Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Progress

Walked two miles and rode the recumbent bike for 10 minutes at the gym today. That might not seem like much to you -- particularly if you run 15 miles a day and bench press cars for fun -- but when I started at the gym in January of this year, I could barely walk a half mile. Eight months later, two miles and 10 minutes on the bike. It's progress, and progress that I didn't see until I started to wonder where I started at.

Well, what do you know? The walking is working. Slowly but surely, I'm regaining my health.

Progress.

Things don't always go at the speed we'd like. Or the speed we think we're capable of it. If it hadn't been for friends, I probably would have given up three months ago. But now I feel energized to realize that I've been making progress even when I wasn't noticing.

Isn't that awesome? Progress was going on while I was despairing. Gives me hope, it does. Maybe things are happening in other areas in my life that I'm not unaware.

Yeah, maybe I'm holding on to slender hopes, but you know what? I'm not going to let go.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Insomnia

Been sleeping poorly. Don't know why. I'm always tired, but I can't seem to stay asleep. I catch myself dozing off during the day.

Of course, I go to bed later than I should, but I do go when I'm tired. I'm tried going to bed when I'm not tired and I just lie there until I do finally get tired so I'd rather be up and doing something -- which is what the sleep aid books say I should do.

It's quite annoying.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where?

Here's where the people who have visited 51313 Harbor Street this month live ... or at least where their computers live.

According to Blogger Stats:

United States 747

Germany 122
South Korea 87
France 76
Russia 68
China 23
Ukraine 23
United Kingdom 20
India 18
Canada 16
Total visits 1200

Cool. I do have to wonder why some of them are visiting my blog, though. Ukraine? Russia? South Korea?

Must get here by mistake. I'd like to think I have readers in all those countries, but I doubt it. Still, it would be grand.

Got Murder by the Acre (Second Edition) sent off tonight. Now I just wait for the books to come in. I'll be returning to Circles tomorrow. See ya then.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stardate 20110824.23

I've been working hard on the second edition of Murder by the Acre. That's why Circles hasn't received any posts yesterday or today. I intend to resume the story on Friday. If any of you are reading. Sounds whiny, I know, but my stats are showing a great decrease in hits since I started Circles. Which is a shame because I reread it from the beginning the other day, and I think the story has a lot of potential. It's kind of large and not focused yet, but I think there are good stories there.

I should finish the edits and changes in MBTA tomorrow, and then I'll order a few copies for the upcoming Chisholm Trail Book Festival and the Ada Autumn Days. I intend to be there for both of them. Come and see me if you happen to be in the area. I always love seeing my friends.

Watched an old Star Trek episode the other day. The Man Trap. The TV show is dated, but the mission and the optimism is clear. Once space was our final frontier. Now it's our abandoned frontier. I don't expect that to change in my lifetime. We lost the ability to dream big. Perhaps the Chinese will carry mankind's torch. They certainly have more space flights planned than we do.

Speaking of Murder by the Mile -- which I wasn't, but I am now -- here's a brief excerpt from early in the book that I will use to close this post. Bernard, our hero, has chased a man into the woods. He should have called the police, but he didn't. His impulsiveness may cost him his life.

Excerpt from Murder by the Mile

      When Bernard ran after the fleeing figure, he had no thought for his safety or what he would do if he caught whoever it was. It was instinct. What could someone be doing there? Didn’t criminals often return to the scene of the crime?
     He rounded the corner and saw the person – a man – plunge into the shadowed woods up ahead. Bernard crashed after him, running at an angle to intercept his quarry. Briars and branches lashed at his face and tore at his clothes.
      He was certain now that he followed the murderer. Bernard found his stride as he ran. His body finally remembered the rhythm he had in high school when he ran cross country for the track team. He felt like he could run forever. His heart pounded as he raced across a small clearing. He nearly tripped, caught a tree to right his balance, and realized he couldn’t hear any sounds from the other man. He had lost the trail. Or ... the murderer had stopped.
      He tried to catch his breath, listening intently for any noise that would betray the other’s presence. In the long shadows, he realized he had made himself a target. He eased around the tree, trying to move as quietly as he could. Fortunately the ground was free of leaf litter, but every step he took seemed to thunder. He stopped moving. Tried to hold his breath. He listened. His eyes strained, but he realized that the woods were darker than he had thought they would be. The trees blocked out what little light the setting sun still gave out.
      The sounds of the woods reasserted themselves. Crickets, a few birds, tree frogs. The whining of mosquitoes. He slowly let his breath out. Had the other man slipped away? Maybe, but Bernard could almost feel someone near.
       He slowly walked forward. A small stream meandered through the woods. Bernard slipped on a slick stone. His foot hit the water. The splash echoed through the woods.
       A loud crash to the left.
       Bernard raced toward the noise.
       It was the murderer!
       The chase was on again, but this time Bernard began to close the distance. He had caught his second wind, and even though the darkness was falling across the woods, he could see the red flannel shirt of the man.
       He tried to force more speed out of his legs, but the uneven ground and grabbing briars and branches hampered his efforts. He was close, but he couldn’t close the gap. He hoped the other man gave out before him.
       They ran deeper into the woods. Bernard’s world narrowed to the flashes of the red shirt in front of him. It was so dark he couldn’t make out any other details.
       Slowly he gained.
       The other man stopped, turned, and barreled toward Bernard.
       Bernard tried to dodge, but his momentum carried him forward.
       They hit.
       They fell, rolling on the ground, Bernard’s speed carrying him over the man.
       Bernard scrambled to his feet.
       The man came up swinging a tree branch.
       Bernard ducked.
       The man jabbed the wood into Bernard’s stomach.
       Bernard couldn’t catch his breath, but as the man swung again, he caught the branch and held on.
       The man pushed it and Bernard back.
       Suddenly, there was no ground beneath Bernard.
       He fell backwards down a slope.
       Then he was free falling.
       He hit the ground hard.
       Darkness closed around him.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without prior express written permission. Thanks for reading.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dust bowl

