Ryder pg. 2

rydercover

Page two – experimenting with crowds. Which are difficult, but I think I mostly managed.

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A Writer’s Mind

Writing comes with a mindset – at least it did for me. When I was just a reader stories were an escape, a wonderful adventure that I could simply immerse myself in. I read for the joy of it, not really thinking much of the “man behind the curtain.”

Once I started writing though, things changed. It was subtle at first – a slight shift in perceptions, more of an interest in the physical words on the page rather than just the images they conjured. As I struggled to put my own words down, to conjure images the same way they had been conjured for me, I found myself returning to the old familiar stories and studying what exactly it was that went on behind the curtain.

A story is no longer “just” a story – it is a thing to be studied, dissected, and analyzed. I want to know why some stories work and others do not. Why I love one story and hate another, why one character feels real while another is flatter than a piece of cardboard. Why is it that some stories that are so predictable one knows the ending from the first sentence are beloved while others that may follow the exact same beats are hated.

Yes, it’s annoying that I can never again see “just” a story. Anything I read is now work because the analytical mind won’t be shut down. But it’s also freeing, in a way. The world behind the curtain is just as magical as the world in front of it.

Fair

Nearly ten years the Summer Fair had gone on – every year the government had tried to shut it down, convinced that it was a den of mages, thieves, and hackers. The organizers, however, always had every form complete in triplicate, every license up-to-date, and boasted that never in the ten years since the fair had taken over the strip of Main Street between first and fifth had there ever been an incident. So every year during the last week of summer people flocked to the grass and gardens that had somehow hung on in the middle of the city for food, music, and street performers.

Of course the street fair really was a cover for mages, thieves and hackers to do their business, but that wasn’t something everybody needed to know. Why ruin a good thing with something as inconvenient as facts? So long as everybody minded their own business, the Fair was the perfect cover. Besides, city government wasn’t so heartless as to deny the children their weekend of amusement rides and cotton candy.

Power Struggle

Jace stared across the table at the Grand Rose. She didn’t know what to do with him – and had no idea what kind of raw power she was actually dealing with. The runes she wore for protection were a joke after… after what he’d been through.

The Grand Rose cracked her knuckles, trying to stare him down. Jace denied her the satisfaction, crossing his legs and leaning back in his chair. The Grand Rose stood, trying to regain some semblance of command, and moved to the window. Checking on the sniper.

“I will assume you have been briefed on what we do here Lord Windsong?” she asked. Jace folded his hands behind his head and leaned against the wall.

“Let’s be honest with each other Natalia. You have heard the stories about me, but you also know where I come from and are thus willing to discount the majority of them until proven otherwise. Yet you are also concerned about having a telepath with direct access to the queen. State secrets and all that.” Jace stared at the Grand Rose out of the corner of his eye, watching the way her back tensed – a motion invisible unless you were either a fighter, or someone extremely good at reading people. Jace was both.

The Grand Rose turned back towards him, half a smile on her lips. “You can understand my reservations then.”

Jace stood, moving towards the window himself. “I respect the work the Roses do. I may argue with your methods, but this is the most justice I have seen extended toward my kind, and for that I thank you.”

“Why do I sense a but Windsong?” the Grand Rose asked. Jace smiled grimly.

“They say there will only ever be one telepath born in any given century. The last one died a child, nearly fifty years ago. The one before… your kind didn’t exist.” Jace lifted the curtain, keenly aware of the Grand Rose’s eyes on him. “You think that you are safe behind your runes and ward stones, but if I willed it, I could have you dancing like a puppet before me. You have no defense, not after what I have faced. I could have built an empire, and yet I come to you little better than a refugee. And it frightens you.” He could feel the Grand Rose going for her communicator.

“They won’t come.” Jace let his hood fall back, meeting the Grand Rose’s gaze. To her credit she matched it. “I love Kily. For her sake I will take the Oath and bind myself to this kingdom. You need not fear me.”

“And can I trust you telepath?” the Grand Rose asked.

Jace shrugged. “How would you know? I could snap my fingers…” Jace held up his hand, “but I choose not to. I have made my offer Rose. You know where to find me should you change your mind.” Jace left, flipping his hood back up to hide his face as he crossed the courtyard. A sniper tracked his movement, but she didn’t fire. Her orders did not come – they wouldn’t. The Grand Rose was many things, but stupid was not one of them.

The Hatchlings and the Pixies

The nesting cave was quiet, shimmering dragon eggs resting in twos and threes as a score of pixies flitted around them, ensuring that all was as it should be. There were no adult dragons, those were all rumbling around in the upper levels of the Eternal City or else out exploring far-away lands to bring back treasure and acclaim. Not a parental instinct in the lot of them – some even had to be convinced to mate at all.

Thus it fell to the pixies to watch the eggs. Not that they minded, the dragons were good to them. Many a pixie child had first experienced the world beyond the hollow mountain that was their home tucked safely behind a dragon’s crest. Dragons tended to have more patience for pixie children that the pixies did, so it all worked out in the end. So long as between the two races all the children were accounted for everyone was happy and life went on.

There is a kind of high-pitched squeaking that a dragon will let out when it is ready to hatch – a sound that’s so high only pixies can hear it and newborn hatchlings will deny having made it. Regardless, when one of the golden eggs in clutch twelve began squeaking and rocking back and forth, a half-dozen pixies were on hand to witness, flitting around like points of light.

Within moments, a dark muzzle broke its way through the shell – or rather the shell half melted and the dragonling tore through the sludge, a tiny scrunched-up shape that was still glowing hot enough that the rock started melting underneath him.

