Talanic

The Modern Magic Thief - A NaNoWriMo project

105 posts in this topic

Welcome to the thread!  If you're just here for the stories, just skip on down to the spoiler tags; they're compressing things so that I can fit updates into the first post as well as posting them below, without interrupting potential discussion.

 

I'm trying NaNoWriMo this year; while I played with it previously I never made a serious attempt, and the one novel I have finished took me upwards of five years for a measly 60,000 words - not because I can't write quickly, but because (among other reasons) I was learning.

 

So here begins my first real attempt at writing a novel in 30 days, begun at the stroke of midnight on November 1st.

 

 

Myth Taken, aka The Story So Far (does not count towards NaNoWriMo):

 

I could start this story anywhere, but things only got really weird when the knife sank into my shadow and I found that I was pinned to the spot. It was at that point that I really knew that I was more screwed than I had ever been.

 

But that's too far forward. Consider that bit a promise that things get weird in a little while, okay? I had been having fun but nothing really exceptional was happening. I had a free weekend. I was twenty-three and single, and my friends weren't, so it was a perfect recipe for me doing something stupid. Since I prefer not to endanger myself or others – normally, at least – and I live in a small town in the American Midwest, that meant a little jaunt into my old hobby.

 

I like to explore. As a kid I'd gone spelunking a few times and found it neat, but not quite to my taste. I prefer abandoned structures; old farmhouses, boarded-up factories, anything I can get into unnoticed without damaging anything. I get in, I sketch things – with a few embellishments, sometimes – I explore, and I leave. If I don't intend to go back, I'll find an out-of-the-way corner and leave a little souvenir – a coin from my Grandfather's collection. He was amused by the idea of making the collection hard to reassemble, and left it to me as a private joke between us.

 

I know there's a larger internet community about that, somewhere, but I've never really looked into it. I'm not into it for glory, I just enjoy making stories about the places I'm intruding on. I suspect I'd have a lot more choice of target if I lived in Europe. Nothing here that I'd sneak into is really that old.

 

Most buildings like this one will get a local reputation. You know, the neighborhood haunted shack. Not this time. It was exactly as I'd heard from Todd – a building out in the forest. Old timbers. Sturdy-looking door. Now, there are no old-growth forests in my home state – everything got clear cut before environmental concerns were a thing – so I know that this house (well, I assumed it was a house) once sat in a clearing. It had to – one of my criteria for figuring out something was really old (by local standards) is if the timbers used to build it are too large to bring through the woods surrounding it.

 

Definitely the case here. This building was in a ravine, a three-mile hike from the nearest road according to satellite maps. Since Todd told me about the house's existence I'd poked about to find an owner (so at least my apologies could be personalized if I got caught sneaking about) and had found nothing. It wasn't public land – it was in some kind of legal dead zone and didn't officially exist.

 

I was ready to about-face immediately if I came across any kind of squatter or survivalist; my suspicion was someone with connections in local government had built themselves a secret getaway cabin in the woods. Then everyone who knew what was going on had died or forgotten about it and it wound up a ripe-to-be-explored ruin.

 

I'm not really good with architecture. It looked like some kind of extra-large log cabin, with a shingled wooden roof. No windows that I could see. The shingles made me suspect it couldn't have been neglected for that long, but there were no trails. In fact, there was quite a thicket outside. A place this far out wouldn't be plumbed; anyone inside would have to leave to use an outhouse or privy or something. No, it was clearly abandoned.

 

I had to squeeze through the thicket, taking rather a lot longer to clear than I'd like. That's one of the reasons I like to limit my explorations to man-made structures; they are by definition made for humans to pass through. The door was actual a set of iron-bound double doors straight out of a video game.

 

The lock was easy. Well-maintained, which was unusual to me. I eased the door open – I kinda like squeaky hinges – and for a moment I saw the dark-but-mundane interior that I had expected.

 

Then everything lurched. I was no longer standing at the threshold of an old house in Wisconsin. Something hit me in the back – my backpack took the hit but I was still flung prone in a brightly-lit room. I skidded – briefly and painfully – across a hardwood floor, like polished mahogany floorboards. I heard the door shut behind me as a huge-but-unseen bell rang.

 

This had not been in the cards for today. I regained my feet, slowly turning around to take in my surroundings, still not quite understanding what I was seeing yet. The room I was in now was bigger than the entire building that I had been about to enter. There was a grand staircase ahead of me, like a palace staircase or one of those wannabe-palace Southern mansions. Trophies hung from the walls, and for a moment my eyes just skipped over them – I have relatives who are very into hunting but it could never really hold my interest. I did a proper double-take a moment later. Deer don't have spiral horns; also, they have two of them.

 

That was when I saw the knife drop at me from the upper level, hitting the ground in front of me, point-down. I reacted with remarkable aplomb, screaming only once and avoiding soiling myself, but my belated attempt to dodge drew me up short. As I said earlier, the knife had struck my shadow, buried itself in it, in fact, and when I jumped away, I felt a fierce tug back towards the knife. My shadow was unnaturally stretched out, as if pinned in place.

 

Not yet having thought enough to realize how much I should be panicking, I looked up to see if another knife was coming. The man looking down from above was short and heavily muscled. He was naked (at least his shoulders were – he was on the upper level) but that didn't disturb me as much as the fact that he was apparently made of stone. Granite, I think.

 

He nodded, then spoke. “You will wait there for the master. Then you will serve.”

 

 

I'll admit it. I very nearly shut down entirely, then and there. I stammered a bit before rebounding. “No. Wait. What master? Where am I?” I asked.

 

The stone man had disappeared over the railing, but his voice carried back to me. “The master is Shamasun, son of Enkidu. Do not pretend that you do not know; his home is never found by accident. You came here like all those before you, to take vengeance upon him. Instead you will add your power to his.”

 

He came down the stairs, carrying something. I edged as far away from him as I could – my pinned shadow limited that to about six feet – as the object proved to be a folding chair, which he set up next to me. The granite man was wearing pants – black jeans with a thick belt and wide pockets – and a pair of sneakers which looked to have seriously compressed soles.

 

“Feel free to sit,” he said. “You may be my prisoner but that doesn't mean we can't be civilized. Would you like some refreshment?”

 

For three whole seconds, we just stood, facing each other as I processed what was going on as capably as I could. Finally I raised my hand and beckoned him closer.

 

“Is it okay if I touch you?” I asked as he approached.

 

He shrugged. “It's fine. You can't hurt me.” This close, I could see the flecks in the stone that comprised him and the pattern that it imparted to his movements. He didn't look like a machine or a doll, but like a man with an inorganic exterior – along with what little I could see of his interior, including his teeth and eyes.

 

I reached out a finger and poked him in the belly. He was cold, polished stone that was somehow moving. I couldn't help it. I chuckled. The granite man cocked his head to one side with a quizzical look on his face, but it only set me off more. Soon I was laughing out loud, unable to stop.

 

“Nobody's ever reacted quite like that before,” he said. “What's so funny?”

 

“You – ” I had to gasp before forcing it out. “You have chiseled abs.”

 

He smiled and laughed once. Cold stone, perhaps, but there was a genuine warmth to the smile. “It's not that funny, really,” he said.

 

“No.” I was still fighting giggles, but I managed to explain. “It's not that funny. But this is too weird. There's unicorns mounted on the wall, I've no idea where I am, you're a golem or something...I'm so far out of my depth that I can either laugh or cry.”

 

“I'm not a golem,” he said. “Golems are Jewish, and a good bit younger than I am. I mean, they can be fine constructs, I'm just not one of them.”

 

“What are you, then?”

 

“I'm Greek. You could say I follow an old pantheon, in a rather literal sense. Shamasun carved me from Cronus' beating heart.” He paused, as if expecting a reaction.

 

“I didn't know titans were made of stone.”

 

“Not all of them were. He was. But now you know what I am. What are you?”

 

I took a moment to choose my words carefully. “So far as I know, I'm not anything mystical. I'm human.”

 

“Can't be. A human wouldn't have been able to cross the threshold. To anyone without a trace of magic, the door would have led to what's really on the other side, instead of to here.” He ran a hand across the smooth, polished surface of his head. “You can't be human. A god, a demon, a fairy, or some other form of monster, perhaps, but not human. Or not fully, at least.”

 

“If I am, it's news to me.” Rather inconvenient news at the moment. “Can you tell?”

 

“Not really. I'm made of too much magic to get a good view of it, myself – and it's all used to keep me alive and functioning. It's like asking a fish to tell you if something's wet. I could make a few guesses, though.”

 

“Guess away.”

 

“Between looks and accent I'd guess you to be American of mixed European ancestry. So we'll start with some obvious ones.” He ticked off his fingers. “Faerie blooded. That's actually easy to test, but exceptionally unpleasant for you – iron poisoning tends to be rough. It's the most common among people who don't know it, but you look more Scandinavian, so I'd guess troll, svartalf, or maybe even Vanir. I'd expect us to have found any existing Vanir bloodlines, though. Those are just guesses, though; you could be anything from Aesir to Wendigo as far as I can tell. But...” He squinted. “I think I can see just the tiniest aura. Looks lucky. Maybe leprechaun?”

 

He paced around behind me, then stopped. “Crud. Would you mind handing me that backpack?”

 

My faint escape plan was in that backpack, but I didn't think it would do me much good. I slipped it off my shoulders and offered it. He carried it away, set it down, then paced back and forth between me and the pack several times.

 

“Well,” he said, “The good news is, I don't think you're an invader anymore. Whatever magic was with you is in that bag. I can't be sure you're entirely human but you're no demigod, and it'd take something of that caliber to threaten us. So the situation's changed. You're human, not here to hurt me or the master. You're not an enemy – you're a guest, and I have been remiss in my application of xenia.” He gave me a sheepish smile and extended his hand. “My name is Hewn.”

 

I took the hand and shook it. “I'm Sam.”

 

“Sam. You are welcome in this house, traveler. I must apologize - I'm afraid nailing your soul to the floor wasn't the proper duty of a host. And worse, neither you nor I can actually get you loose – because the knife pinned you inside a home, only the master of the house can pull it out.”

 

 

 

 

“I wish I could tell you when he was coming back,” Hewn said as he set up a small table next to the chair. “I left him a voice mail. He's in the sewers of New York – had a hydra cornered, was working on killing it. You know how it is.”

 

“Not really.”

 

He smiled. “Sorry. I haven't really had a mortal here since...Bartholomew? Think that was his name. Nice fellow. His golem talked me into letting him cut through on his way out of central Europe.”

 

“Let me guess. 1930's?”

 

“No, no. Some time back in the 1600's. A good time to be in here. Not so good to be most anywhere else, really.”

 

“Huh.” I mentally fumbled through a list of questions before settling on one. “So what is your master, anyway?”

 

“Well. For one, I don't usually call him master unless I'm being formal. Or intimidating. But he's a hero of the ancient ways.” He bustled about as he spoke, climbing the stairs and rummaging about where I couldn't see.

 

“Which means?”

 

“A lot of things.” He returned with, of all things, a big yellow phone book. “Slayer of monsters. Defender of civilization. An explorer whose trips don't always stay on the same planet, whether he realized it at the time or not.”

 

“Okay.” I mulled it over for a second before continuing. “But how is he still alive after – what, five thousand years?”

 

“Thereabouts. But I just told you. That kind of hero just doesn't die.” He paged through the phone book, then grimaced. He pulled a wallet from his back pocket and consulted its contents, frowning. He sighed. “I'm afraid that we have a little situation.”

 

“What's that?”

 

“By laws more ancient than I am, as your host, I am bound to offer you food, drink, and a bath, if you need it. That last one, I'm offering but I'm pretty sure we'll skip, considering the circumstances. Water, I can provide no problem – purest water you've ever had, scraped as frost from the waters of Sylgr. Purer than any water that's flowed upon the Earth. It's food that's the problem. See, I don't eat.”

 

“Can't, or don't?”

 

“Don't. I like to, but I don't need to. So Shamasun and I don't keep a stocked kitchen.” He disappeared up the stairs, presumably putting away the phone book, then returned with a far sturdier-looking chair for himself. “He usually brings back enough for himself when he's staying in-house for a few days, but sometimes he's gone for months. We can't keep the place stocked – and while I'd order some food, I'm afraid I'm broke.”

 

I glanced around the hall around me. It was larger than my entire apartment. “Broke?”

 

“Yup. I know, I know, size of the house is impressive, but it's at a Threshold. Between worlds, space and time are looser concepts, and the better-off heroes would rather live somewhere where they can get electricity and internet, and don't have to worry about things trying to break through.”

 

“Things? What kind of things?” That had grabbed my attention, but Hewn was still caught up in the food situation.

 

“Life's getting more expensive these days, and the boss and I made some bad investments. Great Depression, Betamax, stuff like that. I'm afraid I'm failing in my duties as a host.”

 

“I have some food to share. Would that help?”

 

He nodded slowly. “It'll have to do. I'm very sorry. The etiquette of xenia was drilled into me since before I really had the hang of talking.”

 

I retrieved and unzipped my backpack. Inside I had a water bottle, a sealed bottle of soda, half a dozen granola bars and a sandwich. I hesitated for a moment, then offered Hewn a granola bar. “I don't know xenia, but if you want, you can have one.”

 

He hesitated, but I pressed it at him. “I'll get sick of these before we run out of them.”

 

Hewn smiled and took it, but set it down on the table. “May I see that backpack? Now that xenia has been addressed, it's proper for me to see about what got you sucked in here.”

 

I handed it over, then conspicuously took a bite from the sandwich. Hewn looked satisfied, then started to rifle through the pockets. He stopped on the outermost pocket, then pulled forth a coin.

 

“This'd be it,” he said. “Lucky coin.” He held it forth for me to see. It was one of Grampa's coins. It looked like nothing more than an old half-dollar coin from 1937, with Lady Liberty on it. He regarded it as if it were some kind of beetle. “Look closely at it where I'm touching it. Actually, this will help.” He retrieved my flashlight and illuminated the coin from behind as he circled it with his fingers.

 

I squinted. Light was coming through between his fingers and the coin. My eyes were telling me that he was both touching and not touching the coin at the same time.

 

“It's not what you see,” he explained. “It's faerie make. Glamered to look like something unremarkable from your world. If we just sprinkle it with some salt...gimme a moment.”

 

He rushed off and returned with a pinch between his fingers. On contact, the coin vanished, replaced immediately by what looked like a clay disc that was slightly larger than the half-dollar had been.

 

“That's what it really is.”

 

I took the disc and studied it, enraptured. Something of my own had been made by creatures of myth. The side facing me bore an intricate design of an immense palace. Despite having nothing to compare it with I had a sense that it was far larger, far grander than any building on Earth. The other side held the face of a sleeping man – but not a man, no, just subtly different. An elf.

 

I flipped the coin back to the palace and showed it to Hewn. “What is this place?”

 

“Don't really know firsthand. It's a palace of Faerie, which means it's not meant for people like you or me to visit and come back from. Not sane, at least. Faerie's not a nice place.”

 

“I know. I've read Terry Pratchett.”

 

“Who?”

 

I gave him a flat look. “You like to read?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Then when I'm able to move about again, I'm going to bring you my collection and you'll be going on a magical journey the likes of which you've never seen before.” He laughed out loud as I turned the coin back over. “And who's this? Oh!” The sleeping elf's eyes were open and he was looking out from the clay with a sharp, hungry smile. “It moves!”

