, he was instead laughing at his own moves.

“Sorry, guys,” he said as a pass to Linda went wild, rolling right up to the fence.

“I got it,” Linda said. She ran to the fence as she once had for a baseball, taking in the area with her eyes. The entire school was to her back. The only person outside was a jogger, a young black man in a gray sweatsuit wearing a necklace, who she noticed had made a few laps around the school. He didn’t register as a threat.

As Linda ran up to the fence, he seemed to notice his shoelace was untied. He stopped and bent down, twisting the laces with his long, coffee-colored fingers and whistling the whole time. Linda had the ball in her hands and bounced it off her knee a few times, showing off for the others, when she caught the tune the jogger was whistling. The tune had words, she knew, for she had been taught them by someone very special.

“Heroes only exist in shadows,” she sang softly.

The jogger looked up at her and the necklace slipped free from his shirt. She realized there was a pendant dangling from the chain, what looked like a hand-carved and painted wooden eagle. The man smiled warmly, and she didn’t feel at all afraid.

She then did something she hadn’t tried since she left Nogard. She summoned up her powers and opened her Third Eye. The jogger began to glow with an intensity like Edward’s, and just like Edward, his heart and head had a beautiful golden aura. In her two ordinary eyes, the jogger winked and stood up.

You’re one of us now, Linda, Edward had told her. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.

“Linda? Hey, Linda?” Kevin put his hand on her shoulder and she snapped the Third Eye shut. The jogger smiled again, waved, and kept on his way.

“Something wrong there, Evernaut?” Kevin asked.

“No,” she said, “everything’s fine.”

Evernaut, he called her. It felt right. There was still so much out there… so much to learn… so much to do.

An Evernaut. That wouldn’t be a bad fate at all.

01
Sep
09

Workin’ in a coal mine…

Okay, maybe sitting in front of my laptop at the kitchen table isn’t exactly “in a coal mine,” but I’ve been working a heck of a lot lately. First, the stuff that you guys can see obviously. Next week I’m going to present the final chapter of Lost in Silver. So all of you folks who tell me you’ve been waiting for the story to finish before you even start reading it… well, I don’t blame you. But you will soon have no excuses.

Does this mean a return of Summer Love to the Realms? In a word… no. At least, not now. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my drive for Summer Love suffered a major blow when I realized that the story I was working on was frighteningly similar to a pretty popular series of young adult novels. Yeah. Those. So I’ve been trying to work my way through the end of the story in some other fashion. I’m not there yet. I hope to be soon. This, however, is the reason I’m not going to be starting any new fiction project here at Evertime Realms soon. The experience with Summer Love has taught me that it’s a big mistake to begin serializing a story that isn’t finished yet. I haven’t yet decided what my next online project will be, but I assure you whatever it is will be finished before I post a single word here.

So what have I been working on? Mostly A Long November and Other Stories. Now that I’ve actually got a Kindle in my hot little hands (well… not at this instant, I need both hands for typing), I believe in the format more than ever. So I’m working hard on edits and renovations to all nine of the stories that are going to make up my Yuletide anthology. It’s coming along nicely.

The other major project weighing on my mind at the moment is going to be coming your way sooner than you think. Beginning this fall, Blake M. Petit’s Evercast is going to be my new podcast home, where I’m going to release my fiction — both short stories, and serialized novels and novellas — in audio format. I’m going to launch this new podcast the last week in October, hopefully with a new Halloween-themed short story (but if I don’t finish one, I’ve got some old ones I may present). After that, you can look forward to a presentation of A Long November in the feed leading up to Christmas, then in the new year, something that’s never been in your ears before.

It’s going to be a lot of work, and frankly, I’m already exhausted. But I’m psyched about it, and I hope you guys will get behind it as much as I already am. After all, without you out there listening, I’m pretty much just talking to myself. And that’s not healthy for anyone.

24
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Three: The Enemy

Chapter Twenty-Three

The Enemy

Deep in the dungeon of Baliwick’s keep, the man who called himself Edward dangled from links of metal set into a stone wall. Just a few, slender links, endowed by nature alone with the strength to hold him to the ancient masonry, even as it was nature that suppressed his strength too much for him to break away.