Man, we need rain. And lots of it. The heat and drought continues. I notice there are a lot fewer global warming jokes these days. This is the second year of drought there in Oklahoma -- we've had some rain, but not as much we've had in pass years -- and I keep wondering how many years of drought would it take to make Oklahoma into a dust bowl again.

I hope we recognize the problem and start working now to ensure that never happens. Of course, that would take common sense from our politicians ... so ... maybe I should plant desert plants around my house.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Circles, Chapter 2.3

Circles
Chapter 2.3
Into the Maze

Tanalos leaned forward at the table and looked at the others gathered in this private room in the Emperor's private quarters. "So, what do we know?"

"Not much, my lord," Lais said, her long black hair flowing across one shoulder. Her carefully selected gown showed off her lush body to its best advantage even if she was only attending a meeting. Lais was always conscious of being Third Concubine. Tanalos would raise her if he could, he had often told her, but Allanna's father, Duke Shadrow of Stemtis, held more lands and gave more troops to the Imperial army and navy than Lais's father could.

Hashan, his wife, by contrast wore only a simple navy blue robe with a white ermine belt. Her father, Duke Hammera of Nola Farnatho, had given her to Tanalos as well as two legions and one hundred warships. Hashan never worried about being replaced, at least not by Tanalos. They were fairly certain Allanna had attempted to have her poisoned several times, but there was no proof that would hold in court.

Of course, such an accusation would lead to immediate civil war. Shadrow would not allow Allanna to be hanged as a traitor. Hammera would protect his daughter. No one wanted a repeat of the Forty Year War in which Hammera and Stemtis would clash and lay waste to themselves and the surrounding lands.

"We know Allanna, Granite, and Abetis are working together," Maxwell Thord, Head Guardsman of the Emperor's Guard, said. "We know the attacks on the Circles are part of their plan. We know most Circles have submitted to Imperial oversight. And we know Mongarth has been totally destroyed. No survivors."

"The Criers are saying Mage Argent deliberately destroyed Mongarth and killed the students," Lais said.

"Nonsense," Hashan said. "I knew Argent. He would no more do that than I would. They killed children."

"One of my contacts in the airship corps says many of the soldiers and their commanders questioned the orders," Thord said.

"But they still carried them out," Tanalos said bitterly. "I guess the Imperial Army doesn't shirk from killing children. They should get a medal for it."

A brief silence.

"My Emperor, they had their orders," Thord said gently. "Soldiers are trained to not question their orders. They must trust their leaders to give them honorable orders."

Tanalos looked away. It was always his fault. His and his ancestors for allowing the Council to slowly usurp the powers and rights of the Emperor.

"I'm apologize, Thord," he said. "You are correct."

"You couldn't save them, my husband," Hashan said. "Their deaths can be laid at the feet of General Abetis, Mage Granite, and the Great Bitch."

"At least one airship hung back," Thord said. "Sky Favor developed mysterious engine trouble and did not participate in the bombing of Mongarth. A court-martial will be convened, of course."

"Who's the captain?" Tanalos asked.

"I will find out," Thord said.

"If we can, let's try to help him," Tanalos said. "Apparently he has a conscience." He looked around. "Anything else?"

"I have invited Admiral Melleon to luncheon tomorrow," Hashan said. "I will attempt to ascertain his sympathies."

"Be careful, my sister," Lais said. "Melleon is ambitious. I do not know if he is honorable."

"I am always mindful," Hashan said, smiling coolly. "I thank you for your unnecessary but considerate advice."

Lais bowed her head to a careful degree. Tanalos suppressed a smile. Of all his women, he trusted only these two. And in certain ways, he believed it was better for him -- certainly healthier -- if they maintained a certain distrust of each other. They were certainly united in their hatred for Allanna.

"I have been speaking -- carefully -- to Commander Helio," Thord said. "He seems receptive, but the time to approach is not yet."

"I trust you to proceed as best," Tanalos said.

"One more thing," Lais said slowly. "It may mean nothing."

"Go on," Hashan said.

"Amando is missing," Lais said. At Tanalos puzzled face, she added, "Allanna's oldest son."

"Amando ... is he one of mine?" Tanalos asked.

"No, my lord," Lais said. "From her previous life. Before she was exalted."

Tanalos recalled brief glimpses of the boy. Red headed. Tall for his age. A shy smile.

"Perhaps he ran off," Thord said. "But I find it strange she didn't notify the Guard."