 

Suddenly Hewn was moving with a speed I'd never expect as he grabbed the coin and flung himself – and it – away from me.

 

 

He moved with speed but not particular grace, instead flopping on the coin with enough force to shake the chair I was still sitting in.

 

“YOU DARE!” He roared, but not at me. “This place is forbidden to your kind!” There was something under him now; silver-clad arms and legs flailing.

 

Suddenly the fight turned. Hewn's opponent managed to get both legs together and kick the stone man off him – towards me, essentially annihilating the table and sending my backpack flying as I retreated behind the chair. Hewn regained his feet quickly, but his opponent was already up.

 

It...was beautiful. Not in a sexual manner – although I could tell that that could spring to life in an instant if the creature wanted. No, it provoked a fascination, like a fireworks display or a grand wonder of the world. It reminded me of an erupting volcano: something singular, beautiful, powerful, and attractive, but best seen at as great a distance as possible.

 

Hewn faced towards the invader and edged towards the stairs. The elf smiled and pulled forth a long bronze blade. It was dressed all in what looked like silver mail. Made sense – I remembered something about them hating iron. I wasn't sure what the blade was supposed to do against Hewn, but the stone man looked cautious, so I wasn't going to make assumptions.

 

I wasn't going to do much at all, in fact. I was still pinned to the floor. My best course of action right then was to stay out of this entirely. But that option was taken from me as the elf smiled at Hewn and leveled the blade at me.

 

“Can't be leaving your guest, can you?” The elf's voice was sweet, like honey oozing down silk that was wrapped around a knife's blade. “That would be ever so rude, to let someone in your protection die so very painfully.”

 

I cowered behind the chair, but the elf advanced, dipping the tip of the blade towards the floor. I didn't know what it was doing until it hit the hilt of the knife and shifted it. The pain was immediate, deeper than a broken bone. I couldn't help myself; I cried out.

 

“Dis take you,” Hewn hissed, but the blade was already pointed towards him. The pain had ended the moment it left the knife.

 

The elf had made its intentions clear, essentially breaking through my panic. I was still afraid, but the fear spurred me to do something, anything, no matter how stupid. So I took the chair – my one piece of cover, behind which I had been cowering – and hurled it at the elf, while yelling, “Run, Hewn!”

 

The elf didn't even bother to dodge the chair, swatting it out of the way one-handed with enough force that the wood splintered on impact with the wall and one of the stuffed unicorn heads dropped to the ground. Hewn charged at the same time, but he wasn't fast enough, taking a thin gash across his left arm, leaving behind chunks of granite. The elf kicked him back and for a moment he had a hold on its leg, but it managed to push its way free, leaving behind a handful of silver mail.

 

The elf flashed me a heart-melting smile. “His name is Hewn? Thank you. I needed to know that.”

 

Hewn didn't let up, dropping the handful of mail and closing with his foe. For a long moment they stood equal, Hewn blocking the blade with his hands and forearms, losing chips of his skin but going no deeper. Suddenly there must have been an opening, because the elf ran him completely through with the bronze sword. The granite man simply smiled, grabbed the elf's wrist, and twisted upward, leaving the weapon impaled in his stony flesh.

 

But the elf was not merely smiling back – it was grinning broadly as its other hand came up with what looked like a shard of solid chrome, which it stabbed into Hewn right above the breastbone. Its sword had had little effect, but the bite from the shard caused him to recoil and roar in pain, then topple backwards with a push from his opponent.

 

The elf bent in and gloated. “I understand completely what it's like to have one thing in all of creation that happens to be your weakness. We'll explore that more thoroughly later.” It kicked Hewn in the side, launching him up against the wall, where he writhed in agony, the shard – which looked like it was melting – and the sword – which had turned from bronze to brown – still embedded in his chest.

 

The elf shook itself and stalked over, looking me up and down. I still could barely look away from it, and the closer it came the more overpowering its presence was. It leaned in and sniffed once, eyes half-open, then kissed its gloved pointer finger and pressed the tip of its finger against my forehead. “Later,” it breathed. Then it ran into the mansion, straight up the stairs, leaving me with the stricken Hewn.

 

 

“Hewn!” I tried to reach him, but I couldn't. Straining against the knife went beyond simple pain and into the knowledge that I would damage something fundamental if I tried any harder. “Hewn! Talk to me!”

 

He spasmed, then jerked upright for a moment before curling into the fetal position. He looked at me again but his face was barely recognizable. It looked rougher, with less defined detail in his features, but there was still some intelligence in his eyes.

 

I took a different tack. “Hewn! My backpack! It's right there; throw it to me!”

 

He looked at me for a moment before he seemed to comprehend. He dragged himself to the bag. It didn't look like his legs worked anymore, and his fingers were fusing together, but he managed to hook his hand inside the pack's straps and slide it feebly towards me.

 

It was enough. I tore into the main compartment and ripped free my emergency tools. Backup cell phone, extra flashlight, screwdriver, hammer and mini crowbar.

 

“Noodly lord, Jesus, Buddha, and whoever else might be listening? This had better work.” I seated the crowbar's prying end against the floorboard that I was pinned to and slammed on the other end with the hammer. I felt a twinge but nothing like what had happened before, so I hit again, then pushed hard on the upper end of the crowbar.

 

The board shifted as I pulled it up. It wasn't easy, but I kept at it, working frantically, shifting to the other end of the board and finally ripping it loose from the ground. I was scared to pick it up, but when I did, nothing happened, so I rushed to Hewn.

 

He looked like a rough stone mannequin; while his head was still lolling to one side, there was no detail to his eyes and his mouth no longer looked like it could open. I wasted no time and grabbed the shard, cutting my hand shallowly as I tore it free and tossed it aside. Hewn relaxed immediately, but I still grabbed the elf's sword, only to find that it was just a brittle bundle of sticks, crudely tied together. It snapped off as Hewn regained part of his old definition.

 

He moved ponderously, gesturing clumsily at his chest. I grabbed the backpack and used it to wipe at the remaining mercury, dabbing it away as best I could.

 

“Blaa,” he said.

 

“Blood?” I said.

 

He nodded and pointed at the shard. “Crana blaa.”

 

“Cronus' blood.” He nodded again. Features were seeping back into him, but slowly. “Hewn, what is the elf doing? It ran deeper into the house.”

 

“Thtal.”

 

“Stall? It needs time?”

 

He shook his head. “Thtaaal. Take. Make faaree.”

 

“Steal.” He confirmed. “Make...faerie?” Another nod. “He can turn the house into part of faerie?” I was new to all of this but even I knew how bad that could be.

 

He put his hand on my shoulder and pointed the other at the exit. “Raaan. Go.” He seemed to swallow and continued, his voice gaining some clarity. “Naat you. Naaat yur fight. Go.”

 

I can't say I wasn't tempted. I still had my soul nailed to a board but I could take it with me. Figure something out with that.

 

“What about you?” I couldn't possibly drag him out with me. “You wouldn't leave me. I won't leave you.”

 

“Youuu can't fight it.”

 

“That was an elf, right?” I hefted the crowbar. “Iron. I'll go Gordon Freeman on its chull.”

 

Deep, partly-formed eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Azeem?”

 

It took me a moment. “That's Morgan Freeman. And not his best movie. But I need to know. Will iron work on that thing?”

 

Hewn nodded, but tightened his grip on my shoulder. “Not jusst an elf,” he slurred. “Journey warrior of the lower courts. Out of your leeeague. Iron or not.” He didn't seem to be getting more defined anymore – or perhaps it had just slowed down.

 

“And if I leave? He'll steal your home, but what else will he do?” He opened his mouth but hesitated. “Tell me the truth. Would you be in danger?”

 

He looked away. “Things like Crronus can't really die. They can be driven dorrmant but if the pieces are brought together, they can wake. Come back. I was made...given life...to help prevent that.”

 

“The elf would use you to reassemble Cronus?”

 

He shrugged. “Prolly not. Prolly sell me to someone who would.”

 

I sighed. “I can't just let that happen. So help me. How can I fight it?”

 

Hewn shook his head. “Luck. Guts. Iron. Saalt? Would protect from glamer.” He waved up the stairs. “Try to sneak up. Will head to heart of manor. Hearth. Can make himself master of house. Ritual of conqueror. He finishes that, is too late. You should run. Mortals don't escape faerie. So hurry. Run or fight, but do it now.”

 

 

I didn't have salt. I've never really been known for having guts. I had some iron – well, probably steel, which I hoped would work just as well – and I really, really hoped I had luck. I didn't really feel lucky – especially not after the events of the last twenty minutes.

 

It didn't matter. I was doing what I had to do. I tucked the board into my backpack, sideways so that neither the hilt nor the pointy bits were angled towards my back. It was too long, and stuck out near the top.

 

I put the screwdriver and crowbar in my pockets. None of my tools were really weapons, and despite the Gordon Freeman factor of the crowbar, the hammer was probably my most likely shot.

 

I ascended the staircase, and my dread was quickly at war with fascination. This place was even larger than I'd realized so far. More than that, the further I went, the more easily I could tell that its inhabitant had a fascination with things grand, old, and mythical.

 

No more stuffed unicorns, but one of the walls was scaled. Each scale was easily the size of my fist, and no two adjacent looked to have been from the same creature. I didn't try to count them but there had to have been hundreds at least, and a section of empty spaces left open, presumably, for further trophies.

 

There were statues – mostly of men, some of women, and some of inhuman things. One was of a great bear-creature, at least eight feet tall. It was wearing spectacles and a coat, and had a scroll in one enormous paw. I could read some of the inscriptions, but recognized no names.

 

I spent a moment disoriented, realizing that even finding the elf in this strange house would be a daunting task. This place was huge. Where would the hearth be?

 

I looked over the statues again. There was ivy about the bases of some, and one's arm was crusted with moss. It looked out of place, and I had no other leads. I followed the trail of green.

 

There was something here that I couldn't quite place. A warmth, perhaps. I felt as if these statues had a personal factor to them; they were perhaps Shamasun's own work, memorials of people that he'd known and admired. If so, he put my Facebook to shame; there were thousands of statues. As I went, I picked up my pace; I could tell now that the ivy was actually a trail rather than spread throughout the whole statue hall, and some of the statues were being consumed by the moss, as if chosen for destruction. One – with the inscription of Qatrikias – even fell to pieces at my approach.

 

The trail was approaching a wall, but this place was unleashing havoc with my sense of scale. The statues were older, too – there was less practice in the hand, and while the first ones I'd seen had been marble, some of these were clay. Some of them bore heavy wear – the print of a hand on a shoulder, possibly repeated once a day for four thousand years had left a permanent mark on one.

 

I broke through the statues and found myself facing a wall set into a wall – like the smaller one had been the beginning and remained when the place was renovated. I could feel the weight of years, here. The floor was dry earth and stone, arranged in steps down towards a fire pit that was set up against the wall.

 

The elf was down there. It danced between the rows of stones, chanting, touching each rock in turn. Where its fingers had rested, things sprouted. This might sound like something out of a Disney movie, but in person, it was scary. Rocks cracked as roots burst out of them. Steps that might have doubled as seats sprouted brambles and thornbushes. I saw the elf scatter seeds with one pass of a hand, and with the other the ground erupted in small trunks and something slithered away.

 

The elf was working its way up and down the stairs; the left side looked like a small stand of jungle at this point, and the creature was nearly to the midpoint. I had to do something – fast.

 

No, not 'something' – no sense in denying it. I'd have to kill the elf.

 

 

I circled towards the right side and stepped down towards the fire pit. Despite my attempt to be inconspicuous, the elf slowed its dance as I approached, then settled into an annoyed posture, hands on its hips.

 

“Do you mind? I'm taking over a realm here.” It would have been funny, but the elf was looking at me like a stain on a rug. “Why, if you unstuck yourself, did you come after me?”

 

Of course I've had my action hero fantasies; everyone does, right? Well, I was in a situation where following those fantasies would probably kill me. I'd seen the capabilities the elf had unleashed on Hewn – tossing him about despite him weighing probably five times what I did. On top of that superior speed and strength, it was armed and armored. And, to be honest, I didn't really know how to fight; a ten-year-old green belt left me with just enough skill to throw a punch without breaking my own fist.

 

Right then, those fantasies whirled through my mind in a blur, along with half-thought plans of drawing the elf into some kind of riddle contest or attempting to stall it until Shamasun returned to kill it.

 

I opened my mouth, and words came out. “I couldn't leave Hewn.”

 

The elf looked puzzled. “Why not? He's weak.”

 

“He was nice to me. And he needs my help.”

 

“As I said. Weak. Tell you what, though.” Its hands began to move again, resuming the dance. “Throw away that iron. Swear to serve me and I'll let you amuse me for a thousand years. A far longer life than you would ever have in the mortal realm.”

 

“No.”

 

It focused on the dance. “Why not? Oh, right. I forget mortal sentiments.” It turned to me and gave me the most genuinely benevolent look I'd yet seen from it. “Do a good job as my slave and I'll collect your family too. I'll need slaves.”

 

I think it took my shock as agreement, but at last I understood – at least a bit. I might consider the elf evil, but more than that I thought of it as utterly alien. It honestly didn't understand what was wrong with its offer.

 

I cleared my throat. “No. No, I have a counter-offer.” It perked up as I continued. “Stand down. Leave, or if you're unable, surrender, and I swear I will intercede to get you out of here, free and safe. But if you continue, I will have to destroy you.”

 

“How dare you – ”

 

“No, how dare you. I don't know magic but I think I know what you did. You sent a coin into the mortal world, made it lucky so it would be carried around by a hapless human. Sooner or later it would find somewhere magical, get pulled in, trip whatever traps were there to be tripped. After that, you jump out or teleport or whatever you did to get here. You used me.

 

“Fool,” it said. The elf glared at me, then reached a hand out towards the trees that it had grown around the hearth. A branch dipped down, snapped off, and became a magnificent sword of the same silvery material the elf was wearing. “That's what mortals are for.”

 

I hefted the hammer into what I hoped was a guard position. I would probably only get one shot at this. Less than that, probably; the elf was coming at me already, with the grace and speed of a real warrior.

 

I tried to feint right and pull left instead. The elf responded by slashing its sword straight through my right arm, halfway between my wrist and elbow.

 

I couldn't help myself; I shrieked as the hammer fell free and the blade lashed out again, biting my left knee. I fell, clutching at my arm, which was surprisingly, still attached.

 

Not even bleeding. There wasn't even a cut on my sleeve. But the muscles of my arm were knotted tightly and my wrist clicked and ground viciously if I moved. My knee felt like it would barely support my weight; I could feel something vital gone there as well.

 

“What's the matter? Didn't know about elf weapons, did you?” I was still cowering in pain but I could hear that evil smile in his voice. “You have names for them now. Arthritis. Jaundice. Dementia. But putting names on them didn't take them out of our hands.”

 

Don't just cower. Think. There's no way I could face that silvery blade. Even if I won in the end – though I couldn't see how – I would be a wreck of a human being. Look for weaknesses.

 

I bit down hard on my tongue. It had used a different blade on Hewn. Bronze, that one. I suspected that I knew why – the bronze blade had acted more like a weapon, but the silvery blade was for use against mortals. It was a slim hope but it was all I had.

