April 30, 2018

Z is for Zenon

        In a plain white-painted room, with plain stackable tables and chairs, a nondescript man in khaki scrubs sat with another man who looked somewhat similar, but was noticeably handsomer.  Where the first man was average height and average build, the younger one was taller, more muscular.  Where the first had average light skin, the second was a little tanner.  Where the first had average brown hair, the younger man’s was a little darker and a little wavier.
        It was visiting hours at the prison, and all around the two men prisoners and their visitors sat at the tables talking and sharing food from the vending machines.  Guards watched over the room, but paid little attention to individual conversations.
        Zenon Blank was saying, “I can drive up to Boston this week.  Give me the address where they have one of those books you told me about, and I can have you out of here next time I visit.”
        Ammon Blank shook his head.  “Slow down.  I don’t want to be here a day longer than I have to, but it would be stupid to mess this up.  If we don’t do it right the first time, we’ll end up getting ourselves in bigger trouble.  So first of all, it won’t do us any good to steal the Books in Boston or Cleveland.  Those people know about the connection between the Books and as soon as you steal one, they’ll go through the portal from the other and find you.  You need to steal the Book that’s in London.”
        “London!  Are you gonna pay to fly me to London?”
        “What happened to all the money I gave you last month?”  Ammon sighed.  “Fine.  I’ll make arrangements to get you an airplane ticket.  The Book is at the Christopher Wren Museum.”
        “You’re sending me to rob a museum instead of a private house?  And this is your idea of a safer job?”
        “Keep your voice down, Zenon!  You do remember we’re in a prison, right?  It’s a pretty small museum and I don’t think it has a major security system.  I’ll see if I can do a little research from here, but you’re going to have to do some work yourself for once, Zenon.”
        Zenon scowled for a moment, then shrugged and smiled his charmingly handsome smile.  “Okay, big bro.  I got this.”

        Zenon Blank from The Extraordinary Salamander Door, the in-progress sequel to upper middle-grade fantasy The Extraordinary Book of Doors.

[Picture: created by photoshopping from model.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Z.

        In addition to being the last post of the A-Z Challenge, today is also the last post of the month, and that means it’s time for a Word of the Month.  In honor of the Extraordinary Book of Doors, here is a fun door-related word:
        Tomason - an architectural feature that has lost its purpose and become useless, but still remains, making a sort of inadvertent sculptural element.
        One type of Tomason is doors that open onto air in a high place, precisely one of the things that Chen worries about in the book, and which indeed one of the doors turns out to be.  Other common types of Tomason are stairs to nowhere and bricked-up windows, but any sort of no-longer-functional architectural element is fair game.  The word was coined by Japanese architect Akasegawa Genpei after baseball player Gary Thomasson, who received an enormous contract in 1981 and then never played much (or well).  Because of this derivation the word is also sometimes spelled Thomasson or
Thomason.
        So keep your eyes open and enjoy any Tomason you may notice - just be careful when stepping through unfamiliar doors.


[Pictures: Elevated door (Image from shuusukeshiroi);
Staircase from the demolished Winston Churchill Bridge in Strasbourg, France (Image from Messy Nessy).]

April 28, 2018

Y is for Yunib

        After they had ridden north for a while in silence, Svarnil said, “It almost seems as if we’re on a road.  Have you noticed that there are blocks and mounds on either side, but this straight line we travel is quite smooth?”
        Yunib looked around critically and nodded.  “It would be a reasonable place for a road to have been – connecting the city with the Ring of Gods.”
        “If so,” Imruk-Black said thoughtfully, “We would seem to be heading away from the center of the city.  But if this storm came from the nameless gods, then we should expect to find some sign of it at the Ring of Gods, rather than in the ruins of the city.”
        Nulif objected, “For myself, I do not believe that those statues are anything other than stone.”  He glanced at Svarnil with a slight smile.  “They are no gods.  If magic powers were loosed here in Edah I think it no more likely they came from a few statues as from anywhere else among the ruins.  Except inasmuch as people who believe in those gods may have worked their incantations from a place to which they attribute special power.”
        Yunib’s laugh rang out across the sand.  “How narrow-minded are the Chebik-lan to believe in only one god!  You and the Sinbal tribespeople, always insisting on just one.  You can refuse to acknowledge the obvious, but you’ll have to admit I’m right when the vulture god comes for you!”
        “Do not invoke the vulture god, even in jest,” snapped Imruk-Black.
        Svarnil said, “Whether there is a vulture god or not, have you noticed a single vulture today?  Or indeed, any sort of creature?”  She stared into the dome of the sky, where not so much as a black speck appeared against the flat, uniform blue.
        “That is strange,” Imruk-Black agreed.
        “I daresay they’ll turn up soon enough if the gods provide them with our corpses,” laughed Yunib, earning himself another stern glare from the nomad.  Svarnil looked at Yunib, as well. She could not make up her mind whether to respect the Sisoan for his boldness or to take his flippancy as evidence of foolishness.  She glanced at Nulif and saw him raise his eyebrows questioningly at her.  His own thoughts must be running along much the same lines.  At least Yunib’s injury was not severe enough to keep him somber.

