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Musings

  • Over the past few weeks, we began a combination of spring cleaning, purge of all that is extraneous, and preparing the house for sale.
    • This weekend, we worked on the yard.
  • Irish Woman has a small electric chainsaw.  She used it to cut back a rather aggressive honeysuckle bush.
    • She claims it was a juvenile whomping willow.  She survived the encounter, so I’m only say that it might be a hybrid of some rather combative arboreal lifeforms.
  • I tried using the electric chainsaw, found it lacking, and dug out my old gas-powered saw.
    • This, after several years of no use and some neglect, refused to start, no matter how fresh the gas or vivid the cursing.
  • One trip to the hardware store later, I was the proud owner of a shiny new chainsaw.  It worked like a charm.  I cut down two dead peach trees, one dead cherry tree, and then tried to cut the honeysuckle stump back.
    • Note that I said ‘try’ there.
  • As I was cutting through that darned honeysuckle, the nut, which secures the plate that secures the guide bar, which secures the revolving, toothed chain of death, decided to explode off of its bolt, taking all of the threads with it.
    • Imagine my surprise when the nut and retaining plate went 90 degrees to my right, the guide bar sent 90 degrees straight up, knocking my hat off, and the chain wrapped itself around what was left of the saw and my right arm.
    • Luckily, Husqvarna has some really good safety features, and the saw cut off almost immediately.
    • My long-sleeve shirt was ruined, but all I got from it was a couple light scratches on my hand and forearm, as well as an elevated heart rate and a distinct puckering sensation.
    • I was able to find all of the parts except for the nut that started all this.  It is my belief that it is currently moving rather quickly over Lake Erie on its way to Nova Scotia.
  • The hardware store gladly replaced my 2 hour old chainsaw of doom with what is hoped to be a better example of Husqvarna’s product.
    • I haven’t tried it out yet, but when I do, you can be sure that I’ll be wearing as much safety equipment as I can fit my fat self into.  Think “StayPuft Marshmallow Man stuffed into a shark-proof chain mail suit”.
  • Since we have to consider the epidemiological implications of every activity we do these days, I noticed that even though the hardware store was packed, everyone was keeping six feet of separation.  They were also refraining from touching anything or anyone.
  • Lowe’s has put up large sneeze guards made of plexiglass and two-by-fours at the checkouts.
    • Of course, in order to converse with each over and be heard over the noise of hundreds of people talking in a large warehouse, the cashier and I had to lean over to the side of the sneeze guard, but at least they’re making an effort.
  • A smart man uses an electric implement to trim the bushes in front of his house and not his machete.  A wise man has his wife supervise so that it’s done to her liking the first time.

Rumblings

As our nation, and the world around it, weathers the COVID19 epidemic, there is something important that we all need to keep in mind. This is, of course, in addition to the necessity of doing our parts to limit the spread of the virus and to support one another.  Those go without saying.

We need to take a good, hard look at what our government is doing to help in this fight.  Notice that I didn’t say “what the government is doing in this fight”?  Anyway, a thought occurred to me as I was relistening to “The Last Centurion” by John Ringo and “Death Throes of the Republic” by Dan Carlin.

In The Last Centurion, the main character narrates how he and the rest of the world get through a worldwide flu pandemic that kills more than half of those infected.  It’s fiction, of course, and Ringo is definitely playing to one side of the political aisle, but throughout the narrative, he brings up excellent points about society and personal freedoms.

Death Throes of the Republic chronicles the hundred years or so between the end of the Punic Wars to the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Carlin does a great job showing how each crisis leads to just one more little exception to the rules, and each exception becomes a precedent for the next time someone makes a claim to more power or another exception.

If you haven’t read read or listened to them, you’re missing out.  If you have, you might want to give them a quick do-over.

Anyway, in Centurion, Congress passes an emergency powers act that gives the president almost dictatorial powers “for the duration”.  The chief executive goes on to rapidly increase the aspects of society that she controls, and of course she goes off the deep end on a lot of it.

In Death Throes, the subject of precedent comes up again and again.  “We let Joeblonus do it a generation ago, and this is just more of the same, but I need just a little more.”

Our government is also big on precedent.  Stare decesis rules in the courts.  Legislation written in a way that echoes the great laws of the past almost always gets through Congress.  Presidents point to their predecessors and their actions to justify their own.

I bring this up because Congress has passed several relief bills and is likely to add to them in the coming weeks.  President Trump and the legislative branch are, for once, working together on something.

Now, I’m not against providing some relief for people and industries that have been hurt by all this.  You can make the argument that the reaction to the pandemic have added to the economic problems, and that the emergency powers Congress is giving to the President aren’t all that necessary.  You can also argue that we haven’t done enough and that the worst is yet to come.

Either way, the money’s going to get spent and the government is going to flex muscles it didn’t even know it had before this is all over.  Hopefully it does some good.  Maybe it’ll also do some ill.

My concern about sweeping changes to government, made in haste, is the same as it has been since the passage of the Patriot Act.  No power granted to government goes without being abused, no matter how pure the intentions were when it was granted.

When people are scared, they want someone to make it all better.  Emergency legislation can easily become an enabling act.  Presidents, no matter how noble, can be tempted to push things just a little further or to use a power in a way it wasn’t designed.

And, of course, we have to remind ourselves that even if President Trump is an honorable man who would never stoop to abusing his office, can we guarantee that the next president, or the president in eight years, won’t?

This is the same question I asked President Obama’s supporters during his tenure.  No matter how pure one executive is, the next one might be his or her polar opposite.  Giving too much power to people we trust gives that power to folks we wouldn’t trust as far as we can throw them.

So, if we’re going to use the power of the federal government to combat this pandemic, we need to make damn sure that our Senators and Representatives are putting limits and sunsets on that power.

The Roman Republic died from a hundred crises and a thousand self-inflicted cuts.  I only hope that we can avoid the same fate.

 

Reading Material

OK, day three of suggestions on something to help wile away the hours.  I hope these are useful.

John van Stry has put a long list of his works on sale for 99 cents starting at midnight tonight.

J.E. Tabor has a space western serial up on his website, titled Once Upon a Time in the Heavens.

Melanie Nyles has her complete Luriel Cycle trilogy available for 99 cents.  Check out her website for more of her books and deals.

The world of Ahlias has a history of warfare between supernatural beings—daemons and luriel—which have nearly destroyed it at times. But ever since the Scientific Reformation, humans abandoned their beliefs in religious traditions, except for those who continue in secret to avoid persecution by daemon-controlled authorities. The luriel search for the power to end the war, while daemons hunt them down. Legends state that for either side to win, both must be destroyed. For millennia, the humans of Ahlias have been caught in the middle, and now, a mythical power has awakened in one of them. Daemons are relentless, but they have their weaknesses…

 

A reader suggested Black Hat Blues by Gene Kendall.

Meet Mr. Scratch. He’s an evil sorcerer, ruthless CEO, and diabolical weapons manufacturer. Scratch exists as drawings on paper, but he’s certain he’s better than you.