 

The elf's hand clamped down on my left shoulder and it hauled me upright. “Resist more and I'll keep hurting you. I'll keep breaking you. But you'll still serve me for a thousand years or more before I dump you back into the mortal realm. And when I do, I'll forget you – everything about you, except how you made me laugh at the end.”

 

I looked him in the eye and spat my blood in his face. There was a single shocked moment where I wondered if I was right – that there was a reason it had only attacked me with a weapon that didn't spill blood – before it tossed me back with a shriek.

 

The iron in my blood proved even more effective than I'd dared to hope. For a short time, it buried its face in its hands, then threw itself into the newly-grown bushes and started grabbing handfuls of leaves, scrubbing its head and hands repeatedly. It was all the time I needed to try phase two. I only knew of one object that could suppress an invader's power; I was keeping it in my backpack.

 

The elf looked up just in time to see me slam the board, dagger-point-downward, into its shadow. Enraged, it kicked me in the chest. I felt something snap twice – once when it hit me, and again when I hit the ground about ten feet away. The elf, on the other hand, probably felt something tear, as I had managed to keep hold of the board.

 

Pain blurred my vision, but I saw the elf coming towards me. As it moved, the silvery metal it was wearing decayed. The sword became just a stick; the mail turned into handfuls of leaves and fell with each lurching step.

 

“You.” It snarled. “You have...ruined me.” It kicked me again, but the force it had had was gone. It didn't matter much; I was hurt enough already.

 

Whatever magic it had been using was gone now. It still had an inhuman beauty to it but before its anger had been that of a tiger; scary but still fascinating. Without the glamer to accent it, its wrath was just wrath, naked and ugly as usual.

 

It knelt on my chest, grinding one knee into my broken ribs. “You don't get to win,” it said. “You think yourself a hero? No. You die here. On a forgotten hearth.”

 

I'm sure it had more to say, but that was when I finished retrieving the screwdriver from my left pocket and jammed it into the elf's back, somewhere around the area of the kidney.

 

I was in a lot of pain, so I don't remember much. I remember that its blood was blue. That it hurt to use my right hand, but I did anyway. And I remember that I didn't stop stabbing it until I passed out.

 

 

 

It's always seemed weird to me but the sense of smell is the first to kick in when you're waking up. So I was aware of the smell of flowers before I realized that I had, somehow, survived.

 

More than that. I was in a bed, tucked in. It was warm, but not especially soft. Consciousness flowed back into me and most of my senses took a back seat to the realization that I was alive – and I felt fine. I was in a moderate-sized bedroom – honestly, it was easily twice the size of my room in my apartment, so huge in comparison, but I've seen bigger.

 

I was also naked under the sheets, except a bandage on my right hand and, strangely enough, a pendant. I lifted it for a look; it was a bronze disc engraved with a twisting snake. It reminded me of something but I wasn't sure what – and, as I looked, it gleamed strangely at me. I did a double-take before realizing that nothing was there if I looked straight at it, but in my peripheral vision I could see strands of something, threads that didn't seem to really be there. My fingers could pass through them without resistance, and they seemed to lead into my own body. Was that what magic looked like?

 

“Sam!” It was Hewn, poking his head in the door. He immediately retreated for a moment, calling out, “She's awake!”

 

I pulled the sheets up around my chest and started to sit up, but Hewn beckoned me back down. “No, no, no. You might feel well but you're really just pasted together. Exert yourself and you'll – well, the easiest comparison is tearing stitches. You'll wreck the amulet and be right back where you started. Sit back, take it easy, and in a few hours you'll be good enough to go.”

 

Another man rushed through the door and skidded to a stop, a huge grin on his bearded face. Shamasun, no doubt – a muscular Middle Eastern man. He threw his hands wide and boomed, “Well! Look who's the heroine of the hour!”

 

I turned towards him and -

 

A face, but not a face; a head containing a mind, yes, but not a person; a malevolence that walked on two gargantuan legs, granite hands that could tear their way from the Outside Between -

 

I came to, gasping in horror, to find hands on the sides of my head.

 

“Sam! No, Sam! See me as I am now! I'm not that thing anymore.” My eyes focused on Hewn's face in front of me. There was an echo of what I'd seen. I looked over at the frowning Shamasun, standing helplessly by the bed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see flickers of the thing, but when I looked back it was just Hewn. “You with us, Sam?”

 

I flicked my eyes away. Monster. I looked back. Hewn's worried gaze. The intensity had faded, though. I nodded.

 

“I'm sorry,” Shamasun said. “I was going to try to work into it, but we should probably just come out with it. You'll be fine, but your fight with the elf had some effects on you. You'll never be quite normal again.”

 

I closed my eyes as he spoke and tried to bring my heartbeat under control as Hewn backed off. “What – what did I just see?” I thought I knew.

 

“In all probability? An echo of Cronus,” Shamasun said. “You've got some magic in you now. You can see auras on powerful enough objects and creatures. But your magic isn't the same as my magic...No. We're going about this all wrong. I'm going to start at the beginning. Well, okay, not the beginning, I'm going to start at the things you need to know. What happened to you now has happened before; it happens to different people in different ways so we didn't know you'd have a reaction to Hewn, but we're not lost in the woods, either. The reason it's different is, well, between you and the elf.”

 

I met his gaze. “Is it dead?”

 

He nodded. “Good kill. Thorough. But...here's how it goes. You know physics? Laws of...thermodynamics?”

 

“Think so.” I could remember them fairly well.

 

“Magic follows at least one of them. It's not created or destroyed. Magical creatures can die. Magic users can die. But magic itself doesn't die – not ever. If something magic dies, usually the magic just returns to the world it's from, disperses among the creatures there, or attaches to the next soul out the gate. Like when Straun – never mind, getting off topic. The mortal realm. Your home. It has no magic.”

 

Hewn was nodding along, so I nodded too. I didn't know exactly where it was going, but I thought I understood so far.

 

“That means humans have no magic. And when a human kills a powerful, magical creature – like an elf, or a djinn – the magic starts to leave, but the human's the nearest empty place. So that's where it goes.”

 

I swallowed hard. “So I have the elf's magic now?”

 

“Yes. But it doesn't manifest in any two people in quite the same way, so we're not sure what power you'll get from it. Immortality's pretty common, though – when the elf is reborn in two, three hundred years, he'll be after you to get it back.”

 

“And I'll be alive then.”

 

“You could be. You won't age – much. Might take a few years to reach the point you stabilize at. But you can still die.”

 

I slumped back onto the pillow. It was too much. Shamasun patted me on the shoulder. “Get some rest; I'll get you something to eat. Your clothes will be clean in a couple hours. And if it helps – for me it was a giant, and nobody was there to teach me the rules. You're a heroine of the ancient ways, now. Good luck.”

 

 

And the first writing for NaNoWriMo is an aside story in the same setting.  The Primals are likely to get very little direct exposure and this struck me tonight during my shift, so I had to get on with it:

 

Interlude: A Fable

 

 

Editor's note: This is the oldest version of the famous tale that has yet been found; note in particular references to Djinn and Olympians instead of Faerie and Aesir. It probably spent generations as a work of oral tradition, and still retains traces of this; the quotes between the paragraphs were likely meant to be spoken as a chorus, as everyone hearing the story knew it by heart.

 

The Story of the Three Brothers and Father Wolf

 

Long ago, the brothers three returned to their sounder from Between. They were all three clever boars, and in their travels they had learned the way of Shapes. With the hands they brought home, they made homes of mud bricks and straw. With the feet they wore, they ploughed fields and raised crops, ensuring that the sows and the piglets were protected. They did all this, and the sounder thrived. They grew proud, and said,

 

“The shape of man has brought us power among the Primal Ones. We are the greatest of beasts.”

 

Father Wolf was wise among his kind. One day he came upon the village and marveled at what the pigs had wrought. He went to the brothers and asked,

 

“Teach me the way of Shapes, that I might join your village and live inside your walls, where my cubs can be safe.”

 

The brothers scorned Father Wolf and cursed him, using their hands to throw rocks at him. He fled into the forest, and they told themselves that they had been wise and strong, and reminded themselves that wolves had eaten their people since ages long past. They said again and again,

 

“He would have turned on us. The wolf is no brother to the pig.”

 

They had mistaken suspicion for wisdom, and their pride became too great. One night, a djinn came from Between, found the youngest brother outside the walls and tempted him with a wish. The youngest brother thought himself clever, and though his brothers counseled him against it, he returned to the djinn, believing he could best the djinn and gain honor for himself, as he had always felt that his brothers were greater than him. He wished to be honored above all others in his presence, so the djinn took him and made him the centerpiece of a grand feast. His brothers cried to know that he was gone, and said,

 

“We do not trust the Djinn. The people of Mhian do not care for beasts.”

 

They drew their gates closed, and looked with suspicion on all who approached. But one day, a mighty guest came. A powerful Olympian had come from Between and knocked on the gates. He demanded food and shelter, for he was on a journey. The oldest brother, fearful, declared him unwelcome, and ordered him to leave; the Olympian responded by calling down lightning and cooking the oldest brother where he stood. The middle brother cried, for the safety of the sounder had fallen to him, and he was but one boar against the forces of many worlds. He said,

 

“My brothers were my strength. I cannot stand alone.”

 

But stand he did, for many years, until he felt the reach of Dis upon the village. He was greatly feared, as he was the only warrior of the village, and he knew he could not fight this. But he remembered what had happened long ago. He went out into the forest and he said,

 

“Father Wolf. I was wrong to insult you, and it cost me my brothers. Please, hear my cry, forgive me, and save my children.”

 

Father Wolf came with his pack, and the middle brother taught them all the way of Shapes. They went to the village in the form of men and met with their ancient enemies. When the dread things of Dis came, Father Wolf led the pack in the defense of the pigs, and fought side by side with the middle brother. At the end of the battle, Father Wolf had fallen, and the middle brother was grievously wounded; he knew he would not walk again, even in the form of a man. On his cot, he talked to Father Wolf's son, the new leader of the pack. He said,

 

“We will be your slaves if you will protect us and not eat us.”

 

But Brother Wolf was as wise as his father had been. He shook his head and said,

 

“Wolves do not need slaves. We will not rule you; we will rule beside you. We will live by your laws and you will live by ours. You will teach us the Shapes of men, who can eat bread and fruit, and do not have to kill for food, and we will no longer be forced to prey upon Primals. We will find other Primals and teach them the Shapes of men, and bring them to the village to live by our laws. And when we are strong, you will teach us to go Between, and we will hunt for game that does not speak.”

 

And the middle brother wept, both for his own old folly and for the wisdom of Brother Wolf. And Brother Wolf fulfilled his promises, and the Primals grew strong, and the middle brother lived long enough to teach three generations the way of Shapes.

 

The story varies from location to location, but nearly every Primal was taught a version in the crib, burrow, or, in my case, nest. The brothers three are usually depicted as pigs, but have been known as hares, raccoons, frogs – even badgers, in some northern areas. Father Wolf, however, has always been Father Wolf; it is hard to depict him as anything other than the grand protector of legend. The Story of the Three Brothers and Father Wolf has such reach, it has even been rumored to have found a way to the realm of Men, although no copies from there have found their way back.

 

November 1st.  Words: 1000 on the dot.  Remaining for Day: 667.  There will be another update after work tomorrow, but pretty good start for the first hour of NaNoWriMo.

 

Chapter 1 - November 2nd

 I slept for a time. When I woke up, Shamasun was gone – apparently the incomplete ritual had still led to a bit of cleanup. The type of cleanup that meant that Hewn was staying by me at all times, a sword in his belt and the largest shotgun I've ever seen in his hands.

 

“Iron pellets,” he explained. “We call it puckshot.”

 

He brought me a thick slice of freshly roasted meat. “At least one upside of an elf invading your home – we're going to have wild game in here for years. Probably an orchard, too.”

 

I ate in silence for a while. I'd thought I'd been overwhelmed when first meeting Hewn; that had been nothing. It would take weeks to process what had just happened. Years. It struck me that the events of the last day would have more impact on my life than getting a degree had, and that still hadn't finished sinking in either.

 

My eyes flicked back towards Hewn. I'd seen what was lurking inside of him. I could still sense that it would be there again if I tried to look. So long as I didn't try, though, he stayed normal. He'd even donned a t-shirt, hiding the chiseled abs that had so amused me.

 

Now that I thought about it, he probably didn't have to do laundry as frequently as a human would. Or would he? I wouldn't expect a statue to sweat, but at the same time, I wouldn't expect one to talk either, so I had no reason to expect otherwise. My mind was going weird places, but at least I realized it.

 

When I finished, Hewn had me sit up and remove the amulet, which he called the Asclepian. He followed it up with a thorough checkup, confirming my unnaturally quick recovery. My ribs, knee, and arm were mended, along with whatever other scuffs I had doubtless taken in the fight – except one.

 

He unwound the bandage from my right hand, revealing red streaks that reached all the way to my wrist. He guided me through a few motions, staring at my injury, unblinking.

 

“What happened to me?” I didn't even recall injuring the hand, but it definitely wasn't right.

 

“I'll explain, but first, you need to look at it. Search it for magic. I don't expect you to see any, and I don't want to tell you what you're looking for until you've looked – the power of suggestion could throw off your reading.”

 

“Okay.” He stepped away and I focused on my hand, then checked myself. It hadn't worked when I'd looked at things – only peripheral vision. I waved the hand by the side of my face, pointedly looking away. “Nothing,” I said.

 

He sagged. “Very, very good. You're suffering from a mild case of titan poisoning.”

 

“How would I get that?”

 

“Probably when you pulled the shard out of me. If any of it had gotten in your bloodstream, you'dve died right away – and if any shards were stuck in your hand, you'dve seen Cronos again...but no, your exposure was limited. You'll be fine.”

 

I lay back heavily. “Titan blood is that toxic?”

 

“To humans, definitely. Titans are anathema to humans.” He stopped, frowned, and restated. “Titans are anathema to anything that moves. No. Still not enough emphasis. Even the things of Dis can wind up prey to Titans. They tear down civilized places, ravage woodlands, scorch the skies, and foul the seas. We're just lucky that only a few Titans have ever come from the Outside Between – and none made it to the mortal realm.”

 

“And you're made of one.” It just slipped out.

 

He smiled. “I like knowing that I have a purpose in life. So long as I live, I keep Cronos dead.”

 

“Point.”

 

Hewn fetched my clothes. They had the stiffness that comes from air drying, but were in better condition than I'd expected – except my backpack, which, after Hewn's explanation of titan blood, I didn't want back anymore. He'd transferred my gear (except the screwdriver, which I didn't really want back either) into a deerskin pack, which I suspected was handmade. I checked my cell phone. No service. It did, however, confirm that it was two P. M. on Sunday.

 

“If you need to make a call, we need to connect the door with a door on Earth,” Hewn said. “Otherwise, we're a bit out of range. It's one reason why we never got a land line phone, either.”

 

He led me out of the bedroom and into the open mansion. I couldn't help but notice that where things were once silent, there was now an undercurrent of noise; crickets, mostly, but I had a distinct impression of leaves being blown by an indoor wind, and the high ceiling was now partly obscured by clouds.

 

The place was, if anything, even bigger than I had realized. A question came to me, and I relayed it to Hewn.

