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Need a comparison. Gatekeepers rewrite. (Formerly Myth Taken).

3 posts in this topic

So, this month I tried to NaNoWriMo a rewrite of my NaNoWriMo novel from last year.  It didn't go that well; I'm a puny 4,000 words in.
It's a complete rewrite, taking nearly no passages directly from the old story, changing things significantly.  Problem is, I'm too close.  I need some eyes on the new version, some feedback; am I just barking my way up an empty tree here, or am I making a better story?

New version:


My last day as a normal human being began without  warning.  I got up that day with no particular plans.  I was twenty-three, single, and feeling restless on a free Saturday morning.  I was too tired of staring at a computer screen for a day of video games and too frustrated from waitressing to want to socialize.  Instead, I headed out into the woods to visit the cabin.

I had no idea that I was at risk of abduction by fairies.  As far as I was aware, the mystery cabin was just the latest in a line of old buildings that I had - in very technical sense - broken into to explore.  

I knew it was illegal, but I was careful not to harm anyone.  I’d always stuck to abandoned properties; some of them had been condemned and a few had since been torn down with nobody the wiser.  I never damaged anything, and when I was done, I left no trace that I’d ever been there.  I’d invaded old restaurants, a closed theater, and dilapidated farmhouses, but the cabin had become a special project for me that summer.

Through sheer luck, I’d spotted it on Google Maps while checking out my hometown; it had grabbed my imagination and I’d trekked out to visit.  Unlike my other conquests, I found myself going back.

I’d decided that the place was haunted.  Not in the malevolent-spirit-driving-people-away sense, but that the old owner’s ghost had loved the place and stayed around.  I had no idea who that old owner had been; my careful digging into the place’s history revealed that nobody seemed to know that it existed.  Regardless, I’d sketched my idea of him resting by the long-cold stove, waiting for someone to kindle it.

I circled the building twice before approaching.  There were still no trails leading to the door; once again, it looked to be empty.  It couldn’t be completely abandoned; it was in too good of condition to have been neglected.  Someone had to be cleaning the place.  Perhaps as hunting season started in the fall, its real owner would return, but for now it was mine.

The door was massive, with an enormous lock.  My best guess was that the owner had a morbid fear of bears trying to break in.  Bears with battering rams.  Regardless, it hadn’t been locked, and still wasn’t.  As before, a banner hung on the far wall:

“Welcome, Traveller.  Rest here and be safe.  Take what you need, but need what you take.”

That was one of the things that kept me coming back.  One part of me wanted to keep the owner in my imagination, but another part wanted to meet someone so willing to open his home to strangers.

I turned on my LED lantern and scoped the place out.  Nobody else was there; just handmade wooden chairs and table, with a woodpile resting by a cast-iron stove near the wall and a ladder to a small loft with a cot and some neatly-folded bedding.  Stairs led down to the cellar, which I checked as well; as before, it was stocked with shelves of preserved food, bottles of water, and a pristine medical kit that was actually worth a fair deal of money, as it was - quite literally - from World War II.  There were, however, no people down there; I was alone.  

I set my backpack down and took out my little offering to my unknown host.  Two boxes of granola bars and a basic medical kit; nothing fancy, but modern.  Now if some other wandering traveler came across the cabin, he wouldn’t have to defile a museum piece if he needed to patch up a cut.

That done, I sat down, pulled out my sketchbook, and glanced about.  Now that I was here I couldn’t tell why I had to be here.  Something told me that there was a secret to uncover, and I just had to figure out what it was.  

It was all in my own head, of course, so I let my muse guide me in a pencil sketch of the room.  I found myself adding flourishes; strange writings and patterns on the walls, a giant door bar, some mystical circles on the ground.  Further symbols covered the surface of the table in my drawing while the real one lay bare, and the stove’s top looked more like some kind of primal anvil.  

It took more than an hour, but it was one of my best drawings.  Just for fun, I wanted to preserve a record of what the room actually looked like, so I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture.  

I sat very still looking at that picture for some time.  The phone’s screen went into power saving mode twice and I had to push buttons to bring it back, but I had to see it; the room, as viewed in my picture, looked exactly as I had drawn it.

I squeezed my eyes shut, shook my head and opened them.  Nothing had changed about the room that I could see, but the picture was still...arcane.  Not menacing, just different.  

If I’d had a better cell phone, I’d’ve suspected that it had some kind of strange software warping the image, but I understood what an outdated brick I owned.  Even if I did have some kind of bizarre phone malfunction, it wouldn’t explain how I’d somehow drawn it first.

