Author Archives: Writer Jim

Allard and the Waymaiden’s Eyes

Alberick relaxed on the deck of the Blue Spray with his mates. They had left Grand Delving with a hull full of King’s Wheat two days earlier, and so far he had swabbed the decks and scrubbed the ship’s hull from morning to night. He looked at this as a proving grounds for his real work. Today he would begin his apprenticeship as a navigator. Today he would scale the mast.

He broke his fast on the deck with the rest of the crew, but his eyes could not be turned from the glimmer of the sunrise on the gentle waters of the Way. Misty pines shrouded both shores, and here and there great boulders, some as large as the ship, stood watch at the water’s edge.

“Ya’ll need to keep a sharp eye,” the navigator said to him, pulling his attention from the river. “There’s dangers worse than shallows and snags, boy. Ya’ll need to keep an eye for the Waymaidens, and warn us quick if they should appear.”

A hush fell over the crew. One shuddered. Alberick looked at them queerly. “Why do you fear?

“Fool boy,” replied the navigator. “Ya’ll learn yet. The boy before you, Allard was his name, was twice as eager, and twice as clever besides. He was in the mast before we rose for breakfast every morning, and did twice the chores he was assigned. Ya’d do well to best him, and to heed his folly.

“He was a poor woman’s son, whose father died a young man. When Allard grew old enough, he swore to provide for the two of them. He worked his way onto the ship, strapped to the teeth with wild tales about the Waymaidens and the treasures they keep. Thought he could find one and trick it into giving up its gold.

“Most of them come out at twilight, before the dawn breaks and after night falls. They call from the shallows, where many a ship has been lost to their tricks. Waymaidens are most dangerous when they weave their lyrical spells. It’s few that can hear those tones and not feel a stirring in his heart. Others, they tempt a man with sweet words and lusty forms only to drown him amidst the snaring grass at the shore. They sing fine promises to lonely sailors, but a Waymaiden’s word is never good.”

Alberick was blind to the breaking sun behind him, so engrossed was he in the story. “What happened to Allard?”

The navigator let out a calloused chuckle. “The storytellers say the treasure lies in a Waymaiden’s eyes. They’re the lure that draws the fish to the hook, boy, and don’t think nothing else. Allard heard them calling and saw them swimming at the water’s edge. Thought the dim light would keep himself hidden, but a Waymaiden can see in the dark. They say gazing so long at her treasure has put its light in her eyes.

“So Allard swims round to them thinking to come at them unawares, but then he sees a glimmer down below. It looked like the sunrise out of those waves, but deep below his feet. The Waymaiden’s hide their treasure in grottos neath the water, so he thought he spied a nice haul for the ship. No sooner does he look up but a Waymaiden’s staring him in the face.

“She sang to him about her treasure, and he forgot all thought of the ship, or even the river around him. Those riches filled the boy’s world clear up. He begged for them as much as he demanded, which sparked that golden glimmer in the Waymaiden’s eye. Quick as a dragon she wrapped him in her arms and sank into the river. He could barely grab a last breath, but no man among us ever saw him again. What do ya say to that, boy?”

Alberick chewed the last of his bread thoughtfully.  “You said a Waymaiden’s word is never good,–“

“That’s right.”

“—and the Waymaidens sing about their treasure. So is a Waymaiden’s treasure a lie?”

“Ancestors!” roared the navigator, and the crew broke into raucous laughter. “Ya’re a young lad for that yet!”

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Tech

I.

Humanity

“Come here,” Nick called to Doug over his shoulder.  Today, the work room smelled more like fast food than body odor.  Doug put down his wacom stylus, and had the decency to glance at the progress of Nancy Bayer’s virus scan before walking over.  He tried to remember that his grandma had the same inane problems.  He loved his grandma.

“Double check this for me,” Nick said when Doug finally arrived.  A week earlier a machine that needed more RAM displayed ‘It’s ok, we’ve got this’ when it booted back up.  Nick’s crusade was to find out where the message came from.

To Doug, the data looked like a digitized spike on a utility meter.

“It wasn’t from the computer, man,” Nick said.  “Remember how the computer’s net connection flashed right when it booted up?”

“No,” Doug replied.  It was a week ago.

“Well, I checked the connection.  The message was the only thing that came through,” Nick said, clicking over to another window, “so I traced it.”

“Where’s the ‘trace’ key?”