        Yunib from Ruin of Ancient Powers, sixth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 6: The Silence of Edah).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: The Ring of Gods of Edah, drawing by AEGN, 1995.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Y.

April 27, 2018

X is for Xenops

The xenops is another bird that clings to trees
            and pecks,
But the coolest thing about it is, its name
            begins with X!


        Okay, so I didn’t make up the xenops and indeed it’s not fictional at all, but it is a character in one of my books: my alphabet of animals.


        Xenops from Amazing, Beguiling, Curious: 26 Fascinating Creatures, an alphabet book for ages 3-8.  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.



[Picture: Xenops, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009.]






A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter X.

April 26, 2018

W is for Wogwa

        Kate and Sam lay all the way down on the grass on their stomachs and put their heads right up to the large, slimy, pinkish-red worm where he hid among the damp leaves.  It was then that they finally heard Wogwa’s faint, wheezy voice.
        “All right, young folks, no need to breath so hard on me.  You’re drying me out!” said the worm querulously.  Sam and Kate turned their faces slightly, and Wogwa continued, “That’s better.  So, you want to know what those ornery little chipmunks are up to, eh?  Well, I went in their secret burrow, all right.  I crept in from the side, like, as if I were just burrowing along and happened to meet up with their tunnel accidentally, if you see what I mean.”  The wrinkled pink head nodded in satisfaction.  “Oh yes, these two young rabbit scamps might not have told you, but I know about these things.  This isn’t the first reconnaissance mission I’ve been on in my time, not by a long shot it isn’t.  Why, I could tell you about the time I had to follow this shrew right down to -”
        Motu interrupted the worm, “We know, Wogwa, we know.  But right now we don’t want to hear about the shrew.  We want to hear about the chipmunks!”
        The worm peered up at the rabbit and wagged his head.  “All right, all right, whippersnapper.  No need to rush me.  Where was I?  Oh yes, so I joined the chipmunks’ tunnel from the side, and then began to follow along it, half-buried in the edge.  More paralleling it, like, if you see what I mean.  Oh it was a deep one, I’ll tell you, that burrow.  I’ve dug some deep burrows myself, too, six feet, eight feet, twelve...  It’s not for nothing they call me The Drill.”
        Motu said, “If you bore such deep holes, is that why they call you The Bore?”
        “Eh, what was that, bunny?” asked the worm, raising his head, but Tuzi poked her brother sharply with a hind foot, and Motu answered, “Nothing, Wogwa.  Go on.”
        “Well then,” the old worm continued, “I followed this burrow on and on all night.  Had some close calls with those chipmunks, too, I can tell you.  They were digging at it the whole time, running up and down with their pouches full of dirt and a fanatical gleam in their eyes, if you see what I mean.  Oh, you might think we night-crawlers wouldn’t know too much about eyes, but believe you me, I know a fanatical gleam when I come across one.  Oh yes, those chipmunks were up to something for sure.”
        The old worm stopped, nodding his wrinkled head again, until after a moment Sam prompted, “So what were they up to?”
        “Eh?  You want to know what they’re up to?  Wouldn’t we all, boy, wouldn’t we all.  But I never got to the end of it, so I can’t tell you.  Oh, I’ve seen chipmunk burrows twenty feet long and more, but this one was the longest I’ve ever seen, and deep it was, too.  Right under your house it went, right through all that packed down dirt.  Not an easy job digging under a foundation, I promise you that.  Impressive, really, that they could handle a job like this at all.  I wouldn’t have thought those amateurs would’ve had it in them.  But I hadn’t reached the end when this big beefy chipmunk stops and looks at me.  And What’s this worm doing here? he asks.  I think, Uh oh, what are you going to do now, you old chipmunk? and he calls out, Hasn’t this worm been hanging around all night?  Isn’t this the same one we saw farther up the tunnel earlier?  Well, I don’t wait around any longer after hearing that, I can tell you.  The tunnel took a bit of a curve just about there, and I kept right on drilling along in a straight line, like as if it was just coincidence that their tunnel happened to be running along my chosen course, if you see what I mean.  I pretended to pay no mind to that big chipmunk or anything he said, and he watched me head off and shrugged.  Yes, those critters are only too quick to believe they’re the only smart ones in the yard.  Some folks will tell you worms
have just a simple nervous system and not much of a brain, but I can tell you I’ve seen any number of critters with big complex brains acting a whole lot stupider than your average night-crawler.  Oh yes, big brains aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, if you see what I mean.”

        Wogwa from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, the second book in a read-aloud fantasy series for ages 4-9 and their
adults (excerpt from Chapter 1: Trouble with Chipmunks).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Wogwa, illustration by AEGN, 2009.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter W.