I swapped the phone back to picture taking and panned around.  The screen reflected the room I could see, until I took a picture.  The moment the image was fixed, the place was the strange vista I’d thought had sprung from my imagination.

Had it?  Had I somehow caused this?  It was an absurd thought but I was in an absurd situation.  The sanest explanation I had was that my roommate had slipped LSD into my breakfast, and I didn’t expect that of her.

I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but I really didn’t expect that of her.

All I could do was experiment.  I was a little shaky standing up, but I carefully made my way out of the cabin and backed up until I could fit the entire cabin into the frame.  I saved the resulting picture and studied it carefully; it reflected nothing abnormal about the exterior of the building.  And, I supposed, it proved that the phone could still take normal pictures.

Although I’m opposed to them on principle, I bit the bullet and took a selfie.  I looked normal, too.

I snapped another picture of the interior and it was the same as before.  Maybe there was some strange experiment going on here?  Some kind of paint that showed up to cameras, that could be detected subliminally by the naked eye but couldn’t be consciously seen?  An experiment that was being conducted miles from any laboratory, in the middle of the Wisconsin woods?

I tried to believe that, but it sounded just as insane as any of the other options available to me.  

I checked out the loft.  A picture showed were fewer of the arcane-ish marks up here - none of them on the bedding, but a ghost was leaning against the wall by the cot.

I swallowed hard and took another picture; the specter didn’t move.  It was the same man from my earlier illustration.  Translucent, heavily muscled, bald-headed, with a faint smile and friendly eyes; he was just standing there, as if waiting for something.

I gaped for a moment, but...he didn’t seem upset.  And the banner, even in the pictures I had taken, still proclaimed a welcome.  So…

“Uh.  Hi,” I said.  “Can you hear me?”

I waited a moment, but there was no response.  I snapped another picture; the specter still hadn’t moved.  Maybe it couldn’t see me directly either?  “I saw your welcome, and I mean no harm.”  I gestured vaguely towards the banner, which wasn’t really in view from the loft.  I took yet another picture but the results were still the same.  

The ghost still did not respond, but it didn’t matter; I was in over my head.  I backed down the ladder, resolving to leave.  I would study my pictures, get second opinions on them, and return with friends, but I had to make one last stop before I did.

The basement.  I hadn’t considered the place creepy before, but now I was taking a picture every time I took a step down.  The bare earth walls were as I saw them, but the foundation timbers and braces all bore similar script.  It seemed to have a pattern to it - joining together wherever the logs met each other, as if it all branched from one central location.

I reached the bottom of the steps, lantern in one hand and phone in the other, more than a little hesitant to find out what my phone would say was on the shelves down there.  I took one last picture and paused.

One of the walls was stone, with a thick wooden doorway set into it.  I walked towards it, dragging my feet.  I didn’t want to do this; it was crazy.  I tried to turn back, go home, and the pull on my mind grew less subtle.

You’re going through that.  Stop fighting it.

I didn’t know where the thought had come from but it wasn’t from me.  For the first time, I realized that my hands and feet weren’t just acting on my own buried impulses; I was being controlled.    

I pushed my hand against the dirt wall and strained.  Reality was blurring now; I could see the shape of the doorway, somehow overlaying the dirt.  The lantern went out as it hit the ground, and I was vaguely aware that I’d dropped my phone too, but the door was there and I felt like I’d been looking for it for ages.  

My phone went into power saver mode, cutting out the only light source - but something else was starting to glow as my hands forced their way through dirt that wasn’t really there, opened a door that might’ve been there instead, and I saw clearly for just a moment.

There was a grand cavern on the other side of the door - a space that had no way to exist in the building that I had entered.  But I had no time for more than the most basic comprehension before the door’s destination shifted into a third place - neither bare dirt nor a cavern - and I stumbled into somewhere else.




My first step on another world took me straight to the ground, my head spinning and my hands bruised by the impact.  I forced myself up and gaped at my new surroundings.

I was in a grand entry hallway for what looked like a mansion.  The walls and floor were dark, polished wood, with at least two upper levels that I could see and a grand staircase about thirty feet ahead of me.

Right then, though, I wasn’t interested in the room, because I had control of my limbs back.  I turned back towards the open door; after what had just happened, I’d hit my weird limit and was ready to just book it for home.  

The moment I passed back into the cabin cellar, I lost control of my legs again, falling to the ground in a sudden scramble in the dark.  By sheer luck, I was holding my phone when my legs found purchase and forced me back through the door.