Meet Mark. He created Mr. Scratch. Never thought he’d meet him one day.

And Mark certainly never thought the fractured marriage of Jack and Gloria Power, fictional characters in his long-running comic book, would have dire consequences here in the real world.

In the 1970s, underground cartoonist Mark Lipscomb followed his muse and created, quite by accident, a merchandising phenomenon. The characters from his comic POWER & GLORIA penetrated the mainstream, becoming an action figure line, a syndicated action cartoon, and really anything else their images could be slapped upon.

Today, the audience is dwindling, and Mark’s adjusting to life with the new corporate owners of his creations. Arthritis has severely hindered Mark’s ability to draw, and his stories have a tendency to offend the modern taste makers, generating a routine series of social media outrages.

He does have one defender, though. His own creation, the villainous Mr. Scratch, who’s escaped a dangling plot thread from Mark’s final issue. The ingenious rogue has traveled the multiverse and found himself in Mark’s backyard. Truly, they were fated to become fast friends.

Except, Scratch isn’t as harmless in the real world as he is on the printed page. As the days pass, Mark can no longer deny what he’s created. Macular degeneration and arthritic wrists don’t lend themselves to old-fashioned slugfests, so Mark must get creative if he wants to stop the bloodlust of his destructive id.

 

If you’re looking for a tale to read on a dark night by the light of a fire, check out The Marchioly Project by P.A. Piatt.

Alexandru Statornik had everything – until it was all ripped away…

As his life spirals downward, Alex is recruited for a top-secret government research project at a secret prison in the heartland of America. He expects to find a most-wanted terrorist, but what Alex discovers is more horrifying than he could have ever imagined. The government has been holding a prisoner for over a hundred and fifty years – and that prisoner is a vampire.

When the project goes horribly wrong and the vampire escapes, it falls on Alex to hunt down and destroy the savage evil that has been unleashed on the world.

If he fails, eternal darkness will settle over all of mankind.

 

Treasure of the Black Hold, by S. Evan Townsend, looks like a really good detective story.

The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of . . . When private detective Rick Bailey is hired by the exotically beautiful and outrageously wealthy Princess Nora, he thinks it’ll be easy money. Escaping from her rebellion-torn kingdom, the princess has lost her handmaiden, Lores: the only person who knows how to find the hidden royal jewels. But when his search for the equally lovely Lores turns deadly, Bailey realizes that there is more to this case than it first seemed. When someone tries to kill him, he discovers that the roots of evil run deep. With his own set of values and sense of honor, Bailey must keep one step ahead of murderous mobsters, secret government operatives, and a genetically enhanced Lores as he races across the galaxy in search of the truth. The only things he knows he can trust are his eight-foot-tall ladybug-like girl Friday and a powerful weapon that responds to his thoughts. Will Bailey find the treasure of the black hole in time and will he survive long enough to discover why it is something worth killing for?

 

The latest volume of the Planetary Anthology Series is out, Uranus:

These are the stories of Uranus. Stories of new beginnings and creation. Stories of the mysterious seventh planet in our solar system and of the God of the sky that it was named after:

The Rising of Michael Reid, by Constantine Nakos – Michael Reid wasted his life. Now he has been given the chance to make amends. Every day he wakes up in the grave where he was buried and sets off for wherever Providence guides him.

Serendi-bunny, by Julie Frost – Alex Jarrett may be a mad scientist, but he’s a mad scientist on a mission to cure cancer. When he buys a pair of robot bunnies from the internet to help him accelerate his research, he gets more than he bargained for when they turn out to be assassin-bots sent from the future.

Forty-Two Years of Summer, by Karina Fabian – Forty-Two years of summer is a love story, an old woman’s reminiscing, and a peek at what the future could be. It reminds us that whatever the challenges, even the coming 42 years of Uranus winter, there is love and joy and the 42 years of summer.

Weather Witch of the West, by Ben Wheeler – Uranus is controlled by the Weather Witches. From their floating sky-palaces, they manipulate the weather, change the seasons and hold the lives and deaths of the countless inhabitants of the gas giants in their calculations.

Muddification, by Clint Hale – When human-like creatures are produced by advanced technology, they have no soul. They are a mere shell. What happens when mankind attempts to fuse the human soul and intellect with one of these uninhabited bodies? Is the body only a vessel, or does it also have some impact on who and what a person is?

The Last Human, by Richard Paolinelli – Anne Fontana needed a getaway, a vacation all to herself. But some vacations are just too short. The world has changed, and when she returns, she discovers that she alone holds the power to save humanity, or change it irrevocably.

Blue Ring Beginning, by Bokerah Brumley – Archibald wants a new start. A former detective, he lands on the Uranus station, desperate for work. Will a last-second offer from the station’s commanding officer give him the fresh start he needs, or dredge up the past he wants to forget?

Two Households, None Alike, by A.M. Freeman – Two worlds collide with an inharmonious clash at a ceremony meant to unite. The Princess of Uranus, full of pride for her society’s progress, must marry the Prince of Mars – and become queen of a rough and foreign land.

Creativity, by Arlan Andrews Sr. – Arlan was once criticized by a supervisor for being “too creative.” This is a wish fulfillment revenge story. “Sometimes management should not try to screw over a truly creative person.” (And never, never irritate a science-fiction writer)

Kashika’s Empty Nest, by Sarah Byrne – As the newly widowed dowager queen of an ancient kingdom, Kashika is looking forward to a life of retirement and freedom from her royal duties when she finds herself arrested for the murder of the late king. Only her young and inexperienced son, now king in his own right, believes in her innocence.

The Long Dream, by Caroline Furlong – The U.S.S. Andrew Jackson discovers an abandoned cryo-pod in orbit over Uranus, prompting questions about the first manned mission to the seventh planet in the Solar System – questions someone does not want answered.

The Morrigan, by Christopher Wilson – Civilization is dying, society falling apart, anarchic reavers and hungry gangs taking control now that no one is left to stop them. But an aging scout pilot, driving an old relic from a bygone era, may finally have an answer.

Cold Heart of Ouranos, by J.D. Cowan – Underneath Ouranos lies a hidden evil forgotten by those who live in the frozen wastes and the heated city. Mysteries from the past have revealed themselves once more.

Room to Breathe, by Marina Fontaine – Home. Family. Friends. Daniel knows those words used to mean something special. But not anymore. Not for him.

 

 

J. Trevor Robinson has a pair of short stories and a young adult horror novel up for free on his website.  As someone who’s spent the past week trying to keep a 11 year old occupied, young adult fiction is definitely something we need these days.

 

John Taloni’s The Compleat Martian Defense: Earth’s Defense Awakens looks like a great throwback to the golden age of science fiction.

With Earth left in shambles by the Martian invasion, Queen Victoria’s daughter Louise must lead the world through a dire emergency: The Martians are coming back.First she must rescue Cavor from his prison on the Moon in order to build a defense fleet. Even with Cavor their efforts would be for nothing without the genius of Nikola Tesla leading the way. And on Mars, unexpected allies fight a rearguard action to help Earth. Meanwhile the Time Traveler repeatedly appears, but is he friend or foe?