“Har har.”  Nick was proud to have served Anonymous in his day.  “Point is, the message didn’t come from ‘a’ computer.”  The window displayed a graphic that looked like a vast web.  “It came from every active electronic device.  Even the damn Voyager craft contributed a bit,” he said, zooming way out to reveal one last point in the web.  “The Tech sent it, man!”

Doug spent a long time in silence, pouring over the data.  His eyes stung by the time he was done.  He took a breath.

“All of It?”

C².

People

“But that was before,” Nax said, throwing the handball to a friend.  He was a Great People, 9 feet and 600 pounds of flesh as pale and solid as marble.  He had no hair.  He was the strongest of the group, and the fastest once he had his momentum.  His heart would give out with strain when most of the other People at Prenoon Recreation were hitting their prime, but that was the nature of his breed.

“It’s what they wanted, anyway,” Spatial Resonance Data Confirmation chimed in.  SpaR was a Caster, with a body no larger than the handball Nax was throwing.  Her name was proof that Development Techs had some quirky personalities.  “I picked up a Casting between Central and my Tech just before it fed me this morning, and I checked it twice.”  A Caster didn’t need to check things twice.  “There is no life outside the Module, but even if it was true–so?  Proto-humans didn’t trust the Tech, and look where it got them.”

“What were they thinking?” Breeze said from the pool.  The Twainer breed didn’t end up much shorter than the Protos, but Breeze had gorgeous blue skin and pure grey locks of feathery, beautiful hair.  His voice was magic.  “My mom’s been sick, so my Tech surprised me with six of the most thoughtful messages ever yesterday.  I love him!”

“Exactly!” SpaR returned.  “64 years of life–a whole quarter-cycle–and I still can’t comprehend why the Protos didn’t want to hand the management off into better hands.  The myth of malevolent Tech was one of the most damning historical contributions ever.”

Tech

“B-[Streams of data coalesced and broke off on their way to the buzzing drones and scrutinizing subroutines of Tech Central.  Development was proceeding well, with Eatstuff and Recreation numbers consistent with data from the previous 15 cycles.  Of greater priority was that People were as happy, healthy, and fulfilled as they had been for almost a full 32 cycles.  The algorithms that tracked Stasis were growing more complex by an order of magnitude, but there was room for another 5 cycles before the planet reached full entropy, and another 2 cycles before Module 8’s sustainability was comprised by a lack of People eligible for recycling.  That was 7 cycles for the construction of a last shuttle to Kepler-62f.  The spontaneous recalculation of data was the closest Tech could come to excitment; predictions for the survival of the Module’s population were finally within an acceptable margin.  Even if all these People were lost, the Modules already on Kepler-62f were thriving as of last transmission, and Tech would still be able to provide for their creators somewhere.]-ut that was before.”

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Ex Ungue Leonem – Genesis, Part 1

“Another mass funeral,” he said, head hung low.  “Forgive me Your Majesty,” he looked out on the line of sixty placeholder graves before him as he wiped his eyes.  “But French…Prussians…Americans …refugees all.”

“Of course, no forgiveness is needed, Dr. Todd,” came the Queen’s shaky response.  The apparatus protruding from her back noisily competed with her frail voice.  Her eyes welled with tears.  “Even the Americans were under my protection; they flew in my skies, and I could do nothing but watch as they burned.”

The Queen and her retinue remained on the scene for the duration of the ceremony, protected from the English rain by a somber pavilion and thick coats.  Dr. Elias Todd was not without pride as he noted that he was the only commoner among them.  No one came so highly-qualified as he, and it was his duty, honor, and privilege to see to the Queen’s personal health.  Of course, his very qualifications were also a source of shame, so tightly were they bound to the tragedy before him.

“It would seem that Proctocus can still wreak his havoc from the very surface of the moon,” he said after they had boarded the Queen’s short-range airship, tuning a dial on the Queen’s life support.  He had designed the system himself, a last-minute stroke of brilliance to counteract the deadly poison the Queen had been given by Dr. Emmanuel W. Proctocus, once the greatest minds in science and now no better than a degenerate madman.

“SWARM is a headless hydra now,” The Queen said before descending into a fit of coughs and wheezing.  Dr. Todd became a thing in motion, fingers manipulating dials, switches, and buttons on the apparatus carried by one of the Queen’s personal guard.  A combination of medication and sedative coursed through a set of tubes into Queen Victoria’s back.

“Is that better, Your Majesty?”