Apparently gaining and losing control over your own limbs isn’t good for your coordination; the moment I passed into the strange entry hall, I dropped my phone - again - and fell on my face - again.

Things had gone from weird to weirder so quickly that I was in a state of shock.  All I could really do was look around until I had enough time to process what was going on.  The door was a bust, so I forced myself upright and looked around.

Glowing wisps of light hovered above wall sconces, illuminating the room with a soft white glow.  The room around me was lined with pedestals, plaques and paintings; whoever owned this place wanted to make an impression.  Most of the pedestals held broken weapons, shields, or pieces of armor in varying states of battle damage.  Occasional paintings overlooked the pedestals; I saw at least one depicting someone leading an army, carrying the shield that sat just below - although, in the painting, the shield wasn’t torn into three pieces.  

I started snapping pictures, slowly progressing through the entryway.  There were no discrepancies.  Even the strange wisps showed up the same.  

At the foot of the stairs was a table.  I couldn’t resist approaching.  It held a massive bronze axe, taller - and probably heavier - than myself.

There came a sudden sound on the upper level - a regular tromping, building from far away.  Heavy footsteps.  I was about to hide myself under the table with the axe when a voice called out.

“Hold on, hold on, I’m coming.”  It was a deep voice, masculine and warm.  “You’re probably scared, but it’s okay, you’re safe here.”  The tromping stopped.  “Can you hear me?” the voice asked.

I swallowed down my fear a little, and managed to squeak out a “Yes.”

“All right.  I’m going to come down.  I’m warning you that I look...strange.  I’m not here to hurt you, but please don’t run up the stairs or panic, okay?”

Well, there went any relief.  He was trying to be soothing, but after what had just happened, what could possibly constitute ‘strange’?

“Okay,” I said.  There wasn’t really any other choice, was there?

He stuck his bald head over the railing and waved.  “Hi.”  

I stared as he rounded the upper level and continued down the stairs.  He was made of rock.  Polished granite, I thought - he looked like the countertop at my parents’ old house, light grey with flecks of black and brown throughout.  

The living statue slowed down at the last few stairs, wood creaking under his oversized feet as he sat down on the second step from the bottom.  He was wearing black pants, belted snugly around a trim waist, but no shirt.  He nodded and blinked opal eyes at me, as if letting me go first.

I swallowed and nodded back, trying to gather my thoughts.  I hadn’t taken a picture of him yet, but what else would it show me?  That he was actually human?  Or perhaps he was something further from human than a living statue was?  Did I want to know?  Did my camera even reveal what was really there?  It seemed a good assumption but I couldn’t stand there gawking all day.

I lowered the phone and tentatively raised my left hand.  “Can I - can I touch you?”  I asked.

He nodded.  “You can’t hurt me,” he said.  

I poked him in the belly.  Hard, cold stone, and yet...he moved.  I couldn’t help it.  I started to chuckle.  The granite man cocked his head to one side with a quizzical look on his face, but it set me off entirely, and moments later I was doubled over laughing.

He chewed briefly on his lower lip - stone on stone, so far as I could see - and shrugged.  “Nobody’s ever done that before.  What’s so funny?”

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

He laughed once.  Cold stone, sure, but there was warmth in his voice.  “It’s not that funny, really,” he said, smiling.

“No,” I said, still fighting giggles.  “It’s not that funny...but it’s just too weird.  I’m in a room that’s too big to be where it is, I can’t leave because my legs won’t let me, my phone keeps taking pictures of things that I can’t see, and here you are, made of stone and just...sitting there with a stuffed unicorn to either side of the stairs.  After what’s just happened, I can laugh or I can cry, but I can’t do both at the same time.”

He nodded.  “Heard worse reasons to laugh.  You don’t have to worry, miss.  I’m here to make sure you get home.  If you like, we’ll be done in two minutes and you’ll be left wondering if it was all some strange dream.”

I backed up a step.  “Nuh-uh.  I found Narnia.  Jumped down the rabbit-hole.  To keep on mixing my stories together, I’m not leaving without a Hogwarts tour, at least.  Not if I have a choice.”

“In that case, Miss…?”

“Sam,” I said.

“Well, Sam,” he said, with a slight bow.  “Welcome to the home of Enkidu.  I am the steward.  You may call me Hewn.  We still have business to take care of.  I need you to empty your pockets.”  He gestured towards the table, next to the gargantuan axe.  “Set the pack down, and turn out everything you’re carrying.  I’ll know what I need when I see it.”