"A young friend of his told me he had been acting strange for several days before he went missing," Lais said.

"In what way?" Tanalos asked. For some reason, a shiver ran down his back.

"He was apparently terrified," Lais said. "He told of strange dreams. Of creatures in strange garb." She leaned close. "Two days after, he did not come to the morning meal. Allanna sent her personal bodyguards to find him, but when they did not, she simply said he would return eventually. She acted ... unconcerned."

"The Great Bitch has never been an attentive mother," Hashan said.

Tanalos thanked the gods -- and the potion he consumed before he did his duty with her -- that she had never borne him any children.

"True," Lais said slowly. "But she seemed fond of him. And by not attending the morning meal, he broke one of her rules. She doesn't stand for that."

"Thord, tell your guards to search for him," Tanalos said. "Be discreet, but very thorough. I feel this disappearance may be important."

He stood. "In the coming days, we can expect protests from the parents of the killed students. Be aware they will blame me, not the Council. I don't think Allanna is ready to replace me yet, but this may give her an opportunity to do so. Be alert. I do not think any of you will survive my passing, and they may target you first." He favored each of them with a long look. "You are all precious to your Emperor. Do not fall. We may yet outwit our enemies. We will meet in two days hence."

Thord stood and bowed. He left by a seldom used door.

Lais rose leisurely and gracefully. She courtesied to them both, although hers to Hashan was barely polite. So grateful, she seem to float from the room.

"She is very beautiful," Hashan said, watching him watch her.

"No more so than you," Tanalos said.

"I wish that were true, my Emperor," Hashan said. "But I come from country stock. My grandmothers borne children, fought wild animals and barbarians, and raised many children. We did not breed for beauty. We bred for utility." Her face shadowed.

Tanalos held out his hand. "Come to me, my wife. Let my love be proof of your beauty."

Hashan hesitated. "Thank you. But by your leave, not tonight. I am exhausted and not feeling well."

He nodded, feeling his heart sink. "Of course."

Hashan courtesied and left the room, leaving the Emperor alone with his worries and fears.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without prior express written permission. Thank you for reading.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Circles, Chapter 2.2

Circles
Chapter 2.2
Into the Maze

Verdant opened her eyes. She hurt ... everywhere. She reached for magick and screamed as pain flooded her body.

"No, no, no," a man said. "You're collared, sister. No magick for you."

When the room stopped spinning, Verdant turned her head. Forrest sat on a chair across the small strangely shaped room from her.

"You volker," she said.

"Sticks and stones," the Mage said.

She could feel the collar around her neck. She ran her hands along the metal. She felt bracelets around her wrists. "You would use iron against a fellow Mage. What are you?"

Forrest sighed. "I'm a Mage on the winning side, Clarissa."

"Don't call me that."

Forrest waved his hand. "Yes, yes, yes, we're all Mages here. We give up our names and families and personal bonds when we become Mages. Except we don't."

Verdant struggled to sit up. Her vision dimmed. She sank back.

"Slowly," Forrest said. "The shield backlash was nasty. Oak was a powerhouse. As unyielding and stupid as his name, but a powerhouse nonetheless."

She swallowed. "He was a better man than you."

"Perhaps I'll improve," he said.

Finally she sat up. She was on a narrow bunk. Her robes had been taken, and she was only in her underclothes. She refused to cover herself. She would not be embarrassed by things she couldn't control. She could feel and hear a low humming. "I'm on a dirigible."

"Yes," Forrest said. "The Imperial Airship Sky Favor."

"Why?"

"As the lone survivor of a nest of traitors, you're being taken back to stand trial for treason and then executed in a manner befitting your crimes." He made a mocking face of dismay. "As an example to others." He flicked a particle of dust off his robe. "Probably there will be some torture, also. An attempt to gather more information on your rebellion."

"I'll never talk," Verdant said.

"Yes, you will," Forrest said. "By the time they finish, you will be babbling." He laughed harshly. "Trust me, I know."

"How can you do this?" she asked. "We were your friends."

"Never friends."

"Then at least your colleagues."

"Not even that," Forrest said. "You and Argent think you know what's going on. You think you're rebelling against a corrupt Empire. You think the Emperor is mad. You think the Silver Folk will come to your aid. You think the Maze..." He stopped. "The sheer volume of misinformation you carry astonishes me. You've been misled, fooled, tricked."

He rose and walked slowly toward her.

"Time for you to learn a few things, lovely Clarrisa," he said. His magick pinned her to the bunk. "Time for you to learn who's your master."

She couldn't move. Couldn't escape. She twisted her face into a smile. "Then come on. This is the only way you'll ever have a woman."

He stopped but only for a moment. He smiled. "I wonder if you'll think of Argent."

"Burn in hell," she said.

"Probably," Forrest said. "All in good time. But before then, we're going to have a good time."

Verdant clamped her lips shut and promised herself no matter what he did, she wouldn't cry out.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without prior express written permission from the author. Thanks for reading.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Circles, Chapter 2.1

(I know this entry is a bit long, but I promise it has a kicker at the end that should raise your eyebrows a bit. Not much else to tell you. Been cleaning house, writing on Circles, working on the new cover for Murder by the Acre, sold a couple of cards, battling some stomach problems, read a couple of books, etc. That's my life. What's happening in your life?)