“For heaven’s sake yes, Doctor,” she replied with a motherly roll of the eye.  “You may be the only thing keeping me from Saint Peter, but I should hope that I am well enough to survive a cough.”  The doctor muttered an apology, though he caught the gentle glint in her eye.  “As I was saying,” she continued.  “These attacks are nothing compared to the horror that rocked the rest of the world.  They are the death throes of an organization without leadership.”  She stared into a cup of Earl Grey and worried her lip.  “It pains me to endure them, but I am soothed to see the first rays of dawn.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”  Todd looked down upon the streets of London.  The population had grown to nearly ten million since the refugees had begun arriving, and the city was dangerously close to buckling under the weight of its own responsibilities.  In all the world, it was the greatest bastion against Proctocus’ armies, though it did not escape him that even Achilles had his limits.  Todd wasn’t able to leave the palace so often as he would like, but he knew that food was a daily problem, and the hospitals worked feverishly to contain what some were calling a New Bubonic.  The forces of evil seemed intent on throwing the world back into the dark ages; for every good day there seemed to be a weeks’ worth of ill news.  There were days when even the thought of his darling Toni could do little to bolster his melancholy.

Not long after arriving at the palace, the first footman approached the Royal Party.  He hurried through the formalities.  “Your guest has arrived, Your Majesty,” he said.  “He awaits your pleasure in the library.”

“Excellent,” the Queen responded.  “Dr. Todd, please go and make our guest comfortable while I make preparations.”

She dismissed the doctor before he had a chance to protest.  He was the single most valuable person to her health, yet she always seemed to be finding opportunities to escape him.  It was most vexing.

Todd made his way to the library, worrying so much over the Queen that it didn’t even occur to him that he had no idea whom he would be greeting.  He opened the doors to find a man of undoubtedly Slavic descent perusing a musty tome in one of the room’s many high-backed chairs.  He was young—though Todd had to remind himself that the man looked no older than himself, since the accident that reversed the doctor’s age not long ago—and smartly-dressed on a modest budget.  According to the fashion amongst the youth, his black hair was parted and slicked close to his scalp.  He wore a well-kept moustache.

“Good day, sir,” Todd began, moving toward the stranger with a hand extended.  He felt a strange electricity between the two of them as he approached.  “You must forgive me, but I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure…”

“Tesla,” responded the man, closing his book.  “Nikola Tesla.  I am certain I pioneered the concepts behind the engine that carried you to me, though of course no one will admit it.”  Every word from his mouth carried the weight of vast intelligence.  “Five years ago I would have bet on it.”  He looked Todd over, but did not rise to take his hand.  “I am pleased to meet you.”

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The Lean Years, Pt. 1

It was cold enough to really regret wearing jeans.  The Red Line hadn’t been quite as slow or frustrating as the day that lead up to it, but it was enough.  It’s a weird thing, leaving before the sun’s up and getting back after it’s gone; your neighborhood becomes a headstone to the daylight world it used to be.

He went down the steps, careful to avoid the puddles that looked like water and smelled like something much more… biological.  They were broad and well-lit, so the logistics of the whole thing defied him.  When would someone be able to achieve it?  It may be that trains only come along every five minutes, but even then… how would they achieve it?  His gut reaction was that no one would just whip it out on the landing, then he recalled some of the faces he had seen on his commute.  No… someone definitely would.  Someone definitely did.

It was a solid hour to get home, and he was on the final stretch.  Five minutes in the cold, and he’d be at his door, shrugging off his coat and wondering what kind of bare-pantry jujitsu could be executed for dinner.  Back home he would have balked–nay, raged–at such a commute, but putting his car on the chopping block meant he could read as much as he wanted.  Things were looking rough in Essos, and they made for an excellent distraction.

The last pleasant leg of the trip was the turnstyle separating the station from the alley.  Unfortunately there was no one in front of him, so he wasn’t able to slip through the revolving bars like a cat or a ninja.  He would probably never get over how terribly efficient and incredibly awesome it made him feel, but of course he would never tell anyone either.  It was his little secret.  He pushed the bars himself, and suddenly the wind wrapped him up and gave him his least favorite hug.

His childhood reminded him to check for cars in the alley.  His adolescence reminded him (and the car coming towards him) that he had right-of-way.  His adulthood reminded him that it was only when he was in a crosswalk, but he told his adulthood to go away for a little while.