 

“Will I wind up having a place like this?”

 

“No,” he said. “This realm is born of giant magic. Part of the whole beanstalk-to-the-clouds kind of thing.”

 

Oh well. A home that was bigger on the inside was too much to hope for anyway. Besides, I rented, and I'm pretty sure expanding my apartment into another dimension would violate something on my lease.

 

We reached the door, but I stopped a little short. I had to ask.

 

“Unicorn heads?” I said. “Are unicorns...evil?”

 

Hewn shook his head, grinning. “There are three types of unicorns. Wild ones roam Asgard and Faerie. They have a bit of a rainbow shine to them that doesn't go away. Trust me, if you encounter wild unicorn hide or horn, it's unmistakeable. Those ones are smart, and intensely magical. They can't be tamed. The second type's war unicorns. Still pretty, but domesticated by the elves and ridden into battle. They're not as magical, but can usually pull off a spell or two in a fight.”

 

“And these are the third?”

 

“Yup. See how the horn's kinda stubby?” He poked the tip of one of the horns. “Not really sharp either. These are domestic unicorns – as related to the wild ones as cows are. They're farmed in the Primal realm for meat and milk. An old friend stuffed these and gave 'em to Shamasun as a joke. He thought it was funny too.”

 

Hewn opened the door to the thicket from which I'd entered, with one major difference – torrential rain. I grimaced, but I supposed it was a good thing. It had been a dry summer, and a little bit of relief was welcome; it was just inconvenient for me. A check of my phone revealed that I had bars now. Time to check in.

 

Hewn went off to the far corner of the room to place a call of his own as I dialed my brother. It went to voice mail. Just as well.

 

“Hey. Todd. Just my usual check-in after an adventure.” He'd assured me that if I didn't call him after exploring somewhere, he'd tell the cops whether I wanted him to or not. “That creepy old hunting lodge you'd heard of was out there, but believe it or not, people actually live there, kinda. Nice folks. Made a couple friends.” What else? I decided that I could easily go back on deciding to keep it a secret later, but couldn't un-tell him about everything else that had happened. “Looks like I'm getting wet on the way home. Bye.”

 

I hung up, but Hewn wasn't done yet. I caught the end. “I'll have her text you. Gotcha. Bye.”

 

“Text who?” I asked.

 

“There's one other active heroine with elven magic. She's coming to meet you but she wants to keep an air of mystery.” He waggled his fingers as he said this. “So she wants a text with your address. And your workplace. You can trust her, she just has a bit of flair for the dramatic.” He handed me his phone, which was already opened to send a text to a contact labeled '1001'.

 

I was already way too far in over my head to hesitate at this point, so I filled it out. When I was finished, I couldn't help myself; I scrolled through the other contacts, noticing Peaches, Beans, Princess, and Bleach, among others.

 

I gave Hewn his phone back, and he set it down on a table. “Would rather it didn't get wet,” he explained. “I'd prefer to see you out to your car.” He unloaded the shotgun and set it aside, then unbuckled his sword belt. “I doubt we'll encounter anything that would be an issue outside.”

 

Considering that I'd come through those same woods unarmed, I had no reason to disagree. He filched out an ancient-looking umbrella, but I'd also come prepared. An emergency poncho is a fair step up from a garbage bag with a hole in it, but it still can fit in a pocket. The one I'd had in my backpack had been transferred into the new pack, and I donned it with minimal fuss. I also had a spare plastic bag, which I sealed my phone in before pocketing it. It never hurt to be prepared.

 

We struck out into the valley, at which point I started to regret Shamasun's placement of a house in a valley. Notably, the water was deeper than my shoes were tall. I was swearing under my breath as I struggled through the mud, with Hewn following after.

 

The rain was still coming down heavily and the sky was overcast, smothering the afternoon in a deep gloom. I still had more questions for Hewn, but the rain on the leaves and my poncho made it difficult to talk. If I'd known this rain was coming I probably wouldn't have come out exploring – but then, if things hadn't gone so strangely, I would have been home last night, rather than today.

 

I pointed the way and Hewn did his best to hold up the umbrella for me as we climbed the side of the ravine – a nice gesture, if an impractical one. He was having trouble keeping up with me, and the reason was quickly apparent: slippery mud is not the best surface for a living statue to walk through. He was sinking nearly to his ankles with every step, while I -

 

I wasn't leaving tracks.

 

I was so startled that I stopped walking for a moment. It was the first physical sign of my elven magic. I clearly couldn't walk on water, but I wasn't sinking into the mud at all. Hewn noticed my attention and nodded, smiling. “You'll learn to leave tracks when you want to,” he said, talking over the rain.

 

I nodded back, grimacing. “Wish it wasn't raining,” I muttered.

 

The rain stopped, as if someone had turned off a celestial showerhead. It was uncanny – it didn't end like rain usually does, it stopped. I could hear the drip of water from leaves, but nothing was falling from the suddenly-cloudless sky. Hewn lowered the umbrella as the two of us looked around.

 

“Bugger me,” I said. “Did I do that?”

 
Chapter 2: November 3rd.  Possibly not the only update today - I hope not, as it's only 1048 words and I'm falling a bit behind, but my arms are bothering me.

 

 

Hewn gaped alongside me for a moment before he answered. “I really don't know. I don't think so – weather control is usually Aesir magic, and far too advanced for you to have managed it accidentally. You shouldn't be able to do that.”

 

“But this isn't natural,” I said.

 

“Doesn't look like it. But I think I know what might be happening. New heroes tend to have a bit of loose magic around them. If there were an old enchantment here that had run out of power but was still intact, your presence might have recharged it.”

 

“Is that likely to happen a lot?”

 

He shrugged. “I really don't know. You have to understand – humans don't win magic often, so my experience with new Heroes is limited. I'm not a teacher, so I can only tell you what I've been told. And I don't know of any dormant enchantments or creatures. That's why we've got someone coming.”

 

“My mysterious mentor. Who is she?”

 

“Promised I wouldn't tell you. And no hints. But don't worry. She's been a comrade-in-arms for a long time – by my standards. You'll get along just fine, and she'll be able to keep you safe. And if it is a latent enchantment, she'll be able to pick it apart when she comes to visit.”

 

That was clearly all I was going to get, so I changed direction. “Okay. You mentioned Aesir earlier. Can you explain a bit about that?”

 

“Well, again. I'm not really a teacher.” We broke out of the woods and into the path as he continued. “There's six realms other than this one. Four main realms I know of, and two gateway realms. Elves are from Faerie. Aesir are from Asgard, Primals are from the Wild, and Outlanders are from Pandemonium. The gateway realms work by different rules; they're called Jotunheim and Dis, and they're much easier to get to and from than any of the other realms. Giants are from Jotunheim. Evil things are from Dis.”

 

“Evil things?”

 

“Evil's the easiest word. Any maneater from any legend you've ever heard? Probably from Dis. Anything that hunts in the dark, that feeds on corpses or blood, or turns innocent people into monsters? That's Dis. Demons in the flesh. When Dis is waxing, they can leak into the mortal realm. That's when the Heroes perform their greatest service to mankind.”

 

I shivered. “You mean I'll have to fight them?”

 

“Better than letting them rampage. You'll get the hang of it – and you're safer than most,” he said. “You can't be converted anymore, and you're able to kill them without becoming them, either.”

 

The implications sank in. Killing a fantasy monster caused the killer to absorb its powers. “You mean that if a normal person fought, say, a zombie – are zombies real?”

 

Hewn pondered for a moment. “Ghouls are more what you're thinking of; undead cannibals that rob graves.”

 

“So if a human kills a ghoul, then, what happens?”

 

“In that specific case, the killer wouldn't gain any powers,” Hewn said. “If he killed some other fey creature – an elf, for example – he wouldn't seem to gain any powers either, if he'd killed the ghoul first. But when he died, he would rise from his grave as a new ghoul. The magic of any of his kills would be added on in raw form, so he might wind up a more powerful ghoul than the one he'd destroyed, even. Other creatures would convert their killer much faster, and more thoroughly.”

 

“But if I killed a ghoul, it would go differently. Right?” I could imagine myself killing a zombie easily enough. Hell, half the video games of the last five years had involved that as a central theme.

 

“You've already bonded to elven magic. The ghoul's power would be added to yours in raw form; your magic would grow stronger. No ill effects for you. It's one reason the world needs the Heroes.”

 

I grimaced. The thought of creatures like that being real made my skin crawl...and it was going to be my job to hunt them down for the rest of eternity. Or until I died in battle. It sounded like a good purpose in life – a noble one, even – but if I'm honest, it also scared the crap out of me.

 

I stumbled as my feet sank into the mud. Whatever magic had been keeping me from leaving tracks had failed and the sudden change in traction threw me. Hewn offered me a hand to steady myself, but I waved him away. “I'm okay, but it looks like my magic's not really reliable.”

 

“Not yet – not for a while, either. Look, sh-she'll tell you more and better than I can. And she'll be there tomorrow at the latest.”

 

We reached the edge of the woods; I could see my car in the park-and-ride. “I'll be okay from here. Thanks, Hewn.” Probably. Maybe? Physically, I was probably going to be fine, but my soul might be a different story; after all, I had work tomorrow.

 

It was a twenty minute drive into town, which was as quiet as a typical Sunday afternoon. I could feel that something was different, but couldn't quite place it. Something was off about the traffic; I was picking up on something fleeting. I wrote it off as the somewhat-unfamiliar sound made by wet pavement under the tires. Now that I was clear of the woods I could see that even in the aftermath of the downpour, there wasn't a cloud in sight.

 

Once I reached home I went straight for a computer, then to the weather forecast. I backed the radar view up by two hours and watched as an enormous storm stretching from the upper peninsula of Michigan to somewhere around Texas suddenly developed a perfectly circular hole with a two hundred mile radius, centered on my hometown.   As the radar advanced, the storm continued to move, but the circle stayed completely dry.

 

I put my head in my hands and rested it against the desk. Secrecy hadn't been covered. If it was an integral part of being a Hero, my tenure might wind up being very short indeed.

 

 
November 4th, morning: 725 more words.  I have to head off to work now, but I'm feeling much better than I have over the last few days.  I'm falling behind but I still think I can pull this off.
 

 

 People had already noticed. I was hesitant to pry into the truly strange conspiracy sites, but even the weathermen had acknowledged it as something strange – although they used rather a lot of words to admit that it didn't fit their predictions. It hadn't made it to the main news – yet – and so far, nobody I knew was discussing it.

 

I pushed the weather out of my mind and dove into research mode instead. These heroes – there had to be something about them in history. Right?

 

There was one person named Shamasun in the USA – if I was spelling the name right. So the name existed, but I doubted that Shamasun had a permanent address in New Jersey. Hewn had mentioned Enkidu, although that one took me a couple tries to remember right. I spent some time reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, but Shamasun himself wasn't mentioned. According to the story, though, Enkidu had killed a giant. One that may or may not have been actually humanoid.

 

No mention of Hewn either – although I suspected that Hewn was just the latest name he used. Searching for Greek Statue got me plenty of results, for obvious reasons. Greek Living Statue got me the legend of Galatea, who was both the wrong gender and the wrong material. There was also Talos, who was apparently a giant bronze statue, and a few other miscellaneous ones. Nothing under the myth of Cronos indicated that he couldn't die, or that his body parts could be animated – or even that he was made of stone.

 

I gave up after a while. These myths were interesting but they clearly had only part of the story; in the next few days I would be getting to talk to some primary sources. I tried to spend the rest of the night normally, but my attention was wandering and I couldn't even play video games. Instead I settled into bed early.

 

Exhaustion took me to sleep faster than I'd expected, but I woke in the middle of the night. It sounded like someone was throwing pebbles against my window. I struggled into a shirt, still groggy, and looked out.

 

By star and moonlight, I could easily see – it was Hewn. I pointed towards the front door and cursed inwardly. This would call for pants too; I pulled them on. A minute later, I had hurried him in through the entry hall and had him safely hidden in my apartment. I grinned a little as I did so; I'd never smuggled someone into my room before. The effect was spoiled somewhat by his footsteps, as the creaking of floorboards beneath him would have been impossible to hide.

 

“What are you doing here?” Wait. There was something. “You're welcome inside, but I don't know Xenia. I don't know what to do.”

 

He nodded. “It's my tradition, not yours. I'll teach you if you want, but there's a bigger problem now. Can I borrow a phone?”

 

“Sure, but why?”

 

“I got back to the threshold and it's broken. I couldn't get back to the mansion, and I left my phone inside. So I had to walk into town and find you by following your aura.” He smiled apologetically. “I would be grateful if I could use your home to hide until we can re-establish the gate and get me to safety.”

 

I tried to think through things that I was way too groggy for and just gave up. “You can sleep on the couch.”

 

“Thank you, but I don't actually sleep – and can't sit on the couch. I weigh a little under nine hundred pounds and would break most furniture you have to offer. But I don't get tired; I'm fine standing.”

 

No sleep. What could I have him do? The answer was obvious. I led him over to the bookshelf.

 

“Pratchett. Sanderson. Weeks. Gaiman. Have fun reading, just make sure you shelve them back where they were and try not to damage them.” I liked having books with good spines. I retrieved my phone from my bedside and handed it to him as well. “When the phone's alarm goes off, wake me up. Please don't wake me before then.” With that, I turned around and headed back to sleep.

 

 

Updates up to the afternoon of November 5th:

 

I woke to a knock on the door. It startled me for a moment before I remembered Hewn.

 

“Miss Sam. Either the phone is ringing or the alarm is going off.”

 

I listened for a moment, still waking up. “Alarm. It'll turn off.” And it would. Then it would ring again in five minutes if it was allowed to – something I normally permitted once as I got up. But it wouldn't be nice to make Hewn wait; I struggled my way to full consciousness and appropriate clothing. I was still tired, but I smelled fresh coffee.

 

It was coffee all right. Coffee with a spread of fruit and bread set out on my kitchen island – which hadn't been quite as clean as it was now in a long time. Hewn smiled, polishing one of his hands with a rag.

 

“Thought I could set out a nice breakfast for you.”

 

I was speechless. My home had been a basic bachelorette pad – a bit of a mess, but not bad. Now, it damnation near sparkled. The stucco on the walls had been scrubbed clean, the spiderwebs in the corners brushed away. Even the glass stovetop was clear of stains, and I'd thought that to be a lost cause.

 

And yet, the first thing out of my mouth was, “Where did you get the fruit?”

 

He shrugged. “One of my friends can do the Cornucopia thing. Turns out it works over a phone, too.”

 

I sat down, still not quite awake enough to process things. The coffee had foam, and, as I discovered when I drank some, contained some coffee grounds, but it was both extremely strong and quite sweet. It was different, but palatable. I glanced around, remembering my manners.

 

“Thanks. For breakfast and for cleaning. But I thought you were going to read?”

 

“I did, but I ran out of books. Do you have any more?”

 

That shocked me awake. My shelf contained the entire Sandman cycle and thirty Pratchetts, and it hadn't lasted Hewn one night – and how long had he been cooped up in Shamasun's mansion, alone? The poor thing had to have been so bored...

 

“No. That's all the books I have here.” There was still a box of books at my parents' house. Maybe two boxes. It still wouldn't last him a full day. What else could he do? “Do you like video games?”

