Excerpts

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1

It’s time for another short story! This one’s not a pre-quel, or attached to any book at all, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi adventure following a group of characters that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. Please, enjoy! For more about me, just look around, or check our authors page here. 

***

The Silent Serpent hurtled through space at a speed only made possible by Jump technology. The old cargo hauler shuddered in protest at the velocity, but the pilot, Nell, paid the vessel no mind. Instead, her golden-green cat eyes were narrowed lazily over the cards in her hand as she deliberated her next play, her metal-tipped tail twitching idly.

Xendri watched her carefully, but the black and gold tortoiseshell cat, or Pentaurii as her race was called, gave nothing away by her expression; she was good at this game. Nell played the Queen of Spades, placing it on the foldout tray between them in the cockpit. Xendri frowned, looking between the cards at play and the ones in her hand before realizing all of a sudden that she’d been outmaneuvered. There was no way she could win now.

Xendri clicked her tongue in displeasure, speaking a few less-than-polite words in her native language before standing. “I’m going to check on the cargo.”  

“Cargo?” Nell questioned. “We’re mid-jump. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

Nell rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” Yawning, she put her hand of cards down as she turned to inspect the ship’s controls, absently going through the motions her job as thes ship’s secondary pilot required.

Xendri left her there and swung out into the main body of the ship, nimbly making her way to the ladder that led down into the detachable cargo bay.   

“Hey, Kiddo,” a deep male voice rumbled, catching her off guard. “Where you goin’?”

Looking up, Xendri found one of the loaders, a human man named nicknamed Quattro, looking at her curiously. He was much taller than her, six feet to her four, well-muscled, and he wore a impressive-looking pistol on his belt. Despite all that, there was no malice in his expression or in his glowing purple eyes, so she decided to let the ‘nickname’ he’d chosen for her slide, for now.

“Looking around,” she answered briefly. “Stretching my legs.”

Quattro nodded. “Yeah, gets a little boring in Jump-space, doesn’t it? Alright, go on then. Can’t hurt nuthin’.”

But Xendri wasn’t listening to him any longer; her eyes had fixated on the other device his belt contained. “Hey, can I borrow that?” she asked, gesturing with her chin.

Quattro looked down, confused. “You mean the scanner?” He unhooked it and tossed it to her. “Sure thing, Kiddo, knock yourself out.”

Xendri nodded, catching and pocketing the device before scurrying down the ladder, dismissing the burly loader from her thoughts. She took the ladder rungs two at a time and jumped the rest of the way to the floor of the cargo bay, landing gracefully on all fours before standing and making sure she was alone. The cargo bay was quiet; the only sound the occasionally creak to remind her that they were still moving very very fast, even if the floor beneath her feet felt stationary. She tapped the metal-plated floor with her foot as if to test the artificial gravity, but it felt the same as standing on any other surface. Space travel was weird that way, the universe had no up and down, but people made their own. Xendri wasn’t sure she’d ever really get used to it. She shrugged and pulled the scanner device out of her pocket, fiddling with the dials and buttons until she got the display to show what she wanted.

Walking slowly between the long cargo containers that filled the bay, Xendri let the scanner device do its thing, even going so far as to climb on top of one of the massive containers to scan closer to the middle.

“That’s odd,” Xendri muttered after some time spent in contemplation of what the hand-held device was telling her.

Eyes still on her findings, Xendri climbed back down off the crate, then back up the ladder to the rest of the ship. There was no sign of Quattro, but she wasn’t looking for him anyways; she went straight for the Captain’s quarters.

To be continued… 

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The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – FINALE!!

“Corbin is my boyfriend,” Chantelle said.

“Corbin is your boyfriend? I didn’t even know he was dating anyone,” Trina said, glancing at Oriella.

“Because we were keeping it a secret, because my friends would never approve of me dating a phoenix mage,” Chantelle said. “But then Loukas asked me to the dance. I told him I could never date anyone from Knox House but he was persistent, so finally I told him I had a boyfriend. I refused to tell him who, but he followed me, he saw me with Corbin and he got angry that I was already dating someone from Knox.”

“Wait, what’s wrong with dating someone from Knox House?” Trina asked.

“Pixie mages don’t date anyone from…from Knox House,” Chantelle said. “Loukas knew I didn’t want my friends to know I was dating the don of Knox House, so he forced me to steal the feather. He didn’t say why, but he said if I didn’t he’d tell everyone at Flora House my secret. But then Eddy came to talk to me and he was asking all sorts of weird questions about the feather and Knox House. I had no idea the stupid feather meant so much to Knox House. I didn’t know it was your heirloom. I didn’t know Loukas made it into some stupid game to steal Corbin’s room.”

“First of all, it’s not a stupid feather, it’s Sir Gadison’s Golden Phoenix Feather,” Oriella said, “and second of all, it’s not just Corbin’s room, it’s a suite that takes up the entire fourth floor and has its own pool table.”

Trina nodded. “Loukas was the one who suggested that the suite should be the prize.”