April 25, 2018

V is for Varslan

  Varslan appeared in the doorway of Venn’s room, bouncing on his toes in excitement and calling over his shoulder to his teacher, “Please, Venn, can we go around town with Svarnil and Kurit?  It would be very good for my education.”
  “Very well,” the bard replied.
  Varslan came running outside, Venn following after him.
  “First let me show you the dove-cote,” said Svarnil, and the three elves led the drake along the wooded path to the center of Tanoeb.
  Varslan looked thrilled to be in the company of a dragon.  He swaggered along like a prince, and when they reached the scribe’s dove-cote, he made the introductions himself while Svarnil and Thimberil embraced.
  “You are the dove-mistress now?” cried Svarnil with a smile.
  “Indeed I am.  Calain retired on his birthday.”
  “And Segrid.  He must be two years old now?”
  “Yes, and talking all day long.  He’s usually with me, but…” Thimberil glanced anxiously at Kurit, “He’s with my mother today.  I did not trust him running loose just now.”
  By now Varslan had taken it upon himself to explain the messenger doves to the dragon, and as their attention turned to the dove-mistress, Svarnil changed the subject.
  “When I come back after this is all over we can have a proper talk,” Svarnil said, “But I suppose Kurit and I had better continue our tour.  I want to show him the whole town.”
  “The whole town!” Thimberil laughed, “You speak as if that’s a lot to show!  But all your travels still haven’t taught you to scorn our little village.”
  “Oh no!  I wouldn’t trade Tanoeb for all the cities of the Otherworld!”  Svarnil turned to Kurit and added wryly, “Thimberil is right, though.  You’ll have seen all there is to see by noon.”
  “Well, come on, Kurit!” cried Varslan, “Let’s go next to Soren’s.  He’s the carpenter.”
  “Varslan,” Venn said quietly, “You are with Svarnil and Kurit, but you are here at their sufferance.  You are not the one to tell them where to go.”
  Varslan drooped a bit, and Svarnil said, “Soren’s is as good a place as any to see next.”
They walked across the central clearing, all the elves averting their eyes hastily from the dragon when he turned toward them.
  Varslan, brows furrowed in deep thought, suddenly blurted, “If I can speak with Kurit, does that not make me a dragonlord?”
  “Nay,” Kurit retorted harshly, a puff of black smoke escaping with the force of the word.  “If thou turnest thy arrow from the rabbit, is the rabbit thy equal?  A dragonlord is one whom a dragon does not kill because that is a person whom he recognizes as a peer, and, unlike mere people, a dragon will never stoop to murder an equal.  Thou, elfspawn, art no dragon’s equal.  Thy insignificant life is safe with me because I have said I will harm no elves as long as our truce holds.  But do not presume on that safety.  I am no tame beast.”
  “No, sir!” squeaked the boy quickly, and shifted himself to the other side of Venn.

        Varslan (and a bonus V, Venn) from A Threatening of Dragons, fifth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 8: Tanoeb).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Elvish boy’s tunic, design for modding The Sims, by penguiny7 (Image from modthesims).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter V.

April 24, 2018

U is for Uber

        “I’m going to get us in trouble?” Chen sputtered, “I’m going to get us in trouble?  It’s your cat!  You’re the one who brought your cat into an art museum, which, by the way, you still haven’t explained!”
        Polly just gave Chen a disappointed look and whispered loudly, “Uber!  Here, Uber!”
        “Mommy,” came a piercing voice from beyond the next archway, “Mommy, look at the pretty kitty!”
        Polly strode to the side of the wide opening into the next room, flattened herself against the wall, and peeked cautiously around the left edge.  Following her lead, Chen leapt to the right side and peered around, too.  The gallery was full of Gothic sculptures: madonnas on pedestals, two large stone griffins on either side of an archway, and, beyond the archway, sitting primly on the platform in front of a carved marble panel, a calico cat.  Coming toward them was a small boy staring back over his shoulder at Uber.  His mother, pulling him by the hand, was looking at a text on her cell phone.
        “Inside voice, Mikey,” said the mother automatically, “Come on, sweetie, we have to get going.”
        “But I wanna pet the kitty!”
        “Mikey, you can’t pet the sculptures!  Remember, we have to look with our eyes not our
hands, right, sweetie?”
        Chen, staring horrified at Uber sitting in plain sight, murmured urgently, “Don’t look back, lady.  Don’t look back…” 
        “But Mommy, it’s a real kitty!  I can pet a real kitty,” insisted young Mikey, still staring at Uber.  Uber gazed back at him steadily, and flicked the black tip of her tail.  “See, Mommy, it moved!”
        “Don’t look back,” muttered Chen, “Please, please, please don’t look back!”
        The mother, just about to pull her son through the doorway, finally turned and looked back at the boy.  He pointed triumphantly at Uber.
        Chen held his breath.  He heard Polly breathe, “Uh oh…”
        Uber remained motionless.  Not even a whisker twitched.
        “That is a pretty sculpture, sweetie, but we’ll have to come back and look at it another time.”  And they were through the doorway, and the woman nearly jumped as she saw Polly and Chen lurking on either side.  She glared at them disapprovingly, dragged Mikey firmly past them, and headed out.  Mikey’s whining voice trailed behind them, still insisting that he wanted to pet the kitty.
        “Whew,” Polly whispered.  “That woman’s almost as oblivious as my mom.  Not that my mom would ever make a mistake like that about art.  Now let’s get Uber before we have any more close calls.”
        They turned back to the carved stone… but the platform in front of it was bare.  In the silence they heard the faint tip-tapping of claws on the hardwood floor somewhere beyond the next room division.

