stories

Chapter 22: Infultraiting the Enemy

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here

“Do you have a plan somewhere in this mess?” Iain asked some time later. He sat on the edge of the bed with his back to Ailbhe. “Or are we just winging it again.”

“I had a plan,” she said. “Emphasis on had. That was before there was a crazy mob looking for me.”

“Somehow I’m pretty sure the mob is your fault,” the ‘serk said.

“I am in no way responsible for their crazy,” she replied.

“True. But it’s not like you did anything to discourage it either.” He gave her a look.

“Sometimes you just have to roll with it and do what seems funniest,” she paused. “By the way, that is how I am still a paladin.”

Iain gave her a look. “That makes me wonder how your god can have holy powers.”

“Kaggen is mostly a good guy,” she explained. “He just gets a little carried away sometimes.”

The berserker shook his head. “Right. So what’s the plan, Ms. Mostly Holy?”

“Well, we’ve got an invite,” she said. “Why don’t we go use it?”

Iain shook his head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“I’m not leaving him,” she said. “For one thing, he knows too much.”

As she spoke, Ailbhe went to the door and peaked out. None of the villagers were lurking in the hallway, so she snuck across the hall into Seamus’s room. Iain followed.

“We’re climbing out a window? We haven’t done this in a while,” the ‘serk said as Ailbhe pulled herself out onto the window ledge.

“We’ve never had to do it because of a mob that thinks I’m a saint,” she said.

“Isn’t that the truth,” he muttered.

Ignoring him, the paladin grasped a fortunately place trellis and climbed down. Iain followed close behind. He was halfway down when a shout came from the front of the inn. One of the villagers had spotted them.

“Jump,” Ailbhe hissed. She regretted it almost immediately when the ‘serk landed on her.

The two of them scrambled to their feet and hurried out of sight. They were just in time, too, as more people rounded the corner. Seeing no one there, they quickly returned to their vigil at the bottom of the stairs. With the way clear, Ailbhe and Iain moved quickly to where the monks had their camp.

There was a guard at the entrance, a tall man who wore the same tabard as the rest of his fellow fighting monks. He drew himself up as they approached.

“Please state your business,” the monk said. His voice was an unexpectedly pleasant baritone.

“We were proffered hospitality by a member of your order earlier this day. It was our sincere hope that we might commune with your brethren that we might regard them more fully,” Ailbhe said.

“Ah, Lady Paladin, not sure what you just said, but they told me you might come,” the monk said as he stepped aside. “Please feel welcome here.”

The paladin nodded to him, and together with the ‘serk she entered the building that was granted (temporarily) to the monks. It was a large structure, and had probably been someone’s private compound before the flood. If the owners were still around, they were probably staying somewhere else.

“Lady Paladin!” another monk called from one of the doorways. “We are so pleased you could join us. Please, won’t you come in?”

Ailbhe smiled. “Indubitably,” she said. “We are obliged to you for your hospitality.”

“It’s a trap,” Iain muttered beside her.

Still smiling broadly, she replied without looking, “If it is then we will just have to deal with it.”

The ‘serk grunted, but said no more as they walked into the building.

Whatever they had been expecting, this was not it. Town residents sat at tables, being waited upon by the monks. The one who had called to her from the doorway led her and Iain back to a table near the rear wall and left, promising someone would be by shortly to take their order.

“I thought this was an order of militant monks,” Iain said quietly.

“It is,” Ailbhe replied. “Or at least it’s supposed to be.”

The ‘serk looked around, skeptical. “Looks like on order of waiters to me.”

“I’d say something about them practicing servitude, but I’m pretty sure they’re just doing it to fool the residents,” the paladin replied. “Or something. Let’s see if their food is any good.”

“What about Seamus?” he asked.

“I’m sure we’ll hear him screaming if he needs us,” she replied. “If he hasn’t blown his cover yet, our showing up won’t help him.”

The two of them ordered dinner, and though Ailbhe felt a little guilty about bailing on Ethel, she was sure the mob keeping vigil outside the inn would be hungry sometime that night and they would eat what the two adventurers hadn’t. Maybe if Ethel was lucky someone would even pay her for her food. They were well into their soup course before Iain spoke again.

“Got another plan yet?” he asked.

“Almost,” she said. “Just give me a few more minutes and I’ll think of something.”

The ‘serk grunted and went back to his food.

After the meat course, Ailbhe sighed. “Alright, I’m going to go find him. With any luck it’ll be before he’s traumatized or harmed.” She pushed back her plate and rose from the table.

“Want me to come with you?” Iain asked, looking up from his own plate. He had a triple helping of everything.

“Nah,” she said. “You’ve still got a lot of eating to do, and one of us needs to stay to make things less suspicious. Besides, I’m sure you’ll hear me yell if I need help. This place isn’t that big.”

Iain gave her a look. “You know, now that you’ve said that you’re going to get in trouble and I won’t be able to hear you.”

“So come and find me in twenty minutes,” she said, shrugging.

“Sure, why not.” He shook his head and went back to his food as Ailbhe headed out.

Before she made her escape, though, she was spotted. “Lady Paladin,” called a monk near the door. “May I ask where you are going?”

Chapter 21: Who’s Your Daddy…I Mean Deity?

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Iain did have to help Ailbhe back to the inn, though the they both took pains not to be seen, not wanting questions or comments. Thankfully everyone seemed to be too busy either getting food from the monks or trying to repair their homes enough that they would be livable to notice. Only a few people even gave them a second glance. The paladin was starting to think she’d imagined a premonition of dread when she and Iain were suddenly surrounded. It was all she could do to stand on her own as Iain suddenly shied away.

“Please, Lady Paladin, give us your blessings!” One of the people yelled.

Another reached out and grabbed Ailbhe’s wrist. “You must come and heal my son! He is on Death’s door since the flood.”

Other hands grabbed her and tried to pull her into the crowd. Thankfully the berserkers reaction to put an arm around her waist was fast and strong enough to keep her there. One growl from him sent the people scurrying back a few paces. He then picked the paladin up and carried her the rest of the way.

Ethel wasn’t particularly helpful about the whole saint matter when they finally made it back. “The way I figure,” she said after hearing the story. “This is your second miracle.”

“What’re you talking about?” the paladin growled irritably.

“Didn’t y’all feed the masses when there was no food in town?” Ethel asked.

“Right place, right time is all,” she mumbled.

The innkeeper grinned. “Sure, but that’s not how they’ll see it. Means you’ve got one more before your sainthood is official.”

“Not helping,” the paladin mumbled.

Iain tugged at her sleeve and nodded at the stairs.

“Yeah, I’m coming. Ethel, will you wake us up for dinner?” she asked.

“‘Course, dear.”

The two exhausted adventurers plodded up the stairs and collapsed into bed. It seemed like only a few minutes later when there came a tapping at the door.

“Are you all awake in there?” Ethel called.

Ailbhe groaned and rolled to bury her face under either the pillow or Iain, whichever she came across first. Unfortunately for her, the berserker had other plans.

“Come on,” he said, sitting up. “We have to go save the bard.”

She groaned again even as she sat up. “Do we have to?”

“You’re the one that sent him into the monk’s camp.”

“Bunch of lizards,” she muttered under her breath as she pulled on her new armor. “Iain, can you help me with the straps on this? I’m too tired to pull it much tighter.”

Though he gave her an annoyed look, the ‘serk did help pull the straps to the desired tension. When they were finally dressed, the two of them headed downstairs. Waiting for them at the bottom was a none too pleased Ethel.

“I just wanted to warn you before you went out there,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Warn us about what?” the paladin asked as her companion pushed the door open.

There were at least fifty people in the dinning room. They were bunched together in groups of six or seven, and as one they turned to swarm the paladin making her way down the stairs.

“What’s going on here?” The paladin ask.

One hundred eyes stared back at her. “Saint Ailbhe, we’ve come for guidance,” said the leather worker’s wife.

“I thought he said she wouldn’t influence a lot of people,” the ‘serk muttered.

She gave him an elbow to the ribs. “Look, I’m not a saint.”

“But we have seen two miracle just since you came,” the lady said. “Surely there has been another miracle in your lifetime.”

“Yeah, it’s a miracle she’s still a paladin,” Iain muttered.

Ailbhe elbowed him again, but it was too late.

“The berserker says there is another miracle!” The lady cried.

“That’s not what he meant,” the paladin said, but no one was listening.

“A saint!”

“Saint Ailbhe!”

“What is her deity? I will convert my whole family!”

“We love you, Saint Ailbhe!”

“Have you cross classed into cleric? Can you raise the dead?”

“Can you heal my rash?”

The crowd pressed forward, forcing the paladin and the ‘serk to retreat back towards the stairs.

“Look,” she said as she started up the stairs backwards. “I want to help you all, and I will, but the miracle I worked earlier really took it out of me and I won’t be able to do another until tomorrow.”

While the crowd expressed general sounds of disappointment, Iain pulled her another few steps up so that they were both on a landing as the crowd pressed through into the stairwell.

“And so I am begging you to be patient,” she said. An idea struck her. “You could always pray to my god to give me more energy for miracles.”

“Tell us who your god is and we will!” on of the people called back.

“I’ll convert!” yelled another.

“Who is it?”

Ailbhe cleared her throat and glanced at Iain before saying, “The one who I serve is known as Keggin.”

There was a moment of confused silence before the people started murmuring among themselves. Iain rolled his eyes and grabbed her and started dragging her around the corner.

“I didn’t know trickster gods had saints,” one of the women said hesitantly.

“He’s not just a trickster!” Ailbhe said, putting on the brakes.

Recognizing her theatrics, Iain grunted, but stopped.

“Koggan is a god of beauty, illusion, good humor, and healing,” she said.

“And snark,” Iain muttered.

For once Ailbhe ignored him. “Though my god may not always do what you would like him to in the way you want him to, he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be. He’s kind of like a godly drinking buddy.”

“That’ll draw all over your face when you get drunk,” Iain said. This time she did elbow him.

There was another long pause before someone shouted, “I still want to convert! I’m going to become a disciple of Kagon!”

In the clamor that followed, Ailbhe got fifteen outright converts right there in the stairwell, ten more that were thinking about it and at least another five that, while they weren’t converting, were at least more positively inclined towards her god than they had been. By the time it was over Iain had to help her back to the room or risk her collapse.

“I thought you said you didn’t have to proselytize,” he said as he tucked her in.

She smirked. “I don’t,” she said. “But that was just way too funny not to.”

A Slightly Late GISHWHES Post

Hi, everyone. Your wayward author is back with another update. In my last post I told you about how busy I’ve been. I’ve got good news; I’ve been working full time for the National Park Service for more than a month now. My stress levels are way down, and I’ve been able to get some writing done (as well as my editorial jobs). In fact, I was able to participate as an author in GISHWHES 2014. I’m sure most of you know about GISHWHES, but for those who don’t GISHWHES stands for “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen”. The contestants do all sorts of wacky fun stuff for charity. One of those things this year was to ask a published scifi author to write them a tiny bite of fiction. The stories had to be 140 words, and include Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an Elopus (an elephant/octopus hybrid). I wrote two myself and two with Sarah Hendrix. I’ll post them here for your reading pleasure. Be warned some of these are pretty weird.

GISHWHES #1 With Sarah Hendrix

It was a vast, black ocean they raced across, skimming the oily surface as their skiff ran from the ships of the royal navy.

The Dread Pirate Collins sneered at his prize. He knew that if he could just get away from the navy, he’d be able to ransom the clockwork Queen for quite a bit of money.

The Queen, for her part, stared back impassively. Her automaton brain knew that this was her fault. If she had been more fair, and just, as she was programmed, then no subject would be forced to into piracy.

The pirate’s ship was pulling away as something huge rose up from the waves smashing his ship. Mechanical tentacles snaked across the deck.

The Elopus cradled the Queen in it’s many arms. “I love you.”

End

GISHWHES #2 With Sarah Hendrix

She sat alone at a back table in The Elopus. A piano tinkled, out of tune, near the stage. There was a glass of something strong in her hand and her hat was tipped low over her eyes.

Sheriff Misha took a deep breath and looked up to the sky but the faded sign with the odd creature was in the way. He wondered exactly how things would play out.

She seemed to know he was there before entered; her gun was already pointed towards him as he turned to her.

“You ain’t wanted here, Sheriff. Leave me be. I’ll be gone soon enough, just here on family business.”

He nodded and sat across from her, his hands far from his gun. “Sorry about your momma.”

“The queen is dead,” she said quietly. “Long live the queen.”

End

And now my solo stories:

In the Cave of Ganesh

Misha paused at the opening of the cave and pulled the tattered letter from the back pocket of his trousers. The handwriting inside was still legibly the Queen’s.

Dmitri,
I have no words for how sorry I am for what I must put you through. I know you understand, the beast must be destroyed. My sources tell me you will find it in the Cave of Ganesh. Please, be careful. I cannot lose you.
~V

He shoved the note back into her pocket, wishing for more information. There was only one map in the entire royal archive marking “the Cave of Ganesh”. He was here, now, though. After weeks of searching, he’d found it.

A rock clattered towards him. He looking into the cave and there it was. The beast, writing, huge, and reaching for him.

“Sorry, Vicky,” he murmured.

End

Misha and The Queen vs. Dr. Elopus

Misha and The Queen crouched atop the roof of “Elopus Inc”. Their target was coming around the corner. He was a middle aged man, balding on top and dressed in a lab coat.

“Now?” Misha asked.

“Now,” she confirmed and jumped from the rooftop, using her Scepter’s power to land safely.

Misha unfurled his wings and followed her to the sidewalk. “Dr. Elopus,” he said. “You’re under arrest for crimes against humanity, cruelty to animals, and several hundred municipal code infractions.”

The Queen pointed her scepter at Dr. Elopus. “Come quietly and we won’t have to hurt you.”

There was a moment of silence before the man began to laugh. As he did, he began to transform. Tentacles sprang from under his lab coat and his nose distended to become a trunk. “Not today!” He cackled, swinging towards them.

End

Chapter 20: The Questionable Miracle of a Questionable Paladin

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Before they headed into potential enemy territory, Ailbhe decided she needed to make an attempt to look more like a paladin. The chainmail and fancy talking wasn’t cutting it in terms of identification. Iain was against the idea; he thought if they were going to rescue Seamus, they should go ahead and do it.

“There are a couple reasons why we shouldn’t just go barging in,” she said as they walked through the ruined market place. “First, if Seamus has somehow fooled them, we don’t want to give him away.”

“You said they’d know,” Iain said, frowning.

She shook her head. “I said they could tell a lie. If he hasn’t lied, there’s still a chance he might be fooling them.”

“Doubt it.”

“Anyway,” Ailbhe stopped to inspect the front of a ruined shop. “If he has been discovered, we don’t want to rush in too soon and arouse suspicion.”

Iain grunted. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, I need armor and you need a little more recovery time,” she said.

The paladin stopped in front of a stall that had once belonged to a leather worker. The sign above the ruined armor read ‘Voted Best Armor in the Tri-Village Area’. The pieces visible weren’t so much on display as they were heaped together in one place. As they stood there, a man came out of the back.

“Go away, I ain’t got nothing left to sell. Was all ruined in the flood.”

“Good sir, I am distressed to hear of your sad misfortune. Might I offer my assistance in expediting your economic recovery?” Ailbhe said.

The leather worker glanced at Iain. “The hell she say?”

Unfortunately, the ‘serk still wasn’t up for translating. He grunted and shrugged.

“Look,” she said, dropping the act. “Your stuff is ruined. I need new armor. If I fix, would you give me a set?”

The man made a face and shook his head. “The armor’s ruined, lady. You can’t fix ruined leather.”

“And if I can?” she asked.

“Then you can have whatever the hell you want,” he said.

Ailbhe grinned. “Great.”

With the leather watching, she laid out the armor.

“What’re you doing?” the ‘serk mumbled next to her.

“Picking what set I want,” she replied. “And laying these out so I can fix them.”

“How are you going too do it?” he asked.

“Magic,” she said.

She took a deep breath and let it out again before holding her hands over the spread of leather. Golden light flowed from her fingertips and over the shrunken hide, filling in the crevices and expanding it. Several pieces oozed dark water as they reshaped themselves back into armor. After several minutes the light faded, leaving behind several well-made sets of armor. Ailbhe sat down with a thud and Iain moved to help her. She waved him off.

“You will have to re-stain the leather,” she said. “But I believe I have saved your armor.”

“Damn, I didn’t think it was possible,” the leather worker said. “Go ahead and pick you out a set.”

The exhausted paladin nodded but made no move to stand. Recognizing her inability to rise under her own power as well as her wish to appear in control, Iain did the only thing he could. He grabbed the closest piece of armor and held it up. Before he could ask her if that was the one she wanted, a woman came out of the back of the stall and shrieked. Iain dropped the armor he was holding and dove for Ailbhe, pulling her to her feet. She stopped him before he could pick her up and run, though.

“Stop, its okay,” she murmured. “Listen to what she’s saying.”

Indeed, though she sounded upset, she was actually yelling that someone had performed impossible magic. Several of the neighboring merchants were watching her carry on with mild curiosity.

“Wife, will you calm yourself?” the leather worker asked. “This paladin restored the armor-”

“Paladin! Then it is a miracle!” The woman launched herself at Ailbhe and would have bowled her over if not for Iain putting out a hand to steady her.

“Listen, lady,” the paladin said, “All I did was cast a healing spell-”

The woman clasped Ailbhe’s hands in her own. “You are too modest, my lady saint. With your intervention, my husband and I will be provided for; you have delivered us from our direst hour of need!”

Ailbhe looked at her, no emotion showing on her face. “I’m a paladin, not a saint.”

“You are still too modest. I must go and tell my friends what you have done!” She chirped before flitting off.

“Wait! I’m not a saint!” Ailbhe called after her, but it was too late. The woman was gone.

“Hey look, don’t worry about it,” the leather worker said. “My wife’s not all there sometimes. I have to say, though, that was a pretty neat trick. How did you know a healing spell would work on leather?”

“Leather’s just another form of skin,” she said. “I just assumed it would work the same.”

Iain facepalmed

The leather worker frowned and said. “That’s not – you know what, never mind. It worked so I’m not going to complain.”

“You really should know better,” Ailbhe said. “Anyway, I’d like this set of armor,” she said, motioning to a set that vaguely resembled her old metal armor.

“Of course,” the leather worker said. “Do you want me to package it up for you?”

Ailbhe shook her head. “I’d rather wear it out of here. I feel naked without my armor.”

A few minutes later she was ready to go. It was also more apparent she was a paladin in her gold edged leather armor. Her ‘serky friend offered her an arm to lean on as they headed back to Ethel’s place to regroup.

“How come the gold and dye stayed on this one?” Iain asked. “Didn’t on others.”

“Because this is the set I wanted,” Ailbhe said. “Took a lot more energy to keep it on than it did to let it melt away like it did on the rest of them.”

“Gods, how you still paladin?”

Just a Few Updates

I should have updated this a week ago and I didn’t. Life got busy, blah, blah, blah. I’m updating now.

I suppose the first thing I should tell you is that I have a job. Not a new job, my old job (though surprisingly I did get a slight raise). I am happy to have a job, that is one less worry for me. I am not, however, particularly pleased to go back, even if it is with a new company. The last season made me very wary of the job and I imagine we’ll all be jumping at old shadows.

Speaking of new jobs, I am now officially a reader for Goldfish Grimm and we need submissions! Things have been a little sluggish since we started up again.

Next up I have some pretty, pretty journals for you to stare at.

IMG_0048

I made this for Jaym Gates(Mornara) as a belated birthday/yule present. She assures me she likes it.

This was made for my grandmother. She specifically asked for it the previous year (but didn't remember she had). Now she likes it, but doesn't know what to write in it!

This was made for my grandmother. She specifically asked for it the previous year (but didn’t remember she had). Now she likes it, but doesn’t know what to write in it!

Oh, if you like there are a couple of good kickstarters going on right now that need some help. Fireside Magazine pays well to put out quality writing: http://kck.st/WprHBT

Long Hidden is an anthology full of speculative fiction from marginalized people of history: http://kck.st/15nchjG

Finally I will say a little about my writing. I have been trying to submit more, and while I have been on a couple of short lists, I have yet to get another piece published. It is discouraging, but I will continue to write, revise and submit. Writing is mostly practice anyhow.

Remember, the journals are for sale!

Chapter 17: Soothsayers are Dicks

New to the story? Need to catch up? Catch up here: Chapters of Our Party

When they were a couple blocks away from the house, Iain turned in his seat to look at the paladin. “You’ve got a plan, right?” he asked. “She’s still got the map, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “And I do have a plan. We’re going to stay here a few days. Hopefully she’ll come find us and beg to be let back in. If she doesn’t, though, we’ll announce tryouts to get us a new healer. She might get jealous enough to come back then.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Then we steal it.”

The berserker facepalmed. “Because that won’t effect your paladin status at all.”

“Probably won’t,” she said, grinning. “I’ve done worse.”

“Worse than breaking into someone’s house and stealing a map to a priceless treasure?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“First, it is my map. I’m just taking it back. Second, you know the kinds of things I’ve done. You’ve been there for some of them,” she said.

He snorted as they pulled up to an inn. “And yet again I wonder: how the hell are you still a paladin?”

“I’ll let you ponder that while I get us a room,” Ailbhe said, jumping down.

Leaving Iain to parallel park the carriage, the paladin entered the obviously water damaged establishment and approached a woman who was using a shovel to clean up the debris.

Ailbhe cleared her throat. “Good lady, I come to inquire about lodging at your domicile for myself and my companions.”

The lady stared at her. “Love a..you’re a paladin, ain’t you? Can you please speak normal like? Owner ain’t here no more. Swept away in the flood. An I don’t speak no fancy talk.”

“Right, we want a room for the night,” Ailbhe said.

The woman grunted. “Ain’t got no rooms to let unless you wanna help fix’m up. Got water in all of them.”

“If we help, what’ll the rate be?” Iain asked, looking around.

“Won’t have to pay for nothing but the food,” she said.

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Ailbhe said, and they all shook hands.

“Grab something to shovel with. By the way, my name is Aethelthryth. You can call me Ethel.”

Removing debris is much easier when you have a berserker to do the hauling. Ethel laid out a blanket and she and Ailbhe loaded it full of refuse for Iain to carry out. Seamus was given a mop and told to clean up the layer of dirt deposited by the flood waters. By the end of the day, the common areas were clean and there were three livable rooms.

“So Ethel will get one room,” the paladin said as they sat around the one salvageable table in the place. “Iain and I will bunk in one, and Seamus, you get a bed tonight.”

“Yes!” the bard leapt from his chair and started dancing.

Ethel raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t you rather your own room?”

“I’ve bunked with him so long it might be hard to sleep without him,” Ailbhe said, quirking a smile.

“Whatever you say. Not my paladin status to be worried about. Now what do you all want for dinner?”

“Whatever you have that’s not ruined,” Iain said.

As it turned out, the previous owner had prepared his kitchen better than he had prepared himself. There were sealed metal bins filled with food, fresh water and other goods. In a shed behind the inn were more sealed containers.

“Went to a soothsayer once,” Ethel told them. “And was told to waterproof his belongings. The soothsayer guy said that while he wouldn’t live long enough to use it, someone in the future would be grateful he had.”

“That’s messed up,” the berserker muttered.

“Why didn’t the guy warn the previous owner?” Seamus asked. “He could have saved his life.”

Ailbhe shrugged. “He might not have known. The clairvoyant types usually get their info in bits and pieces and have to puzzle the meaning out.”