 

“I don't know. Never seen any.”

 

I put the coffee cup down. If there were any more shocks this morning, I was liable to spill it everywhere. I chose my words carefully. “How long, may I ask, have you been away from the mortal realm?”

 

He appeared to think it over before answering. “I haven't really been back for about twenty years or so. Shamasun's been in and out a bit. Brought me a phone and a few books from time to time, but really he's been spending more time in Jotunheim and Asgard. And to be honest, usually, when we visit the mortal realm, we're on a mission of some form or another. It's kind of rare that we get to see the sights.”

 

Twenty years away. Most of my lifetime. Well, I had a few things to offer him. I picked up a peach and led Hewn to the computer, almost beckoning him to sit down before I remembered that he really shouldn't.

 

“This is a computer.”

 

“Like in Star Trek?” he asked, his voice eager.

 

“So you know Star Trek.” A sudden thought struck me. “Do you know the Next Generation?”

 

“What? Do you mean there's more Star Trek now?”

 

“Sure is. More than you probably want. But no, this isn't as good as the computer from Star Trek.”

 

I showed him the basics of how to use it. He proved adept with the keyboard – exclaiming for a moment that it was just like the old typewriters – but I quickly came to the conclusion that he should stay off the internet until I had some time to teach him more.

 

Instead, I showed him the Xbox. It wasn't the latest model – just a 360, but I had a fair stable of good games to offer him. Once he got the hang of the buttons and I showed him where to find the manual for the games, he was off to a decent start – for a noob. I left him playing while I showered; he was still at it when I left for work.

 

 

At work, I remained focused, diligent, and proactive about keeping my soul from fleeing to Dis in despair. Especially during the Monday morning meeting, where Carol tried to focus the team but really only managed to show off her own increasing desperation.

 

Carol's only two years older than I am, and all things considered, I would call her a friend if she wasn't my boss. The problem is, business degree or no, she really doesn't know what she's doing. I think she's trying to hide it by adhering to rigid hierarchy and hoping things will sort themselves out, but it's not working. I would flee this sinking ship of a company, but there really aren't many programming jobs in Wisconsin – especially not related to video games. This indie game development company had sounded like just what I was looking for when I applied, despite the lower rate of pay, and it took months for me to realize how bad things were.

 

Carol's plan was bold, innovative, and brazenly commercial. It was also incredibly stupid. We at Infinidapt were programming a game without any art assets or concrete design.

 

Carol's big plan had sprang into being when she'd heard about video games constituting a multi-billion-dollar industry. With some backing from her father (who I know very little about other than that he can apparently sling around a hefty amount of money without caring too much) she assembled the team to create the ultimate in advergames. She started the team putting fundamentals in place while she started lining up a sponsor; design and art would wait until we knew which company would be advertising through our game. That was a little over a year ago.

 

Now each Monday meeting just has her looking a little more dead. She's still professional, still the boss, but when I talked with her recently, I saw that her most recent pitch had been to the makers of Desitin. The longer we go without a sponsor, the more money she's sunk into the creation of the game and the harder it will be to get someone to sign on. To be entirely honest, I'm more than a little amazed that Carol has always been sober at the Monday meetings. I also have to give her credit for not lashing out at anyone else for her plan's disintegration.

 

Meanwhile, the programming team, bereft of leadership, has been trying to have at least something to show for a year's employment. We had a game engine in there – a decent one – and a solid base for something. We'd just been trying to make anything that could be used as a tech demo, or could be listed on a resume when this job inevitably falls apart. We'd even done some level design, but it was all made to be pulled apart and reassembled as needed.

 

I trudged back to my desk after the meeting, pausing only to get more coffee – coffee of the sort that I was used to. Hewn's variant hadn't been bad, but it had been so strange to me. Had he even used my coffeemaker? If he'd gotten that out of a basic Mr. Coffee, I wondered how.

 

Our building was half shared with a pizzeria, although we kept that door closed. All four of our offices had windows, through which most of us could see six feet of backyard and a fence. Roger and I shared the premium office, which looked out into the parking lot instead, giving a clear view of the dumpster. We usually kept the blinds closed.

 

When I entered, Roger had his head down against his desk. He flinched at my approach, then looked up blearily.

 

“Sam?” My name came out his mouth as a croak.

 

“Rough night?” I asked.

 

“Not really. Baby slept through the night. Kerry and I spent some time gaming and turned in early. Jogged here as usual. Felt fine until I got here, then just started wanting to puke during the meeting.”

 

“I know the feeling.”

 

“No, a lot more than usual. I think I'm getting sick.”

 

“Seriously?” It wouldn't really matter if he went home. Not from this job. What's more, Roger had missed even less work than I had. “How bad is it?”

 

“Dizzy. Nauseous. I feel...like something's under my skin. Weird.” He shook his head as if trying to get hair out of his eyes. “More than that, I'm tired. And I shouldn't be.”

 

“Do you need a ride home?”

 

He gave me a look of dread. “In your car? It might be safer to crawl home. Through a snake pit.”

 

“Ha. Ha. If the wheels fly off and we both die in a crash, your wife can sue the mechanic.” Roger himself had changed a wheel bearing on my car after I had purchased it for next to nothing. A few minutes later, with leave from Carol, I dropped Roger off at his house. I could hear the baby start crying as I saw him to the door.

 

I returned to my workplace and tried to get things done. I'd spent a few hours experimenting with platforming elements and tightening the control scheme when a strange scent found me. It was carried on a waft of dry air, like I'd always imagined the wind of a desert to be, and it had the smell of...jasmine? That and other things.

 

I stood up from my desk and poked my head out into the hallway. Cool air, there, with no odor other than those that leaked in from the pizzeria. Back at my desk, though, the scent of jasmine was joined by more. The air was spicy and sweet, reminding me of far-off places and exotic foods.

 

 

There was a hubbub outside the window, and I drew the shades open, revealing a sprawling marketplace under a blazing desert sun. No glass sat in the windowframe to separate me from the scene that lay before me. Robed men with deep tans and colorful, pointy hats manned market stalls laden with dried fruit and meat, rolls of silk, and caged animals. Children raced up and down the rows, shopping and running errands in the press of people. Market criers chanted, waving their wares about, speaking a language I didn't know but hitting musical cadences as they tried to draw attention to their merchandise.

 

It was foreign, yet welcoming – a tableau vivant of a people whose lifeblood was trade. As I watched, the market unfolded, swelled, then receded as the day turned to night. Stalls packed up and were replaced by different vendors or performers – first jugglers and acrobats, then dancers and musicians, working in tandem but behaving as if they were competing off each other to draw tips from the crowd. I caught flashes of words that seemed familiar as the people varied.

 

The sunrise broke over the market and the people changed again. Darker skinned men led a pair of elephants down the street. Soldiers – Roman legions? – ransacked the place, only for the merchants to return and set everything back as it was, or nearly.  Styles changed before my eyes as generations blew by as if carried by the desert wind.  A palace rose in the distance, topped by an immense stone arch. Time whipped past and I could feel the weight of ages.

 

Over the course of centuries, the market died down. The merchants found elsewhere to bring their goods. The well in the center was left untended; the dancers and singers no longer returned. All that remained was a woman, her back to me, and with a start I realized that she had been there all along regardless of day or night, war or peace, glory or decline, telling stories of all the others. Because they were her stories, born of her blood and pain and love, and even when they were told by others, they were always hers.

 

She stood in the empty market, and she turned to face me – a dusky Arabian princess, no, a queen of ages long past, with long black hair and dark eyes. She smiled, and the scene faded.

 

The glass was back in the window. The market was gone, the crumbling palace had faded away as the entire scene folded up. All that was left was the parking lot – and the woman. My heart skipped a beat as she opened the door to my workplace and stepped inside.

 

 

November 5th, evening.

 

 

I stepped out of the office to try to intercept her, but Carol was there first, business face on.

 

“Hi! Welcome to Inf-” Carol slowed to a stop, eyes wide. She stood there, entranced by the cinnamon-skinned stranger, who turned to me.

 

“You would be Sam, I take it?” I nodded and extended a hand. She took it and smiled. “I find that using modern names is usually convenient. You can call me Sherry.”

 

Understanding dawned. “Scheherazade.”

 

“Among many other names, yes. But really, Sherry will be just fine.”

 

“All right.”

 

Carol was still standing there, eyes wide but unseeing. Scheherazade regarded her and turned back to me. “She looks like she needs a rest. Would you mind if I talk to her boss about it? It would be a good demonstration of what I can do.”

 

“She is the boss.”

 

“You're kidding.” The other office doors had eased open and the other programmers were peeking through like sideways prairie dogs. Scheherazade pointed at them. “You. Your boss's friend is here. There is nothing unusual to see.”

 

They nodded, expressions slack, and scooted back into the offices. I could barely believe it; she was like some kind of Jedi. But she wasn't done yet.

 

She placed a lone finger on Carol's forehead and leaned in close, whispering loudly enough for me to hear. “You're tired and you're worried but you need the rest more than anything. Go home. Forget your troubles for a full night – don't even think of them. Do something you like. Talk to people you love. And while you relax, feel this spark sink into your mind. Let the spark ignite. Tomorrow morning you'll have everything you need to tackle your problems and the world will all be so much better.”

 

She leaned in and kissed Carol softly on the forehead, then turned back to me. “All done.”

 

“What was that?” I asked.

 

“The look of someone who doesn't know what to do next is pretty well universal. So I used my oldest magic on her, to make her find some inspiration that she lacked. I can't guarantee that it will help her, but it'll give her a shot. That said, though, I can't very well send your boss home and close up your business without knowing what you're doing here – so I'm going to get settled into my hotel room and I'll see you later tonight.”

 

I'd thought, for some reason, that training would preempt my entire life. I wasn't sure how I felt to be wrong. “Wait – Hewn's stuck at my place. Can you help him?”

 

“Sure. I'll visit. I'll even bring popcorn.” She smiled conspiratorially. “Hewn loves popcorn. Did he tell you?”

 

A “No” was still working its way out when the bringer of stories whisked out the door, as quickly as she had come in.

 

 

November 6th and on, sadly, will have to go in future posts, as we've hit the size limit.

 

If you see any mistakes, please let me know - I may not have time for much editing on the fly, but I'll do what I can.  Also, I'm more than a little prone to depression, so if you like my work, let me know; it can make a world of difference to know that people actually care about what I'm doing.
Edited by Talanic
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I'm still following. This stuff is brilliant. I expected the three little Pigs, but got something completely different. You've kept it tied into the rest of your world, both with it's introduction and Conclusion. The writing style is consistent with Most of the Fables I've read. Yet you sneak in little things that are unexpected, like only the Middle brother surviving, rather than the youngest or the Oldest, and it changes the story, makes it different than the Other Version.

 

Please, keep writing this stuff. I look forward to your updates.

 

EDIT: As for Mistakes, you change the Capitalization of Djinn part way through. Other than that, I haven't noticed anything glaringly obvious..

Edited by The Only Joe
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Care to join us in the NaNo PM group?

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EDIT: As for Mistakes, you change the Capitalization of Djinn part way through. Other than that, I haven't noticed anything glaringly obvious..

 

That was actually deliberate.  It was lowercase when referring to a specific member of the species, uppercase when referring to the race of Djinn as a whole.  Deliberate doesn't mean wise, obviously - I'd be better served by figuring out a different way of indicating that.

 

Care to join us in the NaNo PM group?

 

How would I go about doing that?  I'm actually pretty new to the forums, so I don't know the ins and outs.

 

And yes, there's supposed to be another update tonight.  Failing that, there will be a larger one tomorrow, as I have the day off and am tired (and working) today - and tomorrow is also Daylight Savings, so extra hour of sleep!

Edited by Talanic
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HOLY HIGH-STORMS!!!!!!! THIS WAS SO FREAKING AWESOME! Ahem... I have never read such an awesome re-telling of The Three Little Pigs. The Prelude was also awesome. 

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Oy.  I stubbed pinky on my left hand, the middle finger on my right, and strained both wrists...at work yesterday.  Not while I was writing.  Okay, I'm being overly dramatic, it's not that bad.

 

Chapter 1

 I slept for a time. When I woke up, Shamasun was gone – apparently the incomplete ritual had still led to a bit of cleanup. The type of cleanup that meant that Hewn was staying by me at all times, a sword in his belt and the largest shotgun I've ever seen in his hands.

 

“Iron pellets,” he explained. “We call it puckshot.”

 

He brought me a thick slice of freshly roasted meat. “At least one upside of an elf invading your home – we're going to have wild game in here for years. Probably an orchard, too.”

 

I ate in silence for a while. I'd thought I'd been overwhelmed when first meeting Hewn; that had been nothing. It would take weeks to process what had just happened. Years. It struck me that the events of the last day would have more impact on my life than getting a degree had, and that still hadn't finished sinking in either.

 

My eyes flicked back towards Hewn. I'd seen what was lurking inside of him. I could still sense that it would be there again if I tried to look. So long as I didn't try, though, he stayed normal. He'd even donned a t-shirt, hiding the chiseled abs that had so amused me.

 

Now that I thought about it, he probably didn't have to do laundry as frequently as a human would. Or would he? I wouldn't expect a statue to sweat, but at the same time, I wouldn't expect one to talk either, so I had no reason to expect otherwise. My mind was going weird places, but at least I realized it.

 

When I finished, Hewn had me sit up and remove the amulet, which he called the Asclepian. He followed it up with a thorough checkup, confirming my unnaturally quick recovery. My ribs, knee, and arm were mended, along with whatever other scuffs I had doubtless taken in the fight – except one.

 

He unwound the bandage from my right hand, revealing red streaks that reached all the way to my wrist. He guided me through a few motions, staring at my injury, unblinking.

 

“What happened to me?” I didn't even recall injuring the hand, but it definitely wasn't right.

 

“I'll explain, but first, you need to look at it. Search it for magic. I don't expect you to see any, and I don't want to tell you what you're looking for until you've looked – the power of suggestion could throw off your reading.”

 

“Okay.” He stepped away and I focused on my hand, then checked myself. It hadn't worked when I'd looked at things – only peripheral vision. I waved the hand by the side of my face, pointedly looking away. “Nothing,” I said.

 

He sagged. “Very, very good. You're suffering from a mild case of titan poisoning.”

 

“How would I get that?”

 

“Probably when you pulled the shard out of me. If any of it had gotten in your bloodstream, you'dve died right away – and if any shards were stuck in your hand, you'dve seen Cronos again...but no, your exposure was limited. You'll be fine.”

 

I lay back heavily. “Titan blood is that toxic?”

 

“To humans, definitely. Titans are anathema to humans.” He stopped, frowned, and restated. “Titans are anathema to anything that moves. No. Still not enough emphasis. Even the things of Dis can wind up prey to Titans. They tear down civilized places, ravage woodlands, scorch the skies, and foul the seas. We're just lucky that only a few Titans have ever come from the Outside Between – and none made it to the mortal realm.”

 

“And you're made of one.” It just slipped out.

 

He smiled. “I like knowing that I have a purpose in life. So long as I live, I keep Cronos dead.”

 

“Point.”

 

Hewn fetched my clothes. They had the stiffness that comes from air drying, but were in better condition than I'd expected – except my backpack, which, after Hewn's explanation of titan blood, I didn't want back anymore. He'd transferred my gear (except the screwdriver, which I didn't really want back either) into a deerskin pack, which I suspected was handmade. I checked my cell phone. No service. It did, however, confirm that it was two P. M. on Sunday.