        Uber (short for Überkatze) from The Extraordinary Book of Doors, an upper middle grade fantasy (excerpt from Chapter 4: The Cat in the Museum).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: sketch of Uber, AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter U.

April 23, 2018

T is for Tuzi (and Motu)

        Bluebell led Kate and Sam around to the back yard, where Beechnut was sitting beside a pair of cottontail rabbits.
        The squirrel introduced the rabbits, “This is Tuzi, and this is her brother Motu.  They live under the big forsythia bushes behind the composter.”
        “Pleased to meet you,” said Sam and Kate politely in animal language, and the rabbits nodded their heads and wiggled their noses.  The children could see that these rabbits had unusual bright brown eyes, instead of the black or red eyes of most rabbits.  Then all at once, to Sam and Kate’s astonishment, one of them leaped up and turned a complete somersault in the air.  As she spun she seemed to jump right out of her soft brown fur, and suddenly there she stood, in the form of a brown-eyed girl, only about eighteen inches tall.
        The small girl draped her empty rabbit skin over her shoulders like a dress and said in a soft voice, “There.  It’ll be easier to talk this way.  Beechnut asked us if we knew anything about those chipmunks, and we wanted to tell you first of all that we would never ruin your garden like that.  We appreciate that your family never tries to trap us or poison us or throw rocks at us as some other humans do, and we make sure never to take too much of anything that you plant.”
        “Besides,” added the other rabbit, Motu, “We’re not stupid.  We wouldn’t do anything that might make your mother give up on gardening.  Then we wouldn’t get to sample any of her vegetables!” and he laughed mischievously.
        Tuzi grinned at her brother, but continued, “After Beechnut talked to us, we began watching the chipmunks more closely, and we noticed that there’s one spot where they’ve been digging like crazy, right under the back steps.  We thought you ought to have a look.”
        Motu hopped over to the back steps and gestured with a paw.  Sam and Kate leaned over and peered into the dark space under the steps.  There were clumps of dirt and rocks, and the curling stems of the groundcover creeping in from the garden bed.
        “I don’t see any hole,” said Sam.
        “That’s exactly what they want you to see,” answered Motu, “They’ve been digging it every night, and hiding it during the day.”
        “That’s one of the reasons we think they’re up to something suspicious,” explained Tuzi, “Besides, chipmunks are usually diurnal.”
        “But why would they try to dig under the house?” asked Kate.
        “And how do we know that’s even what their scheme is?” added Sam, “And anyway, what’s this hole got to do with our tomatoes?”
        Bluebell’s black eyes glittered and she declared, “What you need is a spy!  Someone who can sneak down that hole and find out where it leads, and maybe discover the chipmunk’s secret plan, too.”
        “We don’t know anyone who can sneak down a chipmunk hole!” Kate protested.
        “But we do,” replied Motu smugly, “At least, I think we do.”  He looked at his sister and said, “Don’t you think old Wogwa would help?  It would be his chance to prove what a brave adventurer he is.”
        Tuzi smiled.  “He might.  He’s always talking about the grand adventures he had in his youth.”  She turned to the children.  “We’ll send Wogwa on this mission, and we’ll report back
to you as soon as we have news.”  Then she swung her rabbitskin off her back, and held it out in front of her.  With a little skip, she jumped up and somersaulted straight into her own fur.  The rabbit turned, wiggled her long ears, winked at Sam and Kate, and then hopped after her brother into the dense bushes at the back of the yard.
        Sam looked at Kate and Kate looked at Sam.
        “Well,” said Sam, “I bet when you got up this morning you never expected to see that!”

        Tuzi and Motu from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, the second book in a read-aloud fantasy series for ages 4-9 and their adults (excerpt from Chapter 1: Trouble with Chipmunks).
More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Pictures: Tuzi in rabbit form;
Tuzi in human form, illustrations by AEGN, 2009.]


A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter T.

April 21, 2018

S is for Skoven

        In that long, deep valley between the Mountains of the Sky and the Mountains Mioruilt Ãdun fought strange, dreadful beasts and won his way past the haunts of terrible monsters, and ever he followed the course of the River Oosial, until it brought him north into the sharp heights of the Mountains Mioruilt and led him at last to the cave of Skoven, the White Dragon who could speak only truth.