I did as he said.  Backpack, down.  My phone joined it a moment later, along with my car keys and wallet.

He nodded again.  “Is that everything, Sam?”

“Yes,” I said.  It slipped out a bit too quickly.

“I need you to empty your pockets,” he said again, with gentle insistence.

I pulled them inside out.  “Here you go,” I said.  “Nothing there.”  

“What’s in your hand?”

I stared.  My right hand was clenched in a fist around...something.  I didn’t know what it was, but it had been in my pocket.  Now that Hewn had made me aware of it, I could comprehend that it was there, but I could not open my hand.

“Gotcha,” he said.  “Not you, Sam - that’s what I’m looking for, the source of your troubles today.  Just hold it still; I’ll be gentle.”

He reached out and cupped my closed hand with his own, then carefully pried my grip open and extracted the thing within, holding it firmly between two fingers.

It was...a quarter?  But it was something else at the same time.  It was a half dollar or a dime or something else with a value.  It seemed to pulse in the stone man’s grip, as if seeking a form but finding none that would entice its holder.

“Faerie gold,” he said.  “Meant to be spent and spread out for a few years.  A generation or so.  Then it gets its hooks in.  Finds itself someone to carry it, makes them search out the holes.  Flips a few of our spell protections around, making things that repel mortals fascinate instead.  All with one purpose.

“It gets the mortal to walk through an open door to Jotunheim.  From there, it drives them all the way to the Courts.  Provides a little protection - maybe one in fifty to set foot off the Mortal Realm actually make it to Faerie.  One in ten of those will actually find the maker of the little bauble in question.”

Hewn flicked the coin, setting it spinning impossibly between two of his fingers.

“We figured them out ages ago, though.  Turned around their turning around of our defenses; instead of you winding up in Jotunheim our door intercepts you, I break the enchantment, and instead of being lost to the Faeries, you get to go home to your friends and family tonight.”

He tossed it onto the table, then pulled a pouch from his waist and poured a bit of salt onto the coin.  The silver glint of metal evaporated into the brown of baked clay.

“All done,” he said.

I tried to do a mental catch-up.  “Fairies.  I was almost…”

“Stolen away by the fairies, yes.”  He smiled at me.  “Your reaction is gratifying.”


“You’re confused instead of scared.  Five hundred years ago, losing people to other realms was just a fact of life.  These days, you probably have never met anyone who wound up a slave of Faerie.  That’s the result of centuries of hard work.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I wasn’t certain of much but it seemed appropriate.

“You’re welcome, although I didn’t do most of it myself.  I’m just the help,” he said.  

My attention flickered back to the table.  I could’ve sworn that I’d seen the coin move.  Hewn followed my gaze, but misinterpreted.

“You can grab your stuff again.  Coin was all I needed.  Except…”  He picked up my phone.  “Is this a phone?”

The question caught me off-guard.  “Yes, it is.”

He removed a top-model smartphone from his pocket.  “I just got one of those.  It doesn’t work in here at all unless the outside door is open, but it’s such a neat thing.”  He stabbed at the screen with a finger, but nothing happened.  “I’m always scared I’ll break the screen, though.  Not sure I’m pushing hard enough to get it to work.”

“It’s not pressure-sensitive,” I said.  “It relies on the conductivity of  And it’s tuned for a human’s touch, which would be why it’s not working right.”

The living statue gave me a sad look.  “That’s unfortunate.”

“It’s okay.  They make gloves for that,” I said.

“They do?  Oh, good.”

I chuckled.  “You didn’t just walk into the Verizon store for that, did you?”

“No, Momo grabbed it for me.”


“Momotaro.  He spends more time in the Mortal Realm than most of the others, so he helps keep us up to date when he can.  But there’s so few of us, and so much ground to cover that he can’t stay long.”

I swiped the phone on and checked it out briefly.  The battery was at two bars.  I glanced around the room.

“How do you charge it?”

“Charge it?”

Something clattered to the ground and both of us looked sharply at the table.  The coin was missing.

Hewn put a hand on my shoulder and pulled me firmly away.  “Something’s wrong, Sam.  Head for the door.”

“No!” The exclamation came from under the table.  “The fun’s just starting.  It would be a shame to leave now.”

“Run, Sam,” Hewn said.  He braced his hands against the table and lurched forward, flipping it - and the enormous axe - straight over.

