Who Is the Audience?

One time I was somewhere when someone asked me a question about something (can’t recall those details), and I promptly gave a correct response.

“Wow,” she commented.  “It’s impressive you remembered that.”

(Yes, I sense the irony to the above content.)

My reply:  “I just used a mnemonic device.”

She gave me one of those quizzical looks.  “I’ve never even heard of that word before.”

Not everybody takes psychology in high school, which is where I first learned of the mnemonic device and how to use it.  The term stuck with me because I do rely on it quite a bit to retain information.  Yes, if I’m unable to write down a grocery list for milk, bread, mustard, and hot dogs, I envision a hot dog squatting next to a loaf of bread and milking out mustard.

(Trust me, the more bizarre the imagery, the easier it is to remember.)

The point is I used a word I took for granted, and presented someone with a new experience.  It’s not uncommon for writers to have a broad vocabulary, and those within certain genres will be familiar with which terms their readers will recognize that others might not understand.

In sci-fi, you could logically expect the audience can process verbiage like warp, terraforming, and cryogenics.  Horror readers are unlikely to recoil when they stumble upon sanguine, apparition, and charnel.  And mystery lovers will have the deduced the meanings of alibi, forensics, and modus operandi.

Overall, knowing your audience can help hone writing in more ways than what vocabulary to use.  What readers expect can guide writers with polishing that protagonist, reaching a brilliant dénouement, or shining light upon that motif.

Hmm, maybe it would be a good idea to explain those writing terms in a future post.  But how to go about remembering to do that?  Perhaps I could envision some dude looking at a calendar when a light bulb pops on overhead, and then he can squirt mustard out of it … wait, that’s not right….

 

Resolution

War reeked.  As Malach surveyed the broken bodies, the scattered implements, and the ruined huts still smoldering from the attack waged earlier that day, the stench of their remains assaulted his nostrils.

It was an odor that once stirred his blood, but now only gave him pause for contemplation.  There was no mistaking the earmarks of abject evil.  Whatever transgression this village had committed, it was unlikely there had been any real need to slaughter men, women, and children alike, leaving no one to tend to the dead.

And then he heard a moan on the wind.

A mere human ear could have missed it.  But his acute senses caught the small, still voice that trembled from an unknown depth.  The enemy had overlooked one of their quarry.  Malach tilted his head, straining the catch the whimper again and track where it seeped from.

Only the odious breeze remained.  As he listened, he debated why he should even bother seeking the survivor.  He was only travelling through this region and encountered this soiled battlefield by chance.  The injured person was probably reaching the throes of death anyway.  And since death awaited everybody, why should he attempt to delay its claim on another possession?

No, that was his old way of thinking….

He tilted his head in the other direction and concentrated on his memory of the whine.  It must have come from upwind.  Keeping the breeze in his face, he stepped, slowly and quietly, deeper into the morass of destruction.

He hesitated at the edge of one of the smoldering huts and listened more keenly.  Yes, there it was, something other than the feeble hiss of steam that resulted from heat overcoming moisture.  In a corner of the collapsed, blackened debris, a couple of charred poles crossed over a rumpled hump. Toward one end, a broken spear jutted out at a steep angle.

Malach hesitated.  The leather gloves he wore offered protection from the charred ruins, and he’d sworn to refrain from resorting to his craft as a convenience.  But making contact with the corruption before him proved loathsome.

This wasn’t just convenience, it was an act of kindness … wasn’t it?

He concentrated on the heap of debris, squinting even though he didn’t need to.  The poles shifted away from the lump and toward him.  He sensed fragmented coverings, perhaps blankets, over the heap.  With a thought, he ripped the pieces to one side.

The corpse was no surprise, although it was badly burned, and the spear in its lower midriff demanded a dram more resolution to roll it to its side.  Only then could he identify it as a woman.

Two small bodies, one larger than the other, dribbled out from underneath her chest.

Both were filthy, but the larger child, maybe three years old, gasped and coughed and twitched.  The other, an infant, made no more movement whatsoever.

Malach stared at the toddler.  Now what?  He’d rescued it from being smothered like its sibling, although it seemed miraculous the smoke hadn’t snuffed its life.

Miraculous….