     At conquering Ãdun's call, great Skoven came,
     The white steam curling from the stone cave's brim.
     His argent crest struck diamond sparks from the rock
     In the dark cave's doorway as he raised his head.
     The rattling scrape of scales on the blackened floor,
     Gouged into grooves by the dragon's silver claws,
     Brought the bright Skoven's jaws and his flickering tongue,
     Blue as a stormy sea, into Ãdun's view.
     Long as a man was the monster's narrow head
     Mailed in his milky scales and whispering steam,
     And his talons rasped the rock like sickle blades
     As Skoven flicked his forked and pointed tongue.
     Three-cornered eyes like moonstones blue as ice,
     Slit like a cat's, stared into Ãdun's own.
     And when the dragon spoke, his silver teeth
     Clashing like knives against his armored lips,
     His breath hissed flaming with his clangorous voice,
     Boiling the icy Oosial into steam.

        Skoven asked King Ãdun, "How has this journey atoned for the death of thine innocent brother?"
        And the king was stung in his pride and replied haughtily, "I have faced death many times since then.  That is atonement enough for a warrior and a sorcerer and a king!"
        But the White Dragon who could speak only truth replied, "No, King Ãdun, it is not enough.  For it was pride that killed thy brother and pride that turned thy victory false, and thou hast not given up thy pride.”
        And there amidst the peaks of the Mountains Mioruilt, scalded by steam from the spring that would become the Oosial, King Ãdun allowed his pride to make him foolish.  Once he had believed lies spoken by one who wished him ill, and it had brought him only grief.  Now he refused to believe the truth spoken by one who wished him well, and again he drew his furious sword in pride.
        Long was the turbulent battle between those two, the mighty Ãdun and the dragon Skoven.  The blue dragon-fire flared from Skoven's throat, and Ãdun's sorcery drew down blazing copper lightning, so that even in Eotheort could people see the jagged and forking flames kindling the sky above the peaks.  The clapping of the dragon's unfurled wings cracked the air like thunder, the ringing rattle of his argent scales writhing on the mountaintop shivered the valleys' pines.  Iron clattered against dragon mail, talons rang against iron.  The Oosial seethed into billowing steam, the stream-bed was scorched dry, until it ran again with gore, brave Ãdun's flowing mixed with the dragon's sizzling blood.  And finally King Ãdun's violent pride guided his fell sword to Skoven's heart and drove the notched point deep.
        White Skoven who could speak only truth now roared his death cry, the brazen echoes rolling ringing down the frozen mountainside, and King Ãdun, having slain the noble dragon, in the very moment of his fierce triumph realized the crime he had committed.  Crying, "Atonement!" he threw himself beneath the falling dragon, letting himself be crushed in Skoven's death.  And where two heroes had met at the birth of the Oosial, now lay one heap of bones, the slender rising spiral of steam still marking the place to those on the plain below.

        Skoven from Song Against Shadow, first book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter VII: Angduv).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawings of Skoven by AEGN, c.2007.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter S.

April 20, 2018

R is for Rosie

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so, between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean.

        Jack and Rosie could never agree on ground beef, but were otherwise extremely happy.





        Okay, I admit I didn’t make up the nursery rhyme, of course, but Jack and Rosie are indeed characters in one of my books, and I invite you to 
imagine them more fully.
        Rosie Sprat from Hey, Diddle Diddle! and Other Rhymes, a book of nursery rhymes with additional 
comments.  More information here or here.

[Picture: Jack Sprat & His Wife, Rosie, rubber block print by AEGN, 2001.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter R.

April 19, 2018

Q is for Quail (and Tij)