A silvery, humanoid blur streaked out from the table as I turned to run.  It stopped in front of me, resolving into what looked like a grinning young man with red hair like spun rubies.  “What, don’t you like mortals being in the mix?  I rather think it livens things up a bit,” he said.  

He blurred again and suddenly my mouth was wet; it took me a moment to realize he’d stolen a kiss.  I blinked and started again for the exit, but a sudden pain drew me up short.  It hurt to pull forward, as if I was leashed to the floor; I turned back and saw that my shadow was impaled by a knife.  I tried moving again, but my shadow wouldn’t move from the floorboard that the knife had pinned it to, and pulling away from it hurt.  I grabbed for the knife, but my fingers passed through it like a hologram.  I was stuck.

I looked up.  Hewn and the newcomer were fighting, all-out.  The newcomer was a blur in silvery mail, and he struck repeatedly at Hewn with a long bronze sword that he wielded with both hands.  Hewn parried the attacks with his bare forearms, losing chips of material but not seeming to care as he drew his opponent around, circling, hands open.

“You know better than to come here,” Hewn said.  “But elves just never learn from others’ mistakes, do they?”

The elf responded with a slash that bit deep into the stone man’s face, but Hewn just stepped towards the hit and grabbed the elf by the wrist, following up with a punch into the elf’s throat.

The elf’s head snapped back grotesquely, but Hewn kept up the assault, flinging his opponent to the ground and pounding with stone fists.  It didn’t last long; moments later the elf had braced its feet under him and kicked him away, flinging the statue away with a terrible crash.  The elf clambered back to its feet, its head lolling back disturbingly.  A terrible crunch of bones accompanied its neck rippling back into proper shape, and suddenly the elf’s grin was back.

Hewn rose, his skin shot through with cracks, as the elf circled, putting me directly between them.  

“It’ll take more than that, statue,” the elf gloated.  “Mortals are so very useful, aren’t they?”


Old version, same section:

I didn’t know what was in the strange old bunker in the woods.  That was why I couldn’t resist breaking in.

I can’t help it: I like 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.  I usually don't go back.

I know there's a larger internet community about urban exploration 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.  It feels like a chance to touch history.  I suspect I'd have a lot more choice of target if I lived in Europe.  Nothing in backwater Wisconsin is really that old.  

This building was maybe from the 1950s - probably someone’s off-the-grid nuclear bunker, three miles from the nearest road and a quarter mile from the county’s new bike path.  It looked like the entrance to someone’s secret lair - a shinier-than-expected steel door enclosed by a pale grey concrete frame, leading either to a ten-foot-deep closet or downward into the ground.

I’d noticed the concrete poking out of the woods in one of Google’s satellite maps, a stark grey monolith that had captured my imagination.  Since then, I'd poked about to find an owner and found nothing.  It was as if the place didn't even exist.  I was ready to about-face immediately if I came across any kind of shotgun-wielding coot, but I suspected that anyone still living who had known about the place had forgotten about it long ago.

I don’t remember opening the lock, just pausing as the door swung open.  It was dark inside - as expected - so I pulled my flashlight from my backpack.

Clean concrete steps led down, but a thin black line went across the floor, up one wall, and down the other.  Silver ink glittered at me from inside of the line, spelling out some arcane script.  Was it graffiti?  Or had the original owner drawn it?

My heart started to quicken.  Already a mystery; I wanted to see more, but I still had enough of my senses to ensure that I could get back out.  I opened the door as wide as I could, then wedged the door open with a rock.  I checked my cell phone for battery life and service, finding both satisfactory, and secured a glow stick in my front pocket as a backup light source.  As much as I wanted to explore, I didn’t want to get myself trapped with no way to call for help.

Only then did I take my first step in.  I took note of the line and some of the writing on it, but decided to go back for details later.  After all, I could still wind up finding someone who’d spent the last thirty years in here - dead or alive.  At that thought, I paused again and sniffed really hard.  No trace of the B. O. I’d expect from a crazy hermit.  No rot either; just a faint earthiness.  I went in cautiously, just in case.  The stairs led to another door which swung open even easier than the first had, but I was totally unprepared for what sat on the other side.

The concrete wall ahead of me had been torn away from where it had been poured, then set across what had once been the main passage.  That way was roughly blocked, but the opening that had been created - one the workmen who had poured the concrete had somehow not  seen - was circled by another ring of symbols, and led into what looked like a natural cavern.  It looked stable...and at that point, I couldn’t resist.  I had to know.  I edged past the symbols and shined my flashlight into the cave.