He was rarely involved in miracles.  Over the centuries he’d been their detractor, using his power to overturn them in his defiance of providence.  And what sense was there to them, anyway?  Why should this one small waif be the only survivor in a demolished village?  What made this child’s life more precious than anybody else’s?

Why was he the one to discover it…?

The urchin released a raspy squeal when it finally noticed him.  It appeared to be a boy, and scrambled toward the mother’s remains, clasping the limp infant on the way.  With eyes wide and glazed and mouth agape, he squatted near the parental shell and awkwardly clutched the sibling.

Malach studied him for a few seconds.  There was no denying the child’s terror, and yet … there was something defiant in his attitude, in the way he grasped the lost baby as though he could still save it….

This boy possessed a different kind of fight.

Malach kneeled to make himself less imposing.  He pulled back the hood of his cloak so the toddler could see his face.  It was his experience children could be less intimidated than adults upon discovering a creature of myth like him.  Sometimes they were even entranced by his slit pupils and how his brown irises appeared to swirl.

“Do not fear.”  Malach spoke in Cymraeg, the prevailing language of this land.  “I have not come to harm you.”

The boy’s gaze remained locked on his face, and an odd squeak lurched from him.

Malach reached beneath his cloak and grasped a bota of water, shrugging off its strap from his shoulders.  He leaned forward as he stretched his arm over the charred debris to offer the water skin.

“Have a drink.”

The boy’s gaze darted back and forth between his face and the bota.  The care he took letting go of the infant contrasted with the clumsy way he clutched it earlier.  But then he snatched the water skin with near ferocity.  In like fashion he unplugged it and chugged the contents, causing the leather sides to cave in.

 What might he be getting himself into?  Until relatively recently in his long past, Malach wouldn’t have found himself pondering what to do about this urchin.  He would have left it to its ultimate fate, or perhaps torment it briefly as a means of amusement.

The boy gagged and choked, spilling a trickle of water as he raised the bota.  After a short fit of coughing, he latched back on the skin, but this time wasn’t so frantic in drinking.

Malach scanned the devastation again.  He knew that others like him had already journeyed to this land.  And men were eagerly corrupted.  A mere nudge encouraged them to embrace their darkest fantasies.

One of his own kith had encouraged some men to desolate this village.

The plan had once seemed flawless to him:  Get humanity to destroy itself.  Yet over the millennia, despite hordes reveling in abusing their own, individuals joined together to thwart the destruction his kind sought.  It was as though there was a plan greater than what creatures like him could concoct….

Accepting that truth set him on unfamiliar ground in more ways than one.

Malach’s attention returned to the mother, to the woman who died with the hope her children would live.  Unlike all the other mothers who perished with that same hope, one of her offspring did survive….

….the son who, like her, tried to protect when all seemed lost.

Maybe this boy’s life was more precious.  Maybe he was part of a greater plan.

But why should this child wind up stuck with the likes of Malach?  Perhaps he should try to locate someone more qualified to teach this boy how to capitalize on that trait.

The toddler lowered the bota, coughing and sputtering a bit as he did.  His gaze, this time with slightly squinted eyes, locked on Malach’s face again.

“Who you?”  His voice creaked like a limb on a massive tree standing against a gale.

Malach decided to use the name he assumed upon entering these lands, a native nomenclature that would help him blend in.  “I am Myrddin.  And what is your name?”

The child stared for several seconds before finally squeaking out, “Cadwalader.”

Malach nodded.  “We should leave this place, Cadwalader.”

The boy’s eyes widened again.  Clutching the bota near his chest, he studied the body of his sibling lying beside him.  He glanced back at his mother.  When his attention returned to Malach, his lips trembled and his voice cracked.

“Why?”

Malach had no answer for all the dimensions that question could address, at least not here and not now.  If time allowed, the boy could explore them more fully when he was older.  He had survived fire, he had survived water … odds were he could survive everything in between.

Malach reached out again and clasped both the bota and Cadwalader’s hand.  The child cringed, but made no effort to pull away.  He gave the only answer he could offer for the present.

“We have a journey to undertake.”

###

So here is my contribution for this month’s #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this round was Myth.  Don’t miss out on how the other stories tackle a rich word like that!