        “What about us?”  It was another boy.  “We’re just us.  We have no one else to take care for, and we take care for each other so we travel so well as anyone.  Right?”  He turned to the girl beside him and she nodded.
  “He can see for me, and I can reach out for him,” she said, and Svarnil realized that the girl’s large eyes, though turned toward the people who were talking, were focused on nothing.  She must be the blind child Jiriya had mentioned, and her brother was the one with the stricken arm.
        Oru was considering the two children carefully.  “How old are you?” he asked.
        “Nine years.  We are born together.”
        “And what are your names?”
        “I am Quail,” said the boy.
        The girl, however, looked suddenly disconcerted.  “What’s Tij?” she asked her brother, and when she felt his shrug she said louder, “Rika, what’s my name?  What do they calling tij in Common Speech?”
        “I don’t know,” Hedgehog answered, “But you must not go back there.”
        Oru said, “You are called Tij in your language?  Can you describe what you’re named after?”
        The girl smiled shyly.  “Little sand-color animal, jumping very big, digging deep burrow.  Long tail with…” She made a gesture.  “Um, fluff on end.  Big ears, long legs in back, little arms in front.  That one.”
        “Ah.  We call those jumprats.”
        “I am a rat?  My name is Rat?”
        Her brother crowed, “Now I call you Rat!  Rat, Rat!”
        “No, tij is different, more like little funny hare, maybe.  Not rat!”
        Jiriya said, “We know a jumprat isn’t really a rat.  That’s just what we call it here.”  When she saw the girl’s disappointment, however, she said, “There’s no reason we can’t call you Tij.  You don’t have to translate your name into Common Speech, do you?”
        “Good.  That’s right.  You can be Quail, Pir, but I am still Tij.  Just like the dog.”
        “A dog is named Tij, too?” asked Nulif curiously, for he had been making friends with the two sight hounds while the others talked.  He was rubbing their silky ears while their tongues lolled and their feathered tails swished happily.
        Quail laughed.  “No, our vikuri is name Wind.”  He pointed at the dog whose pale creamy fur darkened to charcoal brown along her head and back.  “But she still have to be called Abri because she cannot listen in Common Speech.”  At the sound of her name, Abri looked attentively to the boy.  He reached over and rubbed her chin with his good hand.
        Now Oru said, “Tij, we appreciate your offer, but how can a blind child be a guide?”
        The girl turned her face toward Oru and answered, “I am not blind from end of Akuv, I am always blind.  I never needing eyes.”
        “But,” Oru began, but Quail had already jumped in to support his sister.
        “Tij guide us away from Akuv when dust cloud making everything dark with it.  When everyone blind, then only Tij can see.”
        After a moment Oru nodded slowly.  “So, Tij and Quail, you think you can travel with the Vizier’s expedition back to Lothvana, back to the site of Akuv?  You can keep up with us and help us understand what we see, even though you are not very old and you’re blind and maimed?  Do you understand what you’re offering?  It may be upsetting.  It will be no easy jaunt.”
        “What is jaunt?”
        “A trip for amusement.”
        “Oh.  Yes.  We understanding.  Right?”
        “Right.”

        Quail and Tij from Ruin of Ancient Powers, sixth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt
from Chapter II: The Postponement of Two Weddings).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: photoshop sketch of Quail and Tij by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Q

April 18, 2018

P is for Polly

        The girl paused at the corner and looked back.  She was two or three inches taller than Chen with straight brown hair to her chin like a Flapper from the Roaring Twenties.  Her knobby knees showed beneath the short skirt of a dress that looked like it was really an oversized man’s Hawaiian shirt belted at the waist with a bright blue hip pouch.  Her sneakers appeared to have been hand-painted with multicolored polka dots and were made even more outrageous by the bright, mismatched socks that showed above them.  Dressed like that, and appearing so suddenly out of nowhere, Chen thought she might as well have appeared from another planet.
        The girl unzipped her hip pouch and pulled something out before replying to Chen.  “Well, hurry up, then,” she said.  “Oh, and by the way, where are we?”
        Chen frowned as he caught up with her.  “What do you mean?”
        “I mean where are we?  City, country, building, institution, any other relevant info?”
        “The Cleveland Museum of Art.  How can you not know where you are?”
        “Well, I didn’t come through the front door,” she replied, as though this were a wholly rational and satisfactory explanation.  And then she whistled, two high notes followed by three short notes going up the scale.  It resonated loudly in the atrium.
        She had paused and then repeated the pattern by the time Chen exclaimed, “Hush!  You’re in the art museum, didn’t you hear me?  You can’t just go around whistling like that in a museum!”
        “Well, you can’t have a cat in a museum, either, and yet mine’s here, right?  So I’m trying to get her back.”
        Chen was beginning to wonder if the girl was a little bit insane or something.  Maybe she was here with a field trip from some kind of special school and had gotten away from her class group.  He tried to identify the weird look the girl was giving him.  It wasn’t scornful.  It wasn’t scared.  It wasn’t really anything, he thought.  Just a look.  And then it occurred to him how weird that was.  Nobody ever just simply looked at someone.  It was embarrassing.  Just to break the awkward silence, he cleared his throat and said, “So, what’s your name?”
        To Chen’s astonishment, the girl darted forward, seized his hand, and shook it heartily.  “I’m Polly Goggin and my cat is Uber Goggin.  Pleased to meet you.  What’s your name?”