“I’m sorry,” Chantelle said. “I didn’t mean to cause such a mess. I got the feather back from where I hid it in the greenhouse and took it with me into the woods. I was waiting for dinner, when everyone would go to the meal hall and I could sneak back into Knox House and return the feather, so no one would win and Corbin wouldn’t lose his suite because of me. But then the greenhouse caught fire and I figured I could sneak back in while everyone was gawking at the fire.”

“So…let me get this straight,” Trina said. “All of this happened because of some stupid pixie mage dating rules?”

Chantelle’s cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. “I’m sorry.”

“I hate pixies,” Oriella said.

Trina sighed and looked at the golden phoenix feather she held in her hand. “I’m putting the feather back before the others return,” she said. “And you,” she said, pointing at Chantelle, “are escaping through our window so no one sees you leaving Knox House. You’re going back to Flora House and pretending none of this happened.”

“But…you’re going to take credit for finding the feather? You’re going to take Corbin’s suite?” Chantelle asked.

“No, we’re not,” Trina said as she put the feather back in its rightful place above the fireplace.

“We’re not?” Oriella asked.

“Corbin doesn’t deserve to lose his entire suite because Loukas is jealous of his silly pixie mage girlfriend,” Trina said. “He worked hard to become don, he didn’t just get the job handed to him, and whoever is don deserves the suite.”

Oriella nodded. “Fine.”

“Now c’mon, let’s get you out of here,” Trina said and led Chantelle up to their room.

 

Mere minutes after Chantelle’s escape down the ivy-ladder they heard people returning to the house. Footsteps came down the hall and there was a knock at the door. Trina opened it to see Ludella, the Headmistress of the Mage Academy. Ludella was a petite fairy mage who didn’t look a day past twenty, but Trina knew she was actually much, much older.

“Oh!” Trina gasped. “Hello, Headmistress Ludella. How may I help you?”

“You can invite me in,” Ludella said.

“Oh, yes,” Trina said and stepped back so Ludella could enter the dorm room.

Ludella glanced at Trina’s bed and the charred comforter she had yet to clean up.

“I believe you may have had something to do with the burning down of our greenhouse?” Ludella asked smoothly.

“Um…no,” Trina said, but she felt her cheeks grow hot.

“It’s okay, you can tell the truth,” Ludella said. “I had no idea your fire powers were becoming so strong. It’s obvious now what we must do.”

“Please don’t expel Trina!” Oriella said.

“I’m not expelling you,” Ludella said. “I think it’s about time we start searching for an apprenticeship. We need to find you an experienced dragon mage, one who can teach you how to control your powers. We need to find you a proper teacher.”

“We do?” Trina asked.

“Yes,” Ludella said. “It’s not every day a student burns down a greenhouse.”

“I’m very sorry,” Trina said. “I’ll find a way to fix it…I’ll help rebuild it, I’ll-”

“That’s enough Trina,” Ludella said. “You are a dragon mage. It’s about time you learn what that truly means.”

You can continue to follow Trina’s adventures in the novel:

Cover SDOD4

She Dreamed of Dragons by Elizabeth J. M. Walker

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J.M. Walker – Part 8 (of 9)

If you’re new to this story, I suggest starting at part 1, here. Otherwise, read on!

The greenhouse was a tiny building just south of the main school building. It was frequented by gnome mages who took classes in gardening, as well as other mage disciplines that involved nature, such as elf mages and fairy mages.

“Why would she choose the greenhouse?” Oriella asked as they walked briskly.

“Because fire mages rarely go there?” Trina suggested.

Oriella nodded as the greenhouse came into view. No one else was around so the girls quickly ran inside. They looked around the interior of the building; there were long wooden tables full of potted plants and hanging baskets hung from hooks in the ceiling. There was green everywhere with spots of brightly coloured flowers. The greenhouse had a musty feel to it that was very similar to when Trina followed Oriella through a tree. They searched the entire greenhouse but there was no pixie mage to be found.

“She’s not here,” Trina said.

“Maybe she hid the feather here and already left,” Oriella suggested. “Could you see in the pool-image where she might be hiding it?”

“Not really…it was kind of blurry. I just knew it looked like she was in the greenhouse,” Trina said.

“Yeah, same here,” Oriella said, “but where could it be?”

Trina scanned the rows and rows of potted plants but nothing looked out of place. Most of them looked like they had been recently watered and many had been recently planted or repotted. It was impossible to tell where Chantelle may have hidden the feather.

“I say we go back to Flora House,” Oriella said, “and see if Eddy figured anything out from his chat with Chantelle, like where exactly she hid the feather.”

Trina inhaled sharply and began to sneeze. No, not now, she thought. She sneezed five times before she could stop herself. Flames were shooting everywhere and the wooden tables caught fire. The flames grew taller, until they were reaching the hanging plants, and soon the roof rafters began to burn. Oriella grabbed Trina, yanking her out of the greenhouse and into the cover of the Whispering Woods.

“Great gryphons!” Trina said as she watched the greenhouse burn. She could hardly believe she had created such a huge disaster. She had no idea she was even capable of setting an entire building on fire. She felt her stomach tighten with…fear? With dread? What would happen to her if they found out it was her fault? What if she continued to accidently cause more destruction?