 

I have a weakness for noir served with a twist of magic, and Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts by Misha Burnett looks really good.

It’s hard to fight wizards and demons when all you have is a gun and a badge.

The use of magic in the Sovereign City of Dracoheim is regulated by the Lord Mayor’s Committee For Public Safety. From the licensing of magi, to the health and safety requirements for magical manufacturing, to the import and export of goods to the Realms of Nightmare, dedicated civil servants ensure that the metropolitan area stays safe from magical mayhem.

Most of the time, anyway.

My name is Erik Rugar. I’m an agent of the Criminal Investigation Division of CPS. We operate outside of the authority of Parliament and are answerable only to the Lord Mayor himself. We get involved when the regular beat cops are out of their depth. If a magic shop gets robbed by junkies, or someone gets vaporized by a fireball, or shapechanging creatures start infiltrating the city, I get the call.

But I’m not a mage; I’m just a cop. I face down magical threats with my keen investigative skills and a trusty revolver.

Welcome to my world.

 

Finally, a brand new, hot off the digital presses short story anthology featuring some of my favorite authors is out, When Valor Must Hold.

It is a time of high adventure! A time for noble men and women to say “No!” to the evils that will befall their families and friends if they don’t rise to the task at hand. If their valor doesn’t hold, civilization will fall.

Fifteen authors have spun fourteen tales of hateful wizards, treacherous seas, and scheming foes. Of times when ancient evils roamed the Earth, looking for souls to claim, and dark prophecies foretold what would happen if the Evil Ones were allowed to succeed. This anthology has all of this and more.

When Valor Must Hold focuses on heroes worthy of facing such enemies. A tiny brownie stands up to a massive ogre. A mother races to protect her children. A hunter chases raiders. A guardian serves his king. Heroes lead forces into battle against overwhelming odds. There’s even a goblin trying to save his people by stealing dwarven rum.

Inside are fourteen fantastic stories of enemies testing the valor of heroes great and small. If their valor should fail, they will lose far more than their lives.

Will their swords shatter shields? Will their magic shine forth? Or will they see their homes and families perish when they fail? Step inside and find out!

Reading Material

I hope everyone has either avoided climbing the walls or at least learned to do it with panache.  I’ve got a few more reading selections you might find interesting while we wait for the virus hordes to start roaming the freeways.

Three Ravens Publishing has several books for free right now:

First is Flux Runners, by William Joseph Roberts, which wins todays “Prettiest Cover” award:

What if tomorrow, you tasted freedom for the first time, but that freedom came with a cost… After a government-sanctioned privateering mission goes sideways, the crew of the Betty finds themselves fighting for their lives, light-years from home. Prepare yourself for an adventure with a lovable crew of degenerates and misfits as they dive into the dark unknown….

 

Next is Making Man, by John Drake.  From the description, it looks like an absolute hoot.

Cobble is a Neanderthal with itchy feet and the mind of an engineer, unlike anyone else in his old-fashioned tribe. Making Man follows his journey as he leaves the village of Boardom behind, taking him through mountains, underground animal lairs and into new landscapes. As with all good prehistoric comedies, there is a mysterious pendant and a healthy dose of talking insects. Fans of Douglas Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett may not enjoy Making Man as much as those esteemed authors, there are fewer elephants and no Vogons after all, but they should enjoy and remember it fondly nonetheless.

 

Also from John Drake, we have Cheating Death:

Even the Black Death has a lighter side. A street-side conman becomes embroiled in high politics when his scheme to relieve the doge of Genoa of a sizable portion of his wealth backfires. He is conscripted to deliver a message to The Cutler, a mysterious figure in the papal city of Avignon. Two English pilgrims are also making their way to the pope, seeking repentance for their sins. Their journey takes a debauched turn, however, and their arrival is one of a pair of wandering drunkards rather than pious pilgrims. Meanwhile, a Germanic woman leaves her homeland, intent on killing the pope as revenge for the church’s involvement in her brother’s death. There’s just one small problem; she’s not a natural murderer. Their worlds converge on the Palais des Papes amid the ravaging gloom of the plague as the shadows of the doge’s network are brought into the light to save the papacy and the brittle hope of the people.

Now, for something completely different, LoreLai Watson has the first book in her Atwood Legacy romance series, Ain’t Nothing But The Devil, available for free.  The author tells me that this book does have some adult situations in it, but it’s not too much for an adult reader.

Nothing about my life is as it seems. From the inside out it looks perfect, like a real-life fairy tale. But the truth is…it’s not.

Being married to a billionaire is not a one-way ticket to happiness like most people would think. Behind closed doors and away from the limelight he’s not the man he pretends to be.

My marriage is failing. My heart is nothing but broken pieces of pain and disappointment. My mind has become the battlefield of the war between me and the depression threatening to end my life.

I knew this day would come—the day I stood on the ledge, every fiber of my being urging me to jump. To end it all.

But there’s this tiny flicker of hope that’s keeping me from taking that fatal leap. His name is Adrian…and he’s my brother-in-law.

The Black Lily, by Mandy and G.D. Burkhead, looks as twisty and interesting as you could ask for:

Courtesan. Spy. Assassin.

Across the Kingdom of Arestea, the shadowy league of professional killers known simply as the Guild has long since earned its terrifying reputation. And none of its current members are more infamous than the Black Lily. No one knows who the Lily is, but everyone recognizes the efficiency with which he or she brings down even the most guarded targets. There is no one, it is said, who is safe from this fiend once they have caught the assassin’s attention.

Now Lily herself is about to discover if her reputation has been inflated or not, for she has just been assigned the most daunting mission of her career: infiltrate the royal palace and eliminate the entire Arestean line of succession to make room for the Guild’s puppet ruler. It’s a challenging job, but one that will secure her place in the history books should she succeed.

But when unplanned circumstances take the king from his country to help secure the front lines in his latest war of expansion, Lily is left trapped in her assumed persona behind the palace walls and forced to stall for time. And when a particularly bad stroke of luck reveals her cover to the king’s brother, Crown Prince Adrian, Lily finds herself ensnared in her own web, forced to use all her skills of subterfuge and manipulation if she is to stay one step ahead of the naïve but righteous young man and finish her mission — or die trying.

 

J.F. Holmes has put his post-apocalyptic story of a National Guard unit overrun by the ravening hordes, ZK: Falling, up for free:

When the world ends, where will you stand? Will you hold the center, or fall?

When his National Guard unit is overrun by the victims of the plague sweeping America, Sergeant First Class Nick Agostine struggles to keep his vow to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and keep those he loves safe. Along the way, he discovers just how far he will go to survive, and the price of redemption.

The prequel to the best selling Post Apocalyptic series, Irregular Scout Team One. This is how it all began, and how America fell.

 

J.F. Posthumus has her novel, The Fae’s Amulet, up for sale starting tomorrow.  I do love a good supernatural detective novel.

In her younger years, Catherine Woulfe was known as the Lady of Death…but those days are long past. Now, at over 300 years old, she is older, wiser…and painfully dull. Instead of using her necromancy skills for things like killing people and taking over governments, she now works as a private investigator, helping people find their lost treasures.