Circles
Chapter 2.1
Into the Maze

"Perhaps it can't adapt to four of us," Glemma said for the hundredth time.

Thomas didn't even bother glaring at her this time. What was the point? She wouldn't stop talking.

"Oh gods," Derry muttered.

Alissa, however, answered, "If the Maze really has existed for thousands of years, groups had to have entered it. I think it's still studying us."

"That doesn't mean it was able to adapt to groups just because they entered before," Glemma said.

"Maybe we're going to the wrong way," Derry said. "We've been walking for three and half hours now." He consulted his pocket watch. "Three hours and 37 minutes to be exact."

"And it's so helpful to exact now," Glemma said.

"At least we know how long we'd have to walk to go back and go the other direction," Derry said.

The corridor ran two ways. They had chosen one at random. Nothing seemed to distinguish either direction. The walls and floor were the same featureless white stone -- or a substance that looked like stone. A strange glowing material made up the ceiling. Alissa had used magick to lift Derry up to examine it, and he said it was cool to the touch. As they walked, the ceiling lit before them and darkened behind them.

They had stopped two times before. Once to allow Glemma time to Shape her clothes. Derry and Thomas had been wearing the school uniform of brown leather boots, brown trousers, cream long-sleeved shirt, and golden vest. Alissa worn the same, but she had removed her vest back at the school and it was lost. Glemma, however, had already changed into her night clothes: flowing white robe with a long silky overcoat. She had jammed her feet into her boots before all the madness descended on the school, but her clothes needed Shaping to keep them from limiting her movements.

Thomas and Derry had stood with their backs to the girls as Glemma removed her clothing and Shaped trousers and a shirt from her robe. She left her overcoat as it was. She had worked quickly because they expected an attack or trap or some other difficulty. But hours of walking had taken the edge off their caution.

The second time they stopped was when they started arguing about the Maze and what they were doing. Derry thought they must have gone in the wrong direction. Alissa believed the direction didn't matter since both directions were still the Maze. Glemma did not want to retrace their steps. Thomas had no idea about what they should do, but sided with Alissa, but only did so because he knew it annoyed Derry.

They also took inventory of their belongings. They didn't have much. Glemma had a silver necklace and several silver rings. Alissa had a pouch carrying derva leaf and her pipe, a compass that only spun aimlessly in the maze, a multi-use knife with two blades and a saw, and a several pendants and bracelets strung with leather cord. Derry had his dagger, three copper pennies, a silver shilling, a tin collapsible cup, and a box of sulfur matches. Thomas had his dagger, four half-pennies, an acorn that he had picked up a couple of days ago, and the Traveling God necklace his mother had given him on his fourteenth birthday.

"Not much," Derry said.

"Well, aren't Aspirants supposed to enter the Maze with only their magick and wits?" Alissa said.

"Yeah, but I could do with an apple right about now," Derry said.

"Don't mention food," Glemma said.

"They're not usually chased into the Maze, either," Thomas said.

"My sister intended to carry a backpack," Alissa said. "Rope and food. A waterskin. Aspirants are allowed to carry whatever they want." Her face saddened. "But it didn't help her."

"At least we have a cup," Glemma said, and she had pulled enough moisture out of the air to fill the collapsible cup so that they could all have a drink.

Now, they stopped again. Thomas sat down, not paying attention as the others argued. He felt exhausted. The weight of his secret made him uneasy. After all, they were in danger, too, but did shared peril give them the right to know the truth? Or as much of it as he knew. Which was precious little, it appeared. The world held dangers he never imagined.

"Hey!" Derry said, pointing down the corridor.

Thomas scrambled to his feet. Fog flowed toward them.

The four bunched together.

"I can't put a shield up!" Alissa said.

Thomas tried, but the magick wouldn't be forced into a shield configuration.

Glemma attempted to push the fog back by calling a wind. She succeeded in clearing a space around them, but the fog rolled around them.

Derry held his dagger at ready. Thomas followed suit.

"Boys," Glemma said. She drew magick to her.

Thomas blushed. He was an Aspirant, not a warrior. He drew magick and prepared an energy bolt. Derry danced power along his dagger's blade until it gleamed.

The fog thickened, clouding out the ceiling light. Soon it was as if they stood in the fading light dusk.

Alissa conjured a sphere of light, but it did little to cut the gloom.

"I think we should get close to the wall," Derry said. "Keep anything from getting behind us."

"Hold hands," Glemma said, grabbing Thomas's.

"Put your hand on my belt," Derry told Alissa who did so. "I might need both hands free."

Glemma pulled Thomas closer until they stood inches apart.

The fog had increased until they could barely see each other even as close as they were.

Derry moved toward the wall. Three steps, two more, several more.

"I must be going down the hall," Derry said, his voice uncertain. "We should have reached the wall..."

He turned and took several steps more before stopping. "I can't be this turned around. The walls aren't there."

Something flashed by them in the fog. Alissa screamed.

"What was that?' Glemma said, her voice quivering.

Thomas conjured a light and channeled as much magick as he could into it. The fog lit up, but the visibility remained the same.

"What should we do?" Alissa said.

"Can you raise a shield?" Derry asked.

"I don't know," Alissa said. "I keep trying, but the conjuration won't form. I can almost get it, but then it collapses."

"Keep trying," Derry said. "No one is better at shields than you are."

"Quiet!" Glemma hissed. "Something's coming."

Thomas extinguished his light and drew up magick for a bolt.

Overhead something huge passed over them, its shadow blocking out the light for several moments.

"Oh gods," Glemma whispered. "Oh gods. What is that?"

"I don't know," Derry whispered. "But I don't think we want it to find us. Let's move."

"Where?" Thomas said.

"Anywhere but here," Derry said.

He led them forward. The ground beneath them changed, becoming mushy and wet. Thomas looked down. He could see greenish mud and what looked like small vines or roots.

Alissa gasped. "I recognize this. The smell, the winds, we're in Nola Scrone. We're in the swamp."

The fog thickened more.

"We're thousands of miles away from Nola Scrone," Glemma said.

"Are you sure?" Derry asked Alissa.

"Yes," Alissa said. "The smells, the sounds ... We're in the blessed swamps! If we could just see..."

Glemma drew magick to her and conjured a wind. The fog thinned, and Thomas caught a glimpse of black water and mossy trees draped with vines.

"It's Nola Scrone," Alissa said excitedly. "That plant is wardvine. It only grows in Nola Scrone."

Derry took a couple of steps forward drawing the others long with him.

Thomas made one misstep in the muck and fell. His hand slipped from Glemma's. The fog flooded back in and swallowed up the other three.

Just like that, he was lost.

"Glemma! Derry!" he shouted, waving his arms around, hoping to touch them.

They didn't respond.

"Alissa!" he screamed.

Nothing. Why didn't they call?

Or maybe they were and he couldn't hear them. He sent out feelers of magick, but the fog reflected them back to him.

He took a couple of steps forward, still reaching out. He panted, feeling lightheaded.

Get a hold, he told himself. They can't be more than a couple of steps.


He shouted again, but the fog swallowed his words. He swore.

"Such language," a woman's voice said.

The fog swirled around him and cleared. He stood on a knoll of moss surrounded by black water.

"Who's there?" he shouted.

The fog parted.

Glemma smiled at Thomas.

She was naked.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. No copying without prior express written permission from the author. Thanks for reading.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Been working

Been working on creating a new cover for Murder by the Acre. I've never been completely pleased by the cover for MBTA or MBDD. They work, but they're not outstanding. I wanted something more. I thought I'd have something to show you tonight, but everything has gone slower and been harder than I expected. Well, another learning experience, right?

I don't know if this second edition of MBTA will be generally available. I hope it is. Depends on how much it would cost me to retire the first edition. It may only be available at my book signings.

Speaking of signings, I have one coming up in September. The 17th of that month to be exact. I'll be at the Chisholm Trail Book Festival in Duncan, Oklahoma. Looking forward to it. It was a great time last year.

Been working on Circles, too. I have a scene that could be awesome if I can get it down. The Aspirants get separated, and one of them experiences a dangerous, revealing encounter. And I do mean revealing. But so far, it's not what I want it to be. I shouldn't be editing at this point, but hey, no deadlines. Anyway, you should see it tomorrow.

Right now, I'm waiting for a file to finish uploading to Lulu. Sigh. I've been waiting for about an hour now. It's uploading, but so s-s-s-l-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-l-y-y-y. I pay for the fastest Internet I can, but sometimes it's as slow as dial-up. Or maybe it's Lulu. Hope it finishes soon.

Otherwise, things are as they are. No job yet. No money coming in. Getting very tight here, but still above water, although it's up to my neck now. Got to finish a book and publish it. Make some money that way. Yes, I would sell out. Just need someone to offer!

Anyway, I'll let ya go. Hope you're having a good week. Talk to you tomorrow.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Circles, Chapter 2.0

Circles
Chapter 2.0
Into the Maze

"You will find that some historians claim the Maze was made by Mages," Mage Cinnamon said, fingering her long black braid as she paced in front of the class of Aspirants. "They claim the ruins at Ebongarth are proof Mages held more knowledge once than what we currently do. Perhaps, but it seems more likely the Maze was made by an ancient race that preceded man's arrival." She paused and surveyed the class. "I know this will surprise you, but the Silver Folk say the Maze predates their civilization, and they have recorded history at least three millennia before man arrived. No, it seems certain the Maze was created by an unknown race of powerful beings for reasons we cannot begin to understand."


Whatever Thomas had expected from the Maze, he hadn't expected this featureless circular room. Derry wandered around the room, pressing on the black walls. Glemma and Alissa sat in the center, the older girl with her arm around the still-shaken swamp witch. Thomas stopped at that thought. Alissa had saved his life, all of their lives. She was more than a swamp witch, a name that he instinctively knew would be hurtful.

"Well, now what?" Glemma asked.

"Maybe we broke it," Derry said. He shrugged. "One Aspirant at time for centuries before, and suddenly we four come in."

"I'm sure more than one person has been in the Maze at the same time," Glemma said. "Think of all the Testing and all the Circles."

"It's forbidden," Thomas said automatically and felt his face flush. Alissa and Derry didn't pay any attention, but Glemma quirked her mouth.