 

“If you need to make a call, we need to connect the door with a door on Earth,” Hewn said. “Otherwise, we're a bit out of range. It's one reason why we never got a land line phone, either.”

 

He led me out of the bedroom and into the open mansion. I couldn't help but notice that where things were once silent, there was now an undercurrent of noise; crickets, mostly, but I had a distinct impression of leaves being blown by an indoor wind, and the high ceiling was now partly obscured by clouds.

 

The place was, if anything, even bigger than I had realized. A question came to me, and I relayed it to Hewn.

 

“Will I wind up having a place like this?”

 

“No,” he said. “This realm is born of giant magic. Part of the whole beanstalk-to-the-clouds kind of thing.”

 

Oh well. A home that was bigger on the inside was too much to hope for anyway. Besides, I rented, and I'm pretty sure expanding my apartment into another dimension would violate something on my lease.

 

We reached the door, but I stopped a little short. I had to ask.

 

“Unicorn heads?” I said. “Are unicorns...evil?”

 

Hewn shook his head, grinning. “There are three types of unicorns. Wild ones roam Asgard and Faerie. They have a bit of a rainbow shine to them that doesn't go away. Trust me, if you encounter wild unicorn hide or horn, it's unmistakeable. Those ones are smart, and intensely magical. They can't be tamed. The second type's war unicorns. Still pretty, but domesticated by the elves and ridden into battle. They're not as magical, but can usually pull off a spell or two in a fight.”

 

“And these are the third?”

 

“Yup. See how the horn's kinda stubby?” He poked the tip of one of the horns. “Not really sharp either. These are domestic unicorns – as related to the wild ones as cows are. They're farmed in the Primal realm for meat and milk. An old friend stuffed these and gave 'em to Shamasun as a joke. He thought it was funny too.”

 

Hewn opened the door to the thicket from which I'd entered, with one major difference – torrential rain. I grimaced, but I supposed it was a good thing. It had been a dry summer, and a little bit of relief was welcome; it was just inconvenient for me. A check of my phone revealed that I had bars now. Time to check in.

 

Hewn went off to the far corner of the room to place a call of his own as I dialed my brother. It went to voice mail. Just as well.

 

“Hey. Todd. Just my usual check-in after an adventure.” He'd assured me that if I didn't call him after exploring somewhere, he'd tell the cops whether I wanted him to or not. “That creepy old hunting lodge you'd heard of was out there, but believe it or not, people actually live there, kinda. Nice folks. Made a couple friends.” What else? I decided that I could easily go back on deciding to keep it a secret later, but couldn't un-tell him about everything else that had happened. “Looks like I'm getting wet on the way home. Bye.”

 

I hung up, but Hewn wasn't done yet. I caught the end. “I'll have her text you. Gotcha. Bye.”

 

“Text who?” I asked.

 

“There's one other active heroine with elven magic. She's coming to meet you but she wants to keep an air of mystery.” He waggled his fingers as he said this. “So she wants a text with your address. And your workplace. You can trust her, she just has a bit of flair for the dramatic.” He handed me his phone, which was already opened to send a text to a contact labeled '1001'.

 

I was already way too far in over my head to hesitate at this point, so I filled it out. When I was finished, I couldn't help myself; I scrolled through the other contacts, noticing Peaches, Beans, Princess, and Bleach, among others.

 

I gave Hewn his phone back, and he set it down on a table. “Would rather it didn't get wet,” he explained. “I'd prefer to see you out to your car.” He unloaded the shotgun and set it aside, then unbuckled his sword belt. “I doubt we'll encounter anything that would be an issue outside.”

 

Considering that I'd come through those same woods unarmed, I had no reason to disagree. He filched out an ancient-looking umbrella, but I'd also come prepared. An emergency poncho is a fair step up from a garbage bag with a hole in it, but it still can fit in a pocket. The one I'd had in my backpack had been transferred into the new pack, and I donned it with minimal fuss. I also had a spare plastic bag, which I sealed my phone in before pocketing it. It never hurt to be prepared.

 

We struck out into the valley, at which point I started to regret Shamasun's placement of a house in a valley. Notably, the water was deeper than my shoes were tall. I was swearing under my breath as I struggled through the mud, with Hewn following after.

 

The rain was still coming down heavily and the sky was overcast, smothering the afternoon in a deep gloom. I still had more questions for Hewn, but the rain on the leaves and my poncho made it difficult to talk. If I'd known this rain was coming I probably wouldn't have come out exploring – but then, if things hadn't gone so strangely, I would have been home last night, rather than today.

 

I pointed the way and Hewn did his best to hold up the umbrella for me as we climbed the side of the ravine – a nice gesture, if an impractical one. He was having trouble keeping up with me, and the reason was quickly apparent: slippery mud is not the best surface for a living statue to walk through. He was sinking nearly to his ankles with every step, while I -

 

I wasn't leaving tracks.

 

I was so startled that I stopped walking for a moment. It was the first physical sign of my elven magic. I clearly couldn't walk on water, but I wasn't sinking into the mud at all. Hewn noticed my attention and nodded, smiling. “You'll learn to leave tracks when you want to,” he said, talking over the rain.

 

I nodded back, grimacing. “Wish it wasn't raining,” I muttered.

 

The rain stopped, as if someone had turned off a celestial showerhead. It was uncanny – it didn't end like rain usually does, it stopped. I could hear the drip of water from leaves, but nothing was falling from the suddenly-cloudless sky. Hewn lowered the umbrella as the two of us looked around.

 

“Bugger me,” I said. “Did I do that?”

 

Word count for November 2nd: 1912.  I'm still behind by 422 words but I'm catching up.  Need to rest for the night, though.

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Chapter 2: 1063 words, November 3rd.  I need to catch up; there may be another update tonight but this is the end for the moment.

 

 Hewn gaped alongside me for a moment before he answered. “I really don't know. I don't think so – weather control is usually Aesir magic, and far too advanced for you to have managed it accidentally. You shouldn't be able to do that.”

 

“But this isn't natural,” I said.

 

“Doesn't look like it. But I think I know what might be happening. New heroes tend to have a bit of loose magic around them. If there were an old enchantment here that had run out of power but was still intact, your presence might have recharged it.”

 

“Is that likely to happen a lot?”

 

He shrugged. “I really don't know. You have to understand – humans don't win magic often, so my experience with new Heroes is limited. I'm not a teacher, so I can only tell you what I've been told. And I don't know of any dormant enchantments or creatures. That's why we've got someone coming.”

 

“My mysterious mentor. Who is she?”

 

“Promised I wouldn't tell you. And no hints. But don't worry. She's been a comrade-in-arms for a long time – by my standards. You'll get along just fine, and she'll be able to keep you safe. And if it is a latent enchantment, she'll be able to pick it apart when she comes to visit.”

 

That was clearly all I was going to get, so I changed direction. “Okay. You mentioned Aesir earlier. Can you explain a bit about that?”

 

“Well, again. I'm not really a teacher.” We broke out of the woods and into the path as he continued. “There's six realms other than this one. Four main realms I know of, and two gateway realms. Elves are from Faerie. Aesir are from Asgard, Primals are from the Wild, and Outlanders are from Pandemonium. The gateway realms work by different rules; they're called Jotunheim and Dis, and they're much easier to get to and from than any of the other realms. Giants are from Jotunheim. Evil things are from Dis.”

 

“Evil things?”

 

“Evil's the easiest word. Any maneater from any legend you've ever heard? Probably from Dis. Anything that hunts in the dark, that feeds on corpses or blood, or turns innocent people into monsters? That's Dis. Demons in the flesh. When Dis is waxing, they can leak into the mortal realm. That's when the Heroes perform their greatest service to mankind.”

 

I shivered. “You mean I'll have to fight them?”

 

“Better than letting them rampage. You'll get the hang of it – and you're safer than most,” he said. “You can't be converted anymore, and you're able to kill them without becoming them, either.”

 

The implications sank in. Killing a fantasy monster caused the killer to absorb its powers. “You mean that if a normal person fought, say, a zombie – are zombies real?”

 

Hewn pondered for a moment. “Ghouls are more what you're thinking of; undead cannibals that rob graves.”

 

“So if a human kills a ghoul, then, what happens?”

 

“In that specific case, the killer wouldn't gain any powers,” Hewn said. “If he killed some other fey creature – an elf, for example – he wouldn't seem to gain any powers either, if he'd killed the ghoul first. But when he died, he would rise from his grave as a new ghoul. The magic of any of his kills would be added on in raw form, so he might wind up a more powerful ghoul than the one he'd destroyed, even. Other creatures would convert their killer much faster, and more thoroughly.”

 

“But if I killed a ghoul, it would go differently. Right?” I could imagine myself killing a zombie easily enough. Hell, half the video games of the last five years had involved that as a central theme.

 

“You've already bonded to elven magic. The ghoul's power would be added to yours in raw form; your magic would grow stronger. No ill effects for you. It's one reason the world needs the Heroes.”

 

I grimaced. The thought of creatures like that being real made my skin crawl...and it was going to be my job to hunt them down for the rest of eternity. Or until I died in battle. It sounded like a good purpose in life – a noble one, even – but if I'm honest, it also scared the crap out of me.

 

I stumbled as my feet sank into the mud. Whatever magic had been keeping me from leaving tracks had failed and the sudden change in traction threw me. Hewn offered me a hand to steady myself, but I waved him away. “I'm okay, but it looks like my magic's not really reliable.”

 

“Not yet – not for a while, either. Look, sh-she'll tell you more and better than I can. And she'll be there tomorrow at the latest.”

 

We reached the edge of the woods; I could see my car in the park-and-ride. “I'll be okay from here. Thanks, Hewn.” Probably. Maybe? Physically, I was probably going to be fine, but my soul might be a different story; after all, I had work tomorrow.

 

It was a twenty minute drive into town, which was as quiet as a typical Sunday afternoon. I could feel that something was different, but couldn't quite place it. Something was off about the traffic; I was picking up on something fleeting. I wrote it off as the somewhat-unfamiliar sound made by wet pavement under the tires. Now that I was clear of the woods I could see that even in the aftermath of the downpour, there wasn't a cloud in sight.

 

Once I reached home I went straight for my computer, then to the weather forecast. I backed the radar view up by a couple hours and watched as an enormous storm stretching from the upper peninsula of Michigan to somewhere around Texas suddenly developed a perfectly circular hole with a two hundred mile radius, centered on my hometown. As the radar advanced, the storm continued to move, but the circle stayed completely dry.

 

I put my head in my hands and rested it against the desk. Secrecy hadn't been covered. If it was an integral part of being a Hero, my tenure might wind up being very short indeed.

 

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November 4th.  I went to bed early, got some much-needed rest, and churned this out before work.  Didn't catch up but feeling much better.

 

 

 People had already noticed. I was hesitant to pry into the truly strange conspiracy sites, but even the weathermen had acknowledged it as something strange – although they used rather a lot of words to admit that it didn't fit their predictions. It hadn't made it to the main news – yet – and so far, nobody I knew was discussing it.

 

I pushed the weather out of my mind and dove into research mode instead. These heroes – there had to be something about them in history. Right?

 

There was one person named Shamasun in the USA – if I was spelling the name right. So the name existed, but I doubted that Shamasun had a permanent address in New Jersey. Hewn had mentioned Enkidu, although that one took me a couple tries to remember right. I spent some time reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, but Shamasun himself wasn't mentioned. According to the story, though, Enkidu had killed a giant. One that may or may not have been actually humanoid.

 

No mention of Hewn either – although I suspected that Hewn was just the latest name he used. Searching for Greek Statue got me plenty of results, for obvious reasons. Greek Living Statue got me the legend of Galatea, who was both the wrong gender and the wrong material. There was also Talos, who was apparently a giant bronze statue, and a few other miscellaneous ones. Nothing under the myth of Cronos indicated that he couldn't die, or that his body parts could be animated – or even that he was made of stone.

 

I gave up after a while. These myths were interesting but they clearly had only part of the story; in the next few days I would be getting to talk to some primary sources. I tried to spend the rest of the night normally, but my attention was wandering and I couldn't even play video games. Instead I settled into bed early.

 

Exhaustion took me to sleep faster than I'd expected, but I woke in the middle of the night. It sounded like someone was throwing pebbles against my window. I struggled into a shirt, still groggy, and looked out.

 

By star and moonlight, I could easily see – it was Hewn. I pointed towards the front door and cursed inwardly. This would call for pants too; I pulled them on. A minute later, I had hurried him in through the entry hall and had him safely hidden in my apartment. I grinned a little as I did so; I'd never smuggled someone into my room before. The effect was spoiled somewhat by his footsteps, as the creaking of floorboards beneath him would have been impossible to hide.

 

“What are you doing here?” Wait. There was something. “You're welcome inside, but I don't know Xenia. I don't know what to do.”

 

He nodded. “It's my tradition, not yours. I'll teach you if you want, but there's a bigger problem now. Can I borrow a phone?”

 

“Sure, but why?”

 

“I got back to the threshold and it's broken. I couldn't get back to the mansion, and I left my phone inside. So I had to walk into town and find you by following your aura.” He smiled apologetically. “I would be grateful if I could use your home to hide until we can re-establish the gate and get me to safety.”

 

I tried to think through things that I was way too groggy for and just gave up. “You can sleep on the couch.”

 

“Thank you, but I don't actually sleep – and can't sit on the couch. I weigh a little under nine hundred pounds and would break most furniture you have to offer. But I don't get tired; I'm fine standing.”

 

No sleep. What could I have him do? The answer was obvious. I led him over to the bookshelf.

 

“Pratchett. Sanderson. Weeks. Gaiman. Have fun reading, just make sure you shelve them back where they were and try not to damage them.” I liked having books with good spines. I retrieved my phone from my bedside and handed it to him as well. “When the phone's alarm goes off, wake me up. Please don't wake me before then.” With that, I turned around and headed back to sleep.

 

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November 4th, part 2.  

 

 

 I woke to a knock on the door. It startled me for a moment before I remembered Hewn.

 

“Miss Sam. Either the phone is ringing or the alarm is going off.”

 

I listened for a moment, still waking up. “Alarm. It'll turn off.” And it would. Then it would ring again in five minutes if it was allowed to – something I normally permitted once as I got up. But it wouldn't be nice to make Hewn wait; I struggled my way to full consciousness and appropriate clothing. I was still tired, but I smelled fresh coffee.

 

It was coffee all right. Coffee with a spread of fruit and bread set out on my kitchen island – which hadn't been quite as clean as it was now in a long time. Hewn smiled, polishing one of his hands with a rag.

 

“Thought I could set out a nice breakfast for you.”

 

I was speechless. My home had been a basic bachelorette pad – a bit of a mess, but not bad. Now, it damnation near sparkled. The stucco on the walls had been scrubbed clean, the spiderwebs in the corners brushed away. Even the glass stovetop was clear of stains, and I'd thought that to be a lost cause.

 

And yet, the first thing out of my mouth was, “Where did you get the fruit?”

 

He shrugged. “One of my friends can do the Cornucopia thing. Turns out it works over a phone, too.”