But when a charismatic stranger walks through her door, searching for one of the most powerful artifacts ever created, she is drawn into a case where she must use all of her old powers—including several forbidden ones—if she is to find the missing amulet. When the last person to see the amulet goes missing, she realizes it’s time for the Lady of Death to summon her minions and go on the warpath.

Angels and demons are searching for the amulet, as is a mysterious dark elf about whom little is known. Everyone is stalking her, waiting for her to find it so they can grab it for their own; meanwhile, her client has awoken feelings long suppressed, which is proving to be…distracting. Can Catherine find the trail of the thief and recover the amulet before the thief uses it to summon a deity that will destroy the Earth? More importantly, if she gets it, will she give it back?

 

Finally, Simple Service, the first book in Laura Montgomery’s Martha’s Sons series, is an excellent read.

A lost starship. A lost colony.

Two factions. One expendable son.

When the colony’s governor requisitions the colonists’ personal weapons, Peter Dawe’s father sets him a simple task. Get their weapon back.

But the Marss have all the technology, and Peter, a second generation colonist, the youngest of ten, the expendable son, must contend with the guard, palace politics, and his biggest problem of all, Simon, his brother.

 

So, happy reading.  Again, if you have a suggestion for a book or audiobook you think others would enjoy, please leave it in a comment.  I’ll keep doing these as long as I have things to link to and folks need some way to wile away their social distancing hours.

Reading Material

While we all hunker down and wait for the COVID19 mess to die down, a good book just might come in handy.  And really, can’t we all just use a little escape while we spend a few days in the house?

I asked some of my author friends if they had anything to offer.

First, we have Jim Curtis’ latest, The Grey Man – Sunset:

Whoever said retirement was quiet never met John Cronin…

The old man may have retired for the final time from the Sheriff’s office, but there are still cows to run, court cases to testify at, and consultation calls to tap decades of experience. And that’s not even counting the cold cases he’s still trying to solve…

With his granddaughter Jesse running the gun store and managing the ranch books, and her husband leaning how to fill Cronin’s shoes on investigations and arrests, John is keeping busy training the next generation, while settling a few old scores!

 

Jim tells me that his ebooks will be on sale this week, so check out his author page for more deals.

 

Jonathan Sullivan brings us his collection of wisdom “What Have Those Idiot Organics Done This Time:  Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned From Science Fiction“. (Try saying that fast three times).  I just started reading this one the other night, and it makes you smile and nod a lot.

Since the beginning of time, humans have used stories to pass on knowledge, experiences, and insight.

Why should science fiction be any different?

Sure, it might all look like lasers and explosions and papier-mâché sets, but what about the deeper message?

Is there a deeper message? If there is, can it be called inspirational? Morbid? Exciting? Boring?

Who knows? Let’s find out!

 

Brigid Johnson’s memoir, True Course: A Life Aloft is an uplifting and thought provoking story.  It’ll definitely fill the hours and your mind:

The Amazon #1 Best Seller and 2019 N.N. Light Best Book of the Year Award. From award-winning, best-selling author Brigid Johnson comes the tale of how one woman’s life in the sky forged an unforgettable destiny.

Raised in a small factory town in the 1960’s, when aviation was predominantly a male profession, with parents who didn’t support her ambitions, Brigid nevertheless learned to fly. Hers was a busy life of setting limits and learning philosophies of growth and risk well beyond her years, even as she juggled two jobs, college, and a rescue Siberian husky whose wandering spirit put her own to shame.

From first solo to an airline career, and finally a decision to hang up her wings for another profession when her elderly father needed her care, Brigid captures with understanding, humor, and grace the moments that change the path of our lives.

With lyrical expression of her love for flight, she writes old and new stories of family, adventure, and the thrill of taking to the sky. True Course is more than a memoir or a story of the lure of aviation–it’s a story of learning to let the spirit soar and unfurling the wings of personal freedom, an inspiration to adventurers everywhere.

 

Cedar Sanderson has a free short story collection up on her website, Twisted Mindflow:

A collection of seventeen shorts, flash, and oddball stories, twisted as they flowed out of my head and onto the paper.

Some may seem familiar, others appear here for the first time.

Get into my head…

 

Dorothy Grant suggested Alma T.C. Boykin’s latest, Furiously Familiar:

Ah, the holiday season. Peace, quiet, rest, and . . . were-creatures?

The perfect Halloween and Christmas gift for a pair of shadow mages? A fat holiday pay-check and no excitement. Lelia Chan and her fiancé survived enough excitement already for the year. Unable to work magic, André needs time to rest and recover. Lelia just wants to survive the goth sales rush of Halloween through Christmas.

But a young man looking for a were-wolf belt leads Lelia and her Familiar Tay onto a dark and deadly road.

Winter brings darkness and shadow. Evil also walks the long nights, stalking innocents. Evil also watches Lelia, patient, waiting . . .

Returning Dorothy’s good turn, I’m suggesting her first book, Scaling the Rim:

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

 

Finally, I have to recommend Sarah Hoyt‘s short story collection, Dragon Blood. I’m about half way through it, and I’ve enjoyed every word.

From the trenches of WWI where the Red Baron just can’t help turning into a dragon, to the desert sands of a future world where humans have become something else, from a coffee shop between worlds where magicians gather, to a place where your worst nightmare can love you, let Dragon Blood take you on a series of fantastic adventures.

With an introduction by Pam Uphoff

This collection contains the stories: Rising Above, From Out The Fire, Yellow Tide Foam,
Hot, The Blood Like Wine,The Least Of These Little Ones,
Scraps Of Fog,Something Worse Hereafter,The Littlest Nightmare,Dragon Blood

 

 

There’s a little of something for everyone in this list, but if you have something you want to share, please leave a link to it in a comment.  It can be your work or just something you really enjoy and think others might, too.  If I get enough suggestions, I’ll do another post like this in a few days.

Musings

 