"Yes, there have been multiple entries," Derry said. "It only makes sense."

Thomas nodded, not trusting himself to not say anything else stupid.

"It's learning us," Alissa said. "I can ken it. Somewhat." She looked up. "It's like an animal. Or a living being. I've never felt anything like it." She looked surprised. "And it's surprised that I can sense it. That hasn't happened before." She shook her head. "Maybe I'm gone insane."

"Well, it is called the Maze of Madness." Derry grinned at her.

"She's the best kenner White had ever seen," Glemma said. "He told the whole class that he could teach her nothing."

Alissa shook her head again. "I have a lot to learn. My mother could ken a horse fly from a mile away."

"And Thomas is the best healer I've ever seen," Glemma said, looking at him. "Which is strange because I don't remember him doing that well on the Writtens or Practicals."

Thomas shrugged and turned away. He couldn't have this conversation. Not yet.

-I know what you are.-

"What?" Thomas said, startled. The other three looked him.

"What what?" Glemma asked.

He shook his head. Derry sat down beside Alissa, and she rested her head against him. Glemma lay down and looked at the ceiling and the light globe that floated above.

-I know what you are, Thomas Alltree of Leeson. I know why you're here. I know what the Silver Folk have planned. All your secrets are mine.- 

Thomas breathed hard. The voice was in his head. Was he going mad?

-No. No madness for you. Only pain and sorrow and finally an unending death. If you fail.-


Who are you? he thought fiercely.

-You will learn soon enough. Pay attention, youngling. The world falls toward the abyss. The only slender hope for survival is if you learn what you truly are and do so quickly enough to take action.-


Learn what? What do you mean? What? But the voice -- if he had actually heard one -- didn't reply.

"Something's happening," Alissa said. "The Maze has learned us."

On the previously wall, two wooden doors slowly materialized. Above the doors, a wooden plaque appeared.

"What's this?" Derry said.

The four moved closer together.

Words appeared on both doors and on the plaque. The left door read: This door leads to life. The right door read: The other door lies & this door leads to death. The words on the plaque read: Only one door leads to life & only one door tells the whole truth. Choose.


"It's like a bard's story!" Glemma said, excitedly. "A riddle."

"Can we trust the Maze?" Derry asked. "Maybe both doors lead to death. Maybe we should wait."

"For how long?" Glemma asked. "I conjure a little water from the moisture in the air and from our..." She blushed. "Well, we will have water for a while, but we have no food."

"I've never heard of an Aspirant dying of starvation," Alissa said.

"But the Aspirants who die don't return," Derry pointed out.

"I think the ceiling is lower," Thomas said.

"What?"

The other three craned their heads and watched the ceiling.

"He's right," Glemma said. "It's definitely lower. Can't you feel the heat from the light?"

"So if we stay, we will be crushed," Derry said. "Charming."

"It's the left door," Thomas said.

"Explain," Glemma demanded.

"If the right door is true, then the left door leads to death because it's lying and the right door also leads to death because it's telling the truth, but only one door leads to life and one to death," Thomas said slowly. "But if the left door is true, then the left door leads to life and the right door leads to death."

"But then the last part of the left door statement would be true," Glemma said.

"A half-truth," Thomas said. "Not the whole truth."

"I think he has it," Derry said. "What say you?"

Glemma looked doubtful, but she nodded her head.

"We can't stay here," Alissa said. "I'm with Thomas."

Thomas looked up. The ceiling had lowered until it hung only a couple of feet above Derry's head.

"Left door it is," Derry said.

He walked over and examined the door. "No latch." He shrugged. He touched the door. The right door vanished.

"Not dead," Derry said.

"At least not yet," Glemma said.

The door swung open revealing a dark corridor. Derry conjured a magick globe to light the way.

The ceiling suddenly descending faster.

"Go, go, go!" Thomas shouted.

The four ran into the corridor.

"Thomas, stop!" Derry shouted.

Thomas froze, his foot hovering above the floor.

Derry knelt down and took out his dagger. Carefully he cut a thread that stretched between the walls. "It's a trap trigger, I'd bet."

"The room's gone," Alissa said.

Behind them stretched only corridor, showing no sign of the room they had just exited.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without express prior written permission. Thanks for reading.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Circles, Chapter 1.10

Circles
Chapter 1.10
Maze of Madness

Mage Forrest stepped forward. "Surrender, children."

Alissa didn't move. The other three Aspirants looked at each other.

"They killed everyone else," Thomas whispered. "He won't spare us. They can't let us live."

Forrest motioned the soldiers forward instead of hitting them with a spell.

"He's exhausted his magick!" Derry said.

Glemma drew magick to her. She caught a hard wind and blew dirt, stones, blood, and smoke at the advancing soldiers.

"Run!" Thomas shouted. He rushed toward the door, pushing Alissa ahead of him. She dropped the fade shield. Derry caught Glemma's hand and pulled her along.

The soldiers, slow to react, now began to fire at them.

The four Aspirants tumbled through the door. Bullets whistled past them.

Derry rolled and came up, his hands outstretched. The ironwood door swung shut. Derry magick-locked it.

"That won't hold," he said.

"Alissa's been hit!" Glemma cried.