Nature, he thought. He had long since stopped trying to decide where nature ended and where science began. Magic itself was merely a manipulation of natural forces, controlled in the form a science most people would never understand. In truth, there was no distinction. It was nature, not Baliwick, that was his jailer.

And unlike Baliwick, if he sweet-talked it enough, it would be nature that would set him free.

There were shouts outside the cell. Guards scrambled and shrieks echoed down into his dank chamber. In the other chambers he could hear those prisoners not completely broken begin to whisper, then to cheer. Something was happening, and that special little girl was most certainly at the center of it.

Edward allowed himself to smile just for a moment before he began to recite his nice, simple magic words.

*   *   *

“Kevin, where did you come from?” Gene shouted as they scampered down the lucky thirteen steps to the grandstand.

“Forget that!” Gail shouted. “Why can’t we see you?”

“A little present I picked up from your friend Elmer!” Kevin’s disembodied voice shouted.

“Elmer? You found Elmer?”

“Aye, lass,” said a second ownerless voice. “I told ye I’d keep an eye out for your friend, didn’t I?”

“Emily?” Linda called as she made it to the bottom of the stairs. She was probably the first one down, but she couldn’t be positive, considering she didn’t know where Kevin or Emily actually were. She got off the stairs and prepared to run, but only wound up running right into a furious Baliwick.

“I don’t know what you or your new friends did to Harridan, girl, but I assure you, it won’t work on me.” He flashed his hands in front of them and, with a sound like a knife being drawn against flint, all ten fingernails shot out into long, glittering claws. His eyes were orange again, but this time with heat rather than power, and when he shouted at them, Linda could see tongues of flame licking the back of his throat.

“What are you?” she said.

“Your death, child!” he roared, and he lunged forward, slashing at the children. Gene grabbed Gail and pulled her aside, Linda rolling in the opposite direction. The dust around Baliwick rose up in a cloud about his feet and unseen hands grabbed the trail of his long coat, pulling it up and over his head. He roared, slashing his arms blindly back around his own body and failing to hit anything.

“Geez, Linda, what did you go to get this guy so mad?” Kevin asked.

“We dug up his flower bed, what do you think?” she asked. She grabbed the flapping end of the coat and wrapped it around Baliwick’s neck, yanking him back towards the support beams for the grandstand. “Somebody help me pin him down!”

“Done, me girl,” Emily said. The tail of the coat drifted through the air against the wood. There was a thud and a knife appeared, sticking the coat to the post like a butterfly pinned under glass. “How long will that hold him?”

“About long enough for him to untangle his arms and pull it out!”

“Well, then, we’re not running nearly fast enough, are we?”

Emily’s invisible hand grasped Linda’s painfully opaque one and pulled her towards the tunnel to the stables. Behind them, Kevin was leading Gene and Gail in the same direction. As they crossed into the courtyard, Linda was surprised to see that all of the “orange” guards were standing motionless, scratching their heads as if unsure what to do. Without Baliwick’s direction, they were completely helpless.

“Whoa, where are we going?” Linda asked.

“The stables,” Emily said, “unless you know another way out where we won’t be wading through Baliwick’s thugs!”

“We can’t leave yet!”

“Why not?” Gail shouted.

“Benny’s still here!”

“I don’t suppose I can talk ye into saving your own skin and coming back for him another time,” Emily said.

“No!”

“Then let’s pretend we’ve already argued about it and cut to the part where ye tell me where they’re keeping him.”

Linda smiled with gratitude. “Deal. The top of that tower.”

“Kevin, boyo, get the others to the moat.”

“Way ahead of you!” his voice called from the direction of the stables. Gail seemed to be pulled along by an invisible rope, and Gene was just trying to keep up.

“Linda, ye’re with me,” Emily’s voice said.

“Really? I barely noticed.”

*   *   *

Gail was scared, but had enough of her wits about her to be offended that Kevin was dragging her through the courtyard while Gene was allowed to run free. As they made it through the tunnel to the stables she jerked her arm loose and they heard Kevin’s feet scuffle forward a few steps, losing his balance upon losing the extra weight.

“What? Why are we stopping? Did you guys develop a death wish while I was gone?”

“Where have you been?” she shouted.

“Do we really want to have this conversation now?”

“Works for me,” Gene said. “I was starting to think the Macana got you.”

“I got lost, all right? I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and I wound up in Lewiston again. Once I rested and patched up my leg, I went back through Evertime and found the bar, then Murphy gave me Linda’s note. You want to know what I had for breakfast or is that enough?”

“You had breakfast?” Gene said.

“How long are you going to be invisible?” Gail snapped at the air.

“I don’t know! Elmer said the potion would last an hour, I drank it maybe 20 minutes ago…”

“How did you meet Elmer?”

“Emily brought me to him.”

“How did you meet Emily?”

“Look, I didn’t have a camcorder with me, okay?”

“What were you doing all this time?”

“I took your advice!”

“What?”

“I read a book.”

He shouted a few garbled syllables that reminded Gail of Latin and, with a pop, the grate that led to the drainage pipe they crawled up to enter the castle fell open into the dust.

“How did you do that?”

“A handy little tome called Exomancy For Dummies,” Kevin said. “I used a shrinking spell on the bolts. The trick is shrinking them enough so that there’s a crack and air can get into the hole – otherwise you’ve got a vacuum and it’s that much harder to pull it off.”

Gene and Gail looked around dumbfounded, having no idea what direction they should technically be looking in. “You’ve been studying magic?” Gene said.

“A little, yeah. Mostly defensive spells. Easy enough stuff, but if the guy you’re squaring off with doesn’t expect them, they can be very effective.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I’m quoting from the introduction. Look, I knew you guys would go on without me, and evidently my athletic skills weren’t all they were cracked up to be.” Gail flushed at that, but Kevin ignored her and kept going. “I wanted to be able to help when I found you.”

“Well, you’ve sure as heck done that. Hasn’t he, Gail?”

“Yeah, yeah he has.”

“It’s wonderful that we’re all friends again,” said Kevin. “Now can we please cement that friendship by crawling down a hole that smells like butt and swimming for our lives?”

“Just like the good old days,” Gene said. “Let’s move.” He ran to the pipe and peered into it. “Hey, was there anyone else with you guys?”

“We’ve got some folks on the edge of the forest,” Kevin said. “Why?”

“It looks like – gurk!”

A hand came out of the pipe, clad in white, stained green by the filthy moat water. It grabbed Gene around the throat and shoved him into the dirt. The hand was followed by a body – a dripping, odiferous, blue-skinned body, with angry, hate-filled eyes.

“How wonderful,” said Lareil of the Macana. “Two of the insects that escaped us before.” He climbed out of the pipe, holding on to Gene, and Llaeli came out after him.

“You have a choice to make, boy,” Lareil said. “You can show us where your friends are, particularly the girl, or the one friend you’ve managed to hold on to can pick up your vertebrae from the dust.”

*   *   *

“When do you think Baliwick will get himself out of his coat?” Linda asked as she and Emily ran down the halls of the keep.

“About half a minute ago, actually.”

“Great. Well, nothing like working under pressure. This way.”

Linda hit a turn in the hallway and started up the stairs that led to Benny’s room. It was like watching a movie with a broken audio track – only Linda could be seen charging up the stone staircase, but the pounding of her shoes seemed to echo enough for two people. Linda half-wished she could run past a guard just to see the surprised look on his face. Of course, they were all pretty much mindless husks anyway, except for Baliwick’s own people, and after Harridan’s display, she didn’t think that would be worth it.

“Hey, Emily? I know this isn’t exactly the best time, but exactly how much do you know about Baliwick and his guys?”

“I don’t follow. What are ye askin’ me, girl?”

“You saw the execution, right?” Linda asked. The just passed up another window – she’d lost count, but she thought it was the last one before Benny’s room at the top of the tower.

“Well, I saw the attempt. I flatter m’self by saying it wasn’t a particularly successful execution.”

“You saw how they wanted to kill us, then? Harridan was spitting fire!

“Aye – and that surprised ye? Linda-girl, I thought ye knew what ye were dealin’ with! If I’d have known I’d have never let ye into this keep by yourself!”

None of this was adding up to Linda. Andro, Emily and Kevin all used magic, and they came across as purple in her Third Eye. But Baliwick and his goons were black, so whatever they were doing wasn’t technically magic, at least, not the same kind of magic. This was assuming, of course, she had any idea how this was working, which was debatable, considering the quality of her on-the-job training.

“Is that the room Benny’s in?”

“Only room up here,” Linda said. “Nice to see Baliwick left it guarded.”

“Halt!” the guard yelled, staring blankly ahead with orange eyes. He lowered his spear at Linda. “Surrender!”

“Emily?”

“Aye,” Emily said. The spear popped out of the guard’s hands and clattered to the staircase. The guard doubled over a second later, grabbing his stomach, then falling forward like he’d been kicked.

“This is so much easier when they can’t see you coming,” Emily said.

“I’ll bet.” Linda lifted a heavy bolt from across the door and shoved the door open. “Benny? Come on, Benny, we’re leaving! Now!”

“I don’t see him anywhere, Linda.”

“Well, you’re even with him, then. Benny!”

A sudden weight slammed into Linda’s back and she slammed into the ground. A pair of tiny fists rained blows down onto her shoulders and neck. They barely hurt, at least physically.

“Where’s Baliwick?” Benny’s voice howled. “What have you done with him?”

Emily grabbed Benny with invisible arms and pulled him off. “Is this your brother, Linda? He’s certainly an agreeable chap.”

“You should see him at bedtime,” Linda groaned. “Benny, calm down. I know you’re in there somewhere – try to stop this stupid, ugly creature that’s in charge right now so we can save you, okay?”

“I don’t need saving!” he screamed. “Baliwick! Baliwick, help! It’s just like you said! They’re trying to take me! They–”

Benny’s voice got muffled and, a few seconds later, a handkerchief appeared in his mouth.

“Sorry, Linda. He was getting on my nerves. Hand me the belt on that robe, will ye? I’ll tie him up.”

“How do you do that, anyway?” Linda asked, picking up the rope. “That bit where you make things appear.”

“It’s how my grandfather’s potion works. Ye drink it and your body and everything within an inch or two of your skin turns invisible. Ye can’t wear big cloaks or anything, but it’s a lot better than his old potion that only made your body disappear and ye had to run around starkers. Of course, when I let go of something it reappears. There – he’s tied up right nice.”

“Wrapped up like a Christmas present,” Linda said.

“A what?”

No Christmas in Nogard, Linda thought. “Boy, it must be rotten to live here in winter.” Linda hefted up the struggling Benny over her shoulder – he seemed lighter than he used to. But that didn’t make sense, she knew Baliwick had been treating him well — physically, at least. Did that mean she was getting stronger? “Let’s get out of here before Gail’s halfway back to Evertime.”

Emily held the door open for Linda, then closed it behind them. They didn’t get very far down the spiral staircase – perhaps one circuit of the tower – before they stopped, turned, and started running back up.

“Half a minute, you said?” Linda said.

“Aye. We probably tarried a bit too much in Benny’s room.”

“We should have thought of that before.”

Fire scorched the tunnel behind them, and now Linda wondered if her increased speed was because she was growing stronger, or if the fact that Baliwick and what appeared to be an entire regiment of orange-eyed guards were screeching only a few steps behind them was just one major source of incentive.

“Come back down, Linda-girl!” Baliwick roared. “Come back down and we’ll all play nice together!”

*   *   *

Hundreds of feet below them, Edward’s chains were rattling against the wall of his cell. His fingers traced the air, making intricate patterns with careful precision, each motion of his fingers matching the mumbling syllables he was reciting as fast as he could.

En-doh-eggs-oh, en-doh-eggs-oh, en-doh-eggs-oh,” he was humming.

Above him, he heard commotion, guards racing up stairs, angry shout and cries of rage.

He started talking even faster. “Endo-exo-endo-exo-endo-exo!”

The shackles around his wrists began to vibrate. If Linda had been there, the wash of purple she saw in her Third Eye would have been blinding.

*   *   *

“Where is the girl?” Lareil shouted, shaking Gene as hard as he could. Gene choked and clawed at Lareil’s hand, not breaking the thick skin of the vacuum suit. He kicked at the Macana, but Llaeli grabbed him by the legs and held him in place. “Tell me where she is, boy, and I may spare you.”

“Get – cough – bent!”

“You may as well tell us, child. Your sort is so predictable.”

“For-ghaa!” Gene’s voice was strained. “Forget it!”

“You’ll tell me, or I won’t kill you. I’ll kill your little friend here while you get to watch.”

Gail screamed and fell back. “No! Don’t!”

“I will kill you, girl…”

“Don’t tell him, Gene!”

“What?” said Lareil.

“What?” said Llaeli.

“Wh-haaat?” croaked Gene.

“I can’t believe you jerks chased us all the way here! Don’t you have some innocent bunnies to blow up or something?”

Gene stared at her, too busy being surprised to remember to suffocate. Lareil, likewise, gaped in amazement. “Well, well! You’ve been feeding this one for a change, have you boy? Maybe I should go ahead and strangle you anyway – unless she’d be willing to tell us what happened to your other friends.”

“One of ‘em is right here!” Kevin shouted. Lareil’s legs jerked together and he fell face-first into the dirt, dropping Gene on the way. Gene, hitting the ground, threw himself over Lareil’s chest to hold him down. Invisible hands gave him a length of rope which reappeared a few seconds later, tied around Lareil’s legs. “Tie him up, Gene!”

“Who’s that?” Llaeli asked. “Who said that?”

Kevin shouted a succession of three quick syllables, and Llaeli balked in pain, falling over next to Lareil on the ground. He clutched his stomach even as a thin fluid, a darker color blue than his skin, trailed from his nose and the corner of his mouth. Another invisible blow struck him across the face and he fell backwards unconscious.

“What was that, Kevin?” Gail asked.

Cantrips For Self-Defense,” Kevin said, “my new favorite book, after Grey’s Sports Almanac. The first spell let me hit him faster, the second spell let me hit him harder, and the third spell let me know where to hit him to make it hurt the most.”

“He was bleeding from the mouth because you hit him in the stomach?” Gail asked.

“I don’t think that’s his stomach.”

“Ew.”

“For – ghe – forget them,” Gene said. “What the heck happened to Gail?”

“What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Yeah, but you… you… did something.”

“Kevin told me to.”

“What?”

“He whispered for me to distract them so he could tie them up.”

“Aha!” Lareil shouted. “Base treachery and deceit. Foul – oof!”

Kevin kicked him in the side. “Yeah, and you were willing to torture and kill 11-year-olds. Spare us the lecture, okay?”

“Gail,” Gene said, clearly impressed. “That was… you were good.

“Thanks,” she said. “It felt good. Maybe I’ll try not freaking out a little more often.”

“So what do we do with Dingus and Dorkus here?” Kevin said. “We can’t just leave them.”

“Why not?” Gail asked. “Let Baliwick roast them like he was going to do to us.”

“Baliwick?” Lareil said. “What’s a Baliwick?”

“A big, ugly guy with sharp teeth and major halitosis,” Kevin said. “Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

“Uh, guys?”

“Yeah,” Kevin said. “He eats babies for breakfast and middle-schoolers for lunch. I’ll bet a skinny blue alien would be the perfect appetizer for dinner.”

“Guys?”

“And he can sharpen your bones and use them to pick his teeth,” Kevin continued. “I bet you guys are really stringy.”

“Guys!”

“What, Gene?” Gail asked.

“Is that tower supposed to be shaking back and forth like that?”

The others looked where he was pointing and saw the tallest tower in the castle quaking like it were hit by a localized earthquake. Stones fell away from the sides while gouts of flame and thick billows of black smoke belched out of the windows.

“Is that the tower where Linda and Emily are?” Kevin asked.

“I don’t know,” Gail said.

“Of course it is,” said Gene. “Otherwise, it might mean something was going right.

*   *   *

“Exoendoexoendoexoendo…”

*   *   *

Linda, with Benny slung over her shoulder, burst back into the room he’d had in the top of the tower. Unfortunately, that turned out to be as far as they could run. Baliwick and the guards followed them into the room before they could shove the door shut.

“This has gone far enough, Linda!” Baliwick erupted. He’d pulled his arms out of the sleeves of his coat, but left it fastened around his neck with a cord so it hung heavy about his frame like a cloak. The dark grey fabric of his tunic quivered back and forth as his chest rose and fell. Each breath had more weight to it than the last, and Linda was afraid he would explode there in the staircase.

“It’s not far enough until we’re out of here,” Linda said. Benny shrieked against the gag and flailed against her, hitting her even harder and never causing any pain. She tossed him onto the bed and clenched her fists, raising them in a boxing posture.

“You’re going to try to fight me, Linda? You?” He laughed and puffs of smoke spilled out of his cheeks.

“If I have to,” Linda said. She popped open her Third Eye and saw Emily, dazzling violet, creeping behind Baliwick and avoiding the phalanx of orange guards. She reached out for Baliwick’s cloak, ready to pull it against his throat, when he pivoted around and grabbed her by the invisible shirt, hurling her into the wall. Her left arm smashed against the stone and she shouted on the way down.

“You don’t trick me twice, girl!” he said, sniffing at the air. “Too much wind, too many people, I couldn’t sense you in the courtyard, but here you’re so clear to me I can almost see you.”

“Leave her alone!” Linda punched out into Baliwick’s stomach. It was like punching a steel light post. Her thumb cracked and she shouted in pain. Towering above her, Baliwick laughed. His skin was slowly changing before her eyes. From beneath his clothing crept a sort of dark, black, glassy substance, coating him like a second, impenetrable skin.

“What are you?” Linda said.

“Your ending, child! I’m going to tear this tower apart with you in it!”

“You do that and you’ll get Benny too!”

“Stupid, sightless girl. You’re not what I’m looking for, Andro confirmed that. I don’t need you or your petulant brother anymore!” Benny howled, flailing around the bed, panicked to hear his perceived “friend” talk in such a fashion.

Baliwick’s tunic ripped apart beneath flexing muscles, the shreds falling away from his torso. His skin was now black with armor except for a lighter patch along his chest and stomach like the belly of a lizard. The guards, even in their blank state, turned around and ran out of the room in an orderly, if terrified fashion.

“What are you?” Linda repeated.

“Obsidian Clan,” Emily moaned, clutching the arm that slammed against the wall.

“Obsidian Clan?” Linda said. “What does that mean?”

“Please,” hissed Baliwick, long, black tongue flickering against her face. “Allow me to show you.”

Baliwick bent over, his body expanding, and he roared with a burst of flame and smoke from the pit of his stomach. His entire body was covered with the black armor now – smooth and hot like obsidian glass. His hair pulled into his head, leaving him bald, and his nose elongated. His limbs twisted and his fingers turned into razor-sharp claws. From behind, his pants ripped apart and a gigantic tail flapped against the floor. His entire body continued getting larger and larger, and when his tail flailed against the walls the entire tower shook. Finally, he reared back on his haunches, tearing the roof off to make room for his 20-foot tall form. A horn sprouted from his nose and, from his back, opened a pair of enormous leathery wings. He fired a torch from his mouth into the sky and Linda grabbed her brother, pulling him under the bed. Giant claws hurled the four-post oak furniture through the air and beyond the realm of the castle and Linda, shaking, found herself staring into the blazing eyes of a giant Obsidian Dragon.

The claw grasped Linda, then, picking up Benny with her, and looking at the arc the discarded bed took, hurled them both into the air outside the tower. Benny was still gagged, so Linda’s scream was much louder.

*   *   *

“EndoexoendoexoENDOEXO!”

Edward’s body was washed with a cascade of pure light and, for a moment, it was impossible to see inside the cell. The light faded again, except for his eyes, which flashed blue in the darkness. He gripped the chains that bound him to the wall and twisted them around his hands, getting a tight grasp as close to the wall as possible. With a mighty shout, he jerked his arms forward. The metal links of the chains creaked and squealed against each other, but did not break. Finally, the stress proved too much for the wall itself and the stone blocks the chains were bolted to exploded, showering Edward’s bare back with rock and dust. He stood up straight against the falling stone without a mark against his skin – no cuts, no bruises, not even a smear of dirt. The chains fell by his side, their rattling drowned out by the shrieks of the other prisoners.

“I’m comin’, Linda-girl,” he said.

With a single jump, Edward pulverized the ceiling of his cell, ripping his way through the floor of the level above his. There were five more levels before the surface. He didn’t even slow down.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Four-The Fight




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