 

I sat down, still not quite awake enough to process things. The coffee had foam, and, as I discovered when I drank some, contained some coffee grounds, but it was both extremely strong and quite sweet. It was different, but palatable. I glanced around, remembering my manners.

 

“Thanks. For breakfast and for cleaning. But I thought you were going to read?”

 

“I did, but I ran out of books. Do you have any more?”

 

That shocked me awake. My shelf contained the entire Sandman cycle and thirty Pratchetts, and it hadn't lasted Hewn one night – and how long had he been cooped up in Shamasun's mansion, alone? The poor thing had to have been so bored...

 

“No. That's all the books I have here.” There was still a box of books at my parents' house. Maybe two boxes. It still wouldn't last him a full day. What else could he do? “Do you like video games?”

 

“I don't know. Never seen any.”

 

I put the coffee cup down. If there were any more shocks this morning, I was liable to spill it everywhere. I chose my words carefully. “How long, may I ask, have you been away from the mortal realm?”

 

He appeared to think it over before answering. “I haven't really been back for about twenty years or so. Shamasun's been in and out a bit. Brought me a phone and a few books from time to time, but really he's been spending more time in Jotunheim and Asgard. And to be honest, usually, when we visit the mortal realm, we're on a mission of some form or another. It's kind of rare that we get to see the sights.”

 

Twenty years away. Most of my lifetime. Well, I had a few things to offer him. I picked up a peach and led Hewn to the computer, almost beckoning him to sit down before I remembered that he really shouldn't.

 

“This is a computer.”

 

“Like in Star Trek?” he asked, his voice eager.

 

“So you know Star Trek.” A sudden thought struck me. “Do you know the Next Generation?”

 

“What? Do you mean there's more Star Trek now?”

 

“Sure is. More than you probably want. But no, this isn't as good as the computer from Star Trek.”

 

I showed him the basics of how to use it. He proved adept with the keyboard – exclaiming for a moment that it was just like the old typewriters – but I quickly came to the conclusion that he should stay off the internet until I had some time to teach him more.

 

Instead, I showed him the Xbox. It wasn't the latest model – just a 360, but I had a fair stable of good games to offer him. Once he got the hang of the buttons and I showed him where to find the manual for the games, he was off to a decent start – for a noob. I left him playing while I showered; he was still at it when I left for work.

 

 

Still behind.  Still not letting myself fall TOO FAR behind.  Everyone still enjoying things?  

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Still enjoying things, I just never have any feedback other then I enjoy reading it and wish there was more. 

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I'm a fan of it. I just don't have enough time to give good feedback. But I'll pop in to say that I really enjoy this.

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November 5th, Morning.  967 words.

 

 

 At work, I remained focused, diligent, and proactive about keeping my soul from fleeing to Dis in despair. Especially during the Monday morning meeting, where Carol tried to focus the team but really only managed to show off her own increasing desperation.

 

Carol's only two years older than I am, and all things considered, I would call her a friend if she wasn't my boss. The problem is, business degree or no, she really doesn't know what she's doing. I think she's trying to hide it by adhering to rigid hierarchy and hoping things will sort themselves out, but it's not working. I would flee this sinking ship of a company, but there really aren't many programming jobs in Wisconsin – especially not related to video games. This indie game development company had sounded like just what I was looking for when I applied, despite the lower rate of pay, and it took months for me to realize how bad things were.

 

Carol's plan was bold, innovative, and brazenly commercial. It was also incredibly stupid. We at Infinidapt were programming a game without any art assets or concrete design.

 

Carol's big plan had sprang into being when she'd heard about video games constituting a multi-billion-dollar industry. With some backing from her father (who I know very little about other than that he can apparently sling around a hefty amount of money without caring too much) she assembled the team to create the ultimate in advergames. She started the team putting fundamentals in place while she started lining up a sponsor; design and art would wait until we knew which company would be advertising through our game. That was a little over a year ago.

 

Now each Monday meeting just has her looking a little more dead. She's still professional, still the boss, but when I talked with her recently, I saw that her most recent pitch had been to the makers of Desitin. The longer we go without a sponsor, the more money she's sunk into the creation of the game and the harder it will be to get someone to sign on. To be entirely honest, I'm more than a little amazed that Carol has always been sober at the Monday meetings. I also have to give her credit for not lashing out at anyone else for her plan's disintegration.

 

Meanwhile, the programming team, bereft of leadership, has been trying to have at least something to show for a year's employment. We had a game engine in there – a decent one – and a solid base for something. We'd just been trying to make anything that could be used as a tech demo, or could be listed on a resume when this job inevitably falls apart. We'd even done some level design, but it was all made to be pulled apart and reassembled as needed.

 

I trudged back to my desk after the meeting, pausing only to get more coffee – coffee of the sort that I was used to. Hewn's variant hadn't been bad, but it had been so strange to me. Had he even used my coffeemaker? If he'd gotten that out of a basic Mr. Coffee, I wondered how.

 

Our building was half shared with a pizzeria, although we kept that door closed. All four of our offices had windows, through which most of us could see six feet of backyard and a fence. Roger and I shared the premium office, which looked out into the parking lot instead, giving a clear view of the dumpster. We usually kept the blinds closed.

 

When I entered, Roger had his head down against his desk. He flinched at my approach, then looked up blearily.

 

“Sam?” My name came out his mouth as a croak.

 

“Rough night?” I asked.

 

“Not really. Baby slept through the night. Kerry and I spent some time gaming and turned in early. Jogged here as usual. Felt fine until I got here, then just started wanting to puke during the meeting.”

 

“I know the feeling.”

 

“No, a lot more than usual. I think I'm getting sick.”

 

“Seriously?” It wouldn't really matter if he went home. Not from this job. What's more, Roger had missed even less work than I had. “How bad is it?”

 

“Dizzy. Nauseous. I feel...like something's under my skin. Weird.” He shook his head as if trying to get hair out of his eyes. “More than that, I'm tired. And I shouldn't be.”

 

“Do you need a ride home?”

 

He gave me a look of dread. “In your car? It might be safer to crawl home. Through a snake pit.”

 

“Ha. Ha. If the wheels fly off and we both die in a crash, your wife can sue the mechanic.” Roger himself had changed a wheel bearing on my car after I had purchased it for next to nothing. A few minutes later, with leave from Carol, I dropped Roger off at his house. I could hear the baby start crying as I saw him to the door.

 

I returned to my workplace and tried to get things done. I'd spent a few hours experimenting with platforming elements and tightening the control scheme when a strange scent found me. It was carried on a waft of dry air, like I'd always imagined the wind of a desert to be, and it had the smell of...jasmine? That and other things.

 

I stood up from my desk and poked my head out into the hallway. Cool air, there, with no odor other than those that leaked in from the pizzeria. Back at my desk, though, the scent of jasmine was joined by more. The air was spicy and sweet, reminding me of far-off places and exotic foods.

 

 

Sorry to be so needy.  I'm more than a little prone to depression and silence leads to my own inner voice speaking louder, constantly telling me that nobody's really interested.

 

Later tonight we should see the mysterious 1001's introduction.  A virtual cookie to anyone who figured out who she really is - although I think you probably have enough hints for it by now.

 

Also, what questions would YOU be interested in if you were Sam?  I have the disadvantage of already knowing the answers.

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November 5th, Afternoon.  Got out of work early. 455 words.  Nearly at goal for the day, but more catch-up to do.

 

 

There was a hubbub outside the window, and I drew the shades open, revealing a sprawling marketplace under a blazing desert sun. No glass sat in the windowframe to separate me from the scene that lay before me. Robed men with deep tans and colorful, pointy hats manned market stalls laden with dried fruit and meat, rolls of silk, and caged animals. Children raced up and down the rows, shopping and running errands in the press of people. Market criers chanted, waving their wares about, speaking a language I didn't know but hitting musical cadences as they tried to draw attention to their merchandise.

 

It was foreign, yet welcoming – a tableau vivant of a people whose lifeblood was trade. As I watched, the market unfolded, swelled, then receded as the day turned to night. Stalls packed up and were replaced by different vendors or performers – first jugglers and acrobats, then dancers and musicians, working in tandem but behaving as if they were competing off each other to draw tips from the crowd. I caught flashes of words that seemed familiar as the people varied.

 

The sunrise broke over the market and the people changed again. Darker skinned men led a pair of elephants down the street. Soldiers – Roman legions? – ransacked the place, only for the merchants to return and set everything back as it was, or nearly.  Styles changed before my eyes as generations blew by as if carried by the desert wind.  A palace rose in the distance, topped by an immense stone arch. Time whipped past and I could feel the weight of ages.

 

Over the course of centuries, the market died down. The merchants found elsewhere to bring their goods. The well in the center was left untended; the dancers and singers no longer returned. All that remained was a woman, her back to me, and with a start I realized that she had been there all along regardless of day or night, war or peace, glory or decline, telling stories of all the others. Because they were her stories, born of her blood and pain and love, and even when they were told by others, they were always hers.

 

She stood in the empty market, and she turned to face me – a dusky Arabian princess, no, a queen of ages long past, with long black hair and dark eyes. She smiled, and the scene faded.

 

The glass was back in the window. The market was gone, the crumbling palace had faded away as the entire scene folded up. All that was left was the parking lot – and the woman. My heart skipped a beat as she opened the door to my workplace and stepped inside.

 

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I have no Idea who 1001 is. I don't know much Arabian Lore outside of 40 thieves and Aladdin. Still reading though. 

 

Did 1001 infect Roger with something to get rid of him?

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She's got to be

Scheherezade.

 

Which is a totally mangled Anglicization of her Persian name

Shahrzad

(with some funny diacritic markings in there), but it's the same person.

 

Kudos for the story.

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Just posting to note that I've really been enjoying this story so far, and I think your worldbuilding for the heroes and how magic works and all is just fantastic in here. Don't listen to that voice! You've got this!

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November 5th, evening.  493 words.

 

 

 

I stepped out of the office to try to intercept her, but Carol was there first, business face on.

 

“Hi! Welcome to Inf-” Carol slowed to a stop, eyes wide. She stood there, entranced by the cinnamon-skinned stranger, who turned to me.

 

“You would be Sam, I take it?” I nodded and extended a hand. She took it and smiled. “I find that using modern names is usually convenient. You can call me Sherry.”

 

Understanding dawned. “Scheherazade.”

 

“Among many other names, yes. But really, Sherry will be just fine.”

 

“All right.”

 

Carol was still standing there, eyes wide but unseeing. Scheherazade regarded her and turned back to me. “She looks like she needs a rest. Would you mind if I talk to her boss about it? It would be a good demonstration of what I can do.”

 

“She is the boss.”

 

“You're kidding.” The other office doors had eased open and the other programmers were peeking through like sideways prairie dogs. Scheherazade pointed at them. “You. Your boss's friend is here. There is nothing unusual to see.”

 

They nodded, expressions slack, and scooted back into the offices. I could barely believe it; she was like some kind of Jedi. But she wasn't done yet.

 

She placed a lone finger on Carol's forehead and leaned in close, whispering loudly enough for me to hear. “You're tired and you're worried but you need the rest more than anything. Go home. Forget your troubles for a full night – don't even think of them. Do something you like. Talk to people you love. And while you relax, feel this spark sink into your mind. Let the spark ignite. Tomorrow morning you'll have everything you need to tackle your problems and the world will all be so much better.”

 

She leaned in and kissed Carol softly on the forehead, then turned back to me. “All done.”

 

“What was that?” I asked.

 

“The look of someone who doesn't know what to do next is pretty well universal. So I used my oldest magic on her, to make her find some inspiration that she lacked. I can't guarantee that it will help her, but it'll give her a shot. That said, though, I can't very well send your boss home and close up your business without knowing what you're doing here – so I'm going to get settled into my hotel room and I'll see you later tonight.”

 

I'd thought, for some reason, that training would preempt my entire life. I wasn't sure how I felt to be wrong. “Wait – Hewn's stuck at my place. Can you help him?”

 

“Sure. I'll visit. I'll even bring popcorn.” She smiled conspiratorially. “Hewn loves popcorn. Did he tell you?”

 

A “No” was still working its way out when the bringer of stories whisked out the door, as quickly as she had come in.

 

 

7387 words so far.  Still behind by nearly a thousand, but I had a rough first few days and I'm closing the gap a little.  Have to turn in early because my wife may need a ride to work in the morning.

 

Speaking of, she actually has a better grounding in mythology than I do and will be serving as my editor when NaNoWriMo is over and there's time to actually edit.  

 

And Scheherazade is indeed a butchering of the original name, but it's a butchering of a butchering of a butchering.  The person most likely to have had the title that wound up becoming the name Scheherazade lived (if she lived at all) at the time of Alexander the Great, and was named Homai or Homay; she had the title of Čehrzād, 'one whose appearance is noble', and the legend of Scheherazade was written about a thousand years after her line was extinguished.

 

Yes, Wikipedia is very, very useful for hobby research.

 

And thank you.  All of you.

Edited by Talanic
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November 6th, morning.  914 words.  

 

 

Work was strange, but that could have just been me. For some reason, I was having difficulty concentrating, but I soldiered on.

 

After work, I decided against heading straight home and went to indulge myself at the Dickensville Humane Society. I've always wanted a cat, but have never had a time when I could reasonably keep one. Instead, I help socialize strays.

 

Things were different the moment I entered the building. Every cat sat up and stared at me, from the ones in the adoption booths to the newcomers in the individual 'condos'. The workers were too busy to notice, but I quickly became uncomfortable with the undivided attention of everything feline. Even the kittens' gaze was only broken when they blinked.

 

My nervousness was broken when one of the 'roamers' – a permanent resident of the shelter – padded up to me and rubbed against my ankles. Whatever these cats could sense, it was fascinating them rather than disturbing them. I could live with that.

 

There'd been relatively few newcomers, so I wound up spending some time in Booth Six, with the adult cats. I knew most of them; kittens often adopt out quickly, but adult cats aren't as quick to snare a human's heart. I'd reached an arrangement with them: I provided a lap and brushing in exchange for purring. It was a simple thing, but it helped to keep them used to contact with strangers.

 

Even the cats couldn't drag my mind back to normalcy, but by the time I had de-furred my clothing and exited the building, I'd swear that my blood pressure had dropped by a few of whatever units blood pressure was measured in. Scheherazade was waiting for me outside.

 

“How did you find me here?” I asked, a little disturbed.

 

“Your aura's abnormally bright,” she said. “Until your power stabilizes, I'll be able to find you anywhere in the mortal realm. There's few enough sources of magic here that nothing can mask that kind of power.”

 

“Oh. Well.” I groped for a conversational handhold. “Did you get settled in?”

 

“Sure did. And I checked on Hewn, but he was busy. Said something about being a Dragon-born.”

 

I grinned. “He'll be fine.”

 

“I'm sure. But I think a girls' night is a good idea. A time for us to establish what's going on here; I'm sure you have more questions than can easily be answered. I was thinking of the local version of Chinese food?”

 

She had a rental car, so we dropped mine off at home. I wasn't really sure of what small talk to make. I felt like I was socially out of my depth, with no idea what kind of conversation to make.

 

She may have sensed it. Probably. Regardless, she settled into the booth at the Crimson Dragon and leaned in. “Nobody will notice if you ask me strange questions, you know. Not as long as I'm ready for it. That's one of the easiest powers of Glamour – making sure the weird goes without comment.”