Thomas rushed to the unconscious girl. Blood began to spread across her back. He grabbed at the magick and sent healing into her body. The wound refused to heal.

"It's a iron bullet," he said. "It's got to come out."

The door shook as soldiers tried to batter it down.

Derry poured magick into the door, strengthening its planks. "This won't hold!"

Glemma pulled up her skirt and slid a knife out of a leather sheath. She handed it to Thomas. "Will this work?"

"Too large a blade," Thomas said. "But we have no choice. Hold her down." Glemma pushed down Alissa's shoulders and added magick to the hold.

He used the blade to open up the hole the bullet had made. He could see smoking curling out of the wound as the iron heated from his magick. He sent magick into the blade to burn off any bad humours attached to it. "I'm sorry, Alissa." He worked the knife into wound.

Alissa awakened and began to struggle. She screamed.

"Just a moment more!" Thomas said. "Hold her still!" The knife tip found the bullet. He worked it out until he could reach it with his fingers. The blackened ball of iron burned him. He could see glowing symbols on it. He tossed the nasty thing aside.

"It's okay, Alissa," Glemma said. "It's out. It's out."

Thomas unleashed the full force of his healing magick. Glemma's eyes widened as the wound closed, the flesh drawing together tightly and closed until only a faint pale pink line remained. It vanished, leaving only her torn top and the congealing blood as evidence that she had ever been shot.

"Gods," Glemma said, awed. "How did you do that?"

He ignored her question and looked around. He had never been in the Testing building. Aspirants were forbidden by the Strictures, but he now thought most of the Aspirants hadn't kept the rules as he had. The building was barely thirty paces deep and fifteen wide. One magicked lantern hang from the ceiling, giving light. The door seemed to be the only entrance. At the back of the room stood two tall columns of black stone. A third shaft of the same stone lay across the columns. The columns made a doorway of sorts, but Thomas could see the back of the building through the opening. He could see no entrance to the Maze and no exit from this death trap.

The door shuddered. Cracks begin to show.

"They're bringing up a cannon," Derry said.

"Where's the Maze?" Thomas shouted.

Glemma helped Alissa up. The swamp witch's face looked as pale as new snow, but she pulled magick and began to regain strength.

"Through the columns," Glemma said.

"There's nothing there," Thomas said desperately.

"There will be," she said, stepping toward the columns.

Outside a cannon bloomed. Pieces of the door flew into the room, pelting the Aspirants.

"Hold hands!" Glemma shouted. She grabbed Alissa's hand, Thomas grabbed Glemma's, and Derry grabbed Thomas's. The four ran toward the columns.

The door exploded behind them.

They ran through the columns.

Into the Maze.

Into madness.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without prior express written permission.

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Some thoughts on Circles

Last night I introduced Rylor Skysong and his brother Myton in Circles. My viewpoint characters are: Thomas, Allanna, Tanalos, Rylor, and Nukota. You haven't met Nukota of the Blood Horde, but you will. I'm also thinking that Verdant might make viewpoint if she survives. Verdant and Argent's love affair interests me so I expect I will write about it eventually. I don't think anyone else will make viewpoint in this book, although Alissa might. (Alissa has more to her than I originally realized. And what does Glemma know of the rebellion? I hope the others have a chance to get some answers out of her soon.)

Anyway, what exactly is the point of Circles? Well, it's the story of Thomas Alltree of Leeson and what happens to him and why. His destiny, in other words. It's not the story of Harry Potter. Not that I would mind if it were and could experience Harry's success, but it's not. Thomas's destiny is darker, but I'm still hoping for a happy ending. Or at least a heroic one. I don't know.

That may seem weird to you -- that I don't know -- but this story has already taken me in places I didn't expect. I started out thinking Jasone and the others would enter the Maze, survive all sorts of traps and puzzles, and come out the best of friends. Then Argent ran into the maze, and dirigibles and soldiers showed up. Then Jasone died. Murdered in front of the Aspirants who would have been his dearest friends in another world. It shocked me.

The shocks kept coming. We ended up in a room that had never known light and listened as a woman met with a creature out of nightmare. What she did to earn the creature's power appalled me. And the creature wanted Thomas dead. Why?

Then we met an emperor whom I had thought was the villain of the story only to discover that he was trapped and powerless, but also has a secret plan in play.

Meanwhile, the Imperial troops brutally slaughtered the Aspirants of the Mongarth and their teachers. Not all of residents of Mongarth, of course, because it's apparent they had at least three traitors in their midst. What's Forrest's game? How could he do what he's done?

Then we visited the aftermath of a terrible attack on the 33th Flight of the Silvercloud. Gyrocopters? A massive black dragon? But ... but we already know dragons no longer exist. In the very first pages of Circles, we learned that. What in the world is happening?

What a world this has turned out to be. Mages, murder, human sacrifice, dark rituals, dirigibles, gyrocopters, dragons, soldiers, generals, concubines, archpriests, the Silver Folk, the Blood Horde ... What does it all mean and where does it end?

Frankly, I don't know, but I'm eager to find out. Aren't you?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Circles, Chapter 1.9

Circles
Chapter 1.9
Maze of Madness

On the outskirts of Tallshadow Forest near the Glori Mountains ...