There is an art to walking down city sidewalks.  Downtown, people get delayed if you don’t walk fast enough to get winded.  You should only look at the skyscrapers if you want people to think you’re a tourist… or if you just don’t care.  In the suburbs, you walked by driving.  But right on the border, where it’s hard to tell exactly what you are, it’s best to walk as if you’re just a little bit friendly.  Of course, all of this goes out the window when it’s cold enough to scratch your back with your goosebumps, and the wind makes a person really regret having a nose in the first place.  The only solution in those times is to hunker down, bundle up, thrust your hands as deep into your pockets as you can, and walk as if you’re trying to say “Jeeeeeeezus.

And that’s exactly what he did.  The only part of him anyone could see was his face, and it was painfully clear that something was not to his taste.  So much so, apparently, that the guy walking a few feet in front of him–a stout black man–cast a few wayward glances behind him.

“Hey big man,” the black man said, clearly testing the waters.  Our protagonist tried to cheer up a little bit.  It worked well enough for the guy turn back around.

But only for about a half second.  “Turkey or pheasant this year?” the guy asked, turning back around.  He was way too jovial for a night like this.  It caught our hero off guard.

“What?”

“Thanksgiving, brotha!  Turkey or pheasant?”

After work, the train ride, the turnstyle, and the car in the alley, he hadn’t paid much thought to the matter.  His family would be eating turkey off in the southlands, but he wouldn’t be able to join in this year.  He’d be up here, plugging away in a worthless retail store for 10 hours a week and hoping against hope that a temp assignment would show up.

“Hummingbird.”

The black man laughed as only a black man could.  Even after all the drudgery, it was always nice to bring a little joy into someone’s life.

“Happy holidays, man.”  He said it with a smile.  Almost home.

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Taking Up the Sword, Part 1

The forest was as tense as his shoulders, every stick and stone as taut as the string of his bow.  It had been three months since he had left the last village, three weeks since he had last seen any sign of humanity, and three days since he had begun tracking this deer.  He was surrounded by deep wilderness, his provisions had finally run out, and–not for the first time–the hunter cursed his skills.

Your eyes are good enough,” his father said to him long ago.  “But your feet will never let you catch anything with ears.  Hunting is a silent game, my boy.

This time, though, he didn’t need to use his feet.  It took half the morning sitting in a giant, hoary oak, but the deer had finally wandered in range.  It was a doe, not plump, but with enough meat at least to feed a hungry man.  She was pausing for a nibble, and all he had to do was release.

The shaft entered just behind the doe’s foreleg, burying itself in her heart as she screamed and staggered off into the trees.  Her death would come in minutes instead of hours, and that meant he could eat all the sooner.

He climbed down from his vantage amid the branches, clad all in greys and greens to blend into the forest.  His surcoat hung to his knees, bound by a belt over a jacket of quilted leather.  He wore supple boots, the better to move softly.  A leather strap held his quiver, a small pack, and a pouch at his waist, and his eyes took in their surroundings from under a hood that covered his head and shoulders.  The forest was thick with the scent of decay and rebirth, and here and there a bird could be heard, its song dying in the heavy woods around it.

He froze when he saw the sword.  Its blade shone as though new-wrought in the shaded world around him, plunged into the earth on the other side of a small depression.  It was a sizable span, but his hunter’s grace navigated it with ease, and he stood at arm’s length from the blade, deep in thought.  It was a piece of superb craftsmanship, with no decoration but a small finger ring on the crossguard.  He knew this sword, and knew better than to be far from it when it appeared.  Someone had awarded it to him long ago, and it always seemed to appear when he had need of it, though he never relished its arrival.

“It’s you,” a voice called out, tearing the hunter away from his long reverie.  A man stood across the bowl, wearing the clothes of a professional fighting man, and bearing twin blades.  Another man dressed as a scholar climbed to the warrior’s side, a counting frame made of some dark material cradled in his arm.  Their dress aside, the two could have been twins.

“You’re the one they call Woodland Sword.”

The name had been cheered in arenas all throughout the city of Span, and word of him had even reached the Elder Kingdom in the southern mountains.  He heard it, and his shoulders slumped.

“I am Lennid,” he responded, still looking with a kind of fatigue at the blade before him. “A hunter of the Blackwood, and I am no foe of yours.” Swordplay rankled, and it was long work.  The doe’s trail would keep, but his every hope had been for a meal, and now he was delayed.  How these two could have approached with such silence was beyond Lennid, but somehow they found him, and his meal would have to wait.