A human skull grinned back at me and I jumped in surprise, knocking my hand on the entrance and dropping my flashlight, which hit the ground with a twang.

“Dammit!”  I reached for the cell phone I’d just stowed and found it missing.  “What the hell?”  The glow stick was still there, so I pulled it out and cracked it.  As it started up, I realized there was another source of light already; some circle coming down from above, ahead of me.  It didn’t matter, though; I focused on my flashlight.  The battery case had popped open, and I reassembled it and focused it ahead.

It was a human skull alright - but it was huge.  It was at least as tall as my shoulder, and didn’t even have a jawbone.  I edged past the bone, keeping the light on it.


I’d been looking for adventure, but this was getting weird.  I turned back and saw that the ring of symbols had started to glow.  I blinked a few times, thinking the flashlight had reflected off something or messed with my night vision. but it made no difference.  The glowing symbols, giant skeleton, and starlight all persisted.,

Sso I did what I thought was rational and headed to the exit.

The first line of symbols was glowing too, although I could barely tell from the indirect sunlight that streamed in from the open door.  I pushed my way out, turned around and sat down hard against the concrete wall.

I didn’t feel lightheaded, but the easiest explanation for what I’d seen so far was a hallucination - probably from some kind of gas.  I’d smelled nothing, but carbon monoxide has no odor., so I took a few deep breaths to try to clear things out.  But I felt fine - not tired at all, no shortness of breath, nothing out of the ordinary - but obviously something was going on.

What was that in there?  The skeleton might have been some kind of art project or movie set or - I hesitated before admitting that I wasn’t coming up with any other excuse for it.  If it really existed.  Did I dare go back in?

I took a few more deep breaths, thinking it over.  I didn’t think I could stay out.  But if I was hallucinating, I couldn’t really trust my judgment as far as what I was seeing in there.

I had an idea.  I pulled out my cell phone and set it to take a video.  With phone in hand, I would hold my breath, head down, get a quick look at things, then stay topside for an hour or so.  If I still felt fine, I would watch the video and see if what I’d seen matched up to what I recorded. it had recorded the things I’d seen down there.

If not, I’d know it was all in my head.  If so...well, I would have a mystery to figure out.  Just the kind of adventure I’d been seeking.  Phone in one hand, flashlight in the other, I stepped back inside, hoping not to wind up as a cautionary bit of found footage.

The inner circle was glowing again - even brighter than before.  I ran my phone’s camera over it, getting as good a look at the symbols as I could, then took a breath and stepped past.


The moment I crossed the circle, everything lurched.  Something hit me in the back – my backpack took the hit but I was still flung prone in a brightly-lit room that hadn’t been there a moment ago.  I skidded – briefly and painfully – across a polished hardwood floor.  As I pushed myself up, I heard both the slam of the door behind me and a huge-but-unseen bell.

I regained my feet, slowly turning around to take in my surroundings, still not quite understanding what I was seeing yet.  The bunker was gone; instead, I was now in a room, a grand entry hall that was bigger than my entire apartment.  There was a grand staircase ahead of me leading to terraces of upper levels that surrounded the entryway like an upside-down ziggurat.  Taxidermied trophies hung from the walls, and initially  my eyes just skipped over them – I have relatives who are very into hunting but it never really held my interest.  I did a double-take a moment later.  

There were antlers hung from the wall, but they were longer than I am tall, and they accompanied creatures that I was sure had never walked the Earth.  It was the closest two heads, one on either side of the room, that really made me starethat caught my attention and held it.

The heads weren't really shaped like horses' heads, but I could see the resemblance; maybe a relative, but not a particularly close one.  I knew what they were  – the single spiral horn in the middle of the head was unmistakable.

I stopped gawking when a knife fell  from the upper level, hitting the ground in front of me point-down.  I reacted with remarkable aplomb, screaming only once and keeping my pants dry, but my belated stumble away stopped short.  The knife had embedded itself in the floor - and my shadow.  I tried to jump away, but I felt a fierce tug back towards the knife.  My shadow was unnaturally stretched away from me, as if it were pinned in place.

I was too stunned to realize how scared I should have been as I looked up to see if another knife was coming, heart thudding.  I could see the ceiling far above me, but no obvious source of cutlery.  As far as I knew, it had appeared from nowhere and flung itself at my shadow.

“Hold on!  I'm on my way!”  The voice came from far-off, but I could hear heavy footsteps approaching rapidly.  Very heavy footsteps.  