She continued to watch the flames as a crowd began pouring out of the dorm houses and gathering. There were at least three water sprite mages who could create spouts of water, similar to Trina and her flames, except they actually knew how to control their water powers.

Within minutes the flames had died down. More water sprites arrived to douse the greenhouse with even more water, just to be safe, but the damage was done. There would not be any classes in the greenhouse on Monday – or anytime soon.

“Let’s get out of here!” Oriella said and yanked on Trina’s arm again, pulling her away from the scene of the fire.

“Where are we going?” Trina asked as they ran along the edge of the Whispering Woods, still under cover of the trees.

“Back to Knox! We’re going to pretend this never happened!” Oriella said.

The girls ran out of the woods as they reached Knox House. Instead of running to the front door they went to the left side of the building where their room was. Ivy grew up all sides of the building, especially on their side, and it was particularly thick right beneath their bedroom window.

“I’ve been doing some tweaking,” Oriella explained and quickly found handholds in the ivy. Trina watched as her nimble friend scaled the side of the wall, with the ivy growing in the pattern of a ladder.

“I’m not so sure I can do that,” Trina said.

“You have to at least try,” Oriella called as she reached their window and slid it open.

Trina took a deep breath and found the first handholds of ivy Oriella had used. It was surprisingly stable; the ivy was so thick it felt like she was climbing a regular wooden ladder. She took a deep breath and continued to climb, reminding herself to not look down. Oriella reached out when she made it to the top and helped her climb through the window.

“Now, let’s casually walk down to the common room as if we’ve been here all along,” Oriella said, brushing bits of leaves and dirt from her clothes.

“They’re never going to believe us,” Trina said.

“Only one way to find out,” Oriella said and headed out the door.

When they entered the common room, Trina was surprised to see someone with sky blue hair.

Chantelle gasped as Trina and Oriella entered and the pixie mage dropped the golden feather.

“Sir Gadison’s Golden Phoenix Feather!” Trina said and rushed forward to pick it up. “Why did you steal this? What are you doing here?”

“No, I’m returning it!” Chantelle said. “I’m trying to help!”

“How?” Oriella asked. “Why are you even here?”

“I’m trying to return it,” Chantelle said again, “because I feel awful, and so Corbin doesn’t lose his suite.”

“So, you did steal it?” Trina asked.

Chantelle hung her head. “Yes.”

“Why?” Oriella asked.

“Because Loukas asked me to the spring dance,” Chantelle said.

What?” Oriella asked loudly.

“Loukas asked me to the dance, but I said I couldn’t go, because I already have a boyfriend,” Chantelle said.

“Great gryphons, what pixie nonsense are you talking about? Who’s your boyfriend? What does any of this have to do with our feather?” Oriella asked.

Cover Reveal! Ghosts and Exiles by Sandra Unerman

Spellhaven is no more, but its spirits remain.

Tilda Gray hates Spellhaven, the city where her husband was born, even though she has never set foot in the place, and she does not believe in the magic it’s supposed to have held. Now her husband is dead, she would rather avoid any mention of the city. But her sons, Nicholas and James, have befriended Hugo, a young boy threatened by forces none of them understand. When Hugo’s uncle and guardian, Stephen Cole, visits the Gray family to ask for help, Tilda agrees against her better judgement. Between them, as they search for ways to banish or at least help Hugo cope with the ghosts that are driving him mad, they seek out the dubious aid of the exiles from Spellhaven. In doing so they must face new dangers and unknown magic, unlike anything Tilda could have believed possible.

GEcover copy

Book Details:Saphs Book Promotions
Print Length: 300 pages
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
ASIN: B07B24HY9Z
Genre(s): Magical Realism, Historical Fantasy

Read a Short Excerpt:

Stephen Cole would never have asked for help on his own account, not from strangers and especially not from a woman and a couple of young boys. Since his slow recovery from his experiences in the trenches during the First World War, he had devoted himself to his work at the Bar and had spent little time in the company of women or children. But the help was for his nephew, Hugo, and by the time Stephen arrived at the Grays’ house in Highgate one Sunday morning in November 1933, he did not know where else to turn.

When he was shown into the drawing room, Stephen looked round to try and gain an impression of the family. He decided that the room had been decorated about ten years ago and hardly changed since then. The yellow and grey curtains had lost their bloom and the wooden feet on the armchairs were scuffed, but the parquet floor round the carpet was thoroughly polished, as were the tiles inset into the fireplace. Mrs. Gray must have had skilled and hardworking servants, not as easy to find as they would once have been. Botanical illustrations hung on the panelled walls. Stephen had no time to notice more before Mrs. Gray entered the room.

Her appearance took Stephen aback. When he had been told she was a widow, somehow he had pictured a middle-aged woman, dumpy and depressed. Maybe he had been thinking of Queen Victoria, even though he had seen enough war widows in the early days of his practice to know they came in all shapes and styles. Matilda Gray was tall for a woman, with light eyes and a pointed chin. Her pale brown hair was bobbed and smooth. She wore a fawn twin-set and a brown skirt, not new or fashionable but shapely and trim.