“That’s what they say he says,” the latecomer reminded his partner.  “This is him.”

“I am Golden Deimar,” said the first man, crossing his brazen arms.  “I am welcomed at the Stag and Dragon, and I have sat at table with lords in Freeport.  ”

Lennid knew the customs.  According to the ways of chivalry that had ruled the Blackwood for a hundred years, the challenge could only be made after the challenger’s name and accomplishments were uttered.  It was a world that bards sang of and children yearned for, but it was not for him.

“I am the sworn companion of Golden Deimar, and I wield the Iron Abacus,” the other said.  “Sir Rolf of Ichstad, a hero of song and story, trained us side by side, and we remain together.  Our accomplishments are the same.”

This world of lakes and rivers was full of souls contending with their own greatness; partnerships were not often longer than a moment’s need.  Their tenure together hinted that these men could be of the highest honor, and Lennid shook his head thinking of the pride that must have driven them.

“There are none who can stand against us,” they said in unison, the swordsman rattling his falchions from their sheaths.  The weapons had been tested, and often.  “The Leaf Brotherhood with their flashing knives, the great clubs of the Low Order of Greenroof, and the infamous Anvil Thoman have all seen defeat at our hands, and you will join them, Woodland Sword!”

Lennid slowly wrapped a gloved hand around the grip of the blade before him.  It was balanced for a single hand, but was wielded by two just as easily. Either way, it felt as natural to him as it did unwanted.  He made no motion to pull it from the earth, but even touching it was sign enough that he had committed himself.  These men had done much good in the Blackwood to hear them tell it, but it was not in him to go quietly into death.

“To blood?” he asked.  These men probably thought of him as a danger merely because he did not cleave to a code so consumed by rite as their own.  They may have only wanted to prove their superior skill.

“Murderer!”  Golden Deimar spat, striking his sword on a nearby trunk in his rage.  “We were friends of Eight, who was filled with virtue and was laid low by your blade.  You must die for this.”

“Eight wanted nothing but glory,” Lennid replied calmly.  “and collecting the fingers of hero and bandit alike is a strange kind of virtue.”  It was not the most courteous thing he could have said, but their intentions had been made clear.  He had been found nearly a year before by the swordsman they spoke of, and he could not talk him down, either.

The two men let out a unified battle cry and vaulted down into the depression.  In tandem, they bounded across the low ground and raced up the other side, eyes alight with malice.  Lennid stood with his back to them, but could hear that they knew how to read a forest floor; no leaf or hidden stone could hinder their speed.  Golden Deimar leaped over the lip of the depression, and the matched fury of his blades would have cleaved Lennid to the breastbone had he not brought the Woodland Sword flashing up to block.  The Iron Abacus came in low, and Lennid had only to pivot over a root to move from its path and place himself at odds with the two.

Lennid became a thing in constant motion, his hands ebbing to and from the grip of his sword as needed, his feet intimately aware of the terrain as he engaged one fighter and then the other.  His brow was knit in focused stillness as he dealt and evaded blows.  He didn’t fight according to any of the established orders, but the refinement of his skill hinted at extensive tutelage.  It was quick, ferocious, and–above all–adaptive.

Golden Deimar attacked in tight circles and sweeping arcs, twisting and tumbling like a falling leaf.  The Iron Abacus checked Lennid’s blows as often as it dealt its own, and the scholar’s footwork always looked after his partner.  The three advanced and melted away.  Narrow paths in the undergrowth were all they needed as they filled the hilly wood with the ring of steel.

Then Lennid’s moment came.  Deimar had just vaulted over his head, and Iron Abacus had already positioned himself to flank.  Lennid brought his sword across, deflecting the abacus with the same stroke he used to attack his airborne foe.  The twin falchions blurred an interception, but Golden Deimar could not halt his momentum, and Lennid’s blade found a gap in his twirling defenses.  There was a slash of red in the green world around them, and Deimar fell to the earth with a crunch.  The scholar’s cry died in his throat as the Woodland Sword reaped a bounty across his neck and chest.

Only Lennid’s breath marred the silence that swarmed back into the trees around him.  His eyes burned into the sword until he cast it from him with all his strength, and watched as it glittered through shafts of light to disappear down a steep hill.  Leaning against a nearby tree, he wiped the sweat from his face.

“Coward,” Golden Deimar muttered behind him through gritted teeth.  His broken body shook in its death throes.  “You disgrace a warrior’s very life by casting yours aside!”

Lennid watched as the life faded from his opponent’s eyes.  When the warrior had gone, he turned in the direction of the bow he had abandoned.  “It’s not what I’m looking for.”

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Tale of Lake Echo

Johan the Fiddler was one of the most legendary patrons of the Stag and Dragon, greatest of the inns along the Forest Road.  Heroes and villains alike could be found under its wide eaves, but from time to time this aged musician seated himself by the fire and ordered hot mulled wine.  He would produce his lap fiddle, and weave a sad song over the heads of all in the room.

He pulled his hood down, and without fail he said “Once, when I was a younger man, I traveled far from paths and roads.  I sought the Blackwood, and the things within it.  During my travels through the southern mountains, I met a man who showed me the sublime truth of music, and I turned myself to its study forever after.

“It was high in a mountain pass, with the mountain’s firs hung heavy about me, where I met him.  I had lost my way, and stumbled blindly upward.  I found a stream trickling down, so I traced it to its source.  I climbed a waterfall and skirted a pair of trolls to do it, but I came to a great and beautiful lake.  Like a hound, it was wrapped around the feet of the mountains beyond, which rose into the morning mist and left sight.  The lake was still as the forest around it, and quiet settled over all.

“That’s when I saw him, a man of noble dress seated on a stump at the water’s edge.  He held a lap fiddle in his arms, and he looked out on the water in equal stillness.  I approached him, blade bare, but never did he glance at me or move one inch.  He merely picked up the bow of his fiddle, and began to play.

“The fog pressed in around us in those first, mournful notes.  I felt the burden of a heavy heart, the kind that only lost love can create.  I seemed to see her in the mist, and hear her melancholy in the lap fiddle’s song.  She cried, but no solace came, for her light, my light, had left.  It left her in a world of rain and misery as she walked, jostled by every passerby, beaten but unbowed.

“Then the song changed, and the abiding sadness was swept up into a fiddler’s passion.  I felt all the thrill of life from every leaf and branch, the lake cleared like air and I saw its every depth, and the call of every bird seemed to be held in the fiddle’s vital playing.  It was sturdy music, timeless as the trees themselves, and I saw the frivolity of the lives of men.

“But finally, a third movement arrived.  This one combined the first two, with a third theme that was forever transfixed between them.  I felt the need to choose, to reach out and grab hold of something, anything, but my own nature would not let me.  Lacking this, I wanted to make my life a monumental bridge between two worlds, to sway between them until the world’s end.”

The music would stop, and the patrons would be spellbound by the song he had played for them.

“With his last chord,” he would say, and only then would the patrons realize he had not spoken for some time.  “I understood the power of music, when before I had only heard its beauty.  I cast my sword into the lake, fell at his feet, and from that day these hands have held nothing but this lap fiddle.”

And then he would drink his wine and watch the patrons from a snug corner. From time to time he would play a new song on his lap fiddle, but never did they have the same effect on patrons as the Tale of Lake Echo.

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Terrors in the Night

Good children stay safe in their beds when the sun has set over the Blackwood. To rise at night and travel through the dark wood is to forsake all reason and to court folly. By the light of day, the Blackwood is a wild land without mercy for the foolish, but at night the magic in every leaf and stem, or brook and cave shines forth. Even the bravest hunters only take to the darkened Wood at great need, and they invoke all that their ancestors may provide to do so.

Once, when I was a girl, there was a boy just my age named Georg. He was a vain and foolish boy, and all the children were wary of him because he was fond of going out into the Wood. He would journey out in the morning and sometimes not come back until well after midday meal. One boy saw Georg balancing on logs and climbing over rocks, and heard him laughing and carrying on like he thought he was an elf. Some people heard him say that he wanted to talk to the elves.

Well one morning, the children were all playing on the village green when they we spotted Georg peering out from behind the village elder’s hall. His face was pure white, and he beckoned us to join him. One boy ran over to see what he wanted, and when he returned he said “Georg has a story to tell us. He says it’s important.” So we all ran after Georg until we had found a shaded spot behind a woodcutter’s hut.

It was there that Georg told us his tale. The night before, after his parents had gone to sleep, he snuck out of their hut and went into the Wood. He couldn’t find the elves in the day, so he would try the wood at night. Oh, he knew the stories, but he thought that he knew the Wood well enough to walk it after dark.

He told us that the wood twisted and turned all around him. Clouds covered the moon, and at every turn there was a raking branch or tripping root to waylay him. At one point, he had to crawl through a thicket he had fallen into, and just when he though he would make it no further, he stumbled out into a torchlit clearing. The sky was black overhead, and a great hall loomed large before him. Strange music could be heard coming from within the hall, and his courage led him to the door.

A tall man with rich clothing and a strange face welcomed him inside. “You have entered Waldenhall, child. Come, and behold wonders!” There, Georg saw many thing that none of us believed. He saw great deer holding feasts at table, and squirrels fighting duels in the rafters. There were women with light in their hair, and tiny folk with greedy faces. They told him they were elves, and that he was welcome in their hall to make merriment and eat well. He sat at their table and shared their food and drink. He listened to their many fine minstrels, and laughed at the stories they would tell.

In time, he came to notice a dark figure in the corner. He was squatting on a shelf, and looking at him was like stepping into a dream. The figure’s skin was an iron-heavy shadow, and his eyes were red like two wells of blood. The very walls seemed to slip and twist around him, and it was impossible to break his gaze. Georg didn’t move from the table all night, yet he felt as though he had been pursued through backwards corridors for hours. He escaped and made his way back to the village, but he only found his way after the sun rose. He had been awake all night, yet he could not rest, for fear of being pursued by the shadow creature.

We all laughed at him and named him a fool, and went about our play. He remained there for some time, then sulked off to the cottage of his parents. They whipped him for going into the Wood, and sent him to bed with no supper. We all had fits in our sleep that night, and when we woke we found that Georg had died. His father found him stock still and blue as a deep pool. His chest was covered in bruises, like he had been crushed, and all the children recalled the image of the crouching figure in the woodland hall, and how Georg swore that it seemed like an unnaturally weighty fellow.

Good children do not seek the wood after dark, and wise adults know why. Too often do they hold service for loved ones who tempt the tangled depths, and don’t even leave a body to bury. Be a good child, for your father’s sake and for mine.

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The Interview, Pt. 1

“Oh, God is dead,” he says, a playboy grin alighted on his well cared-for face.  “But Neither Nietzsche nor Darwin killed him.  The founder of this company did.”

He casts an arm casually around the room, highlighting the classic motifs from half a decade ago and the clean lines of the shining present.  “Look,” He says. Everything from the floor up is clearly expensive, and according to the finest tastes.  “We sit at the pinnacle of the world.”  As the Chief Executive Officer, He sits in an artisan office chair that is as handsome as he is.  His desk, a minimalistic pane of glass, is empty save for a blank tablet and an apple tree in the bonsai style, complete with a half dozen apple’s the size of a child’s fist.  They look delicious.

“They’re delicious,” He says, and the tone in his voice makes it hard to tell if he knew what I was thinking.  “Take one!”  I do.  It is.

It took forever to land this interview.  After my piece a few years ago–a deeply personal discussion with the last living pioneer of the social networking age–I knew that my investigation was coming to a close.  I phoned in every favor I had ever earned, and now I find myself in the Executive Suite, perched so high I can see the stars better than the earth.

I’m nervous.  What’s the first question someone asks the CEO of Life?  “Where did it all begin?” seems like as good a place as any.

“The 1720s.  Not many people know this, but our organization started in France.  It’s anyone’s guess what we were called then, but we were much closer to a conspiracy than a monopoly.  The first head of our organization–he was the Rector at that time–was a student of business and a patron of the arts.  The inexorable rise of industry fascinated him, but he didn’t want any part in shipping or manufacturing.  Who can blame him?”  With a cat’s calm precision, the CEO references both the state of the world and the draw for his product.  He gives off a powerful aura of confidence and control.

“The Rector wanted to increase his wealth like any entrepreneur would, but he had admired enough paintings and enjoyed enough theatre to understand that people want three things: sex, violence, and the freedom to choose between the two.  He saw this as a common thread between himself and the rest of humanity, and he wanted to make sure that he could ensure it for as many people as possible.  Who can blame him?

“Admittedly, The Rector’s ideas were not ideal.  He only really cared about ensuring pleasure for the rest of the aristocracy, and it took awhile for our organization to become more sympathetic.  Trying to control the U.S. theatre circuit in the mid 1800s was our first public front–you were right about that in your last article–but  we think we were working for the greater good a little before that.”

I wonder what keeps them from knowing all of their history.  “We have complete records, but the early ones are indecipherable.”  The CEO’s ability to guess my next question is astounding.  “They wrote everything in Latin, and translating it only reveals a bunch of cryptic phrases.  ‘All Hail the Palace’ and stuff like that. It’s really a little creepy.”

His ability to finesse even the shady things into what is turning into a very friendly chat is astounding.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but meeting the man in charge is rife with this strange sense of finely-concealed excitement.  Like big things are happening just around the corner, and all we have to do is wait for them to arrive.

“Since then, we’ve had a number of entertainment personas operate as our public face–The Chairman is a particularly good example–though nobody seemed to catch on that something was going on behind the scenes until recently.  The conspiracy theorists think there’s a guy at the top of the pyramid, who has his fingers in all of it.  Business.  Politics.  Religion.  Well, they’re mostly right.  I’m that guy, but I don’t go to church.  I let you find me because I want to set the record straight.”

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The White Wolf

Once, there were a prince and a princess.  They loved each other dearly, and would often ride together through the Wood.  The prince would bravely forge ahead, and the princess would keep him safe with her knowledge of plants and animals.  Together they found beautiful spots, and learned to sneak around many of the hazards of the forest.

But one day, a cruel elf stumbled upon the two, and he played terrible tricks on the prince and his princess.  He asked the princess three questions, and when she got a question wrong, he pushed her from a cliff.  She fell to her death, and the prince fell into a deadly rage.  The elf quailed and fled, but the prince pursued him and took his life.  But before the prince could do it, the elf cursed him to consume himself with his rage, and so has he done for many hundreds of years.

The White Wolf can be seen in the hills and valleys just north of the Heights, not far from Lake Echo.  He prowls the wood, bringing terror upon all he encounters.  It is said that his eyes burn with a rage that only grows, forgetting more and more of what it meant to be human.  The White Wolf does not always attack humans, but will never cease to pursue a monster of any kind unto death.  Because of their kinship, he pursues werewolves all the more ferociously, that doesn’t mean he won’t gobble up such a bad child as yourself!

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The King Pheasant

One day a long time ago, there was a little bird with feathers all of brown.  It was always hungry, because all of the other birds were larger and ate all the food before the little bird could find it.  Then, when the little bird was flying in search of food, it came upon a great castle in the forest.

The little bird landed in a window, and looked down on a great feast being held by the King.  The King wore richly-colored robes, and sapphires were set in his golden crown.  “If only I were a king,” said the little bird.  “Then I could have all the food I needed.”  This made the little bird sad, and it began to cry.

“Such a silly thing, to cry,” said a voice, causing the bird to jump in surprise.  A person no bigger than the bird was standing on the window’s ledge, dressed in clothes made of a single leaf.  “The little bird is sad, and small, and hungry.  Such a silly thing, to be hungry!”

“I would not be hungry if I were as big and colorful as the King,” said the little bird.  “Then all the other birds would want to give me some of their food.”

The little person rolled on the window ledge and laughed.  “King of the birds!” The person teased.  “There is no King of the Birds!”

“Then make me the King of the Birds!” said the little bird.  “I would be brave as a dragon and kind as a mouse.”

“I believe you,” said the little person, mischief in its eyes.  “Yes!  Yes!  All birds shall bow to the Bird King!”  And so the little person raised its hands high, and its legs turned into tree stumps while stardust drifted through its fingers.  The little person laughed, and each laugh was like a step stone that carried the little bird up into the sky.  The little bird began to grow, and its feathers changed from brown to every color of flower.  Blue feathers sprouted from its head and neck, bright and sleek as sapphires.  Its tail grew long, turning into a fan of green and purple and yellow.  It’s body began to change at the wing-tips into a burning orange, fading into red and then white.

But before the colors could finish spreading, a cruel wind blew out of the sky and hit the little bird on the back.  “Ha ha!” laughed the wind, which looked like a gusty little person.  “He makes you regal, and I make you serve!  No further will your feathers change, and your heart will remain small enough to bear an elven rider!”

The little bird cried out, but it was too late.  Now it was big and beautiful, save for a saddle of brown just between its wings.  The little bird and its hatchlings became known as the King Pheasants, but no matter how much the birds of the forest came to love them, the King Pheasants always suffered to bear an elf whenever one appeared.

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