A pair of hands reached the rail on one of the upper levels and were quickly joined by a bald head.  The man looking down from above was short and heavily muscled.  He was bare-chested, possibly naked, but that didn't disturb me as much as the fact that he was apparently made of stone.  Granite, I thought - he looked like my parents’ old countertop.

“Bad timing, intruder.” he said.  “The Master is out right now, but don't worry – the shadow knife will keep you in place until his return.”

I'll admit it.  I very nearly shut down entirely, then and there.  I stammered a bit before rebounding.  “I'm not a – 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, of the line of Enkidu, but you have to know that already.  His home is never found by accident.  If you had a grievance or needed his help, you would have sought him at the Bulwark, but instead you intrude on his sanctuary.  Nobody ever does that to hand him a fruit basket.”

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 –but 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 –  thatwhich hung loose over oversized, bare feet.  

“Too bad,” he said.  “He likes fruit baskets.  Feel free to sit.  You may be my prisoner but that doesn't mean we can't be civilized.”

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 looked me up and down, then 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 eyes, which looked like marble, with emerald irises and onyx pupils.

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 living statue or something...I'm so far out of my depth that I can either laugh or cry.”

He rubbed his chin.  “I'd expect someone trying to invade Shamasun's home to know about me.  I'm not exactly a new addition.”

I looked him straight in the eye and gave it to him as directly as I could manage. “I've never heard of Shamasun.  I don't know who you are, where I am, or how I got here.”

He matched my gaze and frowned.  “Where are you from, that you don't know of Shamasun?”

“Dickensville.  Wisconsin.  I found this bunker out in the woods and I wanted to explore it, but one of the walls was torn open and there was a giant skeleton and some stars where there shouldn’t have been any.  I got out of there but went back in to see if I’m crazy or not, but I wound up here instead.”  I hesitated.  “Still don’t know if I’m crazy.”

His brow furrowed in thought.  “Wisconsin?  Wisconsin.  That's in Canada, right?”

It was my turn to gape at him.  “No.  Canada's to the north.”  Although, come to think of it, we did get that a lot.

He nodded.  “Oh yeah.  Who's the reigning king?”

“King?  We don't have kings!”

“Then who passed the law of gravity?”

“What?  Isaac Newton discovered gravity, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, I'm reasonably sure you're actually from the mortal realm now.  An outsider would probably have gotten one or more of those wrong.”

I broke into a relieved grin.  “You believe me?”

“To a point.  You're either really well-prepared, in which case I'm surprised you didn't make it past our second line of defenses,” he said, gesturing at the knife, “Or you are what you claim to be.  Which is odd, because it's been over a thousand years since a mortal managed to get in here on accident.  If you're completely without magic, the door shouldn't have taken you out of the mortal realm.”

I chose my words carefully.  “So far as I am aware, I have never encountered magic of any sort before today. ”

He shrugged.  “We'll get to the bottom of things when Shamasun gets home.  If you're telling the truth, you have nothing to worry about; we'll get you home, safe and sound.  If you're lying to me, it won't be quite as pleasant – so please be honest.”

I held up my right hand.  “I've been honest, I swear.  I know nothing about magic or you or this house, or how I could enter.”

He nodded.  “Good enough for me, for now.”  He extended one hand.  “I'm called Hewn.”

I took the hand and shook.  “Sam.”

“Well, Sam, nice to meet you.  I hope you are telling the truth – I could use some more company.  And it'd be a fun mystery – how did a mortal wind up breaching our defenses?”

I shrugged, but he continued.  “The easiest answer would be that you aren't exactly a mortal.  If your recent ancestry was from one of the other realms, it would explain nearly everything – and if you were kept away from magic, you might have only a few faint sparks.  Just enough to trigger when you reached the threshold.  It'd be unusual, but possible.”

“If I'm not human, it's news to me.  Can you tell?”

“Not for sure.  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.  I could make a few guesses, though.”

“Guess away.”

“Between looks and accent I'd guess you to be American of mixed European ancestry – as I'd expect, since you said you came in through the door in Wisconsin.  So we'll start with some obvious ones.”  He ticked off his fingers.  “Elven blood.  That's probably easiest for me to test and the least pleasant for you – just see if you have a catastrophic reaction to iron poisoning.  It's the most common among people who don't know it, but you look more Scandinavian, so if we're going with the Faerie realm I'd guess troll, more likely.  Troll blood tends to show through, though, so if you were part troll, you'd probably have seen signs of it in one of your parents.  Aesir blood's less and less common since the whole Ragnarok debacle made them persona non grata in the mortal realm.  You don't look like you've been touched by the Weird either, so I'd still have to say late-generation troll or elf is the most likely.  Apart from you being a champion, but you’d know if that were the case.  But...”  He squinted.  “I think I can see just the tiniest aura.  Looks lucky.  Maybe leprechaun?  Tribe of elves, if you didn't know...”

He paced around behind me, then stopped. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!  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.  So I think we can assume you're telling the truth now.  You're human, not here to hurt me or the master.  You're not an enemy – you're a lost traveler, a guest, and I have been remiss in my hospitality.”  He gave me a sheepish smile.  “Sam.  You are welcome in this house.  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.  “But when you came in, you tripped the defenses and severed our connection to the outside realms for the next few minutes; can't even call him with this cell phone without hooking back up and opening a door.  Shamasun's the only one who can reconnect us from the outside.  He's in the sewers of Detroit, trying to track down a font of Dis and shut it down.  You know how it goes.”

“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 are you, anyway?”

“I'm unique,” he said.  “When the Olympian League brought down Cronus, Shamasun carved me from his still-beating heart.  I've been with him ever since – about three thousand years.  Close to four, now that I think about it.”

“And what is he?  Your master, I mean.”

“Well.  For one, I don't usually call him Master unless I'm being formal.  Or intimidating.  But he's a champion.  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.  Slayer of monsters.  Defender of of the mortal realm.  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 that still doesn't tell me what he is.  He's four thousand years old; he can't be human.”

“I'm four thousand.  He's closer to five; didn't start keeping track for a while.  And human might be a broader category than you think,” Hewn said.  “He was born a mortal, at least.  But...things happened.  And I'm afraid we have a little problem.”

“What's that?”

“By laws more ancient than I am, as your host, I should 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.  The cistern fills with frost from the river Sylgr.  Purer than any water that flows in the mortal realm.  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 when he's out on missions.  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  connect us back to the mortal realm and order some food, I'm afraid that 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 a pocket realm.  Between worlds, space and time are looser concepts, and the better-off heroes would rather live somewhere where they can get electricity.  This place is a bit of a relic – it can only be accessed the way Shamasun allows, so we store things here.”

“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 actually packed some food.  I don't need any.  Will 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.  Glamoured 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.”


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


“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!”

Hewn started in surprise, then held out his hand.  “Give it to me,” he said, a note of urgency in his voice.  I gave him the coin and he examined it briefly, then clapped it between his hands, knitting his fingers together as he backed away from the table.  It wasn't working; I could already see that something was forcing his hands open, despite his strain.  “An elven waystone small enough to carry?  I wouldn't have believed it,” he growled.  “You knew nothing of this?  Then stay back!”

His grip failed and a humanoid figure tumbled to the ground and sprang upright with a grace I'd never seen before.  It immediately went down again as Hewn tackled it to the ground, flinging his full weight upon it with enough force to shake my chair.

“Intruder!” Hewn roared.  “This place is forbidden!”

I couldn't see well; they were moving too fast, too closely, and I had a bad angle.  I didn't see how the fight turned, but Hewn's opponent managed to get both legs together and kick the stone man off – 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 – he – was beautiful but hard to define.  I didn't know at the time, but he was letting fly with full glamour and I was both unprepared and entirely unprotected.  I could see him, but only impressions stayed with me – masculinity, grace, beauty.  I couldn't tell what color his hair was but for the moment I couldn't help but adore him, fear him, wonder at him.

He 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.  He was an elf – the same elf as I'd seen on the coin, I thought, but I couldn't be sure.

Hewn faced the invader and edged towards the stairs.  The elf smiled as he drew a long bronze blade from his belt.  He was dressed all in what looked like silver mail.  Made sense – I remembered something about elves 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.”


Edit: Formatting changed for readability.

Edited by Talanic

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The new one definitely strikes me as better. I liked the air of mystery about the pictures versus the eye, Hewn trying to use a smartphone, and the first impressions of both the secondary characters.


The introduction of the scene and main character confused me, but I wouldn't bother doing another rewrite until you have your ending solidified and know more of what to emphasize to tie the story together.


Cool story. Keep it up.


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Hmm. I prefer parts of each. For the early bits, exploring the house and all that, I think the revision is much better. It feels more descriptive, more mysterious, and a better stage to set.

But I prefer the original interaction with Hewn. It felt, natural.


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