The pixies flitted closer, darting back at the last second to avoid the hatchling’s snapping teeth and giggling. He was the size of a medium dog to them, and terribly confused at the attention. The dragonling hiccuped and fell on his tail, damp wings almost crushed as he tried to figure out his body.

“You should take this one Elena. Listen! His sister is coming!” One of the pixies pushed another, Elena, forward as the rest spun to watch the next egg as it began rocking back and forth. Elena huffed and touched down next to the dragonling, her footstep cooling the molten rock.

“Come on little one. Let’s get you some food before you decide to eat your clutch-mates.” Elena ran her hand along the dragonling’s head and he purred, curling around her. He was terribly cute, with those big eyes and oversized feet. His color seemed to be stuck at a kind of red gold, but he’d figure out how to change that later. For now Elena picked him up and carried him out of the nesting cave, toward the hatchling hunting grounds where they could learn to hunt mice as they learned to talk and be proper dragons. Elena hummed with a kind of excitement. Ah, parenthood.

Runaway Empress

Kilysketch.jpg“I just got crowned empress of half the known world last week. What do you think I’m going to do?” Kily threw a wrench at the already overstuffed tool bag and studiously ignored Lila’s judgmental gaze.

“The people will be looking to you now. It is inadvisable that you spend your first few weeks in office missing on some ill-conceived adventure.” Lila removed the toolbag – the ease with which she lifted the fifty pound bag was impressive, much as it was unwelcome – and replaced it with several files she’d been holding under her arm. “Several of the guilds are still unhappy with the decision to crown you over Erosar and want placating.”

“Don’t talk to me about Erosar.” Kily turned to the ornithopter that took up most of her workshop, the Lady Grace, and retied one of the knots holding the canvas of the wings taught.

“He is your brother. And he will also need placating,” Lila replied.

“What Erosar needs is a good swatting on the backside. The little twerp had no right to pull a stunt like that. We’d agreed, and then for him to go behind my back and run for the crown as the Guild’s champion… hand me those pliers would you?” Kily held out her hand, engrossed in a slight defect in Lady Grace’s steering mechanisms. Lila sighed noisily and handed over the pliers.

“The fact remains that now is not a good time. You wanted this job, now act like a darn empress.”

“You must admit there is precedent.” Kily yanked at the offending foreign object.

“Emperor Julian, year 1611. Spent the first year of his reign traveling the empire to reforge alliances with the local rulers.”

“That was nearly a hundred years ago, when the empire was half the size it is now and communication was unreliable at best.”

“A hundred years ago. That makes this the perfect time to renew the tradition.” Kily cleaned out a rune and topped off it’s power with a pinprick of her own blood. “Come on Lila. Three weeks, it’ll be a working vacation, the people get to see their new empress, and it gives the guilds some time to simmer down. You’re not talking me out of this one.”

“When have I ever managed to talk you out of anything?” Lila asked with a wry grin.

“Never. Not once in the thirteen years we’ve known each other. I do wonder why you keep trying.”

“In the foolish hope that some day you will listen. I assume you’re taking that funny foreign boy with you?”

“Funny foreign boy is my husband.” Kily sighted down one of the ornathopter’s wings and made a mental note to replace several of the struts. Warping was terribly hard to prevent.

“And yes, he’s coming. Go find that fool, would you?”

“So you are hiding from responsibility.” Lila crossed her arms. “I wondered when I saw the dress hanging in the toilet.”

“I have been on display – wearing ridiculous heels I might add – nonstop for the past week. Twenty-three exclusive interviews in four days, not to mention the galas, the balls, the coronation itself… forgive me for fleeing for two hours.”

“Your secret is safe highness. I will send Windsong your way when I find him.”

“Try the top floor of the Pinnacle. The poor guy is probably going insane with the thousands of people around.”

I’m still alive!

Yeah… can’t even pretend to have been busy for that long. Have an introduction to my new Pathfinder character, Tien Nala, the bard.

The tavern was a surprising burst of sound and light in the middle of the vast bamboo forest. Of course the main road ran a hundred feet past the door, and a few houses and other buildings huddled around the building as if for warmth, but for Tien it meant a roof overhead and coins in her purse, if all went well.

Of course things hadn’t been “going well” for the past three weeks – ever since her overbearing father had finally gotten sick of her antics and told her in no uncertain terms to take her music elsewhere. Which was just fine with Tien, considering stories for song were much more likely to happen on the open road than in the stuffy confines of her family’s sprawling estate. Her original plan had been to go find Ling, her favorite older brother, and annoy him until he let her tag along on his adventures, but after her maps had gotten lost in a disastrous river crossing Tien was simply hoping that the road she was on led to a city. Eventually.

The tavern door opened easily at Tien’s touch. Inside was a rowdy cross-section of humanity – soldiers, adventures, travelers,  thieves and highwaymen… Tien pulled out her lute and used the motion to make sure that her dagger was within easy reach. There were people here who looked like they might like to take advantage of a Warlord’s youngest daughter – even a dispossessed youngest daughter.

“Are you going to play that thing or just hold it little girl?” someone shouted. Tien took a breath and smiled.

“But of course my good sir. What is a bard without her song?” A strum that was only slightly better than a strangled cat on a chalkboard. Tien kept her smile in place as she tuned her instrument.

Those first pure notes though. Those were magic. Tien let the music flow, commanding the room until coins began to pile up in front of her and the barkeep handed her a drink. Maybe things were looking up.