  • Irish Woman and I ventured out yesterday to get some fresh food.  Now, that was an adventure.
    • Our local Kroger was, to put it bluntly, picked clean.
    • No paper products or cleaning supplies to speak of.
    • The produce area was down to a few bags of rather mushy cranberries, some brussels sprouts, and some apples and oranges.
    • The meat department had no lunch meat, few hot dogs, no ground beef.  There were, however, quite a few packages of frog legs.
    • The beer section was completely empty.  The soda area wasn’t much better.
    • Convenience foods, either shelf-stable or frozen, were flat gone.
    • The bakery was down to english muffins, bagels, and gluten-free bread.
    • There were ample diapers, formula, and other baby supplies, with the exception of baby wipes.
    • The family planning area was absolutely empty.   I guess folks are trying to not have a Christmastime baby boom.
  • My guess is that all of those folks who like to brag that the only thing made in their kitchen is reservations are having a bit of a problem right about now.
  • We also visited our butcher store.
    • We buy one of their ‘family packs’ every few months.  It has a few pounds each of beef, pork, chicken, bacon, and sausage.
    • We use a lot of ground beef, so we normally have to stock up in between the big purchases.  It just so happens that we needed to restock just as all this hit.
    • We tried to buy five pounds, but were restricted to three.  On the plus side, we had to wait for it to be ground.
    • We weren’t special.  Other customers tried to a dozen filet mignons or a pork chops, and were talked down by the owner.
    • On the spur of the moment, I bought a frozen rabbit.  Boo’s been wanting to try it, so what the heck?
  • I swung by a restaurant supply store later on.  Surprisingly, it was pretty well stocked, and I was able to get most of what we hadn’t been able to get at the grocery store.
    • They were completely out of toilet paper, but had paper plates and such aplenty.
  • Luckily for us, we usually have a few months worth of basics stored up, so the panic buying hasn’t impacted us too much.
    • Having a monthly shipment from Amazon of things like toilet paper, toothpaste, and batteries means that when the stores get blitzed, we have enough.
    • I was about to stop those shipments because we’re looking to buy a new house and move, but luckily for my sanity and marriage, I forgot to.
    • Unless the current situation continues for two or three months, we’re set.

Kung Flu Curriculum

Well, out of an abundance of caution, Boo’s school is closing for the next two weeks.  The week after that is spring break. He gets three whole weeks away from Our Lady of Eternal After School Activities.

The school gave every student a packet of worksheets on the first day of school for snow days and the like.  I doubt there are ten days of instruction in that manila envelope.

So, in order to keep my sprog busy, entertained, and educated, I have worked up the following to keep him busy in mind, body, and spirit.

Week 1

  • Research Project – What was John Moses Browning’s best invention and why? Minimum of 500 words.
  • Reading Assignment – The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein.  There will be a test on Friday. (No, not the book. He’s not quite ready for that.)

Day 1

  • Mathematics – Algebra problems based on the carrying capacity of dear old Dad’s ammunition boxes and all of the loose shells in his truck.
  • Health – Lecture – “Personal hygiene and the 11 year old boy”

Day 2

Day 3

  • Home Economics – Lecture – “Nutrition and Budgets – How to Eat Properly Without Bankrupting Your Father”
  • Shop – Firearms Maintenance and You

Day 4

  • Physical Education – Archery, intermixed with 15 meter wind sprints to and from the target
  • Computers/Religion – Patching Linux From Source Code, an Introduction to Self-Flagellation

Day 5

  • Personal Finance – How to get through the drive-through at the church fish fry without spending more money on Girl Scout cookies than you do on fish.
  • Physical Education – Free Play intermixed with yard maintenance

 

Week 2 

  • Research Project – Find the most efficient route to Texas from our house without crossing into Illinois.  Draw map, to scale, on presentation board, complete with points of interest and COVID19 detention centers.
  • Reading Assignment – The Cornered Cat by Kathy Jackson.  Complete 1000 word essay on the ethics of armed self-defense.

Day 1

  • Home Economics – Laundry 101 – The Washing Machine is Your Friend
  • Chemistry – Evening class – Bourbon and All of its Wonders

Day 2

  • First Aid – Morning class – Hangover Cures for the Middle Aged Man
  • Philosophy – Is there life after death?  Keep talking while Dad is trying to work and find out.

Day 3

  • Shop – Lawn Mower Use and Maintenance
  • Geometry – Folding Laundry Can be Fun!

Day 4

  • Physical Education – Weight Lifting done by repeatedly picking up things on the bedroom floor and putting them away
  • Photography – Go outside and chase some birds for a few hours, will ya?

Day 5

  • Physics – How much crap can Mom and Dad fit into the rental car?
  • Astronomy – Navigating the Interstate by the stars

Musings

  • I’m not saying this has been a rough winter, but we’ve passed viruses around the family more than we’ve passed the potatoes at the dinner table.
    • If it’s called “man flu” when I go to bed and stay away from the family when I’m ill, what’s it called when Irish Woman demands that she be allowed to sit in the living room and spread her plague so that she can be sure everything that needs doing gets done?
  • The quadrennial silly season continues apace.  For an independent in Kentucky, primaries are a spectator sport.
    • Some years, it’s like watching a bunch of highly skilled gladiators tear at each other until the strongest stands over his victims, sword in hand.
    • This year, it’s like watching pre-schoolers play rugby in a pig sty.
  • Apparently, the latest sobriquet for Communism-lite is “Democratic Socialism”.  I was asked to leave a semi-political group when I quipped that, by that logic, “gang rape” could be called “democratic sodomy”.
  • I am not allowed to list “Black Belt in Schadenfreude” on my resume.  I stand corrected.

Audiobook Review – Galaxy’s Edge: Savage Wars Book 1

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole take us back to where it all began in Galaxy’s Edge: Savage Wars Book 1

The greatest conflict the galaxy has ever known….

They were the Savages. Raiders from our distant past. Elites who left Earth to create tailor-made utopias aboard the massive lighthuggers that crawled through the darkness between the stars. But the people they left behind on a dying planet didn’t perish in the dystopian nightmare the Savages had themselves created: they thrived, discovering faster-than-light technology and using it to colonize the galaxy ahead of the Savages, forming fantastic new civilizations that surpassed the wildest dreams of Old Earth.

Until the Savages came in from the Darkness…. 

When a Savage hulk lands on glittering New Vega, one of the crown jewels of the post-Earth galaxy, a coalition of planetary governments amasses their forces to respond to the post-human Savage Marines who’ve come to sack and enslave. But what the coalition forces find is something far more sinister than the typical Savage hit-and-run: this time, the Savages have come to stay.

Witness the intense beginning of The Savage Wars, the epic conflict, built into the lore of Galaxy’s Edge, that will encompass over a thousand years of brutal fighting. Only the greatest military force in the galaxy can bring this war to an end…and the galaxy will never again be the same.

Experience the beginning of the Legion. Experience the Savage Wars.

Featuring an unforgettable performance by Stephen Lang (Avatar, Gods & Generals), Jason Anspach and Nick Cole explore the thrilling, desperate, and brutal war that forever shapes the galaxy….

We’ve read about the Savage Wars in the other Galaxy’s Edge books.  It’s normally talked about in hushed tones, and we learned how Savages impacted Tyrus Rechs and Goth Sullus.

Now, Anspach and Cole bring us to the first true battle in the Savage Wars.  Savage Wars Book 1 introduces us to the galaxy in the time after the diaspora from Earth, but before the founding of the Republic.  Mankind is splintered and only works together in the most academic sense of the word.  We get to see a titanic battle to retake a planet from the Savages and glimpses of the adventures to come.

The action is fast paced and constant throughout this yarn.   A new cast of characters just as engaging as Chuun and Ford fill out the story.  There are a few side plots that slow things down and make you think, but I found myself staying in the truck to listen to the end of a chapter several times.  I didn’t want to go all night without finding out what happened next.

Stephen Lang did an excellent job narrating Savage Wars.  He easily changed his cadence, tone, and vocalizations to match the story and characters.

If you’ve gone as far out on Galaxy’s Edge as you think you can, take a breath, close your eyes, and step into the Savage Wars.

Labor of Love

Ruarin, Lady of Eyre, heard her husband’s boots on the stairs leading to her kitchen.  She placed her hand upon the bundle of food the cook had prepared for the master of the house. Her hounds, Water of Fire and Bounder, sat on the floor next to DaddyBear’s baggage.  Their noses twitched as they tried, in vain, to convince her that they should give their master’s victuals a final taste, just to be sure that it was safe.

Beyond the shuttered windows, a winter storm roared as it swept in from the mountains to the west.  Normally their home would be frosted with snow at this time of year, but unusually warm, wet weather had turned her gardens into sodden mires.  Ruarin’s heart and mood matched them. Her eyes flashed just as the sky did when great bolts of lightning arced to the hills at the edge of their valley.

DaddyBear the Minivandian strode into his kitchen and glanced about as if expecting assassins to leap from the shadows.   The dogs thumped their tails against the flagstones at his approach, earning them each a pat on the head. Their disappointment at the lack of a treat was evident in their eyes.

The Northerner turned to his wife.  Their gaze met for a long moment, then the Lady of Eyre turned away.

“Your things are ready, my lord,” she said in an even, formal tone.  “Is there anything else you need before you depart?”

“My love,” he started to reply, but was cut off when his wife lifted her head and fixed him with a glare.

“Love?” she spat.  “Is it love that sends you off to some forsaken place today?”

“Ruarin, it’s by order of the High King himself.”

“And what of it?  I seem to remember an oath to me that you would stay home for a long while.  Do you remember that?”

“Yes, but…”

“And your oath to our son that you would attend to his training this winter?  The boy needs someone to show him how to use that sword he got at mid-winter, and now his father is traipsing off on another adventure.”

“The master at arms can work with the Young Prince.”

Ruarin’s eyes flashed at that.

“He is your son.  You should be teaching him.”

“I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have to.”

“That is what you said when you missed his birthday last spring, and when you were gone during the harvest feast.  You’ve just barely finished healing from that little jaunt, and now you’re off again.”

“Ruarin, my love,….”

“And what of me?  Am I only the lady of your house now?  Am I to just stay here to keep hearth and home together while my lord is out and about?”

The Miniviandian closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath.  He opened his eyes and let it as he replied to his wife.

“Woman, I am bound by my word to our King.”

“And what of your oath to me?  Have you forgotten that after all these years?”

DaddyBear’s rocked back as if he’d been slapped.  “Of course, I haven’t. Do you think I choose these things freely?”

“I could write to the King.  We’re kin, after all. You should be….”

“No,” DaddyBear said firmly, his voice dropping to a growl.  “I forbid you to do that. I will do my duty.”

The pair glared at each other while another peal of thunder shook the foundations of their manor.  The dogs looked from one to the other, then made the wise choice to slink away.

The Northerner bent down and picked up his bag.  Hefting it over his shoulder, he turned to the door.

“I’ll be back on the full moon,” he said over his shoulder as he stepped out into the storm.  The wind grabbed the door from his grasp, slamming it back into its frame hard enough to make the shutters rattle.

Ruarin stood in her empty kitchen, listening in vain for the sound of DaddyBear’s return for a parting embrace.  After a long wait, she felt hot tears roll down her cheeks, then sobs filled the kitchen.  

In the morning, the cook would find her mistress asleep at the table, the master’s bundle of food cradled in her arms.

 

DaddyBear the Minivandian trudged through the mud as the storm raged around him.  He had tied the pack behind his saddle before leaving home, but chose to lead his horse through the storm rather than ride him.  The big roan walked with his head down, but otherwise did not seem to notice the pellets of ice that had replaced the rain as they walked through the manor’s gate.  

The pre-dawn gloom slowly gave way to a dim, crimson dawn as the Northerner turned to follow a forest path into the hills.  After only a few miles of walking in the rain and mist, his cloak and anything not covered by it was sodden and splattered with frozen mud.  His beard and hair were frosted with ice, but he did not seem to notice as he trudged along. His eyes were fixed forward and he mumbled to himself as he went along.  

Several forest creatures heard his footfalls and voice long before he passed their lairs.   Some, hungry from a hard winter, might have chanced attacking a lone traveller, but none dared face the wrath of the big Northman that day.  Even though his great axe was strapped to his saddle and his sword was sheathed beneath several layers of wool and leather, none wished to face death at his bare hands.

Only when DaddyBear’s belly started to rumble with hunger did his attention come back to what he was doing.  With a grunt, he guided his horse into a stand of cedars. The few rays of dawn’s light that escaped beneath the leaden sky shone through the ice encrusting them.  They gave the cedars a red hue that matched the Minivandian’s bloody mood.

When he discovered that he had forgotten his food, DaddyBear cursed himself to any gods that might have been listening.

“Fool,” he said, “do you think you can survive on pine needles and snow?”

After considering that for a moment, DaddyBear snorted.  “I mean, can you survive on pine tea and whatever else you can find, again?”  Images of a frozen forest and a pretty girl flitted across his eyes for a moment.

He stopped to think, but then shook his head.  “No, I’m not going back. I’m already late, and I’m in no mood to cross swords with her once more,” he muttered as he put his foot in the stirrup.  Once he was settled into the saddle, he poked the roan in the ribs and started down the trail again.

“I know where I can get provisions, and the company might be a bit friendlier.”

 

The Minivandian’s cloak hissed and steamed next to the crackling fire as Jedediah the Dwarf filled a mug with dark, rich beer and passed it to DaddyBear.  The short, barrel-chested man looked as if he had been crafted from tooled leather. His skin was deeply tanned, even in the darkest winter. It was either due to his continual work at his forge, or perhaps from decades of grinding grease and soot into it.  His bright eyes twinkled in the firelight above an unruly beard of dark curls. Now, at rest, he wore a woolen robe dyed the color of spring grass. DaddyBear was more accustomed to seeing him in a pair of leather breeches and a thick apron.

His home was small, almost cramped to the Northerner’s eyes, but was spotlessly clean and comfortably furnished.  The aroma of fresh bread, fragrant woodsmoke, and hot metal permeated the house. The walls and ceiling were intricately carved with rosettes and scenes of ancient battles.  Rugs fashioned from the skins of animals both wild and tame carpeted the floor. They, along with a roaring fire, kept Jedediah and his guest cozy. 

“So, you’re off again?” the dwarf drawled as he settled into his favorite chair.  DaddyBear nodded as he stared into the fire.

“Yes,” he took a long pull from his mug, “again.”

“Where to this time?”

“Havheim, to deliver a message to the merfolk.”

Jedediah winced at that.  “I can see why Ruarin’s about as happy as a wet cat.”

The Minivandian nodded. 

“Will she be there?”

DaddyBear replied,  “That’s who the message is for.”

Jedediah winced again.  “Ruarin knows?”

“I hide nothing from my wife.”

“And you’ve told her about your… history with the Lady Cichlidia?”

The Northman sighed and put his mug down.  “I hide nothing from my wife,” he repeated, “although sometimes….”

“You’d rather chance being turned into a toad when she finds out anyhow?”

Both men snorted.  A knot in the fire popped as they laughed at the thought.

“I would make a particularly ugly toad,” the Minivandian said with a chuckle.  “Better to be truthful.”

Jedediah nodded in agreement.  “Well, I’ve got some vittles ya can take.  Y’all’re partial to boar, right?

“Smoked or dried?”

“Brined with dragon spice, then smoked fer a week.”

DaddyBear worked his jaw as if he were already trying to chew the tough, spicy strips of meat.  It wouldn’t be as good as what he’d expected to have on the trip, but it would be better than an empty belly.

“Thank you, Jedediah.  That’ll be fine.”

“In this weather, it’ll take ya weeks to get to Havheim and back.  Ain’t there a quicker way?”

“The King asked that I do this without drawing attention.  A winged beast descending on the home of the merfolk isn’t exactly covert.”

“True, true,” the dwarf said as he got up.  “It’s a long ride in good weather. In this,” he swept his arm toward the window, now crusted in ice, “you’ll be lucky to be home by spring.”

“I’ll make up time once the weather breaks.”

Jedediah snorted.  “I’ll fetch that hawg meat fer ya.  I’ll see if I’ve got any of those dried apples from last summer left.”

“Thank you.”

“Whatcha gonna do about the missus?  This is a bad time to be away from home.”

The Northman sighed and stared at the fire.  “I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll find a gift along the way.”

“Ya know, I’ve still got some of that silver y’all brought home from Illium a couple of years ago.  Might make somethin’ nice.”

DaddyBear stroked his beard and nodded thoughtfully.  “That might help. I’ll see if I can find anything you can use along the way.”

Jedediah cracked a smile as he stood and headed toward his larder.  “Nothing too big, mind you. Just some stones I can set in the silver.”

 

“Dozhevir, my love, I’m afraid you’ve come all this way for nothing,” Cichlidia said in a rich, sweet voice.  She was submerged in a pool of azure water up to her neck, sparing the Minivandian from having to avert his gaze. Merfolk rarely wore much clothing while in their own realm.

“All my king asks is that you answer his question, my lady,” he replied.  He kept his gaze centered on her forehead, which was ringed by flaxen hair that flowed down either side of her exquisitely beautiful face.  Meeting her gaze for too long might have sent the wrong message to the mermaid.

“Then you may tell him that I must decline his offer,” Cichlidia replied with a beaming smile.  The corner of her eyes crinkled as she rose up a few inches in the water. She could sense DaddyBear’s unease.  She giggled when she saw that he was blushing already.

“Well, then, there are other errands I must attend to,” the Northman said, not taking his eyes off of her forehead.  He bowed. “By your leave, my lady?”

“Going so soon, Dozhevir?”  Cichlidia giggled again, and rising just a little more from the water.  “We’ve got so much to catch up on!”

“I, my lady, am a married man in the presence of someone of your beauty.  Lingering here to talk about old times would be….”

“Wonderful?”  Cichlidia stretched her arms over her head and arched her back.  “Oh, this throne is uncomfortable,” she purred.

“I was going to say ‘disastrous’,” DaddyBear replied tersely.  “I really can’t stay.”

“But, my lord, it’s cold outside.” Cichlidia settled back onto her throne.  “Just stay a few days to let the weather pass.”

“No, I promised Ruarin that I would be home before the full moon, and the High King needs to hear your reply.”

“Well, then, if you must go, then let me give you a proper goodbye.”  She surged across the pool with a hard thrust of her tail. She hovered in front of him, wrapping her shapely arms around his neck.  She leaned in for a kiss, but was disappointed when he turned his head and presented her with a bearded cheek.

“Always the honorable barbarian, aren’t you, Dozhevir?” she pouted as she sank back into her pool.  

“Always, Cichlidia.”

“Well, go with my blessing then, if you must.”

“Thank you, my lady.”  DaddyBear turned and hurried from the hall.  Once he was beyond the walls of Cichlidia’s palace, he wiped his hand across his cheek to make sure no mark from her kiss remained.

“Simon,” he whispered as he strode toward the groom holding the his horse, “I should never have let you talk me into visiting that grotto.”

 

A bolt of blue fire burst against the rocks at DaddyBear’s feet, throwing him to the side.  The big man tucked his axe against his chest and rolled in the pebbles of glass that carpeted the plateau.  A huge nest, fashioned from the trunks of trees and interwoven with tendrils of frost, loomed at its center.  Above it, a huge creature, as white as newly fallen snow, rose as it beat its wings against the air.  

The creature’s cry wrent the air, making the Minivandian’s ears ring as he sprang to his feet and rushed at the nest.  The small stones beneath his feet crunched as he raced across the open area before leaping up the side of the nest. The ice phoenix swooped around in a long arc, then dove at him.   Just as DaddyBear reached the edge of the nest, it stuck at him with a set of wickedly sharp talons.  

DaddyBear felt the fabric of his cloak tear as he was lifted off of the nest and thrown down into it.  He managed to keep hold of his axe by some miracle, but otherwise landed like a sack of wet mush next to a clutch of huge eggs.  His head spun as he tried to regain his feet. He felt no broken bones, but could taste blood where he had bitten through his tongue.

The phoenix cried again as it plunged down at him, then screamed as the intruder rose to his feet and pulled his axe back behind his shoulder. She stretched out her talons to strike.

“Hold!” the Minivandian shouted at the humongous bird.  “I mean you no harm!” He dodged as the bird swooped over him.

“Thief! Assassin!” the phoenix cried out, hovering over the mound of mottled eggs. “You’ve come to murder my children!”

“I come only in search of a jewel!” DaddyBear’s words were a bit muddled by his rapidly swelling tongue.

“Jewel?”  The phoenix kept a suspicious eye on the Northerner as she settled back on her nest.  At this stage, her young needed to be kept warm, and the frigid north wind whistling around her eggs worried her.

“Yes, my friend tells me that ice phoenix have beautiful blue jewels.”  

“Oh, those,” the phoenix scoffed.  “Your friend has seen our tears?”

“Tears?”  This time it was DaddyBear’s turn to be puzzled.

“Silly mortals,” the phoenix snorted.  “Of course, tears. When one of us sheds a tear, it freezes immediately.”

“Into a jewel?”

“Well, they are shiny.  I suppose someone might mistake one of them for a jewel.”

“All right then, how do I get a few tears from you?”

“If I cry for you, will you leave and never come back?”  

“Of course.  My home is far from here, and I have no wish to return to your aerie.”

The phoenix sighed and shook her downy head.  “All right, but just this once.”

She dipped her head down so that they were eye to eye.  

“Stretch out your paw.”  

DaddyBear did as instructed.  The phoenix turned her head to the side, then closed her eyes.  A few moments later, azure drops rolled down her beak and into his palm. Searing cold raced up his arm as each crystalline drop fell.

After a few moments, the phoenix raised her head.  One final tear escaped, falling to the ground and shattering in a flash of blue light.

“There, if that’s all you came for…”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Mind that you never return, morsel.  My young will be hungry for red meat in a few weeks.”

“Have no worry, my lady,” DaddyBear said as he tucked the jewels into a pouch.  “I do not wish to disturb you further.” He slowly backed to the edge of the nest, then climbed down to the ground.  The phoenix listened to his footfalls as he crunched through the pebbles and made his way down the narrow path off of her plateau.

“Foolish mammal,” she muttered as she preened her feathers.  “Tears are just pretty. He should have asked for a feather or two.”

 

“So,” the demon said with a sharp-toothed smirk, “your turn!”

DaddyBear scooped the iron dice up from the top of the black stone table.  For the first time in days, he was warm. In fact, he was uncomfortably hot.  Only a suspicion that he might have to race back out into the blizzard howling around the lip of the crater in which he sat kept him from stripping off a few layers of clothing.

“Last try,” the Northerner growled.  He shook the dice thrice, then watched as they clicked and sparked their way across the tabletop.

“Ah, good throw!” the demon cackled.  “But not perfect. Three fives and a four won’t be easy to beat, but we’ll see what I can do.”  

DaddyBear watched as the  imp swept the dice into its claws.  Rather than shake them, it threw them up into the air and let them fall.  Instead of bouncing, the dice landed with a thud. The demon did not look down at the dice.  It merely sneered across the table.

“Four fives!  I win again!”

DaddyBear made a sour face, but slid a gold coin across to his opponent.  It was all that remained of the stack of coins he had entered the game with. The demon laughed as it picked it up and popped the gold into its mouth.

“Oh, that’s a sweet one.”  The creature smiled at his guest.   “Care to throw again?”

“I’m out of money.”  The Minivandian gestured at the empty table in front of him.

“Well, what about that pretty sword you have under your cloak?”

“My sword?”

The demon smiled warmly.  “How about this? If you win, you get everything back and we can start over?”

“And if I lose?”

“That blade will taste really good.”

The Minivandian pursed his lips as he thought about the imp’s offer, then he reached under his cloak and drew his sword.  The polished steel gleamed in the torchlight as he lay it down on the table.

“Are those real Channani runes?  Those will add spice to the meal!”  

DaddyBear’s eye twitched as he scooped up the dice.  Never letting his eyes leave the demon, he shook them, then let them roll off of his fingers.  Just as the demon had done before, he didn’t look down at his dice before saying, “Four sixes.”

“But you only got three….” The demon stopped when the glowing edge of DaddyBear’s sword slid up against its neck.  It tried to pull away, but DaddyBear’s other hand snaked out and grabbed its scaly arm.

“It’s four sixes, you cheating hellspawn,” the Minivandian said in a quiet, calm voice.  “Pay up.”

“But…”

“Give me what I want, or I’ll carve what I need out of your hide after I split you open and take back my gold.”  The demon locked eyes with the Northman, then blinked.

“All right, all right,” it said.  It’s tail slouched to the ground behind it.  “Ye gods, a guy can’t have a bit of fun?”

“Only a fool cheats a man of the North,” DaddyBear growled.  He put a little more pressure on the sword.

“Cheating?” the demon said, slowly reaching into the pouch laying in front of it on the table. “Me?”

“You think I’ve never seen enchanted dice before?”

“Oh, so you’ve played this game before?” the imp asked as it shook several iridescent stones out of the pouch.

“More times than I can count.  I just wanted to see how greedy you were.”  DaddyBear released the demon’s arm and picked up the gems.  Slowly, he pulled his sword back and lowered it.

The demon rubbed the mark the blade had left on its neck and scowled at the Minivandian.  

“I ought to kill you for that,” it spat.

“If you’re feeling froggy, then jump,” DaddyBear answered menacingly.  He stood, his sword clasped in one hand and the firejewels gripped in the palm of the other.

“Care to try again?” the demon asked slyly.  “We can even use your dice.”

“Not a chance.  You only get to cheat me once, and I know you’ve got more tricks to play.”

“Now you insult me?”

“You’re lucky I let you keep the gold. I just don’t have time to clean my blade today.”

The demon shrank back, stepping away from the table.

“Okay, okay,” it hissed.  “Just go. I’ve got other rubes to play with.”

DaddyBear turned his head and spit on the floor of the crater.  It sizzled and hissed as he walked away. “Demon blood makes for good ink.  Remember that before you try anything.”

Without looking back, the Minivandian climbed up the side of the crater and back down to where he had tied his horse.   The hem of his cloak and the soles of his boots smoked where they touched the stones.

 

Ruarin sat at her kitchen table.  A gentle, but constant, rain pattered against the windows behind her.  She had kept her composure until she could be alone, but now her eyes burned from the tears that had soaked into the arm of her dress. The rest of the house had gone to bed hours before, but she had stayed up to watch the moon rise.  

This was the third month she had kept this vigil, and every month had been a disappointment.

Bounder, the smaller of her family’s black hounds, leaned her head against the Lady of Eyre’s lap.  Her tail thumped against the flagstone floor as a delicate hand scratched behind her ears. The dog’s attention drew Ruarin’s eyes from the window.

“You miss him too, don’t you, girl?”  The hound looked up at her and let out a long sigh.  “I suppose he’ll be home by the next full moon.”

Suddenly, Bounder reared her head back and turned to face the door.  Her back arched as she unfurled her leathery wings. A low growl rose from her throat, raising the hair on the back of Ruarin’s neck. Her sharp bark filled the kitchen. It was quickly answered by the loud bay of her brother as he scrambled from his bed in Elsked’s room and raced toward the kitchen.

The Lady of Eyre rose from the table and drew the dagger she kept at her belt.  To her shock, she realized that the door was not latched shut. Hearing a heavy footfall on the stone courtyard beyond, she raced to the door just as it started to swing open.

Ruarin raised her blade, the first bit of a curse between her teeth, when a haggard, bedraggled figure stepped through the doorway and into her kitchen.  Bounder beat her wings as she pounced, striking the intruder in the leg with her paws. Her tail whipped back and forth as she greeted him.

Ruarin looked up into the man’s face.  His long, filthy beard dripped from the rain. His eyes were red with exhaustion.  The cloak across his shoulder was torn in several places. His shoulders were stooped and he moved like an old man.

DaddyBear the Minivandian looked down at his wife.  He could see the surprise and shock on her face at the sight of him.  

“Wife, I am home,” he rumbled in a tired voice.  “I regret that I am a bit late.”

He took another step into his home and raised his hand. Nestled in his palm was a long silver chain.  A pendant of firestones and blue phoenix stones caught the light from the candle burning on the table and glowed with a fire of its own.

“I hope that this makes up for my absence.”  He looked down at his wife, searching for some sign from her.

Ruarin examined the necklace for a moment, then knocked his hand away. Before he could react, she leapt at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a kiss.

“My love,” she said through fresh tears, “I need no jewels.  I only need you.”

The Northman ran the back of his fingers down her cheek, then pulled her close.  They stood there for a long time, holding each other and listening to the rain fall on the courtyard.

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