“Or maybe he was just a dick,” Iain suggested.

With Iain hauling, they soon had a good portion of the food up at the inn’s kitchen. Finding wood dry enough to use in the stove proved to be a bit of a challenge, but eventually Iain discovered some old furniture stashed up in the attic suitable for the job. Soon after they fired up the kitchen stove and started cooking, the first people arrived, drawn by the smell. And, against her better judgment, Ethel decided to feed them.

That night Iain, Ailbhe, and Seamus all cooked. Ethel would have helped if she hadn’t been too busy serving it up to all the neighbors. It took most of the evening to feed everyone, and by the time they were done, bed was the only thing any of them wanted.

The next morning, the berserker awakened to the sound of a trumpet. He almost didn’t hear the second in his groggy state, but thankfully long years as a fighter had honed his instincts. He knew a call to battle when he heard one.

“Ailbhe.” He nudged the sleeping paladin. “Wake up, Ailbhe.”

A third trumpet sounded and she sat up. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t know, there aren’t any windows,” he said. “I think there was one in Seamus’s room, though.”

They got up and Ailbhe threw on her armor. She was still buckling it as they crossed the hallway. The door creaked as Iain opened it. They both ignored Seamus and his sleep mask in favor of the window.

Out in the street men marched by; on their chests they all wore the same red symbol. They could see every building was shuddered and every door shut.

“Oh good,” Seamus said from behind his party members. “Relief workers. Boy there sure are a lot of them.”

Ailbhe facepalmed. “That’s not the Red Cross, Seamus.”

“It’s not?” he asked, confused.

“There’s a difference between a red cross and a red sword,” Iain said.

“Not that much with these guys,” Ailbhe said. “Militant monks. They might actually be here to help. On the other hand, they could be here to conquer the place while it’s defenseless.”

At least one of the men marching by shuddered under Iain’s spite filled glare. “How do we tell which it is?”

A wagon filled with supplies rolled past. “We won’t know until they stop,” Ailbhe said. She’d just finished buckling her armor on. “My vote is to go out and meet them.”

“Is that safe?” Seamus asked.

“Probably not,” she admitted. “But it’s way better than waiting around. You coming?”

Crash and Burn

Wow. What a month. Or two. And not in a good way. To give you an update on my life, two of our staff members quit, right before the busiest time of year. I decided to write (and wrote) a novella during that time period. I found out the company I’ve been working for lost its contract with the government and I’ll have to reapply if I want to work here next year. I realized I don’t really want to work here next year. I worked two 50+ hour weeks in a row and had to fight for a day off during one of those weeks. I read 6 novels, at least 8 novellas and a bunch of short stories and am working on reading more. I managed not to kill any guests at work and kept my coworkers from murdering anyone either. I have not collapsed from exhaustion yet (either mental or physical) though there were a couple days where I was close. And sadly I have not yet finished the “outline” phase of my current work in progress, though I am so close I can taste it. I’ve set it aside for a bit, though, so I can read. I’m currently in the middle of 1984. Brave New World should be arriving any day.

I am ready for a break. I’m more than ready for the season to be over. I don’t want to deal with people anymore (though I’ve been seeing some really nice people lately. Unfortunately I’m to the point that I assume they’re going to yell at me unless proven otherwise.), and I definitely don’t want to be responsible for their problems. I’m tired of people complaining about the smallest things (I asked for a TOP floor room, even though I made my reservations YESTERDAY, and I am MAD someone who made their reservation months ago got it instead of me!)

On a happier note, I’m ready to write. My massive reading binge (4 of the 6 novels have been in the past two weeks) is my way of recharging my writing (and my poor beleaguered brain). While I’d planned to start writing my work in progress this month, I think everyone will be happier with the result if I wait until next month (or at least I will). I am also planning on writing and submitting a few more short stories, both to anthologies and magazines.

So yeah, I’m ready to crash and my sanity has already burned. Please send help.

Remember, sanity is relative. Whose relative is questionable, but certainly not one of mine.