        Polly Goggin from The Extraordinary Book of Doors, an
upper middle grade fantasy (excerpt from Chapter 4: The Cat in the Museum).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawing of Polly by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter P

April 17, 2018

O is for Oracle

     In a moment the dark dragon slowed, paused in the air, and settled on the paved plaza gracefully, yet with an impact that Svarnil felt through the soles of her feet.  It had happened, really, in an instant.  Nulif was still pulling Svarnil’s arm, urging her to safety.  The iridescent scales, black and green, glittered as the dragon moved, folding its vast wings with a clatter.  The heat of its body pulsed out across the flagstones of the plaza.  As the dragon’s green-mailed head turned toward them, and the perilous eyes were almost on them, Nulif wrenched one last time and the two stumbled back into the temple, hearts pounding.
     Svarnil looked around.  The temple was full of people who huddled in terrified groups, whispering to each other.  Did they not know that the temple would be scant refuge if the dragon should choose to attack?  One swipe of its tail, and the pillars would come crashing down.  One burst of its flame and they would all be ash.  And yet...
     From the plaza there came no sounds of devastation.  Did she dare peek out and see what was happening?  Sakar Sikwan and Nulif both stood near the door, as Svarnil did, listening intently.  Fethilis on Svarnil’s shoulder was listening, too, and the feeling that came from her was not fear but expectancy.  Svarnil took a step forward and pushed open the door a crack.
     “What are you doing?” cried Nulif, clutching her arm again as Svarnil looked out.  The dragon stood still in the plaza, its huge head slightly cocked, and Svarnil had a sudden thought that it looked like Sikwan, poised in just the same posture of intent listening.  Even as the thought crossed her mind, the dragon moved, sunlight flashing off the shifting scales, and it swung around to face her.
     Three-cornered eyes clear as emeralds stared at the elf, and she stared back.  She had not covered her face or turned away in time.  She felt herself sinking into their green depths, and she felt their gaze sinking into her, so that she was powerless to hide from the mind of the dragon.  The dragon’s eyes were infinite, depths beyond depths beyond depths, until it was as if she could see the whole world spread before her in the dragon’s eyes like a vast carpet, every wave, every blade of grass, every mortal heart…
     “Thou art a dragonlord,” said the creature suddenly, its voice deep as the bedrock so that Svarnil could feel its vibration in her own chest.  The lylit bouncing on her shoulder seemed to vibrate to the same frequency as the dragon’s voice.
     Svarnil imagined her gaze falling forever deeper and deeper, yet never reaching the end of the dark, still, living greenness.  With an effort she pulled her consciousness back into her own mind, and answered cautiously, “I was called so by Lady Koir of the Ringwood.”
     White steam puffed upward as the dragon’s voice resonated in Svarnil’s bones.  “Thou art one who seeks truth,” it said.  Svarnil nodded slightly, and waited for the huge creature to continue.  “K’Ten has many liars.  The Seapeople come to me with many tales of falsehood and treachery.  They all ask for truth, but some do not want it.  Some desire validation, rather than truth, so that they may be justified in their lies.”  Fethilis lifted from the elf’s shoulder and flew to the dragon, fluttering joyfully around his head.
     And then Svarnil understood.  “You are the Oracle?” she cried, “But why then have you come to K’Ten?”
     The monstrous jaws of the beast opened, and, as a clangorous harsh growl burst from him, black smoke knotted with the steam.  “Dost thou question me?” he demanded.  Sunlight flashed from the teeth, long and sharp as daggers.  But Svarnil knew, from the gleam in the emerald eyes, from the unabated joy of the lylit, and from the resonance within her own chest, that the Oracle was laughing.  “I am not accustomed to providing people with my reasons.  Yet thou art a true bard, and a seeker of truth, and so truth will be told thee.  I have come to K’Ten to find one who is tampering with spirits.”

        The Oracle from Vision Revealed, fourth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 12: Svarnil meets the Oracle).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Knot-tailed Dragon, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter O.

April 16, 2018

N is for Nulif

        Oru swung himself down from his klaameleh and stepped forward, hand outstretched.  “I am Oru Hamar-azh, secretary to the vizier of Empress Kahan-Atar of Sisoa and Yuwara Ul Sahd.  She has ordered me to come and ask you about what you’ve found here in Sisoan territory.”
        One of the Minarians stepped forward, eyebrows raised.  “I had no idea Sisoa knew we were here,” he said, holding out his hand in turn.  “I am Nulif of the Family Atsu, leader of this research expedition.   Come, sit down and share our meal, and I’ll tell you about it.”
        Although he spoke the common speech, his accent was completely unfamiliar to Svarnil, with a sort of rolling sing-song quite unlike the clipped speech of the Sisoans.  Svarnil slid wearily from her saddle, staggering slightly as her feet hit the ground.  She stretched gratefully and followed Nulif’s gesture toward the fire circle.  While Nulif brought a bowl of water and invited his guests to wash themselves, the other two Minarians hurried to carry some split logs to the fireside until there were seats for everyone.
        Svarnil looked curiously at the Minarian men.  All three of them had their hair tied neatly into short ponytails at the back, and all three had closely trimmed beards, although the beard of the youngest looked soft and sparse.  They wore vests and knee-length kilts in bright colors now looking rather dusty.  Nulif himself was a young man, with dark hazel eyes which Svarnil thought had an open, earnest look.  She found him eyeing her as curiously as she looked at him, and he said, “Perhaps we should start with complete introductions.  As I said, I am Nulif.  I am a researcher for the Great Collection in K’Ten.”  He paused.  “Have you heard of that?”
        When Svarnil and the Sisoans nodded, he continued, “Several weeks ago I was given a manuscript by a trader.  An incredible manuscript.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now let me just say that the Head Librarians of the Great Collection sent me here, to the area where the manuscript had been found, to look for others.  These gentlemen - Bolekwa…”  The grey-haired man inclined his head.  “… and Jadogwa…”  The younger one nodded curtly.  “Are my fellow researchers on this expedition.  And now would you tell us more about yourselves?”
        Oru introduced his two aides briefly, then smiled at Svarnil.  “I’ll let you introduce yourself,” he said to her.
        “I am Svarnil of the Tungoldroleth, of the Fellowship of Bards.  I too am a researcher, in a way, and Oru was kind enough to let me accompany him, although I have no connection with Sisoa or her queen, because I was curious to learn what you might have discovered.  That is my calling as a bard, to discover all that I can about the history of the Otherworld.  Can you explain what you’ve found?”
        Nulif’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm.  “It’s too dark to show you tonight,” he said, “You must see it tomorrow to do it justice.  It is simply incredible!  But I suppose you won’t understand why this is so important to us.  What do you know about the Chebik-lan?”
        “For myself, not much,” answered Oru, and Svarnil and one of the aides also shook their heads.
        “Very well,” said Nulif with a twinkle in his eye, “Tonight’s lesson will be on Minarian religion.”