 

I sat back in some relief. I still wasn't sure what to ask, so I started in with something personal.

 

“You...” Killed an elf? That seemed a bit blunt of a way to put it. “You have elven magic too. Hewn said.”

 

“When I was a girl, my mother went insane. She neglected her duties about the palace, devoted herself only to poetry and dance. And she was brilliant.” Her gaze was distant. “Some of her poetry still lives today, though it loses some in translation. My father, the king...he allowed it, because he loved her. But none of us realized she was killing herself, a bit at a time. She wasted away, not eating, not sleeping, devoting every last second to her art. By the time she died, she hadn't spoken to me in over a month.”

 

I stared at her in horror, but she continued.

 

“After my mother died, my sister went into a frenzy with her paints. Her work hasn't survived the ages, but I remember her final masterpiece so clearly. When we found her, she'd run out of red, used her own blood. I was just a girl, though. So nobody believed me when I told them about the Lady. I'd seen the Lady for months, but hadn't realized that nobody else did unless she was speaking to them. I thought she'd been helping my mother, giving her a bit of extra energy when she was tired. I'd thought she was a friend; only later did I realize she was driving my mother to her death. When she came for the painting, it was like she just wanted it as a trophy.”

 

She took a long drink, then grimaced.

 

“I'd rather not go into the fight. I'm here. The Lady isn't. As usual, I had to kill her again a few centuries later – that was a shock. I took it as a chance to get revenge in the name of my mother and my sister, both.”

 

I wasn't very hungry anymore. “I didn't know elves work that way.”

 

“Some do. That particular tribe is called the Leanan Sidhe. I have the full suite of Faerie powers now, but the spark's still my oldest magic. I suppose it's what made me have the reputation for stories. But enough about me, Sam. I'd like to know about you.”

 

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Loving it, keep 'em coming. I'm actually looking forward to reading theses lately. 

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November 6th, Evening.  1117 words.  9418 words total; I've decreased the gap!  Posting and making an early evening of it.  I'm not happy with all of the dialogue here, doesn't feel natural enough to me, but NaNoWriMo's not about editing.  That'll come much later.

 

 

I stumbled over words for a few seconds and tried to cover by having a drink. It didn't work, of course, but I still tried. All the while, she just sat there, smiling at me. Relaxed; not judging. If there had been a hint of condescension I would probably have lost my nerve entirely, maybe even fled into the night. As it was, her patience allowed me the time I needed.

 

“I'm...the youngest of three.” It seemed a good start. “My oldest brother, Ken, lives out in Oregon, runs a restaurant there. Todd, my other brother lives to the south – in Oconomowoc. He works at my parents' hardware store. They're both married. I have three nieces and a nephew.”

 

Scheherazade raised an eyebrow. “I asked about you, not about your brothers. What's wrong?”

 

I froze for a second before it tumbled out. “This shouldn't have happened to me. I'm...I'm not the important one in the family. I just - I haven't been on grand adventures or saved anyone. I'd say I'm an okay person but I'm nothing special. I can't even talk to my – Ken's fifteen years older than me and he scares me and he's not even trying. He's never hurt me, and I know he loves me, and I love him, but I feel like any attempt to talk to him is a waste of his time, like I'm just not important. And it's not him, it's me – I don't know what to say to him. And here you are, what, two thousand years older? What can I say to you? What do we really have in common?”

 

She nodded, sipped her drink and set it down. “You don't talk to people much, do you?”

 

I shook my head and wished fiercely that my soda contained some form of alcohol. I also wanted some kind of secluded cupboard to crawl in and close behind myself.

 

“I'm sorry, Sherry. I just feel insignificant compared to my own family. What am I that can be of interest to you?”

 

“I could have guessed that you were the youngest. So was I – don't worry. You'll get over it in time. But seriously, you don't have to justify yourself to me. I'm not here to tell you what to do with your mortal life; I'm here to keep an eye on you and teach you what you need to know. How to slip between worlds – and how to resist the pull when you want to stay here. What you can do with magic and what's not safe. And I'm hoping to be your friend, because you can teach me a lot, too.”

 

“Me? Teach you? What?”

 

“How mortals live.” She waved a hand around in an encompassing motion. “Here, specifically. I spend so much time traveling in other realms that I can't keep up with what happens in my own home. And I'm not referring to Persia – my people died when Alexander the Great tore through them. I mean in all the different places in the mortal realm. I can grab a newspaper and pick up on local views of politics, but I'm out there a few times a year fighting for the people of this world and when I try to make a home somewhere, I feel like I don't know people anymore. Some of the other heroes have given up. Even Shamasun spends more time in Jotunheim than anywhere else, even his own home. In short, we're all losing touch with our humanity, and you're the first to join our ranks in over three hundred years. Could be because we've done our jobs too well, kept everyone safe from the creatures that they could gain power from. But I think we need someone new from time to time, and this time, that someone is you. So for now, forget that my age has the word 'hundred' in the middle of 'twenty-four years old' and treat me like I'm a new friend from a long ways away.”

 

I blinked, and tried to recalibrate, then let out a breath and tried again.

 

“I graduated from college last year, with a degree in computer science. I'm a programmer.” Her face was blank. “Do you know what that means?”

 

“Not really, no. I've heard of computers and programs. I've seen some movies where they were mentioned but I haven't seen any, personally.”

 

“Sure you have. Don't you have a cell phone?”

 

She pulled a top-tier smartphone from one pocket. “It's a computer?”

 

At this point I could barely believe what I was hearing. “What did you think it was?”

 

“Magic mirror or similar enchantment, really. I didn't think about it much. Last I checked things out, computers were bigger than cars.”

 

I spent a few seconds speechless. “That was a while ago. Before I was born. I guess I've always taken for granted that they fit in your hand, unless you want one with a fair amount of power. Anyway. A programmer is someone who knows how to speak machine language – write it, really – to tell the machine what to do. At its core, the computer really only knows how to do math, but by telling it to do the right kind of math, it can be made to do all kinds of things.”

 

“Like call any other computer in the world?”

 

“Well, that requires a few other things. Satellites. Towers. Radio signals. And a very complicated system of identifiers and relays that can send the signal to the exact phone that you dial. Most of that's in place already.”

 

“And that system. It's the kind of thing you do? You make the phones work?”

 

“Not exactly. I make games. Well. I'm trying to make one game. I'm pretty sure we're failing at it.”

 

“Oh. Games.” She still looked a little lost.

 

“You haven't played any of those either.”

 

“No. Hewn looked like he was having fun, though.”

 

“I'll bet. Dragonborn statue.” I chuckled. “Video games are what young people do for fun these days. You should try them. Might like them.”

 

“Maybe. But what's wrong with the one you're trying to make?”

 

“That...would take the rest of the night to explain. But back on topic. Do you know anything about the internet?”

 

She shrugged vaguely. “I've heard it thrown around. It's some kind of buzzword.” She stopped at the look on my face. “What?”

 

“No. It's a real thing. But it's the kind of thing that's better shown than told.”

 

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November 7th, morning.  I started off trying another Interlude, but it didn't work this time.  There may or may not be a History of the Fall of Olympus, by Ragnar Snorrisen, at a later date.  Instead, 834 words and a fun little sequence that leads into some of the major conflict of the tale.  I listened to the piece mentioned within as I wrote.

 

 

 

Within a few hours, Scheherazade was gleefully browsing historical articles. I'd even taught her how to edit Wikipedia – more than that, I had taught her not to actually do so. Hewn had logged off of the Xbox (with the assurance that he could play again when I was in bed) to join in for the lesson; they had been enraptured.

 

Scheherazade had started out by pulling up articles on the Leannan Sidhe, surprising me once again with the bizarre spelling. From there, she and Hewn started competing over what to look up.

 

“It's like having a hundred libraries and a thousand librarians working for you,” Hewn gushed. “Quick. Look up Alcmaeon of Athens. He was a friend and I haven't seen anything on him in ages.”

 

“Just a moment. It's my turn.” Scheherazade was ego surfing – looking up her own name. “Nikolai Rimsy-Korsakov. I always wondered what happened to him. Did you know about the work he named after me?”

 

I seized the keyboard and brought it up on Youtube, bringing a squeal of delight from her. She ceded the machine to Hewn on the condition that he leave it playing in the background. He searched for term after term, muttering. I realized I could roughly track his movements throughout history by the people that he searched for, but he was too quick for me to get more than the most basic read of any page that he visited.

 

Scheherazade swayed to the music that bore her name; if we hadn't been so cramped I believe she would have danced. It was nearly an hour long but it still felt like it ended far too soon, and she sat down at my table, smiling broadly. She beckoned for me to join her.

 

“I've seen some wondrous things in my time, you know,” she said. “The Rainbow Bridge. The Bulwark of Man. The palaces of Faerie. Skyscrapers. They're each in their own class – good as what they are, for what they are. But this internet is a wonder unlike anything I've ever seen. It is the first thing that humans have made that I've encountered that has no rival; none of the other realms have anything even approaching this.”

 

The computer's speakers began blasting out Rick Astley, and Hewn turned towards us, his brow furrowed in concentration. “It's supposed to be a documentary. Did I do something wrong?”

 

I couldn't help but laugh. The night wore thin, though, and I went to bed not long after. Scheherazade spent a few minutes explaining that my need for sleep would fade as years went by, but it didn't matter to me there and then; I left the two of them still gleefully reading away. The last thing I heard before I went off to bed was Scheherazade's exclamation, “Ooh! They made a second Star Wars!”

 

I woke to a call from Carol. She was terse, and barely said hello before forcing her way through the conversation – which was more of a monologue.

 

“Don't come in to work today,” she said. “Everyone gets a paid day off while I straighten things out.”

 

By the time I had a response, she'd said goodbye and hung up, apparently in a grand hurry. My alarm started going off before I managed to lower the phone, leaving me confused but entirely awake.

 

Hewn had prepared breakfast again, this time including freshly baked bread and some honey-glazed rolls. Scheherazade had gone grocery shopping in the night; my kitchen was strangely well-stocked, although some of the groceries were more exotic than I was used to. Hewn and Scheherazade weren't at the table, though; they were playing co-op, killing zombies.

 

I didn't recognize a word that was coming out of Scheherazade's mouth, but the tone and cadence made me certain she was swearing; I just didn't know what language she was using. She briefly swapped to English as her character was getting overrun in melee. “She's not fast enough! What kind of crap is this?”

 

Hewn, on the other hand, was calm and collected, taking individual shots from a distance. They cleared the horde, waved good morning, and went back to playing.

 

I felt strangely proud. Within two days, I had converted two of the ancient heroes of mankind into geeks.

 

As I ate breakfast, I pondered what I would do the unexpected day off. Staying in to play videogames wasn't that fun without a new game to explore, and generally was a good way to burn out on games, anyway. The heroes were happy enough with their new toy; I'd do my own thing. I thought I'd visit the shelter again, call Roger and check up on him, and maybe call Todd.

 

Everything screeched to a halt as I exited the front door of the apartment. The grass, the shrubs, the trees and the bushes surrounding the building – all green yesterday – had turned brown, dead, and withered.

 

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November 7th, evening.  If you'll excuse a tired old phrase, the plot thickens. 

 

1676 words today.  Technically 1769 if you count the fragment of an interlude, but I don't plan to until it's a proper chapter length.  1676 is barely past quota - but still a success!

 

 

Hewn had to crawl into the car; he rode sprawled across the back seat, all three seatbelts on him. It was the only way to make it work as we left the apartment.

 

We were silent as we followed the trail. The route to work. The way to Roger's house. The shelter. All the plants by the road were dead.

 

The shelter was not only closed but locked. Veterinarians were moving around inside, jerky motions and rapid pace indicating clear worry. I could see into some of the glass booths from the outside; the cats were just laying there. Too still.

 

At my direction, Scheherazade headed out of town and we followed the dead trail back towards the woods. From a distance, I could look at the woods or back at town and see that there was still green; it just wasn't in any places where I'd visited.

 

We pulled up by the park-and-ride to find that it was full. Men and women in blaze orange were milling about, taking measurements. Some carried shotguns. I rolled down the window and called out.

 

“What's going on here?”

 

“We're investigating Bigfoot tracks.”

 

It struck me very suddenly. I swiveled in my chair and took a good look at Hewn's feet. They weren't as large as the legends said, but they were subtly out of proportion with the rest of him. He shrugged apologetically.

 

“They made me with bigger feet so I wouldn't break every floor I walked across,” he said. “It was a practical decision.”

 

Another van drove up. Park service, this time. Rangers began attempting to shoo people away, but the Bigfoot hunters resisted – not violently, but the term “cover-up” definitely featured. I also heard the call of 'potential biohazard,' 'Homeland Security,' and 'quarantine' going out over the radio, as the Park Service had noticed the trail of dead trees.

 

There was no way we could get near the Threshold – even if it could be made to work again. We started the drive back in town.

 

“It's me causing it. Isn't it?” Silence. “What the hell am I?”

 

“We don't know it's you,” Scheherazade said. “It could be...” She trailed off.

 

“It could be me.”

 

Hewn broke in. “No. There's probably pieces of some kind of major curse laying about. Your aura's huge; it could be working like some kind of magnet, pulling pieces in towards you.”

 

“Like you said about the weather? Are we sure that there's anything of the sort going on?” I was getting a little hysterical. “Oh God! My friend Roger got sick yesterday – did I do that too? Are we sure I'm not some kind of monster?”

 

“No,” Scheherazade said. “I've never heard of a new hero having this happen. Not ever in two thousand years. Hewn – you're sure it was an elf?”

 

“It had a faerie coin. It used nature magic. It was...stronger than I expected, but I had no reason to think it was anything other than what it looked like.”

 

Scheherazade shook her head angrily, not taking her eyes off the road. “I don't see how it could be you. Not from an elf.”

 

“What if it was from some kind of stormed-up death tribe? It makes a difference – you said so.”

 

“To have such perverse power?” She shook her head. “No. Even wild, your magic shouldn't be able to do this, but I didn't live this long by making assumptions. Let's discuss options and cases. First case, it turns out to be you somehow. Until your power is stable, this will keep happening. We try to exhaust your power – burn up all your magic so it can't hurt anyone or anything. We'll try that today, but we'll put option two into play as we work. Second case is that you picked up some kind of curse fragment. Curses can be broken. I know an expert on the topic, and he owes me big. As soon as we're stopped, we're giving him a call and getting his chull on a flight over here. He'll be here today or tomorrow. Sound good so far?”

 

I nodded. The way she had taken charge had done a lot to calm me down. Hopefully she was as confident as she sounded.

 

“All right. Third case is that it's you and we can't keep it under control. In that case, there's still places we can bring you where nobody will get hurt. We'll open a gate to Jotunheim, making sure to limit your exposure to the mortal realm. You can wait it out. Let your powers stabilize in a mage's cloister in Asgard. We'll go with you. It will take you a year away from your mortal life, but we can manage it. It's not a death sentence.”

 

“And what if it can't be controlled?”

 

She shut her mouth. Neither she nor Hewn said a word for the rest of the drive.

 

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This is still excellent. I happen to be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for more.

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As soon as we're stopped, we're giving him a call and getting his chull on a flight over here.

Sam turned Scheherazade into a Sanderson fan! :o This is just brilliant!

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