The Marmots and the Green Valley: A Modern Fable

Marmots

A colony of marmots lived on a mountain range, and every day had to climb steep inclines and slippery stones in order to find enough to eat.  One day a few of them looked over the edge of a cliff and saw that the valley was full of green things to dine upon.  They told the other marmots about their discovery.

“All we have to do is leap down a short distance,” they said, “and we’ll have plenty to eat for the rest of our lives.”

Most of the marmots were skeptical.  “You do remember that we have bad depth perception because our eyes are on either side of our head, right?”

“Oh, that’s just an outdated belief,” the proponent marmots replied.  “We know better than that, now.”

A couple of marmots did believe them, however, so the proponents decided they needed to convince the rest of the group.  Their arguments convinced a few others to join them, and when that no longer worked, they resorted to calling the contrarians names.  Over time more marmots joined their cause.  Some truly believed there was more food at the bottom of the cliff, but others just wanted to be left alone.

Eventually most of the marmots agreed the best thing to do was leap off the cliff, but a few hard-headed individuals still claimed that wasn’t a good idea.  Now that the proponents outnumbered them, they ganged up on the contrarians and twisted their tails and bit them and shoved their faces into mud puddles.

A couple more marmots from the contrarians joined the proponents to end the abuse, but the rest finally escaped and retreated up the steep incline to straighten their tails and lick their wounds and dig the mud out of their noses and ears.

With cheers of victory, the proponent marmots leaped off the cliff.  Screams of agony replaced the cheers as their bodies were broken and ripped on the jagged rocks far below that were covered with a thin film of moss – which was what appeared like lush greenery from the distant edge above.

One marmot had been busy digging the mud from her ears and missed the order to leap.  Horrified by the wails and moans she then heard (her bad depth perception kept her from really seeing what happened), she climbed up the steep incline to the remaining survivors.  After reporting what happened and apologizing for the bad treatment, she rejoined the colony, and they proceeded to rebuild and repopulate.

Future generations sometimes peered over the cliff’s edge and debated if those white things scattered around really were bones….

Moral:  It’s better to dig mud out of your ears than have your bones scattered over sharp rocks.

copyright 2021 A. E. Branson

Stolen Moments

pixabay.com

He didn’t want to be conspicuous, but Kelwin still glanced back at his wife as he strolled closer to the administration building.  His grip on their son’s hand tightened as he spied her perusing the variety of meats offered at one of the market stands.

As he expected, Norah betrayed nothing about fulfilling the role of lookout.

The underground systems of Eda were surprisingly comfortable for not only the indigenous Martimu, but Humans as well.  Artificial lighting reflected off the ivory-colored walls of the predominant stone, casting a glittering luminescence throughout the broad, chiseled caverns.  It was quite probable that being forced to live underground, due to the inhospitable surface, had contributed to their proclivity for designing and building interstellar ships.

And that was why he’d dared to come here.

Their son, seven years old by Earth standards, pulled on his hand and spoke in Olde English because it was indecipherable to any translator.

“Can we go to the Grendelette Pools after this?”

Kelwin drew a deep breath, wishing yet again he could say yes, even in an archaic language.  “You know that all depends.”

Colmac’s lips pursed.  As a youth so accustomed to disappointment, he’d developed a stoic cynicism already.  Kelwin had given up on cursing the prophecy that had abstracted his son’s childhood.  That achieved nothing.  Their focus was better served at ensuring the Voratene never succeeded in … executing … him.

So Kelwin spent much time teaching his son how to survive.

A new ship had started appearing in the ports.  Before the Voratene threatened his family, Kelwin serviced and repaired all kinds of craft.  Their years of living as fugitives dictated consistent travel across space, and his familiarity with the vessels proved useful.

But he wasn’t going to set foot on one of those new contraptions until he knew how it was constructed.  He needed to know all the ways of escape, first.  And quite possibly the Voratene forced the Martimu to design snares within it.

There was only one way to view the abstract.

Although no flashing light or electronic beep betrayed they were being scanned, he knew their entrance into the administration building was recorded.  Norah had programmed false identities for all three of them even though there was no plan for her to enter the facility.  But plans had a way of getting changed in an instant….

This invasive monitoring didn’t exist until the Voratene established their domain and decided all their subjects needed to be supervised.  Luckily, keeping track of races on eleven different planets scattered many light years apart made their surveillance system sluggish.

“Why aren’t there any drafts on the syncosphere?”  Colmac pulled his hand free as they entered the library room.  Several dozen stations, in an assortment of sizes to accommodate various races, created a bit of a maze.  Each was outfitted with a screen and buttons, knobs, and levers to manipulate the devices.

“Because our toads control what’s on it.”  Since there was no Olde English word for Voratene, they employed some code to further stymie any eavesdropping translators.  “They keep off anything that’s genuinely useful.”

There were only a few other patrons, mostly quadrupedal Martimu, in the library.  He had no difficulty locating a station they could access, and showed his son how to go about bringing up the information they sought.

Kelwin’s heart fell as he studied the schematics.  His wife’s suspicion had been right, and he offered thanks for her suggestion they should investigate how these new ships were constructed.

“Look.”  He tapped a finger on different parts of the screen.  “What do you see?”

“Air-locks?”  Colmac frowned.  “Those are standard.”

“Compare them.  Do you notice a difference?”

His son leaned forward, chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds, and then looked up at his face.  “Some are missing escape hatches?”

Kelwin nodded.  “So that means?”

“Trap.”  There was no mistaking the disappointment in his voice as his gaze returned the screen.

As he watched the child stare at the diagram, Kelwin wrestled with his own competing emotions.  That Colmac was a swift learner stirred a bit of pride … but like how the Martimu were brilliant engineers because of the bright and barren surface, he had to be.

He had to adapt and think and confront all sorts of situations a youngster shouldn’t have to face.  Declared guilty of a crime he’d never committed, he was hunted to guarantee that he never would.  Even by staying alive, he had to sacrifice his childhood.

Life wasn’t fair, but more so for his son….

Colmac looked up again.  “What about the Grendelette Pools?”

He started to calculate how long they’d been here, what the odds were that sentries would try to track them down because their fake identities might be discovered by now.  At least Norah hadn’t alerted them of any troops approaching their location.

The sensation that pulsed through him brought those calculations to a halt.

Of course his son wanted to visit the pools.  The grendelettes, fish-type creatures, were so domestic they would frolic with any swimmers who entered those waters.  The youth of all the races who visited there found them quite enchanting.

By God, he wasn’t going to allow the Voratene to dash his son’s hopes yet again.

Kelwin smirked as he switched the station off.  “We’re going.  But before we do, we do need a plan of escape in case any sentries track us there.”

Colmac nodded, his beaming smile making worthwhile any complications they might run across.  And then his words prompted that mixture of emotions again.

“I have an idea.”

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round is Abstract.  It took me a while to get around to drafting this one, so I decided to milk it.  And don’t miss checking out the other submissions!

Father’s Day is nearly here in my part of the world, which might have had some influence on the theme in this story.  So happy Father’s Day to all you dads!

Greatest of These

Hin

“Of course you can decline at any time … even now.”

Rejali stared at the prioress for a few seconds before she strolled to the nearby window.  Her motion seemed automatic, as though she were sleepwalking.  Indeed, the proposal Mother Juthfride just informed her about seemed like an event in a dream, something preposterous.

She placed a hand on the smooth wood of the sill and gazed at the rugged mountains standing sentry over the valley her community thrived in.  Directly outside the window a few members labored in the garden, cultivating a mixture of crops from both Earth and the native soil of Hin.  The sight of the garden struck a chord of longing in her heart….

She didn’t want to leave.

“Why me?”  Even as she spoke to the window pane, Rejali already surmised what the answer would be.

“Besides the obvious fact you’re a young woman, your standing as a Disciple is exemplary.  You possess both the physical skill and spiritual girding someone in that position would need.”  Juthfride’s tone was both calm and conciliatory.

“Why not assign somebody to just be a bodyguard?”

“That option is still on the table.  In fact, if this supplicant had been a woman, you would be their choice.”

Rejali frowned at the pale reflection of herself in the pane.  Ever since she undertook training in the Discipline, she’d wanted to serve in the fullness of her capacity.  But what the curia asked of her now seemed a call beyond that of duty.

“And this … deliverer … is sanguine with this arrangement?”

“He is open to it.  I wasn’t informed of any of the particulars in that regard.”  Juthfride’s lips hinted at a curt smile as she folded her arms.  “And of course if he decides he doesn’t like you, he is also free to decline.”

The deliverer … was for real.  For as long as she could remember, even if only once in long while, Rejali heard whispers of this individual.  His existence was something of a worst-kept secret, a rumor, a possible lie that humanity harbored someone who would break the absolutism of the Voratene empire.

And now she was being asked to consider the possibility of becoming his wife?

“There is one detail that makes me poorly qualified for this assignment.”

“None of us are perfect.”  Her mouth retained its shape.  “I presume you’re alluding to the fact you’ve engaged little in space travel?”

“I … was never very interested in that.”  Frankly, the thought was a bit terrifying, but she hadn’t spoken of it since childhood.  Her family figured she’d outgrown it.

“If you agree to this arrangement, you will grow accustomed to it.  He is, obviously, very experienced in that regard.”  Juthfride unfolded her arms.  “It is true that by Earth calculation he’s around a year younger than you, but flight has been his entire life.”

“He’s … younger?”  She’d always thought he’d be a little older, but considering how relative age was among the various alien races, it was understandable such a detail would be blurred.  “So, why did he come to us now for protection?”

“I don’t have all the details, but several years ago, when his father was killed, his mother made the request that if she also died, we would provide a companion to help him evade the troops.”

“When was she … killed?”

“Nearly a year ago.  He managed on his own for much of that time, but in the last month a … heated … encounter crossed his path with a Disciple who offered help.  When this deliverer discovered he was a family man, he tried to slip away.  But the Disciple convinced him to give the curia a chance to assign him a more suitable advocate.”

“And I was their first choice … but because of the obvious, I can only carry out this duty if we’re married.”

“Don’t make it sound like they’ve dismissed matrimony as a convenience.  It is precisely because of its sanctity that the two of you have complete control over what you decide to do with the situation.”

Naturally.  If this supplicant had been a woman, Rejali would have simply received her marching orders and taken on the task despite any trepidation about space travel.  But this matter was more delicate.  She had the option to decline.

And she could decline right now.  She could say no and be done with it and keep working in the gardens and refine her training with the Discipline.  She wouldn’t have to worry about being exposed to space … at least not for a while … depending on what assignment might come up later….

The curia must have decided their top-rated Disciple, despite her youth, was necessary for the charity of defending a fugitive who’d demolished nothing and yet was still on the Voratene’s most-wanted list.  But there were plenty of other adherents they could choose from.  Her refusal wouldn’t leave them in a void….

No … she hadn’t become a Disciple to avoid her fears.  God had given her a gift, not only of life but also of miraculous healing.  When Rejali chose to join the Discipline as a mere child, it was because it was the most significant way to show her gratitude.  She wanted to serve in the fullness of her capacity … she’d just hoped to do so on Hin, or at least get to reside on another planet.

She thought of the quip attributed to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, how God would never give one any challenge that couldn’t be handled – she just wished He didn’t know she could handle so much.

Every cell in her body seemed to shudder before the words that emerged from her mouth.  “Since this agreement must be mutual, I suppose there is no harm in taking that first step.  When do I meet him?”

“Your transport can be arranged anytime, so you might as well take a day to spend with your family and get yourself packed.”

Her heart fluttered.  “No chance of his coming here?”

Juthfride shrugged.  “He claims that wherever he goes, devastation often follows in his wake.  It is for the safety of this community you must meet at his current location.”

Rejali drew a deep breath and managed to nod.  “Then I’ll get ready to leave.”

She strolled out the door and into the hallway, her heart pounding against her chest.  The light breeze that bushed her face upon stepping outside the chancery was also welcomed for another deep breath, and her attention drew again to the garden.

When she wasn’t training, there was little more soothing to her than working in the soil, of tending to the crops that the ground provided.  It was such a basic and primal activity, harkening back to the origin of humanity.  These days could soon become only memory, and she wondered if she’d ever return to the garden.  And then a realization dawned on her.

Was she really more afraid of traveling in space than deciding if a complete stranger would make a suitable husband?

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this time was Proposal.  There are a couple of ways to define that one, so I just thought I’d try to work both of them in.  And don’t miss checking out the other entries this month!

Baby Rabbits, Fluffy Goslings, and Killer Chickens

It’s time for a farm story….

Clearing, planting, and weeding started in earnest several weeks ago, and this is also the time of year animal numbers start spiking.  Both livestock and the natives are producing young … although the natives tend to drop surprises on me.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was weeding the asparagus patch (the dead of winter is about the only time weeds don’t grow).  I noticed a patch of gray fur near the fence, and when I picked it up, the mulching underneath twitched.  So I pulled that back and discovered a rabbit had decided the garden would be perfect for her nursery.

It will be of no surprise I don’t want rabbits in the garden, but the kits’ eyes were still closed and of course they’re wretchedly cute.  I decided to give them the chance to reach weaning age before I kick them out so they can roam free with all their relatives.

 

As much as I enjoy gardening, weeding will always be a chore, so I figured I should employ some help with that duty.  Geese are natural lawnmowers that relish young weeds, but I specifically wanted the Pilgrim breed – they’re docile, and it’s easy to tell the geese from the ganders as soon as they hatch.

They’re also a rare breed, so it took some effort and traveling on my part to obtain four goslings that are of course wretchedly cute.  That’s two males and two females to start the flock, and they were able to move right into the brooder already vacated by the older chicks.

Upon returning from the trip to get the goslings, Hubby and I saw something a little new….

 

Although everything likes to eat chicken, chickens are not on the bottom of the food chain.  They definitely control the bug population around the house, and I’ve seen them running around (usually chasing each other) with hapless lizards and even mice they snatched out of the weeds.

This was the first time we’d seen one eating a snake.  Hubby snapped this picture and we’ve shared it with family and friends.  There’s a majority of opinion in the responses:  Of course it’s not cute, although it might be wretched….

A Very Brief Announcement

All the ducks are finally lined up for the publication of my novella, Tossing Dice.  Eighteen of the chapters were posted online, but the free e-book contains a bonus chapter that delves more deeply into the story line.  A $4 (US) paperback is available at Amazon for those who like the feel of a book in their hands.

Here are a few more links for your clicking convenience:

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

tossing-dice-3

Whew!  It’s nice to check off that task and move on to the next one….

Hootenanny

“It is silent and deadly.”

“I’m glad you used the conjunction and.”  Rhys peered into the inky darkness of the cavernous arena before them.  “It’s those silent but deadly attacks that give me cause for alarm.”

The examiner, a willowy woman whose white hair was more pronounced than the lines in her face, narrowed her eyes.  “Mr. Cadwalader, your irreverent levity contributes nothing toward this assessment of your capability.”

Every time she addressed him by his surname, he suspected Val was on the cusp of striking him from the Tracker program.  Although he saw nothing wrong with a little jocularity to ease any tension, Rhys figured he’d better remove any and all complaints she might use against him.  He was, after all, not a typical candidate, which was why she scrutinized him so closely.

“My apologies.”

Her brow remained furrowed.  “The Owl may seem a mundane descriptor for this simulation, but two-thirds of the applicants fail to neutralize their quarry on the first trial.  And remember, despite your … proclivity, you must rely on the techniques that were outlined in the introduction.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Absolutely.”  Truth be told, he was hanging on her every word.  He was about to enter a test that would challenge his prowess, but even with his physical advantage, anybody with an IQ higher than a rooster that got hit in the head understood knowledge was the real key to overcoming an opponent.

The fact Val reminded him to stick to the techniques did cause him to wonder if she wasn’t as eager to eject him from the program as she usually appeared.  Maybe his quips amused her more than she wanted to admit….

“Then you may proceed.”

That was all the clues she was going to give him?  As unwilling to divulge his agitation as much as she might be to admitting amusement, Rhys responded with a smirk and a shrug.

Ball pistol in hand, but loaded with digital blanks, he took one step into the ancient chamber.  With peripheral vision, he noticed she already started jotting notes on her modern, technological clipboard.

Or maybe she was manipulating the Owl.

 He took another step into the cool yet dry sub terrane.  Dug out millennia ago with hand tools and lined with stone throughout, this vault had been witness to countless training sessions.  It also adapted readily to advances in technology, so was currently outfitted with holographic projectors hidden within the chiseled columns supporting the arched ceiling.

The Owl was only a simulation, so it was guaranteed to strike as silently as Val claimed, but its lethalness was confined to the readouts fed back to her clipboard.  Still, only a third of the Tracker candidates succeeded at their objective on the first attempt, and Rhys was determined to number among them.  After all, he should be very good at this.

He skulked to the nearest column and peered deeper into the chamber.  Sparse flickers of light, the only illumination, teased his imagination with the image of some snickering sprite hurling a swarm of fireflies into this lair to taunt its hunter.

Except the only sprite here represented an abomination, a technological rendering of the result when corrupted flesh bound itself to a beast—

The blow across his shoulder blades sent Rhys somersaulting to the neighboring column.  Part of his response had been evasive maneuver, but this mere simulation legitimately struck him with enough force to shove him forward.

He righted himself at a crouch, this time shoving his back against the lithoid pillar.

No Owl loomed before him.  And this was no time to kick himself for allowing his guard to drop.  That whack had probably been delivered to remind him of exactly that.  If there was any trait abominations and examiners shared, it was tormenting their subjects….

Heck, yeah, this thing was silent, and Rhys remembered his rudimental lucidity, usually triggered by someone’s approach, was incapable of alerting him to a non-living simulation.  He was as “blind” as any other man to its approach … and maybe that had something to do with Val’s instruction to rely on the techniques—

It whirled from behind the column he crouched against.  From the corner of his right eye, he caught a flash of rainbow colors swirling together.

Rhys ducked and rolled to the next support, and heard a whump against the pillar where he’d just been.

These columns offered little protection.  He sprang to his feet and performed a whirling routine of his own as he fired ball blanks into the darkness.  When he hit the closest wall, he pressed his back against it and surveyed the arena.

Exactly what beastie had the trainers created for this little exercise?  Despite his in-depth knowledge of the Nephilim, he didn’t recognize it.  But there was one trait these creatures all had in common, and that was a weakness specific to their kin.

Like fending off a vampire with a crucifix or felling a werewolf with a silver bullet, this Owl had to be susceptible to something—

It unfurled from behind the pillar nearest him.  In two seconds that felt more like two minutes, the beast reared before him, suspended for an instant in its full glory.  In an intimidating way, it was one of the most beautiful things he’d seen.  What first appeared to be multicolored feathers were in reality spiky scales.  It didn’t just pummel.  It could slice.

And could do so silently….

Most other quarry would have frozen at the spectacle, but Rhys leaped aside as he squeezed off another shot.  The Owl’s wings swooped toward him, but struck the wall at the level of his neck.  Another whump was the only noise it generated.

It silently swung toward him as he backed away at a quick clip.

Silence … of course!  The Owl had to be susceptible to noise.  But it would have to be a considerable clamor, or the screams of its victims would be a disadvantage to it—

It lunged toward him, talons and wings outstretched.

Rhys hurtled to the next column.  With his free hand he wrested a digital pad from his belt.  With pure muscle memory his fingers tapped against the keypad and screen.

The Owl swerved and brushed past him as he ducked around the column.  He was pretty sure that pass scored some more injury points for his opponent.

It twisted around and lunged again as he sprang back – but thrust the pad before him.

The cacophony of bagpipes that erupted from the pad was jolting enough, but the fife and drum accompanying them underscored the formidable acoustics of this chamber.

If the Owl screeched, it was drowned out by Scotland the Brave.  It did halt its advance, but began twisting and contorting in a macabre dance, as though thrown into a vat of acid.  It remained suspended, its method of flight not dependent on the aerodynamics of lift.

Rhys took no chances.  He fired digital blanks into its head, chest, and belly.

One or all of those balls made it finally crumple to the floor.  For a couple more seconds he watched its form, confirmed it wouldn’t rise again, and turned off the music player on his pad.  Silence didn’t entirely reestablish itself, however.  There was a slight ringing in his ears.

With a final glance at the Owl, he strode back where he’d left Val.  She hadn’t moved, except this time she was poking at her right ear with her pinky, and her left eye was squinted.

Rhys grinned as he approached.  “I’d say I passed that trial with flying colors!”

She opened her eye to look at him.  “What?”

Repeating the jest would only sap the life from it, so he stood directly in front of her before speaking about the next topic.  “That Owl isn’t real, is it?”

Val’s gaze remained locked on his, and she spoke slowly and distinctly.  “It is a simulation.”

Sometimes he wondered if she really did have a sense of humor, it was just extremely dry.  “The lot of you made up something I wouldn’t recognize, didn’t you?  You purposefully tailored the trial to be more challenging for me.”

“Considering your heritage, working as a Tracker will be more challenging for you.”

She had a point.  It was the same point that hounded him ever since he declared he wanted to be a Tracker.  But did it really make sense to challenge him with trials that directly confronted his … proclivities?

“I still call it cheating in reverse.”

Her gaze locked with his again.  “Nephilim will always cheat.”

He returned the stare.  Val never wavered, her demeanor cool and steely.  During the prime of her life, before he was born, she had waged battles against creatures like the Owl … and others like him.  She had every reason to doubt his sincerity….

His response was not a challenge, but an assertion.  “There are those who were known to play fair.”

Her expression didn’t change for the first few seconds.  And then one corner of her mouth curved upward.

“Which is why you must learn how to cheat.”

Wow, that was the most encouraging thing she’d ever said to him.  “One thing’s sure, if you keep the training this hard for my benefit, actually working in the field will seem easy.”

Her smile deepened.  “And that, son of Cadwalader, is the wisest observation you’ve made in weeks.”

###

Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this round was a bit challenging, if I do say so myself:  Owl.  That’s owl, not ow, although that was my first response when I tried to figure out what to do with it….

So be sure to check out the other submissions, and see how creative the other writers got!

Book Trailers on a Budget

If you’re in the camp that believes book trailers are useful for promotion, this post is for you.  If you just enjoy watching trailers, keep going, there’s one coming up….

There are plenty of other tips on the interweb about how to put a trailer together, so I won’t repeat advice about keeping it short or suggest different formats to consider.  Other pages will also recommend sites you can go to for purchasing royalty-free images/video and music.  But when you add all those ingredients up, the total can get a bit pricey, so our focus here is on how to cut costs.

I’ll keep this simple and just prattle about how the trailer for Tossing Dice came together.  Since the e-book is available for free, I decided to keep this on the cheap.

Images and Video:  Yes, you can make your own pictures and video, but for a sci-fi story involving futuristic warfare and cyborgs, I found such elements difficult to capture on camera.  Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed I rely on Pixabay quite a bit for images, and they also have free video.  Unlike with Creative Commons you don’t have to be as scrupulous about attributing licensing, but they do appreciate any credit.

If you do seek out other sources for free material, just verify they’re safe – watch out for the psychos out there who get their jollies sneaking malware onto people by enticing them with free offers.

Music:  There’s something universal about a melody.  Many of you might be familiar with Free Music Archive.  Watch out for the licensing agreements because they vary with each selection, but there’s definite gold to be found.  YouTube also offers free music for video creations.  Give credit to the musician by listing the song title and artist.

Editing:  It’s up to you if you want to use free software or buy something more advanced, but if you’re lucky (and as technologically inept as I am) you’ll have at least one offspring you can bribe/threaten into crafting all the elements together.

That’s it in a nutshell.  The following trailer cost nothing to assemble except for the bribing part.  I hope it offers some inspiration….

Update on Tossing Dice

Because those pesky publishing ducks don’t line up very well – and I realized I forgot to mention the title of the novella when I wrapped up the serialization – you might as well get an update on the progress of Tossing Dice (yup, that’s the title).  In one word: Slow.

The good news is that it’s available for free on Smashwords, and if you’re a member you can get it here.  It needs to complete the review process before getting distributed to other e-book retailers, but I’ll make the announcement when the time comes.

It’s also available on Amazon Kindle – except right now they won’t let me offer it for less than $0.99.  It has to be distributed to those other e-book retailers before they’ll let me negotiate the price down to free.  Patience is a virtue I’ve been getting lots of practice in lately….

There will be a paperback edition available (cheap – can’t do that for free), but that creation is still in progress.

And if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I’ve spent the last year and a half serializing stories into an arc as part of my Blog Battle participation.  They’ve been consolidated into a novella (Did I mention for free?), and a 4000 word bonus chapter is included in that publication.  As I’ve been telling folks, I saved the heart of the storyline for the bonus chapter.

Okay, that should tide us over for a little while….