Rylor Skysong, Captain of the 33th Flight of Silvercloud, groaned and wiped blood from his eyes with a shaking hand. He could feel the broken bones in his body grinding as he tried to pull himself up. The pain made his vision whirl and tunnel, but he held grimly onto consciousness.

He turned his head. Around the clearing he could see the bodies of his flight. Most were clearly dead, their gyrocopters broken into smoking pieces, either by crashing or by the attack. But over to left, someone else -- please let it be Myton -- moved. Rylor stumbled toward the pilot.

"Rylor..." Myton groaned.

"Thank Mother Earth," Rylor said, dropping to his knees by his brother.

"What ... the others..."

Rylor looked around the clearing. He saw no other movement. Three of the pilots still hung in their harnesses, one of them dangling upside down. The other two had fallen out of their gyrocopters. Smoke and escaping steam swirled around the machines.

"Dead," Rylor said. His head pounded. He tried to pull magick from the sky, from the earth, anything to heal himself, but the magick only trickled in, more an indication of his condition than the availability.

Myton tried to sit up, but couldn't. "Ry ... what ... what was that? It looked like... It couldn't be." He looked at Rylor.

"I know," Rylor said. "I know. But it was."

"What have the humans done?"

"I don't think it was the humans," Rylor said. "I don't think they have the magick ... or the knowledge." He realized his goggles had remained somehow remained on. He pulled them off and dropped them. He wouldn't be flying any time soon. In fact, he would probably lose his rank. Silvercloud didn't reward captains who lose their entire flight.

Myton leaned to one side and vomited blood and bits of flesh.

"Oh, gods, Myton," Rylor said. "I've got to heal you."

"No time," Myton whispered. "You've got to get away. Before it comes back. You have to leave me."

"Not going to happen," Rylor said with as much force as he could muster. "Now hold your tongue. Got to patch you up." He stretched out his hand. This time, the magick came faster, but he couldn't do much. He found the internal injuries. He couldn't do much, but he could heal the worse of the wounds. The healers back at the Silvercloud could do the rest. If they could survive long enough to reach it.

It took all his concentration, but he did what he could for Myton. Then he turned his meager healing magick on himself. He couldn't heal himself completely, but he hoped it would be enough to let them find safety before the creature returned. He couldn't imagine the magick -- or could it be science -- that had been used to create such a thing. Who would create such a beast? And why?

His flight had been flying a regular patrol along the Tallshadow Forest. Nothing out of the ordinary. They passed a small village -- Trappen -- that seemed unusually quiet, but Rylor hadn't decided to investigate. They could be at a handfast or perhaps out in the fields. He looked for signs of life, people in the fields, horses or dogs, but found nothing. He circled around, the seven members of the flight following him.

His brother came up alongside and signed to him. "Where are the people?"

He shook his head and circled the village again, this time going lower. No dogs came out barking, no chickens scattered, but the sun would be setting soon. The flight needed to be back at Silvercloud before the curfew. Other than the stillness, he saw no signs of unusual activity. He signed to his brother. "We'll come back tomorrow."

His brother signed it to the other members of the flights, and they banked and headed back toward Silvercloud, the aerie of the Silver Folk. Suddenly his gyrocopter lurched in a terrible wind. He fought the controls. Opened the power valve full. Stabilized for a moment. Again the copter lurched. If he had been higher, he could have recovered, but too late. The tiny gyrocopter hit the ground hard, tumbling rotors over wheels. He took several blows, and his world dimmed. The copter finally halted on its side, one of its rotors buried in the ground, steam venting from its cracked engine. He unfastened his harness and fell to the ground, rolling once. Above he saw a huge winged creature circling in the sky. His vision blurred and went away. Unconsciousness claimed him for a few moments.

And now he stood and held out a hand to pull Myton up.

He felt the slight coolness as a passing cloud covered the sun. "Come on," he said. "We've got--" He stopped at the stricken expression on his brother's face.

Rylor looked up. What he thought was a cloud was not. Impossibly, a huge dragon floated above them, its ebony wings spread to the thermals.

"Goddess have mercy," Rylor breathed. He drew Myton up, and they limped toward the trees.

The black dragon dropped out of the sky like a bolt from the gods.

"Run!" Rylor said. "Run!"

The dragon hit the ground. The ground rippled, a shockwave that threw the brothers to the earth.

Rylor scrambled to his feet, pulling Myton up. If they could get into the trees, the dragon would be too large to follow. He wondered for a mad moment if it could breathe fire, but surely magick or science had its limits.

Any moment he expected the dragon to attack, but they reached the trees unharmed. They stumbled through the underbrush, seeking deeper forest where the dragon would not be able to reach.

"Have ... to ... stop," Myton gasped, bending over. "Can't..."

"We have to!" Rylor said, trying to keep the terror from unmanning him completely.

Myton nodded and stumbled on.

Rylor made the mistake of looking back. He would never be able to forget what he saw.

The dragon fed on his fallen friends, picking their bodies out the wrecked gyrocopters. It lifted one of them up in its front claw. And the pilot -- who wasn't dead after all -- screamed once before the dragon tore his head off. And ate it.

Copyright 2011 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without prior express written permission. Thank you for reading.

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