‘Thank you for seeing me on a Sunday, Mrs. Gray,’ Stephen said. ‘It’s your son, Nicholas, I’d really like to talk to. He is home for the weekend, isn’t he?’

Hugo lived at school all term, and often in the holidays as well, but Stephen had been told that the Grays were weekly boarders.

‘The boys are at breakfast, Mr. Cole.’ Mrs. Gray looked as wary of him as he was of her.

‘I hope your maid gave you my apologies for disturbing you.’

‘It doesn’t matter, but you will have to explain what this is about before I decide whether Nicholas should be involved.’

Pre-Order is now available from: Amazon

You can Read About the Book at Mirror World Publishing

Or Add it to Your Shelf on Goodreads

sandraunerman

Sandra Unerman lives in London in the UK. When she retired from a career as a Government lawyer, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, specialising in science fiction and fantasy, and graduated in 2013. Since then, she has had a number of short stories published. Her latest stories are in Sword and Sorcery magazine, June 2017, and Fall into Fantasy, an anthology from Cloaked Press. She writes reviews and articles for the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. She is a member of London Clockhouse writers and other writing groups. Her interests include history, folklore and medieval literature.

 

Connect with Sandra: https://sandraunermanwriter.com/

Sandra’s Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Unerman/e/B0034NS9VM

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6566116.Sandra_Unerman

 

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 1

Have you read Elizabeth J. M. Walker’s young adult fantasy novel, She Dreamed of Dragons? Well, you can find it here or in our store. You can also learn more about Elizabeth J. M. Walker on our website. This short story is a prequel, so read on!

***

Trina woke with a sneeze. It was an alarming way to be brought out of dreamland. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But then the scent of burning began to fill her nose and her eyes shot open.

“Trina!” her roommate Oriella yelled, jumping out of bed. “Your bed is on fire!”

Trina had already realized this and was trying to extinguish the flames by smothering them with her hands. Being a dragon mage, the fire didn’t harm her skin, but it did harm her comforter. By the time she had successfully smothered the small fire, her periwinkle blue bedding was burned to a crisp and faint tendrils of smoke were floating about the tiny dorm room.

Oriella rushed to open the third-storey window. She began to cough, she so stuck her entire head of dark blond waves out the window and into the early morning fresh air.

“What just happened?” Oriella called back into the room.

“I think I sneezed,” Trina said as she shoved the charred remains of her bedding onto the floor. She’d have to find a dustpan to clean it up. And she’d have to find a new comforter.

“You sneeze fire?” Oriella asked, bringing her head back into the room. The smoke was beginning to clear.

“Sometimes?” Trina said meekly.

“I don’t sneeze leaves,” Oriella said, referring to her own powers as an elf mage, which included being able to travel through trees.

“I think I’d rather sneeze leaves,” Trina said.

There was a knock at the door.

“Hey! It’s Corbin!” their house don called. “Everything okay in there, Trina? I smell smoke.”

Trina went to open the door.

“Sorry,” she told her don, a Fifth Year with dark brown skin and shoulder-length black hair. He was a phoenix mage and knew a thing or two about having fire powers, but nothing nearly as powerful as Trina’s dragon mage abilities.

“Everything is under control,” Oriella chimed in.

“Please don’t burn our dorm down,” Corbin said. “It’s bad enough we have scorch marks in nearly every room, so let’s try to keep our house in one piece.”

Being the don of Knox House, the dorm that housed mages with fire powers, was not an easy task. The dorm was placed the farthest from the main school building of the Mage Academy and the cluster of other dorm houses due to the risk of student mages not always having full control over their fire powers.

Trina jumped as she heard the sound of breaking glass.

“Forest pixies!” they heard someone shout from the ground floor and Corbin sighed.

“Again?” Corbin said as he headed down the stairs. Being farther from the school and the main dorms also meant being deeper in the Whispering Woods, which meant being plagued by the forest pixies who lived in the woods.

“I hate pixies,” Oriella said as she yanked open a drawer and began to pull out some clothes. “I’m getting dressed before we go find out what they did this time.”

Trina nodded as she shut the door. She found a plain brown dress with singe marks around the wrists of the sleeves to change into. She tugged on her brown boots as Oriella did the same, pulling hers over a pair of green leggings she wore under a black tunic. Trina ran her fingers through her brown hair, which was so short that she didn’t need to properly brush it. She would have liked to have longer hair like Oriella, but she kept accidently burning it.

***

Come back next week or SUBSCRIBE for more!

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 6 (finale)

Please find part 1 here if you’d like to read from the beginning. Otherwise, read on!
Despite himself, Renaud ran forward, but the girl didn’t scream or otherwise announce her presence. Instead she hunkered down and waited for the lift to bring her safely to the ground.

Renaud was there to meet her.

“Petite fille,” he called to her, not even realizing he’d reverted to French in his distress. “Are you all right?”

She stood and nodded, her grey eyes wide and serious-looking in her young round face.

“Come away from the lift,” he told her, holding out his hand. “It’s not safe.”

She didn’t take his hand. She was wary of strangers. Good for her, Renaud thought, nodding to himself. “C’est d’accord,” he said, trying to be comforting. “Je m’appelle Renaud.

Êtes-vous un Capitaine?” she asked cautiously in halting French.

Abruptly, Renaud remembered that he was, in fact, a Captain. He straightened his back. “Oui, Madame.” He switched back to English, which the girl was obviously more comfortable with, “My ship is called The Clover. She’s waiting right over there.” He pointed out which vessel was his in the harbour.

“My mother…” She fought back tears that threatened to overwhelm her, hugging something to her chest beneath the navy-blue cloak she wore. “My mother wants me to find a good ship, one without soldiers.”

“Well there are no soldiers on The Clover, only sailors. And Dot, she’s a cook.” Renaud didn’t know why he was wasting time talking to this little girl when he should be fleeing Ismera, but some part of him missed his own family and he didn’t have it in him to leave this girl all alone. “Would you like to come to my ship and you can wait for your parents there?”

The girl nodded vigorously, darting a hand out of her cloak to wipe at her tears. This time when he extended a hand to her, she took it. “What’s your name, little one?”

“Meredith,” she answered between sniffles. “Meredith Turrell.”

Renaud almost stopped where he was, halfway back across the dock to where his ship waited with the gangplank lowered for him. Turrell?! As in ‘Lord and Lady’ Turrell? The man and woman I saw on the lift earlier, they own this town and this is their daughter. Of course, I’m so stupid! The Turrell Manor is at the top of the cliff, you can see it from the Channel.

“Are you sure you should be down here?” Renaud looked back at his newfound companion, suddenly nervous that his act of charity would be misconstrued for a kidnapping. “I could take you back up the lift to your house.”

She shook her head. “Mother told me to find a ship.”

He would have pressed the issue, but at that moment a bright light erupted on top of the cliff. Renaud’s eyes went wide. It looked like nothing more than a massive bonfire, its light reflected on the clouds above.

Vitement,” he urged Meredith and the two of them hurried across the gangplank, which was pulled in after them.

Back on his ship, Renaud gave the order to disembark and his skeleton crew worked double-time to obey his command. Unmoored from the dock, The Clover began drifting into the Channel, and one by one the crew unfurled the sails to take advantage of the rising wind.

Looking back toward Turrellin, and at the Turrell Manor on the hill, it was clear that the civil war his good friend Christian Vellaire had fled from had reached Turrellin, and young Meredith’s parents were among the unfortunate casualties.

Renaud heard a thump and looked down to see that Meredith had dropped a satchel the size of her torso onto the deck at her feet. He didn’t have time to wonder much about that before he felt the girl’s arms clamp tightly around his waist as she buried her face from the sight of her home up in flames. Overcome with emotion, Renaud put a hand on her slight shoulder. “I’m sorry, little one,” he whispered, his voice thick and his cheek moist from tears he hadn’t realized had formed. “I’m so sorry.”

Watching the flames grow farther and farther away, Renaud couldn’t help but feel that his victories over the past twenty-four hours were being balanced somehow by Meredith’s losses, and he vowed right then and there that he would do everything within his power to see this little girl safe.

Renaud turned Meredith about so she could face the water and the way to Saegard instead of the chaos they were rapidly leaving behind. He wiped at the tears that ran down his cheeks to nestle into his bushy beard. I promise my dear, if I have anything to say about it, one day you’ll be the luckiest girl to have ever crossed the Ismeran Channel.

 

The End

***

This story relates to and is a prequel to the novel, Uncharted. Find more info here.

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 2 (of 6)

Part one of this short story is here. If you want to know more about the author, click here. If you’d like to learn more about the novel Uncharted for which this is a prequel to, click here. Otherwise, read on!

“Poker’s a Lord’s game,” Dagan sneered as he turned his seat over to the stranger. “Do you even know how to play, Renaud?”

“How hard can it be?” Renaud demanded jovially, noting the barest of smiles on the face of his new opponent. “Watch and learn, Dagan, watch and learn.”

The newcomer busied himself shuffling the cards he fished out of his pocket, but Ginny was quick to put a stop to that. “We don’t allow people a chance to cheat here, mister.” The round-bottomed barkeep slid a fresh deck of playing cards onto the table. “You use house cards or you take your game elsewhere. This is a reputable establishment.”

The man scowled but didn’t hesitate in swapping his own cards for those provided to him. That’s why I love coming to this place. Gives everyone a fair shake. Renaud watched the man shuffle again and deal the cards out, keeping a close eye out for foul play. Hmm, he either wasn’t planning on cheating in the first place, or he’s all set to rely on his skill as a poker player to best me. Either way, that means he’s going to be a challenge, and I’m already what, three drinks in? Four?

I’ll just have to make my new friend catch up!

They played for a couple of hours, Renaud plying his newfound friend with drinks while drinking less and less himself. Dagan watched for the first hour, but thankfully wandered away when neither side was making much headway against the other. Renaud wasn’t daunted, however. He still had winnings left to bid, and as it turned out, it didn’t take ‘Lord’ Christian Vellaire long to lose himself to liquor.

“An Ismeran Lord, eh?” Renaud clarified. “What brings you to the Crow’s Nest? I thought lord-types usually stayed up at the big house on the hill.”

“Turrell Manor? Not my style, friend,” Christian replied. “I just came from the Casino in Wilkesport.”

“All the way from Welland?” Renaud exclaimed. “That’s a long trip, but it does explain how you’re so good at poker!”

Renaud had learned from his wife, a minor Ismeran noble herself, but there was no sense in telling his opponent that.

“Yeah,” Christian slurred. “I won a boat my last night there. Decided to take her up the coast, but I don’t know the first thing about sailing!” He laughed. “Cost me more to hire a Captain than it did to win the damn thing.”

A boat. Renaud sat up straight at the word. Does he mean a ship? A real ship?

“Oh?” Renaud aimed for nonchalance and fell just shy of it. “What kind of boat?”

“Oh, you know,” Christian shuffled and dealt the next hand as he spoke. “One of those tall ships. Not very large, but a proper boat and not a fishing vessel, I made sure of that!”

Renaud put his hands flat on top of the other man’s cards before he could pick them up. “If it’s a Captain you’re looking for…” he said with all hint of triviality gone.

Christian narrowed his eyes shrewdly, despite the large quantity of drink he’d consumed. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet my boat against everything you’ve got left there; winner keeps all.”

“Are you serious?!” Renaud looked down at his pile of winnings, which really had grown somewhat since he’d started playing against Christian and hadn’t been inconsequential to start with. Still, it paled in comparison to what a real ship would cost him.

“As a sword through the heart,” Christian told him. “You see, the real reason I wanted that boat was a fast trip out of Southern Ismera. Things are heating up down there, with Vance Chappelle struggling to hold the throne he stole. I didn’t want to get conscripted, or killed,” he added with a conspiratorial wink, “by either side.”

“So you came to Turrellin, which has declared neutrality,” Renaud finished for him.

“That’s right,” Christian nodded, “and now I’ve got no reason to be paying to dock, nor man, a boat I have no intention of using again. So,” he moved Renaud’s hands away from his cards so he could pick them up, “you win this next hand, and the tub’s all yours.”

Come back next week (or subscribe to this blog) for part 3!

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 8 (Finale)

If you’d like to start at part one and read the whole thing, click here. Then, when you are all caught up, keep reading! 

“Welcome back, Shu-Tu,” Thoth whispered. “You’ve been asleep for well over a week.”

Shu-Tu cringed. Her eyes fluttered open, then started to move around in their sockets. “W-Where am I?”

“Safe.” Thoth brushed away the hair from her brow. “That is all you need to know for now.”

Then, she remembered everything. Shu-Tu sat straight up, her head and back ached, but she ignored the pain. Trying to focus in on Thoth’s red-bearded face was a little like watching a butterfly in a strong wind—not impossible, but not easy either. She sensed her eyes move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until they crossed. A vision flashed through her mind.

She gasped. “Segferd…he’s—”

“Dead.” Thoth finished for her. “Yes, I know. There was a full moon the night before last. He got caught during an earthquake near his family’s compound by the ocean, and the ground just opened up underneath him. Apparently, Sonl is still looking for his son’s body.”

Shu-Tu wanted to smile, but didn’t. “What of the firestone Amiee took from me?”

“I’m sure it will become the terrible, mighty crystal while in the hands of the House of Beliar,” Thoth replied, shrugging. “But that is not your concern anymore.”

“Aimee and Segferd, they…they left me for dead in that crystal room.” Her chest tightened.

“The Hall of Illumination, to be exact,” Thoth said.

“Is that where you found me?”

“Yes,” he replied, brushing wrinkles out of his red robe.

Thoth stood to pour a cup of water from the silver pitcher next to her bed. The sound of gurgling made Shu-Tu lick her dry lips. “Here, drink this. You need to get your strength back.”

Shu-Tu took a few gulps, and wiped her chin. “What happened to Khem?”

Thoth frowned. “Who is Khem?”

“The baboon-headed hybrid we met inside the Hall of Illumination.” Shu-Tu closed her eyes to stop them from spinning. “He told us you gave him your rod.”

“You mean this rod?” Thoth asked, reaching behind his back.

Shu-Tu opened her eyes and stared at the golden rod topped with a baboon’s head. The smell of floral-scented incense calmed her, and she nodded. Her eyes started moving faster again, up and down, side to side, until they crossed. Startled, Shu-Tu looked into Thoth’s sapphire eyes, and drew in a deep, sharp breath.

“Khem,” she whispered.

Thoth placed a finger on her lips, and winked. “That’s our little secret.”

“But, why did you bring the firestone to the Hall of Illumination?”

Thoth sighed. “To test you, Shu-Tu. You passed. Unfortunately, Amiee and Segferd did not, and will now have to live with the consequences of their actions. I believe Segferd already has paid his price, as you predicted.”

“The price that I paid and have to live with, it’s why my eyes are like this, isn’t it?”

“You are a seer now, Shu-Tu,” Thoth replied, taking the cup from her to fill again. “I will make sure you get the best training possible.”

Her eyes moved again, then stopped. She reached out to grab Thoth’s sleeve. “I see now it was wrong of me to wish my father alive again. I was in a sad, dark place. Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive if you’ve acted out of pure love,” Thoth said, kneeling. “Remember, Shu-Tu, all things have life, and that nothing is truly dead. There is always motion, and everyone and everything moves at a different speed.”

Shu-Tu grinned. “Like my eyes?”

“Precisely.” Thoth laughed, then gently patted her arm. “Now get some rest. I’ve made arrangements for you to leave for the Temple of the Sun by the new moon.”

Shu-Tu reached for his large hand and squeezed it. “Thoth?”

“Yes, Shu-Tu?”

“I have something to ask before I leave my old life.”

He raised a grizzled brow. “Then, ask.”

Shu-Tu’s eyes juggled around, moving this way and that way, then crossed. “What is a Timekeeper?”

Thoth smiled and tweaked her nose. “A matter not yet revealed, Shu-Tu.”

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 7 (of 8)

Have you been keeping up with this serial short story? If you’re just getting started, Part 1 is here. If you want to learn more about Sharon Ledwith, here’s her website. Sharon Ledwith has two great series worth checking out. This short story is a prequel of sorts to her The Last Timekeepers time travel series. The character of Shu-tu reappears in Legends of the Timekeepers.

Amiee rushed after Shu-Tu, tackled her to the stone floor, and then straddled her thin body. Shu-Tu hit the back of her head, yet still held the firestone tightly to her chest. A sharp pain went up her neck while Amiee tried to wrestle the six-sided crystal away from her, bashing her back against the cool, hard stone floor. Suddenly, Shu-Tu lost her grip and the firestone was in Amiee’s possession.

“I…I saved you from the wyvern, and this…this is how you repay me?” Shu-Tu wiped away her tears. “How…how could I have been so blind not to see this side of you or Segferd?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Shu-Tu.” Amiee smirked wickedly. “In a moment, you won’t be able to see anything.”

Amiee raised the firestone over her head and whacked Shu-Tu in the middle of the forehead. A pain she had never known before seared through her eyes to the back of skull and down her spine. Shu-Tu started twitching as soon as Amiee got off her. Suddenly, she felt her eyes move around and around, as if they were immersed in a goblet of water. Warm liquid, she knew was her own blood, dripped down the sides of her face. Panicking, Shu-Tu slapped the cool stone floor repeatedly, trying to fight off the pain, trying to understand what was happening to her. She sat up, roughly wiped away the blood from her face, and placed both hands over her eyes. Shu-Tu’s skin tingled all over. She could feel her eyes moving quickly, spinning around in their sockets, juggling and bouncing, until they both crossed. Her purpose, the reason why she had been born, everything became crystal clear. Her sight became her insight, her sacrifice became her gift.

Shu-Tu inhaled deeply, and pointed at Amiee. “You will bear a dark-hearted son named Belial who will teach Atlantis to worship pleasure and ease over love and respect. Unfortunately, Amiee, you die during childbirth, and will never know him. And you—” she pointed to Segferd, her eyes spun around and around “—were responsible for preparing a tainted crystal pellet to give to your father to poison the water my father drank. That is the reason why you away from class last week. You, Segferd, will be swallowed by the earth by the next full moon.”

“Have you gone mad, Shu-Tu?” Segferd asked, squeezing the rod.

“By the looks of her spinning eyeballs, I’d say she’s half-way there,” Amiee said, snickering. “Maybe you should put the poor child out of her misery, Segferd.”

He nodded sharply just as the ground started to shake again. The crystals above vibrated to such a degree of high intensity, Shu-Tu swore a chorus of the best singers in Atlantis were in the room with them. She reached out to stop herself from shaking. Surprisingly, she wasn’t afraid.

“If you both want to live to use the firestone for your noble acts, I suggest you leave now,” Khem said calmly. “I will take care of Shu-Tu for you. After all, hybrids are here to serve.”

Segferd shoved the rod’s forked end under Khem’s throat. “Now you’re getting the idea, baboon-breath. Kill the girl with this rod and leave no trace of us being here, or you’ll wish you were never created.”

Khem put his hands together. “As you wish.”

Segferd sneered, then tossed the baboon-headed rod at Khem’s feet. Shu-Tu jerked at the metallic clanging sound.

“Come on, Segferd!” Amiee yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Let’s get out of here before the chamber caves in!”

The last thing Shu-Tu heard was the sound of hurried footsteps running up the granite stairs before the world as she knew it turned pitch black.

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 6

Here’s part one. Here’s Sharon Ledwith. Then, keep reading…

Shu-tu’s throat tightened. “H-How do you know me?”

Segferd stepped in front of her. “What trick are you playing here, hybrid? We don’t know you, and you don’t know us!”

“Don’t I, Segferd?” Khem asked, smiling and exposing a fang.

“Listen, hybrid, you better not be threatening us,” Amiee said, clenching her fists. “My brother and I are from the House of—”

“Beliar,” Khem cut in. “Yes, yes, I know. Is that supposed to impress me, Amiee?”

Amiee’s fair face turned ashen. Khem dipped his human hand into his pouch and pulled out a glittering six-sided crystal, the likes Shu-Tu had never seen before. The rainbow colored crystal, about the size of a small pomegranate lit up Khem’s features, making him look more human, than baboon.

“This is my price,” Khem said, holding up the six-sided crystal. “The only price you will pay is the consequences of your actions. The rule of the game is simple. I get to ask each of you the same question, and whoever has the best answer gets to keep this firestone.”

Amiee gasped. “A-A firestone?”

“How do we know it’s real?” Segferd asked, his mouth falling open.

“You’ll have to take the word of a hybrid, I guess,” Khem replied, shrugging. “But then again, seeing is believing for you humans. Here, hold my rod, Amiee, and I’ll prove that I’m telling the truth.”

Without the staff she threw at Khem, Shu-Tu watched Amiee limp over to grasp the golden rod. A sheen of sweat on her forehead attested to her pain. Amiee grimaced as she gripped the rod, and leaned against it for support. The forked end of the rod scraped against the rock and sent shivers up Shu-Tu’s spine. Khem waved the firestone over her ankle, and chanted an old Atlantean prayer nine times before he stopped.

“Walk,” Khem commanded.

Amiee grunted. “This is ridiculous, I—” She paused, putting weight on her foot. “T-There’s no pain anymore. It’s like I never twisted my ankle.”

Khem nodded. “The curative powers of the firestone have restored your body.”

Amiee glanced at Segferd, then back at Khem. “I’m in for the game.”

“Me too,” Segferd said, nodding.

Shu-Tu’s heart raced. “What else can the firestone do?”

Khem puckered his baboon lips, twisting them one way, then the other before he said, “Whatever you wish. It was one of six harvested from the mighty crystal. Very rare. Very special.”

“Go on then,” Amiee said with urgency. “Ask your silly question.”

“Very well, I’ll start with you, Amiee,” Khem replied, strumming human fingers against his chest. “For what purpose would you use this firestone?”

Amiee licked her lips. “I would use the firestone to benefit all Atlanteans by surrendering it to the high priests and priestesses of the Temple of Poseidon to help promote divine knowledge.”

Khem scratched his hairy chin. “How very noble. What about you, Segferd?”

Segferd straightened. “I would use the firestone to harness the forces of nature and put a stop to the earthquakes that have plagued our country for thousands of years.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Khem snapped his fingers. “Shu-Tu, your response better top Amiee and Segferd’s answers.”

Shu-Tu swallowed hard, and said, “I…I would use the firestone to bring my father back to life.”

She swore she heard Amiee titter. Segferd coughed.

Khem frowned. “I see. You know what you want to use this firestone for goes against the Law of One’s plan, don’t you, Shu-Tu?”

She hung her head, her eyes began to well. “I told you the truth. That’s how I would use the firestone.”

“So, which one of us wins the game?” Amiee asked, banging the rod against the stone floor.

Segferd rubbed his hands together. “Yes, who is your choice, hybrid?”

“Very well, you all played my game fairly, so I must choose a winner.” Khem held out the firestone to Shu-Tu. “It’s all yours, Shu-Tu.”

“What!” Amiee screamed. “Y-You can’t be serious! You said it yourself, hybrid, no one must tamper with the will of the Law of One’s plan!”

“Oh, a sore loser, I see,” Khem replied. “You played the game, you lost. I liked Shu-Tu’s answer the best.”

“But…my answer would have saved so many people,” Segferd blurted. “Shu-Tu only wants one life saved.”

Khem shrugged. “A life that matters to her, one she loves unconditionally.”

Shu-Tu stared at the beautiful firestone in her hands. Rainbow swirls of light danced off of it, warming her body through to the core. Khem reached out to touch her cheek, and she shivered. “Your father awaits you,” he said, pointing toward the altar.

Shu-Tu’s jaw dropped. “M-My father is the body under the shroud?”

“Something is wrong here,” Segferd said, scratching his head. “Why would a hybrid have your father’s body?”

“This is all Thoth’s doing isn’t it?” Amiee asked, pointing the forked end of the rod at Khem’s throat. “Tell us where he is or I’ll spear you!”

“No, Amiee!” Shu-Tu yelled, clutching the firestone to her chest. “Wait until I revive Father!”

“You’re father is dead, and he’s not coming back,” Segferd said, his voice void of emotion. “Give us the firestone. The House of Beliar will use it for the highest good of Atlantis.”

Khem clapped. “Now this is getting interesting!”

Shu-Tu backed up toward her father’s body. “No. I won fair and square. I will use the firestone as I see fit.”

Amiee tossed the rod to her brother. “Watch the hybrid! I’m taking that firestone!”

Shu-Tu’s eyes widened as Segferd grabbed the rod in mid-air and pointed it at Khem. “Go make father proud, sis.”