        Nulif from Vision Revealed, fourth book in a high fantasy
series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 2: Svarnil learns of the Chebik-lan).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawing of Nulif by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter N

April 14, 2018

M is for Margaret (Priddy)

        On Tuesdays Gwyneth had her viola lesson at Ms Priddy’s house.  She walked halfway home with Izzy, then turned onto Ms Priddy’s street and walked three more blocks under the dappled canopy of the trees that arched to meet each other over the street.  Gwyneth loved Ms Priddy’s neighborhood, with its sidewalks made of great squares of slate, and its little old houses, each one different, each in its own small garden.  Ms Priddy’s house was wrapped snugly in thick rhododendron shrubs, and the front yard was spangled with the shining white stars of autumn anemones above the ferns.  In the spring Ms Priddy had dug up one of them for Gwyneth to plant in her own yard, but it had only three flowers on it this year.
        Gwyneth shuffled through scarlet maple leaves to ring the doorbell.  It gave out a deep, rich chime from the other side of the door.  Ms Priddy opened the door with a smile and stood back beside the ornate wrought iron coat rack to let Gwyneth pass to the left into the small living room or study that Gwyneth thought of as the lesson room.  It was always set up with two straight-backed chairs and an old-fashioned wooden music stand.  A bay window with leaded glass panes looked into the front yard, and on the wall opposite the window was a rather battered upright piano.  The rest of the room was mostly bookshelves.
        They sat down and Gwyneth opened her case, took out her bow, and tightened it.  She was lifting out the viola when the telephone rang on the desk.
        Ms Priddy glanced at the number on the handset.  “I’m sorry, Gwyneth, I really need to take this.  Get yourself tuned and I’ll be back in a minute.  Hello?” she said, already holding the phone to her ear and hurrying out of the room.
        Ms Priddy hadn’t returned by the time Gwyneth had tuned her viola.  She played a few quick scales by way of warming up, then lowered the viola and looked around, waiting.  It occurred to her that for all the time she’d spent in Ms Priddy’s lesson room, an hour a week for years now, she’d never really had the chance to look around before.  She got up and wandered to the bookshelves that covered the entire wall around the window.  Head tilted sideways, she scanned the titles.  The lower shelves, she noticed, were not books but cardboard file boxes, dozens of them, all lined up with handwritten labels pasted neatly to their sides.  Gwyneth frowned slightly as one of the labels caught her eye: Abductions Nineteenth Century.  That was weird.  What kind of hobby did Ms Priddy have, anyway?  An interest in abductions seemed a lot more sinister than playing viola and gardening.  Ms Priddy was a small, birdlike woman, all her movements neat, quick, and precise.  It wasn’t hard to imagine that she might have unexpected strength in her wiry arms, but all the same Gwyneth couldn’t help smiling to herself at the idea of her petite viola teacher cramming unsuspecting children into the trunk of her little hybrid car… Still, there was no denying that abductions were a strange interest.
        Gwyneth read the labels on the nearby boxes.  Abductions Ancient, Abductions Twentieth Century, Changelings Infant, Changelings Childhood, Changelings Teen…  The file boxes on the next shelf were even odder: Faerie Incidents, Faerie Rituals, Faerie Hotspots
        Margaret Priddy from an in-progress Young Adult fantasy with the working title Changeling (excerpt from Chapter 2: Come Away).

[Picture: Ms Priddy’s house, photoshopped from various sources, especially this one.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter M